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Critiquing and Revising Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I recommend viewing the film regardless of this article as it is the kind of movie most people should see it before critiquing it.

I should clear the air before starting this essay. Under no circumstance do I believe that The Last Jedi ruined the franchise and that Rian Johnson damaged his career as a result of this film. Those that subscribe to this argument should thoughtfully examine the continued success of the Star Wars franchise and watch the previous and recent works of Rian Johnson, especially his episodes of Breaking Bad and Knives Out. Additionally, those that demand a remake of The Last Jedi and the removal of Kathleen Kennedy take their admiration of Star Wars to an extreme level and do a disservice to the enthusiast community. To anyone who thinks harassing people who have worked on this film and adjacent projects online represents appropriate behavior, please log off the Internet and improve your character. I do not want this essay to serve as an instrument of harassment or abuse to any individual. Thank you and let’s talk about a space movie.

I greatly admired the aspirations of The Last Jedi and I continue to cherish certain aspects of the film to this day. As for the entire cinematic experience, I find myself disappointed and defeated. I feel like I’ve gained nothing from it and lament the precious time that I have lost once the credits rolled. Rarely did a film leave me depleted of satisfaction to the level The Last Jedi had the first time I watched it in theaters. Other films that have achieved that level are The Last Airbender, Brave, and Captain Marvel. All of those films share one thing in common to The Last Jedi, I immensely adore the franchises and brands that they represent. I walked in the theater with a childlike exuberance, greatly anticipating what this new piece of art from my favorite franchise or brand has in store. Once the story ended, I internally asked myself, “Wait, what happened?”

The purpose of this essay hopes to answer that question of mine and seeks to examine what went wrong and how I would expunge the issues that I identified in The Last Jedi. I will dissect this film into multiple parts. Each part varies in importance and reflects specific aspects of the film. The first section critiques Rey and Kylo Ren’s evolution, the second focuses on the supporting cast, the third tackles the narrative structure, and the last section takes apart the climax and conclusion. Please note that my criticisms do not originate from a lack of understanding of the story and universe; rather they stem from personal disagreements. I comprehend the reasoning behind these decisions, but I would alter them to suit my own tastes. I welcome a rebuttal article to my commentary if necessary. With all of these conditions being established, sit back and relax as I dismantle and reassemble The Last Jedi.

My thoughts do not represent the majority of folks that disliked this film and upon further reflection, I may have given this film too much flak. I would not consider weakest parts of the film objectively bad. Strangely enough, my own issues stem from the strong parts of the films being too strong for its own good. I may have had a too active imagination when viewing this film, so I should probably lower my standards for subsequent Star Wars media in the future. My criticisms originate from personal disagreements and are not based on factual evidence on Star Wars lore. I’m just a film enthusiast that desires thought-provoking material in cinema and The Last Jedi was close to achieving that standard.

 

Part I: Rey and Kylo Ren’s evolution

 

Unlike other aspects that I will eventually cover in this essay, I commend the character development of Rey and Kylo Ren, especially for the latter character. Kylo Ren’s backstory truly complicates both he and Luke Skywalker. Kylo had valid reasons to convert to the First Order and Luke reasonably developed an intense shame and guilt for his failures. The humanization of Kylo remains some of the strongest character development in the Star Wars saga. Upon further analysis, I subsequently started to appreciate Luke’s humanization as well. The Last Jedi had a crucial opportunity to examine Luke Skywalker after the events of Return of the Jedi and the film masterfully capitalized on it. 

 

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Luke’s character arc provokes a discussion about the difficulties of failure and how to live with them. Enthusiasts argue whether Luke’s contemplation of killing Kylo accurately portrayed his role as the last known Jedi Master in the universe. Intriguingly, The Last Jedi twisted the conversation by reminding the audience that Luke remains a human being. He, too, can resort to committing heinous acts to prevent Kylo Ren from converting to the Dark Side. The sacred nature of the Jedi Order demands so much of the most loyal disciples of the Force, yet Luke Skywalker nearly betrayed the most critical law. I must declare this story arc to be nothing short of brilliance and the themes it proposed should have populated a much larger part of the film.

Compared to Kylo Ren and by extension Luke, Rey’s character did not evolve as much as I wanted, but The Last Jedi explored her in greater detail than The Force Awakens, which I respect. In both the Force feeling scene and the cave scene, Rey seemed far more curious and vulnerable. She desired to acquire the truth of her past and discover herself as a person. Her subtle indecisiveness in her alliances inspired a plethora of intriguing alternatives to where the film could have gone. Kylo Ren’s Force bonds exploited her indecisiveness and thus increased her vulnerability. Kylo Ren essentially assumed the role of Snoke in swaying her moral and spiritual compass away from the Jedi. My qualms arise when realizing the missed potential of this dynamic.

 

 

Imagine a much more in-depth communication system through which Kylo Ren contacts Rey in multiple parts of the movie. Instead of simply providing voice overs of both characters, wouldn’t it be cool to have Kylo Ren cause Rey to hallucinate? Given that this series established the Force can manipulate the mind, I would have loved to see Kylo Ren literally paint a utopian fantasy to convince Rey to partner up with him. He could persuade her into thinking that her agreement to collaborate would bring an end to the war and finally propagate peace in the universe. Of course, Rey would reject the offer and the painting would somewhat wither, but Kylo would retaliate by revealing to her the child slaves reminiscent to the ones seen on Canto Bight. He could lie by claiming the Resistance refuses to fight for them. This would cause conflict within Rey’s mind and Kylo Ren evaporates the painting.

Not only would that create a stunning visual effect, but it would also introduce or at least expand the capabilities of the Force. Additionally, Rey’s weaknesses would be further exploited by Kylo and would have truly tested her limits. Kylo would graduate from a complex villain to a sinister and conniving one. I would have loved to have seen at least thirty minutes more of Rey, Kylo, and Luke, causing their character arcs to dominate the film. Some would dispute this narrative upheaval claiming it would diminish the presence of the supporting cast. Some believe that the side-stories strengthen the main story and should not change whatsoever. In practice, my proposals would extend the runtime up to three hours, but fear not. Patience you must have, my young Padawan!

 

Part II: Supporting cast

 

Sadly, my appraisals concerning the supporting cast significantly decreases compared to the triad of The Last Jedi’s only solid characters. Whenever I reminisce on The Last Jedi, I fondly recall the moments with Rey and Kylo Ren, but that fondness dissipates when thinking about the other 70% of the entire film. Honestly, I believe The Last Jedi intrinsically wanted to tell a story almost exclusively about Rey, but it had to shoehorn in the rest of the cast. Consequently, I failed to care for the supporting cast and it pains me to say that as it includes Carrie Fisher’s final role before her unfortunate passing. 

I should clarify that I do not explicitly hate most of the supporting characters, but I did not enjoy them as they removed me from a captivating story. If their stories provided an enthralling experience and meaningfully evolved the characters, I would sing praises like some folks online. The Force Awakens had somewhat of an opposite issue to The Last Jedi, where the entire cast worked together regardless of the situation. Rey and Finn’s relationship had great chemistry, whereas Rose and Finn’s relationship lacked that compelling dynamic. Rey kissing Finn at the end of the film felt justified and the audience could determine that the two genuinely cared for each other. Rose romantically kissing Finn felt unsatisfying and out-of-place as Finn is a better partner for Rey or Poe Dameron. 

 

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The supporting cast lost something immensely important in a Star Wars ensemble: heart. In The Force Awakens, I loved the moments in which the ensemble worked towards defeating the First Order. Finn had a distinct sense of humor, Poe delivered an essence of levity, all of these characters were easy to love and cheer for. In The Last Jedi, most of the cast lacked the charm and defining traits that made them so admirable. I am absolutely in favor of turbulent relationships in film as long as it is justified and allows for the audience to understand why the conflict exists. Unfortunately, most intrapersonal conflicts that unfold serve little purpose for the story and seem immature and childish in contrast to Rey’s story arc.

Take Poe and Holdo’s clash for instance. The core reason as to why the conflict arose originated from Holdo refusing to disclose their plans after the First Order assault that incapacitated Leia. Poe reasonably could not trust Holdo’s leadership as literally nobody heard about her until now. Holdo is ostensibly Leia’s close friend, but if the two are so close, why didn’t we see her in The Force Awakens and how did she even come aboard on the ship? The film later reveals Holdo is a McGuffin, a plot device given great importance but is eventually disposed of, when she sacrifices herself by colliding into the First Order fleet. While the scene looked awesome, her sacrifice didn’t leave the emotional impact as the film expected to achieve, rendering her role somewhat forgettable. Laura Dern is a good actress, but she should’ve received a better role than Holdo.

 

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To vastly strengthen the supporting cast, I would remove Holdo altogether and have Leia entrust Lieutenant Connix to command the ship while she recovers. That change would call to attention that Carrie Fisher literally promoted her daughter to a larger role and result in a charming reference for enthusiasts to notice. Where would Poe fit in the picture? I’d have him join Rose and Finn and create a nice supplementary trio to compliment the far stronger dynamic of Rey, Kylo, and Luke. I would not remove Rose as her mechanic skills would be useful in a hypothetical side-quest I’ll discuss later on. These changes hope to maximize the greatest attributes of these characters and to introduce new attributes along their journeys. The lack of consolidation is one of my biggest gripes with The Last Jedi and prevented me from truly enjoying it. Now, what do I mean about the lack of consolidation? I’m glad you asked!

 

Part III: Narrative structure

 

A quality Star Wars film must create a cohesive narrative that works in favor of both the hero’s quest and the audience’s imagination while taking both the hero and the audience on a smooth journey in a fantastical world with fascinating concepts. The prequels did not adhere to this golden rule by establishing an exorbitant amount of unnecessary exposition and world-building while sacrificing the core narrative. The Return of the Jedi almost failed to follow this rule with its meandering structure and minimization of the main protagonist. Most people recall The Return of the Jedi without Luke Skywalker (Jabba’s palace, Ewoks, etc.) and thus it remains a film I would refrain from rewatching. 

 

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The Last Jedi suffers with the same issues as The Return of the Jedi (though I would rank ROTJ below TLJ). Jabba’s palace was Canto Bight and Endor was Crait as they both retracted from the best parts of the movie. A chief difference between the two films is that The Last Jedi commits to Rey’s journey more than Return did for Luke’s. Now, the best parts of The Last Jedi easily surpass those of Return of the Jedi, likewise for the weakest parts of the respective films. Canto Bight and Crait felt like half-hearted additions to a far more intriguing core, which is Rey, Luke, and Kylo Ren’s arc. Considering this essay outlines all avenues in which the film could improve, it is in our best interest to prepare the eraser. 

As you may have already guessed, both Canto Bight and Crait would be removed to provide a more elaborative Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke character and story arc. Canto Bight offered a second useless character, DJ, which created a long-winded journey that only touched upon interesting commentary on certain issues. DJ, like Holdo, was a dull character and impaired the chemistry with the recurring cast. If a side-story behaves more like a distraction than an enhancement to the core narrative, then what use does it have to spend 30-minutes on that distractive side story? I acknowledge that Canto Bight had nuggets of social commentary about class divide, with the child laborers working under the oligarchs. However, the narrative structure could not provoke that topic in an efficient manner and occupied too much time in the movie. 

Instead, I would assign Finn, Rose, and Poe an entertaining heist mission. Each of these characters have special attributes that would pave the way to successfully breaching the First Order’s battleship. Poe handles flight traversal as he is a proficient fighter pilot. As a former stormtrooper, Finn could figure out how to stealthily navigate through the First Order’s security. As an engineer, Rose could disable the electronic layers of security and I would also designate her as the codebreaker. Three heroes infiltrating the enemy’s domain would create for an entertaining side-mission instead of a distracting one. This change would also diminish the unnecessary in-fighting in the Resistance and all of our new favorite characters work harmoniously together. 

 

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My removal of Crait stems from my disapproval of the pacing. I have no issues with a bombastic conclusion to a sci-fi epic, but the climax sequence overstayed its welcome and my revisions would eliminate the existence of Crait for multiple reasons. There are stronger methods to convey the conclusion of Luke Skywalker. I recognize it’s strange to say that when it ended with an epic Mexican standoff between Force projection Luke and a freaking AT-AT, but hear me out. I admit that I quite enjoyed the standoff scene, but it would have been more emotionally impactful if it were less bombastic. I always love explosive climaxes, but if The Last Jedi really broke the mold from the Star Wars formula, it would lack that desirable trait for the sake of the narrative.

60-70% of my theoretically revised script is composed of Rey, Luke, and Kylo’s journey. I think both Luke and Kylo had brilliant arcs, but it would not hurt to see more of Kylo’s origins and his relationship with Luke. I would also like to see a greater presence from Snoke, but not so much that it would eliminate his mystery. After all, mystery is one of Star Wars’ greatest aspects. It would have been cool to see when Kylo first encountered Snoke, whether it be through the Force or not. Did Snoke use a Force bond as Kylo used on Rey? Again, I don’t want The Last Jedi to give me all the answers. Rather, I wanted the film to introduce additional concepts to the Star Wars universe and truly expand upon the Force and history of either Luke and Kylo. 

 

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These changes would undoubtedly impact the pacing of the film and subtract some of the greatest qualities of the ideal Star Wars adventure, but that is precisely the point. To truly break the norms of a Star Wars movie, the film must avoid following the tropes and characteristics of a traditional Star Wars story. The Last Jedi merely teased this kind of story and I adored every second of it. It gave the film a distinct maturity that no Star Wars film exhibited before. Had The Last Jedi prioritized the more intimate narrative and eliminated the sequences I deemed elementary in comparison, I would not have written this 10-page-long essay. The Last Jedi could have been more than just a decent Star Wars movie; it could have been a great film.

A slower, methodical story would severely depart from traditional Star Wars cinema and could produce an excellent film. Some of the cinema’s greatest stories are those with a small amount of external conflict to the main characters. The Last Jedi exposed an idea of a psychological analysis of the hero and I subsequently desired an entire movie about that. Unfortunately, Rian Johnson opted not to shake the boat too much and thus did not subvert my expectations. I tasted a morsel of a thought-provoking adventure that lacked a traditional Star Wars journey, but the film tried to compromise by giving me half of a meticulous journey and half of a fast-paced, action-packed one. Consequently, the two collided and resulted in an underwhelming film.

Do I give Rian Johnson props for experimenting with both? Of course! However, I would not go so far as to say he ‘subverted’ my expectations. Films that subvert your expectations completely depart from the genre they claim to represent. Star Wars is classified as an ‘epic space opera’, so wouldn’t it be more groundbreaking if Rian Johnson produced a primarily psychological drama that had some Star Wars action in the beginning? It would drive some fans and critics up the wall for sure, but it successfully challenged the norm of what classifies as a Star Wars film. Instead, we received a Star Wars movie that teased the concept of a psychological drama, but inevitably retreated to being a standard Star Wars film and thus eliminated the cinematic risks I longed for. 

 

Part IV: Climax and conclusion

 

After disclosing so much of my thoughts of The Last Jedi, I still have yet to fully elaborate on my opinion on the ending and to a lesser extent the climax. Now, considering I vouched to remove Crait altogether, you can imagine I am not too keen on the climax and conclusion. I should clarify that I do not simply want Rey to turn into a villain. The prequels have portrayed that arc in a pretty solid fashion (yeah, you heard me).That being said, I do not exactly agree with Rey fulfilling her role as the future of the Jedi as we knew that would occur since The Force Awakens. Another key issue I have with the conclusion is the fundamental lack of obstacles in the way for the heroes. 

 

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The Last Jedi could have been the last film in the trilogy and the ending could at least have justification for its concreteness and finality. By virtue of existing as a midpoint in an overarching narrative, the story should reach its rising action status, where the stakes dramatically increase and the film ends on a cliffhanger. Obviously, not every successful story needs to follow this template, but those that do not abide by it often result in telling weaker stories. Without any lingering conflict or unresolved major questions, the conclusivity of The Last Jedi eliminates the purpose of this film in the saga. The ending established Rey as the savior who has overpowered Kylo Ren for the second time. Despite Luke’s death, the film additionally showed children possessing a connection with the Force and hope in the Resistance and Jedi Order. 

The Empire Strikes Back ended on a brilliant cliffhanger where the heroes are at their lowest point and Attack of the Clones showcased the hero beginning his transition to villainy and the weakening Jedi Order. Both of these films (despite the latter being an obscenely dull film) left a lot of room for discussion. What will happen to our heroes now that they are nearly incapacitated to face a dominant Empire? Why did Anakin convert to the Dark Side and how will the Jedi Order deal with a rising fascist intergalactic government? The ending of The Last Jedi left me asking, “Wait, what happened?” because the film shockingly left the audience in a unified position. We know who to align with and who to oppose. We know which side represents absolute good. We do not question our heroes and their philosophies as the film merely elaborated on them instead of redefining them. Of course, I am not saying The Last Jedi disappoints by telling a decent story, but it presented the opportunity to ideologically reinvent the saga, which it obviously did not do.

Where is the risk? Kylo Ren failed to achieve his goal for the second time and Rey progressed in her journey to become a Jedi Master. What’s the purpose of The Rise of Skywalker when we can easily predict the conclusion to the saga? Oh, Rey and Kylo Ren will embark on not just one duel, but multiple?! Wow, talk about pushing the envelope in storytelling! Critics seem to have lost their patience and gave the latest and presumably canonically final Star Wars film a historically low rating. The ending caused the most frustration for me as it nearly decimated the purpose of theorizing what will occur in the next film. You know what would really “subvert our expectations”? If Rey agreed to Kylo Ren’s offer in the throne room scene.

 

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I am not suggesting Rey follows the Anakin route by transitioning into a villain. In my revision, Kylo Ren’s relationship with Rey would assume a much larger part of the film. The deeper relationship would act as build-up and psychological tension within Rey. Rey ardently believed in the Light, but Kylo’s Force hallucinations would convince her that Kylo’s intentions might not be blatantly evil. Remember, Kylo was nearly killed by Luke, which would play a major role in Rey’s decision to join Kylo Ren. Star Wars always depicted the battle between good and evil, so what if The Last Jedi depicted the creation of ambivalence? Perhaps Kylo is not exclusively evil and Rey is not exclusively good. Perhaps Kylo opposed the methods of Snoke which explains why he killed him. Perhaps Rey viewed the Jedi Order as weak and wanted a more authoritative approach in leadership. Kylo and Rey would inevitably share a common goal and have different philosophies. However, their partnership could potentially eliminate the perpetual war between Light and Dark.

Think of how many lives were lost in this war. Think of the economies and cities that were decimated due to the endless war between Light and Dark. Of course, the Light’s philosophy advocates for far more pleasant initiatives such as peace and hope and the First Order is the reason for this deadly war, but Kylo Ren does not view it that way. Kylo Ren understood the potential of both the Jedi Order and the First Order and believes they both fail in fulfilling their philosophies. Kylo Ren develops a desire to destroy the First Order and to establish a new empire. Rey does not share that same ambition, but she knows that the First Order is not the first of its kind. She learned of the Imperial Empire in previous sequences in my revision, so she realizes that Luke failed in reinvigorating a powerful Jedi Order. Both parties recognize that insufficient leadership exists everywhere, so they both share the desire to start a new organization that will eliminate the need for the First Order, Resistance, and the Jedi Order.

 

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This culmination fundamentally creates an impasse for the war to even progress in the future, so in that regard, Rey’s decision is beneficial. However, Rey also betrayed the Jedi Order, causing Luke Skywalker to die as a failed Jedi Master as his last two students left the Light. Luke informs Leia of Rey’s betrayal via Force apparition in the penultimate scene as she comes to. Luke says that his time has come and his last words suggest that the future looks grim for the Resistance and the Jedi Order. He disappears before Leia has a chance to respond. Leia walks over to the control room and prepares to inform the crew what just happened. Before she speaks, the screen swipes to black and the credits roll. What would Leia say as a leader of the Resistance? What will happen to the First Order now that Snoke and Kylo Ren are no longer their leaders? The audience will find out in Episode 9! 

Obviously, this alternative ending would never see the light of day and only exists in the dome of my head. Instead, we got a standard Star Wars movie with interesting concepts that ultimately delivered a worn-out conclusion. The Last Jedi possessed a skeleton of a brilliant story, but the meat and skin obscured that brilliance by presenting the same concepts and themes Star Wars is known for. This film did not push the boundaries, but it genuinely could have. The fact the plausibility of a complex, morally ambiguous hero and villain working together to achieve the same goal was negated by the last fourth of the movie severely disappointed me. It was like seeing an artist begin to paint an intriguing new work only to recreate the same work of art he created a decade ago. The only difference this time is that the new artwork contains some new brushstrokes and colors in the mix.

What do you think about my revisions? Do you think my changes improve or ruin The Last Jedi? Let’s talk about it in the comments below and feel free to message me on Twitter (@PeterJFinaldi) if you want to give me your two cents on this feature! Don’t forget to stay tuned for more Sick Critic content in the future!

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