Smart-ass title? Unhelpful, too-familiar intro? That’s right, it’s me. Welcome back. Oh, and this is all spoilers, all the time. For everything. Ever. SPOILITOS.
The Last Jedi has slashed the fandom in half like a Mon Cal cruiser hyperdriving through a First Order flotilla. It’s an odd movie, somehow feeling both like a complete retread of Empire Strikes Back while also being totally fucking hambones crazy. In many ways the movie acts as a deconstruction of the other Star Wars movies, which is probably the easiest explanation for the love/hate relationship the fans have with this movie.
This essay is going to be part review, part dissection of online conversation, and a whole lot of words. Strap in, get your porg off the dashboard, and hold on to your butts.
All Your Bias Are Belong to Us
It’s sad that I’m gonna have to establish my bona fides before I talk about my opinion of the movie, but considering how weirdly vitriolic and straw-manny the online conversation about this movie has become, it’s gotta happen. So, here’s my Star Wars resume, conveniently added so you can disregard my opinions and put me in a little box of your choice:
Prequels: Terrible. (Yes, even Revenge of the Sith)
A New Hope: Great
Return of the Jedi: The Jabba stuff is great, the climax with Vader/Luke/Palpatine is the best scene in the entire franchise. Everything else is pretty weak, including Han and Leia having no real plotline.
Rogue One: The first half was as boring and flat as the second half was mind-breakingly fun.
The Force Awakens: A great flick, maybe played it too safe with the New Hope retread. Introduced a whole boatload of interesting characters that you really cared about.
The (old) Expanded Universe: Mostly good, and the fires that kept the fandom alive for many, many years.
Alright, with that out of the way, my verdict on the Last Jedi is . . .
It’s A Mess
I want to make it clear why I’m writing this: it isn’t to shit all over people who liked the movie. If you loved the movie, I’m honest-to-God happy for you. No, even worse, I’m jealous. I’ve been excited for this movie for a long time, and I’m the biggest Star Wars fan on the Earth. If you loved the movie, please don’t consider this an attack. We all like different things, we’re all looking for different things, and that’s great.
If this isn’t an attack, then believe me it’s a defense. I’m writing this because the conversation I’m seeing about the movie is painting the people who don’t like it in a certain light, with a healthy chunk of the talk completely dismissing very legitimate points that are critical of the flick and labeling the critics as either bots, stupid assholes, or trolls.
When, in fact, some of us have pretty good reasons, and it’s not because we hate Star Wars or hate you. I love you, and I love Star Wars. But my opinion matters, too, and it springs from a place of sadness, not anger.
It’s not a horrible movie (in fact, it’s relatively enjoyable), but if you picked it up and shook it you’d hear loose gears and broken gaskets clanging around. I feel like the only way to review this movie without looking like a screaming fanboy manbaby is to get down to the nitty gritty – the script, which is an authentic mess. If I wasn’t a Star Wars fan, I’d still be confused at some of the choices made. I’m putting the fanboy bullshit aside – though I’ll get to that in a separate section – so we can talk about writing.
The Slow Speed Space Chase
First off, I have to get to my main problem with this flick – many of the choices at the heart of the movie make absolutely no sense. For instance: the central conceit of the Resistance plot (which takes up and anchors most of the movie) is a slow-speed police chase in space. Why? Apparently, because the Resistance is running out of fuel and can’t just keep making hyperspace jumps. Lucky for them, however, all of their ships are slightly faster than the First Order capital ships. So, we’re treated to a thrilling 18-hour chase that is SO UNEVENTFUL that two characters are able to go on vacation and return without missing anything.
Oh, the excitement.
Now, why you would make this clearly boring concept the center of your story? I honestly can’t explain that. I feel like it might have been suggested in the writers room, and another writer (let’s call him Hank), should have said, “Hey, Rian? Is a chase exciting if nothing happens and it’s dragged out over literally the whole movie?” and Rian should have been like, “Oh, yeah, true, thanks Hank. Okay, more ideas, people!”
But it gets worse, because not only was the idea bad, the execution falls apart even at first blush. Not after you’ve seen the movie twice, or after someone pointed it out to you, but *right there in the theater.* I was sitting in my seat, asking myself these obvious questions, squinting at the screen at why not a single character in the movie was behaving like a real person. Okay, here are the thoughts that I had, any one of which would have solved this extremely simple dilemma:
1) Why didn’t the First Order deploy bombers and fighters? You know, the extremely effective fighters and bombers the First Order used in the beginning when they killed the Resistance leadership and blew up all their starfighters? They’re WAY faster than capital ships and could intercept them in seconds – that’s what they’re designed to do. That’s how they’ve been used the entire film franchise. That’s how they were used earlier in this movie.
2) Why didn’t the First Order have long-range missiles?
3) Why didn’t part of the First Order fleet make a micro-jump in front of the Rebels and blow them to pieces?
4) Why didn’t the First Order call for reinforcements slightly ahead of their position?
5) Why didn’t the Rebels send a few transports out to bring back fuel? If they had time for a ship to go out and come back, why not make a gas run?
6) Why didn’t the all Rebel ships just take a hyperspace jump in different directions? (After all, “only the lead Star Destroyer” could track them, so they’d only be able to follow one ship.)
7) Better yet, why didn’t the Rebels load everyone into transports inside the cruiser, jump the cruiser, then discharge the transports and jump THOSE in separate directions? There’s no possible way they’d be able to track them.
So, I’m sitting in the theater, asking all of these questions, when I realized that none of the people writing the movie had even bothered. Why should I?
We’ve got a boring central conflict that could easily be avoided, which TVTropes.org might call an Idiot Plot (a plot that only works because the characters are rendered temporarily stupid for dramatic purposes). But what about the subplots?
Jedi Training, This Time With Fewer Calories
Luke and Rey’s subplot is probably the most interesting thing in the whole movie. You’ve got a crotchedy mentor, a wide-eyed student, a beautiful location, and two great actors. Most of it works (even if I don’t agree with the choices made about Luke – more on that in the fanboy manbaby section), even if we don’t get a real look at Jedi training. Rey swings a lightsaber at a rock (no help from Luke). Luke tells her the old Jedi were dumbasses (which they were). There’s some lovely talk about tidal forces, push and pull, etc. Rey makes a few Forcetime calls to Kylo Ren, which are exciting in concept but probably could have been filmed more dynamically. Instead we’re treated to static shot of Rey, static shot of Kylo, ad nauseum, forever. The dialogue and sexual tension between them is well done, and it’s nice to see them interact in a non-lightsaber capacity.
After that, Rey climbs into the island’s evil darkside butthole and has a consequence-free (but neat-looking) interaction with what appears to be a potentially malicious mirror that tells her she has no parents. Does she have to make a choice and fail – much how Luke sought to destroy Vader in the dark side cave on Dagobah but ended up realizing that to destroy him was to become him? No. So she climbs out of the darkside butthole and tells Kylo Ren that she “felt lonely.” What a trip to the edge of evil. What a character-building trial. What excitement.
The final finger-brushing moment of true sexual anxiety happens, and of course old Uncle Luke stumbles upon their tender lovers embrace. He gets mad.
Somewhere in there we’re treated to the truth about Luke’s old temple – you see, Luke Skywalker snuck up on his sleeping nephew and decided to cut his head off because Ben had some evil thoughts.
I . . .
But don’t worry, the movie reassures us. Luke Skywalker loomed over a sleepy child brandishing a weapon with intent to murder for a VERY BRIEF TIME. I can tell you if I found my brother standing over my son’s crib, pointing a shotgun at his head, I’m not sure that’s something I would forgive. Even if he was like, “Listen, Bobby. I only thought about murdering the kid for like, a second. Two seconds, tops. Don’t worry, I’m still remotely like your childhood hero.”
Oh crap the fanboy manbaby stuff is creeping in. GOD HELP US.
Rey then leaves after about six hours of Jedi training to become the most skilled Jedi of all time (remember, this whole thing is taking place concurrently with the low-speed chase).
Poe’s Terrible, Awful, No Good, Very Bad Day
I honestly don’t have much to say about Poe’s subplot beyond A) the opening battle was RAD (minus the amusing but too-long “joke” about holding for General Hux, and the tasteful “your mama” joke that don’t definitely won’t age the movie), and B) Vice Admiral Evening-Gown could have just told him her plan and saved the ship a mutiny and the film some running time. (Also her strategy was a disaster from the get go – her whole plan was to sneak to the planet – under a cloak we learn the First Order can detect no problem – and ask for help, when we all learned that no one was coming to help, so maybe she shouldn’t be so high and mighty about Poe trying something else.)
Poe learns a lesson, of course – exciting, hare-brained, courageous schemes are irresponsible in an action-adventure movie. Instead, he’s supposed to just wait around and trust that his superiors have great secret plans they’re not telling anyone. This would be like if the next Indiana Jones movie was about how it’s inappropriate for Indy not to bring a team of researchers and scientists with him on his next adventure, and that his haphazard method of handling priceless antiquities needs a lot of work.
Oh! The hyperspace kamikaze attack was breathtaking. Funny story: around 10 years ago I was running a Star Wars tabletop game, and my brother Bill saved the party by hyperdriving his Z-95 Headhunter into the main villain’s capital ship, unexpectedly murdering my primary antagonist and also going down in history as the most badass gaming moment ever. In his honor, we call hyperdriving into another ship the “Yog Maneuver,” named after his character. It is my head-canon that Vice Admiral Holdo had heard of the Yog Maneuver (used during the Galactic Civil War) and realized it was her only chance at glory.
Finn and Rose’s Vegas Vacation
Now, snark aside (I’m not putting snark aside), this is easily the most broken part of the film. You’d could chalk some of the other stuff up to nitpicking, and maybe you should, but the Finn and Rose wacky casino adventure is probably some of the worst Star Wars since the prequels.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Finn. Finn is my favorite new character (with Kylo tight behind him, ooo), and John Boyega crushes it. Which is why it’s so disappointing that he’s relegated to a plot-irrelevant fetch quest that isn’t even exciting on its own merit. Rose is also a fine character, and I immediately enjoyed her starry-eyed passion mixed with practical spunk.
So, they take these two dynamic, emotional characters and send them to a thinly-drawn casino planet so Rose can tell us that rich people are bad and Finn needs to think about others more. Now, in another (better) script, you’d have the characters land on the planet. Start enjoying themselves in the casino, becoming tempted, lulled by their break from the horrors of war. Then, they’d turn a corner and run into a tent-city of homeless people. Starving kids, begging for scraps. Stormtroopers shaking down / taser-batoning the poor while the wealthy party in their towers in the background. You know, some evidence that the First Order really is making everything worse (instead of what we’re shown so far – which is that this is basically a gang war between two factions, with no real-world consequences beyond our heroes). Then, you know, faced with this injustice, Rose and Finn would try to help, they’d get in trouble, and then get arrested.
Instead, Finn looks impressed by the casino for four seconds before Rose drags him onto a balcony and TELLS HIM (and, the audience, remember) that rich people are bad and that he should look over at this conveniently placed injustice. Don’t bother SHOWING us. Just TELL us. It’s a real time saver.
Then, an unexciting CGI chase happens because they parked their shuttle in the wrong area – that’s pretty epic. Really tugs on the heart strings. This was the moment in the theater, staring at a stampede of grey CGI horses in a dimly lit grey CGI field being chased by unaligned grey CGI space cops, that this thought popped into my head: “How long is this movie?”
Now, maybe you don’t know me, but I BUY IN to movies. I’m the guy cheering, jumping to his feet, hooting at exciting moments, even if I’ve seen a movie ten times. I love getting wrapped up in movies, and there’s no movie like a Star Wars movie to bring the juice. But there I was: “How long is this movie?” I didn’t feel one actual emotion the entire casino adventure, and I’m the easiest mark in the whole world.
I don’t want to comment too much on DJ, other than he was mostly incomprehensible and a living, breathing Deus Ex Machina. Oh, another master codebreaker (which is called a slicer in Star Wars, say slicer, SAY SLICER) happens to be in the same cell and can leave at any time but only leaves when the heroes arrive? That’s polite of him. And his grand betrayal is weak because we don’t care about him. At least Lando was charming and seemed like Han’s friend before he flipped. DJ is just a scummy weirdo who ends up being a scummy weirdo.
The fight with Phasma is equally short and pointless, full of rich memorable Star Wars dialogue like “Hey, Chromedome.” Also, did anyone notice that Phasma is right next to Finn when the crash happens, and then Phasma is OUTSIDE of the hangar so she can make a cool silhouette when the door opens? Why was she 50 yards away and in another room all of a sudden? Sorry, a nitpick, but again, I’m talking about things I noticed IN THE THEATER, not in retrospect. And every time one of those jarring logic holes tugged on my pant leg while I was trying to watch the movie, it pulled me out a little more.
Finn’s “lesson” that he learns is also kind of nonsensical. Like, ostensibly the whole casino-plot was about how the rich people were making everything worse, looking out for the little people, etc, but then right when he’s about to sacrifice himself to save all of his friends on Crait, Rose (and the movie) stops him from doing the only interesting thing he’s had a chance to do the whole flick (which is also an extremely selfless act to save his friends).
Then she tells him “you gotta fight for who you love, not against what you hate,” which is immediately punctuated by a giant laser tearing the doors of their fortress apart and putting all of the people Finn loves in danger.
It’s admirable (and even awesome) for Admiral Holdo to sacrifice herself, but not Finn? Why are “fighting for who you love” and “fighting against what you hate” mutually exclusive? Is dying to protect your loved ones good or bad? Holdo and Luke, it’s good. Finn, bad. It’s muddled, and not intentionally so. I feel like there’s a lot of “wanting your cake and eating it too” in this movie.
Great swaths of the movie tell us that spontaneous, wreckless plans are irresponsible and ineffective, except that’s exactly what Rey and Holdo do to great success. Lucasfilm realized they needed to tell a Star Wars story (fun, action-adventure with big hero moments), but also wanted to say how dumb Star Wars-type plans are. So we’re left with what James Cameron refers to as a “chocolate-covered cheeseburger,” something that tries to go two different directions at once and ends up unsatisfying.
The Counter Arguments
Now, if you’ve been on the internet at all since this movie has come out, you’ve heard all the points that prove me wrong. Shall we?
1) You just didn’t understand the movie.
There’s a statement wrapped up in this idea that’s pretty easy to tease apart – “if you understand a movie, it becomes good.” Now, when you hear me say that, you go, “wait, what?” And it’s natural that you would, because the idea that understanding a movie makes it enjoyable is malarkey. An older man might even call it horse-pucky.
I understood Transformers. I was never confused during the running time of the movie. I understood Batman v. Superman, it just wasn’t entertaining.
2) You missed the point – Finn and Poe’s plotlines weren’t a waste of time, IT FITS THE THEME.
Me (and other critics of the film) picked up what Rian Johnson was putting down – “failure is the best teacher.” I managed to figure out this theme because it’s stated out loud by the characters roughly six or seven times. The idea that this movie is so deep that a large section of the fandom wouldn’t understand it is laughable, especially considering each story line ends with a character turning toward the audience and spelling out exactly what we’re supposed to learn. This is Captain Planet-tier writing.
“Throw away the past, kill it if you have to.” Yeah, we get it, Kylo Ren. You’re telling the fans that they need to let go of what they like about Star Wars. I understand that. That doesn’t make the movie any better.
The idea that because a movie has “themes” means its immune to criticism is equally ridiculous. Or that you have to accept a movies themes and like them. And worse is trying to use “themes” as some kind of shield to hide behind. Yes, the themes of the movie are “failure” and “letting go of the past.” That doesn’t make the casino scenes emotionally interesting. That doesn’t make Luke throwing a lightsaber over his shoulder any less zany and tone-deaf. It doesn’t mean Poe’s whole tail-chasing plot doesn’t feel like filler. It doesn’t inject excitement into the 2 hour chase scene.
“Themes” might seem like the be-all, end-all of storytelling when you’re smoking weed with your Semiotics professor, but they’re only one small wrench in the larger toolbox of fiction. Themes should happen naturally when writing a story – you shouldn’t START at themes and work your way backwards. Themes are the salt on a dish. If you plan your meal around the pound of salt you just bought, you’re doing it wrong. If I don’t like your poached salmon and your defense is, “Hey, I put salt in that, you have to like it!”, then you’re officially banned from every kitchen forever until the end of culinary time.
Now, WHY shouldn’t you do that? Because story should come from character, first and foremost. It is the writer’s duty to know his characters, give them problems, and see how they’ll solve them using their own skills and personalities. The problem with starting with the theme is that you force the characters to bend unnaturally to suit the preprogrammed “message” you’re trying to cram into the story.
Here’s what Stephen King has to say about symbolism, and I would argue that symbols are just the road-signs to theme: “Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create an artificial sense of profundity.” Lean on those words: “adorn” and “enrich.” See where my salt metaphor comes in? Building something on pillars of salt makes for shitty architecture, if you’ll allow me to mix like five metaphors. You need the concrete of “character” and the frame of “conflict” before you should even think about what color the “theme” wallpaper is gonna be. For the house you’re cooking, or whatever.
So don’t talk to me about themes. “Sucker Punch” has plenty of themes, but that doesn’t save it from being a (entertaining) mess.
3) You just don’t like that Luke Skywalker has FLAWS! You want your perfect little Jedi Jesus doing lightsaber backflips.
Luke Skywalker ALWAYS had flaws. Lots of them. So this argument falls apart before it can even leave the mouth (or typing fingers) of its wielder. So, we return to logic: if Luke Skywalker always had flaws, and “dumb fanboys” love him, then wouldn’t it follow that these same “dumb fanboys” wouldn’t mind a flawed Luke?
Flaws are great, flaws are the best, flaws give the characters something to overcome. People aren’t upset that Luke wasn’t perfect – people are upset that Luke wasn’t Luke. Lemme ‘splain.
Let’s look at Luke in “A New Hope:” Luke dreamed his whole life of jetting off his shitstain planet to join the Rebellion and fight the Empire. Eventually, when given a chance to run away from the Death Star battle before it starts (and thus, live) by Han Solo, instead Luke stays behind for a suicide mission to protect the Rebellion.
Empire Strikes Back: Luke risks life and limb to help the Rebels escape Hoth – he doesn’t give up even when his wingman is dead and his ship is toast. He still manages to take out an AT/AT with pure chutzpah and a laser sword. Then, Luke abandons his Jedi training (throwing away everything he ever wanted) in order to rescue Han and Leia on Bespin.
Return of the Jedi: Luke and Leia put the Rebellion on hold to save Han from Jabba. Luke later throws his life away, allowing himself to be captured by Vader in order to A) protect his friends and B) have a chance at turning his father (a known mass-murderer) over to the lightside. Then, in the throne room, he refuses to kill Vader (a known mass-murderer) and throws his life away again to show the Emperor that murder is not the way.
Now, let’s look at Luke in the Last Jedi:
Luke sensed potential darkness in Kylo Ren, his nephew (who at this point is NOT a mass-murderer), and decided to slaughter him in his sleep.
Luke, freeze frame, green lightsaber blazing in the terrified eyes of his nephew: “I bet you’re wondering how I got here . . . ”
*zany sitcom music*
In “The Last Jedi,” Luke learns that Han has been killed (that same Han guy he put the Rebellion on hold for to save from Jabba), and that his sister Leia is in danger (that same Leia in Empire that Luke threw away his Jedi training to save, and then in Return threw his life away to protect), and he be like, “Eh, fuck ’em.” Then he jokes, “What am I supposed to face down the First Order with a laser sword?” The same Luke who faced down an AT/AT invasion with a laser sword in “Empire Strikes Back?” Yeah, that would be out of character I guess.
“No, but you don’t understand,” the internet will say, “Luke failed, man, like in those themes we talked about earlier. He’s a broken man, dude.”
Luke has never dealt with failure, that’s true. His failure to protect his Aunt and Uncle definitely didn’t drive him to join Ben Kenobi. His failure at his Jedi training definitely didn’t drive him to come back and do better. His utter failure to kill Darth Vader (and retain his hand) in Empire definitely didn’t drive him to understand that Vader needed to be turned (and not killed) in Return. Luke’s failure by using the Dark Side on Vader definitely didn’t drive him to throw his lightsaber away and tell Palpatine to fuck right off.
Luke fails constantly. And each time, he brushes himself off, gets up, reattaches a limb if necessary, and comes back twice as strong. He isn’t “broken” and then gives up on saving his friends.
Except here. Here he’s a child-murderer who refuses to train Rey, refuses to help his friends, and only at the very end can be bothered to shoot an astral projection over to Crait to stall for time. AND, sidebar, If Luke was SO WILLING to give up his life at the end, why not just have him physically go to Crait? He could die there in person, too, but at least he’d get more accomplished and wouldn’t look like such a lazy ass. I’ll tell you why – to facilitate a “suprise twist.” Instead of him acting in-character, he does what he does to surprise the audience, which is thoughtful of him to remember he’s a character in a movie. I sure did.
So Luke is a broken coward. Sweet.
This isn’t about sweet lightsaber flippies and omnipotent space-Christ. This is about turning one of the most iconic heroes in fiction into a tool to fit the “theme.” See what I’m saying here, about the dangers of bending characters to theme, and not the other way around?
And if you’re still not sure what I mean, allow Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker himself, to spell it out:
“I said to Ryan, I said, “Jedi don’t give up. I mean even if he had a problem he would maybe take a year to try and regroup, but if he made a mistake he would try and right that wrong.” So right there we had a fundamental difference, but it’s not my story anymore. It’s somebody else’s story and Ryan needed me to be a certain way to make the ending effective. That’s the crux of my problem. Luke would never say that. I’m sorry.”
He then went on to say:
” . . . so I almost have to think of Luke as another character. Maybe he is Jake Skywalker.”
4) You don’t like Rey because you’re a sexist manbaby.
Totally. That’s why Mara Jade, Tahiri Veila, Tenel Ka, Jaina Solo, Nomi Sunrider, Bastila Shan, and Leia Organa-Solo were some of my favorite characters in the old Star Wars EU. Because I don’t like women.
Or maybe that’s why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite show. Because I don’t like women.
Or maybe that’s why I’ve written four novels starring almost exclusively kick-ass ladies doing rad things. Because I don’t like women.
Shove it all the way. I LOVE WOMEN. Women are the best. They’re way better than men, hands down. Women are my favorite, ask Commander Madison Shepard.
Some people are turned off by Rey because she’s not an interesting character. By all the laws of fiction and storytelling, she’s flat, flawless, and largely without personality. You may have even heard the dreaded “Mary Sue” accusation, which is 100% accurate.
What’s a Mary Sue? Let’s put aside all vitriol and actually look at the definition, shall we? I pulled from TVTropes, but you’ll find a similar definition anywhere.
Mary Sue Trait #1: “She’s exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting:”
She’s better than Chewie at fixing things, she’s better at piloting than Han Solo, she’s a better gunner than Finn, she’s better at mind-fucking and lightsaber fighting than Kylo Ren, she’s stronger with the Force than Luke Skywalker (and beats him in a hand-to-hand fight!), and she’s more able to resist the Dark Side than literally everyone in canon.
Mary Sue Trait #2: “She lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant flaws (either that, or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing):”
If she has flaws, I haven’t seen them. Some say, “oh, she released the Rathtars in Force Awakens,” which A) was meant to be endearing and B) the Rathtars ate the pirates and thus she saved the day. Other than that she is patient, kind, strong, likable, beautiful, perfectly good, etc. She hasn’t failed once, even in “The Last Jedi,” when failure was that all-important theme. You might argue that her trying to turn Kylo Ren was a failure, but that also ended up getting Supreme Leader Snoke killed and Rey herself escaping the incident without personal injury or even serious trouble.
When Luke failed in Empire, he just fucking failed. He lost a hand for his troubles, and was devastated by it and the revelation of his father. Also, Leia and Lando had to risk their own escape to come back and save Luke’s dumb ass. When Rey failed to turn Kylo, the very next scene she’s in the gunner seat of the Falcon cracking jokes and smiling. When Rey learns her parents were drunks, she’s over it by the next scene. Her failures have no personal consequences – she’s just rolling along through the Star Wars movies and having a great time. Which makes for a very dramatic character arc, I can tell you.
Mary Sue Trait #3: “The canon protagonists are all overwhelmed with admiration for her beauty, wit, courage, and other virtues and are quick to adopt her as one of their true companions, even characters who are usually anti-social or untrusting. If any character doesn’t love her, that character gets an extremely unsympathetic portrayal.”
Woof. Kylo Ren (anti-social, untrusting, hates everyone) and Finn are both in love with her – in fact, Finn’s entire character motivation for two movies is just to hang out with her. Han Solo greets her like a daughter and offers her a job. Chewbacca lets her take over the Falcon and does anything she asks without question – he doesn’t even sass her like he does Han Solo. Leia treats her like a daughter and savior of the universe.
There are only two characters in the galaxy who show her anything but love and devotion – Snoke, and Unkar Plott. So, the only people who don’t like her are gross, disgusting aliens who are treated with utter contempt. Hell, the moment Snoke says some shitty things about Rey and dares to knock her around a little, he is treated to one of the most brutal deaths on screen in a Star Wars film. A death delivered by the evil, anti-social, untrusting Kylo Ren – even he won’t allow anyone to sass Rey.
Mary Sue Trait #4: “The characters are quickly reduced to awestruck cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines as Mary Sue outstrips them in their areas of expertise and solves problems that have stymied them for the entire series.”
Luke basically, on screen, tells Kylo Ren that Rey is the Last Jedi, and she’ll train a new generation of Jedi. You know, that thing Luke was supposed to do? Don’t worry, Rey will be able to accomplish it where he failed. She’s also immune to the dark side, has never lost a fight, and saved the Resistance. Yoda, who thought Luke was an impatient little shit when he begged for training in Empire, loves Rey and explains that she doesn’t need training and she’s all good to go. One of Leia’s main concerns is that Rey will be able to return to the fleet – hell, she even wears the beacon on her wrist because Rey is that important to her. You know, the character she hasn’t even exchanged significant dialogue with?
It’s not a crime against the universe that Rey is a Mary Sue, and in fact Daisy Ridley is charming enough that it’s mostly forgiveable, but she is unequivocably a Mary Sue, by every definition in the book. Of course she is.
If you’re still not convinced, do this mental exercise for me: Imagine you were tasked with writing a Mary Sue for a Star Wars story, you had to do it. How similar would this character end up looking to Rey?
Counter Argument 4b: Luke was a Mary Sue too!
Narp. In a New Hope, Luke had one notable skill: he was a pretty good pilot, which was set up multiple times before he got into an X-Wing. He’s not even the best pilot in the movie – Darth Vader and Han Solo are both way better than him. His only notable use of the Force (after being training by Ben Kenobi) is giving him the self-confidence to make a shot he already knew he could make (“womprats aren’t much bigger than two meters”). Which he would have failed at, if Han Solo hadn’t knocked Vader out of the trench. As for hand-to-hand combat and blaster-shooting, he’s not terribly useful at any point in the flick.
In Empire, Luke gets shot out of the sky while the other pilots survive – he’s also the only person to almost die on his regular Echo Base patrol, and needs Han to come save him and stuff him into a tauntaun. Then, he fails every test Yoda gives him. Then he goes to Cloud City and gets his ass beat. Then his friends have to come save him because he didn’t listen to Yoda and Ben.
In Return, after two movies (and training with two different Jedi Masters), now Luke is something approaching a Jedi Knight. He’s still a mess, though, fighting the Dark Side, his own hubris, and his anger at his father. He shows some piloting skills on a speeder bike, then has a second fight with Vader that he only wins by tapping into the Dark Side. Then he gets his ass beat by Palpatine.
That shit isn’t a Mary Sue. Han and Wedge are better pilots than him, Yoda and Vader and Palpatine are better with the Force than him, and Vader is a better fighter except for one moment of weakness. Luke fails his way through three movies, winning (occasionally) by the skin of his teeth and by overcoming his many, many flaws.
5) You’re just mad that your Snoke / Rey theory didn’t work. You’re an entitled dickhose, etc.
Well, it’s clear some fans are angry about that. I (and I suspect others) don’t really fall into that camp. Snoke was uninteresting from the get-go, and I’m pretty sure I predicted he would die in this movie by Kylo Ren’s hand somewhere in a reddit comment or blog post. Am I too lazy to go find it? No, but I have so many reddit comments that going through them all would require hiring a personal archivist and I don’t have that kinda scratch.
I also don’t mind the idea that Rey is a nobody – it’s a cute twist. The only problem I have with it (which is a problem I have with a lot of the movie), is that it seems to exist primarily to make “The Force Awakens” look stupid. There’s a lot of hints about Rey’s mysterious past (possibly explaining her incredibly vast array of skills in some way?), and it turns out to be a troll-job.
Rey being a nobody is great. But there is something I’m finding silly about the reaction to it: the attitude some fans are adopting – that this movie FINALLY shows that the Force belongs to everyone, even non-Skywalkers. I’m pretty sure that’s not a new concept.
Then again, maybe this movie did break new ground. I can’t really think of any other non-Skywalker Force users.
I’ll keep this one short, but the humor in this movie is out of control. Star Wars is fun, yes, but it isn’t funny. The jokes come from it being an adventure movie filled with clever characters, where as in this movie the jokes are slapstick distractions. They’re almost non-stop, like there’s some kind of compulsion or corporate mandate to break the tension in every single scene. All of Poe’s pilot friends are killed in a shocking explosion – better have BB8 roll through the frame so the audience doesn’t have the chance to feel anything. Rey shoots a wall because she’s so terrified that Kylo Ren is actually present – better show some hilarious frog-nurses popping in to clean it up. General Hux is a silly pants who can’t do anything right. Oh man, it’s best for storytelling when the villain and his faction is a joke, really ratchets up the tension for our heroes. Rey cuts a rock outcropping in half to show how angry she is – better roll over the frog-nurses, ha ha ha.
We finally meet Luke Skywalker, and he throws the lightsaber over his shoulder! Oh man, that last scene of the Force Awakens sure is stupid now. I can’t believe you thought it would be a meaningful, emotional moment! HAHAHA. Get it, because it’s about throwing away the past? See, themes! THERE’S THEMES.
What You Should Or Shouldn’t Like About Star Wars
There’s also another online conversation coming up, and it boils down to something like this, “I love this movie because it reminds everyone what Star Wars is REALLY about.” Implying that there is a right and a wrong way to enjoy Star Wars, and that it’s totally acceptable to lecture your audience about what they’re allowed to like.
Listen, this shit is all professional fan-fiction – Rian Johnson didn’t invent Star Wars. The idea that they have some kind of moral authority on what I’m supposed to like about my fiction because they’re getting a check is nonsense. We’re all just fans, they happen to be on the payroll.
“I’m glad they didn’t cater to some Luke Skywalker power fantasy.” Yeah, I guess it would be inappropriate to have a power fantasy in a fantasy movie about people with powers.
“It’s so great that everything fanboys wanted wasn’t in the movie.” Totally, screw those fans of the franchise. Stupid jerks, why do they deserve a fun story of adventure? We should instead have them sit and listen to a lecture about how daring heroics are a waste of time, your heroes are dickheads, and lightsabers are dumb.
So, what did this film really accomplish? Not much. Snoke, an uninteresting villain we never knew or cared about (or even really hated) is dead. The search for Luke Skywalker ended up being largely fruitless, except for a stack of Jedi text books. Phasma (another uninteresting villain we never knew or cared about or even really hated) is dead. The First Order lost a large military asset (like in The Force Awakens), and the Resistance/Republic took a terrible hit to its forces (like in the Force Awakens). Finn is still pining for Rey and wants to spend some time with her (like the Force Awakens), and Poe Dameron is one of the few remaining members of the struggling Resistance (like the Force Awakens). Rey fought over a blue lightsaber, wants to beat up Kylo Ren, and is currently chilling with the Resistance (like the Force Awakens). Leia’s head of the Resistance, mourning the loss of a loved one (like the Force Awakens). For a movie touted for its character arcs, only Luke and Kylo get something mildly approaching a change in perspective and circumstance.
The thing it DID do was eliminate all of the remaining mysteries, so there’s nothing to speculate about or look forward to for the next movie. I guess it did that. Most of those mysteries being answered with a kind of smirking shrug.
Should we be excited about a final showdown between Kylo and Rey? The same Kylo that Rey has already kicked the shit out of, the same Kylo that Luke humiliated in front of the entire world? Hell, at this point Kylo Ren is the underdog. And Adam Driver is such a damn good actor, and Kylo so interesting, that I’m kind of rooting for him to win.
J.J. has his work cut out for him. He’s very nearly back to square one on the franchise with only one movie left to tell an interesting story.
Things That Were Awesome
Let’s end this big whiny rant on a high note, shall we?
Opening Bomber Run – Incredible. Rose’s sister’s unstoppable courage in the face of certain doom is the kind of shit I love about Star Wars. The idea that every member of the Rebellion is a goddamn hero, not just the main characters. Each one is having an epic story at all times and we only get a tiny peak.
Poe Dameron also gets one hell of an X-Wing scene, which almost makes up for him not being in a cockpit the rest of the flick.
Forcetime Calls – Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver have fantastic chemistry, and the calls were a clever way to have them interact throughout the film. The undercurrent of sexual tension also electrified each scene they shared. That wet glove, you know what I’m saying? THAT WET GLOVE.
Snoke Death – Wonderfully done, and a great way to trick a mindreader. Plus I love the punk rock nature of offing the “Big Bad” halfway through the second movie. I’m all about it.
Praetorian Guard Fight – Blissful. As a kid I always wanted to see those Imperial Crimson Guard cut loose, and it was everything I hoped for. Plus the back-to-back badasses moment with Kylo and Rey was the kind of shit Star Wars was designed for. Had me pumping my fist in my seat.
Leia Flight – Listen, I understand that many people didn’t like this part, and I’ll admit that I had to make a conscious decision to not laugh during that scene (probably because it was just filmed in a silly way). However, I was so happy she wasn’t dead, and it sent tingles through me to see the other Skywalker twin finally show us what she’s capable of. Again, it could have been filmed more subtly (Leia opens her eyes in space, the Force music swells, she starts moving, cut to reaction shots, long shot of her faceless silhouette moving against the stars, then a tracking shot of her feet sliding back onto the deck), but what the hell, I still loved it.
Yoda – Okay, this one is more mixed for me. I love that Yoda was there, and I enjoyed how it warped the space around Luke Skywalker – we got to see a bit of that humbled young kid, and Mark Hamill knocked the performance out of the park. I could FEEL young Luke in that moment. Lighting the tree on fire, and Yoda’s overall message, totally worked. My only complaint is what I call the Yoda Problem, and it seems to be pervasive – everyone forgets that Yoda was only a crazy, cackling goblin troublemaker when he was testing Luke’s patience and trying to fool him. Once Yoda revealed himself as Yoda, he was pretty staid and serious (he also didn’t talk as much like a weirdo).
Still, it was nice to see puppet Yoda, and I’ll take him however I can.
Luke The Magnificent Troll – Like I said earlier, I don’t like what they did to Luke. However, I’m willing to recognize that if you have to put in a twist that doesn’t fit the character, it was at least executed well. The Force projection is a neat idea, and the sort of “legend of Luke Skywalker” is something I can appreciate. I liked the binary sun shot, even if I didn’t really understand what was happening, so when my favorite character in all of fiction died I kind of went, “Wait, huh?” instead of having the opportunity to feel any emotions. That was nice.
Oh shit I ended on a down note.
Anyway, again, feel free to love The Last Jedi. I have no ill-will toward you. But please cut it with the “fanbois so stupid don’t understand themes” and “cavemen want lightsabers” stuff.
We all love Star Wars, we all want to protect it, we just do it in different ways.
May the Force be with you.