A cynic’s look at the Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer

So hey, how about that Last Jedi trailer? Here it is, if you haven’t seen it:

We all know the drill pretty well by now, don’t we? The trailer drops. Everyone pores over it and does their own bit of squee. All the movie sites write up their breakdowns, combing the trailer for clues, breathlessly speculating about plot twists and deaths and big reveals, and we find out who’s going to be on our kids’ underwear for the next two years.

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I guess I don’t have the stomach for this kind of thing anymore. I played along during the lead-up to the The Force Awakens, and my enthusiasm was insulted more badly than I could have imagined. My Agony Booth compatriot Jonathan Campbell reflected the feelings of many who were underwhelmed by The Force Awakens. “Underwhelmed” doesn’t quite describe my reaction. I despised it. I hated it worse than any of the prequels. I found it the grossest exercise in soulless, charmless, incoherent, scrupulously market-tested fan-service wankery I’ve ever had occasion to shout at (a designation that has since been assumed by Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). I hated it to the extent that I’m seriously despairing over the rest of the trilogy having a chance to be any good.  

That’s my opinion, and you’re perfectly entitled to disagree—most do, apparently. That’s fine. I’m not here to explain why anyone’s wrong. But whether you agree with me or not, I think a perspective like mine is needed in the wake of the Last Jedi trailer. Because, despite the fact that this movie isn’t going to be, like its predecessor, graded on a heavy curve simply for not being the prequels, the buzz surrounding it is suffused with the exact same kind of knee-jerk hyperbolic praise that surrounded The Force Awakens, and it’s seriously hampering those of us who might actually want to talk about the direction the series is going.

To that end, I’m perfectly willing to put on my contrarian crank hat and offer you my Alternate Opinion. I want to assure you that despite my inclination and talents lying in precisely that direction, I don’t want to nitpick or criticize just to be snotty. I really want the movie to be good. I’m just less hopeful than most.

Opening: “When I found you, I saw… raw, untamed power! …And beyond that… something truly special.” This is not an auspicious opening. I don’t want a story that boils down to Mary Sue and Gary Stu fighting over who’s more special and unique and perfect.

0:08 – The new AT-ATs look like apes walking on their knuckles. This inordinately amuses me. Ooh-ooh, ah-ah. Pew pew.

0:13 – The striking overhead shot here brings to mind director Rian Johnson’s work on Breaking Bad. I hope he can maintain a certain level of visual style.

0:34 – “Something… inside me has always been there.” I wouldn’t mind an indefinite moratorium on any variation of this phrase ever appearing in a movie. Also, is anyone catching the Pinter-esque pauses all over the place that make it clear that they’re editing the crap out of the real dialogue?

0:38 – Luke’s got the “underemployed uncle” look going on. I dig it. How did he get so paunchy, though? He lives on an island hermitage with nary an Arby’s in sight.

0:40 – Hey, look! Rey’s getting sent into a dark cave in a voyage of self-discovery! Just like in that one movie… what was it… The Empire Strikes Back! This trailer is stoking my misgivings that this movie ending up as a stupider Empire just like Force Awakens was a six-year-old’s crayon rewrite of New Hope.

0:44 – Cue the Jedi training scene on a remote unsettled planet, just like in… yeah, you know. Question: in what sense does Rey need training? In the last movie, she performed perfect mind tricks and whupped a Dark Jedi’s ass at lightsabers, all through the power of believing in herself or whatever. She seems pretty set.

0:47 – Look at her skills! She can… not cut a rock! Amazing!

0:50 – A floating pebble scene, lifted wholesale from Superman’s first flight scene from Man of Steel. 

0:57 – “I’ve only seen this raw strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then… it does now.” God, Luke looks positively demented. Mark Hamill is easily the best thing about this trailer so far. After the rest of the original cast phoned in their Force Awakens roles, it’s good to see someone taking their job seriously.

1:06 – “Let the past die… kill it… if you have to. It’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.” I’m sincerely hoping that this will be the guiding ethos for Star Wars going forward. Last Jedi absolutely has to stop being so beholden to its predecessors if it’s going to be any better than Force Awakens. Kylo Ren smashing his faux-Vader mask is a nice symbolic step in this direction.

Side note about Kylo: He’s got to be the only motherfucker who can get slashed across the face with a hot plasma blade and end up looking less menacing. They’ve got some sort of black mesh, goth-y bandage strip across his wound. I bet he picked that out himself.

1:20 – Please don’t take this the wrong way, but in keeping with my previous comment, I’m sincerely hoping that he does kill his mom. It would provide Carrie Fisher’s character a graceful in-story exit, raise the stakes, and make Kylo’s character more intimidating.

1:31 – If I don’t miss my guess here, it looks like they’re finally using some CGI on Chewbacca, if not totally CGI-ing him; he looks really slick, and his eyes never used to be able to widen. I don’t know how to feel about that. I was one of the few people defending CGI Yoda back in the day, but I just don’t know about this. There’s a tactile physicality to Chewie’s presence that I’m not sure a computer can replicate.

1:33 – Oh, God. Moving on.

1:35 – Ugh, Jesus, is it really this guy some more? Why? Who was clamoring for more of him, besides slash-fic authors? Why keep him around? What does he do? What’s his function? The only reason I remember his name because it’s similar to the name of Nicolas Cage’s character in Con Air. Now that I think about it, that’s probably exactly where his name came from. Fuck.

1:39 – Another dialogue element that I’m in favor of banishing from the medium of film: any and all metaphors about sparks and wildfires, particularly in a movie about rebels fighting a corrupt regime. Here, it feels shamelessly lifted from the Hunger Games franchise. Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if, just once, the scrappy underdogs in a movie were the evil ones? What? That’s true of this movie? Sure doesn’t feel like it.

1:42 – I’ve heard people complain that they expected Captain Phasma to be this trilogy’s Boba Fett, but instead she looked badass, did nothing, and died like a chump. Erm, I’m pretty sure that makes her exactly this trilogy’s Boba Fett. But she doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo about her death (then again, neither did Boba Fett). I’m really not sure that there’s enough animosity between them to set up the epic confrontation that they’re going for, but I’m all for another riot-baton fight. That was one of The Force Awakens’s least lame scenes.

1:48 – A blast shield door closing on a frozen winter planet? A Jedi Master issuing a warning to his apprentice not to underestimate a dark threat? Are you rehashing Empire or aren’t you? Decide already.  

1:54 – I felt pretty “meh” about Finn as a character, but I have to admit I like the idea of him getting recaptured by the Empire First Order. Why? Because A) he’s by any measure not an important dude at all, B) he lied about his identity as a former enemy, and C) he almost scuttled the Rebellion’s New Republic’s Resistance’s attack on the Death Star Starkiller Station out of stupidity and cowardice. There’s every reason for the good guys to just let him stay there. If he wants out of Defective Stormtrooper Return Center, he’ll have to stop being such a naive little twerp and rescue himself.

2:05 – Rey being Force-tortured, with the Emperor Snoke’s gold robes in the background. I feel pretty damn certain that this is a fake-out. The last movie’s story beats were carefully doled out by the bean-counters at Lucasfilm for maximum profitability and durability of the franchise. It’s not time for Rey to meet Snoke yet. It’s a Force vision or something; mark my words.

2:08 – Here’s the big scene everyone’s talking about: “I need someone to show me my place in all this,” Rey says. Then Kylo extends his hand. IT’S ANOTHER FAKEOUT, GUYS. They don’t appear in the same shot. The backgrounds aren’t the same. Frankly, I feel insulted that they thought I’d be fooled this easily.

So, to recap:

The Good: Luke, Rian Johnson, stormtrooper melee battles, possible matricide.

The Bad: Poe, the dialogue, 2017’s most ruthlessly cute licensed toy, coy and/or misleading trailers.

See you at Christmas!

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  • Kali

    Well, we already know this has nothing to do with Lucas’s original vision — assuming, of course, there ever really was one — since Disney rejected his outline. The Farce Awakens turned into a fan service celebration of the original franchise, not one new character was remotely interesting (yes, I am even including Rey in this), the original cast looked utterly bored with “casting obligation” written all over their faces, and the trailer for Last Jedi just isn’t saying “YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE!” Without Lucas’s original vision — whatever one may think of his writing and/or directing ability — Star Wars is nothing but a money-making franchise with no cosmic grandeur whatsoever.

    Which, let’s face it, is what the Star Wars franchise became after The Empire Strikes Back. And, almost fifty years later, Empire remains the best Star Wars movie. A New Hope transformed classic heroic tropes into a modern fairy tale, and The Empire Strikes Back expanded on that tale, creating a cosmic legend. Jedi … gave us Ewoks. And the prequels gave us nothing except a whining brat, far too much CGI, fricking Jar Jar Binks, and took way too long to get us to where everyone knew we had to go.

    Still, I want JJ Abrams to be named producer of a Lost in Space reboot, so that he can go down as destroying all three classic space franchises.

    So, there’s your cynic’s view of what Star Wars has become. I am NOT looking forward to Last Jedi, and if it fails, the very legacy of the franchise is severely in doubt — whether Disney actually does create CGI Leia for Star Wars IX or not.

    And if anyone truly believes Disney will NOT do this, you know nothing about Disney.

    • PhysUnknown

      Not to be (too) pedantic, but “almost fifty years later”? “A New Hope” turned 40 this year. Empire came out 37 years ago. Not a big deal, I just don’t like feeling older than I already do. 😉

      • Kali

        Agreed. I stand corrected.

  • Premonition_45

    My biggest problem with TFA wasn’t just that they regurgitated the Original Trilogy,
    it’s that they straight-up negated the OT’s accomplishments.

    When you actually think about it, the OT leads are *worse*
    off in the Sequel Trilogy than they were when the OT started. Luke’s
    new Jedi Order crashes and burns before it even began, Leia is treated
    as a tinfoil-hat-wearing kook, and Han is essentially the Major from
    Fawlty Towers.

  • Premonition_45

    I usually think sequels that straight-up negate their previous’ film(s) narrative accomplishments are worse than those that simply rehash the previous film(s).

    Somehow, The Force Awakens managed to do both.

    • Tyler Peterson

      It’s funny, I just read an essay by Neal Stephenson that’s rather germane to what you’re talking about. He wrote it after seeing Episode 3, and in it, he argued (pretty compellingly, IMO) that the Star Wars prequels were narratively incoherent because they relied too much upon the EU material to make sense of it. As adversaries, the Confederacy seems like cardboard cutouts-provided you didn’t read the novels that go in-depth into the nature of its politics and its conflict with the Republic. General Grievous seems like “something that fell out of a Happy Meal” (to quote Stephenson) – provided you didn’t read the comic books where his menace and gravitas are established. Hayden Christiansen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker sucks so bad precisely because his characterization lacks the context of the Clone Wars TV series, which chronicles his arc from a fresh-faced idealist to a seriously damaged war veteran. In a nutshell, whereas the original movies had a pretty good mix of “veg-out” action/effects scenes and “geek-out” scenes providing exposition and context and just a general sense of what everything means, the prequels eschewed the “geek-out” in favor of the “veg-out” and leaned on the ancillary material to pick up the slack.
      As you pointed out, this is precisely the issue Episode 7 had. It has no history and no context. Everything’s been reset back the way it was in Ep4 and the movie doesn’t tell you why or how it happened. Crucial characters and events are introduced in ways that feel like the movie already expects you to know why they’re important. And what Stephenson described 12 years ago, I’ve been seeing happen in real time: there are already novels and comic books out there that fill in the many narrative gaps in Episode 7. It’s fucking insidious, if you think about it. That’s why I’m doing a blanket boycott of all post-Legends Star Wars material. A movie shouldn’t be a fucking mystery that you have to buy the decoder ring to crack.

  • Jonathan Campbell

    When you haven’t written an article all year but you are still a “compatriot”

    #AllTheFeelz