Rian Johnson lazily lets the past die in The Last Jedi

This isn’t a review of the latest Star Wars movie. (but it DOES contain SPOILERS) This is a look back at some of the plot holes that ruin the film.

First off, if you like or love the movie, that’s great. I’m not here to argue. In fact, I’ve seen it twice in the theater and enjoyed it, when I was able to look past huge plot holes and missed opportunities due to, from my certain point of view, laziness. And to be honest I’d bet I’ll go see it again.

Look, Rian Johnson didn’t want to be tied down. He wanted a fresh slate to operate and showcase his vision. To do so, he took whatever shortcuts he could to have as much time to do so as possible before someone else came in to finish the trilogy with episode 9. In doing so, Rian has harpooned the whole set of films and left someone else to pick up his messes.

The movie carries several messages, some fresh and positive and timely, but most points are made with flaws. Here’s a couple examples:

  1. The rebellion (The Resistance) is fleeing their previous base as The First Order bears down on them to avenge the rebel attack on Starkiller base. (For those who felt The Force Awakens followed A New Hope too closely, you’ll probably notice that this film is half Empire Strikes back and half Return of the Jedi cut together.) As the small band of freedom fighters evacuate they send one x-wing, piloted by Poe Dameron, to stall the First Order. He does so with a gag aimed at General Hux. If you found it funny great, if not, I understand. I chuckled both times and thought it was a ballsy way to start the film. But shortly after this Poe attacks the ship alone, aiming for the enormous ship’s cannons. When he has stalled enough, Princess Leia commands him to return to her ship so they can jump away, but he refuses, instead deciding to lead an attack that ends with several casualties, even as it accomplishes Poe’s goal of destroying the Dreadnaught. Leia gets livid upon Poe’s return to the ship, even demoting him and berating him in front of whoever is around to hear. The rest of the film, Poe’s only recourse is to sneak around the ship trying to usurp the plans of the new commander, played by Laura Dern. The audience is bombarded with reminders at how reckless his actions were and how diplomacy and cooler heads need a chance to lead sometimes. This is a great lesson. I’m so glad that my daughter will grow up with strong female characters showing her she is empowered… but, let’s think about what just happened… the resistance jumped to light speed only to find out when they reverted to real space that the First Order somehow tracked them and were once again in hot pursuit. The First Order apparently doesn’t have any ships with powerful enough guns to penetrate Princess Leia’s flagship. Oh, wait, they had one…the dreadnaught. If Poe Dameron doesn’t disobey Leia and destroy that ship (with the help of some heroes in extremely vulnerable bomber fighters) this movie is over before we’ve made a dent in our popcorn. This fact is never mentioned as it goes against the “vilify Poe and the headstrong men” storyline.

2. Sticking with the same point in the movie, the rebels are now racing at sub light speed away from the First Order and suddenly gas is a huge issue in the universe. Has a limit of gas/energy ever really been addressed in Star Wars cannon? I remember Han and Leia discussing Bespin being “pretty far, but i think we can make it” but i assumed that was more about the distance they’d have to go without the ability to go to hyperspace than about gas consumption. In A New Hope they show the x-wing ships being gassed up before the big fight, and in Revenge of the Sith Obi Wan pays for a fill up, but no one has ever been in danger of losing power before this. Forgetting that and going with the spirit of the film, we are told that a few escape pods launch and we see Finn and Rose sneak away in a small craft, and the rebels eventually gas up and fly about twenty passenger crafts off the ship. Couldn’t they have figured out a way to send ships to get some gas? Maybe? Maybe not? Either way, the lack of gas causing the tension to rise felt cheap and un Star Wars.

3. I’m not sure where Rian Johnson was on June 17th 1994, but I’d bet he was glued to the TV as the now famous white Ford bronco slowly drove down the highway followed by a legion of police as this is exactly how he decides to “thrill” the audience of The Last Jedi. Really? the rebellion has no other recourse but to drive down the spaceway, left blinker on for no reason, and block the bad guys from passing? Let’s suspend disbelief and say that somehow none of those ships chasing the rebels can in fact speed up beyond, “slow crawl”, and none of them have lasers powerful enough to pierce Leia’s ship’s shields, but couldn’t the First Order call one of its other ships from its huge fleet to come at Leia and the rebels from other angles and block them in? Or, couldn’t one of the First Order ships jump to light speed a bit and double back? This “chase” is so lazy and fails to raise the tension as if the First Order can’t figure out how to think around this obstacle I find it hard to fear them as an imposing force of evil. They come off more like bumbling idiots. This is where the opening scene of Poe messing with Hux comes back to bite the director. So far, all we’ve seen the First Order do is bicker amongst themselves, get bested by a single X-Wing, and design inept star ships. How did this chase not get laughed out of the first writer’s meeting it was pitched in? Now, take a step back to the opening battle where Poe is attacking the dreadnaught. Change that fact that he is trying to destroy it and instead have him and the bombers disable the dreadnoughts communications, large cannons, and hyperdrive and suddenly this slow chase between two ships could make sense. Think about Star Trek 2 as Khan chases the Enterprise, both ships limping along. That took/showed logic. That built tension. All the technology at their finger tips taken away and the two Captains were left with just their wits to win the day. The Last Jedi had none of that.

4. Benicio Del Toro is added to the cast as the mysterious…do they even tell us his name? I don’t recall. Not that not having a name is a deal breaker. I became obsessed with Boba Fett before I knew his name. Anyway, as Finn and Rose race to an upscale gambling city in a race against time, their plan is undone by…parking violations. They get thrown in jail just after locating the mysterious man, who always wears the same pin, who is the only one in the galaxy who could hep them. THE ONLY ONE! Except the random guy they find taking a nap in the same jail cell they happen to get thrown into. He totally can do all the same stuff too. Now, here is an opportunity to build up an awesome character. Have Benicio’s character (I just looked it up…it’s DJ) Have DJ tell them the guy with the pin works for him and is used as a frontman, while DJ does the actual work behind the scenes. He saw them approach and he snuck into the prison to hear their offer…see, that is cool and mysterious and gives DJ some credibility. It also foreshadows how paranoid he is so his betrayal later in the film plays out logically. To be fair, there is still another film and more of DJ could be revealed, but again, there’s another lazy, half-thought out idea Rian left for someone else to make heads or tails of. I don’t see why a simple line couldn’t have been added to explain how the whole mess played out rather than that they randomly got thrown in his cell. Hell, I just came up with this bit…why not have the Rose lapel guy keep his line about being a on a hot streak, but have his gaze flick to Finn and Rose and have him press his identifying pin as a signal to DJ or something. Boom, Rian, you’re welcome. Can we get that reshot for the blu ray release?

5. Phasma, Snoke, Rey’s Parents, Han’s Death, Luke, Akbar, C3PO, Nien Nunb, Lando, dirty space, and just about everything the Force Awakens built up as important…Rian cleaned house and set up a finale to the trilogy by leaving us with no idea what would/should/could happen next. That is not easy to do, but the way he erased all the tension, mystery, motivations of the Force Awakens, while also sidelining or killing off the hero’s felt so forced/lazy/insulting. The scene in which the bridge gets blown up and Leia and others are sucked out into space was intense. A lot of people are angry at how Leia finally uses the force for the first time and it’s this miraculous live saving thing. I am all for it. I was so happy we didn’t lose a character that was just starting to grow her fangs back after a very vanilla appearance in The Force Awakens, but to lose Akbar and gloss over it felt cheap. This guy was a huge part of the success of the rebellion going back to it’s earliest days. Phasma makes a glorified cameo. Just long enough to appear even less intimidating than she did in the previous film before plummeting to her (supposed) doom in a fiery mess. Now could she survive and return to fight at Ben Skywalker’s side in the next film, sure, or better yet could she pull herself from the wreckage, burned and angry at everyone to become an independent bounty hunter out for revenge? Hell yeah! But if that happens, again, it’s JJ to the rescue to clean up another fumble by Rian. Rey’s parents…Rian handled it, while really passing the buck to JJ as we know/assume we haven’t heard the last of this info. Snoke…Rian wanted to move Ben forward into the lead bad guy role so he had Snoke taken out to clear the way without answering any info on who is is/was, where he came from, how he got control/started the First Order. in doing so Rian told the audience that since killing Han, Ben has been conflicted as ever…making the death of Han Solo completely pointless and once again crushing what JJ did with Force Awakens. Rian said there was no logical room for Lando…Hello, what now? Lando is a known business mogule, gambler, and a man comfortable on both sides of the law. How on earth was he not seen in the Casino portion of the film? Either he could’ve been the owner of the place or a well-known patron of it. Imagine Finn and Rose seeing this rebellion hero hob-nobbing with (and maybe selling arms along side) these other rich folk…they confront him and show him the error of his ways. He comes back at the end to rejoin Leia and the fight and brings some of his friends along with him. C3PO spends the entire film on the bridge of the ship with Leia. How was he not sucked out into space? Maybe they addressed this, but I don’t recall it. As he and R2 have been downgraded to small cameos in each film maybe one of them dying would’ve made more sense than others. Nien Nunb…Okay, I get it, the casual fan doesn’t even know who that is or couldn’t care less what happens to him. The weird thing is we see him in the beginning and at the end, but he is missing from action for the entire film. He sort of becomes the stand in for many familiar faces from the past that are unseen/unheard from without any reason. Where was he the whole film? I know the original cut of the film was longer, so perhaps that is addressed in those scenes. Laura Dern joins the cast in an important role. Another strong female, good! But how is it that she looks like an extra from the capital of the hunger games rather than a member of the rebellion fleeing for her life in panic? Where is the dirty space mantra of previous films?And did she say, “God speed?” What, huh? Luke and Rey’s time together is good, but not great. it’s rushed to show-horn in the casino storyline and other unneeded filler. How cool would it have been to have Rey convince Luke to help and have them delve a bit into his journey to collect all the force books and fill in some gaps with a visual flashback? So many possibilities! Instead they throw in a few predictable (yet some still funny) gags  (like the green-milked teet bit)and a riff off Luke’s cave experience from Empire, this time Rey finds the mirror from The Never Ending Story.

6. This one if by my wife and I dig it. she mentioned the whole tracking through hyperspace thing could’ve been via Finn, a former stormtrooper. Perhaps he had a tracker put on him at birth, or whenever he was kidnapped and forced to join. This way, when he goes away from the fleet he and Rose realize what happens and he could’ve lead the First Order into a trap of some sort. That seems legit and cool and I like it. I didn’t have an issue with the First Order having this technology (in fact, I like that it is first mentioned in Rogue One), but I hate that Finn, Leia, Poe, or the rest of the gang can’t think their way around it. If they had gone with Finn being the cause, or a spy implant, it would’ve been cool if Finn or Poe led the First Order away to enable the rest of the fleet to escape and in doing so Finn or Poe get captured ala Han in Empire and setting up unanswered plot lines to answer in the next film.

I think by now I have made my opinions known without even asking why Luke didm;t tell Leia at the end that he was there as a distraction and that there was a hole in the cave they could use to escape. Star Wars is important to me, and even with all this, I feel it’s important to Rian as well, but damn, he had better step up his game if he has any hopes of his stand alone trilogy not becoming The Last NEW Star Wars. If the franchise is unable to crawl out from the Skywalker family now, after all he did to distance us from the past, the only thing that may be killed is his career. And look, I thought Brick was a smart film and Looper had me on the edge of my seat. I dig what Rian Johnson has done, so I know he could’ve done way better. Rian, give us logic and common sense along with the thrills and you’re golden.

The latest Star Wars trilogy has one movie to wrap up all the various story lines and now, JJ is also left with a pile of messes to address (not to mention the passing of Carrie Fisher).    JJ has to navigate a landscape where the past is poison and everything he built in episode seven is dead, or at least crippled beyond recognition.

JJ, years ago you served my childhood with The Force Awakens. Now I beg you to help me with the struggle against mediocrity and lazy writing. I regret that I am unable to present my request in person, but admission to Disney is too high, and I’m afraid bringing you to Cleveland to write may cause restraining orders. I have placed vital logic and solutions to plot issues vital to the resurrection of Star Wars into the internet. You should know how to retrieve it (even my father can.) You must see Episode 9 safely delivered to us on Earth. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, JJ. You’re my only hope.

 

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