Spoiler Warning! Spoilers ahead. And weird ones, too.
TLDR: The lightsaber duels and force evolution and jedi trope-rejection are great. They take up an hour of a two-and-a-half-hour movie. The remaining hour and a half is rife with bad writing, acting and directing. Two fifths good, three fifths bad is a shitty movie.
Trigger Warning: I talk shit about a movie you may have liked.
Fixing "The Last Jedi": A Humorous Explanation of the Many, Many Flaws in the Latest Star War.
As a white cis-het man, I'm going to start this review off with a critique of diversity politics. Ahem: "Diversity politics have allowed people to brush off reasonable criticism with the statement, 'He just doesn't like all the diversity in ____.'"
Actually, I guess that's more a critique of shitty people. But let's get the following out of the way: I like the diversity of race, gender and sexuality in TLJ. I grew up wondering two things about Star Wars: Why are they all white (with, like, one notable exception in the original trilogy) and Do they poop? (We never see any bathrooms in SW. And, I was a weird kid.) So seeing the broad spectrum of humanity better represented in TLJ was solid, necessary, and, again, only a problem if you're a shitty person.
What else do I like about the movie? I like the change in storytelling. I like "Let the past die. Kill it if you have to." I liked the evolution of the Force, and Force powers. (Astral projection and shared visions and such.) I like that we're letting go of the old tropes and characters and embracing new directions. I thought the Rey/Kylo dynamic was far and away the best note in TLJ. The implied existence of a third way to embrace the Force is THE way to keep this franchise fresh. I liked Luke. The lightsabers were excellent. The duels were some of the best in the series, and demonstrated an evolution of lightsaber combat that grounded the movie in the SW chronology. Some of the set-pieces were absolutely incredible. And I really dug Mary Princess Poppins Leia Force-soaring through the cosmos.
But The Last Jedi was still a crappy slog of a movie. Unless, of course, you invent a fan theory to excuse all the pacing, spacing, and gratuitous rule-breaking problems that plague the movie like mynocks on a hull plate.
Ready? Here it is:
Rose is a first order spy vetting a time machine, and she is set up to be revealed in the ninth film.
BOOOOOM! Ok, some explanation.
What is Rose's job? She says she works behind pipes, but she carries a stun gun and hangs out by the escape pods, keeping people from escaping certain doom. And, yes, it's a stun gun, not a tool, the guards on Cantobite use the same device to stun Finn and Rose. So she's armed with a stun gun, she's keeping rebels from escaping, later on she demonstrates an ability to pilot a speeder, hell, she even keeps Finn from wrecking the battering ram cannon. What is her job aboard ship? Plumber/guard/reserve pilot? Nah dog. She's a spy. She's there to guarantee The First Order's new tracking device is functioning. She's basically a control in their grand time travel experiment. She's gonna survive, escape, and Wyld Stallyyns this shit. She'll write a detailed time line of the Resistance movements and send it back in time to The First Order and THAT'S how they track them through lightspeed. THAT is the tight string, and THAT AWESOME TECHNOLOGY is why we see Snoke say "A tight string indeed, General Only-Ginger-in-Star-Wars."
Oh, did I say time travel? Cause I meant time travel. The First Order can now track a ship through hyperspace. This is HUGE. That changes the game. Actually, that pretty much means the Resistance is doomed, survival through TLJ or not. That's the problem with game changing technology*...it changes the game and the game, more often than not, ends. But let's talk about that tracker. Rose and Finn blither some science about active tracking, but that machine they find at the end, the big three-electrical arcs in a room thing, that didn't look like a scanner...that looked like a flux capacitor from Back to the Future. That shit is a time machine.
*For that matter, light-speed suicide runs...seems like something that would have come up at some point in the past. For example: "Well, folks, they have a death star but we have a barge with a hyperspace engine and a hold full of rocks, so I think we're gonna be ok. Bummer about Ben Kenobi getting chopped in half, seems like we could have avoided that whole...thing...Thanks for these plans though." (What if they never thought of suicide runs before? In all the time they've had big ships and hyperspace engines? Sure, and maybe they never thought of carving slices off a loaf of bread, too.)
So: The First Order doesn't know where the ship IS...they know where it WAS...because their TRACKER...is a TIME MACHIIIINE. (Also, if it's just a normal tracker, there's nothing for Snoke to laugh about. What's funny, there? It's just..."Good job, Hux. You made a tracker." Maybe Snoke had a shitty sense of humor. He sure liked to repeat the word "Faith" over and over.)
The trouble with time machines is they so often play havoc with physical laws. And brothers and sisters and everyone else, the physical laws in the Star Wars universe are fuuuucked.
Let's start with "When the hell is this taking place." At the end of The Force Awakens, Rey goes to find Luke. The DeathStarKiller Base has been destroyed. The Resistance is...on the run? They probably have to move, but there's not a lot of urgency. Remember, after the Deathstarkillerbase is destroyed, they're chilling on Rebel Base planet. Leia hugs Rey and snubs Chewie and then they leave and we see Rey meet Luke. Boom. Credits. TLJ begins with the Resistance's collective genitals on the chopping block, running like hell from giant wailing evilships. Kinda....suddenly, considering where we left them. Like, all but four of their ships are gone...suddenly. When the hell did this happen? And then we cut back to Rey and Luke, and we repeat the last scene from Force Awakens. Almost as if....time has folded and been altered. (But wait, Ben, what if it just took a long time to get to Luke's Ireland planet? Well, Petunia, later in TLJ Rey zips back from planet Ireland in less than six hours, so...no. Not a long trip.) TIME WRINKLE!
The First Order pursues the Resistance through a space that seems...wrong...somehow. Maybe it's the fact that all the laser bolts from the star destroyers curve through space. Go back. Watch it again. The bolts all curve on a parabola like they're being pulled down by gravity, like artillery shells, even though they're in deep space. OBVIOUSLY physical laws have been altered....BY TIME TRAVEL.
A word on the use of fuel in a zero-gee environment: If you run out of fuel in space, you don't just grind to a halt. You keep going. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless blah blah blah...it's space. (But wait, Ben, what if space here is different? Well, Petunia, Lucas has stated that his spaceship design aesthetic in A New Hope is so weird because he decided in SW that ships could look any way they want to because they are their own ships with their own identity and also atmospheric drag isn't a factor, so...no. There's no drag. No atmosphere. Those ships should have just kept on going. In fact, they could have turned the engines off and just drifted. The whole fuel thing is bogus.)
(But wait, Ben, why debate physics in a universe with lightsabers? Because, Petunia, when you look at a real-world particle accelerator, lightsabers aren't that far outside the realm of possibility. Trapping light is simpler than breaking the laws of thermodynamics. Stop interrupting.)
So space is broken. Physics isn't behaving.
Wait, Ben, tell me more about time jumps.
Get back in your parentheses, Petunia.
(Ben, tell me more about time jumps.)
All right, Petunia. Since you ask so parenthetically.
Snoke has a lens set up in his quarters to watch the Resistance ships be blasted. He raises the curtains and shows Rey the fleeing transports. There's no adjustment, no fine tuning, just raise the curtains, and boom...ships that they only just learned were fleeing, at all. How could he know where to set that up? It's there in a way earlier scene. He could only have known about their location if he had been told where they WERE...from the FUTURE! TIME JUMPS.
Or: Rose gets shot with a mounted gun and blown off her feet when Snokes super-duper star destroyer is being blasted apart. In the next shot, we see a stormtrooper at a mounted gun. Then we go back and see Rose, on her feet, in the same position, scurrying behind cover. The triptych of shots takes place over a quarter second. Bad direction? Or TIME WRINKLE?
Or: What about Finn-Rose taking time out of firefights and prison escapes to turn to each other and make funny faces like Whaaaa? Did he just whaaaaa? OMG look at that silly drooiiiid he's in an ATST whaaaaaa? People are SHOOTING AT YOU, ASSHOLES! DUCK! Or maybe time is moving at a different pace for them! Time is SLOWER for them! TIME WRINKLE! (I'm helping, I promise.)
How about the Force? Is the Force affected by the breaks in the universe caused by The First Order's time machine? Hard to say, but Threepio sees Luke when he's a force vision, and droids can't feel the Force, which has been established almost literally up the ass. So...yeah, the time machine is breaking the Force. TIME WRINKLE! Force Wrinkle?
How about at the end of the movie, when young Force-Sensitive McBabyfat raises his lightsaber-broom and sees the hyperspace trail of the fleeing rebels...well, let's just say spacetime is proper fucked by now. I mean, where to start? The kids telling stories about something that has literally just happened on a planet a lot more than four parsecs away? (Remember, Finn says, after they leave Cantobite and travel a ways, "Not much further, only four parsecs to go.") Fuckit TIME JUMP. Or how about the kid seeing a hyperspace trail from more than four parsecs away? (A parsec is about nineteen trillion miles. Three point twoish lightyears. A long goddam way.) SPACE WRINKLE?...Or is this a long way in the future? And it's a random hyperspace jump? It certainly doesn't read like that, but...maybe this isn't a space wrinkle. Maybe it's just shit direction with a needless add-on about oddly well-fed slave kids.
Or how about the fact that this movie is rife with cutesy animals, gratuitous CGI, kids-movie property destruction chase scenes, crappy child actors and hits-you-over-the-head lines like "She did it! She drew them all away! Oh, they hate that ship!" (Poe and Finn, respectively.) These are elements that Lucasfilm (and Disney, they don't NOT watch other people's movies,) should have learned to avoid after watching the prequel trilogy. But here we are in another kidzbop stinkfest...almost as if the prequel trilogy NEVER HAPPENED!
That's how you excuse the problems with TLJ. That, or you just accept that Rian Johnson wrote and directed a crappy movie that barely follows its own rules and is more interested in spectacle than plot.
·Show, don't tell. Christ on a biscuit, Johnson, you've got Leia and Holdo telling us how they feel about Poe, you've got Finn and Poe telling the audience that all the TIE fighters are flying away because you forgot to SHOW us the fighters going away in any coherent way...and then there's Rey and Leia talking about Luke's apparent death by...aneurism? Boredom? Constipation? Hard to tell, but it's a good thing you've got Rey to tell us "Luke is gone. But it wasn't sadness and pain, it was peace and purpose." Thanks, Rey. I mean it. Because otherwise I was going to think it was REALLY inexplicable bullshit death-for-effect. Now it's just a bullshit death-for-effect. I appreciate the explanation. But I can't help thinking the writing could have been a bit better.
·We go through all this nunsense about the end of the jedi order, last jedi this, last jedi* that, and then Luke abandons his (rational) misgivings about the Jedi** to tell us (well, Kylo Ren) that he isn't the last Jedi, REY is a Jedi Yaaaaay! We see that she's kept the texts, too! The sacred Jedi Texts! Hooraaay! So...all the moralizing about whether the Jedi should end, that was...meaningless? Yes, Petunia, it was meaningless. Now get back in your parentheses.
*Drinking Game: Drink your feelings away every time they say the name of the movie in a movie. "Thanks for the message from leia, luke, now we have A NEW HOPE." "Gosh, I liked Hoth. Too bad after we strike them THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!" "When's THE RETURN OF THE JEDI? I dunno, no one has seen Luke in a while." Glug glug motherfucking glug.
**Lots has been said about the Jedi training being too emotionless, long, full of Hayden Christianson, but jokes aside, we're talking about one barely-trained dude trying to train children (who are always chill) to harness a terribly powerful mystical energy that ties directly into moral fiber. His fears seem kinda rational, folks.
·Rose: If you're not a traitor, well, then...your sister just died! That's your story! Stop fingering your stupid head-shop trinket and LIVE YOUR LOSS. I don't need your tragic backstory about being shelled by your own ore. Your tragic present is MUCH more engaging than your Holocaust-presented-by-Disney meandering. But, no, we're just gonna keep fingering that trinket.*
*As a trinket-wearer whose trinket holds some personal significance, I am always annoyed when trinket-wearers take off their cherished trinkets and hang them from the cockpit controls of a ship you just know is gonna blow up. Did Finn stop to retrieve the only thing Rose has to remember her sister after Rose ship is blown to smithereens?** I hope so, cause otherwise she just lost the one physical reminder of her dead kin so that Johnson could slap a lazy reminder of the stakes*** in the middle of that skidspeeder scene.
**Smithereens is a great word.
***Why talk about death or mourning or loss in any way when you can just finger a trinket as visual shorthand for death and loss and mourning and sidestep the whole issue?
·All this bullshit about bloodlines misses a crucial detail: There have been THOUSANDS of jedi and sith in the Star Wars universe, and very few of them have been related to Skywalker in any way. If you pay attention to...your eyes? Logic? The whole bloodlines thing has been a non-issue. If you breathe exclusively through your mouth, you wondered obsessively who Rey's parents were and debated endlessly whether she was a Skywalker or a Kenobi and kinda missed the whole point of the flipping Force. If you are a smart, you understood that her parents were meaningless and the Force manifests in people randomly. In fact, before Lucas...Lucased and we got the Prequels, Luke says specifically "I want to come with you to Alderaan...I want to learn the ways of the force and become a jedi like my father." The implication has always been that adepts are everywhere and it's training, not blood, that determines a powerful jedi.
You know, training like our current last jedi has none of. That's kinda scary, actually.
·You wanna know how I know this movie was a return to Phantom Menace levels of dopey crap? There's a fat alien lady with like a dozen weird alien tits who does an opera scream in the middle of the jungle-cat rescue scene. The Fat Lady Sings! Get it? Do you...do you get it? Do you want some death sticks? How about some THIS is POD RACING?* Sand. I hate Sand.
*Speaking of Jake Lloyd, how about them child actors? The jungle cat trainer-kid who lets his animals go and yells "go go go WOOO" has one of the worst line reads in a franchise that has never been known for the skill of its child actors. Nobody caught that? I went to a state school, folks, I know my WOoooos. That was a shitty, disingenuous woo.
·Finn-Rose. Just...god, I don't know, cut the casino planet and the hasian smelt* bullshit and maybe give some screen time to any form of chemistry between them so that when she kisses him through a head injury and then loses consciousness it's NOT kinda creepy?
*The hasian smelt is the best conductor line is...awful. Just...just dumb. So it wasn't a payment? He needed a good conductor? What if she hadn't had that on and out? What if what if what if Benicio del Toro had been given more to do with his superfun character instead of...siding with the nazis? Cause, remember, a lot of this movie involved the message "Cede losses to save your loved ones and live to fight another day (song and dance break.)" This argument is kinda dumb when you're fighting with your back against the wall against genocidal fascists. Right? Cause like, they're just going to kill everyone, now. They won. They can track people through lightspeed, every other ship has a death star cannon of some kind, they won. It's over.
·HOLDO. There's a review out there that says Holdo's plan to keep Poe in the dark makes sense given that as soon as she tells Poe her plan, he blabs about it over the airwaves and Del Toro hears and betrayal blah blah women good men bad. Except that isn't what happens in the movie. Poe confronts Holdo and gets blown off. He sees that she's fueling the shuttles and tells Finn Holdo is planning an evacuation. This is what Del Toro overhears. Then, forty-five minutes later (or three days, it's hard to tell with this movie) Holdo finally reveals her plan, but the damage is already done. One can't help but think that she might have better served their interests telling the guy the plan and swearing him to secrecy, instead of being so reticent (and purple-haired*) we can't help but think she's a traitor. Sure, there's a great thread in this movie of 'women working well with women and keeping the idiot men in the dark because they blow things up in their cockpit' but the strength of that message is kinda wrecked when the strong woman's plan is undone by the fact that she doesn't share intel in a critical situation. What if...she tells him, and he accepts her authority based on a good plan, and then, and I know this is going to be hard, Rian Johnson, but then they DON'T turn to the audience, wink, and say something like, 'feminism is good, kids!' What if we were just...trusted to hear the message? Or, fuck it, be overt. But at least don't have the strong woman derail her own leadership because she refuses to share. That's like, the opposite of the message we need.
A word on Holdo's sexuality. Apparently, in the books, Holdo is queer. Great. I mean that, great, representation is more than important, it's fundamentally lacking in major pop culture and we have to fix that. But in the movie, there is no mention of her sexuality one way or the other. Sorry, folks, if it's not on screen in any way, it isn't there, and this movie gets no win as a result. IMO. Maybe it's in the books I haven't read. But then, IMO if I have to do background research to understands a Star War, then there's already something wrong with the universe. (TIMESPACE JUMPWRINKLE!)
*Purple hair: I was on the lookout, this time. Even in the casino, no one else has hair like this. No one has dyed hair. Style is some nitpicky shit to comment on, sure, but still, I feel like Holdo got lost on her way to The Hunger Games. Holdo on, though...maybe she DID. She was on her way to The Hunger Games, and a SPACE WRINKLE plopped her down in Star Wars, where she joined the Resistance. But in the absence of space wrinkles, I was a little distracted by this utter departure from SW's visual shorthand. In fact, the othermaking effect of this departur made it that much more difficult to think of Holdo as anything other than a spy. And then she wasn't. Suddenly.**
**Also, how many ships does she watch get destroyed before she does something? Ten? Twenty?*** She just watches from the window for like, ten straight minutes. And THEN lightspeed suicide run. Maybe time runs at a different speed for her, too? Time Jump?
***And for that matter, on HothCrait, they start with thirteen skid-speeders. I counted as best I could, and...I think more get destroyed than they started with. Space....wrinkle?
·Speaking of HothCrait, the whole "It's not ice, it's salt!" thing was bull. Either do the nostalgia trip, or find a new location. Stop winking at me all the time, Star Wars, I'm starting to think you're hitting on me, and I don't have sex with TIME WRINKLES. Cause when that one trooper tastes the snowsalt, and then spits it out, and says, 'Salt!' I really wanted his buddy to turn to him and say "Fuck you, Ritchie, we GET IT. It's LIKE THE OLD ONE BUT DIFFERENT."
·A pox on whoever decided a mid-movie five-minute jungle cat property destruction escape sequence was a necessary part of any movie not geared exclusively towards five year olds who still wear diapers.
·I'm super disappointed that Rey didn't take Ren up on his offer to abandon the lightside-darkside interpretation of the Force in favor of starting a New Order cover band, which is CLEARLY what he had in mind when he said they should start a new order in the galaxy.
·Wrecking the universe with a time machine opens up the possibility of an Avengers/Star Wars crossover. We've already got a refugee from the Hunger Games in the SW universe, so there's room for more. It's a big galaxy. I bet Captain America would make a great Jedi. We could have spin-off movies featuring Disney Princesses with lightsabers. We could have a jedi in the X Men, and Professor X could be like whaaaa? We might as well. Thanks to The Last Jedi, the physical laws of Star Wars are already fucked.
The Bottom Line, folks, is that if a movie asks interesting questions and challenges your expectations and is still a crappy movie with bad writing, acting and direction, it's still a crappy movie. If you have to insert a time machine narrative to excuse directorial ineptitude, it's a crappy movie. The Last Jedi was interesting ideas about the Force couched in a slog. This is now two movies of a trilogy that have been devoted to freeing the new from the shackles of the old. At this point, we're almost out of time, and in the future, we may well call this progression of trilogies The Prequels, The Originals, and The Apologies.