Star Wars movies are bad by default, and The Last Jedi proves it
The original Star Wars trilogy did something unheard of before or since: it gave us three consecutive movies in a single storyline that were all fantastic.
I tell people that there were only two Godfather movies and one Matrix film. But in the 90’s, I could still say that every Star Wars movie was good. Now I have to pretend that there were only three Star Wars movies.
I, like many others, would instinctively call The Last Jedi an affront to Star Wars. However, I realize that I don’t control what Star Wars is, and Lucasfilm does.
It turns out that The Last Jedi is an affront to good storytelling, not Star Wars. The original Star Wars trilogy had good storytelling, and because they scored three-for-three, I assumed that Star Wars was by default good storytelling.
Six Star Wars movies later, it’s quite the opposite. Star Wars movies are clearly bad storytelling by default. With four different directors over two decades and three different sagas, the new movies are vastly inferior to their Luke Skywalker-focused counterparts.
That’s not to say that the movies are awful or that you can’t enjoy them. Rogue One and The Force Awakens still did some really cool things, but they aren’t changing the art of visual storytelling like each new Star Wars film once did.
You can also, privately, enjoy any movie you like. But the joy you feel during something like The Force Awakens is an overflow of the magic of the first films, which is so abundant that even seeing a bored old Harrison Ford playing Han Solo one last time feels pretty cool.
Rogue One and The Force Awakens were both kicking off something new, so we all made excuses for their limitations. Then comes The Last Jedi, which despite being able to learn from those other new movies, is far beneath them in merits.
Rian Johnson’s incidental message in The Last Jedi is a telling commentary on his movie: “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.”
Johnson didn’t leave the past behind. He went back and killed it. He had all the same storyline- and theme-copying as The Force Awakens with a healthy dose of fan service, but instead of worshipping the source material like Abrams did, Johnson turned it all into an embarrassing parody.
The Last Jedi doesn’t break with the past to come into its own. It returned like a creepy ex-boyfriend to stalk obsessively and then throw a brick through the window. And the only thing Johnson really did completely ignore from the past was the original trilogy’s good storytelling.
I understand a need to break away from a restrictive history to make a good original story, but that’s not Johnson’s logic. Johnson doesn’t seem to believe that a good script makes a good movie.
And unlike the Force, story creation isn’t black and white. Just because Johnson pushed back on a tradition of recent bad films didn’t mean that his film would be good. The defense that a lot of desperate fans are using to defend The Last Jedi is “You didn’t like The Force Awakens, and this is nothing like it. You can’t be made happy!”
But there are all sorts of kinds of terrible movies that are nothing alike. Being different from another bad story does not make your story good. And now within the realm of Star Wars stories there is prequel bad, spinoff bad, and sequel bad. Star Wars now has mostly a legacy of films with bad storytelling.
The Last Jedi was the final opportunity to say “We were getting our feet back under us, but now we can show that Star Wars movies are good!” The Last Jedi was so unambiguously, decisively bad that it’s actually forgivable now.
It’s just hard to make a good Star Wars story on film. Nobody at Lucasfilm has ever figured out why the original films were good in a way that can be replicated.
I won’t expect anything more of future films like the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story or Episode IX. I also won’t be seeing them in theaters. Spoilers won’t matter because there’s no emotional impact to the twists in these films anymore. Star Wars can go on making bad movies, and we’ll know better than to get excited about them now.
I’ll continue to love the original films and seek out good storytelling wherever it manifests. But statistically, I won’t be finding it in a Star Wars movie.