May The Force Be With Episode 9 (Ep. 3)

This is the final part of my trilogy reviewing the latest edition of Star Wars. For parts 1 and 2, check out my previous posts.

Problem #3: Leia Lives

This movie had an enormous elephant in the room to address on behalf of the entire franchise: Carrie Fisher’s passing.

In the first third of the movie, Fisher’s Princess-turned-General Leia Organa is blasted out into space as the result of her ship’s partial destruction. As the audience gazes upon her form, petrified as it floats through space, Leia revives herself through the power of the Force, using every reserve of energy left in her body to return herself to the Rebellion’s ship.

Yes, the moment was as ridiculous as the superimposed caption.

The movie was worse off for it.

This moment provided a perfectly reasonable if impersonal way for Leia to be written out of the story. Instead, we were provided a sequence that made her whiz through space in a manner recalling Mary Poppins’s ability to fly. As someone who is typically great at suspending disbelief, even I let slip a “That was stupid.”

This reaction was both to the moment’s visual portrayal and its premise, as doing this breaks a rule of human life: a person cannot survive in space on their own. This movie seemed to be making up the rules of what the Force could do, and did so haphazardly rather than in a coherent, established manner.

Moving on from that exact scene, her survival presented larger problems to the story: Episode 9 now needs to account for Leia’s unexplained disappearance, and statements have been made that the coming movie will not call upon CGI to recreate her in the way they summoned General Tarkin’s actor from the dead in Star Wars: Rogue One. I don’t know if the writers and directors of Episode 9 were working with the Last Jedi crew regarding how to bring Leia’s story to a close, but if they weren’t, the decision not to do so creates more problems than it solves.

Leia’s survival also inhibited character and story development of the new regime, notably Poe. By stripping him of the opportunity to navigate his relationship with Vice Admiral Holdo free of Leia’s continued influence, it sacrificed valuable dramatic tension and the ability to self-sufficiently develop his character’s personality.

Finally, while the salt planet reunion (a situation that harkened to a sodium-infused Helms Deep with more advanced technology) with Luke provided some emotional gratification, it also stymied the growth of the new heroes. Doing so squelched an opportunity for our young protagonists to assume greater responsibility, instead being left at the kids’ table while the adults called the shots. Had Leia not made it to this point, a passing of the torch could take place, thereby transforming nostalgia for the originals into excitement for where the story progresses led by an ensemble of ultra-talented fresh faces.

For once in favor of succinctness, I’ll stop with my major complaints there.

There’s still other things that were confounding about the movie, among them:

· Luke’s rationale for attempting the murder of Kylo Ren at the mere sensation of a dark power within seems inconsistent with his Force Master character, particularly conflicting with his decision making in a defining moment battling Darth Vade in Return of the Jedi.

· In a story that’s all about underdogs succeeding against daunting odds they reject being told, the refusal to more completely send up the ill-gotten fortunes of Canto Bight seems like a missed opportunity.

· Kylo Ren’s characterization as a guy who unexpectedly video calls a female while shirtless was dumbfounding.

At the end of the day, fans like myself look to the series to be transported, to capture our imaginations and put us in the cockpit of our own X-Wing to take flight. We want to be the child in the last shot, gazing up at the stars, conjuring a plethora of adventures and possibilities for ourselves.

With The Last Jedi’s significant stumbling blocks, it fell well short of that key metric.

The Empire Strikes Back compelled audiences to discover the conclusion of Luke’s story in one of the most iconic (though lightly misquoted) movie scenes of all time. With a second act falling as flat as The Last Jedi did due to what felt like top franchise-enabled complacence, the only reason to see Episode 9 is from a place of curiosity to see how the stories wrap up and with a sense of hope that J.J. Abrams will be able to rescue the series.

I’m just not sure I care enough to find out.

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