Stahel Says: The Last Jedi

Editor’s Note: In pursuit of authenticity, these are the raw and unedited thoughts of Mr. Stahel, presented in the original.

For this inaugural column of unknown duration I was told to stick draft a complex analysis of the government shutdown lest I tarnish the Review’s sterling reputation. Good thing I’m dreadful at listening to directions. Prepare yourself as I delve into the most recent casualty to the war for political correctness, a saga undisputedly regarded as a pillar of 21st century cinematography. This spectacular space epic has gathered fans around the world through its eight installments which possibly prompted Disney, who acquired the rights in 2012, to try to appeal to a larger, more diverse audience. If you made it this far into my meandering stream of consciousness and have not yet guessed, the topic of my unfiltered analysis today is none other than Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and needless to say this column will contain plenty of spoilers so if you haven’t yet sat through the 152 minute film, which to be frank feels quite long, then I suggest you head down to the nugget and feast your eyes upon the cosmic odyssey yourself. Before I come off as hypocritical by simultaneously criticizing and promoting a movie, I must admit that The Last Jedi is visually appealing and sufficiently nostalgic to justify the price of a movie ticket and escape the prison of reality for a time.

As I exited the theater I lamented the writers’ and directors’ choice to dull the edges of an otherwise edgy return to the franchise after a much needed 10 year lull. Gaps in the story line, horrible humor, and inconsequential subplots riddle the movie, compounding to lead the viewer to the conclusion that nothing was accomplished in the two and a half hours run time. Puzzled, I took some time alone to reflect on these shortcomings and unearth the reason for their inclusion in the film. After all, there is no room for error in a $200 million budget blockbuster. I conclude that this episode was designed for a different audience. Start with franchise hero Luke Skywalker, now content with isolation, spending milking weird space creatures and dwelling on his past mistakes, a significant departure from the hero of the original trilogy. An easy party to blame for this unfamiliar Star Wars might be the director, Rian Johnson, the mastermind behind the sci-fi thriller Looper, but not much else in Hollywood. Should the relatively green director have been given responsibility for such a pivotal film? Mark Hamill, the actor who first portrayed Luke Skywalker in 1977 even mentioned in an interview before the opening of the film “I fundamentally disagree with virtually everything (Johnson) decided about my character.” Although creative differences are no special occasion on movie sets, Skywalker sounding skeptical of your decisions seems like a red flag. Luke’s death at the end of the film was maybe the most disappointing aspect of his character for me. Proven to be an ambitious Jedi warrior in the original trilogy, one would expect Skywalker to go out in a blaze of glory, however, this is not the case. After using the force to project a hologram of himself in  battle, a strange, never before seen application of the Force, his true location on his lonely island is revealed as he peacefully fades away, exhausted from the maneuver. Is a warrior’s death too explicit for Disney’s intended audience? In the end, the executives responsible for these decisions are incentivized by the same thing that subliminally drives us all: money.

Grossing $1.3 billion globally, The Last Jedi certainly achieved its objective. With a plethora of promotion methods including a partnership with Nissan, combined with the Star Wars branding facilitated the movie taking the 9th spot in highest grossing films of all time. However, when dealing with a 40-year-old franchise containing its own cannon reinforced by comics, video games, and fastidious fan communities, producers must be careful not to step on any feet. One must look no farther than the internet to see how Star Wars fans reacted to the newest film. Rotten Tomatoes, the most popular aggregator of movie reviews, exhibits the most striking instance. The website, owned by Warner Bro’s subsidiary Flixster and Comcast/NBC universal, gave the film a 91% on their proprietary Tomatometer, while the audience score, submitted by movie aficionados like you and me, came in at a remarkably low 49%. The surprising disparity between these scores could be contributed to Rotten Tomatoes’ often criticized practice of assigning binary “good” or “bad” messages to much more complex reviews. The 146th ranked website is often the first place people go when deciding which flick to watch giving the aggregator unmatched power in promoting movies. Many critics of the site claim the site dilutes the artistic elements of cinematography and instead points site visitors toward big name productions.

Among the top reasons the audience disapproved of the film were plot holes, unimpressive supporting characters, and inconsequential plot development. Of the new characters introduced, many managed to rub me the wrong way. Vice Admiral Holdo, the pink-haired commander of the rebels’ largest ship protrayed by Laura Dern, comes off as a passive, yet ineffective leader. The franchise’s decision to add stronger female characters in the recent revival was a refreshing development, however Holdo’s role seems forced. Her tendencies to consistently undermine the hot-shot rebel pilot Poe in order to implement her secret plan infuriates the viewer. As a female in a position of power, director Rian Johnson possessed a great opportunity, however, Dern’s character appears nagging and overly critical. It seems as if she enjoys demoting her most talented pilot and withholding information from her crew. Poe’s disdain for Vice Admiral Holdo suggests that he is unable to reconcile taking orders from a woman, making his punishment a lesson Disney tries to teach the audience. This subliminal messaging through the design of Holdo echoes the current social justice climate, while diminishing Star Wars as a franchise. Only by sacrificing herself in a Kamikaze-like maneuver is she able to redeem her unpleasant character. The image of her transport vessel cutting through a Star Destroyer at light speed is a stunning image, but many critics are skeptic as this has never before been mentioned in cannon and revolutionizes the space warfare Star Wars is known for. Any attentive viewer begins to wonder why this was not done earlier in the movie and what this means moving forward in the Star War’s universe.

Vice Admiral Holdo is not the only the only subpar character forced upon the audience. Rose Tico portrayed by Kelly Marie Tran added a bit of diversity to the main cost, but at what cost. Her inconsequential plots and weak character development essentially add time to an already lengthy film. Rose’s pivotal accomplishment is traveling to intergalactic Monte Carlo to find a much needed codebreaker, but instead ends up freeing a bunch of deer rabbit creatures used for racing. The superfluous scene tries to make commentary on income inequality and animal rights, however completely fails to understand that this is far from what Star Wars is about. Disney’s decision to include such a disappointing subplot to push social justice propaganda is disrespectful to the Star Wars legacy. The choice to jeopardize the entire rebellion and free some animals when previous films have shown heroes slicing open animals and sleeping inside their stomach to stay warm is preposterous and seriously detracted from the film. Deciding to kill off the characters like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker who made the franchise legacy while introducing a bland yet diverse set of new heroes destroys the nostalgic effect of the saga and sets the new trilogy up for failure.

The climactic battle between the dark and light side of the force central to the Star Wars franchise proved to be a disappointment with the defeat of supreme leader Snoke. The grossly disfigured Sith lord and mentor to whiny Kylo Ren is perceived to be extremely powerful, however, his pitiful death suggests otherwise. The leader of the first order is shrouded in much mystery, but is dispatched before any of his past can be revealed. The practice of building up an antagonist then killing him off with little effort is unconventional to say the least and undermines much of the intended dread his existence provided.

The polarizing film in the end feels meaningless compared to its predecessors. Accomplishing little, the story serves more as a visual distraction than a cohesive narrative, disappointing many longtime fans. The decision to prioritize diversity over substance when adding new characters, prevented building an emotional connection with the film in comparison to previous Star Wars movies. Disney’s efforts to push their own agenda by referencing topics such as income inequality and animal rights falls on deaf ears of those who have bought a ticket to escape to a galaxy far far away rather than dwell on their reality. Overall the film is big, expensive, and impersonal, affording little room to grow the already massive franchise. With future Star Wars stories and the final episode of the trilogy arriving in the near future, hopefully someone will find a way to save the quintessential space saga.