Jordan Stokes: All right then, let’s have it. Time for the ceremonial airing of the grievances. What bugged you about the film? I don’t even mean substantive criticisms, really: I mean the stuff you know is just nitpicking. Let’s unleash our inner comic book guys on it.
I’ll start. What the hell did Chewbacca ever do to Luke to deserve this cold of a shoulder? He flies to the outer taint of the galaxy to find the guy. Their oldest dearest friend, Han, has just died. And do they have a meaningful heart to heart? Do they throw Han Solo a wake together, and get piss-drunk on fermented green giraffe milk? Do they even hug it out? As far as I can tell, they exchange exactly one line of dialogue apiece, with Chewie yelling “Meeeaaaaarrr!” and Luke responding “What the hell are YOU doing here?”
I have two working theories. 1) at some point after Return of the Jedi, Luke asked Chewie to house-sit for him and Chewie totally spaced, leading to the death of Luke’s goldfish. 2) in this particular case, “Meeeaaaarrr!” actually meant something like “Don’t speak – Luke, my dear, my boon companion, forgive me, Luke, but I must beg of you silence. Han’s death is too too fresh a wound. Grant me silence, as is traditional among the Wookie people, to grieve my private grief. And after all, what need have we for speech? No words could ever be necessary between us, for what are words, when compared to the tears, the blood, the battles hard fought, the struggles shared — ah, Luke, I see it all too well: you understand.”
At which point Luke yells “What the hell are YOU doing here?” and Chewie is so offended that he doesn’t talk to him for the rest of the trip.
Matt Belinkie: But at least Chewbacca is a damn good pilot. Why the hell do they keep 3PO around? The one time he was actually useful was in Return of the Jedi because he speaks Huttese, but apparently he’s allowed to follow Leia around for decades for some reason. (Does she know he was built by her father? I don’t think anyone knows.) I kept waiting for her to backhand him.
Stokes: Well actually, he was useful twice in Return of the Jedi (Ewoks). But I get what you mean.
Hey, you know what else grinds my gears? When Finn and Rose are about to get caught by the space cops on Canto Bight and he’s like “It was worth it.” I’m sorry, did you forget that the fate of the entire resistance was riding on your little mission? (I mean, as far as he knew at the time.) Failing that, did you forget about Rey? I could swear that like twenty minutes ago your character motivation boiled down to “who cares what happens to the rest of the universe as long as Rey is safe.”
No it was damn well not “worth it,” not given what Finn has cared about up to this moment. Writers: why not have him say something like “I hope Poe has another trick up his sleeve. But it felt good, smashing up that place. It felt right.” And then Rose can say “Now it feels right,” after she frees the magical space horse.
Belinkie: I have a question! Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you have super difficult hacking job, like breaking into an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean and disabling their radar. You happen to know someone in the underworld, and she tells you there is only one man who can possibly do it. You go to find this guy but in the process you are arrested for a misdemeanor. And there, in the general holding cell of the Reno jail, casually discussing your plan to sabotage the aircraft carrier, a random guy wakes up from a nap and says, “Oh yeah, I can totally do that for you. I’m a super good hacker.”
How confident are you in this man’s abilities?
Peter Fenzel: Oh, not confident at all. Obviously. I’d expect competence along the line of Chekhov from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Maybe he has a leather jacket, but that only goes so far.
Belinkie: I do love that Hux made Finn and Rose go through this whole nail-biting effort to break into the tracking room, and THEN sprang the trap when they were 10 feet from their goal. He could have just as easily arrested them in the cargo bay, which is conveniently where they execute people apparently.
Fenzel: I also love how quickly and readily an escaped convict defaults to calling the police on himself. He seems to have no expectation that they will lock him back up after he helps them, or that the First Order will double cross him and not pay, or that some overzealous trooper won’t just shoot him. This is all either a stretch or implies a whole lot of weirdness in his backstory we don’t know about. Is he a First Order informant frequently, under their protection? Does he have a phone number for a higher up at First Order of Justice that he makes cops call when he gets arrested? Why is he in jail, then? Is he a plant?
Although to be fair I guess it’s just a casino jail and not a prison, so he is not a convict and maybe didn’t do anything except get too drunk. But the point is I have no idea — maybe he said something, maybe I couldn’t understand it or just don’t remember. But I have no idea what this character’s actual deal is supposed to be other than “Not Lando, fanboys” with both middle fingers in the air.
Stokes: Here’s the big problem with Not Lando’s space-betrayal: HOW DID HE KNOW TO LOOK FOR THE CLOAKED TRANSPORTS? Finn didn’t know. Rose didn’t know. They might have, except it was a major plot point of the movie that Poe didn’t know!
Two big criticisms of the movie that I’ve seen, over and over again, are this: 1) Holdo should have told Poe about her plan, and 2) Finn and Rose’s mission to Canto Bight ends up getting everybody killed, because if they hadn’t brought Benicio del Toro into the picture then he couldn’t have revealed Holdo’s plan.
But Holdo had a very good reason for not telling Poe! Her plan is a very delicate, very sensitive, and above all very secretive. Poe is a cowboy-ass cowboy who is going find some way to cowboy it up. The more he knows about the plan, the more his shenanigans are going to be able to disrupt it. And if he had known, and had told Finn “if you fail, our last hope will be (etc.),” and then Finn had said to the convict that “you’d better be a good hacker or out only hope will be (etc.),” then the convict would have been able to trade that information to the First Order in exchange for a reduced sentence and a bribe! And that would have been a bad thing!
I defend The Last Jedi against its detractors thus: in this particular case, the movie was not even smart enough to be as stupid as you claim.
Belinkie: Hey, do we have any theories about what the hell was going on with Maz Kanata? In the last movie I didn’t get the feeling the Maz was a) particularly spry, b) the kind of person who routinely gets into firefights. And what kind of person is exchanging rifle fire and says, “Oh, Finn’s on the line, that guy I met once before and accused of being a coward! Sure I can take the call!”
Fenzel: To move from Maz Kanata to mas katana, my biggest complaint about this movie is the skeumorphism of the energy weapons is out of control.
Darth Vader’s original outfit was samurai inspired, and George Lucas was Kurosawa inspired, sure, but now we’ve got an Astro-Japanese Swiss Guard wielding “laser” naginata and nunchaku. Why? What is the damn point?
Lightsabers are supposedly a relic from a more civilized age – something you use that, sure, has a steeper learning curve than a blaster, but has some symbolic cache. And hey, it can deflect laser blasts. So I get that. And I get that Snoke’s inner sanctum guards might carry symbolic, mostly ornamental weapons. But the Vatican Swiss Guard are more likely to pepper spray you than actually impale you on the tip of a halberd.
But the First Order troopers and elite guards don’t use laser melee weapons for ceremony. They appear to use them because they believe them to be effective, and they train heavily in using them to a very high level of specialization.
Fine. It goes a bit overboard with the variety of weapons, but it is pretty awesome. That’s fine. And of course they are made to look like familiar weapons in order to make the action easier to track and understand, like how X-Wings look like fighter planes.
But I have two problems with the skeumorphic weapons in this movie – meaning the weapons that use space-level technology, but look like familiar real-world weapons so the audience can more intuitively understand what they do.
One is that there is no consistency in scale. I was really bothered by the need for a “miniaturized death star tech” cannon – like the Basilic supercannon the Turks used to take Constantinople – to break through the door of the rebel base, in opposition to the beach-ball sized bombs that were able to take out an entire “fleet killer” Dreadnaught.
Beyond even the basic complaint that the ship design and armament aren’t internally consistent with how military technology seems to work in this movie (warfare isn’t a bunch of tiny ships hurling projectiles through lightspeed at each other from parsecs away), but symbolically there seems to be little consistent relation in scale between how big or small a weapon is, its effectiveness, and its symbolic meaning. I’d also loop into that the degree of training, awareness, and specialization of various troops seems all over the place and not related to their role in the story. Are stormtroopers dumb and bad at aiming, or elite tactical squads? Is using the Force necessary to making the most of laser weapons? Are people being killed in this movie or being scared-off / knocked out / generic defeated. On one hand Rose might trample through a room full of random hotel strangers and we write it off as cartoony and not real violence, and on the other Kylo Ren impales a dude in closeup through his eye socket. I just don’t know how to relate to a dangerous thing or weapon when I see it onscreen. I have no idea if it’s actually dangerous.
And the other one, which I know I’ve harped on but I’ll say again, is that, done with even a bit of care, shooting someone can hurt much much more than beheading them, but Phasma looks to behead Finn and Rose rather than shoot them in order to “make them suffer,” even to the point of putting them on their knees by a headsman with a laser axe.
The trick, I must assume, is that despite the skeumorphism, the laser axe (which looks more like a laser cheese wire) positioned to behead them must be assumed to not actually work in an analogous way to the real world weapon it looks like, and must instead work like a Klingon pain stick, or some other unknown sci-fi torture weapon.
I’m willing to accept that the First Order uses unfamiliar space technology torture weapons, but their other weapons are so similar to real world weapons. What is the skeumorphism doing? Why is so much of it there? What is going on?
Belinkie: My take on the “make them suffer” is that since all of Finn’s friends are in janitorial, Phasma wants to make a huge mess all over the cargo bay so that he’ll die with the knowledge that his friends will have to mop it up all afternoon.
Stokes: I know that this post is supposed to be the Desolation of Salt, but I find myself wanting to defend the movie now. Pete, rather than saying the laser axe must be a torture device, wouldn’t it be more parsimonious to say that death by blaster is not particularly painful? After all, we’ve never seen the axe before, but we’ve seen literally hundreds of people get blastered over the course of these nine movies, and — a handful of Wilhelms notwithstanding — none of them seemed all that broken up about it. All available evidence points to it being an almost instantaneous and relatively painless death. Compare that to getting arc-welded…
I have actually heard that third degree burns can be oddly painless, because the nerve endings are totally destroyed. But I’ve also had the bad luck to walk around on shag carpet for a couple of minutes and then touch my cat — so I know that static electricity hurts A LOT. It doesn’t seem like such a reach of the imagination to suppose that getting electrically decapitated would not be fun.
And Snoke’s guards… kind of DO make sense, if you do the film’s homework for it a little bit? Think back to the prequels: one of the minor villains is this guy General Greivous, whose shtick is that he’s the droid army’s dedicated Jedi killer. He uses lightsabers— but he has a personal guard of robots armed with electrified quarterstaffs. They’re an anti-Jedi squad: the point of their weaponry is that bringing a blaster to a lightsaber fight is a really bad idea.
Jump forward a little. One of the things that Sheev “Sheeven” Palpatine does while he’s consolidating power is to establish his own set of bodyguards. We see them walking around in the background in Return of the Jedi — they’re all in red, and they’re carrying “force pikes,” melee weapons that are close enough to Greivous’s henchbots’s quarterstaffs that, at least for me, when I first saw Greivous’s guys in the prequels I immediately thought “ah, this is where the Emperor’s bodyguards originally came from.” Now, the Emperor in Return of the Jedi maybe doesn’t need an anti-Jedi squad quite in the same way that Greivous does — but when he was consolidating his power, he totally did. And you can see why, even if he thinks that the Jedi are all gone, he would still want to keep a well-armed and well-trained anti-Jedi squad close at hand.
And now we get to Snoke. Discarding the possibility that he just is Palpatine in disguise somehow, we still can say that he is obviously modeling himself on Palpatine. He’s got lots of the accoutrements, you know? Not least his red-robed bodyguards, who are obviously supposed to be the next iteration of the Emperor’s bodyguards. Now, Snoke rose to power in a world without Jedi. So he really doesn’t need an anti-Jedi squad… but at this point, an elite crew of Jedi-fighters has just become one of the things that you need to have if you’re going to live the imperial lifestyle. They’re like corgis: they come with the throne.
Is giving them the full Soul Calibur arsenal a little too awesome-for-awesome’s sake? Sure. But I don’t think it’s nearly as much of a reach as you seem to — actually when they burst into action my thought was “finally a movie where those badasses in red actually DO something! This is great!”
Fenzel: Okay, okay, I submit that Snoke’s guards are awesome. But the mini-Death-Star-tech big dumb battering laser is still inconsistent when a whole bunch of the First Order have access to awesome and outrageous laser-cutting weapons. At the very least they could have used a similar sort of visual representation of laser beams. Finn flying into the laser and being lit up like Randy Quaid in independence Day is not consistent with the variety of laser-ized weapons that even on a small scale are vicious and cause extreme pain.
So, rather than the Daimyo of Neo-Tokyo aesthetic being the problem in this movie, maybe it could have been a more broadly applied solution. Give the First Order nasty vicious bright skeumorphic lasers and the Resistance the chunky dull mechanical stuff. Maybe that’s what they tried to do with the battering laser and I just wasn’t feeling it.
Stokes: And another thing! If I go to see a movie called The Last Jedi, I don’t expect it to end with the revelation that, in fact, there are going to be plenty of Jedi, dammit!
I haven’t been this annoyed since that double feature of The Neverending Story and, uh… uh… Halloween 3. (Not that Halloween 3 has a misleading title — It just isn’t very good.)
Fenzel: “Oh hey! It’s the Last Starfighter… to make it to the Starfighter afterparty with all the other Starfighters!”
“Hey everybody! I have an announcement! Unfortunately, it has been decided by the Board of Commissioners that these will be, in fact, The Last Days of Disco.
“From here on out, disco will happen at night.”
With this logic, all the alien movies where one alien survives at the end to repopulate and terrorize everybody in the sequel could be called “The Last Alien… We Promise.”
Stokes: Back when the title was first announced, I started working on a post that was going to parse all of the potential meanings of the “last” Jedi, based on the Oxford English Dictionary. I quickly abandoned it because it turns out there are, like, dozens and dozens of meanings.
But I learned in the process is that one of the oldest meanings of “last” is “a trace, impression, or footprint.” This survives today in the idea of a cobbler’s last, a wooden model of a foot that you stretch the leather over when you’re making a pair of shoes.
Thus: a trace that is used as a model.
Rosenbaum: Well, I mean, the crawl for The Force Awakens straight up calls Luke “The Last Jedi.” So, you know.
Fenzel: This makes Rey the 4th Last Jedi, after Obi Wan, Yoda and Luke. It’s a popular title.
Rosenbaum: Does Rey even really qualify as a Jedi? She’s very strong with the Force, but never received any actual training. In fact, if Kylo Ren turns back to the light side, I’d argue that *he* would be the only one even remotely qualified to hold that title, and even that is arguable. Vader was the last Sith, and Luke was the last Jedi. Whatever comes from now on, light or dark, will have to be something else.
Fenzel: Rey is a Presybterian Jedi. New power structure, big important distinction between how the hierarchies work, but at the end of the day new boss moves rocks same as the old boss.