I was going to write more about The Last Jedi. A lot more. I was going to get into the plot points and offer various, in-depth critiques.
But screw it.
I will give this movie the level of effort and care that it showed to the Star Wars franchise. Forget the original movies–The Last Jedi even manages to piss all over the franchise’s previous installment, The Force Awakens.
For the record, I liked The Force Awakens, especially after some re-watches with my son. I think it’s a good movie that’s a few tweaks away from being a great movie. J.J. Abrams at least understood what Star Wars was about: heroic characters, diabolical villains, space battles, lightsaber duels, and yes, moral conflict. Sure, there were some sops to Current Year; but it didn’t seem completely converged.
Or maybe I’m just not as attuned to that kind of stuff as others. I don’t know. But while The Force Awakens might have been a beat-for-best re-tread of A New Hope, it did what it had to do for the new trilogy of films: Serve up a nice fat one right over the plate for Rian Johnson and the rest of The Last Jedi‘s crew to knock out of the park.
And they whiffed. Spectacularly. Almost intentionally. While flipping off the audience.
Every interesting character or plot element The Force Awakens primed for this movie to run with was jettisoned in an explosion of American sitcom-level snark. Characters are un-heroic, incompetent asses. Nothing of consequences is explained. Mysteries are thrown overboard as casually as Luke chucks his father’s long-lost lightsaber over his shoulder. There is no sincerity, no emotional heft or resonance; in fact, whenever The Last Jedi appears to be maybe even slightly approaching the edge of an honest-to-God moment, it ruins it with a snide comment or lame gag. Imagine if the final scene in between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca ended with a fart. It’d be funny, sure, and certainly unexpected, but it sure would stink.
I understand “subversion.” I understand “messing around with tropes.” I understand “defying audience expectations.” These things can work. They are generally inimical to satisfying and heroic storytelling, but it is possible for such things to be done well. However, such things are a lot harder to pull off with an established franchise that has a tone, a feel, and yes, cultural importance.
Again, The Force Awakens on the whole got this. The Last Jedi didn’t.
Plot holes? The whole franchise is rife with them. Fantastical, far-fetched elements? We’re talking about space magic here, but some explanation would be nice. Political stuff? I didn’t really see anything egregious in The Last Jedi, save for the unnecessary intrusion of real-world issues in the form of the “rich arms dealers are evil, yo!” subplot and all male characters being buffoons (and in Finn’s case, a rather embarrassing black man being reduced to near-minstrel levels of idiocy).
What I saw most of all was deliberate and gleeful destruction. Destruction of nearly every aspect of the mythos, past and current. Hell, even of storytelling basics. This, more than any specific character or plot element, is a product of the creators’ personality and beliefs.
Look: Clowns on both sides will try to tell you “The wimmins and the colored-folk are ruining everything!” or “Girls rule! Watch these powerful, kick-ass females of color take down the whiny, insecure, toxic white men!” but they’re missing the point. The point is that, while you can enjoy art despite its creator’s politics, art can tell you a lot about the soul of the artist. And what I saw in The Last Jedi didn’t look like pandering to this group or that, or checking off marks on a diversity checklist. It looked like something worse.
It looked like the work of a twisted, stunted soul.
I knew nothing about Rian Johnson before watching this movie. But now I know that The Last Jedi is the only kind of movie that he could have made. What I saw looked like the wrong person for the job.
The Last Jedi felt like it was made by people that actively dislike Star Wars.
Maybe that’s why Mr. Johnson got the job in the first place. This is what the movie has been getting the most praise for by the usual suspects, after all. Let’s clear away the old! Let’s burn it away and bring on the new! It’s progressive! It’s bold! It’s forward-thinking!
It’s also not Star Wars.
This matters because pop culture is all we’ve got. High culture died a long time ago and its skin is being worn by those who still want to feel important. The same thing is being done to our few remaining cultural touchstones such as movies. If you want to do something shocking! and revelatory!, create your own thing. Don’t ruin something beloved that already exists.
The Last Jedi seems to trumpet from the mountaintops that Disney-fied Star Wars is about is all about printing money while “updating” the franchise to be in line with a narrow slice of modern ideology. The whole thing is a corpse animated by the power of nostalgia. The Force Awakens may have resurrected it in spectacular fashion, but The Last Jedi put it firmly back in the grave.
It will take a miracle for Episode IX to salvage this wreckage, at least from cultural and storytelling perspectives. Don’t hold your breath. But in the end, it won’t matter, because it will make billions of dollars and Disney will be pumping out these movies until the eventual heat death of the universe.