After watching the Solo teaser trailers back at the start of February my wife asked me a simple question. Having seen The Last Jedi, was I happier now that new Star Wars films were being made?
I thought about it for a few moments before answering honestly – no. As great as Rogue One is, its existence is not worth the damage that the other films have made to the franchise.
This, I realised, is why I was wrong about The Last Jedi.
My original review, written in the immediate aftermath of my second viewing, praises the film for doing something different. I attribute my early reaction to two factors:
- I put the ‘change is good’ mantra ahead of my love for the series and the established lore.
- I hunted down every spoiler I could find (ultimately knowing the entire plot before going in) to avoid a repeat of the crushing disappointment of The Force Awakens.
This lowering of my investment and expectations meant that I cared less about The Last Jedi than any other Star Wars film I’ve experienced before. I passively enjoyed it and then avoided thinking about it.
Over the last month I’ve began to re-engage with the series as a fan, and have realised that the reason I haven’t wanted to think about The Last Jedi is because, well, as far as Star Wars goes it’s a mess.
The film’s thematic move forward was a welcome relief after The Force Awakens and does much to balance the counter points explained below. The problem is that as well as a theme, you need competent execution – and that’s where Rian Johnson’s film falls down.
To clarify, The Last Jedi is an OK movie. There are impressive visual moments, and the score is a superb joyride through the history of Star Wars. Yet the plotting leads to a middle act that seems more ridiculous with the passing of time. The ill-placed comedy throws the tone all over the place, while the sledgehammer political points-scoring is an unwelcome addition to the saga.
For anyone who may make an incorrect assumption about me from that last point, consider this – if the genders of every character were reversed, would The Last Jedi be able to get away with its characterisations?
The real problem, as recognised by many observers, is that The Last Jedi is a terrible addition to the Star Wars saga. It takes the same approach as The Force Awakens by ignoring everything that came before it, only with extra added destruction. The spectacular visuals and commitment to the theme are positive from a filmmaking point of view, but the lack of an overarching narrative vision fails both this film and, by extension, the entire sequel trilogy.
For a detailed reading of the film, check out YouTuber Mauler’s series of video essays. These are blow-by-blow accounts of how badly The Last Jedi sits alongside the other films, from pertinent examples of why the humour doesn’t work to pointing out the insane story oversights (for example, how exactly did Finn learn to pilot a ship while he was in a coma?).
They’re long watches but well worth your time.
In my original review there is one point that, upon reflection, I have to apologise for. My biggest single disappointment with The Force Awakens was the treatment of Luke Skywalker. Being told that the hero we left at the end of Return of the Jedi had become a coward and ran away when his family needed him was always a bad choice, and I remain surprised that so many fans gave it a pass.
The Last Jedi had the opportunity to make this choice work; yet the reasons given for his exile fail to deliver. The split-second decision to kill his nephew was grossly out of character for the Jedi who redeemed Darth Vader, as was his decision to go into hiding afterwards. Lying by omission to Rey divorced the character even further from the Luke of the original films.
The theme of the failure of leaders motivates this development but it doesn’t work with this character. The Luke Skywalker who strode out to confront the First Order was exactly what so many of us wanted to see but it was explicitly a mirage; the character dies on the rocks of Ahch-To as the same coward that we were first told about in The Force Awakens. It was underwhelming then; and expanding on it now has only made it worse.
Mark Hamill clearly understood the issues with this version of Luke, yet he still acted the hell out of his role. A combination of his performance, spoilers and the disappointment of The Force Awakens insulated me to the shock over the first few days. On reflection, his excellent performance is a sad glimpse of what the sequels could have been.
The flaws in the execution of both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi can be attributed to the compressed production time frames enforced by Disney. Yet the big decisions, such as the abandonment of any cohesive continuity and the lack of an overarching narrative, lay solely at the feet of Lucasfilm.
Recent reports on Colin Trevorrow’s departure from Episode IX appear to show that, somehow, the powers at Lucasfilm do not really ‘get’ Star Wars. Yet watching Rogue One again shows that it is possible to make a good modern Star Wars film. My expectations for Solo are low, from the concept to Lucasfilm’s track record, but what if they don’t screw it up this time? Hope springs eternal.
Will I see Episode IX? Of course. But it’s time to accept that as a continuation of the Lucas saga, this sequel trilogy does not work at all.