I shouldn’t have to write this but, the internet being what it is today, I’ll say that all of what follows are just the salty, cranky opinions of a relic past his time. If you enjoyed these films, I’m happy for you and am glad that you had a positive experience. What’s written below is just my take on the matter. Your reaction to the films in no way influences my opinion, nor should mine yours. We’ll just agree that we saw things differently, shall we, and move along from there?
I’ve waffled back and forth regarding if I was actually going to write something about this. On one hand, I had to question why I’d invest the time. There isn’t much for me to say on the matter that hasn’t already been expressed. What could I possibly add to the discussion?
On the other hand, the more I think about this film, the more it bothers me. I don’t know that I can claim the same outrage that everyone else is expressing – the degree to which we’ve all seem to become gleefully rabid is disturbing to me. I’d be lying, though, if I said I didn’t understand why people are pissed.
I need to start this off by saying that Star Wars was a big part of my childhood. I was born in 1978, and yet I was in the theater when the first Star Wars movie was released in 1977…in my mother’s womb. I saw the subsequent films through my own eyes, obviously, and these movies have been a big part of what shaped my conception of what makes a “good story” forever after. I had all of the old-school toys, having been alive when they first came out; I even had the damned Ewok village – a place my pet hamster used to occupy frequently whenever he made good to engineer his escape from his cage. I suppose he felt at home there, having resembled the natives.
The original Star Wars trilogy is not, in my opinion, a perfect set of films; far freaking from it. But they were good films. They were competent films that told a compelling story centered around interesting, likeable characters. If there was any genius at all in the making of these films, it was in their special effects, all practical, and in the minds of the brilliantly creative people who came together and problem solved their way through to presenting a film in which little kit-bashed models looked like for-real goddamned space armadas. But I don’t feel as though I need to say too much about this aspect of the films. We all know how they changed everything.
The things that weren’t groundbreaking in these films at all were the scripts or the acting. These were good enough, sure, but nothing amazing. They were simple stories and, in fact, if you go back and view them, you’ll see that there isn’t a great deal going on in them. Heroes go from point A to point B, they fight, and they either win or lose. Yes, there are conflicts and moral dilemmas as well as character arcs, but you have to realize something here: those things are just basic parts of a story. Today, when a character in a film has a reasonable, demonstrable arc that develops throughout the story, everyone comments on how amazing it is. A workable arc used to just be assumed. Today, when we see one of these things we all tend to do cartwheels. Isn’t that sad?
Perhaps the only groundbreaking thing I can point out for the story of the original trilogy was that the makers of these films dared to take them seriously (well, minus the Tarzan Wookie Scream and the Ewoks, I guess). These were films that should have been disregarded out of hand, by all rights, but the people who made them (and I’m not laying all of the credit on Lucas alone, here; recent evidence suggests he had a lot less to do with the original films’ narrative success than we all might have realized) dared to inject truth, heart, and humanity into the characters. They took a preposterous scenario and said, “Screw it. These are people we’ll care about. We’re going to do this up right.”
And when you watch the movies, that sentiment carries through…assuming you don’t watch the Special Edition, anyway.
Being older now (and benefiting from a bit of perspective, having lived through the crucible of the prequels), I can step back from these original movies and see them fully. I see where they worked out and what was done well – but I can also see where things kind of fell apart. I can see the problems and the bits of clumsiness, some of the narrative issues and plot holes. But, much like Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and the numerous problems found therein, I set all that aside because the foundational core of the story still works. The characters are relatable, their arcs are well executed, and everything both narratively and emotionally makes perfect sense.
Thus am I brought to The Last Jedi.
My initial reaction to this film was not as violent as what I’ve been seeing online. First, I should point out that I spoiled the two major plot revelations for myself before I went in to see it: namely that Snoke is unceremoniously dumped and that Rey doesn’t actually come from anywhere or anyone particularly special. I did this because I had reserved tickets to see the film (with my wife and son) in a higher-end theater a few weeks after the film’s release – primarily because the kind of die-hard fan that will stand in line for hours to see the film on opening day is not typically the kind of audience I want to share my movie experience with.
So the movie came out and was subsequently eviscerated (or lionized, depending on your preferred brand of Kool-aid). As someone who enjoyed The Force Awakens, despite all of its own many problems, I was excited to see Episode 8. Hearing how viciously it divided the fans, I decided to find out what had pissed everyone off so much before going to see it because I hate to be disappointed in the process of watching the actual film. And apparently, everyone was pissed about Snoke’s death and Rey’s parentage.
Paradoxically, these items are only minor symptoms of a greater underlying problem, much as Jar Jar Binks was not actually the reason the prequel films were terrible. Additionally, these two items didn’t actually sound like the worst thing in the world to me, so I just shrugged and proceeded to the theater, oblivious.
When we watched the movie, my overall reaction to it was one of resounding “Meh”. I can recall several points during the film where I looked over at my wife and mouthed the words, “What the hell did I just watch?” She would shrug at me during these times and shake her head, as if to say, “Well, don’t ask me, this isn’t my fault!” At no point during the movie did I see anything that made me want to get out of my seat and cheer. There was no “OH HELL YES!” moment for me at any point in this film. It was all confusion and double-takes from my end. Even my ten-year-old son, someone who should have been bashing his own brains out over his excitement for the film, came out of the theater and said, “Eh…it wasn’t for me.”
And mostly, I suspect this was for two big reasons: First, The Last Jedi is a narrative train wreck. Second, the film insisted on continually reminding me that I was watching a film.
The Recap (and all the other shit that bothered me)
This is not going to be an exhaustive play-by-play of what happened in the movie, mostly because I can’t remember it all after a single viewing and because there are so many other reviews out there (mostly Youtube rant videos) which do a better job than I could ever hope to accomplish. I’m just going to cover the things that really stuck in my craw.
Is Your Refrigerator Running?
The film opens up with a prank phone call from Poe to General Hux. I’m not going to transcribe it here, but the humor had Guardians of the Galaxy all over it. While I appreciate that kind of humor, I have to emphasize that I appreciate it in its proper place. The joke presented in the film amounted to a Teleconference Office gag. Like I said, such a thing works great in Guardians, but Star Wars? “Holding for General Hux…” doesn’t work in this universe at all. All that serves to do is throw a massive glass of cold water in your face and remind you that, “Hey, asshole! You’re watching a MOVIE!”
It points out to me, the viewer, that the people who made this film knew good and god damned well that they were making a Star Wars film; meaning, in essence, that they knew it would be a hit no matter what and they could just throw whatever they liked into it and there would be a massive component of the audience that would just accept it.
It points out to me that there was some Disney executive somewhere that said, “Hey, Guardians of the Galaxy just made a killing. There were a bunch of jokes in that. Put more jokes in Star Wars. That’s something they need more of; all kinds of jokes.”
“I’ll try spinning! That’s a good trick!”
So some really jarring shit gets shoe-horned into the film that feels incredibly out of place, so much so that I’m reminded that none of the stuff happening up on that giant screen is actually happening, nor does it matter.
Not off to a great start.
The Space Battles Were Visually Stunning; and Also Perplexing as Hell
Following on the heels of the incredibly distracting telephone joke, we get into the first big space battle of the movie. Everything about this battle was stunning. The visuals were amazing, the sound design was on point, the scope and scale were just incredible…
And I missed all of that because the details of the fight confused me so much that I spent more time asking questions about why they were doing things the way they were rather than just enjoying it.
And maybe this is just nitpicky on my part, but goddamn it, if you’re going to make giant, sweeping battles a major set piece of your movie, those battles have to at least make a minimal amount of sense.
So in order to take down the big-ass First Order ships, you must deploy bombs using the SLOWEST MOVING SHIPS IN THE GALAXY.
First of all, why are those ships so slow? You’re in outer space. Neither the size of a ship nor its aerodynamics has any bearing on how fast you can travel or maneuver. The inertia plays a part but, considering how fast you can get all of your other ships to maneuver (including the Mon-Calamari Cruisers of previous films), designing engines to get these suckers flying at greater than walking speed should be a fairly minimal engineering challenge.
Of course I know why they actually moved as they did from a film-making perspective; they were carrying forward the themes of WWII aerial combat that George Lucas had established in his earlier movies. Here in EP8, we’ve now been given Flying Fortress Bombers escorted by the X-Wing P-51 Mustangs.
Except none of that makes sense in space. Poe’s X-Wing can easily skip over the surface of all the First Order destroyers, running circles around their defenses. Why would you load the bombs on the galaxy’s equivalent of a slowly moving dump truck? Why not put the bombs on the X-Wings and blow the shit out of everything that way?
What happened to torpedoes? Is it really necessary to get that close to bomb the First Order ships? You’re in space. Why wouldn’t you put those bombs on the front of rockets, fly out to some place really far away (and safe!), and then just shoot them at the enemy?
Why would bombs fall through the bomb bay doors towards the enemy ship? It’s space. Is the answer that they’re magnetized or guided in some other way? Then why the hell wouldn’t you just let them be guided towards the ship from a safe distance? Put them on rockets and don’t let the majority of your fleet and personnel get blown up trying to deliver the payload through the most perplexing means in history.
Watching this scene, all I could hear inside my head was Dr. Evil as he said, “Begin the unnecessarily slow moving dipping mechanism!”
Later in the movie, Admiral Holdo (perhaps the most obnoxious Star Wars character I’ve ever encountered since [insert Prequel Character’s name here]) decides that she must sacrifice herself to save the remainder of the resistance. She does this be turning her ship about, pointing it directly at the enemy fleet, and punching straight to light speed, obliterating them.
What an incredible scene this was. I was floored by the visual artistry of it; it was freaking beautiful.
And then I thought, “Wait…why isn’t that a standard tactic?”
You see, that wasn’t a maneuver she just pulled out of her ass or invented on the spot. The First Order realized exactly what she was up to as soon as she turned the ship around, so the results of her plans were established, commonly understood dynamics within this universe. If they had stood there confused by her attempt to meet them head-on maybe it would have made more sense, but they all pulled an “OH SHIT!” look right before she hit the throttle and shotgunned them all into space dust.
That means everyone in the galaxy knows exactly what happens if you light-speed your ship into someone else. There isn’t any guesswork (do they fold space and pass through the other ship, perhaps?) – no. Ships travelling in hyperspace still occupy the same physical space as everyone else, apparently, or they at least do so for a brief period as they accelerate up to full light speed.
Can anyone please explain to me why every fleet isn’t just flying around with a bunch of empty, remote-controlled, out-of-date frigates? If this is a mechanic everyone in the universe understands, so much so that the first time it’s attempted everyone craps their little space pants just prior to its execution, and if everyone knows you can absolutely destroy an entire fleet in its use…why the hell isn’t that a common part of everyone’s arsenal?
I think one of the most infuriating things about this for me was that it was such a fantastic, out of the box tactic rendered suddenly confusing by the fact that everyone within the movie seemed to know exactly what would happen. They couldn’t have just taken a moment to show the First Order being completely confused by what she was up to, or perhaps a bit of uncertainty on the part of Holdo regarding whether the tactic would actually work? Like, anything at all to explain why everyone doesn’t just have a detachment of RC drones that they can light-speed missile at everything in sight, since it seems works so goddamned well?
I’m certain it’s a tactic will never see again on screen, certainly not in Episode 9. It makes far too much sense.
Do I even need to bring up how laughably silly it was for Leia to Marry-Poppins her way back onto the ship after she got vacuumed? If I do, you’re probably not the kind of person who should be reading this rant.
When I saw it, I thought it was poorly, awkwardly, embarrassingly executed. It looks so unnatural and flat, like I was watching a shitty video game cut-scene. But I was willing to accept it from a narrative standpoint, damn it. I was willing to accept that she had gotten some decent amount of force training from her brother off camera and this would have explained the sequence, at least for me, adequately.
“This is a reflex action on her part,” Last Jedi writer-director [Shun him! Shun him, I say!] explained. “It’s the equivalent in my head of when you hear about parents, toddlers are caught under cars, and they suddenly get Hulk strength and can lift it up. Or a drowning person climbing their way to the surface.”
*The referenced article is actually what set me off the deep end and got me writing this, by the way.
Right, so in the words of the director, there is actually no narrative reason at all as to why Leia should have been able to do this. I suppose I’m not surprised; given what he did (or failed to do, rather) with Rey and everything else in this movie.
You know, I’m not actually convinced that the director knows how to tell a coherent story, given everything else that’s happened here…
The Narrative Train Wreck
From top to bottom, this film is a narrative train wreck of dropped plot lines and missed opportunities. Snoke seems to be the most glaring for a lot of people but, when I saw him killed in the movie, I didn’t care. I didn’t care because I never really cared about Snoke as a character to begin with. He always just seemed to be stuffed into Awakens as a place-holder villain; someone to be fleshed out later.
Apparently director what’s-his-name was as bored with the character as I was, given how he opted to just erase him out of the film rather than deal with him in any kind of meritorious fashion.
But Snoke was, for me, one of the lesser offenses. No, the big offense for me was what they did (or failed to do) with Rey and Finn.
Sorry, kids. Rey is a Mary Sue. There’s no other way around it. This was brought up in Awakens, of course, but it didn’t bother me so much back then because I knew they had two additional movies to explain her aptitude, plus her origin seemed so damned mysterious. The films had already setup the expectation that the Force was stronger along certain family lines; hell, they did that in the original trilogy, never mind the stupid midi-decaffeinations. So assuming some sort of elevated lineage, I was ready to accept her status as a Force Adept.
Only forget it; her parents weren’t shit.
It is at this point that everything within this new series of films began to fall apart for me. It became clear at this point that no one actually had any kind of plan; that they were just making this shit up as they went, and that they weren’t even bothering to cleanly tie the movies within this trilogy to each other, let alone the material that had come before.
It was at this point that I realized that Star Wars under the Disney banner is completely broken.
Again, Rey’s character is not the reason these movies are failing for me; she’s only a symptom of a much greater problem.
I started to think about these things and realized that these flaws in her character, in essence her lack of character, were not limited to Force use. Any time Rey is in a scene, she is automatically the most competent person in the room, whether she has a reason to be or not.
She grew up homeless on some backward dessert planet, living a scavenger’s meager existence, yet she can communicate with BB-8 and Chewbacca effortlessly, for some damned reason.
She can physically best everyone in combat, no matter who they are, having successfully fought off a group of armed thugs physically and numerically superior to her, a Jedi apprentice trained by both Luke Skywalker and Snoke (using a weapon completely unfamiliar to her), as well as Luke Goddamned Skywalker himself.
She can instantly pilot the Falcon at an expert level, pulling off demonstrations of competency not even exhibited by Han Solo, after admitting that she doesn’t have the first clue how to fly the damned thing.
She knows the ins and outs of the falcon and immediately fixes it in seconds after identifying the problem, though there is no narrative explanation for her to know how to do so.
She is instantly a dead-shot with a blaster the first time one is put into her hands, having missed only her first attempt before bulls-eyeing every target thereafter, though trained Stormtrooper still can’t manage to hit a goddamned thing after years of conditioning and training.
And so on…
The closest analogue we have to Rey is Luke Skywalker himself and he did indeed exhibit a lot of the skills that Rey seems to be born with in the original trilogy; however the main difference I must point out was that there was a narrative reason for him to do so.
Luke was a hand on an established, working farm that made regular use of droids in their day to day activities, but he still required a translator of some sort to communicate with R2. And the fact that it was really only Han that could understand Chewbacca was sort of a long-running gag within the series as well as the now-divorced EU material.
Luke could barely handle any kind of hand to hand combat in the first Star Wars and we didn’t even see him put the Lightsaber to use in a real fight until the second film. His accuracy with a blaster was also questionable, given that he missed half as often as he hit, not counting that door panel. The first time he saw someone coming at him that appeared to know how to use a lightsaber (Darth Vader), he ran his ass off; as he should have. In the second film, Vader cuts his goddamned hand off! It takes Luke no less than three films to attain a level where he can reasonably approach Darth Vader in a fight, and even then he had his hands full.
The only thing Luke really did know how to do in the first Star Wars was fly a ship and shoot stuff with it. Again, there was a good narrative reason for this. He’d been wanting to join the military for months (perhaps years) at the start of the first film. We knew he had a T-16 that he practiced with frequently; it was explained. Moreover, keeping it in a functional state probably would have been very much like your average Earth-bound teenager working on his old clunker out in the driveway. Yes, it was a stretch that he should suddenly be a better combat pilot than anyone else in the Rebel Alliance, but that was only a stretch. It did not obliterate all credulity.
Finally; and I really must underline this: Luke received actual frigging instruction in the use of the Force by actual goddamned Jedi Masters! TWO OF THEM! AND WE SAW IT HAPPENING!
What narrative reason have we been given at any point for Rey’s competency in anything she does? I was looking for these things to start getting explained in Episode 8 and I happened to be looking forward to these explanations with great anticipation. I looked forward to the possible creativity they’d have to employ in explaining her many talents, especially since Daisy Ridley went out of her way to address the issue and point out that she considered it unfounded.
Sadly, she chose to make the criticism a political issue by dubbing it sexist, which it was not. Anyone who actually knows what a Mary Sue is realizes that it’s not a term applied only to females. I suppose if she’d troubled to read up on what it actually means, she might not have pointed at the whole “boobies” thing and cry sexism; personally, if she actually knew what the definition of a Mary Sue is, her response perplexes the hell out of me. Assuming a baseline understanding of the Mary Sue definition:
A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment. They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible given the amount of training or experience. Sometimes, the name is reserved only for women, but more often the name is used for both genders. A male can also be referred to as a Marty Sue or Gary Stu, but Mary Sue is used more commonly.
…then her answer to the critique makes as much sense to me as the following vocal exchange:
“Hey, Bill, why did you shoot poor Gary in the face?”
“Because I hate the taste of apples!”
It makes no goddamned sense, is what I’m saying.
Oh, and why is it that we refer to these kinds of characters as a “Mary Sue”? Well, it’s damned well not because we like to dub female characters as automatically incompetent, less interesting, or because only females can be a Mary Sue, oh no. It’s because this specific trope is traced back to a PARODY story written by Paula Smith in 1973, the character of which was named MARY FREAKING SUE.
The term “Mary Sue” comes from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story “A Trekkie’s Tale”:15 published in her fanzine Menagerie #2. The story starred Lieutenant Mary Sue (“the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old”), and satirized unrealistic characters in Star Trek fan fiction. Such characters were generally female adolescents who had romantic liaisons with established canonical adult characters, or in some cases were the younger relatives or protégées of those characters.
The Drastic Misuse of Finn and Rose
I’m not gonna lie; when I first saw Rose’s picture in the promotional material for the film, my knee-jerk reaction was, “Oh, great, another ethnic checkbox for the great Disney Corporate Demons to pat themselves on the backs over.”
But then she burst onto the screen and I loved everything about her. No shit, her character was unique and interesting to me. Her simplicity of drive, though perhaps a little too pat, worked with regard to the way she portrayed herself. Her very character was simplicity in itself; naïve, innocent, an idealist. I found her to be incredibly interesting, much more so than anything that had happened with Rey, and began to look forward eagerly to how she would develop throughout the film and into Episode 9. She was like a blank slate; there were so many places she could be taken as a character.
She reminded me of Finn, in fact, who ended up being my surprise favorite character from Awakens; again because he was unique, likeable, and interesting. And, surprise-freaking-surprise, Finn actually had an arc in that first movie!
It seems sad when I feel that I have a need to point out a basic element of general writing competency as a major win for a film, but this is where we are now, I guess…
So Rose won me over instantly and I was already a Finn fan.
You can imagine my disappointment when they were sent off on a B-level side quest that had absolutely no bearing on the story’s plot or outcome. It was the movie equivalent of, “Hello, [Adventurer]! Collect for me [12 wolf pelts] and I shall reward you with a [pair of fur-lined boots]!”
Finn and Rose were sent off to a casino to grind XP; sadly not the kind of grinding Rose would have preferred, if I read that kiss right…
Why did they do this to those characters? Why did they just get shunted off to a bizarre casino planet to flail uselessly before returning to the resistance to again do a bunch more of nothing?
Why was Rose, a character that started out with so much promise, reduced to an emotional moron by the end of the film; a person who failed to understand the obvious advantage and heroism of Finn sacrificing himself to destroy the Door Raping Space Laser so that his friends and loved ones could have some hope of escaping?
“The only way we’re going to win this is by saving the things we love!”
I mean…okay, but…there’s still that Door Raping Space Laser over there, just still going along raping our space door. That’s still a problem, you know. A problem you’ve just removed our ability to address. Right? Do we go over and love the Door Raping Space Laser now? Because that’s all you seem to have left us with.
Oh, you’re asleep now? Okay…
All of the Political Agendas!!!
Remember when Star Wars was just a dumb series of movies that conveyed a simple storyline with likeable characters and groundbreaking special effects? Remember when it wasn’t a vehicle to address all of the social imbalances and inequities perpetrated by our hateful, white male society?
Damn, I sure miss those times.
I guess my first point of major confusion on the matter is everyone running around acting like Star Wars has only now begun to enjoy the inclusion of strong female characters. I mean, the first rebuttal to that is this new trilogy actually doesn’t have any strong female characters, mostly because they have to be characters to start with.
Rey is not a character. She’s a walking, single-expression Deus Ex Machina. She is British Kristen Stewart with a Lightsaber and unexplained space wizard powers.
Holdo was not a character. She was a one-dimensional plot contrivance with little narrative justification and confoundingly stupid hair.
And Phasma? Really?
Remember when Gwendoline Christie made such a big goddamned deal over Captain Phasma’s being a woman and how important and groundbreaking that was?
This whole interview becomes incredibly cringey when combined with the fact that her character enjoyed something like 3.5 minutes of total screen time in both movies before they threw her to her death down a pit, doesn’t it?
It seemed you couldn’t turn around without someone popping up from somewhere saying how goddamned important Captain Phasma was to the series and how there were so many barriers being broken in the character’s inclusion.
All of which I was perfectly willing to accept, until both of the movies that included her turned her into a goddamned joke, either throwing her down a trash shoot or killing her (oh, yeah, goddamned spoilers, by the way) by throwing her down a Star Wars pit.
Look, I have nothing against strong female characters. Jesus Christ, one of the most capable and arguably dangerous characters in my books is literally a single mother that started out as a simple housewife. But if you’re going to make such a big freaking deal over how important and groundbreaking your character is in all the promotional media and appearances, perhaps you should take steps to ensure that said character is actually important in the freaking movie.
And please don’t get me wrong! I freaking love Gwendoline Christie. She continues to deliver one of my favorite performances in Game of Thrones, where she is an honest to goodness, no-shit imposing physical presence.
Let me ask you something; if you guys were going to make such a big damned deal about having a female villain, could you not have just gone for it?? What was stopping you from making Christie the top villain in this whole series of movies? She certainly has the chops for it and, woman or not, I damned well believe she can kick any ass she desires. It was definitely believable when she cleaned The Hound’s clock. Why did you shrink away from the edge, guys? If breaking some sort of ground was such a thing for you, why the hell didn’t you go all in?
Remember Leia in the original trilogy? When she started out as a bratty princess? Remember when Luke burst into her prison cell and proclaimed in his most gallant of voices, “I’m here to rescue you?”
Remember when she just elbowed his skinny ass out of her path and proceeded to shoot her own doorway off that space station?
Leia needed a little help to get out of the prison cell, sure, but she sure as hell didn’t need anyone to save her after that initial leg-up. At every point after she was standing shoulder to shoulder with the lads, matching them shot for shot, and taking Imperial scalps.
There was one bad guy (one), a mob boss, that made the fatal mistake of objectifying her. She choked him to death with his own goddamned bondage collar.
Jesus, towards the end of the series, Han needed her to come save his ass, not the other way around. Before it was all over, she was a freaking general.
I cannot for the life of me understand why everyone is making such a giant to-do over these new female characters in the movies as though they’re accomplishing anything of note or breaking down any doors. I mean seriously, are you kidding me? Carrie Fisher/General Leia has been kicking massive quantities of ass since 1977, well before some of these other characterless, dimensionless, pointless little divas were even born.
Rey isn’t groundbreaking. Rose isn’t groundbreaking. Phasma is certainly not groundbreaking. They could have been…but they’re not. They’re codas on an already well-established ideal. They’re afterthoughts; marketed products designed for the purposes of selling toys and winning SJW accolades. It’s just as believable to me that Rose was included in this movie not because she was a character they felt was critical to the narrative but because the bloodless executives at Disney and Lucasfilm understand the criticality of the Asian film market in today’s new cinematic landscape and shoehorned her in there to broaden the film’s international appeal.
It is a horribly cynical thought to have and it makes me feel unworthy to even need to ponder it. But what is the counterargument that I can use to dispel that thought? Her pivotal role to the film? She had none! I can’t even rely on Episode 9 to do something useful with her; Episode 8 has already demonstrated (amply) that little to no thought is given to maintaining narrative continuity between each film.
And I really, really liked her character! I can’t even begin to explain how much it annoys the hell out of me that her potential was just pissed out the window in this movie.
Admiral Pink Head’s Questionable Strategic Acumen
Is everyone just going to ignore the fact that the entire Casino side quest, Poe’s attempted mutiny, and the very real eventuality of everyone being straight-up murdered by the First Order as the outcome could have been easily avoided if Admiral Holdo had just shared her plans with her command staff instead of being all secret squirrel about the whole thing? The only thing that kept that from playing out in such a way was Space Ghost Leia unexpectedly coming out of her coma to stun-gun Poe in the nuts.
Ahem…assuming a ranking structure similar to the United States Navy, we have:
- Vice Admiral
- Rear Admiral (upper half)
- Rear Admiral (lower half)
His is the first goddamned rank beneath the admirals, and I’m assuming the Resistance fleet lacks Rear Admirals because the films don’t appear to be capable of such nuance.
Therefore, he reports directly to Holdo. He’s brought up his (very valid) concerns regarding her apparent lack of a workable plan multiple times in the film, giving her ample opportunity to read him in, before he reluctantly falls back on what he feels to be the only option available that doesn’t result in total loss of the fleet.
Remind me again what it is that qualifies Admiral Withhold-O to be in charge of anything?
If the underlying political agenda of your film is to advance the idea that we need more women in charge in these situations, these stations of absolute authority; that we want to explore what it truly means to be a female heroine – you’re probably much better served in writing your character as someone who behaves other than a completely incompetent moron.
But, Girl Power, I guess…
The Senility of Luke Skywalker
Rey shows up on [insert name of random Star Wars planet here] to retrieve Luke, their key not-so-secret weapon in the fight against the tyrannical First Order.
Who subsequently tosses the offered lightsaber away in a cheap sight-gag and slams the door in her face.
Now, when I first saw this development, I didn’t have that big of a problem with it. It was a little jarring, sure, and mostly only served to point out (yet a-goddamned-gain) that I was watching a movie rather than being immersed in a narrative (Dur-hurr, get it? Everyone was waiting so long to see what he would do! It’s sooo funny, you guys!), but it was at least something different for Luke’s character.
It didn’t bug me that he was an embittered, old hermit, though everyone else apparently lost their damned minds over it. “Jedi don’t give up! Luke never would have done that!” Mark Hamill even said as much numerous times.
Except that Luke’s character is ultimately human, you guys. Humans suffer a loss of faith from time to time. They undergo the occasional crisis of confidence. That’s what humans do. Characters who walk the path unwavering are boring as shit. Remember Mace Windu? Yeah, neither do I because I fell asleep every time he was shown on screen!
This was an interesting development for Luke and gave his actor, I thought, a lot of really unique ground to cover as well as a really, really juicy arc for him to pursue in what we all knew (come on, we all did) would be his last film as a living character. I really, really looked forward to the interplay between him and Rey and what she would have to go through to win him back over to the side of hope and secure his help.
Never mind the fact that this doesn’t actually happen in the movie; more on that in a minute.
Something kept nagging me as I watched these scenes play out, though. Something wasn’t quite adding up. I eventually figured it out after the movie was over, and this little detail is what served to make me dislike the movie more and more over time.
You see, Luke’s story was actually the thing I liked the most about this movie. It was the one narrative thread in the whole mess that made it even remotely interesting for me. People are freaking out about how he had a brief moment where he decided to kill Kylo, saying, “GWARGH! LUKE WOULD NEVER!!!”, conveniently forgetting the fact that he nearly did just that in his final fight with Vader, right before he regained his composure and decided that was the wrong thing to do. As he did precisely with Kylo, when he realized how wrong is reaction was, and was ashamed for it.
That is interesting stuff, you guys. Yeah, it was ham-fisted and clumsy in the presentation and could have been executed a lot better, but god damn it, it was unique and interesting!
But that’s not what bugged me. What bugged me was the fact that he left a sonofabitching map for people to come find him if he was needed. It was kind of a major point in that whole first movie; that map, along with Luke, was the entire freaking MacGuffin.
Why would he leave that map, if he was just going to nope-out when someone actually came to find him? Was he just the perpetrator of the galaxy’s greatest troll in history?
Or was it just possible that the people putting this fiasco of a series together don’t have the first damned clue what they’re doing or where they’re actually taking it?
This was when I really started to lose it: when I realized that episode 8 was already retconning episode 7. Movies inside of a self-contained trilogy are already retconning each other and it comes down to no other explanation than lazy, hackneyed writing.
And that’s the point where I fail to care about anything that comes after. This is the point where I give up. The fundamental ideals that made the original trilogy work so well – likeable characters behaving rationally along a realistic arc towards a simple, well-defined goal – have been abandoned entirely for lazy, confused writing, social justice, political commentary, maximum marketability, and hollow, uninspired characterization.
And I’m not an idiot, I realize the original trilogy quickly morphed into a vehicle to sell toys. I know there was some level of cynicism that crept into those early films. But they still had that foundation of heart; that basic core that centered them.
What’s at the heart of these films? I keep hearing over and over again how it’s a story about family, though any of the meaningful familial relationships that remained to us have been systematically dismantled in the most tasteless of ways. And we know now that Rey isn’t part of the goddamned family!
If this whole war is still going on, what was even the point of the original trilogy? The Rebellion defeated the empire and became the New Republic, the savior governing body of the galaxy and shining light of justice for its people. Except that in the Force Awakens they’re still the resistance? Except they’re still in charge until Death Star MK 3 blows them up? After 30 years and multiple stunning victories, you guys are still on the ropes?
You see, I can no longer buy the idea that this is going anywhere at all because the discontinuity between the first and second entries in the new series illustrates to me that the storytellers don’t have the first clue. And no, I’m not just assuming this. Director what’s-his-face has confirmed it:
“I’m sure they talked about where it might go early on, but when they came to me there was no mapped story presented beyond TFA.”
So what that means is that he came in, looked at all of the setup that had been accomplished in Awakens, said, “Naw, screw it,” and threw it all out the window so he could pursue something else and “subvert expectations”.
Well in that case, why should I give a shit about any of this? Why should I sign on for a trilogy of films if they’re not going to bother to maintain the narrative thread throughout? Why should I care about any of the mysteries, the characters, or the details presented throughout the story when the people making the movies can decide at any point that they’re now disinterested in those things and just thoughtlessly, clumsily write them away as though they never existed and were never important?
The Force Awakens wasn’t a perfect movie by any stretch but it got my attention absolutely. When I saw it, I became convinced that the property was in the hands of some people who were serious about telling a damned Star Wars story. People cried “Mary Sue!” and I counselled forbearance. I said (privately to friends), “Well, let’s see what happens in Episode 8. There’s a lot of ways this could go. They’ll give us some sort of explanation as to why Rey’s such a shockwave in the universe and then don’t forget we have a whole film for her to get trained up with the actual hero of the Rebellion!”
Only that never happened. Rey’s training with Luke consisted of a suggestion or two on his part, followed by a stick fight which, surprise-surprise, Rey won with little trouble at all. He didn’t even get a piggy-back ride from her as she jogged around the island, the bastard. They had an entire film to lay the whole Mary Sue argument to rest and it’s not even as though that was a thing they were going to have to sell to the fans. Everyone I happened to hear from on the matter, be they personal acquaintances or persons on the internet, expressed excitement at the idea of watching Rey get serious training from Luke. We were excited about seeing him in that role and I think a lot of us desperately wanted those scenes just so we could reconcile her abilities, even if it was a little after the fact.
Sadly, we were treated to a pointless casino side-story that had less than no bearing on the plot (and I mean, at all). It took up so much needless time from the film that the footage we finally got to see of Rey and Luke’s interaction was relegated to brief, three-minute segments where Luke didn’t tell her one goddamned thing of use one way or the other.
So, yeah, she’s still a freaking Mary Sue.
Conclusion: I Give Up
I mean, I really do. I didn’t think a whole collection of people could misstep this hard, especially after the example left behind by the prequels, but I guess I’ve underestimated these folks. I simply don’t care what happens next. I didn’t even care about how it was that Rey got back onto the Falcon after she had her half-fight with Kylo Ren and blew up the saber. It was really disjointed and felt like an explanatory scene that had been left on the cutting room floor, but by that point I couldn’t muster up enough energy to give shit one. Barney the Purple Dinosaur could have stepped out from behind a rock towards the end of The Last Jedi to resolve all conflict between the Resistance and the First Order through song, love, and understanding and I simply would…not…have…cared.
I’m over it. Star Wars will, in my mind, remain a set of three break-out films made in the late 70’s through to the early 80’s…and that’s about it. I thought we were building something special with these new entries in the series, but, well…
More fool me.