Oh, I am going to complain. A lot. Actually I’m starting to wonder if Rian Johnson’s real aim in writing Episode VIII was to give me an aneurysm. However, point taken, I am going to endeavour to throw out a “fix” for each of my complaints. I’ll let you, dear reader, be the judge of whether any of them are up to snuff.
Now let’s dive into those tall weeds…
1. Rey doesn’t drive her own story
The character of Rey was the best aspect of The Force Awakens. She is front and center throughout the film, events are seen through her eyes and she propels the story on at lightspeed. She discovers the Force by herself, frees herself from captivity and fights her enemies single-handedly. What I wanted most from The Last Jedi was more Rey.
So, what went wrong?
While Daisy Ridley is as wonderful as she was in the first film, she just doesn’t have enough to do. The Force Awakens was her film, whereas she’s just in Last Jedi. Heck, I would’ve been happy if Johnson had made the film a series of skits involving her antagonising the Ahch-To caretakers. Alas, we take far too many lengthy sojourns off to follow much less interesting characters — namely anyone who isn’t Rey or Ben Solo.
And this Rey is aggravatingly passive.
For example, when Rey finds that her mind is being invaded by the aforementioned murderer of her father-figure from Force Awakens, rather than immediately demanding that “Master Skywalker” show her how to block the connection, she just engages in ‘Force-Time’ small-talk.
When Snoke implants the idea in her mind that she can turn Ben back to the light side, she immediately rushes off to fall into the trap. Then, after she watches Ben kill his master Supreme Leader Snoke (can Star Wars please get over the whole ‘master’ thing already?), he tells her that her parents are nobodies, which she accepts unquestioningly.
Then she disappears again for a while before turning up at the end to save the day by lifting rocks. More on that later.
FIX 1: Rey sorely needed a personal struggle, a personal failure and a moment of realisation. Allow me to offer an alternative vision of her journey:
After she hands Luke his father’s lightsaber he contemplates it for a moment, but then hands it back to her. [Mere Jedi Knights carry laser-swords, but Luke (like Yoda) no longer needs one.]
Initially rebuffing her, Luke tries to teach Rey about the spiritual nature of the Force. [Johnson’s scene of Luke tickling Rey’s hand was actually rather good, if an obvious rehash of the Yoda lessons in The Empire Strikes Back.]
We learn that Rey has little patience for this mystical mumbo-jumbo. Indeed, we saw in Force Awakens that Rey is essentially practical by nature, while also handy with a staff. What she really wants is to learn how to fight like a Jedi; spiritual, ethereal stuff is much more of a struggle. Luke tells her that being a Jedi has nothing to do with waving lightsabers around. However, as Luke has permanently shut himself off from the Force (another great addition by Johnson), Rey is disbelieving and frustrated. Finally, Luke tries to get through to her by telling her that the word ‘Jedi’ literally means ‘open handed’ in the ancient language of the Whills. Luke sighs, telling Rey she won’t find what she’s looking for with him.
“An open hand cannot hold a weapon; an open hand is a greeting. This is a temple not a school for fighting.”
Rey takes to training alone with the lightsaber in an attempt to show off her skills to Luke. Luke is unimpressed.
Rey feels rejected by Luke and observes that his main obsession is translating the ancient Jedi texts by candle-light, and that it brings him no solace. He sinks ever further into despair, not able to understand how his Jedi school failed despite his best efforts, and his nephew turned away from him. Luke eventually throws down the old books and cries out for Yoda and Obi-Wan, but they seem to have also abandoned him.
Seeing that the old Jedi texts are anchors weighing him down, Rey goes to the temple in the dead of night intending to burn it. Luke realises what she’s about to do and chases after her. However, at the entrance to the temple Rey can’t bring herself to go through with it and drops the flaming torch. But, in a sudden moment of realisation, Luke himself picks up the torch and hands it back to her: he must learn to trust his students. “Burn it all”.
Luke slumps to the ground, watching the flames, hopelessly lost. Rey finally sees Luke as he really is — a pathetic, frightened old man, and she knows she cannot stay. She flies away with Chewie, following the signal of the cloaked transponder beacon, which leads her to Finn, who’s having an adventure of his own...
2. Rey and Finn are separated for the entire movie
Perhaps the rarest phenomena in all cinema is the magic of on-screen-chemistry. It is an elixir impossible to generate artificially, even between gifted and accomplished actors. When casting a film it’s either there, or it isn’t. Luckily, the chemistry between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher jumped off the screen in Star Wars in 1977, and screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan made the simple and obvious choice to glue those actors at the hip for sequel The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
However, lightning rarely strikes twice — no two actors in George Lucas’ entire prequel trilogy displayed even the faintest fizzle of a spark. So it goes. But, by some miracle (and great casting), it happened again in The Force Awakens, with Daisy Ridley’s Rey and John Boyega’s Finn making a wonderful, sparky on-screen pairing. Would it end up being a romantic coupling, brotherly/sisterly affection or a playful friendship? Who could’ve said, but it was clear that the prospects for this new trilogy depended greatly on how much screen time Daisy and John shared together.
Bafflingly, Rian Johnson kept them apart for the whole of The Last Jedi, the characters barely exchanging a word, or backward glance. The movie — and the saga — is immeasurably the poorer for it.
FIX 2: The First Order are tracking the fleet through hyperspace, causing the Resistance to turn on each other as suspicions run wild. Is there a First Order spy in their midst? While under attack, Leia orders the dozen cruisers and smaller ships to scatter in all directions. Meanwhile, Admiral Holdo believes the First Order are somehow tracking one of the two new Resistance recruits: either former stormtrooper Finn, or Rey in the form of the cloaked transponders connecting Rey and Leia. Secretly — and against Leia’s wishes — she puts the transponder in Finn’s medical pod, then ejects his pod and the entire medical bay into space.
[The real explanation for how the First Order are tracking the fleet need not over-complicate matters: it should’ve had nothing to do with some sub-Star Treknobabble. Ben is simply using his Force connection to his mother to find her.]
Finn, unconscious in his medical pod, tumbles through space, eventually crashing onto a strange new world where he’s lost to everyone — except Rey.
3. Finn is also reduced to being a minor character
The original trilogy had a central trio of heroes — Luke, Leia & Han — who became a foursome in The Empire Strikes Back with the addition of Lando. The Force Awakens was conceived differently, with Rey and Finn as a twosome unburdened by any franchise baggage or complex lineages, who would guide us through this new trilogy. Poe Dameron was a one-note addition who wasn’t originally supposed to survive the first act, but ended up getting promoted to third-wheel on the strength of Oscar Isaac’s charisma.
Personally, I still think writers J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan had it right. While I don’t dislike Poe, or Holdo or Rose or DJ, I found that any moment Rey and Finn weren’t on screen dragged. Worse, when Finn was allowed to do something, he was largely overshadowed by the terminally bland Rose. Kelly Marie Tran is a fine actor, but she was saddled with the thankless task of portraying ‘honest’, ‘principled’ and ‘sweet’.
FIX 3: Certainly cut or revise Rose’s character (at least make her more compelling) and, as outlined in Point 2, give Finn a proper adventure of his own. I suggest giving him what he said he wanted in the first movie, i.e. a chance to escape. I would happily watch him wrestle with his conscience for a good chunk of the movie. Would he attempt to rejoin the Resistance? Or would he try to find Rey? Or would he just run away? And who else might he bump in to on his travels… perhaps another beloved scoundrel from the past…
4. Leia’s character is poorly handled
Obviously, no-one expected Carrie Fisher to pass away during post-production, thereby scuppering plans for a Leia-centric Episode IX. Still, I can’t help but be exasperated by the script putting Leia in a coma for the bulk of this movie.
I was equally perplexed by the decision to essentially replace Leia with a barely distinguishable Leia-clone, in the form of Resistance leader “Admiral Holdo”. But when top-drawer actor Laura Dern was cast for the part, hopes rose once more, only for her character to herself die heroically at the end. Did Holdo steal Leia’s part?
FIX 4: I can scarcely think of a more heroic, bittersweet and fitting send-off for Leia than staying behind on her ship to ram it straight down Snoke’s unsuspecting throat. I wanted to see Leia burning with anger and desperate for revenge for what he‘d done to her son. I wanted the cathartic moment of watching Leia take pleasure in targeting his ship (echoing the way Ben had targeted hers — except of course Leia would have the balls to go through with it).
Indeed, it would then have been natural for Holdo to take over leading the Resistance into the final chapter, and a much better fit than that chump Poe Dameron.
[As an aside, if someone had asked me before the movie which would be the more impressive Force power — Force-flying through outer space or Force-projecting an image of yourself, I’d have said the former by a mile. Odd then, that Leia appears to have better command of the Force than Jedi Knight/Master/Scholar/Teacher Luke?]
5. Slow, credibility-stretching chases are slow and credibility-stretching
Let’s be honest, The Last Jedi is a fairly straightforward remake of The Empire Strikes Back, with a bit of Return of the Jedi spooned in. It’s a packet of instant mix. Therefore, because Empire had a long spaceship chase involving Star Destroyers hot on the heels of the rebels, so we get one in The Last Jedi… because Johnson has no other ideas.
The chase in Empire focused solely on the rebels we care about (Han, Leia, Chewie and C3PO — and the Millennium Falcon), while affording them ample time to bond and deepen their relationships. It was also an extremely tense and exciting sequence: they fly through an asteroid field, hide inside a slug-inside-a-cave on an asteroid, launch a head-on attack and even attach themselves limpet-like to a Star Destroyer.
It’s inventive, clever, thrilling, varied and always believable.
How does The Last Jedi accomplish the same story beat? Well, the Resistance ships fly just a little out of range of the Star Destroyers in pursuit until they run out of fuel. That’s it.
FIX 5: After the attack on Resistance base on D’Qar, the Resistance fleet jumps to hyperspace and is promptly found again by the First Order. Suspicions run rampant through the fleet as people turn on each other — do they have a traitor in their midst? General Leia orders ships to scatter in all directions, without giving a rendezvous point. None of the ships know the fate of the rest of the fleet as they each try to find safe harbour somewhere in the galaxy.
We follow Leia’s command ship, but each time they jump, the First Order quickly find them. Leia orders them to fly to a known ship graveyard, filled with debris. There, she gives the order to abandon-ship and head for the abandoned rebel base on the planet below.
However, Leia stays on-board and hides the ship amongst the debris of a thousand others. Snoke’s Super Star Destroyer arrives, and, when Leia ascertains that Ben Solo is no longer on board, she flies the ship at lightspeed straight at Snoke’s throne room (ala the Holdo manoeuvre).
6. ’Iron Man 3 syndrome’
What does the Batmobile attack on Axis Chemicals in Batman (1989) have in common with Iron Man’s rescue of the passengers of a stricken private jet in Iron Man 3 (2013), and Luke Skywalker’s showdown with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo in The Last Jedi (2017)?
Well, they’re all deliriously exciting, iconic scenes — that fall flat on their faces moments later when audiences realise they’ve been tricked. If the hero never places himself in jeopardy then it’s just empty spectacle.
The sequences need not be altered in any way to have Bruce Wayne be driving the Batmobile, or for Tony Stark to be wearing the Iron Man suit, or for the real Luke Skywalker to actually be on Crait, risking his neck.
In each case the filmmaker made a choice: tricky instead of emotional investment. Gags over heart.
Personally, I hate this trope. I always feel cheated by the film, not entertained, and it forever tarnishes the film in my memory.
My biggest complaint with The Last Jedi is that at almost every turn Johnson does choose the cheap trick over heart and character. Luke tosses his father’s lightsaber aside for laughs; Virtual-Luke ‘comedically’ brushes dust off his shoulder; Virtual-Luke ‘defeats’ Ben Solo using a very Loki-like trick.
FIX 6: Um, Luke actually goes to confront Ben Solo, and face his demons… you know, the way the the real Luke Skywalker always did in real Star Wars films. This stuff isn’t that hard.
7.Holdo teaches Poe a lesson
Let’s take a look at one sequence that everyone seems to agree is utterly nonsensical — even fans of The Last Jedi. You know the one.
What Johnson wants to convey is a power struggle between Holdo and Poe in Leia’s absence, and how Poe, being the cocksure hothead he is, needs to learn to follow orders and that sometimes doing nothing is the wisest course.
These are fine ideas in and of themselves, no qualms there. However, the way the message is delivered is problematic, bordering on idiotic.
First, lets dispel the notion I’ve heard from some that Holdo was written as an arrogant, aloof character who is herself meant to be at fault and it is she who learns leadership isn’t as easy as Leia makes it look. No. Johnson’s script and direction make it perfectly clear: Holdo is the misunderstood hero and Poe is just plain wrong. No grey area.
So, Holdo has a clever plan to do x, y, z which will save everybody if they just trust her and do nothing. Except she gives no-one any reason to trust her, least of all reckless Mr Dameron who not twenty minutes earlier ignored a direct order from Leia that got a bunch of people killed.
Just tell everyone your damn plan Holdo! Or at least, tell them you have a plan.
In effect, what she does is akin to pointing a loaded gun at a child’s face and start squeezing the trigger, while refusing to explain what’s going on. Then, when Poe intervenes she gets to say “You fool, the child has the rare Bullshitius Bacterius disease, and shooting him in the head is the only known cure — now he really will die, you reckless flyboy!”. And we’re all supposed to nod and cluck our tongues and think “Poe really got taught a valuable lesson there”.
And I suppose the secondary message is supposed to be that people should always blindly follow orders, no matter how insane/suicidal they may seem…?
The reason second, third, fourth drafts of screenplays exist is because often your first ideas are not your best.
FIX 7: off the top of my head… the Resistance fleet scatters and Holdo’s ship is drifting alone in space, nearly out of fuel. Poe insists they use their last jump to get to a nearby Resistance-friendly system where they they can repair, refuel and rearm. Holdo considers his idea, then rejects it and dismisses him, bluntly telling him she knows what she’s doing.
Poe ignores her and goes to the engine room, forcing the ship to jump to the previously allied system. When they arrive — to Poe’s shock and dismay — the leaders there tell him that word has reached them of the Resistance’s crushing defeat on D’Qar, and they’re scared of retaliation by the First Order. It is just as Holdo predicted. The balance of power in the galaxy has shifted without Poe fully appreciating it. At that moment, as all eyes look accusingly at Poe, an urgent plea from Leia for assistance comes in: the First Order has found them…
8. Holdo’s noble death directly contradicts Finn’s ignoble rescue
Holdo’s (wish-it-was-Leia’s) brilliantly conceived and executed third-act sacrifice of ramming her ship at lightspeed into the First Order fleet is sadly punctured moments later when Rose stops Finn doing exactly the same thing, for exactly the same reason. Rose then caps it off by telling him — the way one explains that two plus two equals four to an infant — that they’ll win by saving what they love, not destroying what they hate. Err… tell that to Holdo.
It’s things like this that leave me dumbstruck when defenders of the film say it isn’t a muddled mess. How does Johnson want us to interpret this? Are we not supposed to connect these two near simultaneous-and-contradictory events? Are we meant to think Rose is right, and Holdo’s brave act was stupid? Are we to think Rose put her comrades in danger by not letting Finn save them? Or are we supposed to think Finn’s bravery would’ve been futile as his plan would’ve failed? If so, it didn’t read that way, especially as Finn was the one who knew about the “Death Star tech”, and presumably also knew its weaknesses better than anyone else.
If Rose had allowed Finn’s sacrifice to happen the battering-ram-laser may have been destroyed, which would have protected the Resistance fighters (“Rebels”?) inside the base long enough for help to come. And then Luke wouldn’t have needed to sacrifice himself. Oh yes, Luke’s sacrifice was a good thing wasn’t it? His noble act inspired the whole galaxy (for some reason) didn’t it? Why? Because the script said so. Man, poor Finn can’t catch a break.
FIX 8: Just let Finn die. The writer/director obviously has no interest in him or any idea what to do with him.
9. Snoke’s character is poorly handled
In The Last Jedi Snoke is a nothing character — he’s a joke. Like a spoof of The Emperor, he’s a scarred, wrinkly old man on a throne in command of the true, dynamic villain. However, unlike The Emperor, he has no backstory, he’s unthreatening and uninteresting, and he’s lopped in half to get him out of the way so Johnson can focus on the character he’s actually interested in: Ben Solo.
However, the true value of Snoke is not as a character in his own right, but as the lynchpin between Luke and Ben. Somehow Ben met Snoke, turned away from Luke and became Kylo Ren. That bit of the story is fascinating, at least to me, and we get none of it. Johnson has said there was nowhere to insert an expository bit of dialogue explaining Snoke’s backstory… which is a worrying comment.
Because this history is left untold, we don’t know how Ben diverged from the light side of the Force, so, to fill the gap a second, unnecessary ‘inciting incident’ is inserted — that of Luke contemplating slicing up his nephew in his sleep. It was at this point someone should have realised just how badly Johnson had gone off course.
FIX 9: Jettison the entire wrong-headed idea of Luke unravelling his character arc of the original trilogy to the point where he would consider murdering a child. Good lord.
Instead, invert expectations by having Snoke as a shadowy, predatory, revolting old creature who lingered at the gates of Luke’s Jedi temple, and who crucially does not have any Force powers [little in The Force Awakens proves he does]. Rather, he is a reptilian individual who craves the company of young Force-sensitive children, and succeeds in grooming young Ben.
Luke, following his Jedi oath — and showing the flip side of his refusal to fight in Return of the Jedi — can not just attack Snoke and is somewhat powerless to get rid of him and his influence. Ben later feels betrayed by Luke for not defending him, and putting his Jedi principles above his nephew’s wellbeing.
When Luke witnessed Ben Solo’s return to the school as “Kylo Ren” and how he butchered his former classmates, Luke was paralysed by guilt and hopelessness. He told Leia that he failed as a Jedi teacher, and went looking for the first Jedi temple and original texts, but also let Leia and Han believe that Snoke was entirely to blame.
Snoke taught Ben what he knew of Sith-lore and set him free to indulge himself and build the First Order from nothing into a grand army.
Meanwhile, Luke just wanted to run away and hide his shame — just as Yoda and Obi-Wan had done.
Which brings us to:
10.Luke’s character is thrown away
There are two views on Luke’s character in the original trilogy, which can be summarised as:
a) Luke always had darkness in him, like his father. The fact that he nearly killed Vader at the end of Jedi shows how that side of him is always there, lurking beneath the surface.
b) Luke always had darkness in him, like his father. The fact that he nearly killed Vader at the end of Jedi — under utmost provocation — but then pulled back, turned off his lightsaber and threw it away is the defining moment of his life, and indeed of the entire saga. Luke was able to walk the knife-edge that his father never could; in the end he overcame his fears and in so doing finally became a Jedi, and was then at peace.
[Incidentally – disregarding the nonsense in the prequels – it’s always been my contention that Anakin actually became a Jedi mere moments after Luke did, in the final minutes of Return of the Jedi. For all their power in the Force, both father and son had to confront their fears to achieve the inner peace, which is the mark of a true Jedi.]
Obviously, Rian Johnson is firmly in the first camp, while I’ve always been in the second. (If I wasn’t, I doubt Star Wars would even mean that much to me.)
That’s fine, people see things different ways, but as I’ve said, you can have Luke be a ruin of a man — wracked by shame and failure — *without* needing a clumsy child-murdering flashback.
I also have an issue with the veneration given to Yoda, which in turn reduces Luke back to the juvenile kid that couldn’t lift his X-Wing out of the swamp in Empire. Johnson is so intent on remaking The Empire Strikes Back that his Luke must be Luke from Empire, forever fixed at that point. I think it would’ve been far more interesting to reverse the Luke/Yoda dynamic. If J. K. Rowling is willing to deconstruct Albus Dumbledore–the greatest wizard-mentor character ever created, with more depth than Obi-wan, Gandalf and Merlin put together–why is Yoda untouchable?
FIX 10: “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”
Alright then, let’s finally see it…
After Rey has set the Jedi Tree-Temple on fire and departed, Luke watches it burn, slumped on the ground. Through the flames Yoda finally appears, looking abashed. Luke tells Yoda that he understands now why he went into hiding on Dagobah. He understands his shame and remorse. Yoda replies that Luke now knows the same sickness that infected Obi-wan and himself.
“But”, says Luke, “the galaxy needed you. I needed you. Out there in the fight, not hiding in your hovel.”
Yoda looks at his feet. “I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t defeat the forces of darkness. I didn’t have the answers the galaxy needed Luke. I was old, much too old. You were our hope.”
“Yoda, you don’t always have to have all the answers. The kids will figure it out for themselves. Sometimes you just need to be there: to make the struggle a little easier; to tip the odds a little in their favour.”
Yoda looks up at Luke contemplatively.
Luke gets up.
“I’m done hiding.”
THE BATTLE OF CRAIT:
The massed armies of the First Order — ground troops, Walkers, Tie fighters, Tie bombers, Star Destroyers and more are pummelling the old Rebel base. The great shield is starting to crumble. Newly instated Resistance leader Holdo is facing total defeat. She sends out the last of her ground troops and fighters. Poe is blinded and dying in his cockpit following the massive explosion that brings down his X-Wing.
Rey tries to get Ben to fight with her, but he runs away inside the base and tries to hide. Rey takes to the battlefield alone, lightsaber raised. She is their last hope.
Rey cuts through a barrage of laser fire, bringing down Walkers, First Order troops and Tie-Fighters in great swathes. Her aggression starts to bubble over into anger and rage. Suddenly a stray laser bolt slices through her lightsaber and into her chest. She falls back, finally defeated.
Through half-closed eyes she sees thousands of First Order reinforcements march ever onward. Then, through a gap in the red dust clouds she sees a solitary figure standing before them…
For a moment, her eyes meet those of LUKE SKYWALKER, before he smiles, lowers his hood and turns to face the approaching army.
In Hux’s command centre, Luke’s aged face fills every screen as automated alarms blare. Hux goes pale and screams in panic for all craft to fire on him: the galaxy’s last Jedi.
Closing his eyes, Luke takes a deep breath. He finally stops resisting the Force, and it floods back into him in a great rush. He raises an open hand to the clear night sky.
[cue some John Williams music to make your hair stand on end]
Every laser blast stops in mid air. The Walkers move as if in slow motion, as do the troops on both sides, First Order and Resistance. Their guns fly out of their hands. Tie Fighters spin slowly, gracefully through the air; high in the sky Star Destroyers tumble out of orbit. Silence.
Rey holds her hands over her eyes as the light emanating from Luke (that only she can see) is unbearably bright and fills the universe. She is able to raise herself up and finds that her wounds are no longer bleeding. Then Ben emerges from the base, takes a step toward Luke, and stops.
All around, Stormtroopers remove their helmets and stand around with Resistance soldiers.
Luke winks at Rey, then glances at Ben just as another dust swirl sweeps over him, and he’s gone.