I picked up The Last Jedi and Rogue One from the library last night, so as usual, I’m ready to understand the conversation around these movies just in time for nobody to be talking about them anymore. Oh, well. A review follows anyway.
So far, I’ve just watched TLJ. Here’s what I thought:
1) This is the best writing I’ve seen in a Star Wars movie since at least the original trilogy. Sharp, funny, but the laugh lines don’t rely entirely on the kind of mindless self-parody that so many modern Disney movies do. That “maybe” line? Incredible.
I LOVED Luke’s grumpy this-film-only catchphrase of “Amazing! Every word you just said was wrong.” It was especially refreshing since Star Wars has a history of relying on old worn-out catchphrases, speaking of which, the fact that Rian Johnson got the obligatory “I have a bad feeling about this” line out of the way right at the beginning, spoken by a semi-understandable droid, was a good one. That line really would have clunked later in the film. On the other hand, Luke’s “See you round, kid,” was unexpected and perfect. Overall, a great use of old and new dialogue and, in contrast with the hated prequels, a LOT of dialogue, almost all of it good and sharp and pacey.
2) New characters. Gotta start with Holdo, since she and Rose are the center of so much fake-fan whining. Holdo was an incredibly good character, and Laura Dern’s acting was phenomenal. I loved how patronizing she was to Poe — it reminded me very much of the Leia-Han dynamic from episode IV before their romance became a thing, even thought the context and content were quite different.
It seems like all the anti-Holdo rage from fake-fans is based entirely on the fact that some lady gets to disrespect a hotheaded Good Guy (emphasis on the “guy” part) and escape with her power and dignity intact, saving the Resistance more or less single-handedly. Boo hoo.
I LOVE Holdo. She’s the best strategic thinker in the Resistance, with no exceptions. Did her initial plan fail? Sure, just like LITERALLY EVERY OTHER CHARACTER’S PLAN FAILED. In fact, had she pinned her hopes on Finn and Rose instead, like Poe did, the main cruiser would have been destroyed with everyone still inside, and Finn & Rose would be dead too. And here’s another thing I love about her: unlike Rose and Finn and Poe and basically everyone, Holdo never has to rely on deus ex machina to wriggle out of trouble. She improvises like a boss (which is what she is) and kicks ass using tools and concepts INTRODUCED TO US IN THE VERY FIRST STAR WARS MOVIE.
I can’t emphasize enough how important that is. This is the kind of thing I emphasize in my own writing: the importance of treating previous work as canon and leaning into the world you’ve built. All the tools you need are there already if you’re willing to give it enough thought, but it’s soooo easy to get lazy and decide that new audiences won’t care, so you can tweak the universe if you really have to. That kind of thinking is so common in reboots and was very evident in JJ Abrams’ new Star Trek movies. I love that Rian Johnson didn’t go down that path with Holdo. There was one place where he did tweak the world, and I was less of a fan of it, but I’ll get to that later.
Back to Holdo. She’s a new favorite character. Her leadership style is perhaps too opaque, too “trust me,” but you know who else is like that in the Star Wars verse? Oh yeah, EVERYBODY. Her strategic thinking, especially on the fly, is killer. Dudes, she’s WAY better at improvising than any of your faves.
3) I guess Rose gets her own number. I like her! No complaints. I like her backstory, I like her perspective, I like her spunk. She’s a new main character rather than a side character, so she has less room to surprise me than Holdo does, but I like her writing better than Finn’s. Her planning is certainly no worse than his, but she commits to it.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Finn’s character growth in this movie, a lot. I just thought the I’m-no-hero-I-just-want-to-get-the-hell-out-of-here thing went on for too long after he started hobnobbing with legends and volunteering for suicide missions, which is what they would be for any non-main character. He’s also, I think, the only main character who consistently lies to other main characters over stupid shit. I don’t mean that trying to survive is in poor taste, I just mean that when other characters lie or bend the truth it’s usually for deeper character reasons, y’know? Like, Rey has apparently been lying to herself (and other people as a consequence) about her parents, but that’s for personal reasons, not to wriggle out of something or impress somebody. Anyway, Finn is fine, he’s just not my favorite, and the writing often sells him short.
Does Rose’s plan fail? Sure, again, just like EVERY PLAN FAILS. Would the Resistance actually be better off if she and Finn had stayed with them instead of trying their long-shot plan? Nope, it’d be the same.
Luke: Not a new character, but a great improvement over both his original trilogy character, who lacked depth, and Alec Guinness’ Obi Wan who was even shallower (not a knock on AG’s acting, it’s just that George Lucas is super into archetypes).
4) Oh wait, maybe I didn’t actually say that already. I *loved* where this movie took Luke’s character, all crotchety wit and bitterness, but with so much heart. The notion that it’s fear and not anger that messed Luke up in the end and may have caused his greatest failure is A+
And yeah, I know episode 3 also gives us fear rather than anger as Anakin’s downfall, but that arc was really poorly done hand-wavy bullcrap, so there’s that. The original trilogy’s Vader was angry and *fearless,* and not nearly so freaking irrational.
Anyway, I loved Luke’s new look. I also loved the Rashomon-like backstory of Kylo Ren’s turn to the dark side, that was fun.
5) Okay, the part I didn’t like. Yoda. Sigh.
I actually liked Yoda’s lines in that dialogue with Luke, I thought they were great. But his ghost’s ability to call down lightning and poke Luke with his ghost-stick raised SO MANY QUESTIONS that I don’t think the next film has any intention of answering. And this is from someone who actually wanted force-ghosts to zap people!
I should really explain that, so it’s time to tell you about my one foray into fanfic, which never made it onto any forum and is probably lost forever on an old hard drive somewhere. After we saw the prequels, my brother and I got mad and co-wrote plot outlines for alternative episodes 1-3 that we thought would be truer to the original trilogy. We were pissed that the new prequels betrayed some of the original trilogy’s better aspects, so we fixed it. One of those aspects is the fact that muppet-Yoda should remain a surprise. Luke doesn’t know that this obnoxious little alien is the Jedi master he’s looking for, and neither should the audience. So in our version, Yoda had already retired to Dagobah when the action began.
Anyway, the existence of the Yoda and Obi Wan force-ghosts in episodes 5 and 6 raised a serious worldbuilding question: even if it’s only the most powerful Jedi who become ghosts, WHERE ARE ALL THE OTHER GHOSTS??? Yoda and Obi Wan can’t possibly be the first. The canon apparently suggests that Qui-Gon is the very first force ghost ever, and that just seems silly.
Our solution was pretty ingenious. The Jedi Council would include several ghosts, and it would be made clear that only the most kickass Jedi have such a powerful influence on the world around them that their imprint remains after they’re gone. When Anakin betrays everyone and wipes out the council, it’s the force-ghosts, not Obi-Wan, who take him down by merging with him, disappearing in a blaze of emperor-style lightning and frying his body. That way the lack of other ghosts is explained, as is the need for Vader’s suit, without all that lava and nonsense.
We had other cute and clever ideas, but I won’t go into those. The point is that I’m not *inherently* against the idea that ghosts should be able to affect the world around them, especially with lightning powers! But if Yoda can call lightning from the sky *and* give Luke a poke, one wonders why he and Obi Wan don’t go kick Kylo Ren’s ass themselves. At the very least, a trio of them plus Luke should be unstoppable, right? Or Qui-Gon, if he’s still around? Why does nobody think to ask this freaking TRIUMVIRATE OF GHOSTS for help, if they still have all this power and still care who wins?
So, yeah. I loved Yoda’s lines, but his physical manifestations raised so many worldbuilding questions that they really messed up the scene for me. That, and the CG. Sorry, I hate CG Yoda. Bring back the muppet. Like, seriously, what are the arguments against muppet Yoda? That he looks fake to modern audiences? CG LOOKS FAKE TO US TOO, SHERLOCK. Anyway.
6) Length. Yes, this movie was long, but for the first time in the modern era, it didn’t feel *too* long because it wasn’t all interminable battle scenes and navel gazing, there was actually quite a lot of plot (and good dialogue! yay!) to get through. There were a tremendous number of defeats, escapes, minor victories and reversals, and it was all so smooth and logically consistent that it never grew tiresome.
Episodes 1-3 felt interminable. The Force Awakens was pretty good but also felt long, considering that its main feat was that it rebooted the themes of the original series in a pleasant and updated way. This movie was longer, but it never dragged. Plus, there was character development, hallelujah! Praise the lord, there was dialogue worth listening to! I’m a fan.
7) The Rey-Ren dynamic. The people who ship this couple are seriously misguided. Kylo Ren is correct that he is a monster, and I hope he doesn’t get redeemed before he dies. I loved the resolution of that Snoke fight, because Kylo Ren saves Rey, sure, but only by killing yet another elder that he resents already for not giving him his due. Rey’s is a fight for good as well as for survival, but Ren’s is still just a fight for power.
And then he turns around and tries to tempt Rey not just with the prospect of power but with the prospect of *fixing him.* Hang out with me Rey, we’ll sort things out and rule as a team and you can keep trying to turn me. Sure, it’ll require compromising yourself, but it might work! Maybe you’ll bring out the best in me!
And Rey’s like: No.
God, I love that. I love that she’s spent all this energy and goodwill and put all this faith in turning him, but she won’t throw good money after bad. She’s managed to tempt him with her power (he only kills Snoke because she’d be a viable galaxy-conquering partner, after all), but there is only so far she will go for his “conflicted” soul. Put herself in danger, yes. Compromise her principles in any way? Nope. Get a life, dude, or I’ll go ahead and take it from you.
Rey is a model for girls everywhere.
Lessons to learn from Rey: You can’t fix him. If he’s unwilling to do anything to fix his damn self besides invite you to keep trying, he’s worthless to you. Doesn’t matter if you “owe him,” even for saving your life. He’s toxic.
Also, he might try to kill you.
It sucks that that part of the movie also carries over to real life. It’s hardly the most cheerful note to end on, but it’s what I’ve got.
I conclusion, I loved the movie. The writing was impeccable, the acting was delightful (especially Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, and Mark Hamill, but really everyone was good), and the pacing was so smooth I feel like it should be studied.