The first time I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I left the cinema with a big, dumb grin on my face. I began trying to place it at the top of the list of Star Wars films. The next day, I saw The Last Jedi again. I was still excited by it, but instead of leaving giddy and excited, I felt a pang of discontent.
The Last Jedi has a major problem.
[Warning: Major spoilers below!]
I look at the New Trilogy like a rollercoaster. The Force Awakens is the line-up, a decade-long wait to get on, sit down and strap in. Once you’re locked in, you slowly climb that first hill almost bouncing out of your chair with excitement, anticipation building – what’s on the other side of this? You can’t predict exactly what is coming. You may have seen the rollercoaster from the ground, but being on it? You have no idea how this is going to go.
You reach the first peak, the rollercoaster perched ready to thrill, allowing you to look over the edge and see the entire track for what it is…
And then The Force Awakens ends.
The Last Jedi is that next initial drop and turn. The following twists, turns and spins ensure that initial climb is all but erased from your memory. It’s irrelevant. You’re here, hands in the air, screaming about how fast you’re going, wind blowing your lips clean off your gums.
The first time I saw The Last Jedi I was strapped in, embracing the turns. I was there, in every moment. I watched Luke drink alien-cow milk, Rey work out what she Needs To Do, Rose and Finn ride Last-Guardian-Horses and listen to the cinema-goers erupt as Light and Dark take on Snoke’s Red Samurai Brigade. The hyperspace jump through an entire fleet blew my mind and then, shortly after, Ghost Luke embarrassed the entire First Order, the film ended and I tried to catch my breath.
The second time through, you know all the twists and turns on that rollercoaster. You’re aware of what’s going to happen and you take notice. Is the rollercoaster less thrilling the second time around? To a degree, but it makes one thing painfully obvious:
The Last Jedi is one huge fake-out.
Scene after scene, the events that take place are constantly undone by the next thing that takes place, bringing the entire film back to square one, that apex at the top of the rollercoaster’s first hill.
Let’s start with the dreadnought attack that kicks off the movie. Resistance gunner Paige Tico falls off the bridge and fails to release the bombs that will take down the enemy ship. Fake-out! She kicks the ladder and manages to dislodge the detonator – except it hurtles straight past her into the void. Double Fake-out! She catches it out of the air at the last second.
This happens in almost every narrative thread.
Leia dies, floats off into the vacuum of space and then Mary Poppins her way back to the ship with her Jedi powers. Fake-out! She lives!
Rose and Finn visit the casino at Canto Bight, find the ‘Master Codebreaker’ but then get arrested and can’t get back to him – so they find another Codebreaker – who seems a little dodgy but helps them get into Snoke’s ship. Of course, then he betrays them. Fake-out! The codebreaker was a bad dude all along!
Luke and Kylo Ren’s story gets three separate flashbacks about the Jedi Academy, but each time the story is told, it changes slightly. It attempts to make Kylo appear like there’s goodness within him. We only get the full reveal about the two of them at the end of the Second Act. Fake-out! Kylo is a bad dude!
The entire arc about Rey’s parents, including Rey’s trip into the Seaweed-hole and her psychedelic trip with the Mirror of Erised to finally reveal who they are. Fake-out! They’re nobodies and Rey is just great with the Force!
You can even take the Chewbacca roasting Porgs scene and apply this logic. Chewie roasts the chicken-like Porg and is ready to eat. The audience laughs but a teary-eyed Porg tries to convince him to keep his teeth off the succulent, tiny bird. He scares the Porg off and gets ready to tuck in. Fake-out! Chewie does not eat the Porg!
All the Resistance ships are invisible to Snoke’s ship and are going to escape their carrier vessel where Admiral Holdo is stationed. Moments later, aboard Snoke’s ship, Hux finds out the Resistance are escaping, so orders his crew to focus fire on all the escaping ships instead of Admiral Holdo’s carrier. The Resistance won’t survive! Fake-out! Holdo can take her carrier to lightspeed and cut Snoke’s ship in half and save everyone!
In the end, the Resistance have once again defeated and escaped the First Order, just like at the end of The Force Awakens.
I could carry on, but you get it.
Is that to say it’s bad? No – but with repeat viewings, it becomes obvious that the film exists because it has to exist. Not because it has something grand to say about Star Wars or the Force or War or Good vs Evil or the Dark Side or parenting or sci-fi films or really anything of substance. It’s stylish, accessible, humorous entertainment. It’s a joyride through the Star Wars universe with Star Wars characters.
It’s a great action film with gaping plot holes you can look past because you’re ALL IN with what’s happening in each scene. Each turn, twist, set-piece. Each time that turn, twist, set-piece gets undone.
It exists to get the rollercoaster from that first hill to its centrepiece – Episode IX, the loop-de-loop – the reason that you immediately want to line-up and do the whole thing again.
The Last Jedi will not hold up as time goes on, but whatever.
It’s still way better than the dumb prequels.