Before I get too far, I’d like to establish two things.
One, if I were the director of a Star Wars film, it would be bad. At least for most Star Wars fans. When I visualize a film, I usually do it in a Wes Anderson-esque style: lots of whip-pans, symmetrical shots, short dialogue, and conversations filmed entirely from the characters’ sides.
Two, by far the worst part of the Last Jedi debate is the debate itself. As usual, trolls have taken a perfectly fair debate and gone one-hundred and fifty percent with it, taking up pitchforks and stabbing each other online. This doesn’t make any sense, honestly, as Star Wars is just a film franchise and was nothing more than a good story. It’s not difficult to forget that The Last Jedi even happened, in fact. However, people are forever. Broken relationships as a result of these debates is a shame.
For someone who is moderately interested in the Star Wars mythos and has a storytelling style dramatically different than what most fans would consider good, why am I pitching my two cents into an argument that’s already polarized enough as-is? My reasoning is simple. I care about stories, and this film is the most controversial fictional story in the last year. The director, Rian Johnson, admitted that he wanted controversy to come from his film, as he tweeted back in December, “ The goal is never to divide or make people upset, but I do think the conversations that are happening were going to have to happen at some point if [Star Wars] is going to grow, move forward and stay vital.”
Don’t get me wrong, the film had its issues. As all films do, of course. This article was not written to showcase its many errors. There are hundreds of YouTube videos and articles online that take the cake for that. And I’m willing to forgive as many issues as can be explained away.
On the other side of the coin, the film had a lot of good. I enjoyed that one explosion that Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo caused by plowing a ship into another ship. I thought that, every once in a while, Poe had some good energy that brought life into another broody and confusing film. Kelly Marie Tran obviously tried her hardest to bring her character, Rose, to life on the screen and was perhaps limited by the same things that limited Hayden Christensen. And of course, if you know me, I love dream sequences. That bit with Rey snapping in the dark side of Luke’s island was extremely intriguing.
What made me dislike the Last Jedi the most — the straw that broke the camel’s back — was its lack of consistency.
Mark Hamill made a big deal out of the fact that Luke Skywalker was on both the light and dark posters for The Last Jedi. He even sent out a Beatles-themed tweet, thus reading: “Hey you Dark Side theorists: Look who’s looming at the back of the poster now! Another clue for you all… #TheWalrusWasPaul”
For one, as a fan of the Beatles, I appreciated his hashtag immensely. Two, I was hoping that they could take such a novel concept as Luke Skywalker and run with it. The Extended Universe certainly did. And they could get away with it too! Last Jedi took place decades after Return of the Jedi, so they could get away with a drastically different Luke Skywalker than we last saw him.
SPOILERS ALERT… OBVIOUSLY
In a way, we did. The character we saw on screen didn’t seem like Luke Skywalker. Yes, he seemed whiny, which reminded me of his behavior in the original Star Wars film. But nothing had happened. After he won the Battle of Endor, the Empire was still present. The comic and books reinforce this time after time. But apparently, the Empire went on an unexplained sabbatical and allowed Luke to settle down and do absolutely nothing with himself. No wife, no children — nothing. And the one thing we know he does for certain, train Kylo Ren, goes horribly wrong when he randomly rages at him despite loving his father for the exact same (and significantly increased) reasons. Yes, there are problems.
We were hinted that something was wrong with Luke. He could have been in hiding for any number of reasons. There could have been this wonderful theme of forgiveness and redemption that makes so many other films wonderful and reminds us that human beings are human beings. But instead, we were denied the opportunity so the director could make a few odd jokes (the milk aliens? Really?) and paint him as a cranky and out-of-touch old man. So apparently all his character development in Return of the Jedi went out the window?
Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.
The Jedi tree burned down. All our favorite characters are systematically dying. The lines between the dark and light side keep getting thrown into question. One of the only memorable lines in the film reinforces this point, and I think you already know what it is (hint: I wrote it above).
And then, the one chance that Rian Johnson got to fly with this concept, he shot down. You already know I mean here, too.
So, Kylo Ren and Rey discover they can telepathically communicate. Rey seems to reach out to him, and Kylo Ren seems to be willing to let her in. It’s not romantic, but it is touching. It showcases that Rey has a kind, albeit naive nature, and Kylo Ren is a broken individual who wants to be fixed. It’s real character development. And then when they meet, they work together like a charm and kill Snoke. And all his guard. That scene could have been one of the coolest fight scenes in a Star Wars film.
Afterward, Kylo Ren offers Rey a choice. Neither of them must be part of the First Order or the rebellion. They can be their own thing. And I think this offer was genuine. After all, what did either of them have to lose? Kylo Ren wanted to be like his grandfather, but since the First Order wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, he would be willing to salvage what he could and make do. I’d like some rivalry between him and General Hux. That would be fun. As for Rey, she didn’t have anything to lose, either. Clearly, the Rebellion wasn’t her friends’ sole identity (or at least it shouldn’t be — that’s poor plot writing). Han Solo is dead. BB-8 is just a robot with no political preference besides that of his friends. Same thing with Finn— he hated the empire, but he wasn’t familiar with the Rebellion enough to stake his life in it besides the fact that it was simply against the Empire. He’d likely be interested in a third option, which Kylo and Rey could provide. Worst comes to worst, there could be some tension in-between Finn and Rey. That’s quality character development and a genius setup.
And then they forget that the entire film was leading up to this moment with all its ‘let the past die’ hobnob and immediately polarize Kylo Ren and Rey against each other. Once again, it becomes a stupid good guy / bad guy film with two dimensions, and the best chance to make Rey something other than a Mary Sue was thrown out the window.
Needless to say, I’m not angry at the director for this decision, but it’s like watching someone throw an expensive piece of china out the window because it was dirty. It’s horribly unnecessary and wasteful. All these resources and a truly unique product is ruined.
Every film has problems. But this feels like a film without vision. It had some great ideas and then went one-hundred and eighty degrees with it. Even if the prequel trilogy was boring and canned, it had some kind of clear creative direction that set it apart.
I’m not calling to fire Kathleen Kennedy, nor do I want anything bad to happen to those who worked on this film. It has good elements. It’s just not a good film, which is a shame. I don’t think I’ll be seeing any of Kathleen Kennedy’s Star Wars films in the future. I can live the rest of my life, content that Return of the Jedi was the last film I’d consider canon because there are bigger things than Star Wars full of consistent themes, real characters, and redemption — namely real life, although instead of ‘characters’ we have unique beings made in the image of God.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go brainstorm what could have happened if Rey had accepted Kylo Ren’s offer.