Annotation by Robert:





There’s a lot to consider about The Last Jedi. The image of Carrie Fisher pulling herself back from the dead to help those who need her one last time, the utter disaster that is the casino scene, the adorable porgs, the ridiculous misstep that is Snoke’s golden bathrobe, and the utter disaster that is the casino scene. (I only mention the casino scene twice because I’m still not sure it really happened.) It’s consistently a smart movie, but not a wise one; conceptually a creative movie, but not a logical one; overwhelmingly an artistic movie, but almost never a fun one. It’s more interested in what it isn’t than what it is, and that produces an uneven series of thought exercises instead of an entertaining story.

What makes The Last Jedi so brilliant is that it systematically dismantles Star Wars, and what makes The Last Jedi so frustrating is that it it makes no attempt to put it all back together. It goes through a constant cycle of subversion after subversion, but then ends with “the sequel will fix that” and runs off before anybody can object. It’s fascinated with how Star Wars can be toppled over, but not interested in why anybody put it up in the first place.

The Last Jedi talks the talk (and oh boy oh boy, does it love to talk) but it does not walk the walk. The Force Awakens is chock-full of playful meta subtext, but it very wisely never calls attention to it, assuming that the audience will implicitly understand. Rey spends her life crawling over the remnants of the Original Trilogy era looking for things that still work, and that’s kind of what TFA’s creators were doing. The enemy faction are a bunch of Empire cosplayers, and the main bad guy is a kid who really desperately wants to be Darth Vader, controlling the legacy of Star Wars. When Kylo Ren basically tells Rey “You can’t be worthy of Luke Skywalker’s lightsabre, you’re a scavenger!”, anyone paying the slightest bit of attention will read ‘You can’t be worthy of being a Star Wars protagonist, you’re a woman’. The final shot of that movie is Rey holding out Luke’s lightsabre, and he doesn’t take it. That says everything we need to know about how Luke has changed, that he won’t instantly leap into action for heroics anymore. It’s all perfectly clear.

The Last Jedi does not understand that. When we return to that scene in TLJ, we get minutes upon minutes of Luke being grumpy, Luke rejecting Rey, Luke spelling out in detail that he’s not the ultimate hero and they need to solve their own problems. Snoke basically tells Kylo Ren “I molded you to replace Vader but actually you suck at that and your mask is silly,” when anybody with a functioning brain would get that implication. There is such a chronic lack of subtext that Rian Johnson contrives a way for Rey and Kylo to directly talk to one another over vast distances using the Force. Not with telepathy, literally speaking.

And it’s a real shame that so much of this movie is dialogue, because so much of that dialogue is woeful. The Force Awakens may have miraculously revived the snap and humour of the Original Trilogy, but we’re in no such luck here. Only two days after having watched it, I cannot remember a single line of dialogue from The Last Jedi, and its attempts at comedy are flat and listless. Most of the jokes come across as Rian Johnson mocking his own ideas before anybody else has the chance to, and I’ll take earnest, confident ineptitude over half-hearted self-important navel gazing any day of the week.

And I think that attitude of cynical YouTuber film student intellectualism results in a story with a strange and unpleasant moral. Because the ultimate lesson of The Last Jedi is ‘Being proactive is wrong’.

For most of TLJ, the tiny Resistance fleet is surging ahead through space, trying desperately to escape the First Order’s warships. They cannot jump to hyperspace because the First Order will find them instantly, so the leaders of the Resistance choose to slowly flee at sub-light speeds with dwindling resources.

They stay in this situation for what must be at least an hour of screentime. There is nothing to break this up: no asteroid field, no sudden loss of artificial gravity, no new First Order weapon, nothing. It is just a bunch of ships flying ahead of a bunch of other ships. And every time a main character attempts a new idea to resolve this stalemate, they get loudly and violently pushed back into the Resistance fleet, or they make the situation worse and are explicitly told “Hahaha, no, you should have stayed where you were.”

And that is boring. It is so, so boring. I understand the points it was trying to make: ‘one person alone can’t fix everything’, ‘proud egotistical men get people hurt with their theatrics’, ‘respect women in authority’. But you could have made all of those points without losing a sense of ‘young hot-shots with crazy plans’, because that is the central manner in which Star Wars conveys its deeper themes. Contravening that cheerful rebellious attitude leads to a new moral: “you need to learn to automatically trust authority without any explanation.” And that is the Dark Side. Taking a series about excitement, compassion and mutual respect and turning it into ‘be a good little soldier’ is not genius deconstruction, it’s the fond dreams of an authoritarian.

The other half of the plot regards Luke Skywalker, and is equally squalid and overlong. Who decided that an entire movie of the ‘Refusal of the Call’ stage would be entertaining? Who thought ‘Rey and Kylo Ren awkwardly Force-Skype each other’ was a good concept? This movie is so desperate to be unpredictable that it ties itself up in knots, so dedicated to contradicting everything about Star Wars that it ends up spawning its own twisted meta-contradictions. In TLJ, Luke explicitly says “The Force is not a power, it’s the inherent connecting factor of all life and all things,” just so he can chastise Rey. But the movie barely pays any attention to that broader philosophical meaning after that, repeatedly glorifying Force powers instead: Snoke’s levitation, Luke’s astral projection, and ‘lifting rocks’.

The movie also leans hard on the ‘if you meet the Buddha by the side of the road, kill him’ moral, with Luke bitterly disparaging the ideal of the Jedi. To this end, the ghost of Yoda burns down an ancient Jedi library to destroy its texts, and this is treated as the right thing to do; he explains to Luke that Rey doesn’t need them. But then we learn that Rey stole the books from the library and kept them on the Millennium Falcon, and this is also treated as the right thing to do. Those two ideas are mutually exclusive. Finally, Luke repeatedly states that he isn’t the ultimate hero and that the Resistance have to solve their own problems, but then whenever Rey tries something on her own he immediately orders her not to, and when the Resistance is in a real bind, guess who shows up to solve their problem?

The stated theme of The Last Jedi is that ‘failure is a great teacher’, but the lessons learned are cold-hearted opposites of what Star Wars is supposed to be. “Compassion is a dumb idea”, “don’t sacrifice yourself to save your friends”, “the people in charge know everything”, “you’re not worth listening to”, “you only matter as part of a collective ideal and not as a single person”. I don’t care for these values, or any story that represents them. No matter how pretty it is.

And I know I already mentioned the casino scene, but JESUS CHRIST.