For the love of entertainment
I know there are a lot of people upset at The Last Jedi for the way it portrays Luke Skywalker. I am not one of those people, and we’ll find out why below. But while I did enjoy The Last Jedi, I found myself struggling with some of its plot points. There’s a give and a take here that you don’t find in most other Star Wars movies, although I do think the whole is better than the sum of its parts. In the end, the fact that The Last Jedi made me think so long and hard about these issues made it much better than The Force Awakens, which didn’t seek to do anything more than entertain and set up a storyline.
Essentially, most of these flaws have to do with plotting. There’s a reason for everything that happens, but you have to be willing to accept flawed plotting in order to get to the point.
Spoilers lie ahead, so be warned.
Pro: Poe’s arc in The Last Jedi teaches him a lot about leadership and heroism. If these threads are picked up in the next episode, Poe will be a better character given the hard lessons he learns here.
Con: There’s no denying that Poe comes across like an asshole in The Last Jedi. His recklessness gets a very large number of his fellow Resistance fighters killed, leaving them in a seriously dire situation at the end of the movie. By (1) refusing to listen to Admiral Holdo’s admonishments that she has a plan, (2) coming up with his own reckless plan on the sideline, and (3) staging a mutiny to put himself in charge, Poe very nearly squashes the Resistance singlehandedly. Holdo’s plan would have worked if Poe hadn’t messed it up and (indirectly) handed it to the First Order. And his mansplaining to Admiral Holdo doesn’t come across well.
Pro: Star Wars, Harry Potter, and countless other series have always put recklessness on a pedestal. The Last Jedi subverts that narrow definition of heroism by showing the costs of recklessness as well as the care true leaders must take to protect their own people. Look no further than the moment when Leia celebrates the destruction of the Dreadnought, only to have her spirits sag when she looks at a readout of the ships and pilots lost in the process.
Pro: She’s an extremely capable leader for the Resistance with a brilliant plan to save them in a dire situation. Her leadership skills challenge Poe’s beliefs on what it is to be a hero, and her ultimate sacrifice is a powerful lesson that will (hopefully) change him for the better.
Con: But why the secrecy? The first half of The Last Jedi makes it look like she has no plan at all, which is the entire reason Poe goes rogue. It seems like only a super-select group of people know what she’s doing. Someone online pointed out that the second Poe knows the plan he blabs it over a comm system, where it is overheard by the man who ultimately betrays them to the First Order–meaning Holdo was right to cut Poe out of the need-to-know circle. But if Poe knew the plan in the first place, the entire side mission and the mutiny he leads would never have happened. The only solution is that Holdo is secretive for plotting reasons: the stakes seem higher if the Resistance’s future looks bleak, and Holdo’s sacrifice means more to Poe, especially in terms of character development, if she surprises him. Speaking of Holdo’s sacrifice and things that only make sense for symbolic purposes: wouldn’t it have been reasonable for a lower-level Resistance fighter to volunteer to pilot the cruiser when everyone else evacuates? Why does the Resistance have to lose a brilliant tactician and leader?
Con: This whole mission is actually pointless. R2D2 and BB8 have gotten our heroes through countless locked doors before, so why do we suddenly need a master codebreaker? Proving my point: Finn and Rose don’t even get the master codebreaker Maz Kanata sent them to find, which just means that anyone with a bit of knowledge in the area would suffice. If Finn and Rose were going to get sent on a separate mission, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to try to get more fuel instead of a codebreaker they don’t need (not to mention who will ultimately betray them)?
Pro: The mission provides teachable moments for Finn that make him a better hero in the long run. Like Poe, Finn’s storyline in this movie is about character development. It also provides a solid reminder of why the Resistance is fighting in the first place by exposing the seedy underbelly powering the galaxy’s 1%.
Pro: Unlike a percentage of the people who complain about The Last Jedi, I thought the portrayal of Luke was one of the movie’s strongest points (it helps that Mark Hamill’s performance was a slam dunk). Luke’s critiques of the Jedi Order are thoughtful and on-point. They make a much deeper, nuanced statement about good and evil than anything the series has done before. The original trilogy dipped into shades of grey thanks to Darth Vader’s redemption storyline, but the prequels had a staggeringly bland view of light and dark. Luke’s subversion of everything you thought you knew about the Force is fascinating and poignant. Rey will be a better hero because he forced her to confront some uncomfortable truths.
Con: I just don’t believe that the guy who fought so hard to save his father because there was still good in him would even think about murdering his nephew because he had a powerful dark streak.
Con: The Force Awakens set Snoke up to be a big villain in this trilogy, but he’s killed off during a callback to Return of the Jedi‘s showdown between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor. Kylo Ren is the big bad now. So what was the point of all that set-up work?
Pro: This move essentially condenses the original trilogy into two movies. Force Awakens set a template where this trilogy will call back to its corresponding movie in the original trilogy. The Last Jedi honored that template and broke it so we can explore something new. By getting the Return of the Jedi showdown out of the way, the tables are cleared for something more original.
Con: Frankly, the sequence where she gets blown up and blasted into space, then wakes up intact and floating and literally flies back on board her cruiser, then lapses into a coma, was ludicrous. Just ri-goddamn-diculous.
Pro: Having Leia around at the end of the movie hammered in Poe’s lessons in leadership and heroism. Not to mention the incredibly poignant moments she gave us at the climax.