Not too long ago, in a theater full of people far, far from fortunate…
This Is Not the Luke We’re Looking For
The Force Awakens ruined a substantial part of Luke’s character by diminishing his accomplishments as a Jedi learner. And now The Last Jedi has completed the destruction of his character by having him do things that completely contradict his character. The film reverses his personal growth as a human being, and undermines what makes him a unique, compelling, and strong character in the original trilogy.
In Return of the Jedi, it’s repeatedly and explicitly demonstrated that Luke is a pacifist:
- Luke’s first attempt to rescue Han from Jabba is a peaceful negotiation.
- Luke dissuades his friends from using violence against their Ewok captors.
- When Luke and his friends are about to be cooked by Ewoks, he resolves the situation peacefully.
- Luke refuses to fight Vader until finally being manipulated by the Emperor.
- Luke even refuses to fight the Emperor himself.
We’re talking about a guy who tossed aside his lightsaber and refused to fight evil incarnate. And now we’re expected to believe that same guy is gonna draw his lighstaber on his sleeping nephew? You gotta be kidding me.
And let’s not forget Luke’s compassion and persistence in the OT. He refuses to give up on turning Vader back from the dark side, so why would he give up on Ben Solo? Especially when Kylo Ren repeatedly shows such obvious signs of inner conflict throughout TFA and TLJ, and especially when Luke has much more accountability for Ben as his elder, uncle, mentor, and presumably temporary guardian.
I don’t have a problem with Luke having flaws. He has them in the OT and they actually make sense. Luke is a lot of things, but one thing he most certainly is not is ruthless. He needs a damn good reason to do something so against the fundamentals of his character—a much better reason than sensing evil in someone who shows ample signs of being conflicted.
Even if he backs out partway through the deed, Luke murdering his sleeping nephew is out of the question. It’s right up there with Gandhi rolling up a newspaper and going apeshit on a fly. It’s clear that the writers of TFA did not anticipate the direction the writer of TLJ would take it in. But more importantly, it’s a sign of a writer who doesn’t understand Luke Skywalker as a character. There’s a baffling level of disregard for the hard work that was put into crafting the narrative and characters of the OT.
- Leia loses consciousness in outer space, then regains consciousness. Sorry, but that’s just not how it works. When you lose consciousness in outer space without a space suit, it’s game over unless someone else rescues you quick. This even applies to people who can fly in outer space (unless of course they’re Kryptonian). I don’t expect Star Wars to adhere to every law of science, but you have to draw the line somewhere, and they crossed it with this one.
- The logic behind Luke’s decision to train Rey makes no sense. He’s going to teach her how to be a Jedi so that she doesn’t become…a Jedi. Right, makes perfect sense. If you want to teach your kids why car theft is wrong, teach them how to break into a car. The fact that Rey attacks Luke after he decides to train her only validates the absurdness of his logic, as does the fact that against Luke’s wishes, Rey then abandons her training to confront Kylo.
- If the First Order is tracking the Resistance and chasing them, and the Resistance is running out of fuel, why not skip ahead of them at light speed and then cut them off with a barricade of ships? Or hell, now that we know light-speed kamikaze attacks are the Kamehamehas of the Star Wars universe, why not sacrifice a ship or two to bring down the last of the Resistance?
- If DJ has the skills to let himself out of his cell, then why is he still in his cell when Finn and Rose arrive? All we can assume is that he was biding his time for an opportunity like Finn and Rose to use either as extra firepower or to create a distraction. But if this is the case, there should be a hint of it somewhere in the narrative. There’s also too much narrative convenience with this explanation: Finn and Rose come for the one codebreaker who can help them, and instead they get another codebreaker who can help them, who just happens to be waiting for them to help him.
- If Snoke senses the possibility of the good side overtaking Kylo despite Kylo having killed his father, then why doesn’t Luke sense the good in Ben before Han is killed?
Edit: Back when Luke decided to draw his lighsaber on his sleeping nephew.
- Snoke is powerful enough to telepathically connect Kylo and Rey, yet in the scene where Kylo betrays him, he doesn’t sense Kylo’s intention to betray him, nor the swiveling lightsaber on the arm of his chair. If Vader can perceive what Luke is trying to hide about his sister in ROTJ, Snoke should be able to perceive Kylo’s intentions. It isn’t simply a matter of Kylo himself not knowing what he is about to do, because he had already made the decision to put the lightsaber on Snoke’s armchair into motion.
- Holdo sacrifices herself by piloting an empty transport ship and going kamikaze at light speed, tearing through the First Order fleet. But if BB-8 can pilot an AT-ST, then the Resistance could have just had a droid pilot the ship in place of Holdo. Holdo’s sacrifice is completely unnecessary.
- If the purpose of Luke’s Force projection stunt is to create a distraction that will allow the Resistance to escape, that makes no sense, because when Luke makes this decision, the Resistance believes there’s no way out of the base. What good is a distraction going to do if the Resistance doesn’t know how to escape? And if Luke knows there is a way out, he should have told Leia when he arrived, rather than commenting on her hair and giving her holographic dice.
- At the beginning of the film, the situation between the Resistance and the First Order suggests there’s a gap in time between TFA and TLJ, yet there appears to be absolutely no time gap for Luke and Rey: their first scene in TLJ is a re-shot version of their final scene in TFA. I mainly blame TFA for shoehorning the scene with Luke into the end of that film, but this film is also accountable for continuing the story without adding a gap in time for Rey and Luke.
- The humor is abysmal. Instead of there being incidental humor that exists as natural extensions of realistic characters (like in the OT), there are tangential gags, and characters who spout contrived and cliche satirical nonsense (you can thank Jar Jar Abrams for that). When the “comical” tangents strike, the storytelling screeches to a halt for the sole purpose of putting the spotlight on a gag or a satirical exchange between characters. In the OT, humor unfolds naturally along with the story and contributes to character development. The choice to switch the humor to a different genre in the sequel trilogy was a bad one.
- Leia gracefully flies through outer space. Quite frankly, this scene would have made a lot more sense if she had first ripped open her shirt to reveal a Superman “S” insignia under her regular clothes. Try typing “leia flying through space” into YouTube with a straight face. Go ahead. I dare you. It’s not the memes that will kill you, it’s the simple act of typing those words and the ludicrous imagery your brain conjures when you remember that scene.
- Maz Kanata has a lengthy conversation while fighting. Typically when you’re being shot at, you let the call go to voicemail. Picking up a call that has no bearing on the firefight implies either an idiotic level of disregard for danger (which comes packaged with an absurd level of luck if she survives), or complete omnipotence in the face of danger. Either way you look at it, the scene is a disaster.
- In Canto Bight, spontaneously witnessing a crime is as easy as pulling out your binoculars and having a look. Because we all know that to instantly witness a crime in real life, all you have to do is point your binoculars at the ghetto.
- There’s an implication that the herd of fathiers Rose and Finn set free becomes free indefinitely. Right, because we all know that once a herd of animals escapes, they can’t be rounded up again. Especially when there aren’t any spaceships, tracking devices, or tractor beams that would make rounding them up a simple task.
- The consequences of Poe Dameron’s mutiny aren’t nearly as severe as they should be. Mutiny is a crime that should be treated seriously, even if the Resistance benefits from the mutiny.
- Ben Solo’s ability to best Luke as an apprentice doesn’t add up. While a satisfactory explanation may be in the works for the next film, it also might not be. So until that time, it stands as a fault in the narrative.
- The practical special effects for Yoda aren’t nearly as good as they were in The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, they’re downright bad. Considering it’s been nearly 40 years since TESB, that’s pretty pathetic. The fact that Yoda’s facial features have the wrong proportions is inexcusable considering the 3D scanning and printing technology that’s been available for years.
- It doesn’t make any sense that Yoda looks and sounds younger. Obi-Wan didn’t turn into a younger version of himself when he became a Force ghost, so why should Yoda?
- As a Force ghost, Yoda summons a lightning bolt that sets the Jedi temple ablaze. This type of physical interaction between the immaterial world and the physical world diminishes the consequences of a Jedi’s “death.” It’s already enough that the spirit of a Jedi who has become one with the Force can converse with a living Force user. Suspension of disbelief is also an issue (see below, under “Overpowered Force”).
- Yoda’s advice doesn’t warrant his return to a role as Luke’s guide. He doesn’t have anything to say that Luke shouldn’t already know. Learning from one’s mistakes might be a profound lesson for a young man, but Luke is well past that stage, and based on his arc in the OT, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t already learned this lesson. Yoda’s guidance only succeeds in making Luke look incompetent.
- Similar to what was done in TFA with Han, an aspect of Luke’s character is rolled back to a proven formula and he resumes his role as someone who requires guidance from the wise. Like Han, Luke is a character I would have preferred to see evolve, rather than regress—or at the very least maintain the capacity to make wise decisions that he had in ROTJ. Again, there’s an uncharacteristic level of incompetence applied to Luke’s character in TLJ.
- In the OT, Yoda converses with Obi-Wan as a colleague rather than a mentor, even though he trained Obi-Wan.
- In TESB, Luke is in the same student role Obi-Wan once was in. Obi-Wan even compares his younger self to Luke—twice!
- And in TLJ, Luke is now in the same instructor role Obi-Wan was in. Luke may even have more experience as a Jedi trainer than Obi-Wan, if you count the number of students (Kylo, Rey, and the students that are MIA/AWOL).
I think at this point, based on his age and experience, Luke should qualify for the role of the wise old man who needs no further guidance, and that he and Yoda should converse as colleagues. Not only would it be in character based on the trajectory of Luke’s arc, it would broaden his arc and deepen the story.
- In TFA, Rey already has telekinesis superior to Kylo, despite that she is a novice with no mentor. Yet in TLJ, after being trained by Luke, she and Kylo are now evenly matched, neither one being able to win the Force-pull battle to retrieve the lightsaber.
- The introduction of a light-speed kamikaze attack resulting in such massive destruction breaks the continuity of logic in previous films. If that’s the result of such an attack, then why was it not done in any of the previous movies? The answer is that none of the writers were stupid enough to add something that would make the ending of a movie less exciting (the Death Star in A New Hope and ROTJ), confine the plot of every subsequent movie, or contradict the logic of previous movies.
- BB-8 operates an AT-ST, using it to attack. Allowing any droid to step into the role of an action hero is a bad idea, unless of course you like the prequel trilogy. Once a droid starts undertaking tasks of this magnitude, it not only makes the film less believable, it also diminishes the unique appeal of the character. In the OT, R2-D2 is able to save the day despite his limitations, which makes him the little underdog everyone roots for.
- When BB-8 pilots an AT-ST, it breaks the continuity of logic in the ST: if it has come to the point where droids can operate vehicles autonomously, why are more droids not used in place of pilots?
- After landing on Crait, a member of the Resistance wipes his finger through salt and tastes it, then says, “Salt.” When Luke lands on Dagobah for the first time, he doesn’t dip his finger into the swamp to taste it and say, “Swamp water.” This dude is on an alien planet he’s never been on before. He isn’t going to put some unknown alien substance in his mouth to find out what it is, unless of course he’s an idiot. Furthermore, what makes him so sure it’s just salt, as opposed to something that is just really salty? Just because something tastes like salt doesn’t mean it is salt. I’m sure there are a wide range of substances it could be. It could be dried up crystal-fox piss for all he knows. If the purpose of this idiotic salt-tasting tangent is to inform the viewer that it isn’t snow, this info could have easily been packaged into earlier dialog. Something like, “There’s an old Rebel base down on the salt flats of Crait.” The shot also lasts for an unnecessarily long period of time…as if the moment wasn’t already awkward enough.
- The Resistance knows the First Order is coming to attack them on Crait, yet they wait until the First Order is actually coming before they close the front gate. That just makes the Resistance look stupid.
- Luke (later revealed to be a projection) dodges an incoming attack from Kylo’s lightsaber in slow motion. Using slow motion in an action scene to sensationalize a moment has become cliche. Slow motion in action is a distinct style (some would say gimmick) that’s never been part of Star Wars, unless you want to include Luke’s vision in TESB—but there it was used to instill a dreamlike effect on the vision as a whole, not to sensationalize a shot to make it “cool.” This shot in TLJ is just one step away from bullet time with an orbiting camera angle—and that is one step too close.
- The kid in the final scene uses the Force to grab his broom. Even Rey, who is the fastest-learning Force user revealed thus far, doesn’t discover her powers until she’s an adult. So that makes him the most prodigious Jedi learner to date. There’s a lot of explaining to do with this kid. He better be really important in the next movie.
- The final scene of the film is a narrative non sequitur. Even if this random kid ends up being really important in the next film, he isn’t nearly important enough in this film to get the final scene.
Much like TFA, way too many narrative elements are repeated from previous films. One of the most glaring repeats is that once again, it’s the “Rebels” against the “Empire.” I realize this is a dynamic established in TFA that can’t be ignored, but TLJ isn’t obligated to continue duplicating the dynamic from the OT as closely as they have.
Repeated from TESB:
- The “Rebels” are chased out of their hideout by the “Empire” at the beginning of the movie.
- The Jedi master at first refuses to train the Jedi apprentice.
- There is a cave of illusions that tests the Jedi apprentice.
- Against admonitions from the Jedi master, the Jedi apprentice quits training early, which results in a confrontation between the Jedi apprentice and the Sith apprentice.
- Yoda acts as Luke’s guide.
- The Sith apprentice tries to persuade the Jedi apprentice into joining him as a ruling partner.
- In a daytime scene, the “Rebels” are barricaded in a Rebel base located on a planet with a white landscape and a trench cutting across the battlefield in front of the base. They defend against the “Empire,” which deploys AT-AT Walkers that cross the battlefield to attack the Rebel base. Wow. If any more were repeated from the battle of Hoth, the “Rebels” would have been routed off the planet by the “Empire”…oh right, that happened too.
- The Millennium Falcon flies through a cavernous area with narrow passages while being chased by TIE fighters.
Repeated from ROTJ:
- The Sith apprentice captures the Jedi apprentice.
- The Sith lord taunts the Jedi apprentice by showing him/her the space battle happening through a window (and while the Sith apprentice is there too).
- The Sith lord has the Sith apprentice bring the shackled Jedi apprentice before him.
- The Sith lord uses the Force to remove the Jedi apprentice’s shackles.
- The identity of family members are revealed (also in TESB). (Kylo tells us who Rey’s parents are. Whether or not he’s lying, I don’t see why family member reveals needs to be repeated. Does not knowing who your parents are make you a stronger Jedi or something?)
- It doesn’t make any sense that the Resistance is counting on Luke to give them hope. Yes, Luke blew up the Death Star. And he turned Vader who then destroyed the Emperor. But it was Han who took out Vader in ANH, and Lando and Wedge who destroyed the Death Star in ROTJ. While Luke was a key player, it was a team effort. Luke’s part in the original trilogy was much more about personal growth than winning the war for the Rebels anyway (following in his father’s footsteps by becoming a Jedi, and the man he had to grow into to turn his father back from the dark side). The Rebellion didn’t rely on Luke back when he was an active participant, so I don’t see why the Resistance would be counting on him to give them hope when he’s been completely out of the picture for years. If anything, the Resistance should be looking to Leia for hope. She’s been in a proactive leadership role punching courage into the guts of Rebels since day one. But even with her, waiting for someone to give them hope just isn’t a logical plot element, at least not with the existing context.
- Rey tries to return Luke’s lighsaber to him, as she was seen doing at the end of TFA—only the scene is different. In both the OT and the PT, there are gaps in time in between episodes, so redoing a scene from the previous movie is incredibly out of place for a Star Wars film. It’s like beginning TESB by redoing the ceremony at the end of ANH. Furthermore, it blurs the line between the episodic format and the uber film split into two or three parts, which I think is a bad idea for any Star Wars film with an episode number attached to it. It’s not as bad as a “Previously, in Star Wars” segment with clips from the previous film, but it’s a little too close for comfort.
- While I’m indifferent about Luke drinking alien milk, splashing it all over his beard like a savage is out of character. The gag is also completely tangential: there isn’t anything in it that moves the story forward. Compare it to when Luke eats Yoda’s soup in TESB, for example. The humor there is incidental: it’s humorous that Luke thinks the soup tastes bad, but it doesn’t stop the narrative—it’s simply one element of a scene that actually moves the story forward.
- I disapprove of Luke using the term “laser sword.”
- Some of the members of the Resistance have some pretty glamorous hair, which doesn’t do a good job at portraying people with dwindling numbers who are on the run, out of fuel, and fighting for survival.
- Luke is a lousy mentor. Aside from being a grouch, he doesn’t do much to instruct Rey, other than tell her to sit with her legs crossed, breath, and reach out. In one scene, Rey waves her lighsaber around with no instruction on the edge of a cliff, like a kid playing with a toy weapon (not so different from that little kid playing in the bathroom in that stupid commercial with the irritating a cappella). Then Luke comes down and silently watches, looking on as she proceeds to vandalize ancient Jedi temple property by cleaving an outcrop in two. Nice training, Luke.
- Kylo gets physically wet from being in a wet location despite only being there telepathically. While this doesn’t necessarily contradict previous movies, I don’t see the purpose of introducing it. It seems to only exist to unnecessarily change our perception of the Force. It doesn’t add anything substantial.
- The fathiers Finn and Rose ride through the casino are able to burst straight through walls—and I’m not talking sheet rock. Even if it were cars going through these walls instead of these creatures, they would be wrecked. Yet these herd creatures are unscathed, seeming both impervious and oblivious to the walls they run through.
- Multiple perspectives of the same event can be really interesting. But here, the repetition gets tiresome (the flashback of Luke’s confrontation with Ben Solo).
- Like TFA, there are questions that are never answered, and the persistence of these unanswered questions is getting to be a problem. What probably could have been explained in 15 seconds of exposition is dragged out across three films with cryptic flashbacks (assuming we actually get answers in the third film). I have nothing against mystery, but spreading such little substance out across so much screen time grows tiresome. TLJ probably should have been the film that explains what happens to Luke’s other students.
- Aside from Snoke’s role as leader and mentor, it’s never revealed how he fits into the story. Why wasn’t he an active participant in the OT when he looks old enough to have been an adult then? Who is the Sith who trained him? Where was this Sith in the OT? What happened to him? Not all of this needs to be explained. I don’t need much—but I do need something. This is a gap in between the OT and the ST that needs to be explained. You can’t just have the Sith lord be some guy with no context that came out of nowhere, not when it’s a sequel to a story in which the Sith were, by all appearances, wiped out. I’m not a fan of the PT, but take for example one of the things I do like about it, which is how much the short story about Darth Plagueis adds to Palapatine’s character—and that’s all optional. All the ST needs is a little something like that to at least hint at Snoke’s context.
- The CG work on Snoke doesn’t look too great—and he doesn’t need to be completely CG in the first place.
- Kylo catching the lightsaber and turning it on behind him to attack is a cheesy gimmick like something you would see in a '90s action flick. While there’s a certain utility to using a lightsaber like that in certain situations, my complaint is more about the nuance of how the moment is executed, as opposed to what the character is doing.
- When Kylo and Rey each use the Force to try and take the lightsaber at the same time, they slide away from each other, which doesn’t make any sense. First of all, it’s the lightsaber they’re targeting, not each other. Furthermore, each person is doing a Force pull, so if anything, the other person would be pulled, not pushed.
- In TESB, Luke goes into training with Yoda as a novice and comes out at an intermediate level. In TLJ, Rey goes into training with Luke advanced, and comes out…advanced. I blame TFA for putting Rey in a position that doesn’t require that she learn any new skills or get better at the ones she already has.
- It’s odd that absolutely nothing is said about Captain Phasma’s blaster-proof armor, or why not all stormtroopers have it. I’m not asking for much—just a bread crumb—but something at least would have been nice.
- Rose rams Finn’s speeder to save him. But this is a stupid move because she could have killed them both. Furthermore, how come the First Order doesn’t attack them after this happens?
- Suicide attacks are overused as a plot device:
- Paige sacrifices herself with the bomber.
- Holdo sacrifices herself by crashing the transport ship into the First Order fleet.
- Finn tries to sacrifice himself by crashing his speeder into the laser cannon on Crait.
- Rose saves Finn by crashing her speeder into his (I realize she doesn’t die, but it’s a sacrificial act that could have killed her).
- In TESB, Luke levitates rocks, cargo, and R2-D2, and Yoda levitates Luke’s X-wing; and in ROTJ, Luke levitates C-3PO in the Ewok village. If it takes so much effort for Luke to project himself across the galaxy in TLJ, it doesn’t make sense that he would levitate too. It’s demonstrated in the OT that levitating objects is an act which requires effort in and of itself, so logically, doing it in addition to another act would make it something extra that would require even more effort, and would thus detract from the focus being directed at the task at hand, especially when that task is something as demanding as long-distance projection across the galaxy.
- There are too many moments when a character wells up with tears in their eyes. The more times that kind of thing is done, the less impact each instance is going to have—especially when it isn’t always clear what’s provoking emotion of that degree.
And scattered throughout the film are smaller lapses in logic and poorly written dialog. I haven’t mentioned these mainly because they are so numerous I simply couldn’t keep track of them all, but also because my attention was compromised when I saw the film: it got to the point where I simply stopped caring about the characters and thus checked out of the movie as a whole. So on that note, if there’s something I missed that you think could give me new insight, do tell!
Continuity Breaks with the Force
There are continuity breaks with how the Force is portrayed in the original trilogy, although this is more a problem with the sequel trilogy in general as opposed to this film in particular (which is the only reason I’m putting them after Nitpicks).
- If Snoke can create and amplify a telepathic link between two Force users to find someone, why doesn’t the Emperor do this in TESB to find Luke?
- Levitating one’s self: Luke breaks his fall when Rey attacks him, Leia pulls herself through outer space, and Luke levitates while astrally projecting himself. If such things are possible, Vader would have broken his fall when Luke kicks him down the stairs in ROTJ, and the Emperor would have pushed off of something or pulled himself towards something when getting tossed down the big shaft (there are some bridges he passes on his way down).
- Curving the course of a moving object with telekinesis: Rey is smacked in the back of the head with a lightsaber that loops around the room. This just goes against everything we’ve seen on a fundamental level. It seems like something we would have seen if it were possible, considering the number of times we see the act of telekinesis.
- Leia is able to hold the “holographic” dice that Luke’s Force projection gives her. This implies contradictions in logic in previous films, such as how Yoda could have helped Luke from Dagobah when Luke goes to Bespin. Furthermore, I’m willing to accept Force projection, particularly if it’s exclusive to the good side of the Force, but materializing solid objects out of thin air goes too far, even if they’re only temporary—especially when the person creating them is across the galaxy.
- Self-teaching the Force. While TFA already broke this rule, TLJ breaks it on another level, with someone even younger than Rey learning how to use the Force with no training (the kid at the end of the movie with the broom).
Continuity breaks aren’t the only problem with how the Force is used in the sequel trilogy. Take the above continuity breaks into consideration along with my other complaints, such as Force-ghost Yoda’s lightning bolt, or Luke being able to materialize solid matter from across the galaxy, or the problems with how the Force is used in TFA (see link at the bottom of this post). What’s possible with the Force has spiraled far enough out of control for me to conclude that anything is possible—that the writers of any Star Wars movie can do literally anything they want with the Force to solve any problem in the story for any character—and that’s just not very exciting. And it makes the Force less believable. Key word: “less.” Suspension of disbelief relies on at least some semblance of believability, and I think the OT found the perfect balance in that regard. And because the Force isn’t overpowered in the OT, that also raises the stakes for the characters, which helps make the story more interesting. So it’s a win-win, or in the case of the ST, a lose-lose.
What I Like
The only element I enjoyed unconditionally is the performance of the main cast. I’m sure the music is great (I love John Williams), but I don’t remember most of it (probably to no fault of the composer).
There are things I like conditionally, but unfortunately they’re inseparable from the faults I’ve mentioned. And people say the movie is visually spectacular, yet I couldn’t tell you if that’s true or not because I was too overwhelmed by the complete disaster of a story to appreciate the visuals. I even went into the theater thinking, “Okay, just focus on the visuals. At least those should be good.” Didn’t work.
Like TFA, TLJ smacks of amateur fanfic and reeks of artifice. I sense writers doing with these characters what they would do with their action figures as children, rather than fleshing out believable characters and having a compelling story unfold based on their decisions. I sense, “Let’s make something interesting happen in the plot,” rather than, “Let’s make interesting characters.” And as for maintaining continuity with the OT, there’s just so much lack of forethought it’s bewildering. It would appear the mantra of the sequel trilogy is “Do, or do not. There is no think.”
And now we have Jar Jar Abrams returning to the helm…I think that’s pretty much ensured my vacancy at the theater for the third installment. After all, he’s the one who laid the shoddy foundation the sequel trilogy is built on and kicked it off into the downward spiral it’s currently on. If you want to know more about why I don’t like TFA, you can read about it here, and a few posts later here.