I’ve left it a while to post this review, for two reasons. Firstly, I needed to see the film again to gather my thoughts. Secondly: here be spoilers, so I was waiting until most of those who have an interest had probably seen it.
Overall, I wasn’t that impressed. This was, in part, because the bar was so high: I thought The Force Awakens delivered the goods – given it was basically a remake of the original – and I loved Rogue One. Early reviews said The Last Jedi was the best star Wars film yet, and I was really looking forward to it. I wanted to love it. But I didn’t.
It does look great; of course it does. However, it is a mark of my lack of my immersion that, after the fourth or fifth shot of ‘Puffin Island’ I found myself trying to identify which bits of the location were real, and what was CGI – those steps had to be real… what about the beehive cells, because the monks lived in those, didn’t they? – and also wondering whether there would be a cash-in on the movie by the local tourist board – will they do tours? open a guest house? do Jedi retreats?
The Rey/Luke plot was satisfying, although I still can’t take Kylo Ren seriously (‘I’m so darkside that I never tidy my bedroom!’). This plotline worked well within the overall story arc and I loved Luke’s final trick – but as with so much in this film, there isn’t precedent for it in the canon – though Beloved tells me Force-based translocation is a Thing in the Knights of the Old Republic game. Fine if Luke was unique in doing it, given he’s a top Jedi master, but Emperor Voldemort (sorry) does it too, to a lesser extent. Coming up with a really neat idea is all very well, but you need to think through the implications for your world and overall story. Consistency and logic are popular with geeks.
I found the Resistance plot infuriating. For a start, I couldn’t reconcile the grand triumph of Good over Evil we all enjoyed at the end of Return of the Jedi with the opening situation, where the triumphant rebels have been reduced to a handful of desperate renegades; yes, the Senate got trashed in passing in TFA, but even so… I wasn’t sure these idiots deserved to win. And by the end of the movie, I’m pretty sure they don’t. Yes, I feel bad saying that; yes, I did love Carrie Fisher’s performance, and yes I did shed a tear at the dedication at the end: nonetheless, the plot she does her best to save still sucks.
Part of this was characters – aside form Leia – doing stupid/illogical things. That whole contrived Casino Planet sub-plot fell apart due to bad parking FFS! Part of it was the plotting itself which, in compliance with Hollywood rules, was built around a rinse-and-repeat ‘desperation cycle’. Particularly popular in SFF, this type of plotting doesn’t need complex character motivations or much internal consistency, just vaguely plausible ways of setting up dramatic ‘All is Lost’ moments in order that something unexpected can happen/turn up to avert the imminent disaster … until the next time.
And, as complained about above, often as not that ‘something’ involves universe-breaking trickery. I mean, if you can devastate the enemy fleet by jumping to lightspeed through them – presumably using autopilot…? – then why the feck isn’t everyone doing this, all the time? Also popular is something that’s really convenient, and suddenly obvious, but that no one has noticed before for no apparent reason: ‘What’s that out the window over there?’ ‘Hey, it’s a planet with a highly secret defensible base we can use!’. A variation on that is the ‘not bothering to tell anyone your plan’ option: why didn’t the commanders just tell Poe why they were fuelling the transports? (Answer: so he could have a brief and futile mutiny. sigh.) Then there’s the lucky (or not so lucky…) break with no justification: ‘Hey this bloke we find ourselves in the cell with has useful skills not unlike those we came here to find … and a key to get out!’ That’s just a cocktail selection of bad plot moments in the Resistance thread: I have a list.
Then there’s Rose. I liked Rose, at first: get the engineers involved, I say, even if said engineer suddenly becomes a crack speeder pilot and fair shot with a blaster (Beloved says that even those who spend all their time in the ducts get combat training in the resistance; maybe he’s right). But Rose is actually a not-very-sub-subtext: she wants to Do The Right thing even when it isn’t the smart thing. She even says this to Finn after she stops him saving the day by sacrificing himself: she tells us we need to save what we love and not to fight what we hate. As a liberal progressive hippy type, I can get with that. But not when you’re fighting ultimate, fascistic, mindless EVIL. Very rarely in movies are the bad guys as relentlessly bad as the Empire gets to be, notwithstanding the occasional doubter who might just be turned to good. You’re allowed to kill them, people – and generally, characters do. How many Stormtroopers have been shot in passing by the good guys?
I was also exasperated by the frequent and often inappropriate levity. It’s fine that Star Wars has humour, I accept that Disney have children to amuse and merchandise to sell, but for a while early on it seemed like every scene contained something intended to be hilarious and/or cute. I guess I was OK with Chewie and the emotionally manipulative puffins, provided I didn’t apply any sort of logic, but I wasn’t happy when this slapstick shit bleed over into the main plot. The point at which I had a bad feeling about this (film) was when Luke chucked his lightsabre over his shoulder like an apple core. I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea to have the roles of writer and director combined in a big-budget genre movie – not unless you live and breathe the genre as Peter Jackson did – and I can just hear the not-SF-loving writer/director chortling to himself ‘Oh they won’t expect THAT!’ No they won’t. And some of them won’t like it either.
Right: the comments are open. Fire way, my friends.