25th May2018

Opinionated: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

by Nathan Favel

A new year marks a new column for Nerdly… Opinionated. Where we give you our thoughts on everything and anything geeky and nerdy. This time round Nerdly team member Nathan takes a look at Star Wars: The Last Jedi – in a article he’s dubbed “Star Problems”

sw-the-last-jedi-opinionated

Star Problems: Episode 1 – The Last Jedi

If you would have told anybody that one of the best writers of the 21st century, in Rian Johnson, would be hired to write the next Star Wars picture, an awful lot of people would have told you that would be too good to be true. Big studio block-busters are typically handled by writers who are normally categorized as “hacks”, which are writers who are either too lazy or too bereft of talent to actually create a great story to film. Rian Johnson, whose first three pictures are wonderful examples of how to make familiar stories feel fresh by way of delicate plot-twists and meticulous editing to match, is not a hack. Usually, when a great director is given a Hollywood tent-pole, they cave under the pressure because the demands to finish on time and under budget are increased when hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line. In Rian Johnson’s case, not only was he hired to write Star Wars: Episode 8, but he gets to direct and, effectively, make the picture exactly as he wanted. Sadly, when Rian Johnson released his vision known as Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the great talent that is Johnson would learn just how far away his idea for what Star Wars was from the rest of the world.

The major criticism of The Last Jedi was that it was too different from the original trilogy; at least that is what the professional critics said of the audiences who disagreed with their opinion of the picture. Critics seemed unanimous in their love of the film, claiming that it took Star Wars in bold new directions. If you were to look at the now infamous audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, you’d find that the people, who had middling opinions of the prequel trilogy, rated The Last Jedi as the worst of the entire Star Wars franchise. It’s easy to put the blame on the crowd for not having the vision to see Star Wars differently, but that would not be fair to them, nor would it be accurate… especially when you consider that The Last Jedi is the worst Star Wars movie ever made.

Before I continue, let me make it clear that I own The Last Jedi, have seen it numerous times and enjoy it for what it is. The Last Jedi is a film I thought was truly great the first time I saw it; I hated it about an hour later. That’s a bizarre thought to have about a movie that felt fantastic to watch in the theater: hatred. What could make some-one despise (albeit quietly and politely) a picture they just finished privately extolling? When I read some of the audience reviews of Rian Johnson’s space epic, I got my answer.

With far too much time devoted to the intellectual debate of good and evil, characters that are barely written, obnoxious humor that halted the momentum of the picture and meager twists in the story that are pathetically explained, The Last Jedi featured things that I liked. Surprise! Actually, the intellectual discussion of the Force, along with the humor and the twists in the story were good on their own, but as a complete picture, they failed to create a final piece of art that was coherent or laudable. The reason why Rian Johnson apparently faltered in his quest to make his great Star Wars film is because of some-thing he proudly stated in several interviews, which was that he refused to listen to outside criticism. Rian only wanted to make the picture that he wanted to make and chose his first draft as that picture, breaking the rule that all writers know is imperative to adhere to: never use the first draft. Since good writers know that a story will only get better with each new version that is conceived, you’d think Rian Johnson would want to add more detail and depth to his film, but he seemed quite arrogant in his opinion of his own work. Perhaps Rian felt it was his right to be selfish, but since he doesn’t own Star Wars in any way that the rest of us don’t, I think his attitude was not earned. Star Wars belonged to George Lucas first and now it belongs to the world, which has every right to expect more out of a story that can go any-where and do any-thing, which is not what Rian Johnson chose to do with “his” picture.

Let me iterate a notion that might be obvious: I detested The Force Awakens. Even as I watched JJ Abrams lush, cheery Star Wars picture in the theater, I couldn’t help but feel bored and depressed by the time the finale on Starkiller Base occurred. As a new picture, The Force Awakens fails in nearly every way, but as gorgeous mimicry, The Force Awakens is what Gus Van Zant strived for in his meticulous experiment that was the remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Audiences loved the tepid yet romantic homage to George Lucas’s original Star Wars film, because it had the glow of nostalgia that has become popular, once again. Innovation could only be found in the awkward lightsaber that Kylo Ren wielded, despite the fact that a weapon that has lasers gushing from the sides of the hilt would probably do more damage to his hand than his enemy’s body. That being said, concerning The Force Awakens, at least JJ Abrams managed to make a film that gave the next director enough material to work with… which can not be said of Rian Johnson.

What Rian Johnson did in The Last Jedi can be explained like this: imagine a beach. On the beach in your mind, a person has built a sand castle of modest size and mild detail. The sand castle is like others that have come before, but looks very nice and perfectly respectable. Now, the person allows a new person to come along and add what-ever they would like to the sand castle. When the second person is done, you now see that the castle has been completely destroyed, leaving only a flat, level plateau of sand. The second person claims that this is the best way to finish the castle, by allowing for a grander design on a perfect foundation on which to build. That is what Rian Johnson has done in The Last Jedi with the Snoke death scene that happens suddenly and without warning.

Supreme Leader Snoke, a character that, who was once meant to have an identity and purpose, was quickly categorized as a utility and shrewdly destroyed as if he was only ever meant to be a plot device. I understand Rian’s desire to make Kylo Ren a great villain, but it should never come at the expense of the story itself. With Snoke’s identity and purpose left absent, the reason for the entire picture itself seems to not exist. Evan the Praetorian Guard, who are meant to protect Snoke, have no identity, no purpose and, therefore, their deaths mean nothing. Does Snoke even know they’re there? Snoke never acknowledges the existence of the Praetorian Guard. Are these red warriors loiterers? Since Snoke is in his swanky, gold robe, is it reasonable to assume the constantly posing warriors in slick, shining red armor are models for a sensual photo-shoot for Snoke’s erotic magazine “Playboy: In Space”? Sadly, Rian Johnson’s attention to this crucial detail seems to have never even been on his mind.

What of the First Order chasing the Resistance fleet? Why not have the First Order just create a perimeter around the entire shield (top, bottom and all sides imaginable) and hold them in place with numerous laser blasts? Why should a chase have ever occurred? If the First Order can track them where-ever they go, then it doesn’t matter if they lose a ship running low on fuel, does it? What of Vice Admiral Holdo, who chose not to reveal her plan to the last of the Resistance, or even her personal crew, despite the need to do so? Even if it was Rian’s intentions to convey that there may been a First Order spy on her ship, it would have been nice to mention that in the movie, at some point.

The scene within Canto Bight, one of the galaxy’s space casinos, was so under-developed, that it looked like a dull, tan room with a bunch of neat aliens who were marred by bad lighting and sub-par cinematography. This entire sequence is approaching a level of camp that even John Waters might not be proud of, but that could be, accurately, stated about the entire feature.

Luke’s scenes, however, may be the worst of all, as it uses a cliché of the “begrudged master” to alter Luke’s entire personality just to fit the whims of a film that seems increasingly at odds with the purpose of Star Wars itself: fun. We spend about thirty minutes of a two and half hour picture talking about things people did in other movies and other stories, only to establish some-thing that is apparent after Luke’s first ten seconds in the film: he ain’t leaving to help you, dude. Rey is forced to have numerous conversations with people that only reveals that Luke thought about killing Ben when he had been telepathically talking to Snoke. Instead of having all of this conversation, perhaps it would have been more prudent to allow these people to leave the planet some-how and actually do some-thing?

This leads me to the most important part of the article, as I intend to give a brief outline of how to improve Rian Johnson’s Star Wars film, without changing his general idea for what to make the film about. Here we go:

  1. A brief funeral is held for the fallen rebels, including Han Solo. The Resistance escapes their secret base. The First Order follows. Poe Dameron is sent with Vice Admiral Holdo as her new second-in-command. Kylo Ren fights his mother, Leia, in a lightsaber duel on the secret Resistance base before she is able to escape.
  2. Rey finds Luke, who refuses to join the Resistance. Come night-fall, the First Order, who planted Rey with a tracking device under her skin, arrives on Ach-To and captures Rey, Luke, Chewbacca and R2-D2. Rey and Luke are brought before Supreme Leader Snoke, who has Kylo Ren at his side and the Praetorian Guard surrounding them. Snoke remarks on his history on his home-world of Praetoria, where he was a prince. His throne taken from him by his vicious brother, Snoke sought to regain his planet. Snoke learned how to master the dark side of the Force from visions of an entity long thought destroyed. Snoke conquered his world with his new powers and soon gained command of the remnants of the Empire in the same manner. Snoke chides Kylo Ren while torturing Rey with his powers. Snoke has a brief duel with Luke that he almost wins when Luke, incensed by several years of his master’s mind-games, strikes Snoke with his lightsaber. Snoke orders his Guard to kill Kylo, Luke and Rey, who are able to defeat them. The three fight Snoke until Kylo Ren beheads Snoke. Kylo urges Rey to help him kill Luke, but when she refuses, Kylo duels with them both. Luke and Rey escape, while Kylo Ren, after smashing his damaged helmet, takes command of the First Order.
  3. Finn awakens on a Resistance ship that is captained by Lando Calrissian. The Resistance is headed to Dantooine, where the remnants of the New Republic convene to decide the fate of the galaxy. Finn is sent to Canto Bight, along with Rose Tico and a crew of Rebels, to find a splicer called “The Master Code-Breaker” who was able to collect encryption code to the First Order’s entire security system. In Canto Bight, the splicer is found, but killed when the First Order attacks the city. Finn realizes the code has been copied and sent to another splicer on Corellia, named “DJ”.
  4. Poe is told by Leia, who is on another ship, that there is a traitor on Holdo’s ship. After Holdo’s lack of information on her plan, as well as other suspicious behavior, Poe thinks she is the traitor. Poe leads a mutiny for the ship and gains control of it. Poe soon realizes that the traitor is a man named Molack Kule. After a vicious fight above the generator, Kule gains control of the ship from Poe and flies it to the First order fleet. Poe frees Holdo and they kill Kule before he can escape, but Holdo dies when she has to create a diversion for the escape vessel for her ship, because it is being decimated by the First Order fleet. Holdo does the hyper-space maneuver from Rian Johnson’s film to destroy the dread-naught.
  5. After allowing Chewbacca and R2-D2 to leave with the Falcon, Rey and Luke (on a new ship) go to Praetoria, of the Unknown Region (at Rey’s behest), to see what part Praetoria is truly playing in the First Order. The pair is captured when they see that the Praetorians are building First Order weapons. Kylo Ren arrives on Praetoria and is arrested for killing Snoke and the Praetorian Guards. Kylo and Rey are made to fight one another in a vast arena. At the duels climax, they stage and escape with Luke’s help and fight an armada of Praetorian warriors to escape. Kylo tries to kill Luke again, but Rey and her master escape.
  6. Kylo Ren frees the Knights of Ren from carbon freeze on Praetoria, where Snoke imprisoned them for trying to steal control of the First Order from him. Still angry that Kylo betrayed them for Snoke, they agree to help Kylo find Maz Kanata, who has information on the last of the Jedi. On Tatooine, Kylo and the Knights of Ren find Maz, who engages them in a light-saber duel with one she kept from years ago. Kylo bests and captures her, forcing her to take them to Crait, the refuge for numerous beings strong in the Force for thousands of years.
  7. Rey makes Luke take her to Crait after she reads his mind and learns that he tried to kill Kylo Ren for speaking with Snoke telepathically. While gaining the knowledge pf Luke’s actions, she learns of a world, called Crait, filled with Force-users that have taken refuge on the planet for thousands of years, to avoid using their powers for war. On Crait, Rey meets a woman she saw in her mind during reading Luke’s: his wife, Mara Jade. On Crait after the loss of her son, Mara has chosen not fight the First Order either, until Luke convinces her, and himself, to rally the population of Crait to join the war against this would-be Empire.
  8. On Dantooine, the Republic debates its existence and its individual leaders blame each other for not trying to prevent the return of the Empire. Finn arrives with “DJ” and the code. As the Resistance, who has also arrived on the planet, scans the code, the First Order surrounds the planet, with help from “DJ” who betrayed them for a fortune. After a fierce battle, the Republic joins with the Resistance and forms the Revolution, uniting every system in the galaxy with numbers the Rebellion itself could never muster. After using the code, the Revolution realizes that the First Order is headed to Crait to kill the last Jedi, so they fly to Crait to battle their enemy.
  9. On Crait, the First Order is taken from Kylo Ren by General Hux and Captain Phasma, who commence the assault on the Jedi. When the Revolution arrives they send Finn aboard the First Order command ship to plant a virus the ships computer, with help from the security code. Finn plants the virus and fights Phasma to the death, a fight he wins. Finn then mortally wounds Hux, then flies to the surface of Crait to help Rey and the Jedi. Kylo kills Hux and regains the fleet. Kylo and the Knights of Ren land on Crait and fight numerous Jedi, eventually finding Rey and Luke and engaging them in battle. Leia reaches Crait’s surface and is able to join the duel, where Kylo Ren, reluctantly, kills Leia. Rey and Mara kill the Knights of Ren, while Luke chases Luke to the top of the fortress, where Kylo realizes Luke is just a mirage. Luke surprises Kylo and fights with him until Kylo plunges his light-saber in Luke’s heart. Rey and Mara reach the top and battle with Kylo, who reveals that Han and Leia were not his parents: Luke and Mara were. Kylo tells Rey that her parents were nobodies; just filthy junk-traders. Kylo escapes after the revelations and flees the system with his First Order.
  10. Back at Canto Bight, a boy with Force powers sees the revolution ships leave the system and his resolve to join the fight begins.

That’s not a perfect story, by any means, but it is more exciting than Rian Johnson’s final picture. Please understand that I have no hatred for Rian nor for his desire to make a picture that he wanted to make since he was a child, but if you have all of this money and a decent amount of creative freedom at your disposal, then why not do more with it? When Rian Johnson begins his new Star Wars trilogy in the near future, I hope he makes these considerations about being able to take criticism better and to learn to be more considerate of what kind of effect his fantasies can have on some-one else’s reality.

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