Journey to The Rise of Skywalker: The Last Jedi

The insane debate around The Last Jedi has soured my interest on the film. People on the internet don’t have normal conversations about what worked and what didn’t, it is an all or nothing blood war. I just want to express thoughts as a normal adult since it’s just a movie, and a movie intended for kids at that.

I wasn’t crazy about it in 2017. Too long, too much happening, takes itself too seriously for a family film, kind of boring and not as fresh or original as it seems. Interesting ideas threaten to shake up the status quo but are resolved in safe, common Star Wars themes.

I went to Star Wars Celebration in 2017 because I was convinced Rian Johnson would make the best movie ever. I begged my flu-ridden wife to see it opening night with me. But by the time Rey and Kylo Ren teamed up to defeat Snoke’s guards I turned to Heather and said, “I don’t think I like this movie very much.”

Today, I would say TLJ is the worst Star Wars movie. It’s supposed to be the middle chapter in a trilogy but instead would make more sense in a vacuum. That isn’t good.

This is not all on Rian Johnson. Lucasfilm never mapping out a structure for this trilogy beforehand shows badly. The studio should have planned everything like Marvel instead of allowing a bunch of new mysteries to come up in The Force Awakens and letting the next writer/director do whatever he wanted. It makes the tone and flow completely uneven, and presents even more questions about what this trilogy is really about outside of making money off Star Wars.

Prequels – How did Anakin becomes Darth Vader. Originals – Luke Skywalker’s journey to learn more about and then save his father. Sequels – What?

Hey remember when Captain Phasma was hyped for two straight movies and did less than even Boba Fett?

As for the actual film, the Plinkett review is the definitive analysis on what did not work. Overall, I came away from TLJ feeling flat and confused. There are so many frustrating logic gaps you find in a simple Google search. If the First Order isn’t tracking smaller ships, why not evacuate everybody over the course of the movie?

A quick note on the positives – Rose is a delightful new character. Also, Luke as a despondent hermit is a far more compelling decision rather than having him be Superman.

However, Luke showing up to save the day at the end is a total cop out and plays it way too safe. I would prefer Luke telling Rey she wants the impossible by asking him to come back, so she has to lead the charge against evil herself and inspire people. Luke had his trilogy – don’t be afraid to put old toys away after threatening to do it all movie.

Also, the Finn-Rose plot is bad and dooms everybody. Finn says they need to hurry, yet they find time to lead a working man’s revolution like the brothers in Ocean’s Thirteen. When they are cornered, Finn says it was all worth it to stick it to the rich folks. He somehow forgot capture means failing the mission and sentencing the Resistance to certain death? Benicio del Toro helps them escape, then screws them by telling the First Order the Rebel plan. If Holdo had just told Poe the plan, this never would have happened.

Also, Finn learns about war profiteers selling weapons to both the First Order and Resistance and it’s random. Benicio posits an interesting question on if the war even matters when the same folks profit no matter what. But the moment is fleeting as Finn proudly declares himself rebel scum soon after. Shouldn’t the revelation that people are playing both sides of the conflict have a serious impact on the story and Finn as a character?

Mother jokes – brilliant in White Chicks, but not so much in Star Wars

More bad: Mother jokes, and a lot of the humor, feel out of place. Poe is made to look dumb for no reason (Rian Johnson even admitted he had difficulty writing Poe). Leia flying in space is the worst moment in all of Star Wars. The obsession with heroic sacrifice is weird.

But my biggest gripe of all: the movie is not bold or new and fails the larger series. 

TFA’s similarities to A New Hope have been discussed ad nauseam. I maintain TFA was the Star Wars movie we needed, for better or worse. It had to erase the memories of the plodding, boring prequels, leaning into the familiar to remind folks how much fun Star Wars could be. But while I get why the decision was made for TFA to copy what came before, I don’t understand why they let that pattern continue so badly with TLJ.

TLJ borrows from Empire and Return of the Jedi every bit as much as TFA did the original. Random list time: Throne room scene. Vader asking Luke to join him. Villain killing his master to save the protagonist. The Empire drives the Rebels from their base (twice in this one!). The Rebels are somehow on the ropes after dealing a huge blow to the Empire in the previous movie. The cave scene. The Hoth battle (but it’s salt this time, not snow!). Empire chasing a ship for most of the movie. The main character leaving the group to train with a Jedi Master. That’s just off the top of my head.

TLJ wraps up all of these familiar moments and concepts with a shiny bow advertising a new, fresh direction in the series, but it is really just more of the same. After Kylo Ren suggests they let the past die, he ends up leading the Empire Lite as they pursue the Rebels. Yoda destroys the ancient Jedi texts because the past is the past, but then we see Rey has the books. Luke isn’t going to be the hero again, then decides to be the hero again.

Don’t give me half measures. Don’t threaten to break from classic conventions only to embrace them at the end. 

Killing Snoke was certainly bold, but is it good storytelling? Or is it just a Game of Thrones-era shock meant to simply shock?

Further, TLJ fails as the middle installment of this trilogy because it does nothing to expand upon the world that was established in the first movie. This has been promoted as the final trilogy of Episodes, so there is no room to just gloss over details. We need to wrap shit up coherently.

TFA kept a break-neck pace and quick details give you enough of a sense of the larger universe, but the film foregoes any deeper explanation. I am (maybe unfairly) more forgiving to TFA because, again, it was the first one after the prequels.

But TLJ leans even deeper than TFA into decades-old Star Wars tropes of Empire vs. Rebels with no explanation why. It is not clear why the First Order even exists. My wife, who is a filthy casual and completely unnerdy, asked me to explain why the First Order and Snoke are so powerful if the good guys won back in the day. Who knows?

If our heroes had the ultimate feel good ending in Return of the Jedi, how are there remnants of the Empire with limitless resources 30 years later, including a dark Force user who is supremely powerful? Why are we still doing Empire vs. Rebels 30 years later? How exactly are we letting the past die and breaking new ground?

On the issue of Rey’s parents – I thought it was blatant that Kylo lies to Rey here. I hope it was a lie. That is the one plot thread where simple and predictable was necessary. A valid knock on TFA is that Rey is so insanely powerful. The advertising for that movie, and the movie itself, implied her lineage mattered. Her “Force-back” made it appear she has ties to the chosen bloodline. Why else would the Skywalker lightsaber and Obi-Wan talk to her? Why do Rey and Kylo Ren have such a strong connection if she’s just some rando?

These two gave great performances. I just wish Lucasfilm gave this trilogy more direction.

The Skywalker Saga should be about a Skywalker. This isn’t Batman, where the hero can be anybody. Non-Skywalker Jedi have proven to be awesome in other Star Wars media, but it’s lame to advertise the “Skywalker Saga” then say it doesn’t matter if the main character is one. Rey is awesome, but that stinks if she’s a random who lucked into a Skywalker-centric life. That comes across as a way to move merchandise more than good storytelling. If she doesn’t need Skywalker blood to be special, she shouldn’t need Skywalker weapons and ships and droids and friends bolstering her to make her special, either.

The Rise of Skywalker and Palpatine’s return concern me. Kylo Ren is a terrorist and his redemption would be Vader 2.0. Snooze. But if Kylo doesn’t stand tall at the end would the message of the saga be that Palpatine created Anakin and played his descendants like a fiddle before being bested by a random? Yikes.

Either way, TLJ is an abject failure that is afraid to be as bold as it teases. It does nothing to address the major questions from TFA, which is what it should be doing as the middle film in the trilogy. Instead, it stuffs everything even further into a standard Star Wars template and leaves way too much on the table to be resolved in Rise this week.