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11/14/2019 20:55:56 •••

It Missed its Own Point

As a non-Star Wars fan, I first walked out of The Last Jedi feeling satisfied by the big-budget popcorn flick, with even an idea or two to chew on about how heroes and legends can influence and inspire people. When I came to the Internet, however, I was surprised by the reaction to this theme.

In that there was hardly any. Instead, there was heavy division over everything else, and the usual takeaway appeared to be "learn from and move on from failure." Seemed broad to me. After reflecting on it, I concluded that the movie had promising ideas, but instead of properly fleshing them out, it left the audience to pick up the pieces.

The Last Jedi begins with Poe making a reckless, selfish move against the First Order that screws the Resistance. Or did he? One could argue his efforts made some of the sacrifices worth it. Either way, we don't get into his motivations; Leia just demotes him and Holdo takes command when she's comatose. Holdo doesn't tell Poe her plans because... he's cocky? So Poe follows his own plan to save the day, leading to many getting killed.

What distinguishes the two leaders? All we get is a speech from Leia about how Holdo sought to "protect the light" and not to seem like a hero. I agree with the last part; she doesn't seem like a hero. Her Poor Communication Kills as well.

We finally get into the motivations of Luke & Kylo, but actually we don't. Luke panicked and drew his weapon over a sleeping Kylo, who turned on him. Why did Luke panic so severely? Was his fear justified? How was Kylo seduced by Snoke away from Luke in the first place? And what is so inspiring about Vader to Kylo? Again, we don't get answers; we're only left to speculate.

Finn & Rose go to a casino planet where the rich profit from war, and work with child slaves to let animals loose. All this happens because... down with the 1%? Stop animal cruelty? Those are some big, messy issues to unpack, so the movie doesn't. Instead, we're treated to a rampage of animals around town (every victim presumably deserves it) and Finn and Rose ultimately fail their mission. But hey, at least the animals are free and the slave kids are inspired! Heroes!

Later, Finn makes a sacrificial charge to cripple the First Order, and Rose stops him. Was Finn suicidal or altruistic? Would his attempt have worked? Was Rose being selfless or selfish? All we get is a speech and a smooch about not "destroying what you hate, but saving what you love."

...There may be points to be made about love vs. hatred, but the film hasn't really demonstrated the difference. In war, to save what you love, you have to kill.

The movie's fundamental problem is that it nudgingly tells the audience its themes instead of actually showing them. And, one could argue with poetic irony, telling instead of showing is the worst way to fail as a hero. Which is sad, because it feels like The Last Jedi could have been more than empty ideas.

10/15/2019 00:00:00

One could argue his efforts made some of the sacrifices worth it.

It wasn't. His effort was putting everyone aboard the Raddus in danger because they were forced to wait while Poe's troops flew amok, leaving the whole Resistance in range of the destroyer.

Holdo doesn't tell Poe her plans because... he's cocky?

Because he had just been demoted and didn't have officer clearance anymore.

Why did Luke panic so severely?

He reflexively lashed out upon sensing way more of the Dark Side in Ben than he expected, like being pushed into a pool of ice water.

How was Kylo seduced by Snoke away from Luke in the first place? And what is so inspiring about Vader to Kylo?

This was explained in The Force Awakens. Kylo admires Vader because Vader seems awesome and badass. He came in contact with Snoke through a mental Force Link and was drawn to him because Snoke offered how to become more like Vader.

All this happens because... down with the 1%? Stop animal cruelty?

The point of their escapade on Canto Bight ties into the film's larger theme about the value of failure. Finn and Rose are unable to dismantle the oppressive system sustaining Canto in a day, but they can at least get a bit of payback and give inspiration right now. It's the same principle behind climbing the Statue of Liberty in protest of internment camps, or pulling down a statue in protest of racism.

Was Finn suicidal or altruistic? Would his attempt have worked?

To the first, kinda both. He had come around to genuinely believing the Resistance's cause, but DJ's betrayal had made him so committed to proving him wrong that he wasn't thinking about the bigger picture. As to the latter, probably not. The laser was already firing so the door was already doomed.

but the film hasn't really demonstrated the difference. In war, to save what you love, you have to kill.

Rose's point is demonstrated later with Luke's duel with Kylo. Luke doesn't kill anybody, but wins by buying the Resistance's escape and inspiring others in the galaxy. Kylo causes Luke to die, but ends up being badly humiliated and robbed of the chance to finish off the Resistance entirely. Luke wins by seeking to save what he loves, Kylo loses by seeking to kill all he hates.

10/15/2019 00:00:00

Well, I was hoping for an exchange a little.

  1. But they did destroy the Dreadnought, and the Raddus escaped. Again, this could be debated.
  2. It's not about whether she had the right to but whether she should have. Her motives and reasoning aren't spelled out, so they could be debated all day, but the outcome was needless death.
  3. But what exactly was growing in Ben? What did he want? We don't get his motives, unless...
  4. "Awesome and badass." So that one Dorkly video was right all along? It all makes sense now.
  5. Unleashing a deadly stampede means volatile violence, so it's not that simple. Again: does every victim deserve it?
  6. Good point about Finn's motives. And maybe we were supposed to assume his effort was futile, but in fairness, what destroyed the Death Star?
  7. A more fair contrast, but the Millenium Falcon will still have to destroy the First Order. Eventually. Somehow.

10/15/2019 00:00:00

1. Destroying the dreadnought and still escaping, but a Pyrrhic one due to all the personnel killed and bombers lost.

2. The needless death came about because of Poe's plan going wrong, a plan that he kept Holdo uninformed in turn. If he hadn't interfered, Holdo's plan would've gone fine.

4. Comedy aside, yes. The whole point of Kylo's arc in The Force Awakens is that he's an in-universe Dark Side fanboy, in a dark mirror of Rey being a Light Side fangirl.

5. The picture given of Canto Bight is that the riches there are so excessive that nobody playing there comes with their hands clean, which is something DJ points out to justify himself. At the very least, nobody appears to have actually been harmed.

7. The last scenes give the implication that the Resistance and Jedi are going to be rebuilt from recruits hearing about Luke's new legend. As Poe puts it, they're the spark that'll create the fire.

10/15/2019 00:00:00

1. Poe did argue that if you start an attack you follow through, and it may have been impossible for everyone to escape anyways. I don't recall explicit mention of whether the cost was (not) worth it in the long run. But rejecting Leia's orders was still a mark against him. All this aside, my main point was that his underlying motivations aren't revealed. I suspect that we were meant to infer that he's enamored with a Skywalker-esque trench run, but this isn't clearly shown. He is shown to be reckless and insubordinate, but a glory-seeker? Not quite.

2. Of course. I just say that a little rewriting could and should have made Holdo come off as a better leader as well.

5. What about the tourists? Children? Servants and slaves? It might seem pedantic to go after these details, but the movie touched on serious matters. It does look like the stampede was going for a cartoonish, light-hearted tone. I think Ben Croshaw put it best:

Yahtzee: It's got that Disney Star Wars problem, where every dialogue has to end on a gag no matter how dramatic the context, lest anyone think for a nanosecond that we're too weighty and serious to be licensed for Happy Meal toys.

4. On second thought, maybe Disney does have the right approach...

10/16/2019 00:00:00

It's suggested that Poe's a glory seeker other times. For instance, after Leia passes out and the Resistance says who the new leader is going to be, Poe visibly starts straightening up and looking more alert. He appears to expect them to announce his name even though he's just been demoted and is a fighter commander at best, not a shipmaster. His arc in the film centers around him learning to be a responsible leader, and by the end Leia actually defers to him during the escape because she can see he's not thinking only about his pride anymore.

10/16/2019 00:00:00

My take on it is that Poe was busted down the ranks for insubordination, even though he demonstrably saved everyone\'s bacon, because we see in the next scene the Dreadnought would have wiped them out when it becomes apparent the First Order can track them through hyperspace. New leader Holdo doesn\'t include Poe in her plans because the guy was demoted for insubordination and is still showing insubordination.

Finn and Rose both have arcs looking at the role of duty, in relation to people and causes. Rose starts by being besotted with the Resistance cause and hero worships her dead sister who sacrificed her life for it. Finn meanwhile values individual people more than causes, and sees it as more important to save lives than sacrifice them for something vague and lofty. He\'d rather run away. In Canto Bight, they both take away the opposite lesson: Rose learns the value in looking after individuals (the horse dog things, small kids) and becomes a bit disillusioned with the cause. Finn meanwhile learns a sense of duty, and finds himself willing to sacrifice himself to a higher cause. Rose stops him because she\'s come to value individual lives more, to the point that she can\'t let anyone else throw their life away for the sake of some tiny gain; saving Finn would be a victory in and of itself.

10/16/2019 00:00:00

@maninahat I don't buy that as an excuse for Holdo because she literally says she understands Poe's desire to know what the plan is to save their lives, right after she throws titles around, and right before she flaunts experience with "flyboys." Which honestly looks unprofessional. If Poe was insubordinate and "impulsive, dangerous," then she should have reassured him they at least have a plan to keep him from doing anything reckless. It also doesn't look good that he wasn't the only mutineer. Were others scared for their lives too?

The fact we're debating an issue we don't have all the fine details on exhibits my point. The movie left her decisions vague and divisive enough to nudgingly tell us she's a great leader, but not actually show us.

10/16/2019 00:00:00

My take on it is that Poe was busted down the ranks for insubordination, even though he demonstrably saved everyone's bacon, because we see in the next scene the Dreadnought would have wiped them out when it becomes apparent the First Order can track them through hyperspace.

It's worth noting that was luck. Poe had no idea that the First Order could follow them through hyperspace, so all Leia saw was him wasting time with a ship they were about to leave lightyears behind. Wrong motive at the right time.

10/17/2019 00:00:00

It's clumsy because the movie's trying to contrive this situation to make a point about something else, but it just makes Poe look correct in the long run. According to the film, if Poe did nothing about the Dreadnought the movie would have ended at Act 1. That's the entire reason this part of the film is debated so heavily. Some people right it off as dumb luck, others aren't convinced he did anything wrong given how bad everything looked from his perspective.

10/19/2019 00:00:00

If Poe was insubordinate and \"impulsive, dangerous,\" then she should have reassured him they at least have a plan to keep him from doing anything reckless.

...she did. She explicitly told him she had a plan, and that he wasn\'t privy to it.

Remember that they don\'t know how they\'re being tracked through hyperspace. A traitor on board is one of the first possibilities that would be imagined. Even if Holdo doesn\'t think Poe is a traitor, which she probably doesn\'t, she\'s still going to keep the plan Need To Know on the simple basis that the more people know a secret, the less secure it is. Why doesn\'t she tell him that? Because Poe just got demoted for recklessly engaging an enemy at the cost of important Resistance assets. What if he does the same thing again, and starts trying to uncover the traitor himself? He could easily incite a panic across the fleet by taking it upon himself to uncover a traitor that might not even be there, because a traitor sending the First Order their new locations is only one possibility.

10/19/2019 00:00:00

@Wryte No, she didn't tell him. And certainly not "explicitly."

Even if we knew a possible spy was the reason (which we don't), wouldn't the plan still fail? The instant Holdo starts loading the transports (which everyone including Poe saw), the spy would tell, decloaking scan, dead.

Now maybe I'm wrong, and somehow the plan would succeed. But my point still stands. All sorts of arguments and theories could be made for and against transparency. We can't even properly debate the issue because we don't even have the parameters to do so. We can only speculate.

10/20/2019 00:00:00

I notice the review asks a lot of questions, proposes various alternative ways certain events or characters\' actions could be interpreted and notes that some of those questions are never definitively answered. The Last Jedi leaving a little ambiguity and room for personal interpretation is actually a good thing unless the film\'s trying to unambiguously send a certain message (e.g. Poe was definitely wrong to try to go after the dreadnought and/or did so for bad reasons), in which case it failed to deliver said message in a clear manner.

11/14/2019 00:00:00

Ambiguity and multiple interpretation is a good thing only if the mystery has deeper character development behind it either way. However, in The Last Jedi, the only ambiguity really boils down to \"Were they just dumb, or was EVERYONE being dumb?\" It\'s an Idiot Plot on both sides. It may be ambiguous, but it doesn\'t make for good discussion.


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