As promised, here are some of my issues with The Last Jedi. This isn't an exhaustive list of things that I did and did not like.
What I Did Like
There were two points in the film that I really got into. First, the throne room duel where Kylo and Rey had to fight a horde of Praetorian Guards. Their lightsaber-resistant armor and gihting style really lent itself to a fun sequence where the two had to work together to get out. Saber-sligning and walls burning down make for a thrilling backdrop to a great action sequence.
Second, Luke's showdown with the New Order walkers. There wasn't any doubt that he was going to emerge unscathed, but how wasn't revealed until much later. It was so gratifying to see Kylo raging to get Luke and he literally could not touch him. It was a fun fight.
Thematically, I enjoyed the overarching theme of the movie: how the characters cope with failure. One of the interesting common symptoms of each character's failure is hesitation. They know what they think they're supposed to do, but because they vacillate in their decision, the actions of others or situation force their hands in ways they have to deal with.
What Ruined It For Me
There’s a lot that I could nitpick about The Last Jedi, but I’ll refrain from a scene-by-scene criticism. Instead, I will sum up in two words why it was so disappointing to me: bad storytelling.
One of the questions that really nagged at me after the movie was: how did each of our characters change over the course of the film? Let’s step through this one character at a time:
Kylo Ren The villain begins the movie, an angry, if incompetent, young man. He ends the movie as the same person. Easily manipulated by circumstance, the main villain is still driven by seeking approval of those around him, despite his inability to follow through on anything. Even with no one 'standing in his way' and no one to answer to, he is no closer to getting what he wants than he was before. Speaking of which, other than validation, what does he really want?
Rey Our heroin begins the movie where she left off in the previous movie, trying to find her place in the galaxy, and seeking answers to her past. She’s got a good soul, but her darker side makes a few acute flashes here and there. Just like last movie. She can handle a lightsaber just as well now as she could before. She hasn’t changed in any material way.
Poe Poor Poe. He starts the movie making messes, convinces others to make messes with him, and in the end, he is still just a hot-shot pilot ready to blow stuff up, even if it means piloting a rickety covered wagon into battle. By the end it starts to sink in that maybe charging full-steam ahead isn't the best way to solve every problem, but we really don't get to see the consequences of that realization. Poe hasn’t changed in any material way.
Finn He has probably changed the most, though his reason for doing so isn’t particularly clear. He starts off his usual cowardly self, trying to jump in an escape pod at the first sign of trouble. He goes on an entirely pointless side-trip (because of cowardice) and ends up getting to the final scenes of the movie ready to self-sacrifice, only to be foiled by Rose. It isn’t clear why Finn has changed, but we’ll give the movie a point anyway.
Luke Luke. Luke, Luke, Luke, Luke. Entirely bent on sitting out the party this whole time for reasons that are in dispute, Luke has decided to not train Rey in the ways of the Force...until he does. What clicked inside him? I can’t remember. Two weeks later and I can’t remember what his motivations are, except that he fears--and is clearly by--failure. By the end of the movie he steps in to save the day, but at great personal expense. Even his expositional dialogue with Yoda doesn’t really show any change of significance, which makes his heroic save at the end so confusing and dissatisfying, despite how epic it is.
The Resistance At the end of the TFA, we get a strong sense of how weak the resistance is, despite the win at the end. We get bombarded with this message throughout TLJ as the New Order whittles down the rebel scum to an ostensible handful of people. For all intents and purposes, the situation the Resistance find themselves in is difficult to appreciate because their situation is hardly different at the end than when we started.
Plot Holes and Dead-End-Loose-Threads
I’m going to enumerate a handful of these:
- Luke & Rey's First Scene The dramatic build up of finally finding Luke Skywalker, handing him his father's lightsaber and then Luke unceremoniously throwing it over his shoulder off the cliff. Sad face.
- Mary-Freaking-Poppins I refuse to comment further.
- Supreme Leader Snoke Let's build up the malevolence of this incredible character only to chop him in half.
- Running Out of Gas The New Order has nothing in their fleet fast enough to catch their ships and so now it is merely a war of attrition until they have no more fuel to carry on? Hmm.
- The Codebreaker We spent a (seeming) half hour of the movie taking a side trip to a gambling town to look for someone they do not find, the biggest take away being how awful rich people are.
I could keep going, but maybe I will grow to appreciate The Last Jedi as time goes forward and I am able to view it in the context of its own trilogy. But not right now. I don't feel like they did right by my childhood hero, which admittedly, is my problem. I am not lost on the irony of one of the messages of the movie, ('letting the past die'), but I think they could have gone in several better directions.
Despite my misgivings on that end, Disney doesn't owe me anything. They don't owe any of the fans anything. For them it isn't necessarily about telling great stories. It's about a return on investment. I get it. I'm OK with that.
If you liked The Last Jedi, I'm not trying to convince you that you're wrong for liking it. I admire your ability to get into a movie where I was not. As fun as these new movies are in their own right, I'm not sure that I can just let the past die. I think it would have been better to tacitly acknowledge it than try and build a bridge from it. There will always be something special about the old ones that will never die for me. They have their own warts, for sure, but there's an earnestness about them that I think the newer films have failed to capture. But please, enjoy The Last Jedi for what you find valuable in it. May it bring you the same feelings that the originals have brought me.