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Critic vs. Critic: ‘The Last Jedi’

“The Last Jedi” may be printing money at the box office, but not everyone adores the eighth chapter in the “Star Wars” saga.

The audience rating at RottenTomatoes.com stands at a tepid 51 percent, and conservatives are even more disappointed in the latest sequel.

This critic couldn’t agree more with that assessment, but fellow critic Eric M. Blake begs to differ.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Trailer (Official)

Blake is the chief culture/entertainment writer for Western Free Press. He covers the relationship between popular culture and politics and how conservatives ignore learning how to fight the culture war at their own peril.

Blake agreed to a new “Critic vs. Critic” on one of 2017’s most hotly contested films.

Warning: some story spoilers ahead…

HiT: I’m a lifelong “Star Wars” fan who enjoyed both “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One.” So I was primed for “The Last Jedi” on both a professional and emotional level. That was a mistake. The new film serves up a few stellar sequences while reminding us Daisy Ridley is a worthy successor to the original trilogy’s heroes. The rest? What a letdown. The story is a slog. The dialogue is alternately regurgitated from past outings or just plain hokey. The subplot involving the casino planet is a clunky bore. In short, they handed the saga to the wrong auteur. Sorry, Rian Johnson.

What elements did you find worthy of the saga?

Blake: Well, let’s start with something you brought up: the “regurgitations from past outings.” To me, the homages to the past actually point to the greatest strength of “The Last Jedi”: that we, as viewers, can assume nothing. To invoke the old cliche, “It keeps you guessing”--especially when you’re absolutely sure you’ve seen this story beat before.

One of the big complaints people had about “The Force Awakens” was how it basically remade the story line of the original “Star Wars” (AKA “A New Hope”). While I didn’t have much of a problem with that, I admit Episode VII was kinda predictable (except for Han’s death scene--I felt a LOT of dread when Han stepped onto the bridge…).

Not so, here. Constantly, events are set up to invoke “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” (to the point of Rey quoting Luke word-for-word, telling Kylo “I feel the conflict within you.”). But then--and this is vitally important--just when you think you know the “rehash” is going to follow through…there’s a twist. The rug’s pulled out from under your feet.

Down to the grand finale, it’s completely, 100 percent unpredictable--from Luke’s precise reaction to Rey handing him the light saber, down to the exact nature of his epic smackdown of Kylo Ren. That’s number one.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Number two is how beautifully the movie uses failure--failures due to the fact that, arguably, each and every one of these characters makes mistakes--mistakes that have actual, real-world consequences that the characters have to acknowledge and live with.

And it isn’t like “Revenge of the Sith” (in my admittedly not-so-humble opinion, the worst movie of the franchise), where the heroes fail because, let’s be honest, they all act like idiots (as Luke actually points out to Rey, in this film).

Here, the mistakes are often things that any other movie would’ve applauded the characters for. For example, Poe Dameron’s hotheaded “maverick” antics, in any other film, would’ve been shown as courageous and necessary. Here, they end up crippling the Resistance’s line of defense.

As for the dialogue, that’s interesting: Dialogue can make or break a movie, for me--I’m kinda merciful to “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” for all its faults, because of just how snappy and crackling the dialogue is in that flick. For “Last Jedi”, I myself only had a problem with the constant sappy mush coming out of Rose’s mouth.

Maybe I’m just more “relieved” with the new films than anything else, dialogue-wise. To be frank, we’d just suffered a whole prequel trilogy filled with the worst dialogue and direction this side of “The Room.” After Anakin belching out “I HATE YOU!!!”…I suppose the only place left to go is up.

HiT: I won’t defend the prequels on ANY level, although I think “Revenge of the Sith” is quite watchable and easily the best of that trilogy. I understand the need to tie the franchise together, but for me the homage meter was plain too high. Seeing Poe get dressed down felt like a “you go, girl” moment, and while I didn’t mind that alone I wanted to see him counter that with more heroism. Just didn’t get that.

The film’s humor really didn’t connect with me. I know the original “Star Wars” has lines that feel clunky today. That was then. Now, having Poe do the old “it’s me, live, but I’m pretending to be an answering service” shtick is beyond tired. This is “Star Wars.” It’s better than that. And for all the heat the Ewoks got at least they helped topple the Empire. Why are the Porgs there again?

I agree on the recycled “Force Awakens” story, but that film had Han being Han, a great fusion of CGI and old-school effects and real love for the old-school characters. Here, Chewbacca, R2D2 and C3PO are like window dressing. And don’t get me started on General Leia’s miraculous space flight!

The movie ends with the remaining rebels confined to a single ship … and the scope of the First Order/Resistance battle not nearly as clear as one would hope. Where do you think the saga goes from here …. and are you surprised by the poor fan reaction on RottenTomatoes and the second week b.o. drop?

Blake: I’m glad you brought up the “you go girl” issue. To be honest, this is where I’ve often clashed a bit with fellow conservatives online, regarding a film’s politics. Mind you: many times the general consensus from conservative film critics about that sort of thing is right on the money. Many times, however…upon seeing the film for myself, I find myself thinking, “It isn’t quite that simple.” This is one of those times.

In the case you mentioned, it illustrates my earlier point how everyone in the movie makes mistakes--mostly understandable ones. Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo, however, commits her error for what appears to be no reason other than I Am In Charge And Don’t Need To Explain Myself. She has a pride issue, and it seemingly would hurt her pride to lay out her plan--which is actually a good plan, as even Poe quickly admits once he learns it.

But why didn’t Holdo just explain it? There was no real reason to keep anything secret--and in fact, doing so causes a lot of unnecessary complications. So contrary to the consensus, there’s nothing particularly feminazi or “SJW” about Holdo’s arc. She’s every bit as fallible as Poe is--arguably more so, since she’s the one holding the reins.

There are other cases too--most notably the Finn/Rose subplot. I sighed at the anti-rich Leftism spewed by Rose…but then DJ shows Finn how these “evil” weapons dealers also supply ships and weapons to the Resistance--not just the First Order, as Rose so matter-of-factly proclaimed. That’s the thing: Aside from DJ’s well-made point that “The Rich” are every bit as complex and complicated as “The Poor”…Rose doesn’t seem to comprehend the meaning of the word “complex.”

She’s matter-of-fact and self-righteous about everything--a virtue-signaling type who ultimately destroys Finn’s would-be heroic (and, considering how no one there knew Luke was going to come in save the day, necessary) act and puts the Resistance in mortal danger…because of “love.” It’s almost a reverse Archie Bunker effect: Rose was clearly supposed to be a conscience of the movie…but instead, she came across as an eye roll-inducing bleeding heart.

Daisy’s Dilemma

That leads me to a point I have to address about Rey. Heroic as she is, and powerful as she is, I’m continuously baffled by the narrative that she’s a perfect ever-capable “Mary Sue.” In reality, our girl’s naivete continues to lead to errors in judgment (as Luke himself keeps warning her). In “Force Awakens,” we constantly saw her rejecting the call--leading to her capture.

In “Last Jedi,” her major error stems from her innocent hubris that she can turn Kylo Ren, “Return-of-the-Jedi”-style. Again, the rug’s pulled out from under her feet: She was being played by Snoke all along.

In both films, she does what no “Mary Sue” ever can do: make mistakes. And in the end, it’s not Rey who saves the day, in this movie: It’s Luke, giving a delightfully clever and creative “(bleep) you” to Kylo Ren and the First Order, for good measure.

And that leads to how the film handles the classic characters: Keep in mind, this isn’t their story, anymore--not quite. This sequel trilogy isn’t about Luke, Han, Leah, Chewy, R2, and 3PO--at least not primarily. It’s about how the legacy they’re leaving behind affects Rey, Finn, Po, BB8 and Kylo Ren.

Those are the central characters of these new films--while in the meantime, we see the stories of the classic crew coming to an end, to pass the torch. But R2 and Luke--and Yoda--have their vital importance to the plot, and I’m fully satisfied with all of them.

Would I have loved to see Luke “Ignite The Green,” pull down all the walkers in the climax, and take Ren and Hux to school? Sure I would. But what he does instead works within the context of showing the full mental and psychological scope of his power. He’s invincible and his powers reach across the stars.

Paging Mary Poppins?

As for the spaceflight, well…as there is no gravity in space, the tiniest of “Force-pushes” was all she’d have needed to “fly.” Myself, I would’ve been satisfied with her death here--especially how it would’ve worked both in the film’s context and in giving Carrie Fisher a powerful send-off. But I’ll accept what we got.

Whither Episode IX? Well, that’s another part of the beauty of “Last Jedi.” Episodes VII and VIII got all the homages out of the system--we saw enough “twisted” “Return of the Jedi” here to make it clear: Whatever we’ll see next time will not be a rehash.

So once again, we can assume nothing.

I would like to see Kylo’s crew of rogue Jedi students, the Knights Of Ren, finally show up in the flesh, since he’s Supreme Leader now. I want to see them wreck shop as Rey struggles to form a crew of her own. I’d love to see that adorable first meeting between Po and Rey lead to something. I want to see Ghost Luke inspiring Rey and resuming his troll of Kylo.

And most of all I want Rey to find Luke’s green light saber, and either use it or, perhaps, use the crystals from it, and from Anakin’s now-broken saber to create her own--almost certainly using the metal from the ends of that staff of hers. Two sabers? One double-bladed, blue and green? Who knows?

All culminating in the most spectacular duel in the history of the franchise: Rey and Kylo settlng the score, putting the best of the prequel fights to shame.

Finally: To be honest, I was much more astonished by the critical score and box office so unfairly slapped onto “Justice League,” but that’s for another time. Here, no, I’m not surprised by the reactions. “Force Awakens” played it safe and delivered the goods people expected. I can’t fault director J.J. Abrams for that. For “The Last Jedi,” Johnson took chances and risks, making a point to defy our expectations. For some, it didn’t deliver.

But that’s the chance you take. If nothing else…we must give Johnson props for that.


Please check out some of Eric’s Western Free Press stories:

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11 Comments

  1. I felt The Last Jedi was dumb and boring. So what if it was ‘unpredictable?’ A slo-mo chase through space is about as interesting as watching Luke’s green milk mustache evaporate. Back in the day, George Lucas would have had simultanous asteroid belt runs and giant space slugs diving at the ships, but not here. Yes, it was mildly interesting to see Hammill back as Skywalker, but…lemme get this straight. My childhood hero has been hiding out in a cave for 20 years?!?

    Plot holes abound. Why did Luke leave a map behind if he didn’t want to be found? Why hide out on a planet strong with The Force if he has closed himself off from The Force? Why doesn’t the purplehaired cocktail dress-wearing Admiral just share her plan with hotheaded Poe? Why don’t any of the Resistance ships that run out of gas turn around to hyperspace-ram their chasers prior to the end of the film? How does Finn make it back to the cave without getting shot by the walkers, let alone carrying the chubby Asian chick?

    Based on how Rey was established in The Force Awakens, at no point in this film did I have the slightest ounce of concern for her well-being. I figured she would open up some sort of untapped reserve and defeat all the enemies, because that is what she did the first time around. The fight with Snoke’s guards was underwhelming. Where are all the aerial stunts the Jedi displayed in the previous films?

    Basically, films are frustrating when the main characters are all morons. Rey is a moron for thinking she can reason with a punk who murdered his father and destroyed several planets, what, just a few weeks earlier? Purple-hair is dumb for not simply sharing her master plan. The First Order is dumb for requiring Benicio Del Toro to tell them to be on the lookout for getaway ships.

    And, finally, there is Space Leia, probably one of the single most ill-conceived sequences I’ve ever witnessed. Just awful.

    Despite all of this, I didn’t hate the film. I enjoyed the humor. CGI Snoke and Serkis’ performance were highlights. I really do not understand the critical love this film received, though.

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  3. “In both films, she does what no “Mary Sue” ever can do: make mistakes.”

    Nonsense. Of course a Mary Sue can make mistakes. They just can’t ever pay for them, as Rey never does. They don’t fail, despite their mistakes it all just turns out alright and they can blow up tie fighters whilst grinning and saying “this is fun!” because they know they aren’t in any danger.

    Compare her to Luke. Luke doesn’t even fight Vader the first time and Obi-Wan is killed. The second time he is warned not to fight Vader and that he is not ready, but believes in himself and confronts him. He loses the fight (and a hand) and is lucky to survive the signature Star Wars fall down a hole.

    Going into the third movie Vader was scary because he’d already killed Obi-Wan and defeated Luke rather easily once, and there was still the emperor above him! Going into the third movie Rey has defeated Kylo once and saved his life in battle, and there is no one above him. Where is the tension supposed to come from?

    Despite all that, Rey and Kylo were still somehow the best things about this movie.

    1. Um…Rey does pay for her mistakes. In Force Awakens, her constant, stubborn rejection of the Call *gets her captured*. And like Luke not saving Obi-Wan (odd line of reasoning, but sure, let’s go with it), Rey doesn’t save Han.

      In Last Jedi, her foolhardy attempt to redeem Kylo Ren just solidifies his devotion to the Dark Side and instills HIM as the Supreme Leader.

      1. What’s the consequence of “getting captured”? Oh yeah. the bad guy dies and she kicks the crap out of his elite guard and saves Kylo from them. So how exactly did she pay for these mistakes?

        You completely missed the point of the Obi-Wan reference and what separates it from Han. Luke is told to run from Vader. He doesn’t fail to save Obi-Wan. He knows he is no match and flees. When he does face Vader he gets his ass kicked.

        Rey doesn’t fail to save Han either. She doesn’t actually try, but his death isn’t about her in any way, which is why she’s just an onlooker. She also proceeds to beat the crap out of Kylo immediately afterwards.

        You are reaching so hard with that last comment. You think that arc is resolved? Mary Sue will make it alright in the next movie probably whilst saying something like “this is fun!” to truly impart the gravity and peril of her struggle against the dark side

        1. By your first argument, every 2 out of 3 action heroes who’ve EVER gotten captured, male OR female, are “Mary Sues / Gary Stus”.

          As to her fight with Kylo…you are missing one of the BIGGEST, most significant facts of the fight: Kylo Ren had just taken SEVERAL SHOTS TO THE GUT from Chewbacca’s bowcaster–which, if you remember, was powerful enough to BLOW STUFF UP. And Kylo STILL put up a fight against Rey.

          If anyone is reaching, friend…

    1. With due respect, you are factually incorrect. Almost in a completely different universe, actually. Rey, in the two films she’s been in has been a total badass with no training whatsoever and is good at everything despite there being no logical reason for her to even be good at half of what she does. Even when she gets captured she saves herself.

      Luke on the other hand gets his butt kicked by sand people, gets his butt kicked by a jerk at the bar, and gets scorched by a training droid before he does the first thing right in the entire first movie that he’s in. The only thing he does truly well is be a starfighter pilot, and even then he needs assistance more than once. This piloting ability is referenced by multiple people long before he actually has to do some piloting.

      I suggest you watch Luke and Rey’s respective films again, this time paying attention to all the troubles Luke has that Rey breezes through.

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