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The Last Jedi, try as it might to hide it, is thematically the equivalent of the Empire Strikes back as the second act film. The good guys are hurting, the bad guys are winning, etc, etc.
So how does it do at it?
Honestly while the special effects are top notch and the filmography is very pretty, the narrative and characterization are a hot mess.
The theme of this movie seems to be failure. We are now certain that our beloved heroes from the original movie have failed in every respect. Han fails as a smuggler, a husband and a father. Leia fails as a politician and leader. Luke fails as a Jedi and teacher.
So after that kick in the guts for the old school Star Wars fans, the new blood to the franchise should be doing better right? Well no. In fact quite the opposite.
Rey gets scenes where she struggles a bit and is conflicted but she is not going to easily shake off the Mary Sue label anytime soon. Yoda shills her as the equivalent of a Jedi without any training. She succeeds so easily at using their skills that she is The Chosen One who supersedes the previous chosen one.
Poe is used to show off the flaws of a hot head because he rightly feared that incompetence was going to get all his friends killed. The problem is not that he tries this; that is perfectly in character. The problem is that so many people join his mutiny which implies that Admiral Holdo does not have the trust and faith of a good chunk of her forces.
Finn is prevented from a glowing send off by sacrificing himself for the good of the Rebellion by Rose. Ah yes, Rose. She appears, narratively, to fill the same role as Jar Jar. She is there to be obstructive to the actually competent heroes. Her arc was pointless. Her death was meaningless as the audience had little time to really connect with her.
This pointlessness, this bathos, drenches the movie. The New Republic is in tatters. The casino arc was pointless. Snoke, built up as a legitimate threat, dies effortlessly without us ever really learning anything about him. Phasma goes the same way. The movie fails to build any climax. Plot threads from the Force Awakens such as hints that Rey has some connection to the Skywalkers dangle abandoned.
This bathos mixed with the pathos of seeing beloved characters fail so spectacularly is the root of a lot of the criticism. Let us make no bones about it; Star Wars had been at its heart an escapist space opera. When it turned into a postmodern deconstruction of the Hero’s Journey, it jarred a lot of fans. It takes a certain degree of self-assurance on the part of the film’s makers to not expect some degree of pushback.
So should you see the Last Jedi? It will thrill you for a few hours from sheer spectacle alone. But it is the sizzle without the steak, there is little satisfying anymore. It is unlikely to grab your imagination like the original trilogy did. People watching this movie may visit a galaxy far, far away but they might not want to stay.
"The Last Jedi, try as it might to hide it, is the thematic equivalent to The Empire Strikes Back as the second act film. The good guys are hurting, the bad guys are winning, etc., etc."
First of all, it really can't help being compared to a second act movie when it is one.
Secondly, I think you've got it the other way around. By the end of the movie, the heroes are uplifted and the villains are left totally fractured. Poe saves the Resistance by deciding to run and live to fight another day, and Rey's rescue and demonstration of the Force gives them the hope they were looking for after Luke sacrifices himself. Also, the random Force-sensitive kid on Canto Bight who dreams of being a rebel. The First Order, on the other hand, has lost its Supreme Leader, the top commander of their Storm Troopers, a Dreadnought and their biggest ship (Snoke's), their fleet got cut to shreds by Admiral Holdo, and they are now led by Kylo Ren and General Hux, a dysfunctional working duo on the best of days who frequently humiliate themselves in front of their own men, unable to inspire respect the way Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin could. They still have more men and resources, but no real leadership or purpose. Despite being at a greater disadvantage, the Resistance is nowhere near as divided as the First Order.
I have to respectfully disagree. The Rebellion on screen now fits inside a single smuggling freighter. They have suffered immense material and manpower losses. It is easy to be less divided when the heroes are now the size of a platoon and the First Order is still a full sized army. Unless that "hope" inspires a mass uprising against the First Order, the Rebellion as a fighting force is over until it can link up with whatever forces they have left in the Outer Rim.
Yes, I would reckon the Rebellion is united under Leia. This is mainly because the rest of their high command is dead. Hux and Kylo might not get along but one will eventually kill the other and both know it. If Kylo is the new Supreme Leader, he cannot abide any insubordination now. He patterns himself after Vader and we all know what Vader did to people who disappointed him don't we?
I would also like to point out that the Rebellion has lost practically its entire fleet (that we know of), its serving admiral and vice admiral, the last known Jedi Master, most of its fielded snubfighters and is on the run with plenty of deserters to spread the rumor that the Rebellion is done for (regardless of how true that is). Luke and Rey may have given them hope? Maybe but now one is dead. The last known Jedi master is now one with the Force. As is 90% or more of the Rebellion's fleet. Can you even imagine the sense of loss the survivors are feeling?
Yes the First Order has taken losses. The key difference is that the First Order has a recruitment and industrial base. They can replace losses. What has the Rebellion got? I suspect that the First Order will quickly sort out its leadership problem since it is still an army. People can be recruited or promoted, the talent pool is not that shallow.
I have to admit that it is odd to point out that the losing army is supposedly in better shape. Both sides have taken losses but you only point out the losses of the First Order as if the Rebellion as it stands is even close to a viable fighting force.
It\'s not as if the Resistance is going to forever be that small. The next movie naturally isn\'t going to have them still be just a single freighter\'s worth. That\'s like if people said after TESB that Luke was doomed to be useless because he didn\'t have a lightsaber anymore.
The losses to the Resistance are more glaring and obvious than the First Order, that\'s why I didn\'t feel the need to mention them. As I stated, the First Order has the opposite problem of the Resistance. They are many in numbers, but divided in their leadership and goals. And yeah, Kylo Ren is doing a Vader impression and Vader regularly killed those who disappointed him, but he did it while living up to his badass reputation and not making himself look like an impulsive, unstable fool in front of all his men. He commanded respect. For as dangerous as he is, the only thing Ren commands is fear. And that\'s not a good recipe for lasting success.
I wasn\'t insinuating that the Resistance is more powerful than the First Order. I disagreed with your belief that it\'s like The Empire Strikes Back in that \"the good guys are hurting, the bad guys are winning.\" This is true in Empire, where the Empire has the Rebels on the ropes at every turn while suffering very few casualties. Not the case in The Last Jedi. Despite starting at a great advantage, the First Order are the ones hurting in the end. They are once again outmaneuvered and fail in their attempts to snuff out what is basically a small band of troublemakers compared to them, and suffering heavy losses in the process. With these losses on top of Starkiller Base, I\'m betting you have more people joining the Resistance than the First Order. But the point I was trying to make is that I don\'t think you can declare the end of this movie a victory for the First Order like it was for the Empire in... well, Empire. They might still have strength in numbers, but, the way I see it, they\'re as close to winning or losing as the Resistance is.
Luke was one single man. Even without a lightsaber, he is still a Jedi and notably a very gifted starfighter pilot. The Rebellion without a fleet or army cannot continue an armed struggle. They were already facing mass desertions and a mutiny before most of them went to the big cantina in the sky. I am sure the filmmakers will contrive some means to make them militarily viable again but how much suspension of disbelief can you stretch to have a mass recruitment into a fleet that just had so many people attempt to leave?
As for the \"good guys hurting\", yes they are. I think we can both agree on that. As for \"the bad guys winning\" they might not be in the same commanding position as the end of the Empire Strikes Back but they have won a tactical victory if not a strategic one. Luke Skywalker is dead. Admiral Ackbar is dead. The Rebellion\'s fleet and ground forces (at least locally) are gone. Sure it was a very costly victory but a victory nonetheless. Your note about how much damage the Rebels managed to inflict just underscores how much less threatening the First Order appears to be compared to the Empire. Nevertheless at the end of the movie, hundreds of systems had surrendered to the First Order, their fleet is still massive and they still have a high command.
The First Order can replace materiel losses, the Rebels cannot. They are on the cusp on creating a new Empire. The Rebellion is not even a viable fight force any longer, most of their leaders are dead and their trump card, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, is now one with the Force. Good luck recruiting because you will need it. Realistically they can still pull it off; Mon Cala, Kashyyyk and Bothawui at least should prove fertile recruiting grounds. That is if you can even convince people that this Rebel Alliance is worth joining. After mass desertions, the destruction of the fleet and the loss of most of their personnel, it could be that a new coalition of rebels might arise to supplant the one lead by Leia. It could make for a good story arc for Leia to become once again one of many leaders of a reborn Rebel Alliance.
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