From Classic to Cash Grab: The Last Jedi

Hello, everyone! Let me preface this review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi by saying that I’m a casual viewer of the franchise. It’d be a stretch to even say that I’m a fan, since the only time I’ve watched a Star Wars film is at someone else’s behest or for a family outing. I view the films with  pleasant indifference. The series is fun, and its contribution to pop culture is staggering, so if a friend suggests that we see The Force Awakens or Rogue One, I’m game and I don’t regret it. I didn’t plan on seeing The Last Jedi and I would have skipped it altogether if it wasn’t playing for $5 at my local college theater. I expected an easy night with an exciting, sentimental, and yes, formulaic film. But what I got was an in-cohesive, nostalgia-drenched mess that was so trite and boring that my boyfriend and I left the theater with twenty minutes left until the end.

How did a Star Wars film, especially one directed by Rian Johnson (the fantastic Looper), fail so badly at being a quality film? It all comes down to the dilution of character in service of promoting nostalgia and sticking to a formula that long ago wore out its welcome.

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As many critics pointed out during the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the film is basically a rehash A New Hope. I didn’t care because I barely remembered the plot of the first Star Wars film, but even I could sense the familiar storyline. J.J Abrams used this nostalgic love of the original franchise to create a connection with audience from the get-go. He took further advantage of this nostalgia by writing an almost identical trio of protagonists: Rey as the spunky female protagonist (a.k.a Leia), Finn as the noble hero (a.k.a Luke), and Poe as the smooth talking cad with a heart of gold (a.k.a Han Solo). And for the villian, he gave us Kylo Ren, a Darth Vader who still hasn’t grown out of his whiny Annikin phase. Despite being almost a carbon copy of the original, TFA succeeded because these characters were at the center of the film. We were following their arcs, and even though we knew where they were going, we still enjoyed watching them. The nostalgia was a backdrop for us to feel comfortable, but it never drew attention away from the main event.

The Last Jedi doesn’t have the advantage of being a reboot. It doesn’t have anything “new” to offer besides plot and character arc. Faced with this dilemma, the writers could have gone in a number of directions, all which should have focused on continuing the character arcs first introduced in TFA. But the writers did the exact opposite. They used the character arcs from TFA as a support for their flimsy, pointless plot and let character development languish in purgatory.

None of the characters are given a chance to grow, or even to “be.” Sure, Rey has a struggle with the “Dark Side,” but did anyone expect her to give into it? Of course not, so her arc is like a circle, ending exactly where it started. Kylo, too, makes no progression, as a villain or as an antihero. As soon as he starts to contemplate his choices, he reverts right back to his old ways, and not because he’s a realistic human, but because his choices need to drive the plot. And don’t even get me started on Poe or Finn’s “arcs.” Their only purpose in TLJ is to run around trying to find a solution to a problem that is solved entirely without their help.

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The new characters, Rose and Commander Holdo, are super meh. Rose has a tragic backstory that comes across as incredibly forced, as does her friendship with Finn, and Holdo’s only role is to seem like Poe’s foil until the movie reveals she isn’t. Meanwhile the staple characters Leia and Luke are mostly there as franchise mascots. Leia’s unconscious for a majority of the film, while Luke’s main job is to provide “comic relief” (parentheses because nothing in this film was amusing besides the porgs) and to act like Rey’s Mr. Miyagi by spewing platitudes about “the dark side.”

Speaking of Luke, we should talk about another of the film’s main problems: its focus on nostalgia. You can see the greedy hand of Disney in almost every frame with Luke, zooming in on his sarcastic glances and blasting his famous musical theme while they whisper in the ear of the audience like Darth Sidious whispered to Anikin. “Yessss, yessss, feeellll your nostalgia, remember your childhoooood, giveeee ussss moneyyyyy.”

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Disney laughing as they count the $1.3 billion they made from this film

This reverence of Luke verged on ridiculous on the last scene of TFA when Rey first meets him, but it crossed that line immediately in TLJ. There’s a difference between appreciating a fan-favorite character in a reboot and worshipping them. TLJ worships Luke to a point where he stops feeling like a character and starts feeling like a Mark Hamill appearance at Comic Con.

John William’s score increases the nostalgia ten-fold. Remember William’s wonderful score for TFA? Gone. Instead we get endless re-iterations of themes we already know. The music is so brazen and attention-grabbing that it fails to enhance the scenes and ends up detracting from them. I hate to lay the blame on Williams because he’s a legendary composer, so I’ll just imagine that Disney hired him in name only and mashed up his old compositions into a new score. And after reading the Wikipedia page, apparently that’s pretty much what happened.

I’ve read some reviews of the film, and the majority of them are positive. Some even call the film edgy for what happens to Luke. I feel like I watched a different film. The writers took a page out of the MCU playbook and threw their effort into spacey- space fights and ships blowing up instead of writing compelling scenes between characters. The “connection” between Rey and Kylo was cringey and the way it was filmed made it look like they only did it that way because they couldn’t schedule the actors to appear on the same day.  The old Star Wars films knew how to balance action with character development. The Last Jedi would rather numb the viewer with meaningless space battles than properly serve their characters.

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And maybe Star Wars movies too? If The Last Jedi is any indication where they’re heading, then yes.

Final Consensus: Maybe I’m Darth Sidious, but this film was hella phony to me. It reeked of Disney capitalizing on the nostalgia of 40-year-old men. From the painfully derivative plot, to the flattening of dynamic characters, The Last Jedi takes the bounty of the The Force Awakens and throws it off a cliff. There’s nothing beautiful or unique about this film. It’s as fake as a plastic Disney toy.

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