I'm hesitant to speak badly about the work of other writers. As a writer myself I know all too well how badly the bite of criticism can scar. But perhaps being a writer has made me more critical of lazy mistakes and shortcuts that I myself have recognized in my own work, and in turn made me less forgiving when I see them in such high-profile environment as a movie that grosses 200 million dollars on its opening weekend.
Now as a writer...
The movie was exactly what I expected.To make this as clear as possible: This is not about the movie being 'not what I expected' as so many complaints have been about. This isn't even about the movie's over-reliance on tired tropes (the latter of which is used by both Poe and Vice Admiral Whatshername at the same time, against each other). This is about the movie telling me "Don't think about it" as each successive story beat is revealed to be more ridiculous than the last.
I went into the theater expecting space battles, light sabers, mysticism, and all things Star Wars. I got them. And they were great. If you look at each scene individually it's one of the most compelling and spectacular Star Wars movies to date. but then you look at the whole and the entire thing falls apart. The movie is less than the sum of its parts.
The problem with the Last Jedi is that it takes every shortcut and path of least resistance that it can. Every character action, every decision made, every 11th hour escape feels like Rian Johnson taking the laziest approach to hand-wave away any semblance of inconvenient logic or human behavior that might interfere with reaching the end credits. It feels like it was written over a weekend, submitted as a first draft, and sent directly to principal photography. Any editor should have been able to tell him "None of this is OK, try harder", but none did and now audiences are starting to tell him instead. Was it luck that these issues made it all the way through production? In my experience there's no such thing as luck.
Warp factor plotRather than break down every single example in the movie, let's isolate one particular plot point central to the film: The Chase. If you are looking to avoid spoilers, this is where you should be cautious, because you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
I choose the Chase in particular, because my first Sci-Fi book, Vick's Vultures was completely centered around a similar chase, and so the problems with the chase in the Last Jedi were especially egregious to me because many of them were the same mistakes I made, or almost made in Vick's Vultures before taking the time to avoid or correct them in what I hoped were logically consistent ways.
In case you need a reminder, in this particular subplot the surviving Resistance ships are being harried by Supreme Overlord Snoke and his formation of Star Destroyers. There are two fundamental rules that drive the Resistance side of this plot:
- The Resistance ships are faster than the First Order ships, but not fast enough to escape their extreme weapons range.
- The Resistance ships are running out of fuel, and have only the ability to make one (1) light speed jump.
Luke, I am your logical fallacy
But where does it all fall apart? Well, let's start with the fact that the chase lasts longer than 5 minutes when both sides had the ability and every reason to end it immediately. In order to draw it out, the movie establishes only 1 rule that defines the entirety of the First Order's behavior during the chase:
- The First Order is allowed to take no action which will bring them closer to their goal of destroying the Resistance, even if that action is shown to be demonstrably possible by the Resistance.
If they are playing a board game, this is the equivalent to the First Order only ever landing on lose your turn spaces. Let's look at how this manifests in the movie.
1. The Resistance is barred from making additional light speed maneuvers. The First Order is under no such restriction, and yet acts as if they are.
The issue of weapons range is waved away as "The rebel ships are faster". The only issue is that they're not. Not only are they not limited by a single light speed jump, but there are multiple ships in the chase. At no point does it occur for one of the pursuing ships to make a short jump ahead to cut off the resistance. The logical action is disregarded because it's inconvenient. It would be harder to write, would have required thought as to how the Resistance would overcome it, and would result in an actual space battle and plot resolution too early in the film, instead of the slow-speed car chase we got instead.
2. For all intents and purposes, no other First Order ships exist in the entire galaxy.In order for the chase to make sense within the movie, we are asked to disregard the fact that two technologies exist: Faster than light communication, and faster than light travel. Conveniently, the First Order forgets about both, even though the Resistance first uses instantaneous 2-way FTL communication to contact Maz for help, and then dispatches Finn in a shuttle, who has time to travel to a planet an unknown distance away, get arrested, break out, and return to a battle in which no significant changes have developed.
The chase is predicated by the first rule of of the resistance ships, that they are faster than the star destroyers. But it's proven that a ship can make a round trip to another planet after gaining information from faster than light communication. If this is the case, it is an inexcusable logical jump that the First Order would not add lighter, faster ships to their flotilla using instantaneous 2-way communication to join the chase by jumping in at light speed. There is clearly enough time. The Resistance demonstrates that there is enough time.
3. The Mon Calamari Killshot should have been plan A
"That's Snoke's Star Destroyer" should have been immediately answered with "Let's ram it at light speed!"
Probably the single most divisive scene in the entire movie (second only to Leia's spacewalk) is the Mon Calamari Killshot. Cornered and broken, the enigmatic Vice Admiral sends the Resistance flagship on a hyperdrive collision course with the seat of First Order power in the galaxy, effectively crippling all ships in the pursuit formation and leaving them with a handful of ties and walkers, barely enough to mount an offensive on the planet. It was a beautiful shot, breathtaking from a cinematic perspective, equaled only by the firing of the first Death Star.
It was also an hour and a half of screen-time too late.
Ignoring the obvious can of worms this opens as to how weaponized light-speed kinetic weapons just made every offensive technology in Star Wars completely obsolete, the problem this poses in the narrative is this: Nothing developed plot-wise over the course of the movie that enabled the ability to use the Mon Calamari in this way. As soon as it was shown as possible in-universe, it retroactively became the the best and most logical opening move available to the Resistance. It also became a progressively worse option the longer the film went on, until it was finally used as a last-ditch maneuver.
Sure, hindsight is 20-20. But it's just too much of a logical leap for the Resistance to weigh the facts, and not immediately take the opportunity to evacuate personnel to the smaller ships and then sacrifice their cruiser to A) Cripple the enemy formation, decapitate their entire leadership command structure, and prevent pursuit. And B) allow the two smaller frigates to escape with all hands. Best of both worlds. The Vice Admiral didn't even have to do the flying, they could have left a droid pilot. As a viewer, I'm expected to ignore that Leia, General Leia, who has been leading rebel guerrilla fleets and fighters for decades is not familiar with the concept of acceptable losses. Sacrificing a single ship (even if it is the most important ship) for the entire enemy command structure? Easy choice. and we're asked to forget that she already applied this tactic in the same damn movie when the Resistance bombers destroyed the dreadnought. Why? Because "We don't kill what we hate, we save what we love"? No. Because it's inconvenient, because applying logic makes the plot harder to resolve, or in this case absurdly easy when they needed to drag it out long enough for Finn and Rey to have their plots. Bad or illogical narrative choices for the sake pacing are lazy narrative choices. It's a writer looking at obvious flaws in his work and saying "Meh, good enough."
And that's really what the Last Jedi is doing. It's saying we should be happy with "Meh, good enough." It compromises, it settles, it excuses itself. It expects you to play dumb, and hand waves glaring internal logic inconsistencies with nonsensical restrictions so that every little mistake can be wrapped up part and parcel in the most dissatisfying package possible.
Did you think the Last Jedi was Good Enough?
Let me know your thoughts.