The Empire Snokes Back

DISCLAIMER:  SPOILERS AHEAD. 

I could go on and on and on and that’s because Star Wars means so much to me as a Gen-X adult, as a sci-fi fan, and as a writer and critical thinker.  I realize I am critical.  It is not bad to have high expectations.  Our entire country if not our world would benefit from having higher expectations. This installment feels like they are trying to do the unexpected, that they are trying really hard to surprise the audience above all else.  In doing so, they lose the opportunity to have some really satisfying resolutions with Leia and Luke, with Rey and Kylo, even with Poe and Finn.  There are some opportunities to mirror the originals without being too derivative that were missed. I don’t hate the movie, but like so many films these days I wanted it to be better than it was. And maybe it’s a lesson for filmmakers that maybe the best stories are new ones, where there are fewer expectations.

Let the past die!  Kill it!

I didn’t love Force Awakens with its ridiculous planet-sized Death Star because it is too similar to the originals.  Each archetype is set up that way.  The orphan on the desert planet.  The new Darth Vader.  The new Emperor.  The new Grand Moff Tarkin.  Kylo killing his Dad was the big departure and sets up a pattern that is not fulfilled in the second movie with Super Leia’s miraculous survival.  It is amazing that Hux makes it to the second movie. His character pales compared to the urbane and sinister Tarkin.  A New Hope and Empire were not afraid to kill off generals or remove them from the chain of command. Empire is where Swamp Yoda trains Luke.  In this movie we have a reluctant Luke who fails to train Rey.

It speaks to the great love I have for Star Wars that I can remember most everything from a single viewing.  I almost don’t need to watch it again to remember all the ways this movie missed the mark.

The entire movie is a slow car chase.

We begin with an escape from a planet and the slowest bomb run in the history of the rebellion. Poe Dameron does things with an X-Wing Luke only dreamed of, but despite his pod racing skills, the X-Wing is not deemed a robust enough ship for the task.  I mean, it was good enough for the Death Star’s ray-shielded port, but obviously not for the Dreadnought.  The bombing itself is pretty laughable and is supposed to be an emotionally charged moment for Rose’s sister. This set up is so we can later feel some sort of connection to Rose. It is also a setup for Poe to learn not to be such a hot-shot fly-boy (this comes up a few times lest we miss the message).

We never get a satisfactory explanation for why the First Order can track ships in light speed or at all for that matter. Vader once let a ship go to track it to the rebel base, but no rational explanation here.  I mean there is a moment where Finn and Rose have a techno-babble-jinx moment, but it is lost on the rest of us.  The long slow chase is the anchor the plot is dragging throughout the whole movie.  We almost expect some kind of mirroring of Empire and it felt like Crait was the mirror image of Hoth, but instead was at the end of the movie, and for me that’s where the film should have started.  The rebels are being hunted and make a last stand at Crait only to escape and spread hope across the galaxy.  Rey could have gone to train and find Luke.  Poe and Finn could have had a side adventure separate from the rest of the fleet, and they could have all ended up on Monaco, the casino planet, where Poe has an old buddy that will help them that turns out to be Finn’s father.  Poe gets frozen in carbonite, Finn loses a hand and Bob’s your uncle.  But instead…

Maz Kanata takes a pointless phone call

…during a fire fight to set up the most pointless part of the movie.  She tells them to go to a far-off casino-planet to find a hacker with a flower button. This is a stretch at best and instead of finding who they’re looking for, Rose and Finn end up in prison with a criminal who has just been conveniently biding his time until he felt like picking the lock. I don’t know who these Monaco rent-a-cops are but they do a lousy job keeping people imprisoned.  Pro tip:  it helps if you take their lock picks away.

In their escape they get to free the enslaved human-faced horses of Monaco and tear up the city. This leads to BB-8 and Benicio Del Toro rescuing Finn and Rose.  This entire vignette is pointless except to justify the CGI budget and maybe a level of the video game in development.  It is also supposed to develop the Rose character, but while I like Rose we’ve already got Finn, and he isn’t growing meaningfully as a character.  I like Rose as a person, but not as an integral character.  She was pushed into the story and there’s never any real emotional connection.  At 2 1/2 hours, there is still too much story trying to be told.  The pacing is what bothered me in the first movie where Poe and Finn quickly and frenetically bond in the tie fighter during their escape.  It is a similarly paced and forced bonding with Finn and Rose.

Remember A New Hope where Luke at first doesn’t like Han much because he’s so confident about his ship.  Han doesn’t give much credit to hokey religions and ancient weapons.  Han is reluctant to rescue the princess until Luke tells him about a reward.

Han’s better nature is slowly drawn out of him as the movie goes on. 

It is arguably the best character development of that first film.  A man with a price on his head, a smuggler who only looks out for himself, finds people that really need him where his life can actually make a difference and in the end he comes through for them and from this a great friendship is forged.  Leia doesn’t like Han much either or Chewie, but they are forced to confront some difficult situations together and quickly form a bond.  There are a number of other great moments that prove these characters’ love and loyalty for each other over and over and over again.

This to me is the greatest shortcoming of all of the films afterwards.  The writers are so busy trying to come up with unexpected twists and beautiful tableaux that they neglect the relationships of the characters to one another and the experiences that they share.

In the meantime, Kylo is zeroing in on the rebel command ship and Mommy Dearest but hesitates. Here is the first disagreeable and unexpected twist as a couple other tie-fighters breach the bridge and Leia gets sucked into the vacuum of space. Now, maybe Star Lord and Gamorra can survive this because of their superpowers and alien DNA, but…

Leia using the Force to fly thru space after being knocked unconscious by being sucked out into the vacuum of space is a HUGE stretch.

If she’s that powerful, she’s been seriously holding back.

We know that Carrie Fisher is gone and here at least is a fitting way for her character to move on. She dies, but not at the hands of her son.  Kylo’s hesitation leaves him a glimmer of humanity and makes his claims about destroying the past ring false. Leia dead but not at his hands leaves Kylo with doubt about his darker nature.  We know by the end of the movie that Kylo knows Leia is still alive.  He senses a presence he hasn’t felt since…she was blown up and should have died.  Now, I have no problem with Leia being powerful with the Force, but be powerful all along.  Don’t make it this big hidden thing.  This is his Mom, Luke’s sister.  They both would have to know she was that strong.  And if she is, then why send him to Luke in the first place?

Instead we are left with Leia in a coma whereupon command falls to LAURA Dern Dern Dern, LAURA Dern Dern Dern, LAURA Der-ern Dern Dern Dern-ee-Dern [to the tune of Jurassic Park].

Her hair is purple so you know that things are about to go from neutral to punk rock city!

This detour-in-command seems to only serve the purpose of frustrating Poe Dameron. Knocking Dameron down a peg seems to be a driving force in the movie and I’m still trying to figure out why. Poe seems like he has just about the same impetuousness as a young Luke Skywalker, and the same brash confidence of a young Han Solo. So maybe it’s okay that he learns a valuable lesson in leadership, but it takes away from the rest of the story and is one of too many subplots to track.

Meanwhile Finn and Rose miraculously get on board the bigger First Order ship but PLOT TWIST FACE PUNCH! their plan is dashed, they get captured and sold out by Benicio del Toro, whereupon–you guessed it–Captain Phasma appears out of nowhere!  WHAT?!?! Phasma is another useless subplot shoehorned in at the last minute. Why does she wear a silver suit? What is her interest in Finn? Why do we care to see her eye through the helmet before she dies? Oh and I’ll buy that Finn may have had battle training even though he was a janitor, but how is he better than Phasma who has earned enough distinction to get to wear a silver stormtrooper suit?  The fight and conflict is over quickly and I’m left wondering why this particular subplot was at all necessary.

All of this happens as Laura Dern despite discouraging Poe from grand gestures makes a grand gesture that stops the command ship, but doesn’t absolutely destroy it, because then how would our cast of characters survive to the next movie?  Also, how can we have this ship destroyed and still have the First Order attack Crait right after the rebels get there?  I will at least say that the First Order had plenty of time to plan on the 18-hour car chase to Crait, so maybe they’re able to salvage enough of their attack squad, including the giant jet intake that is supposed to batter the gates of this old base.

The car chase is almost completely implausible because I don’t buy that the ship can only go so fast without jumping to light speed and continue to outpace the big ship.  They have other resources and I’m sure they could have deployed additional ships out of light speed from other parts of the galaxy.  I also don’t buy them running out of fuel.

Never in all of the Star Wars movies has anyone run out of gas. 

Hyperdrive malfunction?  Sure. Car won’t start?  Every morning with the Millenium Falcon.  But running out of gas is so…so…anticlimactic.

Rey finds Luke but Luke don’t want to train her now. This is what we’ve been waiting two years for.  This is the scene we are waiting to finish after the first film, and it starts out well.  The twist works.  Luke wants to end the Jedi.  He doesn’t want to train anyone else.  When he finally does agree to train Rey, they find a tree with books in it and a hole in the island. When Rey goes down she gets to see herself in an endless mirror line. And if that’s symbolic of something it is far too deep for me.  Too deep?  Get it? Ha.

What would a modern-day Star Wars movie be without its own Jar Jar Binks?  In this installment the role is played partially by sea creature teat milk, the fish-headed maids of the island, and the Porgs. It infuriates me that Disney will sell the crap out of the Porgs, but they serve absolutely no purpose except to be cute and marketable.  Poor Chewie was denied a good Porg sandwich. It would have been at least humorous to have a subtitled Chewbacca extolling the virtues of Porg Cuisine:  “They’s all kind of ways to make Porg:  Barbecue Porg, pulled Porg, Porg Chops, Porg sautee, etc.”

We get The “he said/she said” routine from Luke and Ben on what went down when Kylo went bad. But regardless he went bad and instead of confronting him head on like Kenobi did to Vader, Luke projects his image across the galaxy.  I mean not only does he project, but he projects from deep in a cavern he’s never seen to sit with Leia and walk around before having a final battle with his nephew.  This is really NBD, and it is unclear to me if Luke chooses to die or if he’s just plum tuckered out.  So Luke commits suicide I guess. Pretty disappointed that he projects an image across space to decide to give it up at the end.  Here is another opportunity missed to parallel the originals and give closure to the Skywalker character by having him go out like Obi Wan.

Does it bother anyone else that all the evil main characters are on the same ship?  I mean at the end of Jedi we get the Emperor and Vader on the Death Star, but the Death Star was built up throughout the whole movie as being unstoppable.  What’s the saying, “Those who fail to learn their history are doomed to repeat it?”  So Kylo brings Rey to Snoke, but instead of trying to turn Rey, he basically toys with her and reveals that he’s been in control all along.  Snoke seems too woke to fall for the old saber in the side trick.  Again a missed opportunity to parallel the originals and a way to show Snoke’s power by subverting Kylo’s attempt at subterfuge.  This particular scene makes Snoke seem like a pretty cheap villain.  We never find out why he’s hideously disfigured.  We never find out why he likes sparkly yellow robes.  So many questions.  And then Kylo and Rey have to fight the Teenage Mutant Ninja Sith with their various laser weapons.  The thing I’m getting out of all these movies is that armor is more hindrance than help.

So after they win that fight, they struggle for Luke’s old light-saber breaking it in two.  Why are there no ploys here, Kylo?  No side sabers, no lasers controlled in mid air.  Also, in the memories Luke and Kylo have, Luke’s saber is green and this one is blue.  Pick a color already!

“Strike me down and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” 

I don’t know about Force ghosts, but if Yoda is out there, so is Anakin and Obi Wan, and if they can all call down lightning, I don’t know why there’s even a battle going on.  I get why Yoda finally passes on and why Obi Wan goes, but the death of Luke baffles me.  If he wasn’t going to actually be there fighting Kylo, killing him off doesn’t make any sense to me.

Rey’s parents.  So this is the question on so many minds after the Force Awakens, but in this episode it was-too put it lightly-a disappointing revelation.  It is a question with no significance.  And that is fine if she comes from nothing, much like Anakin, but why build it up and why answer it in such an unsatisfying manner?  Maybe again this is a misdirect and someone’s fan theory will prove true.  But if this is the truth, don’t build it up and pull the rug out from under us.  Have the truth be relevant and inform the growth of the character.

Who are your main good guy characters?  Rey, Finn, Poe.  Much like Leia, Luke, Han.  In Empire Leia and Han stuck together, but in Last Jedi the main characters all go their separate ways.  Finn is the character that despite all the on-screen time fails to develop in any meaningful way, and I think it is because he goes off on his own adventure.  The story in the originals was always strongest when the main 3 were together moving the story forward.  There was also that Leia/Han tension we got throughout A New Hope and Empire which carried beautifully through to Return of the Jedi.  Han despite his bravado proved to be a very dedicated and loyal friend going out after Luke in the freezing cold on Hoth, coming to his rescue in the Death Star trench, and offering to step aside in Return of the Jedi until he finds out he’s Leia’s brother.  The friendship of those three was so important in the originals and you just don’t feel the same bond in Force Awakens.  It’s obvious that Finn and Rey feel a bond, but it is left aside for the entire movie until the very end.  Poe, the character that was probably supposed to die in the first movie could have been a good addition to that close friendship, but he isn’t given enough time to develop a bond with Finn or Rey.  Finn and Poe had a good bit of buddy cop stuff in the first film, but get one scene where Finn leaks water to re-establish their friendship.

And this would have served the overarching message of the film that we need to save life instead of dying for glory.  But instead the three central characters are dragged to separate corners of the universe and get little screen time together.  This film was a missed opportunity to redeem the Force Awakens’ shortcomings, but instead leaves episode VII as the better story.

For everyone that liked it or loved it, I’m glad for you.  I will say that if Rian Johnson and all the folks involved in this had done a better job, you would have still loved it and I would have, too.  Nevertheless, I will still watch them, because a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away anything was and still is possible.

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