A lot can happen in a fictional universe in two and half hours, and director Rian Johnson took the opportunity to subvert a lot of the established narrative rules of the Star Wars franchise. Monumental things happen in interpersonal relationships, while large-scale events are drawn out with explicit detail. Granted, this happened in previous Star Wars installments before—the three-way between Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine, while the Endor shield generator and Death Star II space battles raged on in Return of the Jedi comes to mind—The Last Jedi turned the idea into a best practice. Scenes where solemnity is expected, Johnson hands you flippancy; where you expect easy answers to questions raised by The Force Awakens, Johnson generates another question while mostly dodging the original. Whether this is a desirable turn of events is in the eye of the viewer, but it’s clear that Johnson steered the franchise’s narrative style in a different direction.
Cinematically, Johnson’s style and design vocabulary is top notch and his camera shots were impeccable, and he really shined at expressing the impact of large-scale scenes (the hyperspace destruction of the pursuing First Order fleet was an awe-striking tableau). In congruence with the meta-theme of subversion, there’s lots of unorthodox angular shots and upside-down or reverse-lateral perspectives—techniques not found easily in standard issue sci-fi/fantasy films. I found it a smidge more preferable to J.J. Abrams’ lens flares and trucks-and-pans. The action moves too fast for some of these techniques to be admired, so while Johnson’s aesthetic could be on the level of Denis Villeneuve’s, we’re not allotted much time to breathe it in.
Much could be said, and probably is being said, about the shoehorning of women leaders into the franchise. Johnson’s view of the role of women in power is rather narrow, and though it’s not nearly on the scale of George Lucas’ blatant sexism against men in using millions and millions of male clones specifically as obedient cannon fodder for the Clone Wars story arc, it’s still just as egregious. The two Resistance female protagonists in power, Princess/General Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo, both come off as annoyed mothers-in-law than effective leaders. Leia slaps Poe Dameron for disobeying orders, in front of the entire crew, instead of something less humiliating like a one-on-one chastisement in private. Granted, Dameron was open and unapologetic in his rebellion, but the impetus is on Leia, as his superior, to handle the situation properly. Holdo is so terrible as a substitute captain, both professionally and in her personality, that she inspires a successful mutiny against her and her commanding officers—though she more than redeems herself later on. Rose Tico, though just a mechanic and not a commanding officer, henpecks and finger-wags Finn, and is at the helm of a goody two-shoes, baffling “rich people are mean and hurt animals” narrative subplot that consumes about 20 minutes of screen time. The message is implied but rather clear: women, especially women in power, are tactless bitches*.
J.J. Abrams was listed as a producer in The Last Jedi‘s credits, and is slated to direct the next Star Wars episode, number 9. It remains to be seen how Abrams will tie together Johnson’s unraveling threads of the Star Wars franchise.
* Perhaps ironically, the best woman leader in the most recent two Star Wars films is Captain Phasma. Though she had to uphold some pretty nasty First Order protocols, she never did anything reckless or inappropriate to her position. Her dealing with Finn’s disobedience was more in line with effective leadership that what was seen in the Resistance leaders.
So, something new. My friend Seth W and I recorded our semi-structured conversation the other day, and we decided to publish it.
Seth talks about Offscreen Magazine
I possibly misuse an economics term
I forgot the name of the Metal Made Flesh graphic novel Kickstarter
Seth talks about the Star Wars book Death Star
I talk about Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, based on the short story Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby Is a Friend of Mine (which I forgot)
We talk about Brompton Bikes, Chrome Industries bags and tell a bike story
See the original post. As if I need to add even more online commentary about this movie…
I rewatched it the other night, and I paid special attention to the lightsaber fight between Kylo Ren and Rae, and I probably should revise my original thoughts. When they start out, it’s basically Rae trying to get away from Kylo Ren, occasionally fending off one of his attacks or making a clumsy attempt of her own. This is accurate to their characters and situation. Remember that Kylo Ren is injured, and she has no lightsaber or heavy battle training, plus she knows the planet, or at least the general area, may be going to go up in flames very soon.
She starts to rally after Ren corners her and makes a padawan offer, and she refuses. She then starts to really connect with her fighting. Ren gets injured further, but not critically. That last part is something of an unlikely situation, but so was Luke’s. What good is a story where something unusual doesn’t happen? The movie might be subtitled “The Force Awakens” for a good reason.
The only thing I take issue with his Rae’s use of the Force. She stumbles along with it, but for a mature adult with no training at all to suddenly know how to use it like she did it is suspect. She resisted Ren’s mind reading and used mind tricks on the Stormtrooper guarding her. She would have to be astronomically (heh) intuitive with the Force to be able to use it like that, which, again, is unusual, but not impossible. There may be more to her lineage that what’s been revealed so far.
I don’t need to mention that there are spoilers aplenty inside this post, do I?
1. Let’s get the politics out of the way first: director J.J. Abrams made openly racist comments about white people, within the context of casting—and that’s okay. He’s free to cast anyone he wishes for any reason. He’s only beholden to Disney Studios. But don’t be surprised there’s a bit of blowback, even exaggerated, when you openly state your desire for a lessened presence of a certain race.
2. Related to the above, in the context of the Star Wars universe, more diversity is very contextually fitting. There are literally “countless” species in the Star Wars galaxy, and some non-human species have races within them. Abrams’ decision, however antagonizing, is artistically and thematically sound.
3. Rey, though a very likable character, is a borderline complete Mary Sue—but this was expected thematically (see #5 below). Though most of her character dev is believable, she falls into “badass girl warrior” trope so hard it blew out the THX sound system in the theater when I witnessed it. Disney pushes this paradigm everywhere, so no surprise on my end.
4. Related to #3, her lightsaber duel with Kylo Ren was more or less believable. Assuming the actors’ heights are also their characters’: Daisy Ridley as Rae is 5’7″, Adam Driver‘s Kylo Ren is nearly 6’3″. They are both physically formidable, but Ren by nature would probably have more upper body strength. The height and upper body differences would favor Ren heavily, but there were huge mitigating factors. Ren is very impetuous and emotion-driven, especially since he had just killed his father semi-willingly just before the duel. And, not to mention he had taken a direct hit to his ribs from a blaster. Rae is more flexible by nature, which gives her a slight advantage in saber-fighting, and her physical condition was primed by a good few decades of climbing and crawling all day in spartan living conditions. At the time of their duel, she had a bit of a confidence boost from finding out she’s a Force wielder, and because the Resistance had their mission just about wrapped up. So it seems they were fairly evenly matched. It ended in more or less a draw, but I think Ren would have won if geology didn’t disrupt things. That Ren beat Finn was expected.
5. Rey will find out she is Luke Skywalker’s daughter. He had abandoned her on Jakku because he wanted to revive the Jedi order, and having an illegitimate daughter would have discredited him. Her illegitimacy was a further reason Luke exiled himself, besides his failure to train Kylo Ren properly. Luke left a piece of the map to his whereabouts, to Lor San Tekka on Jakku, in the hopes that it might fall into the hands of Rae eventually, if she came into the Force. In this sense, Episode VIII is almost a reboot of Episode IV: Rae is the new Luke, who was the Marty Stu of the original trilogy.
Stefan Molyneux has some interesting observations. The Huffington Post points out a bunch of plotholes. Only maybe 2 or 3 items listed might be plotholes. The rest are just unexplained expository elements. Unexplained things aren’t plotholes.