Review: The Last Jedi
In order to throughly examine this work and provide fair criticism, this article contains spoilers.
You have been warned.
For a film that wants to “let the past die,” The Last Jedi sure does enjoy digging up past imagery for its own benefit. Whether it’s Luke confronting the Emperor in Return of the Jedi complete with deep bass vocals; the iconic Hoth battle from The Empire Strikes Back, differentiated by salt in place of snow; or recreating the Binary Sunset scene from A New Hope to bookend Luke’s entrance and exit from the series, this film constantly emulates iconic moments from the franchise to play on the nostalgic emotions of those watching. Meaningless plotlines of no consequence, excessive attempts at humor undercutting every sense of dramatic tension, and frequent questions of logic make this the weakest film in the canon since the prequels.
Early on, Finn attempts to desert the rebellion for fear of Rey returning to a trap and is caught by new character Rose, whose sister died sacrificing herself for the rebellion a few moments earlier. The two go on an adventure that is ultimately inconsequential to the rest of the plot. They visit a casino town to find a codebreaker in order to gain access to Snoke’s capital ship. The plan is to deactivate a lightspeed tracker that is keeping the rebellion from escaping. They fail to find the codebreaker but conveniently meet Benecio Del Toro. Despite Maz informing our band of heroes that only she and one other(the codebreaker) can access Snoke’s ship, Benecio just happens to have the necessary skills and was in the jail cell Finn and Rose were placed in. In return for his help, Benecio demands a deposit in advance in the form of Rose’s precious necklace. He returns it though, after using it as a conductor to lock pick the security door inside Snoke’s capital ship. He is someone who is only interested in furthering his own wealth, which makes it confusing why he would desire Rose’s necklace of rare spice only to use it as a tool. He even sells out the rebellion’s escape plan in order to escape with some uncategorized goods. He departs, leaving Finn and Rose to be executed. That is, before Holdo lightspeed rams the First Order’s fleet, leaving only Finn and Rose alive among a battalion of stormtroopers who previously surrounded them. Phasma returns and has an apparent obsession for Finn as the “one who got away” but is killed off just as quickly as she appears. Her only apparent use was to force Finn into a confrontation instead of running away, even though the total fruition of this arc is stolen later in the film. Otherwise she is a wasted character.
Poe meanwhile has to learn to be a leader, and along the way commits mutiny against Vice Admiral Holdo because she didn’t let him in on the very reasonable plan to escape away to a nearby planet that holds an abandoned rebel base. Leia and Holdo even share mutual admiration for Poe immediately after knocking him out for his mutiny, calling him a troublemaker, despite Holdo having coldly rejected his request for information earlier. Poe eventually learns that sometimes staying and fighting isn’t always the answer, though he continues to cause meaningless deaths along the way. Holdo dies as quickly as she was introduced, having to stay behind to pilot the cruiser because ships can’t pilot themselves apparently, even though they’ve been doing just that for the past eighteen hours. A resistance army that started at over 400 strong ends with a small group on-board the Millennium Falcon. They are the spark to ignite hope in the galaxy, a message which is reiterated approximately five times throughout the course of the film’s two and a half hour run-time.
Rey is introduced trying to convince Luke to return to the rebellion to help, though he is now a grumpy old man with no interest in the affairs of the galaxy, except he is as he reaches out to Leia via the force and even spends some time reminiscing in the Falcon. Somewhat saving the film from total disaster is Rey and Kylo, who share a mind meld of sorts that allows them to communicate despite any differences in time or space. It even allows physical matter to be shared, such as Kylo is splashed with some water when communing with an oceanside Rey. How this physical transference can exist is never explained and its presence is never justified. He relents and begins to teach Rey, only to recoil at her strength and willingness to succumb to the dark side. Despite that, he continually teaches her how the Jedi are not equivalent to the light side, and that their actions led to the events of the previous films. Rey cuts to the core of his viewpoint, which all revolve around his own perceived failure at keeping Kylo from the dark side. Rey herself begins the film believing there is no hope for Kylo, but leaves Luke with the intent of turning him to the light.
When confronting Snoke, it is revealed that he planted the connection between the two and stoked the flame of his conflict. His boasting does end up being his downfall, but how two inept teens were able to kill a Sith lord capable of toying with Rey and delving deep into Kylo’s mind is a mystery of the Force. After a very good battle against Snoke’s guards, Kylo gives Rey the chance of joining him to shape the galaxy together, much akin to Vader’s plea to Luke in Empire. She rejects it, and with it the notion that the newest trilogy could be anything more than a retread of what has come before. For all the raving about letting the past die Kylo’s command of the First Order is no different than those before him, and neither is Rey and the rebellion’s plight any different than the last cycle. Luke even admits that she is the last Jedi , and she secretly stows away the Jedi texts. Kylo may not be trained fully in the way of the Sith, but he certainly embodies their angst and desire for power.
But perhaps most offensive is the culmination of the third act. Finn and Rose find the tracking source; Poe takes command of the rebellion bridge; and Rey confronts Snoke. These events are all upended and resolved, but end up being a prequel for the actual final act on a nearby planet. Finn, whose character has continued to try and run away, a trait also utilized in The Force Awakens, finally stays true to the rebellion and is willing to give his life for the movement. As his suicide run into the First Order’s newest weapon is about to succeed, this powerful ending to his arc is stolen by Rose, justified with the line, “That's how we're gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” Not to outdo herself, Rose already delivered the worst line of the movie earlier, in reference to the casino planet, “I wish I could put my fist through this beautiful lousy town.”
Undercutting all of this is a recurring use of humor that falls flat a majority of the time. Whether it be Poe mocking Hux about his mother over a com-link, BB-8 shooting out coins at a security guard, or a porg pressed against the glass of the Falcon during an intense dogfight, the humor is constant and frequently childish. Smaller errors can be found throughout. Why doesn’t the Dreadnought shoot the carrier instead of the empty base? Why does Hux exist if all he does is shout obvious orders and be abused by the other Force users? Why can an X-wing take out an entire turret system? Why is Maz willing to let the rebellion die over a labor dispute? If the rebellion can Skype Maz mid-battle why can’t they contact anyone else to go get help? Multiple days pass for Rey but the rebellion only has 18 hours of fuel? Maz stated only herself or the codebreaker could help them invade Snoke’s ship but they just happen to land in a cell with someone else who can? How does an arms dealer selling weapons to both the empire and rebellion supposed to affect our view of the rebellion? How does Evil BB-8 know they’re spies in disguise? Why didn’t the empire land closer to the blast door on Not-Hoth? Worst of all is a scene in which TIE Fighters attack the bridge of the rebellion cruiser and blow it up, sucking Leia out into space. We see her floating peacefully until her hand moves, her eyes open, and she floats her way back into the bridge and to the door inside, never to be addressed or brought up by anyone. She spends a few hours in a med-bay but is back on her feet in time for the retreat and conclusion. How a scene like that made it past multiple people who said it was good to go for public consumption is another mystery of the Force.
Much like the heroes of the film, it's all about stalling for time so Disney and crew can figure out what to do in the next film. We are left with Snoke dead and replaced by two children, Kylo and Hux, who squabble over who is to lead the empire (First Order) in order to eradicate the rebellion (Resistance). Even this power dynamic between Kylo and Hux is undercut by Hux being reduced to a throw doll. At least in The Force Awakens it appeared that there was a sense of competition between himself and Kylo for Snoke’s affection, but here, with Snoke removed, Hux is an empty vessel and a waste of space.
The Last Jedi is a mess. It wants to destroy the past but does nothing to move towards that. It prematurely kills off the Supreme Leader but the First Order itself is the same, just now run by two inept children. The rebellion has been cut down but lives to fight another day. Rey lost her lightsaber, Kylo lost the chance at having an equal partner, and we all get to wait two years to see another super weapon get destroyed. Before you leave, watch a kid force move a broom and stare into the stars. Do you get it? That kid is us. We wish we were Force users and lived in this universe.