Thoughts on The Last Jedi (spoilers)

[NOTE: I wrote this at like 2pm the day The Last Jedi was released.  I had absolutely no idea at the time that the debate surrounding the film would be so intense.  I just googled the title to see what came up and the first thing I saw was reporting about Twitter backlash.  It seemed to me like some whiny Gamergate fanboys with overly rigid expectations.  I wrote parts of this in response to that backlash.  Since then, I have heard many, many, many other critiques and defenses of the film, and while I still do not relate to people who dislike it, I can better see where some of them are coming from.  I am not going to rewrite this but I’m going to edit to soften my tone.  To be clear, though, I mean to be responding only to the original complaints that I first encountered, not to the full range of criticisms that are being made of the film]

Judgments made in the first week after a Star Wars release should always be taken with a grain of salt. Everyone who’s not a jerk wants a new Star Wars movie to be good. We pack into the theater and cheer when ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ shows up on the screen. If the movie delivers some good thrills and nostalgia and has no catastrophic faults, we are inclined to be generous.  I think hyper-positive initial reactions to The Force Awakens and Rogue One reflected this generosity.  The Force Awakens has its merits but is seriously flawed: its botched redeployment of Harrison Ford is a travesty, there is too much J.J.  Abrams cheekiness, and it goes way too far in favoring nostalgia over evolution (another fucking Death Star?).  Rogue One is a perfectly good movie but it lacks distinctness and flare.  Everything is in its right place but there’s no ambition.

The Last Jedi has some of the best direction of any Star Wars movie. It’s a damn shame that J.J. Abrams and not Rian Johnson will direct Episode IX.  Johnson directed some very decent movies: Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper.  He also directed the two best episodes of Breaking Bad (Ozymandias and Fly).  The Last Jedi is a leap forward.  Things I would call attention to include Snoke’s chamber (even if Snoke himself is a bit of a blemish on the movie), Rey’s dream sequence, the incredible beat drop climactic moment (if you saw the film you’ll know what I mean), and the spaghetti western idiom he employs in the showdown between Luke and Kylo.  Star Wars gets some motherfucking mise-en-scène!!!

So yeah, I loved it! I haven’t read many other reactions but I just learned that there’s backlash:

Here are the main points of contention: there’s no REAL climactic lightsaber duel between Luke and Kylo, Rey’s parents are nobodies, anti-climactic end for Luke, alien milk, no backstory for Snoke, Snoke built up and then dispensed with too easily.

I really couldn’t disagree more strongly.

Coping with the original trilogy presents a problem for new Star Wars films.  On the one hand, there’s the Scylla of nostalgia, and on the other hand there’s the Charybdis of disconnection.  The Prequel Trilogy erred in the direction of disconnection while The Force Awakens and Rogue One erred in the direction of nostalgia.  The Last Jedi is the first one that gets the balance right.  It addresses Empire, but it defies your expectations by inverting it rather than rehashing it.  Instead of opening on an ice planet, we close on a salt planet, but the Walkers are there to visually recall the Hoth battle.  In place of Luke teaching Rey the way Yoda taught him, we get Rey and Yoda teaching Luke all over again.  Instead of a climactic reveal of remarkable parentage, we get an anti-climactic reveal of unremarkable parentage.  But it’s a reveal that makes the story more compelling.  Rey is nobody from nowhere– more like Anakin than Luke.  Instead of a climactic light saber battle, we get trippy sleight of hand that beautifully flows into the final realization that the mythology surrounding Luke is more powerful than his abilities as a warrior.

The Twitter backlash is right about one thing: Snoke sucks.  But this film was saddled with Snoke by The Force Awakens.  Eliminating him so abruptly was the best thing it could have done.  We get a Hitchcockian surprise that one of the main characters isn’t actually one of the main characters and we get rid of Snoke, all in one fell swoop.  Regarding the alien milk: come on, who are these people who have a problem with this?  I didn’t know that fanboys are so squeamish.

Here are some other things I liked about the movie:

-The jokes are actually funny

-Better dialogue, which helped improve new characters like Poe and Finn

-Dig the Rashomon angle on the fall of Kylo

-I did a good job avoiding learning anything about this before seeing it, and I didn’t have a clue that Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro were in the movie.  I had no idea how badly I needed to see Laura Dern with purple hair going kamikaze in a space ship.  I’m sure my face lit up like a Christmas tree when she first appeared.  Del Toro is delightful (also love the Justin Theroux bait and switch).

-Mark Hamill completely nails it.  The polar opposite of the Harrison Ford disaster in Episode VII.

-Good job with the critters.

-The ending sets up the third film for a more authentic nostalgia.  We are down to a rag tag gang of outsiders all over again.  I just wish it weren’t J.J. Abrams’ turn.

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