12 head-scratching flaws in 'The Last Jedi'
Warning: Spoilers all over the place.
"The Last Jedi" ... is (even by "Star Wars" standards) a flawed movie. It is one of the most divisive films not just of 2017 but also among "Star Wars" fans. Some revere Episode 8 as better than "The Empire Strikes Back" - traditionally held as the gold standard of "Star Wars." Others applaud its bold twists and radical shift that will affect all future "Star Wars" movies. Meanwhile, "Last Jedi" has a lowly 48 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Some of the more controversial choices include killing off popular or main characters, like Admiral Ackbar, Supreme Leader Snoke, much less Luke Skywalker himself.
This article will only deal with the massive and numerous oversights in plot or logic that fundamentally undermine the structural integrity of Episode VIII.
What is the 'First Order'?
Yes, they're the bad guys - but aside from that, what is known about the Order? "The Force Awakens" cryptically just says the First Order has "risen from the ashes of the Empire" during the opening crawl -- but that's about it. Non-diehard fans can wrap their heads around what the Empire is - even the prequel antagonist 'Separatist' faction has its description in the name. Aside from their all-consuming love of destroying Luke Skywalker, little to nothing is known about the First Order's agenda or philosophy. The series thinks it is just enough to make the First Order look like a watered down Imperial force. Through episodes 7 and 8, the First Order remains a frustratingly ill-defined aspect of the new trilogy.
Luke's final stand
Director Rian Johnson made a pretty adorable swipe at the people who had a problem with Luke's mastery of force illusion casting (an ability never established in any previous 'Star Wars' film - making it look like an ass-pull of a spontaneous ability for Luke). That said, Skywalker's ultimate duel with Kylo Ren would have more emotional and narrative impact if he was in fact on Crait, facing Ben Solo in flesh and blood. Luke duping Kylo with an illusion is not only a misguided plot twist - it also carries fewer character stakes than if Luke on Crait for real. The moment where Luke is still standing after apparently taking a barrage of arsenal fire had audiences cheering - but on repeat viewing, the moment feels cheap and disingenuous.
Oh, and Johnson's dig concerning the canon worthiness of force illusion casting is duly noted - but information not presented in screen is irrelevant to the audience. Relying on deep cuts from nerdy "Star Wars" reference books is lazy - but no less lazy than relying on a throw away line from a spin-off film ... which brings us to:
Relying on a throwaway line of dialogue from an entirely separate film isn't great. The fact that the First Order can track ships after they speed away in hyperspace is a fundamental plot point in "Last Jedi" and game changing for the "Star Wars" universe - yet the sudden emergence of this ability is rationalized in an entirely different movie ... set 34 years prior to TLJ. Sure, "Hyperspace tracking" is an adorable way to create connective tissue between movies and a fun Easter egg in "Rogue One," but, just some friendly advice: maybe don't justify major plot points in entirely different movies that are themselves considered standalone and not part of the main series.
Rey meets Luke
The final sequence of "Force Awakens" dramatically follows Rey - who has traversed the galaxy - as she finally finds the elusive Jedi master. They exchange a long, knowing stare as the scavenger offers the hermit jedi a legendary weapon. It crescendos with a sweeping, epic shot of the two heroes standing face to face - it was a powerful way to end "The Force Awakens." The very next beat, as revealed in "The Last Jedi," is Luke carelessly tossing aside Anakin's lightsaber. The moment is played for a cheap laugh in "TLJ" - and it's the very worst type of bathos possible as it undermines that moment, consequently the finale of "TFA," utterly. Consider this: what if that meeting had played out completely at the end of Episode VII, and the movie ended with Luke just tossing the lightsabre with an aghast Rey looking on.
The siege of Crait
General Organa says the last of the Resistance should hunker down in an abandoned Rebel fortification and wait for reinforcements, but that goes to crap when the First Order's army begins their ground assault and the cavalry never comes. They are cornered - and that's when the First Order rolls in a heavily-armored cannon that can blow open their blast door. C-3PO makes a deliberate point of establishing that the main door is the only way in or out of the Crait rebel instillation -- only for the film to later undermine that very point by revealing the door is NOT in fact the only way in or out of the base. There's a back cave.
Back when the Resistance thought they were trapped, their genius plan is to send out a baker's dozen of gutted, barely armed speeders to rush headlong toward a squad of walking gunships. Eventually the Resistance realizes that is a stupid plan and they make a tactical retreat -- everyone except Finn.
A wide shot clearly establishes Finn's speeder is the only Resistance speeder heading toward the cannon - and presumably he's going full throttle. Yet, somehow Rose manages to catch up to Finn's speeder and knock him off course ... despite flying directly away from the cannon in a previous shot and being pretty far behind Finn's ship. Moreover, Rose broadsides Finn -- meaning not only would Rose have to catch up with Finn's ship, she would have also gain enough ground to also broadside him.
What's worse, the film and Resistance celebrates Holdo for sacrificing herself to save them - but just minutes later, the story defies laws of physics to allow Rose to directly contradict that story value of sacrifice when Finn is ready to suicide ram the cannon, thus saving the Resistance.
The pursuit of the Resistance fleet
The slowest chase sequence in blockbuster history. It rivals the infamous OJ Ford Bronco 'chase' of 1995 in terms of thrills. The opening crawl establishes that the First Order "reigns supreme" - yet it is forced into a battleship pursuit that has all the excitement of watching a glacier melt. Finn has enough time to wake up from a medically-induced coma, get arrested for desertion, chat with Maz, jump to gambling planet, get arrested, trash a casino, jump to lightspeed again, get arrested again and bonk Phasma in the head -- but the First Order doesn't have the time or resources to send another star destroyer to head off the fleeing Resistance ships?
Scales of time
Over how many days does "The Last Jedi" span? Can't be a week, right? At one point, Finn specifically notes that the Resistance flagship only has 18 hours of fuel left. In that same apparent timeframe, however, Rey has enough time to wander around Luke's island, have story time with old Luke and enjoy some quality time chatting with shirtless Kylo Ren. It's nice to know that while the Resistance was slowly puttering away from the First Order, Rey had time to watch an old man fish and milk a sea monster. Normally this information could be brushed aside as trivial, but TLJ itself makes a pretty big deal about how little time they have left - but the film never gives the audience a solid reference for just how much time passes during the story. This absence of time diminishes the tension and decreases any sense of narrative urgency.
Vice Admiral Holdo
Laura Dern's character is celebrated by many fans. Some have called for a Star Wars story for her specifically - but why? She doesn't make her on-screen appearance until almost 40 minutes into "Last Jedi." Her main contribution seems to be as a Leia stand-in and justify a mutiny. Her secrecy is completely unnecessary. If anything, communicating her crazy 'Holdo manuever' plan could inspire the dwindling Resistance soldiers with some flickering semblance of hope. The film explains her wholly needless obfuscation with some stupid line about not wanting to seem like a hero - but it reeks of a lazy narrative tool to give Poe something (anything!) to do in this film. Her inevitable loss would mean so much more if she was introduced earlier in this film, if not first seen in "The Force Awakens" - because, as is, Holdo is just a plot tool who does one cool thing with her few minutes of screentime.
When Poe and Finn realize their plan to thwart the tracking is doomed to failure (because they cannot hack their way throught the FO's shield), they contact Maz Kanada. It's a painful cameo shoehorned into an already cluttered film - it's like seeing Sgt Al Powell in "Die Hard 2" - "hey, remember the nice cop from the first movie!? Let's visit with him for a weird phone call." Here's the problem: it's Poe who thinks of reaching out to Maz ... a character who he never shared one second of screentime with in "TFA." Why not just make it Finn who thinks to contact Maz - at least he had a prolonged interaction with her in "Force Awakens." She gave Anakin's lightsaber to Finn -- but it's Poe (despite having no apparent connection to Maz) who thinks of calling her. It's possible that Maz and Poe go way back (as some "canon" side story will reveal) but there's simply no evidence of that relationship at all - so it's groundless. Admittedly this point is a bit nitpicky, however, it is symptomatic of an absent minded movie.
There's no nice way to put this: nothing Finn does matters in this film. He's the worst king of b-plot - a pointless one. Finn is in a medically induced coma during the Resistance's evacuation. He just stands around slack-jawed as First Order's fleet slowly pursues the last of the Resistance. His next move is to recruit a hacker and turn off the First Order's tracker. Finn doesn't recruit the right code breaker, he accidentally hires a guy who betrays them and he doesn't succeed in turning off the active tracking system. And the one moment he had to truly make an impact - by sacrificing himself to destroy the battering ram cannon on Crait - was stolen from him by Rose - just so she could utter a sappy line.
A prominently featured character in the marketing for "The Force Awakens" and again for "Last Jedi." She's featured in popular video games and major toys. She gets almost no screen time in either film: she's thrown in the garbage in Episode 7 and falls down a pit in Episode 8. That's the definition of a disposable character.
After the heroes are forced to evacuate their base, the protagonists are split into two groups - one group (unable to use hyperdrive) flees an unrelenting pursuing threat, meanwhile an aspiring Jedi seeks out a self-exiled hermit master to learn the ways of the force. Now, was that the abstract for either "The Last Jedi" or "The Empire Strikes Back"?
An all-power, force-wielding threat commands his apprentice to bring him a new student to the dark side - only for the apprentice to betray and murder the dark force master. "Return of the Jedi" or "The Last Jedi"? The dark side master spends most of his time as a towering hologram, growls "fulfill your destiny" to his captive Jedi, forces his prisoner watch as the good guy's fleet is destroyed - Palpatine or Snoke? Geez, Snoke's scenes even use the Emperor's music cues from "Return of the Jedi" - Snoke is a broad clone of Palpatine. "The Force Awakens" was an uninspired rehash of "A New Hope," while "The Last Jedi" is just a greatest hits compilation of "Empire" and "Return," complete with a walker assault of a good guy's base as they fight back with impotent speeders on a planet covered in white (Hoth or Crait?).
"The Last Jedi" deserves credit for basically rewriting the rules of the "Star Wars" universe. It laid the foundation for a future not so reliant on the Skywalkers. Episode 8 is by no means "Attack of the Clones" back, but anyone claiming "TLJ" is a faultless masterpiece on par with "Empire" is truly and utterly mad.