The Last Jedi – A Tale of One-Too-Many Cities

The new Star Wars did not live up to my internal hype. (This is going to be more or less spoiler free, but if you want to be totally protected, read this after you see the movie.) Apparently, this new Star Wars is divisive. I’ll go over some issues currently being bandied in the nerd-o-sphere

First, some people are criticizing new force power users and newly evolved force powers in general. I do not have a problem with any of that, as I see all of these as an acceptable evolution of established canon. So this is an issue other people are having, not me.

Second, the Disney-fication of Star Wars humor. Here, I am a little on the fence. I do agree with critics that assert there was too much focus on wedging glib jokes into the screenplay in a Guardians of the Galaxy type way. What I loved in Guardians, I am not loving in Star Wars. Amusing charm and character flaws channeled through charisma, this is how I like my Star Wars humor delivered. So, for example, Harrison Ford could turn a line of dialogue into humor, just through inflection, even if the line was not structured as a “joke”. I think it is clear, in hindsight, that many of these iconic Solo and Leia humor moments were discovered on set and in rehearsal, evolving naturally through the personalities of excellent, ambitious actors (particularly under the direction of Irvin Kershner).

In this new film, the humor often felt too broad, forced, overcooked and on the nose. This made many scenes less grounded and ultimately undercut emotional resonance in moments that could have been iconic. I think the makers may want to learn from the original trilogy and not current trends, because if Star Wars loses gravitas in its pillar films, it will undercut its cultural status. This space-opera nonsense has to “feel” important.

Third, you will probably see people griping about SJW crap. This is unavoidable in 2017. I will however say the clear attempts by Disney and Lucasfilm to extend the cast with diversity, while culturally important, and being the right thing to do, did actually tangentially, or unintentionally, contribute to the issue I had with the film.

Here’s my issue.

My issues had to do with structure. This screenplay attempts to move three simultaneous heroic arcs or plots, in three different locations:

  • Ray & Luke
  • Leah & Poe
  • Finn & Rose

The original trilogy never attempted more than two (like Empire). This new film’s attempt at three, while admirably ambitious, created a choppy structure that never left you settled enough in any one story to feel fully invested in what was going on (leaning too much on the audiences preexisting interest, and not alluring enough new desire out of them). The location, story, characters and tone would jump just as you wanted more from the characters you were currently watching, leaving one feeling detached and underwhelmed when stand out moments occurred, which they most certainly did, just with their impact muted.

In the greatest Star Wars films the narrative line follows a group that, at any one time, splits into two (and the Force Awakens followed that as well to great effect). In adding a third plot line we got a film that was a half hour longer than usual that felt like it told us less, even though I’m sure, in many ways, it said a lot.

Rian Johnson did himself a disservice in setting up too many plates to spin. One plate fell (if you saw the movie, you know which one) and that made the whole show look sloppy and made the typical space-opera “suspense creation” plot holes stick out worse than normal.

I believe Johnson is a top talent, so I hope he learns from this as he prepares to launch this new saga he has been assigned to helm. I hope he learns that the best Star Wars films feature high-wattage charismatic performers telling a simple classical story line set in a fantastical, yet grounded, lore…ya know with spaceships and laser swords.

As far as the important things that happened in the film, I think they are on point. Even with all I’ve said, I’m sill looking forward to IX. And I like the way the table is set (If I was nitpicking, I think it should have ended with a stronger cliffhanger, in the style of Empire). It was just the journey there, that in my opinion, cheated potentially epic moments of the deep impact they deserved.

If I have any advice for JJ it would be “Talk to Kasdan…a lot. Even if Solo tanks.” Second, I would say “Rey. Rey. Rey. When in doubt, stay with Rey.”