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The Last Jedi Betrays the Original Trilogy and its Heroes


Through sheer storytelling laziness, it tells us that nothing that came before mattered.

The Last Jedi is the most disappointing Star Wars movie since Attack of the Clones. I don’t believe I’m overstating that. It’s a movie that, through its plot developments and characterization, makes the whole of the Star Wars saga less interesting and less compelling.

Its plotting undermined the characters. What was accomplished by Luke, Leia, and Han in the Original Trilogy? In light of The Last Jedi, they basically failed. The ending of Return of the Jedi is moot. We don’t know why it’s moot. We don’t know why the Rebellion’s victory turned out to be, well, nothing at all. Episode VIII doesn’t bother to tell us, because it just doesn’t care.

Instead, The Last Jedi says, “Return of the Jedi never happened. Our characters failed. The Empire still lives, somehow, though we’ve changed the names. Everything’s as dire as it was after Empire Strikes Back, without explanation, and without earning it. We simply couldn’t come up with a new story, so we inexplicably reset the universe to repeat the same story we’ve already done, with a handful of new characters.”

Why did the Rebellion fail?

Why did any of the Original Trilogy matter?

That the Rebellion failed could be an interesting story. That our characters ultimately failed could be an interesting story. But Episodes VII and VIII don’t concern themselves with that. They just want to have another Empire and another Rebellion, because that’s as ambitious as they want to be. And in doing so, without telling the story of how we got there, they’ve sapped the Original Trilogy of its meaning, and made the fight our heroes fought through three movies pointless.

Luke’s a loser. Han’s a loser. Leia’s a loser. There’s your characterization. But, hey, we got some porgs, Luke can make a hologram across planets, and Snoke’s is a generic bad guy in a bathrobe.

Let’s talk about Snoke. Here’s a guy who somehow built a war machine that toppled the New Republic, and built it out of at best a fragment of a bit of ships remaining from the Empire, which could be a great story and a great villain. But The Last Jedi doesn’t care about that. Snoke’s just, well, a plot point.

One might object that Episodes VII and VIII neededn’t answer all such questions. Except that these questions are central to what these movies are about. They’re the why that gives purpose to what we’re seeing, and that give purpose to the sacrifices the characters make.

For instance, they play up the conflict in Kylo Ren. Great. That’s important, and very Star Wars. But then they reduce his fall to Luke saying, “Snoke got to him,” and then a single scene of Luke trying to kill him. But not knowing anything about Snoke, we have no appreciation for what it means that Snoke got to him, or why Ren turned from Han and Leia’s son to someone who would murder both. He’s just bad because — handwave — some random dude made him bad?

In other words, our characters lack motivations for their actions, and so the actions are without much emotional weight.

The Force Awakens skirted this, because it was setup. We assumed we’d then learn why they were doing the things they were doing. The Last Jedi said, “Nope, we’re not going to bother with that.”

That’s why this movie was nothing like Empire, even though so many of the inexplicably glowing reviews want you to think it is. Empire was about building characters. It was about the “I am your father” realization that gave Vader so much more weight, and made everything matter in a much deeper way. That drove the characterization, making it all richer.

The Last Jedi just had characters fight. It had Luke be sad because he screwed up, somehow, but we don’t know how, because we don’t know who or what Snoke was and why he was so powerful. It had Leia lead a dwindling Resistance, but we don’t know why she’s doing that, because we don’t know why it matters what the First Order’s up to, because the universe is suddenly reset to a pre-Return of the Jedi order so there’s something to do? We’re just told the Resistance is the last line of defense, and so it matters, but we’re not shown that. The movie is all tell, not show.

The Last Jedi fakes its “emotional” weight because it has characters we love pop up, and it has characters we love in danger or dying. But why they’re doing any of that is just ignored.

It’s a remarkably lazy movie, and arguably the worst of the whole saga. The Prequels were bad, yes, but they left the Original Trilogy intact. The Last Jedi betrays the legacy of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. It cheapens the most inspiring rebellion in film history, and turns its heroes into failures. For shame.


Update: Responding to Criticism

This essay has received a lot of attention. Which is great, especially when I hear from people who say it articulates their own reaction to The Last Jedi. At the same time, it’s received a lot of criticism, much of it good and thoughtful. In light of that, I’ve written a follow-up essay responding to some of the most common rebuttals. Here it is:

https://aaronrosspowell.com/addressing-criticisms-of-the-last-jedi-betrays-the-original-trilogy-and-its-heroes-d00c57ae59e2
https://upscri.be/06bf84/

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“Wonder Woman” Isn’t Bad. It’s Boring.


This by-the-numbers, visually dull movie doesn’t deserve the praise it received.

Ninety-two percent of reviewers, according to Rotten Tomatoes, liked Wonder Woman — which just shows the limits of the site’s methodology. “Like” is such a milquetoast evaluation. A shrug of “Yeah, I thought it was decent enough” counts equally with “This was a genre defining cinematic breakthrough.” Lukewarm is indistinguishable from ecstasy.

After watching Wonder Woman, I have to think its 92% is of the lukewarm variety. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not a good one, either. And its not-badness is perhaps inflated by the fact that it follows on two much less critically liked DC films.

Call it the Sigh of Relief method of movie reviewing. When expectations are low, or at least worry high, a movie that’s not bad gets reviewed as if it’s really good, because it allayed the fears of reviewers. After Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, expectations were low. (Though the latter film received far more negativity than it deserved.)

View at Medium.com

Still, Wonder Woman’s sigh of relief is earned. Nothing stands out as aggressively bad, and there are quite a few things to like. Wonder Woman herself is super charismatic. Gal Gadot delivers an effortless performance. She’s not asked to do much, but she plays the role with enormous charisma. Godot is a far better Wonder Woman than Ben Affleck is Batman or Henry Cavill is Superman. (I say this as someone relatively unfamiliar with the source material, so it’s possible she misses in that regard, but within the context of the DC movies, she works well.)

Yet, beyond Gadot’s character, Wonder Woman feels entirely disposable. I liked that the movie was self-contained, instead of taking the Marvel strategy of every movie just being a cold open for the next, but story’s thin, the villains remarkably boring, and, most tragically for a DC movie, the visuals dull.

There’s not a single interesting visual filmmaking moment in Wonder Woman. The whole thing lacks any sense of style. Say what you will about Snyder, but he has an eye for gorgeous shots. Patty Jenkins does not. Wonder Woman looks more like a Marvel movie with heavier color grading than it does a DC movie as Snyder established them.

View at Medium.com

Like is so often the case with comic book films, if Wonder Woman hadn’t been called “Wonder Woman,” but featured a super hero with all the same traits but a different name, and without the build-in fan base, it would’ve received at best low to middling reviews. There were good moments, sure, but it’s certainly not a movie I’d ever feel like watching again.

It does feature the best theme of any superhero to date, though.