Acceptance Is a Two-Way Street: Why ‘The Last Jedi’ Should Be Seen For What It Is
I intentionally waited to do this. (Oh yeah, SPOILERS.) I’ve been sitting on it for three days now, because I didn’t wanna risk even the possibility of diminishing anyone’s excitement and enthusiam during opening weekend, and I think I’ve finally found the right way to say what I need to, with a genuinely heartfelt opening disclaimer: It’s great if you like these new Star Wars movies. Great.
I mean that sincerely, with not a shred of sarcasm or condescension on any level whatsoever. The world is pretty crappy right now, and most of what we see on a daily basis sucks all kinds of ass. So when we cross paths with something we enjoy, we probably need to embrace that, and embracing something usually works better when we ask no questions and let both the minor flaws and big glaring clusterfucks blow by us without paying much attention, especially when it regards something as harmless as a movie. I totally understand.
However, with that said and meant, it’s still important to state that these most recent offerings of everyone’s favorite space saga are not good movies. They’re really not. You liking them — or even loving them — has nothing to do with that; it stands apart; I’m not saying you shouldn’t, on any level. But they’re just not good. And I already know what you’re thinking: “Oh look, another old school fan who doesn’t like that Star Wars is going in a new direction.” Yup, heard that one before. Many, many, many times.
And in a high percentage of cases, you’d likely be correct. Are there people who would’ve hated The Force Awakens even if it was of the same quality as The Godfather: Part II? Absolutely. Those people exist. Those people are everywhere (especially on the internet). Those people are who and what you think they are.
Yet that is not what’s happening here. I actually kind of liked Force Awakens; it definitely had its moments, as well as its shortcomings, and overall I thought it was fine. Not particularly good, mind you, but fine. (Despite what the internet may have led you to believe, a movie can actually exist somewhere between “AMAZING!!!” and “ABSOLUTE TRASH.”)
How Am I Disappointed by Thee? Let Me Count the Ways…
So when I tell you Last Jedi is a bad movie (much more so than its previous installment), know you’re not dealing with a blind hater who doesn’t really know what he’s talking about and is just lashing out at change. To that end, here’s just a handful of reasons why it’s not good, without even trying too hard:
- Who is Snoke? Why does he matter? OH WAIT HE DOESN’T. He’s dead and nobody cares. We know nothing about him on any level. He’s completely inconsequential. Your ostensible main villain… dead and gone… and nobody gives a shit.
- Rose saying to Finn — after stopping him from sacrificing himself for the greater good — that “We’ll beat them by saving those we love!” WHILE THE BIG METAL DOOR THAT’S PROTECTING ALL THEIR FRIENDS IS LITERALLY BEING DESTROYED BEHIND HER HEAD DUE TO HER ACTION. What in the actual fuck was that supposed to be?
- The Force now works as a spacesuit? Out of nowhere? For no apparent reason whatsoever? That’s a cool new feature. (And before you even try to hit me with that “Who cares? This is all fantasy! Why does it even matter?” noise: World-building in story-telling fails when you change things with no rhyme or reason. Imagine if Captain America just starts flying out of nowhere and with no explanation in the next Avengers movie. That would be stupid, and take you out of the fictional world being presented because of it, just like The Force inexplicably now functioning like a spacesuit.)
- The Yoda shit… I cringed. That dialogue… Oh dear god, that dialogue. My ears shuddered. It’s so on the nose; there’s no reveal; it’s just Yoda literally laying everything out for Luke, like a manual, with it never feeling at all like these two share a loving friendship or even a personal bond. It’s like the screenwriter just said “We need to give Luke a reason to stop doing what he was doing and start doing what he’s gonna do in two minutes, so let’s just have Yoda tell him to. People love Yoda; it’ll totally work.” Prequel Yoda was significantly more satisfying than that shit, and you will not find a bigger critic of the Prequels than myself. (Also, per my eight year old nephew, and I quote: “Mom, that doesn’t look like Yoda.”)
- Force Hologram Luke: Many thoughts. Firstly, why did he send a hologram if he was just going to die anyway? Like, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE? If he dies anyway, then give me a real showdown. Show me a real sacrifice! What is this cosmic bullfighter shit? Much more importantly, the crazy thing about the Force hologram reveal is that I noticed all the super fishy signs beforehand and it still surprised me, but for the worst possible reason. I noticed Luke appeared way younger than before… I noticed he didn’t have the right lightsaber… I DEFINITELY noticed the ridiculous stupidity of him surviving all those AT-AT blasts. (Except we just saw The Force work as a spacesuit, so why not this too, right?) But by that point, I honestly just assumed the filmmakers were that stupid. Repeat: THE REASON WHY THAT TWIST SURPRISED ME WAS BECAUSE I WAS CONVINCED THE PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR IT WERE THAT BAD AT THEIR JOB. It’s like when, in football, a crappy dime back gets a big pick off an awesome quarterback because that dude completely blew his coverage, got lost, and ended up in a part of the field the QB never would’ve imagined him being. My reaction wasn’t “Wow, that was great!” but rather “Oh thank God they’re not that bad at this.” Because everything up to that moment made that second option imminently god damn likely.
- I REALLY needed that movie to stop explaining itself to me through character dialogue. The plot was clearly convoluted nonsense (literally everything on the casino planet was pointless), so the filmmakers just resorted to everyone in the cast trying to summarize to the audience what was happening at any given moment, and then futilely attempt to masquerade that as some kind of authentic human interaction. It was like the opening expositional title crawl never ended… it just transformed into the characters talking… for the whole stupid movie. This is the white flag of visual, performative storytelling.
- The Luke/Ben Solo falling out. I mean, really take stock of this for a second: Their “relationship” — in its entirety — consisted of three different versions of the same fifteen second story/flashback, only the third of which being accurate. So their whole relationship and its downfall, when it’s all said and done, adds up to fifteen seconds of Luke “seeing darkness” in Ben that he saw before, but then he REALLY looked — as opposed to just kinda looking, which is apparently what he was doing earlier — and saw that it was actually a lot more. So he entertains murder while in the tent, then relents, but Kylo already saw him think about it, and attacks. That’s the story. That’s the falling out.
Things we never see: a) Luke training Ben, b) Luke beginning to fear Ben, c) Ben being turned into Kylo by Snoke, d) Ben ever talking to Snoke, e) Ben ever talking to Luke, for that matter, f) Ben ever being in the same vicinity as Snoke… for any reason… at all… ever, g) Ben ever being in the same vicinity as Luke, outside of a fifteen second story.
This is all such narratively useless bullshit.
Good Stories Are About Characters and Relationships Before Anything Else
Look, say what you will about the Prequels and the stupidity of Anakin turning and the hollowness of his friendship with Obi-Wan and all that (and again, I’ve said A LOT about all that), but at least we see Anakin and the Emperor actually talk to each other before the shit went down. At least Lucas TRIED to make Anakin and Obi-Wan come off as friends and have a legitimate relationship that was sad to see be lost. At least we, the motherfucking audience of the film, actually saw Anakin turn and knew why he was doing so and watched it narratively develop on SOME LEVEL on the way there; we weren’t just passively told about it after the fact, with an explanation so detailed and nuanced as “There was darkness in him.” (Oh cool, thanks for clearing that up Luke. Really compelling stuff there…)
Furthermore, this is not even limited to Luke & Kylo; the exact same thing happens with Leia and Laura Dern’s character. Their heartfelt goodbye before Dern’s noble sacrifice could have — and should have — been a big time emotional moment, only there was one problem: once again we, the audience, barely knew who she was and, once again, she and Leia barely spoke to each other in our presence before they said goodbye. (It may have even been the first time; I don’t remember, which is a bad sign on its own.) So that big, emotional adieu meant nothing on a storytelling level. NOTHING AT ALL. As far as we knew, no relationship was being lost. They had no relationship from our vantage point.
Here’s one more, just for good measure: Yoda destroying the original, sacred Jedi temple that contained the original, sacred Jedi texts… which we all had just found out were a thing A FREAKING HOUR AGO. If those were important in the Star Wars universe beforehand, and then Yoda destroyed them, and then someone like me complained about it? That’s how you’d know I was a blind hater, because I’d just be mad that something that was important to me was taken away.
But that is not what happened; that’s not why that moment sucks; that’s not why I take issue with it. That scene is bad because, once again, it is not set up with any level of depth whatsoever — it’s generic ass, randomly thrown together Jedi stuff — so the payoff then means nothing. A thing we just learned existed and had no time to discover more about or appreciate is gone? OK. I don’t care. You’ve given me no reason to.
You have, once again, wasted my time.
There Is Evolution, and There Is Just Losing It
This is what everyone forgets about the original Star Wars trilogy, or at least completely underestimates: They were good movies first, BEFORE they were “The Great and Glorious STAR WARS!!!” People didn’t just love them because they had cool spaceships and laser swords and stormtroopers; they loved them because it was sound, deeply engaging storytelling that now existed on a far grander canvas and with a level of visual creativity we’d never seen before, which only then made things like the Falcon and Vader and R2 beloved. Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi simply HAD TO BE good movies (especially the first) for anyone to ever care. If they sucked, we all wouldn’t even be here to argue about any of this decades later.
Han and Leia’s relationship evolved and deepened over time, as did Luke and Han’s, as did Luke and Leia’s. Yoda was MADE TO BE important by the depth of what he said to Luke (and the audience) while training him, and the unexpected uniqueness of the shell that said those things, not just because we remember him from before. Vader and Luke’s relationship was particularly nuanced and layered, and The Emperor was deliberately withheld over the course of the three films for the effect of anticipation that truly paid off when he finally arrived on the scene. Even a side character like Lando had an arc that we came to understand and appreciate. All of these elements were necessary within the framework of the saga being presented (i.e. all of these characters and their choices were critical to the events playing out as they did; none of them were superfluous; they all did something important, to varying degrees), and deepened audience investment and interest.
These movies, on the other hand, settle for just containing Star Wars stuff, and leave the rest to whatever the fuck. Finn doesn’t really do anything important; he’s pretty much just comic relief. His side-quest with Rose for the code-breaker was not only the definition of cockamamie, it was narratively unnecessary. Not only did it not make sense or succeed, it never needed to; the other events play out exactly the same regardless. It’s the same with Poe’s uprising: it never mattered. Laura Dern’s character and the plan we never knew about made both allegedly significant narrative strands pointless; they mean nothing to the story. They provide nothing more than hollow intrigue.
(Also, as a side note, once there’s an attempted mutiny, an Admiral should probably just come out with the plan she’s been keeping to herself. I know she didn’t like Poe, and he was being a petulant dumbass, but that might be a good time to let the guy who thinks you’re not doing anything in a dire, life and death situation — and so legitimately is scared for the lives of all his friends — know that you are, in fact, doing something. Seems like a wee bit of a timesaver in a scenario where saving time should be pretty god damn important. I know for a lot of people that scene was great, simply because it features a female character putting a male character — who’s clearly being a dick — in his place, and I can definitely appreciate that. But you can still achieve that same end within an overall story framework that serves the greater narrative. Even when it has higher social aims, bad writing is still bad writing.)
And sure, you can say that “It’s just different now; these are the new Star Wars, and we should just accept them for what they are.” That’s definitely one way of looking at it. But another, more detailed, and more thoroughly examined way to look at it is that they are tissue paper thin, poorly conceived and executed stories that contain no real payoffs outside of previously established Star Wars stuff we’ve already known about for forty plus years. Kylo was tempted and succamb to the Dark Side because that’s just what bad guys do in this world before getting red laser swords; we all already knew that. Hope is super important simply because this is Star Wars and hope is always a thing in Star Wars. We all already knew that.
You can choose to see it whichever way you prefer, but the larger reality you may elect to disregard does not change around your choice. Or go away.
To the Younger Generation…
You all, more than anyone else, are the ones I want to enjoy these movies, regardless of how bad they are. As a white dude in his mid-30s, I have reaped the benefits of a supremely unfair pop culture setup for years, with these kinds of fantasy epics always being about me, and it is more than past time for them to feature Not Me as much as humanly possible. Whether you believe me or not, I actually really want these movies to succeed, even if it’s just financially, so this approach will be extended and cultivated ever more.
I also know how frustrating it must be to live your whole life hearing about how great movies were decades ago and be told everything after is shit. Being bludgeoned with the greatness of Star Wars for as long as you can remember must instill an almost primordial desire to find and celebrate your own versions and, when you finally get them, you’re going to rock that shit, almost by instinct. And then, when someone my age comes along and tells you that they’re not good and don’t hold a candle to the originals, it’s almost a reflex for you to wanna tell me to go fuck myself… that Star Wars is different now… that it’s not for me anymore.
And you know what? You’re right; it’s not. I detected that when I watched Force Awakens. I began to accept it after Rogue One. This movie, right here, was my line of demarcation. If it was good on the level of quality that exists beyond mere preference, I was more than ready to tag back in. If it wasn’t, I knew it was time for me to embrace a changing world — regardless of how I felt about it — and just move along down the road.
There comes a moment when you gotta let it go, and realize some shit just ain’t for you. It has come for me with Star Wars. It’s time to hang up my lightsaber.
But just like how much you may still love these movies, that is a separate issue from whether or not they are good, on a not-entirely-subjective storytelling level. And if I can accept Star Wars isn’t for me anymore (nor should it be, in all fairness), then it shouldn’t be too much to ask those of you who celebrate these newer versions to entertain the idea that they possibly may be stories that are demonstrably not as well told as their older counterparts, to a more than substantial degree. This does not feel like an unfair compromise.
What I Want Here
So, taking all this into account, please just know that when I hear people say things like “The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie since Empire!” it makes me want to pull all of my hair out of my head in no more than five handfuls. Every time. I have to actively silence the screams that completely take over my brain in 0.2 seconds. Every time. When I read or listen to gaggles of professional critics say it’s even a quality piece of visual storytelling, I desperately hope that they were paid off to say so; that’s the best possible scenario in my head, by three or four touchdowns.
It drives me bonkers. All I see is a consuming public where we’ve dropped the bar so low we can no longer tell the difference between an over forty rec basketball league and the freaking NBA. Listening to these movies be praised for anything other than “It has X-wings and lightsabers and AT-ATs! And I know and love those things from when I saw them before; isn’t this awesome?!” or “Isn’t it great to watch a female character in charge so thoroughly call out and check mansplaining?!” is like reading a restaurant review or hearing a friend rave about how “The food was mostly edible, and I didn’t even get food poisoning! You guys need to go!”
I just don’t get it. I don’t understand what people think they’re watching. It’s a full on Mugatu “THESE MOVIES ARE SO NOT EVEN IN THE FURTHEST SLOT IN THE MOST DISTANT PARKING LOT OF THE BALLPARK OF STAR WARS! DOESN’T ANYONE ELSE NOTICE THIS?! I FEEL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS!!!” moment. Every. Single. Time.
And yeah, yeah, yeah… I take this too seriously. They’re just movies. I know. Heard it all before.
But we are who we are. I am what I am.
So bottom line: Like them, enjoy them, celebrate them. As much as you want. For whatever reason you want. As loud as you want. As long as you want. Please.
Just stop pretending Jack in the Box is In N’ Out. Just say you like Jack in the Box, and be accepting of what that means. Own it.
Just take it and love it for what it is… and is not. For my sanity, and a future where children can like whatever the hell they want… and yet still be able to tell the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad.
Do so and you’ll never hear from the likes of me again.
(By the way, yes I loved the throne room fight, which was bad ass, and the lightspeed kamikaze moment, which was an utterly, breathtakingly gorgeous sequence. I am not a joyless turd. Also, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are still doing very well with what they are being given, and their relationship is the only one that develops well at all. The movie is not without its redeeming qualities.)