Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Review and Commentary
I really expected this to be a bad movie. I thought The Force Awakens was dumb, because it leaned too heavily on references to the old Star Wars saga. It wasn't about telling a new and different kind of Star Wars story. But, this movie actually is.
I want to talk briefly about all the cultural politics here. I want to talk about it as a film, but everyone else on the internet seems to want to talk about it as if it were a propoganda poster. So before I address it as a film, I need to discuss its politics.
A lot of people hate shoehorned diversity. I do too, but I like that no originally white or male characters were recast with a different race or gender. I think it's best to add diversity to a film/franchise without changing any original characters, which can piss off the fans of those characters. I've talked about issues I have with diversity being pushed into movies before. My main points are:
- A fictional character does not represent his or her entire race or gender.
- Token characters can be poorly written, which is insulting to the people they're written to help. They can also appear decorative, rather than having an important role in the story.
- A black child can have a white role model, a woman can have a male role model, and so on. You don't need every character to physically resemble yourself. It even helps empathy-building if children learn to care about people who are not like themselves.
- Fiction, in my opinion, should put entertaining the audience first, and political commentary second.
- This is still a majority-white country. Minorities also have their own cinema in other countries. Bollywood does not get pressured to cast non-Indians. Why is it only American/Western films that get pressured to cast racial minorities? There's not a lot of diversity I see in Chinese films. What about BET? There's actually a lot of movies black entertainers make for their own community. Every major racial minority group in this country has their own cinematic industry, with their own films, where over 90% of the characters "representing" that group. The push for Hollywood diversity is really just Hollywood-centric arrogance, failing to recognize all the diversity of film outside of itself.
- I hate it when they change the race and gender of an original character to feed the desire to diversify entertainment. This just happens because Hollywood seems allergic to the idea of a new story. It happens because of lazy writing, and wanting to cash in on the popularity of old franchises.
In The Last Jedi, it kind of did feel off-putting that the bad guys where all male and all white, while the good guys were racially diverse and female-led. (But also notice that the rebels' female leaders were still all white.) Anyway, all this stuff has to do with what's going on outside the film, and while my critic-crush Lindsay Ellis is great at that, I prefer to think about what's going on inside a film.
Plot Summary - May Contain Spoilers!
Episode 7: The Force Awakens ended with Rey on Planet Lord of the Rings trying to get Luke Skywalker to take his cool magic laser death sword, with the longest continuous outstretched arm I think I've seen in a film, ever.
In The Last Jedi, the rebels (working against the dominance of a new political faction, similar to the Empire the old rebels in the old Star Wars movies fought) are trying to run from the space cops, when they find that the space cops can track them at light speed. And they're running out of fuel.
The boss lady's plan is to evacuate everyone, which is a safe (because the space cops can't track escape pods, apparently?) but boring plan. So Han Solo 2, the new "lovable rogue guy" for this franchise, comes up with a bolder plan, that would do more damage to the enemy, but is more dangerous.
This plan ends up involving Finn, the defected Storm Trooper from The Force Awakens, and a new character, who is the sister of an Asian female character who dies heroically in combat in the beginning of the film. This girl is awkward and nerdy. The thing I liked about her character was that she was the one who made me actually see the rebels as the more sympathetic side, instead of just one of two factions in a pretty-looking space war devoid of real meaning.
Writing a movie script isn't about packing in cute robots or franchise in-jokes; it's about meaningful conflict. And to me, the fighting in Episode Seven seemed like it didn't have a lot of meaning other than 'those guys look and act like the old bad guys, and are led by an ugly dude, so WE MUST KILL THEM ALL'. It didn't have either the questioning of the rebels nor the buildup of the audience's sympathy for them that this movie does a good job with. It felt way too black-and-white morally, like we were supposed to unquestioningly support all the actions of all the rebels and condemn the villains, and this movie kind of breaks down that dichotomous way of thinking.
Speaking of the villains, back to what Rey is doing. When she meets Luke Skywalker, he doesn't want to hear her out, let alone train her. It turns out he wants the Jedi way to die. Why? Because he failed to train Kylo Ren (Ben Solo), pushing him inadvertently on a path to the Dark Side. When he finally agrees to train Rey, she grasps The Force quickly.
Kylo Ren is using his powers to Skype with her. Interestingly, he doesn't seem angry or confident like Darth Vader was. He's not talking about crushing his foes or conquering systems or uniting the Galaxy under his will. He's more like an ordinary teenage boy; misunderstood, afraid, wanting to be heard. He knows Gross Foot-Shaped CGI Dude is using him, but he knows no other way to deal with the hurt and conflict inside himself. Rey is the one who is needed, to reconcile Luke and his past conflicts and hopefully turn Kylo Ren back to the good side. That doesn't happen in this film, but it seems likely to in the next.
Of course the ending is a big epic showdown. It's a battle to save the remnants of the rebels, for them to escape through tunnels while the remaining forces hold off the enemy. I won't spoil exactly what happens. Go see it!
The Last Jedi is undoubtedly a stronger film than The Force Awakens, but as a member of this new JJ Abrams trilogy, it contains almost all of the same flaws. Is Rey a Mary Sue? Some argue she is, others say that that term has been stretched beyond all meaning to simply mean "teenage girl protagonist I don't like". But I do think Rey as a character is just a tad boring and predictable, much like Luke Skywalker was in the originals. The predictable, archetypal hero type. I don't think there's anything wrong with that character, they're ubiquitous and popular for a reason, but it is a character type that is somewhat cliché, not really interesting to someone who has seen many movies.
The interesting thing here is Kylo Ren, his past, and Luke Skywalker's internal conflict over it. Luke doing something bad and feeling guilty, so bad in fact that he wants to destroy the whole idea of Jedi, is to me an interesting development for his character. Luke was to me a male Mary Sue, or Marty Stu, in the original films. His failure to train Kylo Ren, and his reaction to that tragic event, make him feel more human and flawed. Some fans didn't like seeing their wonderboy as anything less than saintly, but I don't mind because I think it adds dimensionality to what was once a one-dimensional character.
Overall, the film is an enjoyable watching experience. I felt emotionally moved by this movie, in a way that I was not by The Force Awakens. I wouldn't call it as good as the original trilogy, but it's a decent, competent film that offers good entertainment value.