Star Wars: The Force Goes Back To Sleep 

by REGGIE WOLTZ

* SPOILERS *

A short time ago in a galaxy very, very nearby…

The most divisive and controversial blockbuster in recent memory was released. Whether you are a Star Wars junkie or a casual moviegoer, chances are that you were looking forward to this one.

And why not be?

The Force Awakens was a perfect kick-off to the new trilogy — creating original characters and a bright future while rehashing enough of the 1977 original to get the bad taste of the prequels out of the fanbase’s collective mouth. In addition, 2016’s Rogue One was a gem of a standalone film and a benchmark in storytelling for the franchise.

This lineage, in addition to great critical reviews, beautiful promotional material, and having visionary director Rian Johnson (Looper, Breaking Bad) at the helm, built up a lot of hype for The Last Jedi. And while some lauded the movie and started making a case for it being the best Star Wars since Revenge of the Sith, there was a massive amount of backlash. Why exactly were so many viewers up in arms? Let’s break it down.

It is no accident that Star Wars has such a massive following. The original movie was a technical and creative achievement, capturing imaginations in a way that had never been done before. But The Last Jedi, instead of following in that tradition and continuing to push boundaries, takes the opportunities it was given and tosses them away like yesterday’s lightsaber.

Every major character that made it to the end of The Force Awakens had much to look forward to for the subsequent films. Rey and Kylo Ren, the tent poles of the new trilogy, provided new life to the tried and true Light vs Dark theme and promised to break the mold of the Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader archetypes.

Finn, the Stormtrooper-turned-reluctant-rebel, presented a characterization that hadn’t been seen before. Poe Dameron, ace pilot and all-around badass, added energy and a cool factor to every scene he was in. Snoke, General Hux, and Captain Phasma promised the same menace as the old Empire characters but with the possibility for even more devastating conquest. Even the old guard, Leia and Luke Skywalker, had more stories to tell in episodes seven through nine that would deepen the complexity and richness of their iconic characters.

So what did we get from all of that potential?

Well, let’s just say that a certain Supreme Leader would be very disappointed if The Last Jedi was his apprentice. While Rey and Kylo Ren provide the most intrigue and deliver on at least some of their promise, every other character falls short in a major way. Finn is reduced to a joke machine that gets stuck in easily the worst subplot of the film and a forced romance with an unnecessary new character. Poe has his moments early on but then gets caught in a tedious collection of scenes (with yet another awful new character) that is supposed to convey development but ends up feeling like empty screen time. Snoke is downright menacing for much of the movie before being inexplicably killed off; Hux is reduced to a sniveling child; and Phasma is completely wasted after being one of the most interesting characters in The Force Awakens.

But where this film really starts losing fans is with Luke and Leia.

Luke is the most renowned ‘good guy’ in the series, and perhaps even in film history. But this incarnation sees him turn from hero of the rebellion to salty space hermit, all because his former student happened to be leaning to the dark side (which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the kid’s grandfather is Darth Vader). He spends much of his screen time going from rebuking his past life to cracking jokes with shifts in tone that are questionable at best and discombobulating at worst. Betraying an audience that is well acquainted with Luke, this movie implies massive character development but only follows it up with a handful of flashbacks and a quick turnaround in its climax. This is certainly not enough to be believable and ends up tarnishing one of the most awaited returns of a character in film history.

The problems with Leia’s character are symptomatic of an issue with this film fitting into the larger Star Wars mythos: anythinghaving to do with the Force. Leia, a character that was known to be Force-sensitive but not nearly as capable as a trained Jedi, performs the most impressive feat seen in a Star Wars movie: surviving being blown up and sucked into the vacuum of space, and then using the Force to fly back to her ship. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief on this one. I had to look around at my fellow moviegoers to make sure that I wasn’t just hallucinating. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.

While Leia’s character would go on to have meaningful scenes in the rest of the movie, it really didn’t matter to me anymore. The damage was done. This was an egregious act by the film, rewriting the rules of the Force in such a flippant way that it just felt disrespectful. The Last Jedi didn’t stop there in its reintroduction of the Force. Snoke shows never-before-seen powers, appearing nearly omnipotent before being cleaved in the most predictable manner possible. Yoda, who has been dead for decades at this point, summons actual lightning out of nowhere and now has forced us to consider if space ghosts are the most powerful beings in the galaxy. Luke projects himself across lightyears in his only redemptive moment to dodge Kylo Ren a couple of times before pathetically dying for no reason.

The best thing about the new trilogy is the continued exploration of the Star Wars universe and lore. One of the coolest moments in The Force Awakens is Kylo halting a laser blast in midair. It’s like this movie saw that and said “hold my beer” over and over again. The result is too many suspensions of disbelief, too many perceived plot holes, and way, way too much fan service.

I don’t want to sell this movie completely short. It had beautiful cinematography, excellent dialogue, and heart-pounding action. If this were not a Star Wars movie, perhaps that would have been enough to meet expectations. But that is not the case. As a result, this feels less like a canonical film and more like a two and a half hour fan-created tribute video with a massive budget.

Yes there are great moments, but without proper story elements and characterization it was just that, a loosely tied collection of moments. Many fans were expecting this to go beyond, push the limits, and give us the next great Star Wars sequel. Instead it explored all the wrong boundaries and transformed this storied franchise from an epic space opera into something we never could have expected: a hacky space comedy.

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