The major letdown that is Star Wars: The Last Jedi

You saw the movie. You’ve formed your own opinions. You know what you would have done differently had it been you with 450 million dollars and the weight of not just this world but an entire cinematic universe on your back. So, we aren’t going to be talking about that. We are going to check boxes that make this article a Bi-Line article, and might even throw in a phrase or two to make it stand out, just a little, among the crowd. We are going to ensure that everyone who has been reading the Bi-Line for a long time likes and can identify with this article, but leave a paragraph or section devoted to welcoming, grounding, and maybe even pandering to newer readers. And then I’m going to pat myself on the back, not for a job well done but merely for a job done, because that’s where we are and that’s what is expected. But we won’t be overtly alluding to the Star Wars franchise since it made the daring transfer from the mind of George Lucas to the memory and zeal of the popular conscience. That’d be gauche.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi trapped itself. Or maybe it was trapped. I think the brilliant scene of reflected Rey serves as a solid metaphor for the film, and franchise, as a whole. Countless iterations, all identical or nearly identical, one after the other, of the same basic story. The same old faces, the same tall odds, some warship or weapon, some ridiculous plan to destroy it. The fan base knows this. The fan base wants this. Right? Don’t you want this? Or is Disney not ready to swallow the risk? How beautiful must your sets and effects be to forget plot? Lucas said it himself: “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” Are we getting told stories or are we watching the world’s best animators put together a really great PowerPoint? Why am I asking so many rhetorical questions? Sit down and shut up, and let’s talk about a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Every movie, good, bad, or ugly starts with a screenplay, done this time by director Rian Johnson. This one is a real piece of work. It finally gives Luke and Mark Hamill the dimensional rounding out he’s always needed, with pithy one liners and elevated emotional tension. Many, many jokes are forced, and you could feel the actors take to them like a digestive disorder. Symbolism is grasped for, similar to a pair of dice that are seemingly pulled from the darkest crevices of the Star Wars canon. Luke Skywalker joins Han Solo as the lucky two to be written out of the movies, with Leia, sadly, joining them unplanned. But still, the plot was sparse and true development was hard to find. Sure, the rebels got driven into hiding and then caught and then driven into hiding and then caught, all before escaping on the ubiquitous Millennium Falcon, but so much of the two-and-a-half-hour movie takes place in a slow motion high speed chase that I have to wonder what they are stalling for. The most compelling storyline presented to us is one we could have guessed at anyway: Rey and Kylo Ren share a connection, fraught with mutual hope and fear and distrust. Rey “instincts” to the dark side after all. But by the end of the movie, Kylo is just as driven to kill Rey as when it began, although many core aspects of his character have come into question. What would he do with a clean slate, since that’s all he wants? Has anything really changed in their relationship? Rey believes in the good in him now, but Kylo is unwilling to accept the concepts of good and evil at all, an equivocation that ends up looking a whole lot like evil anyway.

The movie feels robotic because it was made using robots, with post-production effects shadowing the practicality that George Lucas fostered. The universe that every Star Wars movie exists in has already been shaped and is simply outsized. This is not me blaming the fans; they have made a movie about never-ending war in space important, and I am thankful, but the expectations and preconceived notions that they bring with them into the theater have the potential to limit the impact and resonance of each new film. They have all been quintessentially passable: not to be missed but easily forgotten. J.J. Abrams just handed the fans exactly what they wanted but not anything they didn’t know they wanted, Gareth Edwards just decided to kill everyone, and Rian Johnson did both and neither, not able to lose anyone critical but also trying in vain to distinguish himself from the name recognized in every language.

What I’ve been doing isn’t entirely fair, and I apologize for that. In distancing myself from and pigeonholing “fans” into a monolithic driver of mediocrity, I am lying. I am a fan of Star Wars, and I want the happy ending that doesn’t solve every problem, I want good to meet evil, and I like the new levels of dark philosophy achieved in the new movies. After all, if good and evil must remain balanced, then no act of good can exist without an act of equal evil. This adds almost a cynical futility to the movies that make them desperate attempts at transient peace, which cannot exist. I really like the new levels Star Wars is attacking, as it finally considers the repercussions of constant warring and explores the idea that the Republic was almost as bad as the Sith. Lives mattered more in The Last Jedi, and unwavering characters with unshakable values were tested and beaten. The lines blur and gray in a great way. But the wheels keep turning, and the movies keep spending longer and longer on less plot and more concepts. These are no longer the stories told to use, these are the stores we fill in the gaps with. Those on the inside knew this best, the actors and producers who had their careers made by this franchise but never really did anything else.Carrie Fisher is a prime example. She acted in dozens of films and wrote many books, but as she put it, “Leia follows [her] like a vague smell.” To the world, she will always be a space princess. The actors working on the new franchise fear this affect. Daisy Ridley, for instance, only wants to act in a couple more Star Wars movies. They are removed from the water cycle of Hollywood and enter the hall of fame, made into a statue of a person, like Han in carbonite, to be looked at as a character forever. The people that created the movie belong to the fans almost as much as the movies do. Carrie Fisher again said it best: “I signed my likeness away. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks.” In a universe where balance reigns supreme, the story can only diverge so much from what we’ve seen for years, and when actors become their characters, finality is death, in the story or otherwise. So, if we create the films we wait all year to see, what kind of a job have we done, and why for the love of God do I bother with these questions anyway? I liked the movie. It didn’t really like us.