Flawed things can be great, and great things can be flawed.
Except ‘Wrath of Khan’. ‘Wrath of Khan’ is perfect and if you try to convince me otherwise, we’ll fall out.
But besides ‘Wrath of Khan’, grandeur and tedium are perfectly capable of existing side-by-side. ‘Star Trek: First Contact’ is a fantastic film, yet there are plenty of issues to be found within it. Rice pudding is well tasty, even if it does have the consistency of stale cum. And Boris Johnson may be politically, socially and morally repulsive, but look at that magnificent barnet.
I mean, look at ‘Return of the Jedi’. Say what you like about Ewoks, or regressive gender representation, or literally any of the male hairstyles, but just try and tell me, honestly, that the final fight between Luke and Vader isn’t one of the emotional high points in the whole damn franchise. Go on, try.
You can probably already tell where this is going.
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ contains some of my favourite moments from any Star Wars film in the franchise. Hell, the final duel itself is possibly the most perfect Star Wars scene ever, and we’ll cover why shortly.
First off: Spoilers. Spoilers from the outset. Don’t proceed if you don’t want Star Wars spoilers.
So, here is a comprehensive guide on how to have an opinion on ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ without sounding like either a sloppy dicksack or an uninformed shitprick.
Step One: Don’t Just Recognise the Great, Understand It
Context is everything.
So, I’m the kind of person who, the first time I saw the final fight between Luke and Kylo Ren, on the salty planet of Krayt, was staring at Luke’s lightsaber thinking:
“But we just saw that exact lightsaber torn apart like, three scenes ago. How the hell does he have it fixed all of a sudden?”
I was also thinking:
“Why the hell didn’t we get to see Luke lifting his X-Wing out of the water to travel to the Rebel base, in what would have been an amazing homage to ‘The Empire Strikes Back’?”
And then, boom. That reveal. We discover that Luke is projecting himself and his lightsaber across lightyears, an illusion made to distract Kylo Ren and the First Order, to buy time for Leia and the rest of the cornered Resistance to escape.
Now, if you’re the sort of person who liked this reveal because “It was a cool twist!”, then please feel free to never open your mouth ever again. This final scene was a great twist, but there’s so much more to it than that, and to understand it, you need to look backwards.
Forty years back, in fact, and a full nine Star Wars films. Back to before we even had “episodes” and “sub-titles”, when all we had was ‘STAR WARS’, and it was a single film that looked like this:
(Incidentally, I’m writing this on the 28th December 2017, literally forty years and a day since ‘Star Wars’ was released in the UK.
… Should’ve written it yesterday. Balls.)
Anyway, that clip above is what shapes Luke’s final fight in ‘The Last Jedi’, and its significance is vital. It’s that line:
“The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.”
Because, after Kylo unleashes all of his hatred and fury against his former master, as he realises the deception for which he’s fallen, those words above echo across four decades. For all of his power and dominion, Kylo Ren is still just a weak-minded fool compared to a true master of the force, who draws their strength not from aggression, but from peace.
And the fact that the Luke’s exertion ultimately consumes him is, to me, even more beautiful. The film is none too subtle about its theme of protection over destruction, and in fact at one point just gives up and has Rose flat-out state:
“We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!”
Indeed, it echoes each emotional high from the films that have come before it – Obi Wan sacrificing himself to force Luke to flee the Death Star. Luke throwing himself into a chasm in Cloud City rather than join Vader. Luke again risking everything to try and save Vader from the Emperor, and Vader’s subsequent sacrifice to save his son. Han’s decision to face death to try and save his own son’s soul aboard Starkiller Base. And all the sacrifices made by the Rogue One crew, just to get a hope of a chance for the Rebellion to survive the Death Star.
You can even recognise the failures of the Prequel Trilogy by this very theme being absent from any of them. Qui Gonn doesn’t choose to make a sacrifice in ‘The Phantom Menace’, he just gets defeated in a duel. No sacrifice is made in ‘Attack of the Clones’, either, it’s just a lot of bullshit with lightning and a spring-loaded Yoda. Similarly, it seems clear to me that there would have been a lot more emotional punch to ‘Revenge of the Sith’ if Obi Wan had chosen to kill his friend and failed, or if Padmé had died trying to save her children, rather than because she just, like, y’know, totally couldn’t even anymore.
But all of this frothy fanboyism aside, there’s so much more that’s great about this scene. The fact that the final lightsaber duel in this movie wasn’t even really a fight scene frames what’s great about all fight scenes – that they’re about the characters, and the struggles, and the themes. Fancy moves and complex choreography is great and all, but the substance comes from what’s going on around the glowy laser swords and CGI bollocks.
Step 2: Acknowledge the Bad, and Appreciate its Significance
In a weirdly fitting manner, whilst one of the last scenes of the film was one of the best, for me it was one of the first scenes that was one of the worst. It’s not long after we get the opening crawl, in which we’re told the following:
“The FIRST ORDER reigns. Having decimated the peaceful Republic, Supreme Leader Snoke now deploys his merciless legions to seize military control of the galaxy.”
As we find out that the Resistance is evacuating their base and fleeing for safer refuge, the massive ships of the First Order appear in orbit, bearing down on the Resistance fleet. This is a pretty tense moment, a lot of threat and dread. The First Order are big, they’re powerful, and they seem pretty unstoppable.
Then Poe Dameron, he of the gorgeous, glorious locks of hair, appears ahead of the First Order armada in his X-Wing, alone. And suddenly you’re like “Cool, awesome, I can’t wait to see what Poe’s strategy is going to be to win the day. This is exciting.”
So Poe radios General Hux, he of the scenery-demolishing jaws, and the following exchange ensues:
Poe Dameron: This is Commander Poe Dameron of the Republic fleet, I have an urgent communique for General Hugs.
General Hux: This is General Hux of the First Order. The Republic is no more. Your fleet are Rebel scum and war criminals. Tell your precious princess there will be no terms, there will be no surrender…
Poe Dameron: Hi, I’m holding for General Hux.
General Hux: This is Hux. You and your friends are doomed. We will wipe your filth from the galaxy.
Poe Dameron: Okay. I’ll hold.
General Hux: Hello?
Poe Dameron: Hello? Yup, I’m still here.
General Hux: Can he hear me?
Poe Dameron: Hux?
Captain Canady: He can.
Poe Dameron: With an ‘H’? Skinny guy. Kinda pasty.
General Hux: I can hear you. Can you hear me?
Poe Dameron: Look, I can’t hold forever. If you reach him, tell him Leia has an urgent message for him…
Captain Canady: I believe he’s tooling with you, sir.
Poe Dameron: …about his mother.
And you’re like “… Really?”
I mean, all of this is amusing, and it’s delivered perfectly well by the actors, but then you scroll back up to that opening crawl – are these the “merciless legions” currently reigning the galaxy? The ones who just fell for a prank call?
Hey, Poe, that was all a bit elaborate, maybe try for something simpler next time, like this:
Or maybe this:
The possibilities are endless.
The main issue with this exchange isn’t so much that it’s humourous, as that it turns General Hux and, by extension, the collective First Order, into a… a goofball. Into both a schlemiel and a schlemazel, right when he’s meant to be at his most threatening.
Now, taking the piss out of Imperial Officers is a long-standing Star Wars tradition, but it’s never usually as pedestrian as this. Even that rando on the end of the comm in the Death Star detention centre eventually got fed up of Han’s bullshit. So why is Hux falling for this, instead of just nuking Poe’s X-Wing as a matter of course?
And it takes away from the heroism. Poe’s daring assault against the First Order dreadnought is much less impressive when the bloke in charge of the fleet is operating at the same level as Moe the Bartender (not helped by the fact his second-in-command is Vyvyan from ‘The Young Ones’).
I mean, there’s a lot to be said about the First Order’s tactics in this exchange in general. As pleased as I was to see more Angry Space Triangles on screen, it was that connection that also left me wondering why the hell the First Order had forgotten about such a thing as a “fighter screen”, especially when they lost their massive, planet-sized super-weapon to a fighter attack literally eight scenes prior.
But then, Imperial arrogance is another fine Star Wars tradition, and seeing them failing to learn from their previous mistakes and being bested by an inventive Rebellion attack is perfectly within scope of the franchise. They can be hubristic, foolish even, but they shouldn’t be clowns – not if we’re to take them seriously for the rest of the film.
Later on in the film, when Kylo orders Luke to be wiped out with massed artillery fire, there’s a moment where Hux turns to him and starts giving him sass for such crass overkill. And all I can think is “Shut the fuck up, Hux, you are the absolute last person to be commenting on another person’s composure.” If Kylo had mimed a “It’s the Scooby Doo gang calling, they want you to be their next antagonist,” phonecall, I’m confident Hux would’ve tried to take the invisible receiver out of Kylo’s hand before realising what was going on.
Step 3: It’s All About Tone
The previous section could be summed up relatively succinctly as follows:
“The tone of the conversation between Poe and Hux didn’t match the severity of the circumstances.”
There are always opportunities for levity and humour. The DC movies have learned the hard way that humour is an important part of telling a story in a manner that’s engaging and effective, and that allows you to connect with an audience.
Throughout ‘The Last Jedi’, we see that Rey and Kylo are somehow connected through the Force, able to see one another and speak to one another, without anyone else around them being aware. Most of these scenes are heady and serious, but there’s one where we see Kylo topless, and Rey demurely asks him to cover himself. This moment got a lot of laughs from the rest of the audience, which bothered me.
The laughter bothered me partially because all expressions of human joy cause me physical discomfort, but mostly because I thought this was actually a charming bit of humanisation of these otherwise superhuman characters. Rey’s already having a hard time dealing with all of this, and she likely just couldn’t cope with the additional stress of being face-to-face with the sheer acreage Kylo’s pectoral muscles.
It was a lovely moment that was sadly a source of big laughs for the mouth-breathing popcorn-shoveling unwashed masses that make up the cinema-going public these days. I mean, don’t you just hate people?
There were similar occurrences during Rey and Luke’s conversation inside the Magic Tree, next to the old books. This felt like a fairly pivotal scene, where Rey and Luke confront one another over their respective motivations. Again, a lot of tension and drama.
And yet the lines “I’ve seen your daily routine, you’re not busy,” and “Jakku? Alright, that is pretty much nowhere,” got big, big laughs in the cinema on opening night, and left me feeling like I was on the set of ‘The Big Bang Theory’, because whilst those lines are amusing, they’re hardly the height of comedic writing.
But upon my second viewing, when the audience was a little more muted, those lines fed into the scene nicely – again, they were just charming, in their own way, and let down only by the audience. Which I know is a really elitist thing to say, but you know I’m right. Laughter is a precious resource, to be spared only for true comedy. How dare these people sully both good comedy and good drama with their drooling guffaws and chortles. I hate them. They’re like animals, and I hate them!
Anyway, the topic I actually wanted to cover in this section was a topic that leaves me feeling… unclean. Because it involves me badmouthing the grandfather of Star Wars, John Williams.
John Williams is the man behind all of the Star Wars soundtracks. For reference, the Star Wars soundtracks are arguably the best thing about Star Wars, and certainly the best thing about the Prequel trilogy.
Sadly, in ‘The Last Jedi’, he dropped the ball, somewhat.
A common trope among all film soundtracks is for each character to have their own “tune”, their own piece of music that signifies their presence within the film. Most of the Star Wars cast gets one:
- Luke’s de facto soundtrack is “Binary Sunset”.
- Leia’s is, reasonably enough, “Leia’s Theme”.
- Yoda also gets an eponymous track, “Yoda’s Theme”.
- Darth Vader didn’t get his signature sound until the “Imperial March” arrived in ‘Empire Strikes Back’.
- The Emperor doesn’t get a single named track, but you should recognise this piece of music from the darkest moments of ‘Return of the Jedi’ (and also if you lost a mission in ‘X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter’).
- “Rey’s Theme” from ‘The Last Jedi’ was arguably the musical highpoint of that film.
- Finn and Poe even share a musical theme for all of their interactions.
Rose is a new character introduced in this film. She’s actually a bit tragic – her sister dies in the costly attack that Poe launches in the film’s opening, a loss that she carries with her as she nonetheless remains dedicated to the cause. Despite her bereavement, she never loses sight of what’s really important, and acts as the film’s moral barometer throughout. Which is neat.
What isn’t neat is her fucking theme tune. First off, it settles into that saccharine, treacly pit of despair reserved for the absolute worst of “feel-good” Christmassy bullshit music such as this:
(Don’t get me wrong, I like the Piano Guys, but this is an atrocity.)
Now, I’m not a fan of Rose’s theme to begin with, but I can get past that if it’s used appropriately. The issue is that even if you do like it, it seems to be used every time Rose opens her mouth, which is not always appropriate.
It’s a cheery, overly-sentimental Hallmark-badge-wearing lowest-common-denominator piece of garbage that just about works when Rose is talking about things like saving animals and “protecting the people we looove” and definitely doesn’t work when Rose is telling Finn about how her sister was killed in a fiery explosion whilst bombing a ship full of thousands of people.
The best musical moments of ‘The Last Jedi’ are in fact the moments where the old tunes are brought back into use, such as “Rey’s Theme” during Rey’s lightsaber practice montage, or the frequent refrains from the Original Trilogy. But these are pieces of music that are versatile, that can be adapted to fit different situations. Rose’s theme is so cloying that it tonally dominates every scene it’s used in, subsequently ruining them.
I’m sure a lot of people really liked that particular piece of music, and that’s fine, but you need to understand why it doesn’t work. And that’s just the problem with people, they’re so easily impressed by crude sentimentality, they can be led astray. People also elected Donald Trump, and voted for Brexit, and watch Fox News and read the Daily Mail. What people really need is wisdom, and strength, someone powerful enough to guide them and tell them what they ought to be thinking. Democracy is too good for the people of this planet, they need a true, strong and secure leader to bring peace to the world.
Step 4: Measure With A Sliding Scale of Granularity
Now that you’ve established your thoughts on the big stuff, like theme and tone, it’s time to fine-tune your opinion using the more detailed parts of the film itself.
First up, if you get annoyed by any of the inconsistencies with the technology or the physics on display, then you’ve picked entirely the wrong genre of film to watch, that genre being All Films Ever Made. With the exception of maybe something like ‘The Martian’, which is a story entirely based on the realities of existing in a place that does not want you to exist, Hollywood abandoned long ago any attempt at so much as lip service to realism.
I will happily give a lot of grief to a piece of crap like ‘Into Darkness’ over its technological inconsistencies, because for some reason it decided to base its entire plot around them. When you spend half of your movie talking about a bunch of fucking torpedoes, it’s important to establish what the hell those torpedoes are and what they do, otherwise you’ll end up with the cinematic equivalent of a sad handjob in a bus shelter.
The reason I bring this up is because it’s easy to see X-Wings flying down a trench in ‘The Force Awakens’ and subsequently conclude that it must be the same film as ‘A New Hope’, despite the fact that the journeys taken by the characters and their revelations are completely distinct, and X-Wings in trenches makes up roughly seventeen seconds of screentime in ‘The Force Awakens’ compared to being the entire final act of ‘A New Hope’.
Similarly with ‘The Last Jedi’, it’s easy to get caught up in stuff like arcing laser bolts or arbitrary fuel reserves – but these things are mostly details, aesthetic choices that don’t affect the journeys that the characters are on.
What’s more problematic is the stuff which does affect the journeys our characters take.
When Finn and Rose run into the skeevy hacker played by Benicio Del Toro, they do so by chance, not through any decision that they took or choice that they made. Now, normally I’d clock this up to “The Force brought them together,” which is actually a canonical explanation for any significant coincidence in the Star Wars universe.
But if they’re just going to stumble into the exact person they need to break through First Order security, why follow such a convoluted path to get there? It removes any requirement for them to travel to the Planet of the One-Percenters, meet the little force-sensitive kid, or ride the sheep-headed horse-bodied fox-eared bastards before getting rescued by Benicio.
This is exacerbated by the ultimate conclusion of their entire endeavour, which is to be spotted by a droid aboard the First Order flagship and captured anyway, at which point Benicio f-f-f-f-f-fucks off without consequence. Pretty much that entire B-plot could be replaced by a five-minute scene of Finn, Rose and BB-8 just sneaking onto Snoke’s ship.
Whilst the Finn-Rose subplot does give us some lovely moments (and a strong animal rights undercurrent to the film) and some great exposition, that could all have been transplanted into other scenes – especially when the film is two-and-a-half hours long. Which is fully half-an-hour too long for any Star Wars film.
It’s details like these that are the real “plot holes” – not minor omissions that could be explained with a single sentence of exposition, but over-indulgent, overly-sentimental distractions that should have been covered in a single sentence of exposition.
But you’ve got to have that Finn-Rose detour, right? Because you’ve got to have a big chase sequence with a load of cuddly horse monsters breaking free of captivity, right? And they’ve got to be adorable so that people feel sorry for them, Right? God, once again, this otherwise-perfect film is getting laid low by a need to satisfy the masses. Bread and circuses, that’s all you people want – excitement and extravagance to keep your tiny little brains entertained. The kind of people who applaud the end credits of a film they liked. Who are you applauding? The projectionist? The cleaners? You know the film-makers aren’t actually there to hear you clapping, don’t you? What I wouldn’t give to bring those kinds of people to order. I’d soon have you fall in line, in line with reason, and common sense. I just need the power to do it. Imagine it, a world without deviance or distraction, an organised world united behind a single ideal, where the strong pull together and those who refuse to fall in line can be destroyed. That’s the problem, I keep holding back, holding this anger in check – if I were to embrace it, give in to my hatred, who knows what I could achieve.
On the subject of minor details, I also want to talk about one short moment that really bothered me, which was Luke milking that weird creature with the four… look, they weren’t udders, they were clearly breasts. If they had been udders, then I’d probably have been less skeeved out by it, but they were clearly breasts that seemed painfully engorged with green milk, given that it seemed he only had to press on them to get them to fire a jet direct into his sippy-cup.
To be fair, Star Wars has always been a bit gross, but this was… grotesque. It was like something out of ‘The League of Gentlemen’, in a really bad way. It was just so bizarre, and really off-putting.
Like, Chewbacca barbequeing a Porg was weirdly perfect, especially as I like to think of it as the canonical moment that Chewie decided to go vegan – but Luke having a xeno-lactation fetish is just a bit too much.
Similarly with the particularly cartoonish character that breaks out into opera right before getting horribly trampled by sheep-horse-foxes in the casino. There were just a handful of these weird moments, inserted into the movie a bit like the hardcore porn edited into kids’ films by Tyler Durden. They were so quick you might not even notice them, but so weird that they definitely left you feeling like you’d just been violated in some way.
Step 5: Take A Step Back to See the Bigger Picture
I’ve barely covered a single percent of the interesting things there are to talk about in ‘The Last Jedi’, but I’m going to bring this guide to a close with the final step, which is to take a look at the full film, from start to finish. Not just the things in it, but what the film is, its essence, if you will.
Mr Plinkett has done a good summary of the “Ending Multiplication Effect” – the tendency of films that lack narrative focus to split themselves up into smaller chunks as they progress. As he mentions, ‘A New Hope’ does an excellent job of keeping everyone more-or-less together through their film until the very end, giving everyone their role to play in a single climactic final act (even Obi Wan).
‘The Force Awakens’ decides to split itself into two, with Finn and Rey reaching an emotional climax on the surface with Kylo, and Poe and Co. in their X-Wings with their own more physical climactic battle.
‘The Last Jedi’ is much more interesting, in that it starts off with everyone scattered – Rey and Luke (and Kylo, really) on the Sneeze Planet, with Leia, Rose, Poe and Finn escaping the First Order. Not long into the film, that second group splits up again, with Finn and Rose going on their merrily-pointless Casino vacation.
But by the time we reach the final scene, everybody has reached the final battle, with all of the action focused on that one salt planet with the massive door.
This is a really nice narrative trick, and pretty rare. Pulling all of those plot threads together is no small feat, and it’s really rewarding, as an audience member, to see it done without too much contrivance.
Likewise, the film’s themes are broadly on point and well-demonstrated. Kylo’s repeated mantra of destroying the old to make way for the new is a nice way to bring in the meta-issue of these being new films with new casts and new stories, and a good way to remind everyone to stop clinging on to the old characters, whose stories really ended thirty years ago.
Rey’s struggles with her own identity are reflected in the progression of the film itself, with it starting out not really knowing what it wants to be, and ending so beautifully that I was nearly ready to forgive it all of its missteps along the way. I have no idea if this is intentional – something tells me it might have been, but even if it was accidental, I’m happy to treat it as part of the film’s character.
It’s just a shame that there’s too much gumpf in the middle, with casinos and destruction derbies and Benicio Del Toro st-st-st-st-st-stammering unconvincingly.
I’m confident that not long after this film is released on DVD, there will be an amazing fan-edit which will trim it down to a tight one hour and fifty-five minutes and elevates it not only to being a great Star Wars movie, but a great sci-fi movie in general. I think if it had been released to cinemas that way, there wouldn’t be such division amongst fans. But then, what do I know? These cretins still pay to see movies about Transformers and planets of apes and anything with Will Farrell in it, so I’m sure if you took out all the bullshit with sheep-horse-fox things, all you’d see would be requests for more bullshit with sheep-horse-fox things. Y’know, if you were smart, if you were to join me in bringing to light these cinematic mistakes, we could set right all of film media’s woes. No more Prequel trilogies, no more pointless remakes, no more cinematic universes and no more Zach Snyder filming everything in half-slowmo, half-normal speed. We could take all of these shitty film-making devices and the audiences who pay to gobble them up and we could wipe them out – All of Them. We could combine our strength and become unstoppable, bringing an end to the chaos of just putting Chris Pratt or Melissa McCarthy in a film and hoping for the best and instead begin a new, pure cinema industry where meaningless plot twists are struck down and replaced with well-structured narratives that lead sensibly from one scene to another. Give in to your anger over trailers that cover the entire plot of the film, let go of your control and let the hate of comedy sidekick characters flow through you. You don’t yet know the true power of creative elitism.
A Few Sporadic Observations
- I adored the reveal of the Falcon in the final fight scene. Having the TIE Fighters destroyed, followed by seeing the distinctive shadow on the white salty plain was just so wonderful that I nearly cried. Also seeing it lose yet another communications dish.
- The little boy at the end using the Force to grab his broom was so quick that I thought I’d imagined it the first time. I normally hate children in movies but this one doesn’t really say anything so I was happy to forgive his presence.
- Yoda’s voice really bothered me the first time around, then I realised the second time what it was – it was his original voice. It’s easy to forget how squeaky he occasionally was when we first meet him in ‘Empire Strikes Back’, and it caught me off guard this time around.
- The random cameos by cast members from ‘W1A’, ‘The Thick of It’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ was fairly distracting, but in a good way.
- I like to think that a planet made entirely of salt is the homeworld of all those tragic manbabies who complained about women taking more prominent roles in Star Wars films.
- Rose’s blaster shot pinging harmlessly off of Phasma’s armour was beautiful and perfect. It totally makes sense that Phasma would be the only Storm Trooper with armour that actually has a function, and it also made her that much more threatening. If anything, I would have loved to see more of Phasma in firefights just basically invulnerable, but alas, she is once again criminally underused.
- Poe: “Finn, you must have a thousand questions!” Finn: “Where’s Rey?”