5 burning questions about Star Wars: The Last Jedi

In a review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I wrote that it turned out that one of the least interesting questions about The Force Awakens was “is it a good movie?” The reason is that it was so similar in terms of storyline and structure to the original Star Wars: A New Hope that it became irrelevant to analyze it as an original product. It was almost a remake, designed to do a competent job in restarting the franchise and passing the baton to newly introduced characters. And in that, it succeeded.

But once that’s out of the way, asking that same question of the next chapter in the trilogy can hardly be called irrelevant or uninteresting. The Last Jedi had to succeed on its own merits, without the training wheels of the previous film’s similarities to rely on. Even if it tried to be another near-remake, it couldn’t turn to the same tricks again. I want to talk about how the movie answered (or didn’t answer) a few questions, which will to a significant extent be a response to what I thought were keys to making the film a successful one.

Spoiler warning: Plot details will be discussed.

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So let me start with the obvious:

1. Is it a good movie?

The answer is yes, yes it is. It’s competently made, and there are a lot of great action sequences and a surprising amount of humor considering the somewhat bleak storyline. The new characters of this trilogy travel in some fascinating directions, including Kylo Ren, who goes from being a conflicted Darth Vader acolyte to trying to forge his own path while scarred and influenced by past events. Mark Hamill does a terrific job playing a haunted and disillusioned Jedi master, different but still recognizable as the Luke we saw in Return of the Jedi. Also, the brief Yoda cameo is a great gift to the fans, as we see the more playful, mischievous Yoda from Empire Strikes Back that we only occasionally got in the prequels.

As with The Force Awakens, I would say that if you liked Empire Strikes Back, I don’t see why you wouldn’t enjoy The Last Jedi in that, again, the latter borrows a lot from the former in terms of storyline and structure. It plays a similar role in the trilogy to Empire Strikes Back. The victory at the end of the previous film turns out to be a short-lived one, and the Empire/First Order is once again in control of the conflict, in pursuit of a fleeing, outgunned group of rebels while the young hope of the new Jedi order is trained by a wise and reclusive Jedi master. Which leads me to my next question…

2. Is it sufficiently original to deflect the kind of response that The Force Awakens got from some quarters?

Namely, that Disney is in many ways making this new trilogy a quasi-remake of the beloved original trilogy, out of a fear of the kind of response that the prequels sometimes received?

Again, the answer is mostly yes. The writing does a clever job of turning expectations around in various scenes to keep this from feeling like too different a movie from the original trilogy. The throne room confrontation with Snoke, Kylo Ren, and Rey starts out feeling very familiar, but then goes in two different directions from where a similar confrontation in Return of the Jedi did. Also, Rey’s moment in the cave feels like Luke’s similar one in Empire Strikes Back, but once again goes a different way, as does a potential revelation about her lineage.

3. Do we get sufficient backstory to explain how we went from the Rebel Alliance’s triumph in Return of the Jedi to their dire situation in The Force Awakens?

The answer there is no. There’s still no explanation within the onscreen content to show how the New Order rose to become so powerful so quickly, or how the Rebels/Resistance squandered victory so completely as to be on the verge of the total defeat we see in The Last Jedi. The demise of Luke’s new Jedi students is given very little explanation. Yes, Snoke was influencing Kylo Ren from afar and turned him to the Dark Side, and Ren took some followers with him, but that doesn’t explain what happened to the rest of the Jedi. Was there the equivalent of Palpatine’s Order 66 by Snoke? Was it carried out by the army of the First Order? And of course, the mystery of Snoke is casually tossed aside, perhaps to be taken up by books or fan fiction.

4. Is Luke’s disillusionment with the Jedi order satisfactorily explained?

Ever since Luke’s shocking line from the trailer, “The Jedi must end,” there’s been much speculation on what it could mean. It called back to rumors before the start of the new trilogy, that perhaps Luke had fallen to the Dark Side. Or, had Luke perhaps just rejected both paths out of a sense of fatalism? Fortunately, the answer turned out to be nothing of the sort. Luke still followed the path of the Light Side; it’s just that he’d realized that the failures of the Jedi leadership had disastrous consequences for so many. This part almost seemed like a direct acknowledgment of some of the criticisms of the prequel trilogy, some of which included that the Jedi seemed out of touch, and overly rigid in their teachings and rules about relationships within the Jedi order, and that they had been too easily duped by Darth Sidious. These failures that Luke speaks of seem even more glaring within the context of this new trilogy, when the cycle of failure has been repeated again. With the fall of Luke’s Jedi order, it seems history has repeated as tragedy, with farce perhaps still on the way.

5. Does the middle chapter effectively set up the conclusion?

After Empire Strikes Back, there were enough plot lines set up so that the viewer could somewhat see the direction that the concluding chapter would go in. Han would need to be rescued at some point during it, Luke would most likely be confronting Vader again and dealing with the “I am your father” revelation, and perhaps the emperor himself would show up in person after audiences got a brief glimpse of him in the previous film. I don’t really see the conclusion set up as well for the last movie of this trilogy. I don’t think they’re going to repeat the storyline of Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi with Rey and Kylo Ren, because The Last Jedi went down that path and seemed to reject it. Also, while the Resistance forces did escape, the movie made them seem so outmatched that it’s hard to see a plausible path to victory with only one film left. Will they repeat the “race to stop a superweapon” storyline that’s a little stale at this point?

So I would say the answer to this last question leans more toward no, but I’ll be glad to be proven wrong.

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  • Murry Chang

    It’s very much ESB, Holdo and Leia make very bad decisions and Luke is entirely correct.

  • Rickard Zingmark

    There is only one question -why?

    • The_Shadow_Knows

      Why ask why?

      • The_Shadow_Knows

        Try Bud Dry.

  • StarlightForPrincess

    I think calling The Last Jedi “good” is an understatement.
    For me, it’s the best movie of all time.

    • Toby Clark

      I wouldn’t go that fast, but it is firmly in my Top 100 (out of 2300+).

      • ofidiano

        I think you both should get your heads examined.

  • Greenhornet

    I haven’t seen it, but I’ve seen enough reviews and summaries to make a rather startling decision about Holdo.

    She’s was having a nervous breakdown.

    No, I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve known a couple of people who have had nervous breakdowns and I’ve seen “The Caine Mutiny” in which Bogart based his performance on a friend who DID have one.

    She is supposed to be an admiral, but dresses like she’s on her way to a cocktail party. We’re told she”s “flamboyant” but that could have been portrayed better by putting her in a “class A” uniform (Rather than a field uniform) with medals and have her gesturing with a riding crop. (Think of the opening of “Patton”)
    When her plan falls apart and the transports get shot down, she freezes up, neither giving orders or going to a “Plan B”.
    She with holds information from several people, not just Damoron. We’re told by her supporters that she fears there is a spy, but do they say that? Do we see any efforts to locate the spy? (Again, I haven’t seen the movie) Paranoia, perhaps? This is odd behavior for a fleet commander; she HAS a plan but to implement what was shown on screen, several of the ships’ captains, her officers and the air cover (DAMORAN’S command) would have to be given orders just to prepare for the execution of said plan.
    Damoran asks for orders, but is given none. He was DEMOTED, not RELIEVED OF DUTY. there is a vast difference.
    She decides to go out in a blaze of suicidal glory. ‘Nuff Said.

    On another note, this movie COULD have had a better premise. Make “The Resistance” the military force in another part of the galaxy. They run up against a remnant of The Empire that has decided to form their own territory. The Resistance is getting their asses kicked and pleads for help from the New Republic. The NR, however, have their own problems with re-forming the planetary alliances and several years of de-militarization after their victory in Return Of The Jedi. This would also allow the introduction of new characters without any complaint from the fans.

    Would that have been so hard?

    • BaconBox

      Stopped reading at “I haven’t seen it, but”

      • Greenhornet

        That’s OK. I’m just trying to make sense of the TLJ argument.

        Don’t take my word for it, fine. But compare Leah and Holdo’s odd actions to that of the movie “Midway” and you’ll wonder how they got such an important command if they’re afraid to risk a small loss to protect their assents and hurt the enemy. In fact, compare the military in The Last Jedi to the HISTORICAL battles of Coral Sea and Midway and the chances the U.S. Navy HAD to take and you’ll wonder how Holdo and Leah even held their officer’s commission.

        Allow me to also recommend the videos “A Military Analysis of The Last Jedi (or why is everyone incompetent?)” and “Poe Dameron Did Nothing Wrong”.

        • maarvarq

          Interesting theory. Certainly either that or just in WAY over her head.

          Edit: Yes, I have seen it. I enjoyed the Luke-Rey half, and thought that the other half started from a ridiculous premise and went on to have too many characters make too many stupid decisions.

  • Eric

    What I was hoping in this movie was that Luke put the Force more in perspective. The Jedi order has end? Why? Yes they were too rigid and too political and set on protocol. But what if Luke’s point was that they understood the Force incorrectly?
    The Force needs balance. Too many Jedi on the Light side causes an imbalance and the dark side balanced itself by being concentrated in a few beings (Sidious, Maul and other sith) making them super powerful.
    The Force needs to be balanced in every individual. Accept the part of the dark side in you but don’t let it control you. By trying to eliminate the dark side in themselves, the Jedi only made it stronger elsewhere. That’s why the Jedi need to end and make place to new, more balanced, order of guardians of the peace.

    • Toby Clark

      I’ve never bought that interpretation of the balance thing, since it requires too many assumptions about a prophecy that we, the viewers, have never heard.

  • While I enjoyed watching it immensely, my big critique is that the creators took the willingness if Star Wars fans to suspend disbelief and explain inconsistencies too much for granted. Leaving out the timeline question (which was way worse than Empire) the whole film reeks of “let those dorks on Wookiepedia figure it out”.

    • The_Shadow_Knows

      What do you say about movies that you DON’T enjoy immensely?

      • Mostly the same stuff but with a lot more swearing.

  • ofidiano

    Is it a good movie?

    No. The answer is a clear no. How anyone can think this movie is good baffles me.

  • The_Shadow_Knows

    “With the fall of Luke’s Jedi order, it seems history has repeated as tragedy, with farce perhaps still on the way.”

    No, what we saw in the prequels was definitely the farce.

    Everything about Anakin’s turn to the dark side and the fall of the Republic/Jedi was handled in the most ludicrous, juvenile, and laughable manner imaginable.

    • ofidiano

      They were still better than the Last Jedi. I wouldn’t even call this movie a farce.