Rian Johnson, our new hope?

Does The Last Jedi live up to the original trilogy? dicuss

Yes

Image: Disney

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, has proven to be the cinematic equivalent of Marmite. It is important, however, when considering any new Star Wars film, to keep whatever nostalgic bias you might have in check and stop saying that the original saga is faultless. Within the originals, the acting is inconsistent in quality, the story, at a base level, is formulaic and there are many questionable lapses in both tone and plot, with only the comparatively horrific prequels having allowed the original trilogy to be glorified to legendary status.

Considering the objectively poor quality of George Lucas’ original trilogy, it really does beg the question as to why the films have such a lasting impact and cultural significance. The answer to this is clear: the parts of these films that are worthy of praise are brilliant. Because of this, the more grating elements of the plot and the frankly annoying acting moments are broadly rendered inconsequential to the overall impact of the movie. Yet it is the very people who have overlooked the faults of the original trilogy who have taken a hatchet to any similar issues in The Last Jedi, and therein lies gross hypocrisy.

The Last Jedi had a lot to do to appease two radically different factions of the Star Wars fandom: the fans who wish to experience Star Wars with the same exuberance that they did when they were children and those who want to see an original film which progresses the saga. It also had to combat the looming spectre of a saturation point, which when five announced additions to the Galaxy Far Far Away are considered, is perhaps a greater threat to the Star Wars universe than J.J. Abrams returning to direct Episode IX (yeah, I said it).

Image: 20th Century Fox

For such a tough task, Rian Johnson performs this balancing act pretty well, but it seems not well enough to appease all of the fans, with some even signing a petition to strike The Last Jedi from the official canon. They cite plot holes, slow plot progression and the non-answering of burning questions posed by The Force Awakens as the reasons they have taken what would be an understatement to call a bit of a disliking to the film.

Firstly, it would only be fair to complain about any plot holes after the trilogy has concluded. The examples being discussed could quite easily be part of Disney’s higher plan for the conclusion of the sequel trilogy.

The often-maligned pacing of The Last Jedi which at the core is about, as some have put it, “nothing happening during the film”, is a complete oversight of the superb arcs in this character-driven story. Characters both old and new undergo significant shifts in personality over the two and a half hours. Luke’s transition from sulky hermit to the revitalised Jedi is a natural progression and even closes one of those dreaded plot holes from The Force Awakens. It is evident by the ease with which Luke abandons his commitment to solitude (it takes Rey around two days to convince him to train her) that he, on some level, wanted to be found.

Perhaps most notably, Finn’s journey from coward to brave rebel against the First Order is beautiful. His most memorable scene (which I will not spoil for those yet to view) effectively shows his transformation.

Image: Disney

Aside from the oversight of the characterdriven narrative, critics of the film’s pacing and eventfulness also seem to fall victim to the in medias res plot. Because the action is right from the off and the film never accelerates from its bombastic opening, it seems as if the rest of the film is slow by comparison. While more critical fans might not like this choice, the boldness of this decision and the generally captivating opening of The Last Jedi should justify its right to be considered a minor, if any, faux pas. Furthermore, those who criticise the movie for not keeping their attention should consider that it may be them that are the issue.

The red herrings and nonreveals take a different path than The Force Awakens seemed to suggest, but they are necessary when the on-the-nose, simplistic questions posed by Episode VII are considered. To answer these questions in as formulaic a manner as J.J. Abrams raised them in would render The Last Jedi far more unwatchable than some say it is.

These non-issues have been created by a class of fan that is ignorant in the face of a glaringly flawed original trilogy and hypercritical of anything that dares to bear the name Star Wars. Watch The Last Jedi again with a neutral hat on and your bias to one side, and I’m sure you’ll agree. CQ

No

Image: 20th Century Fox

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not a bad film, but to claim that Episode VIII is on par with the original trilogy is absurd. Beneath the veneer of nostalgia and extravagant visuals, The Last Jedi is a sloppy science fantasy flick; one which is constantly kneecapped by director Rian Johnson’s underwhelming script.

The plot structure of The Last Jedi is perhaps the film’s greatest setback. The first and second entries into the Star Wars franchise – A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back – were paced to perfection. Predicated upon Lucas’ strong script, A New Hope proved incredibly economical with its storytelling. From the film’s first shot, the story is clear; the Rebellion, embodied in the form of a tiny spacecraft, are outmatched by the Empire, whose gargantuan Star Destroyer engulfs the screen. Thereafter, the narrative of the film never loses focus. Empire proved equally airtight, with slower, universe-expanding scenes set on Dagobah balanced against exhilarating chase sequences involving the Millennium Falcon.

Image: Disney

Conversely, The Last Jedi, labouring under the weight of multiple plot lines and characters, struggles to pull out of first gear. The Resistance’s retreat, which comprises much of the film’s second act, unfolds at a snail’s pace, proving so drawn out that all sense of tension is neutered. The Last Jedi’s greatest failure of plotting is Finn and Rose’s subplot, having been singled out as a low-point by virtually every review of the film as it further hinders the already-plodding pace of the film. The film’s pacing issues turn what should be a breezy adventure tale into a lethargic crawl, with the utterly redundant subplot
serving to frustrate rather than enthrall.

The various new characters introduced in The Last Jedi do not aid proceedings. More so than dazzling visuals and set-pieces, Star Wars’ greatest asset has always been its cast of memorable characters. These characters were generally simple, easily-comprehensible archetypes: the wise sage, the cock- sure rogue, the simple farm boy . Each had a clear motivation and a defined personality. Consider Han Solo’s iconic introduction in A New Hope; his cool demeanor, confident speech, and laid-back posture underscore his braggadocious nature. Moreover, Solo’s motives are crystal clear; he has debts that need paying.

The characters in The Last Jedi lack this clarity, and are given very little time to develop. The worst offender in this instance is Vice Admiral Holdo, as portrayed by Laura Dern, whose motives are entirely unclear throughout the film. We are given little time in which to warm to the aloof admiral, and her mind-boggling decision to withhold her strategy from hotshot pilot Poe Dameron serves to further distance her character from the audience. As a result, the character’s emotional payoff at the film’s climax falls completely flat. Rose is similarly underserved by the film’s script, and Benicio Del Toro’s DJ all but disappears off the screen. Returning cast members fare no better. Finn’s storyline, for instance, feels like an afterthought; an unnatural addition to the plot which exists merely to give the character something to do. Finn’s role throughout the film is not unlike that of Han Solo in Return of the Jedi, which felt similarly superfluous.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Tonally, The Last Jedi is incredibly offkilter, with the film’s dialogue containing innumerable awkward quips. The opening sequence, for instance, sees pilot Poe Dameron utter a glorified ‘Yo Momma’ joke in the buildup to a chaotic space battle. Such jarring attempts at humour are a recurring issue throughout the film, undercutting the dramatic tension of numerous scenes. Even in the climactic final battle, Johnson cannot resist inserting a joke, with porgs being flung across the screen. The original trilogy certainly had its misfires in terms of comedy, namely the irritating ewoks featured throughout Return of the Jedi, but the use of humor was generally appropriate. There are no jokes in the climactic lightsaber duel of Empire, nor in the trench run of A New Hope. By inserting constant visual gags and lines of Marvelesque quipping, Johnson severely disrupts the tone of the film, lending The Last Jedi a stilted, uneven quality.

Ultimately, The Last Jedi fails in areas where the original trilogy triumphed. Structurally,
the film feels incredibly disjointed, mired in subplots which stall the pace of the film. Moreover, said B-plots are filled with forgettable characters, who fail to see any real development. Awkward attempts at humor further upset the tone of the film, undermining
the tension of various scenes. The original trilogy were not perfect films, but they were certainly competent. Moreover, they resonated with a generation of moviegoers, and continue to captivate audiences to this day. The faults in The Last Jedi are so evident that they completely overshadow the film’s many positives. It is silly to claim that Johnson’s entry into the franchise is on a par with the original trilogy. “We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda muses of younger generations supplanting their forebears. Unfortunately, Johnson did not see the irony of his words. CC

One comment

  1. 23 Jan ’18 at 3:37 pm

    Thomas H Cullen

    The Last Jedi is a masterpiece, for all of the following reasons . .

    1) It’s a story about God dying outside of their body, so that magic can be shared inside reality

    2) It’s a story about safety destroying danger, so that safety can be exposed as the true source of danger

    3) It’s a story about safety protecting magic, even though it’s magic that’s the ability to protect

    4) It’s a story about the ability to see only existing inside the universe (God can’t see)

    5) It’s a story about power wanting to interact with the opposite of power (Leia’s force powers)

    6) It’s a story about absence having the right to attack itself as a way to give itself a location

    7) It’s a story about violence becoming self-aware so that peace has the ability to not lie to itself

    8) It’s a story about history being a living being, which can be attacked by the present

    9) It’s a story about the universe just being God’s imagination

    TLJ has more depth than Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, and more depth than The Godfather and The Matrix. The original trilogy is hollow and without purpose compared to TLJ, and the backlash to TLJ is mostly the result of a cultural divide between right-wing and left-wing politics

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