Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t already seen the movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi, or don’t want to have the plot and reveals ruined then don’t read any further. This is a review of the film, with comments about continuity and observations on how Star Wars has changed.
In case you are still reading and not sure if you want to continue, let us summarize Star Wars in cinema to date.
Episode I has the Jedi supporting the Republic to negotiate a trade embargo led by a faction and eventually rescue the planet Naboo from a droid invasion. Along the way Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn discovers a young boy on the planet Tatooine with the potential to become a Jedi, Anakin Skywalker. Episode II takes place after the Jedi Master Obi-wan Kenobi had taken Skywalker under his tutelage and a rising Separatist movement is threating the Republic with war. A secretly commissioned clone army is discovered and used by the Republic to battle the Separatist army in-between Episodes II and III. In Episode III the Jedi led Republic clone army defeats the Separatists only to turn against the Jedi on the orders of Chancellor Palpatine, who was secretly Sith Lord Darth Sideous. This dissolves the Republic and Palpatine becomes the Emperor with now cyborg Anakin Skywalker at his side as Darth Vader.
Episode IV takes place as the Empire has ruled the galaxy for nearly 20 years attempting to crush a Rebellion. Luke Skywalker, the secret son of Darth Vader, finds Obi-wan Kenobi on Tatooine where they were both hiding. He learns about the Jedi, rescues Princess Leia with the help of Han Solo and his ship the Millennium Falcon, joins the Rebellion and destroys a massive battle station weapon, The Death Star. In Episode V, the Rebel base on the planet Hoth is attacked, Luke Skywalker begins his Jedi training on the planet Dagobah with hidden Jedi Master Yoda and Han Solo is captured in Cloud City on Bespin. The Empire is rebuilding the Death Star in Episode VI and Luke and Leia rescue Han Solo on Tatooine. Luke completes his training and the Rebellion attacks the shield protecting the Death Star on the moon of Endor. Darth Vader presents Luke to the Emperor and saves his son by sacrificing himself and killing the Emperor. The Death Star and the Empire are destroyed.
30 years later, Episode VII begins with the First Order inexplicably rising from the ashes of the Empire, now lead by a previously unbeknownst Sith Lord, Supreme Leader Snoke. Leia is now a general in the Resistance. Luke is in hiding. On the planet Jakku a Resistance pilot named Poe Dameron hides a map to Luke Skywalker’s location in his droid BB-8. He is then captured by Ben Solo, now Kylo Ren a Sith apprentice to Snoke. Poe escapes with the help of Finn, a deserting stormtrooper. A scrapper named Rey finds BB-8 and escapes Jakku with Finn in the Millennium Falcon which is boarded by Han Solo. They eventually join the Resistance and help destroy the Starkiller base, but not before it has destroyed the Hosnian system of planets where the Resistance Senate was located.
Episode VIII immediately follows VII and picks up as the Resistance flees a base and Rey attempts to convince Luke to join the Resistance and train her.
My two main criticisms of the film are these: 1) It is not an epic fantasy. This film narrows the scope while attempting to broaden the appeal without maintaining the family or political tension or drama. 2) It is not mythical. The original films followed certain archetype, the knight trained by the sage wizard with the help of a pirate saves the princess from evil. This version of the story is an attempt to upset legend and reorient our expectations even if this doesn’t make sense.
Apparently, Luke is now a pacifist. After destroying the Death Star, he attempted to train young Jedi. This Jedi camp included his nephew Ben Solo. What is odd about this sequence of events is that Luke seemingly had no basis for Jedi education other than his experience with Obiwan Kenobi and Yoda. While he learned to channel and master the force he was not steeped in the history and tradition of the Jedi. Most of the cumulative wisdom and chronicles of the Jedi were destroyed by the Empire.
The apprentice/master and padawan/knight relationship was to prepare Jedi at a young age and refined through centuries. Though Luke can communicate with some dead Jedi through their force ghosts, their assistance did not help him avoid underestimating the power of the dark side to corrupt Ben Solo. Now Luke blames himself for Kylo Ren repeating the treason of Anikin Skywalker, slaughtering most of the Jedi and joining the First Order.
Luke then exiled himself to an island like John on Patmous.
After Rey finds him, Luke eventually agrees to teach Rey about the force. He trains her for about two days. He tells her that the force is for everyone. Skywalker’s line of the movie is “everything you said is wrong.” He says this twice, once to Rey and once to Kylo. Luke explains what the force is and why the Jedi should not exist. He believes that their failure and his errors were caused by arrogance and hubris.
Most of the events in the Star Wars universe happen because of serendipity, luck or chance, which are essentially the same thing. The entire franchise is a large Dues Ex Machina called The Force.
However, in Episode 8 often the happenstance events don’t happen that way and when they do happen they seem off beat.
Poe helps to bomb a Dreadnaught warship, at the cost of massive casualties. This is the normal calculus of war; we will lose some of our troops but we can also destroy their men and material. However, the entire technological basis for interstellar war is set on its head. There is no gravity in space. Destroying a spaceship is naturally taking out shields or its power source or the device to regulate power.
After the ship is destroyed, Leia, Poe, and the Resistance fleet escape via hyperspace. But they are tracked by the First Order with some amazing new technology that renders certain in universe assumptions moot. This device is explained with mumbo-jumbo and creates an unnecessary drama cycle.
The First Order finds and attacks the Resistance. Kylo Ren finches on a run at the battle cruiser because he senses his mother Leia is aboard. Another TIE fighter destroys the bridge of the Raddus command ship of the Resistance. Kylo’s mother is sent into space where she uses the force to retain her bodily integrity long enough to float back to the ship. A neat Jedi trick, except Leia is not a Jedi and only a force-sensitive Midi-chlorians high Skywalker. However, this effort takes a toll on her and she is sent into a coma.
Newly in charge Vice Admiral Holdo now leads the Resistance fleet in a slow chase through the galaxy without using hyperspace to conserve fuel. This creates a count-down sequence where the ship will be scuttled. Rather than sharing her master plan to dump the command ship and launch escape vehicles to reach a nearby abandoned Rebel base (it must be nice to have so many of these around) she critiques Poe’s machismo.
Here we learn that girls don’t need to tell boys what they are doing.
Star Wars has a history of women in leadership. From Princess, Senator Amidala to Mon Mothma and General Leia. Now in Holdo we are given another example of the measured, calm and deliberate decision-making of the female leader. Men lead the tyrannical Empire and the First Order; women lead the more egalitarian Rebellion and Resistance. Good guys either follow orders or come up with their own cockamamie plans that used to work.
The Last Jedi takes a sidebar when at the behest of Poe, Finn and his new partner Rose, a technician, race against time to find a hacker who can smuggle them past the First Order shields and shut down the tracking device before the Resistance command ship runs out of fuel. A comedy of errors results from their excursion into the casino city on Canto Bight. After a bizarre detour on the command ship Finn and Rose return to the Resistance.
The escape ships are mostly destroyed and Holda sacrifices herself to take out the First Order command ship. Afterwards the remaining handful of Resistance fighters flee to the salt planet Crait led by the recovered Leia. Poe, Finn, and Rose attack the battering ram cannon as it makes its way to the sealed gate of the base. Leia orders the attack to retreat. Finn attempts to destroy the cannon by sacrificing himself but Rose prevents him.
Here we learn that girls can save boys if they are attempting to sacrifice themselves to save the people they love.
Then Luke Skywalker shows up. He is not blown up by a massive barrage of blasters. He doesn’t really fight Kylo Ren. This is huge disappointment. While the original film neglected a quality sword fight between Kenobi and Vader due to a lack of budget and stunt expertise this was a colossal disappointment. The great Luke Skywalker is weak and feckless.
Then we find out that Jedi can use astral projection.
Luke Skywalker had created a force hologram to fool Kylo Ren. This was all a ruse to delay the attack enough so that the Resistance could escape through a secret passage that didn’t exist with the help of Rey into the Millennium Falcon. Then the renowned hero dies alone on an island and fades into the force.
Kylo Ren is mostly a monster, according to his own admission. So far, he is unrepentant and irredeemable. He remains a petulant child, a latchkey kid raging against absentee parents. He killed his father to free himself from light. He killed Snoke to advance his own career, like a middle manager.
Luke fears that Rey will turn to the dark side like Kylo. But he also believes that there is no good and evil. The light and dark merge into gray. And the Jedi should end. While the night is darkest before the dawn, this episode is a showcase for the loss of hope. It is a precursor to relaunch a newly branded Star Wars for the next generation.
This movie is the instant microwave version of Star Wars. It is the product of planned obsolescence and consumer-driver, politically correct, cookie cutter film-making. It is the death of the franchise and our childhood. Thank you, 21st century liberalism for ruining one more childhood dream. There is no galaxy far, far way and no one left to save.