The Alexandrian

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi has proven to be a controversial and divisive movie. What is perhaps most surprising is the degree to which both sides of the conversation seem to be simply incapable of believing that the other side exists and are obsessed with disenfranchising their opinion: Those who liked the movie are convinced everyone who says they didn’t are either mindless fanboys, Russian bots, or racist misogynists. Those who disliked the movie are convinced everyone who says they did are either mindless fanboys, paid Disney operatives, or incapable of appreciating how “revolutionary” the movie is.

I’ve found myself somewhat in the middle as far as these discussions are concerned. (Which, of course, means that I’ve spent all my time being broiled alive by both sides.) So let’s talk about The Last Jedi.


There are eight significant clusters of criticism for the film:

  1. As The Last Jedi begins really building on top of the decision in The Force Awakens to completely reboot the Empire vs. Rebellion conflict, it’s become clear to many people that they really hate this decision. (This includes people who didn’t like The Force Awakens for the same reason.)
  2. This nihilistic reboot methodology also extends destructively to the OT characters, each of whom are revealed to have been the most complete, utter, and abject failures imaginable in every single facet of their lives – personal, professional, political – and are then set up to be systematically killed off one movie at a time. (A scheme only somewhat derailed by Carrie Fisher’s death in real life.) This is, to put it mildly, leaving a really bad taste in people’s mouths.
  3. The primary plot (of the cruiser chase) is riddled with plot holes and doesn’t make any sense. The film suffers because its backbone is broken.
  4. There is an assortment of special edition/prequel-style humor which is not landing for many people (titty-milking, confetti Praetorian guard, “General Hugs”, etc.).
  5. Material that fans feel is inconsistent with and untrue to the canon which has preceded this film. One prominent sub-cluster here is Rey’s ability to perform astonishingly powerful Force tricks while receiving no training whatsoever.
  6. Several plot threads end with the heroes failing to achieve their goals. (Many critics describe these plot threads as being “pointless”, but this is one point where I’ll editorialize by pointing out that “failure” and “pointless” are not synonymous in cinema. More on that in a little bit.)
  7. “But my pet theory! But my speculation! But my shipping!” The Last Jedi is not consistent with (and some feel even deliberately contemptuous of) many of the popular fan theories that followed in the wake of The Force Awakens.
  8. WTF is up with all these women an minorities fucking up my movie? (Actually, I’ll editorialize here again: Fuck these people.)

From this list, in addition to #8 (seriously, fuck those people), I’m also going to summarily dismiss #7. First, from a purely factual point of view, Rian Johnson finished writing his script and began pre-production for The Last Jedi before The Force Awakens was ever released. The personal “slight” that some people are perceiving because their personal pet theories didn’t pan out has no basis in reality: Johnson was faced with the same conundrum you were and came to different conclusions.

Second, this general trend in fandom is not a healthy one in any case. For example, shipping as a fun little thing to do as fans / while writing fan fiction is cool. The toxic version where fans rage against the dying of the light when their ships don’t pan out is a cancer on modern media.


Let’s also dispatch with something else straight out of the gate. I am really sick of being told that a film in which:

  • The rebel’s base has been discovered and they need to evacuate
  • A young Jedi goes to seek an old master who has retreated to a remote planet because a former student turned to the Dark Side (and then discovers that the old master lied to them about their former student!)
  • The heroes seek help from a charming rogue only to have him betray them
  • There’s a confrontation between the Disciple of Light and the Disciple of Dark in front of the Emperor’s… err… Supreme Leader’s throne

is some sort of revolutionary Star Wars story the likes of which has never been told before.

It isn’t.

Get over it.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Jake Skywalker

By far the largest problem that I, personally, have with this film are the first two points above: The sequel trilogy is fundamentally built on a brutally nihilistic foundation. And that’s not even Rian Johnson’s fault: He took what The Force Awakens gave him and he followed it through to the logical conclusion. He’s ruthlessly effective at it, in fact, and, honestly, it shouldn’t be any other way. Ultimately the sequel trilogy is what the sequel trilogy is going to be; fighting against that now would only result in an increasingly incoherent narrative.

That doesn’t make me any happier about it, though. I think it’s an abominable handling of the Star Wars legacy. Instead of building on what came before, the sequel trilogy diminishes it.

By contrast, the prequel trilogy, for all of its flaws and foibles, never diminished the original trilogy. If anything, the prequel trilogy greatly enhanced the original trilogy. (Primarily due to narrative leitmotifs like the character arcs of Anakin and Luke, although that’s perhaps a topic for another day.) The same cannot be said for the sequel trilogy: The revelation that everything achieved in the original trilogy has been turned to ash and the heroes of the original trilogy are complete and utter failures is incredibly damaging to the ending of Return of the Jedi and, in fact, the entire narrative arc of the first six films. Six films all led up to a moment where Luke Skywalker transcended the teachings of the Jedi and the teachings of the Sith and brought balance to the Force. The sequel trilogy fundamentally unravels that in order to “reboot” the original trilogy characters back to an earlier state of their existence.

If you accept the sequel trilogy as canon while the watching the original trilogy, it makes the original trilogy films weaker and less powerful. And that’s really not okay, in my opinion.

Allow me a moment now to rebut a few common counter-arguments at this point.

“Everybody dies! This was inevitable!”

Yeah, sure. But not everybody dies after seeing their entire life end in abject failure.

“You just wanted the original trilogy heroes to be perfect paragons without flaw!”

Not at all. This is a false dilemma. Luke, Leia, and Han can be flawed characters who make mistakes without being complete and utter failures. And it would be far more interesting to see Luke, Han, and Leia all continue to grow as characters from the point where we left them at the end of Return of the Jedi than it is to see them all get nihilistically rebooted to either earlier stages of their lives or into a cheap Ben Kenobi rip-off.

“You can’t have peace! The movie is called Star Wars!”

This is another false dilemma. If you don’t reboot the Empire vs. Rebellion conflict, the alternative isn’t automatically a peaceful galaxy filled with happy unicorns frolicking through fields of flowers. The alternative is an infinite variety of OTHER options which aren’t destructively nihilistic to the Star Wars legacy: Palpatine Loyalists rebelling against the New Republic. A cold war in a galaxy divided between the Imperial remnant and the New Republic. Droid War. Extra-galactic invasion. Cryogenically frozen Sith army from 10,000 years ago waking up.

The sequel trilogy simply lacks ambition.

Now, as I’ve mentioned, these problems were already present in The Force Awakens. That movie laid down the destructive foundation of the sequel trilogy. But The Last Jedi really starts building on that foundation, owns what that foundation means, and begins telling a story that drives home the consequences of that foundation. I think that’s the primary reason why it’s bearing the brunt of people’s ire for this nihilism.

Similarly, I thought I’d come to terms with the sequel trilogy “reboot” after The Force Awakens. But leaving the theater after seeing The Last Jedi I had to grapple with the fact that I had not, in fact, done so. The conclusion I eventually reached was that for me, personally:

The sequel trilogy is fan fiction.

Albeit fan fiction with a fantastic budget.

Consider what Mark Hamill said in a recent interview:

I almost had to think of Luke Skywalker as another character. Maybe he’s Jake Skywalker. He’s not my Luke Skywalker. (…) We had a fundamental difference. But I had to do what Rian wanted me to do because it serves the story. Listen, I still haven’t accepted it completely.

Like Hamill, I couldn’t accept this movie as being a “real” part of the Star Wars saga. And so… I’ve chosen not to. And, at least for me, once I made that choice, when I went back to see The Last Jedi again, I was able to really enjoy the film for what it is by itself. Because once you get past the destructive nihilism on which it is built (or simply bypass that entirely by severing it from all that has come before), what you have is a really great movie.

Jake Skywalker, for example, may not be Luke Skywalker. But Jake’s story is really amazing and filled with some incredibly powerful moments once you accept that he isn’t Luke Skywalker and his story is not going to be coherent with Luke Skywalker’s. (For example, “And the last thing I saw were the eyes of a frightened boy whose master had failed him.” is an incredibly powerful idea, perfectly scripted with phenomenal line delivery, and complemented by perfect and beautiful visual framing… It’s just brilliant. It also has no business having Luke Skywalker in it.)


Star Wars: The Last Jedi - BB-8

The destructive nihilism, however, is not the only problem the movie has. We’re particularly going to look at points #3, #4, and #5 above, because that’s the cluster that sums up where I think the movie falls short.

The first 7 minutes of The Last Jedi include:

  • The “General Hugs” comedy bit.
  • Poe taking out all of the surface cannons of a dreadnought solo, while flying an X-Wing which moves unlike any other Star Wars spaceship ever filmed. (It looks as if he’s driving a drag racer from Fast and the Furious.)
  • The poorly delivered “Wipe that nervous expression off your face” line.
  • The utterly bizarre “fix a computer by smashing it with your head” comedy bit.
  • The bit where all the bombers were flying in such a closer formation that when one was taken out they were all taken out.
  • Also, fine, bombers “drop” bombs in zero-g because the spaceships fly like World War II fighter planes. But the bomb bay doors are open to the vacuum of space, and something like 5 minutes later Leia is going to be sucked out into space because of the vacuum. Set a rule and follow it. I stand corrected (see the comments). This still bugged me in the moment, but I was wrong to be bugged by it.

Watching the tonally-deaf special edition-style humor for the first time in the theater, the thought honestly crossed my mind, “I might have to walk out of this movie.”

Fortunately things improved from there, but there are still a number of problems with the film, most notably the central chase sequence around which the entire film is built.

  • We’re slightly faster, but for some reason that doesn’t translate into “getting ever farther away”; it translates to “we can maintain this very specific distance”
  • The First Order has multiple ships, but they can’t just have some of them do an FTL jump to pen the rebels in.

And so forth. Basically, I think if you’re going to make a dilemma like this the central pillar on which your entire film is built, you need to make the effort to make sure it actually makes sense. When you fail to do that, everything you build on top of it becomes rickety.

Having firmly concluded that the ship chase sequence was built on nonsense, however, I was surprised when watching the film a second time that in the absence of my brain gnawing away at the logistics of the chase sequence, I was able to sort of accept the “reality” of that chase sequence and instead appreciate the intricately woven character arcs built atop it.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Canto Bight

Which brings us to Canto Bight (aka, the Casino Planet).

Oddly, I’ve found a great deal of criticism surrounding the film focuses on this sequence. It’s apparently “pointless” (because it results in failure) and should have been cut from the film.

Which I find utterly bizarre because Canto Bight is absolutely essential to the movie.

Like all of the best Star Wars stories, The Last Jedi thrives on its characters. (Which is why the fundamental swing-and-a-miss on the core characters from the original trilogy is causing such immense blowback. But I digress.) And for Canto Bight there are two key character arcs to consider here.

Star Wars - Poe DameronFirst, Poe’s. This consists of four specific beats:

  • Make a mistake by pursuing a course of reckless heroism instead of strategic leadership in the bombing run. (He then gets called out by Leia specifically for doing this, clearly establishing this as a central idea in the film. She even says, “I need you to learn that.”)
  • Make the same mistake on an even larger scale by disobeying Holdo’s orders and putting the entire Resistance at risk.
  • Learn from that mistake, and demonstrate that learning process during the skimmer battle on Crait. (“It’s a suicide run. All craft move away! … Retreat, Finn! That’s an order!”)
  • Apply the lesson which has been learned by realizing that Luke is buying them time, and then leading the survivors out of the cave instead of leading an assault on the First Order. (A decision which is then very specifically endorsed by Leia – “What are you looking at me for?” – who establish this arc in the first place, thus signaling that Poe has been successful in learning this lesson and has been rewarded with the leadership which was also foreshadowed as the prize for doing so.)

The Canto Bight sequence only has an ancillary impact on Poe’s arc, but I bring it up because it’ll tie back into Finn’s arc in a second. Finn’s arc begins back at the beginning of The Force Awakens and is built around Hierocles’ conception of oikeiôsis,Star Wars - Finn in which humans extend their sense of self in ever-widening concentric circles:

  • He wants to survive.
  • He extends that desire to Rey.
  • He extends that desire to the Resistance (i.e., the actual mean and women who are in peril on the Resistance’s ships).
  • He transcends that desire and becomes a Rebel; one who will fight for what is right to the benefit of the entire galaxy. (This culminates in, “Rebel scum,” which is a fantastic inversion of that line.)

In order for Finn to achieve that final bit of growth, he cannot be stuck on the Resistance transports. He has to go out into the galaxy and truly see the consequences of not standing up to the First Order. He has to see the oppression. That doesn’t necessarily need to be Canto Bight (there are other forms of oppression that could have been depicted), but the setting works well due to the strong contrast between luxury and oppression.

(This is also a good junction to note that the Canto Bight sequence is not particularly long. It takes up only 11 minutes of the film and is very briskly paced.)

The other aspect of Canto Bight is Rose. She doesn’t have a strong personal arc (because she’s a supporting character), but she plays a really important role as Finn’s guide and teacher. Star Wars - Rose TicoNot by actually, literally teaching him shit, but by being the living embodiment of ideas and experiences that he needs to process. Canto Bight is, once again, essential for this because it provides the tapestry on which Rose’s character is revealed, and it is by seeing Canto Bight through Rose’s eyes that Finn learns the lessons he needs to learn.

What’s interesting here is that Finn’s growth up to this point has only taken him as far as where Poe was at the beginning of the film: That’s why Finn disobeys an explicit order and attempts a suicide run on the cannon.

This is really amazing and subtle filmmaking for a couple of reasons:

  • Finn has arrived at this point not by paralleling Poe’s character arc, but by perependicularly coming to the same resolution. This adds depth and dimension to this aspect of the film. (In much the same way that, for example, Kylo Ren and Luke come to the conclusion of “let it all burn” from very different directions and for very different reasons after both ricocheting off opposite sides of the same moment).
  • At the very moment that we’re seeing Poe demonstrate that he’s learned the lesson, we’re seeing Finn repeat Poe’s mistake from the beginning of the film. Thus there is a direct contrast that really lights up Poe’s growth as a character.
  • Rose saves Finn and tries to communicate something really important (both to himself and this entire film): “That’s how we’re going to win. Not by destroying what we hate. By saving what we love.”
  • Finn still hasn’t actually learned the lesson, though. So the moment at which Poe is fully incorporating the lesson and demonstrating his mastery of it (“He’s stalling. (…) We’re the spark that will light the rebellion.”), he’s simultaneously providing the final push Finn needs to get over the hump, learn the lesson, and get to the same point Poe is now at.

And what is that point?

What Poe just said: That it’s not enough to Resist. They must be the Spark which lights the Rebellion.

It’s arguably the single, most important theme of the movie, and these three characters have engaged in a beautiful dance through the entire film so that, rather than just talking about that “spark that lights a rebellion” we’ve seen that spark in action. And how that spark has transformed Poe and Fin (and, through a completely separate arc, Rey) into the Rebellion.

And the whole thing turns around the axis of Canto Bight.


Canto Bight isn’t the weak link in the movie. It’s an almost perfect example of just how good this movie really is.

Once you divorce The Last Jedi from the crippling flaw of utterly failing to build upon the Star Wars legacy (and, in fact, doing the exact opposite by inflicting terrible damage upon that legacy) — and, don’t get me wrong, that’s a really huge problem — and consider it strictly as a film on its own merits, what you discover is:

  • Incredibly intricate and interwoven character development
  • Fantastic performances from virtually everyone in the case
  • Stunningly beautiful and effective cinematography
  • At least a dozen moments that are absolutely iconic and incredibly memorable

But it’s this last bullet point that inexorably draws us back to that central problem, because for so many of those moments it would be more accurate to say that they would be iconic if they weren’t built on false foundations.

I’ve already mentioned how incredibly cool the “eyes of a frightened boy” moment is… if it didn’t feature Jake Skywalker masquerading as Luke Skywalker. To that we can also add things like:

  • The spellbindingly captivating hyperspace ramming sequence… except that the hyperspace ramming itself (like the sudden ubiquity of never-before-seen cloaking technology) has problems syncing with everything we’ve seen in this universe previously and opens a Pandora’s box of future storytelling problems.
  • The “spark which lights the rebellion” material is pitch perfect, deep, and incredibly effective… if it were part of a story set prior to A New Hope. (It makes the comparable material in Rogue One look almost hapless by comparison, and I liked Rogue One.) But here these themes simply attach a bullhorn to the destructive nihilism of the films with a screeching, “I’m fucking up the original trilogy almost as badly as the special editions!”. And, ironically, the more effective Johnson is in realizing this material, the more he cranks up the volume on the bullhorn.

And so forth. There are also, to be fair, a number of very good moments which land without any drawback whatsoever. (For example, Kylo Ren’s incredibly clever way of getting around Snoke telepathically monitoring him for betrayal.)

But there’s also a smattering of other foibles in the film, including a number of baffling continuity errors. (For example, the fact that Poe knows Maz is perhaps explicable despite never meeting her in the previous film. Poe having somehow never been introduced to Rey during their time at the rebel base at the end of The Force Awakens is not.)

So, here’s my final verdict: As a Star Wars film, The Last Jedi earns a D. Separated from the saga and treated as a form of indulgent fan fiction, I give the film on its own merits a B+.

If you can, like me, separate this film from its destructively nihilistic base through the simple mental expedient of saying #notmystarwars with positive instead of negative intentions, then I highly recommend The Last Jedi. It’s a wonderful and beautiful and powerful film.

But I won’t blame you if you can’t.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Ruin

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56 Responses to “The Last Jedi – A Reflection and a Critique”

  1. delericho says:

    Great review – I’d been having problems sorting out just where my issues with the film lay, especially given the two armed and angry camps of opinion, and this really helped. Thank you.

  2. J.D. says:

    I disagree (strongly) with you in one point. I don’t think Finn’s arc is pointless because it ends up in failure. The Last Jedi didn’t invent failure in movies, The Last Jedi didn’t invent failure in Star Wars movies. Finn’s arc is pointless because it doesn’t further the plot at all. Every single thing that happens in that story arc is completely and 100% irrelevant to the rest of the movie. You can edit out the whole thing and you end up with the same film and *that* makes the story arc irrelevant.

    All in all I liked the movie, I think its virtues exceed its sins, I’m happy to have seen the movie and it’s very likely that I’ll watch it again and enjoy it (I laughed at every single stupid joke, they worked for me :-)). But no, Finn’s failure to accomplish what he was set to do is not the reason nor adds to the reasons why his plot is pointless.

  3. J.L. Duncan says:

    I’ve been waiting… I’m officially passing on seeing this in the theater. I’ll wait for the DVD, or better yet borrow some else’s DVD.

    Even without seeing the film I know that fan expectations have been out of whack. This new series is going in a new direction, hence the first film, and if you go to the movie and don’t expect more of the same… Well, that’s on you.

    I didn’t like the direction of the ‘The Force Awakens,’ as to how it didn’t mesh well with the original trilogy. I didn’t like new or old character development. The plot. About the only thing I did enjoy was the performance of the actors… Which is pretty strange.

    The biggest issue I see is about the legacy of the old story vs the new one. Most people want some degree of consistency between the two. And there isn’t anything of significance… Or that this new arc is part of the old one. I could see that with the Force Awakens, so Star Wars isn’t getting my money.

  4. Yora says:

    Only saw it two days ago, but this movie keeps and keeps growing for me. My first reaction was that it’s almost as good as Revenge of the Sith, but I now think it’s much better than that. I never was really attached to any of the heroes so their loss is fine with me, and I am a big fan of stories about dealing with failure, so I am mostly unbothered by the main issues lots of viewers seem to have.

    But what really makes the movie work so well for me is that it’s the first time in 20 years that brings back the feel of the classic movies. The prequels were much too shiny and Force Awakens and Rogue One failed to capture the majestic scale and sense of wonder that really defines Star Wars for me. The story is much more holes than plot, but in addition to the characters having gravitas, it really is the blending in in the classic aesthetics that make me fall in love with a Star Wars movie again.

  5. Jozxyqk says:

    The “nihilism” criticism is such an odd one to me. (I also think it’s an odd use of the word “nihilism” when what you mean is something like “not arriving at a certain future conclusion with regard to some specific plotlines of the OT”).

    I viewed the end of Jedi as Luke defeating the Emperor through a selfless act that redeems his father. It’s a wonderful moment, but I don’t view it as having any specific demanded implication of what happens next, or of Luke being incapable of a grand failure. It’s not nihilistic to offer that vision, nor does it detract from Luke’s triumph.

  6. Justin Alexander says:

    @J.D.: I have to disagree with you on a factual basis there. Even if we were willing to say that character development is “pointless” and the only thing that matters in a film is plot (and I’m really not OK saying that), you’re still claiming that plots can’t include failure (which doesn’t really make sense).

    But even if we’re willing to concede that character development is irrelevant and that plots can’t include failure, there’s also the fact that the Canto Bight plot leads directly to the First Order learning what Vice Admiral Holdo’s plan is. If that doesn’t happen, they don’t target the carriers, they don’t follow them to Crait, and the final confrontation never takes place.

    Yes, as I noted in my essay, we could hypothesize an alternative version of the film where all of those plot points and character development are delivered through a different sequence of events. But they would still need to happen unless you wanted to completely transform the film into something else.

    @Jozxyqk: It is unclear what you think the definition of “nihilism” is. But the sequel trilogy is, whether intentionally or not, deeply based on existential nihilism: The individual is irrelevant and all that they achieve is irrelevant.

    And it’s not just Luke turning into a weak copy of Ben Kenobi. It’s the entire Empire vs. Rebellion reboot. It’s Han and Leia being reverted (in their complete and utter failure as human beings) to a pre-ANH status, with an extra dollop of completely failing their son to top it off. TLJ says that you should have Hope, but the entire foundation of the sequel trilogy is based on the proud and unequivocal declaration that Hope is a lie and those who believe in it are fools.

    And that gives the film a fundamental incoherency that can only be resolved by severing it from its predecessors. Because viewed in context with its predecessors, it not only narratively fails those predecessors as badly as Han, Leia, and Luke failed Ben, it also fails itself.

  7. Jozxyqk says:

    “But the sequel trilogy is, whether intentionally or not, deeply based on existential nihilism: The individual is irrelevant and all that they achieve is irrelevant.”

    Accepting that individuals fail or that the struggle of good against evil is an eternal one is not at all the same as nihilism. The sequels do not view the failure of the Republic is irrelevant, they view it as a disaster. Same goes for Luke’s retreat. These are challenges with which the (intrinsically valuable) forces of good, life and light must do battle. At most you might say that this story is bleak, but it is anything but nihilistic.

    “TLJ says that you should have Hope, but the entire foundation of the sequel trilogy is based on the proud and unequivocal declaration that Hope is a lie and those who believe in it are fools.”

    I think you’re turning this into a sludgier meta-narrative than makes any sort of sense. The Bad Guys rising again and creating a new Crisis in Star Wars is no more a nihilistic condemnation of hope than the serial episodes that inspired them were. (“OMG! Ming the Merciless is back again, just like last week! Is Hope(tm) pointless!?”).

    I never saw the OT as framing Luke as an eternal and ultimate savior of good over evil. He’s a great hero who won a heroic victory. The sequels do not take that away from him.

  8. Johnny says:

    I would rephrase point #8.
    When did the SW universe become so dominated by humans where did that magic go?
    Where are the Rodians or Twi’Leks? Not hanging out at a casino?
    Yes, I look through the lens of the most wretched hive of scum and villainy.

  9. Justin Alexander says:

    You’ve fallen pretty heavily into the fallacies I’ve already rebutted in the essay itself.

    Could the trilogy have gotten away with resetting the Empire v. Rebellion conflict (instead of progressing to the NEXT crisis) without being nihilistic? Maybe.

    Could the trilogy have gotten away with stripping away all of Luke’s successes and personal growth in the original trilogy (becoming a Jedi Master, bringing balance to the Force, learning from his failures) without being nihilistic? Maybe.

    Could the trilogy have gotten away with breaking up Han and Leia and revealing the complete and abject failures of their personal lives without being nihilistic? Maybe.

    Could the trilogy have gotten away with revealing that all of the personal character growth experienced by the main characters had been stripped away? Maybe.

    Can it get away with ALL of those things? With leaving literally not one single accomplishment — personal, professional, or political — from the original trilogy undone?

    No. It can’t. If you say “it was literally ALL meaningless; you accomplished nothing, you did nothing, you are worse off now than when you started, the entire narrative of the original trilogy was a lie, and the only thing left is for these characters to die one by one”, then you’re being fundamentally nihilistic. Basically by definition.

  10. Justin Alexander says:

    @Johnny: The Canto Bight sequence (featuring the new “hive of scum and villainy”) is studded with aliens. The Resistance/Rebellion has a fair number of aliens, too. (Certainly moreso than in ANH or ESB.)

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more of the classic races show up, though.

  11. Geoffrey McKinney says:

    Justin, that is a very interesting critique of The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens. Thank you for sharing it. :)

  12. JesterZero says:

    I hadn’t seen a couple lines of criticism that you mentioned, but here are a couple that I had seen that I’ll pass along.

    1) Structural problems – This is not a rehash of the nihilism complaint, but rather that certain setups don’t align with certain outcomes. E.g. There is no need for Luke to perish via Force projection while buying time if he could have just showed up to buy time and perished anyhow. Chekhovs gun with his x-wing. Examples could be multiplied.

    2) Thematic problems – I didn’t get this impression, but a military buddy told me that the audience he saw it with (on base), were very irritated with the “selling weapons is reprehensible” theme. Personally I thought the movie made a passable attempt at nuancing that.

    And a subpoint to (5): in addition to being out of step with continuity, there’s a sense that new characters are being propelled past OT counterparts as a deliberate snub to what came before. The Disney movies really do seem to act like awful inheritors in the sense that the subtext is “hurry up and die so we can have your stuff!” That feels gross.

    FWIW, I move in circles where I’d expect to hear (7) and (8), and haven’t heard a peep. I’m sure their out there, but at least firsthand, I’ve only seen these misattributed. You mentioned there’s a lot of that going on.

    Other than that, I think you nailed it.

  13. Johnny says:

    @Justin: I’m probably jaded, as the Cantina has painted my perception of the whole SW universe. I wanted more, I always want more. Outside of the Rebs and Imps, it seemed like humans accounted for less than 30% of sentient species. Doing a little digging I see your point and yes we can at least agree that the classics are missed.

    My grumbling aside, thanks for the very well thought review.

    One last grumble: #9) Only one big monster that only in the background and only partially seen is not acceptable. Note: a monster is not something that looks like it was designed by the same twit that brought us Jar-Jar.

  14. Malimar says:

    I’ve seen a ton of people on social media dismissing all criticism of this movie by saying, “You hated TFA because it was too similar, now you hate TLJ because it’s too new, you’re just an unpleasable hypocrite”. These people have simply failed to listen to anybody’s actual complaints about the two movies. TFA wasn’t the worst movie I’ve seen in years just because it was a rehash; being a rehash was, if anything, the smallest and least consequential of its myriad of problems. Likewise, TLJ isn’t bad just because it’s new and different — the prequels were new and different, and I actually liked two of them.

  15. Jozxyqk says:

    “You’ve fallen pretty heavily into the fallacies I’ve already rebutted in the essay itself.”

    It sounds like you don’t understand the nature of my objection–or don’t understand what nihilism is.

    “If you say ‘it was literally ALL meaningless; you accomplished nothing, you did nothing, you are worse off now than when you started, the entire narrative of the original trilogy was a lie, and the only thing left is for these characters to die one by one’, then you’re being fundamentally nihilistic. Basically by definition.”

    First, I don’t agree that you’ve offered a fair statement of the facts. It’s weepy, dramatic and overblown. It doesn’t reflect the story as told.

    Second, if the above quote were accurate, the sequels might be nihilistic if they left it at that, and suggested that the true result of the struggles of the OT was desolation and nothingness. But they obviously don’t.

    Consider a depiction of an acorn growing into a great oak despite the ravages of a forest fire. A second image of the tree it succumbing to disease and leaving a piece of lifeless, scorched earth where the oak once was might be viewed as nihilistic.

    But nobody would view the followup as nihilistic if it also showed a new, sprouting green tree, nurtured by the remains of the dying oak and fighting through the disease. You’re (a) hyper-focused on the death of the oak for some reason; (b) somehow believe that the death of the oak shows that its struggle for life was meaningless.

  16. Jhansenhimself says:

    Great review. My opinions differ on a couple points here and there, but that’s mostly a matter of taste (read: you actually HAVE taste).

    I wonder if the nihilism may be an intentional attempt to make the sequel trilogy into Star Wars’ retelling of Gotterdammerung: burn down Valhalla and the gods (rewrite our understanding of the Force/Jedi/Sith), torch Midgard and its heroes (kill off the original cast and reveal their OT victory as just another turning in a vicious cycle), and try it all again from One (the cycle is broken, and the Force reverts to its primal nature, freed from the Jedi/Sith binary. Some people also probably have babies). If that is indeed what they’re going for, I think it could be a good capper if the next movie can pull off the hat trick and make the concept land. It’s going to be a heavy lift, though.

  17. Justin Alexander says:

    Jozxyqk: May you die in misery, separated from all you have ever loved, all the goals of your life left in abject failure, and your children dead before you. Since you think it’s such a cheery and life-affirming state.

    Jhansenhimself: Shouldn’t be that difficult to land it. They just need to copy and paste the same ending from ROTJ. 😉

  18. Jozxyqk says:

    “May you die in misery, separated from all you have ever loved, all the goals of your life left in abject failure, and your children dead before you. Since you think it’s such a cheery and life-affirming state.”

    Jesus Christ dude. Go to hell.

  19. S'mon says:

    If Rose had let Finn complete his suicide run it looked like he’d have taken out the ram and died a hero. Instead she would have got everybody killed, had not Luke Skywalker intervened.

    Almost as stupid as the Vice Admiral not telling Po Dameron her plan.

    At least the Rey/Renn scenes were fun; otherwise the movie was a disaster IMO.

  20. Kirk says:

    I’m going to disagree with “it’s nihilistic,” breaking the previous stories. It is instead a rewrite of the consistent core theme.

    A nobody from nowhere with a great power within arises to change the course of the galaxy.

    But this time it’s not a tyrant (prequel trilogy), and it’s not a master (primary trilogy).

    maybe. yet.

  21. Justin Alexander says:

    You seem really hyper-focused on the death of the oak for some reason, Joz.

    @S’mon: Two different characters and a visual cue all signaled that Finn’s suicide run was going to fail.

    Holdo’s reasons for not telling Poe her plan aren’t stated because the film is very specifically framing that story as “hero vs. cowardly commanding officer” so that the audience will buy into Poe’s hotshot “logic” and share his confusion and self-doubt when the plan blows up in his face.

    Ironically (and quite deliberately), it is Poe himself who explains why Holdo isn’t telling him the plan: It’s a need to know plan, and he doesn’t need to know. Poe simply lacks the self-reflection to realize his hypocrisy.

    @Kirk: I’m not sure who you’re talking about. Rey is specifically set up to be a Jedi Master, like Luke before her, in this film (including the title). And Kylo has established himself as a tyrant.

  22. Bruce says:

    Great review! You captured exactly how these new movies are so out of sync with the OT. I don’t understand why, with all the massive resources Disney has, they couldn’t come up with writers or a story from the start to set up a new generation of heroes without taking away from the accomplishments and character arcs of the previous generation of heroes. What do you think the motivation is for this kind of built in nihilism?

  23. doctor futurity says:

    Very interesting critique, thanks for sharing. I will make the comment that, despite growing up with and very much loving the original three films, they were always a bit ethereal…fake, if you will, and only The Empire Strikes Back felt like it attempted to humanize the main characters. The key reason I enjoyed TLJ (and TFA) so much as because it did more to humanize Luke, Han and Leia….to make them more believably real in their natures (and failures) than they ever were originally. People don’t remain the same over decades, and a Luke who, 32 years later, has found out that his high point was the redemption of his father and death of one despot, now faced with his crippling failure as a teacher, felt more “real” to me and was one of the key reasons I enjoyed this film…it was a powerful deconstruction of a modern myth, and that was a key element of the film’s resonance (to the point it even literally states this, a couple times in fact in dialogue). Every step of this movie was a deconstruction of the original myth…..and I guess whether or not that’s a good thing or not depends on the person. Call me a Star Wars atheist, but I completely loved it, enough so that I think this particular film may be my favorite of all of them.

  24. Justin Alexander says:

    @Bruce: I think it’s simple carelessness. With TFA they wanted to “recapture the magic” that they felt had been lost by the prequels, and the way they did that was by performing a “soft reboot” on the franchise and then crudely aping the aesthetics and plot of the first movie. But there was no real thought or consideration given to the narrative consequences of that decision. Rian Johnson inherited those careless creative decisions and took them in the only direction that makes logical sense.

    To their credit, they also created Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. All three of whom are fantastic characters and without whom the sequel trilogy would be a truly bleak disaster.

  25. Isikyus says:

    A very insightful review! I feel like you’ve put my own feelings about the movie into words.

    However, I’m not sure the nihilist theme is as pure a negative as you make it out to be. The Force Awakens was memorable but for me, the rising nihilist themes make The Last Jedi the stronger movie.

    Between the nihilism on the one hand, the imitation of Empire Strikes Back on the other, and the see-sawing on setting details (e.g. hyperspace ramming), I was never sure whether the movie meant to copy the originals or break them, which made the plot twists that much more surprising/powerful.

    It might yet be the end of Star Wars — but if Disney wasn’t willing to risk that, I don’t think they could have made the movie at all.

  26. Rexlerlepp says:

    I agreed with a number of the things you wrote in your post and there were a few things I didn’t agree with. But it interestingly, the part of your review which I think is the weakest and belies your own philosophical understanding of the world is the part where in the comments you got into the biggest fight. Jozxyqk is making some very good points and you seem to be just shutting them down, as if your view of things is right and no one else can change them. That makes it seem like you don’t care about discussion and instead just want people to agree with your thoughts. That’s kind of a naive way to handle dissent. And if it matters you’ve lost a follower in how you handle those comments.

  27. Johann says:

    Excellent review — I feel I don’t have to read any other discussions now as you cover all the issues I have with the film (and also most of the stuff I liked).

    That said, your “May you die in misery”-wish on somebody who disagrees with you was way out of line. The fact that it simultaneously acts as a demonstration of your argument is NOT an excuse.

    In all my years of reading your writings – whether here or as Justin Bacon on other forums – I have never seen anything like this from you. You should apologize.

    Best wishes,


  28. Kraken says:

    Great summary of the ‘spark that lights the rebellion’ story-arc – to me that’s clearly well executed and the essential message of the film.

    However, I think you’re unfair in suggesting that it undies the victories of the previous films in order to re-establish an Empire vs Rebellion status quo. There is obviously an element of that – the it’s star wars so the good guys have to be the underdogs (for me this was a significant failure of the prequels). But the axis on which it all turns is fundamentally transformed, precisely due to the actions of characters in the previous films, and this film is clear on how different things now are.

    In the previous films the force was divided between Jedi (light) and Sith (dark), who each vied for control. In the prequels the Jedi / light held dominion, in the original trilogy the Sith / dark did. But at the end of that trilogy Luke redeems Anakin and brings balance to the force. However, he is still wedded to the idea of the Jedi and a seperation of the force into light and dark – he’s not suited to the brave new world he’s ushered in, and when he senses powerful darkness alongside the light in Ben Solo it scares him. Likewise Snoke attempts to discount the light in Kylo Ren and focus only on the dark – he’s equally wedded to an outmoded vision of the force.

    Ren and Rey, however, are both of the new generation – they recognise a balance of the force in each other, and eventually reconcile themselves to the idea of balance in a manner that their elders never could (although in burning the tree Yoda signals that he thought through the implications of the prophecy a little for fully than most of his peers). Having come to that recognition they even fight alongside each other – however they soon realise that their aims remain irreconcilable.

    And it’s this that forms the new divide – Ren attempting to use the newly balanced force as a tool of domination, and Rey attempting to use it as a tool of liberation. True, that does map onto an old Empire vs Rebellion divide, but that’s the result of transformed conditions remaining mired in the world that birthed them.

    I’m really hoping that the next film holds firm to this course – this makes it not a return to the same old dark vs light story, but a struggle to complete the transformation begun in the previous films. The characters in those films (and especially Luke) have not failed, but set in motion a change than now needs to be consolidated and advanced, as the old world begins to reassert itself and drag things back into well-trodden terrain.

  29. Cristian says:

    Though it’s with trepidation that I touch upon this, I still don’t think your nihilism critique is as watertight as you say. In fact, it appears to be almost self-defeating.

    You said yourself that failure does not entail ‘pointlessness’, yet you continually point out that “everything achieved in the original trilogy has been turned to ash” as if it’s a necessarily bad outcome – and I can’t make heads or tails of this. Are you not simultaneously saying that the failure arc that takes place on Canto Bight – though unfruitful in terms of the plot – is critical to express a message via character development?

    Furthermore, allow me a moment to counter-argue a rebuttal to a common counter-argument. If you wouldn’t mind.

    None of your listed alternatives are as non-destructive as you claim. Where does a loyalist rebellion bring us? A now-former rebellion quashing an insurrection? How ironic – not only for the hypocrisy, but for the fact that we are right back to the prequels and the hegemony of the ‘incorruptible’ Jedi. How’s that for damaging? The three various wars (sans the cold one) you suggest seem little more than Marvel-esque action movie plots that entirely disregard the cyclical and mythical narrative that Lucas began to create (remember – “It’s like poetry: it rhymes.”) How’s _that_ for damaging?

    This, I think, is really the crux of why the failures of Luke and Leia and Han aren’t nihilist. Even disregarding your own pseudo-admission (?) of the fact that failure cannot be meaningless if it contributes to development, the apparent demolishing of LLH’s legacy is but a single part of the grander story (not that I agree that their legacy has been wholly demolished regardless).

    Indeed, the Rebellion/Republic/Resistance is in a worse-off place than they started, but it is from this desperation that they draw the strength to fight the good fight. It is here is where those that will be passed the torch step up to receive it. LLH already had their happy ending, more or less – 20 years and more of it. But the time of the old things has come – and such an inevitability seems a cosmological fact of life in the Star Wars mythos. At least, it is if you respect the alleged vision of the Lucas films as much as it seems you want to.

  30. Runeblogger says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading this well-written and well-thought review as much as I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments. I find the two preceding mine specially insightful.

  31. CMP says:

    Echoing Johann on your totally inappropriate response to someone trying, at least as far as I read, to earnestly discuss — which you then followed up by twisting the commenter’s words into a taunt.

    I’ve been reading your blog for a long time. Did not know you were such a cruel bully.

  32. Savage Wombat says:

    The essential problem at the core of this complaint is what has been described as the essential problem with sequels in general.

    Namely, that when the heroes save the world in the original material, and everyone lives happily ever after, it’s necessary to un-save the world before the sequel can start. (This may not be true in every case, but at minimum it’s the writers’ go-to move.) Defeat one big bad and another one comes along that’s even worse. Spend a thousand years defeating a dark god and two years later here we go again. The fans wanted a new game, so we have to blow up the old map to build the new game on.

    This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if people would be more willing to buy new stuff instead of sticking to known, repetitive IPs.

  33. Justin Alexander says:

    @Johann, CMP: You seem really hyper-focused on the death of the oak for some reason. If Joz thinks these things are positive and life-affirming, can’t you just accept that and be happy for him?

    (Two possibilities, guys: Either Joz was wrong. Or I insulted him. Both can’t be true. Pick one. And once you’ve picked one, ya might reflect on the fairly transparent rhetorical device being employed. You can call “let’s follow through on the logical consequences of what you said” bullying if you like, but that doesn’t make it so.)

    @Savage Wombat: As I mentioned in the essay, this is a fallacy. There’s lots of ways to do sequels that don’t involve nihilistically destroying the previous narrative. (And, yes, there are plenty of examples of other films that do this, too. But I don’t like Ghostbusters 2 either.)

    Take, say, the entire MCU. Even Thor: Ragnarok, which (as the title suggests) literally destroys the world, doesn’t nihilistically roll back the clock on every accomplishment and piece of character development from the first two films.

    Another good example here would be the Aliens franchise: Aliens features Ripley having to fight xenomorphs again, but it’s not nihilistic because nothing she accomplished in the first film is negated. (Even the fact that, in the extended cut, her escape is shown to be imperfect doesn’t make it nihilistic.) Alien 3, on the other hand, is infamously nihilistic, capriciously slaughtering everyone she saved in the previous film while she’s asleep.

    (Perhaps unsurprisingly, this destructive nihilism is one of the major reasons Alien 3 is rejected by so many fans of the first two movies.)

    @Cristian: Rhyming the word “stormtrooper” with “stormtrooper” and the phrase “Han is a smuggler” with the phrase “Han is a smuggler” may technically qualify as a “rhyme”, but I’m not going to be terribly impressed by it.

    The stuff that works in the new films is the stuff that isn’t trying to rhyme with itself through a reboot of reality. Rey on Jakku reflects Anakin and Luke on Tattooine in interesting ways; DJ echoes Lando; etc. The films would benefit from doing a lot more of this and a lot less of, “Stormtroopers have a different helmet now!”

  34. gothpunk says:

    “In order for Finn to achieve that final bit of growth, he cannot be stuck on the Resistance transports. He has to go out into the galaxy and truly see the consequences of not standing up to the First Order. ”
    I don’t agree with you. The opening sequence of Force Awakens already established this thing. Finn already knows how bad the First Order is, that was his most important reason leaving it. Also, in the Force Awakens, he starts loving Rey and with Poe’s example, understands the power and role of the Resistence.

    “the setting works well due to the strong contrast between luxury and oppression.” However, this is out of context in a Star Wars movie. Does this mean, that the Empire / First of Order is opressing because they want money, wealth and luxury? Hardly think so.

    “WTF is up with all these women an minorities fucking up my movie? (Actually, I’ll editorialize here again: Fuck these people.)” I would like to address this also. I’m a feminist and I strongly believe that the new trilogy could become a great place to introduce, build and make great heroines. Leia, Rey, even Rose had the potential, however, the writing and the characterization of everyone else made this potential go away for me. I was defending Rey after TFA, because I believed that she’ll be the new Luke and/or Leia, someone who can serve as a great role model for young kids of our generation, however, after her behavior and lacking character arc in TLJ, I cannot truly believe in that. Maybe JJ Abrams will make a miracle and somehow return her on an accaptable track, but I’m skeptical.

    Regardless the above points, I loved your essay, it is interesting, coherent and I strongly agree with the majority of it.

  35. D47 says:

    I enjoyed the thought-provoking review, but I think you could acknowledge that the failures of the OT protagonists can be viewed as something other than nihilism. They succeeded in stopping the Empire, but failed at other things. In real life heroes often fail after their triumphs. Revolutions are won but fail to create lasting stability all the time. People change, make mistakes, have bad luck, become depressed, give up. Did we expect this to happen to Luke after the OT? Probably not. Is seeing a hero shrivel disappointing? Could be, but it also seems very real and created a much more relatable and emotional story than I would have expected from Star Wars.

  36. snapeye says:

    1. Luke badmouths his “legend” status all through the film. 2. He’s cut himself off from the Force as protest. 3. Shamed, he’s exiled himself on an island. At the end of the film, 1. he embraces his legend, and more importantly, the idea of legends. 2. He connects to the Force again, pouring himself fatally into it. 3. And he emerges from exile and shame onto a stage the whole galaxy will see. He goes from resenting his status as a teacher of anything, to teaching the whole galaxy at once. What you see as nihilism in Luke can be seen as a total refutation of nihilism, the crafting of meaning and faith paid for with the cost of one’s life. Similar lenses can be used for other characters when scope and proportion are admitted. Mr. Alexander, I’ve admired your blog for a long time and have come to respect you as a keen and sensitive student of drama. I accept that we don’t see eye to eye (though I share many of your issues with this movie, and ALL of them to a matter of degree). We all resonate differently, that’s fine. And though I could argue that your notions of nihilism appear thin here, and we could have a cool discussion on the finer points of existentialism and nihilism from the ancient Greeks through speculative realism, of themes from Dostoevsky to Kelman, Freud to Yalom, I hesitate because you seem to believe that employing rhetoric and being civil are mutually exclusive, or, worse, that the latter is grist for weaponizing as sharpened points. Dude, we know this is your house. But why don’t you share ideas instead of trying to “win” at all costs? Poor Paz. We can lead each other into bear traps of syllogisms and hurl accusations of fallacies, but what does that get us? I want to know that I’m sharing ideas with someone that doesn’t just want to destroy me.

  37. Gray says:

    As somebody who hasn’t seen the films but has been fascinated by the reactions – particularly with this entry – this is quite insightful. I think, really, that the new trilogy didn’t need to be a Star Wars movie, or at least not a continuation of the original trilogy. I think, really, it would’ve been much stronger that way. An homage, or a re-telling of a beloved story in a new period of time.

    Kind of a shame it wasn’t, more I think about it.

  38. Johann says:

    I hope Disney eventually gets around to rebooting the Star Wars franchise and re-tells Episodes I-VI. But even if that comes to pass, it’ll probably take a few decades…

  39. Unctuous Norater says:

    “Like Hamill, I couldn’t accept this movie as being a “real” part of the Star Wars saga. And so… I’ve chosen not to. And, at least for me, once I made that choice, when I went back to see The Last Jedi again, I was able to really enjoy the film for what it is by itself. Because once you get past the destructive nihilism on which it is built (or simply bypass that entirely by severing it from all that has come before), what you have is a really great movie.”

    I had almost this same experience eight years before The Last Jedi when JJ rebooted Star Trek. The first time I saw it, I *hated* the movie. They destroyed Vulcan, for Christ’s sake! There’s a scene near the end of the movie (SPOILERS if you haven’t seen it in 8.5 years) where Kirk &co. have beaten Nero, the renegade future Romulan, and are watching his ship be sucked into a black hole. Kirk offers the Enterprise’s assistance, which Nero rejects. Instead of trying hard to save him, or at least leaving Nero alone per his wishes (as the real Kirk would have done), “Jake Kirk” orders his officers to “fire everything.” I had other problems with the movie before that, but seeing them rip out and annihilate (via photon torpedo) the very soul of Star Trek – peaceful exploration with violence only as a last resort – turned my stomach. Even with the reboot timeline gimmick that they pulled (I’d be interested in Alexander’s thoughts on whether an explicit reset would have been preferable with Star Wars), I couldn’t accept what I had seen as the same Star Trek I grew up with.

    But then, when I came to terms with the fact that it wasn’t “real” Star Trek, I saw it again and was pleasantly surprised that not only was the acting and dialogue writing good (a rare combination in a Star Trek movie), but that the versions of Kirk and Spock I saw on the screen were fairly compelling (Bones was the only character IMO that they absolutely got perfectly). Kirk and Spock and the rest of the ensemble and even the Enterprise were still simulacra of the real ones, but still compelling on their own. It was also a bridge for me to share Star Trek with my then-girlfriend (now wife) who was convinced that Star Trek was just “too geeky” for her tastes. She now knows the meaning of the phrase “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.”

    When I saw The Force Awakens, I recognized immediately that JJ had done the same thing to Star Wars, and came to terms with it during the credits rolling. One could write volumes of things in The Force Awakens that make absolutely zero sense (What is the First Order? If the Republic is the legitimate government, why do they have a ragtag “Resistance”? Why not a Republic Army/Navy/military? How does everyone in the galaxy see the Starkiller Base super-hyperlaser thing when it’s fired – is the Galaxy actually the size of Manhattan?), but with some suspension of disbelief, I can ignore them.

    I went into this film with the same expectation, and I must agree that Johnson did the best job anyone could have done to tell a story within the constraints JJ, Disney and the actors in question set for him (I thought it was an open secret that Harrison Ford refused to make another Star Wars movie unless the writers agreed to kill Han). The movie itself was quite good. But the only way to enjoy it is to go through the five stages of grieving over the Star Wars you once knew and loved: it has passed into the Force.

  40. Doz says:

    This part leapt out at me – the nitpicker in me.

    “Also, fine, bombers “drop” bombs in zero-g because the spaceships fly like World War II fighter planes. But the bomb bay doors are open to the vacuum of space, and something like 5 minutes later Leia is going to be sucked out into space because of the vacuum. Set a rule and follow it.”

    The bomber’s bomb bay is designed to open and release bombs. We see this. The movie shows us this. Invisible shields that protect from the ravages of space are not some new thing. They’re seen in practically every Star Wars movie.

    An invisible shield is not something that will be assumed to be present when a bridge spectacularly explodes from a missile hit.

  41. Justin Alexander says:

    @Doz: Good point. I was in error there and I withdraw the complaint.

  42. Sebastrd says:

    I love your blog. While I don’t always share your tastes and opinions, they’re always well thought out and expressed.

    While this critique may be well-written and thorough, it falls flat. I think you need to put down the logic and just admit to yourself that you’re having an emotional response. You’re human. It happens to all of us.

    All of your going on about “destructive nihilism” is just dancing around the truth that the sequels are not the story you were hoping for. It appears you wanted sequels that honored the legacy of LLH as heroes and paragons, and that’s a more than valid desire. It’s been a hoot trying to explain to my children just how huge an influence the OT had on me and why I get teary eyed at certain parts and why I hold such reverence for the characters – especially Luke. They were the touchstone of our generation, and I miss them dearly.

    But they are just as imperfectly human as we are. They need to be. Luke, as have I, has grown older and wiser. He sees a much bigger picture than he did decades before when he first met Obi Wan and the droids. However, he’s still Luke. He’s still impulsive and emotional. After twenty years I still lose my temper too easily – even though I recognize it and fight against it! Luke, likewise, still takes defeat far to harshly and loses hope too easily. Yoda tells him as much. He also delivers the line that sums up the theme of the film – “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

    Han and Leia had a son and then lost touch with him after he went off to train with Luke. Instead of leaning on each other after his loss, they drifted apart. This is entirely consistent with their characters, especially Han. He has ALWAYS distanced himself emotionally for fear of getting hurt. He may have turned a corner at the end of ANH and RotJ, but he’s still Han. It’s not like those successes magically cured him. In the end, he couldn’t reach his son because the bond between them was so weak and neglected, but he refused to fail his son yet again by not trying.

    Luke repeated the mistakes of Obi Wan. In his hubris he undertook to train an emotionally volatile force sensitive. In a moment of impulsive weakness, he thought to sacrifice an innocent life to selfishly undo his mistake and avoid the consequences. After he failed spectacularly, he ran halfway across the galaxy to pout. CLASSIC LUKE! In the end, he sucked it up and sacrificed his life to give the next generation of heroes a chance to put things right.

    None of that is “destructive nihilism”. It’s “the human condition”. It’s real. It’s what makes them more than just paper heroes.

    In my mind, at least, it’s a reverential send-off for some very dear friends who mean the world to me.

  43. Justin Alexander says:

    Sebastrd says: “I think you need to put down the logic and just admit to yourself that you’re having an emotional response. ”

    You realize you’re contradicting yourself there, right?

    Although you’re “just as imperfect” as these characters, I really, really hope you’ve never actually drawn a lethal weapon and considered slaughtering you child. I know you say you have rage issues, but that’s just not OK.

    Sebastrd says: “It appears you wanted sequels that honored the legacy of LLH as heroes and paragons…”

    Speaking of character flaws, I will freely admit that mine is a complete intolerance for someone claiming that I said literally the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I actually said.

    I’d appreciate it if you’d cut it out.

  44. Sebastrd says:

    Oh, please. I know what you SAID. I’m saying that I think you’re deceiving yourself. Your out-of-character belligerence in these comments is evidence enough for me. It’s clear some of us have hit a nerve, and you’re lashing out.

    You’re an intelligent guy, and you’re trying to use logic to explain away your feelings about TLJ. The truth is you want the Luke from the end of RotJ back. It’s perfectly understandable and acceptable to want that. It’s also perfectly acceptable to admit that’s why you don’t like the sequels. There’s no need to jump through logical hoops trying to explain away an emotional response.

    Intellectual self-deception is abhorrent to me, and it pains me to see you engage in it. You know damn well that Luke drew a lethal weapon and BRIEFLY considered slaughtering a child because he wanted to prevent another Palpatine or Vader. He weighed the cost of sacrificing one life to save the galaxy, and he quickly decided against it.

    I LIKE you and your writing, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered to say anything. I hoped you were better than this.

  45. Justin Alexander says:

    @Sebastrd: While your critique of my essay may be well intentioned, it falls flat. I think you need to put down the logic and just admit to yourself that you’re having an emotional response to someone pointing out that the film has flaws. You’re human. It happens, although I hoped you were better than this and even gave you an opportunity to demonstrate that.

    I know what YOU really mean better than you do. I’m just saying the things you need to hear. Try not to get too angry about this. I know you have a problem with that.

    See how that makes me sound like an asshole throwing fallacies around? That’s what you sound like. I’d recommend reflecting on that.

    (And I really did warn you that I was completely intolerant of this bullshit.)

  46. Kurt says:

    I have not read every comment in full so in case someone made this point I will be reasonably brief: short-range, non-interstellar hyperspace (ie. FTL) jumps are possible in Star Wars, but they are not easy and in general you need to have a sizable gravity well available to pull your ship out of Hyperspace to try it.

    Whether that remains canon or they will tweak it, I am not certain, but at least up until now it has never been as simple as “just do a short FTL jump to get ahead of them and box them in”. (Now perhaps they could have used the gravity well of Crait to effect the microjump, but maybe there is a difference when you are dealing with massive warships rather than light fighters. I dunno. The mechanics of hyperspace and hyperspace routes have always been a little shadowy.)

    Also there really should be no limit on the speed of ships in deep space…they really should have said that their ship can accelerate faster than the larger ship. But Star Wars has never been good on physics and the issue of why they weren’t pulling away from the more massive First Order ships would remain.

  47. Monkaptomus says:

    @ Kurt: at this point, I would probably assume that anything outside the original trilogy, the new movies, and MAYBE, MAYBE the new books and comic books is irrelevant. They’ve pretty much tossed everything else aside. The Force Awakens at least seemed to jive with most of the new books and comic books but The Last Jedi seems to have ignored everything except the The Force Awakens.

  48. Confanity says:

    I finally got to see the movie last night, which means I finally got to read all the essays people’d written about it today, so please forgive me – first for being a latecomer to the conversation with a not-100% solid grasp on all the SW lore involved, and second if I missed any points while skimming the comments and end up rehashing an issue that’s already been talked over. That said, here are my thoughts:

    * I agree with your basic argument that 1. it’s a well-crafted movie, 2. that it still has flaws and isn’t perfect, and 3. people on all sides of the complex debate surrounding it have a mix of valid reasons, errors, and straight up BS informing their attitudes toward both the movie and each other.

    * And now the parts where I want to disagree:

    The cruiser chase: I didn’t have so much of a problem with this. I can’t comb over the exact presentation and phrasing used, but I could believe that e.g. the effective range of the fleet’s “small guns” was, say, a thousand miles, and over the course of the couple of days of the chase, the Resistance cruisers pulled ahead slowly from 800 miles ahead to 900 miles ahead. It’s also easy to suggest that e.g. the smallest possible jump distance is a light-second or whatever, making a “penning-in” maneuver unfeasible. I’m not saying that it couldn’t have been made clearer, but this wasn’t a potentially story-wrecking plot hole for me.

    The humor: Most of this actually worked for me. It certainly wasn’t the slapstick and fart jokes of Lucas at (what is for me) his most annoying. The part where Poe is winding up Hux actually struck me as brilliant, because it isn’t just a moment of silliness for its own sake; reinforces the image we’d already gotten with Kylo Ren in the previous movie of the First Order as insecure goons who use violence and panoply to try and give themselves an undeserved sense of greatness. I agree about BB-8’s head-smashing part, but that’s a minor issue.

    X-Wing maneuvering and cloaking: No opinion on the former; I think they intended for it to be hand-waved by Poe being a top-rank ace pilot. But it’s also possible that X-wing technology is still being advanced and refined by those dealers we glimpsed at Canto Bight. And on that note… I don’t have a problem with cloaking technology existing in the Star Wars canon, especially if it’s just a new technology that was developed in the decades since the original trilogy. I especially don’t buy the argument that only Star Trek has cloaking, which is something people have actually said for some reason.

    The First Order: I’m a little surprised, because I got the impression you hadn’t picked up on the topical commentary. Sorry if this IS something you got, but the theme of First Order:Empire::”Alt-Right”:Nazis felt super in-your-face and on-the-nose to me. If you want a more grandiose take, consider that Tolkien also believed that no victory is ever complete because evil always comes back in a new form; that was part of the point he was making with Sauron’s repeated comebacks (plus an unfinished sequel to LotR called “Return of the The Shadow”). The First Order is just right for the role because the dangers and errors inherent in “people idealizing the past” is one of the major themes of the new trilogy, and a more novel conflict would lose the distinction between those who learn from the past (the Rebels and eventually Luke) and those who don’t (Kylo Ren).

    The Resistance: I’m forgetting who objected to it where, but somebody somewhere griped that the New Republic shouldn’t need a “resistance.” Again invoking topicality, I read the Resistance in the previous movie as essentially Antifa: an extralegal, perhaps vigilante-style body that rose to oppose the First Order’s “alt-right.”

    And finally… The deconstruction. Like others, I disagree that what we’re seeing is actually Nihilism. It’s dark, yes, and I think we’re supposed to not like it because awful things are happening to people we like. But I don’t think it’s a betrayal of, or attack against, the original trilogy, and I don’t think it’s all that different from how people must have felt coming out of the theater after watching The Empire Strikes Back.

    Disclaimer: a big part of my thinking on this is influenced by the Dresden Codak guy’s essay here. But to summarize and develop the thoughts there:

    1. The failures of the original cast don’t betray their basic characters; they simply highlight the flaws in those characters. Leia is more comfortable as a commander than as member of an ordinary family. Han Solo lives for the adrenaline rush of space adventure. Luke is self-absorbed and a little reckless. Luke, especially, spells it out for us: Being so enamored of the idealized “legend of Luke, Jedi Master” that you ignore his human flaws is itself the biggest and most fatal flaw of all. It’s what stymies Rey when she turns to him for salvation. It’s what drives Ben Solo to the arms of the Dark Side, like a person with BPD seeing the object of their adoration fall from the pedestal they’d put them on. It’s one that Luke himself only manages to make peace with and overcome in the final act of the movie, and which I feel is the big stumbling block keeping you from reconciling “Jake” and “Luke” in your head.

    2. The failures of the original cast aren’t “abject.” It feels like that in the moment, yes, but again: Yoda literally pops up and tells us the moral of all this. We all fail at stuff all the time, and all you can do is acknowledge it and learn from it. Luke’s failure is NOT abject, because he and Rey learn what is necessary for him to not be “the last of the Jedi,” as he so pointedly tells Kylo Ren. Yes, a son went bad and a fledgling government (that apparently only really controlled a single star system?) fell, but the end of The Last Jedi makes it clear that these failures are lessons in a path that will see the Jedi Order and galactic order alike remade by the Rebellion.

    3. The deconstruction of individual heroics isn’t ascended fanfiction writers wresting control of the mythos for themselves or putting a finger in the eye of Lucas’ vision: it’s a refocusing of a story so that the importance of the whole is played up; another major theme. We see this in the failure of Poe’s attempt to replicate Han’s “never tell me the odds!” heroics – success really does need to be built on careful planning and group action rather than exciting individualistic risk-taking. We see this in Luke’s insistence to Rey that everything is connected through the Force, and in his realization that even though he’s not a savior, he can still help people out instead of sulking on an island waiting to die. A lot of viewers came out of the original trilogy with a Great Man image of heroism, and the new movies are simply pointing out the dangers in that belief and telling us that real heroism and real, lasting change come from the collective actions of minor characters like Rose.

    I guess that’s all I have to say at the moment? What it boils down to is it feels like your charge of “Nihilism” comes from seeing deconstruction and failure without seeing what is being built on the ground that that deconstruction and failure clears away. It’s like going to Nagasaki and seeing the monuments of what was destroyed in the bombing without noticing that the aftermath allowed a vibrant new city to flourish. So I’m here not so much to argue that you’re wrong, as to say that adding a little bit to your perspective might allow you to enjoy or appreciate the work on a level that you hadn’t before.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking essay, and take care!

  49. Justin Alexander says:

    The fundamental problem with arguing “it’s not nihilism, because there’s a promise that they’re going to build new stuff out of the abject, complete, and utter failure” is that the stuff they’re promising to build is the exact same stuff.

    For example, Luke was the Last Jedi who brought balance to the Force and was supposed to teach a new generation of Jedi a new understanding of the Force based on the lessons he learned about where the Jedi went wrong. Saying that he didn’t completely fail to do any of those things is (a) directly contradicted by the text of the movie and (b) in no way mollified by Rey now being the Last Jedi who’s going to bring balance to the Force and yada yada yada.

    Rey’s promised achievement is meaningless because the story we’re currently watching is literally predicated on the idea that it’s doomed to failure. And even if the third movie shows her succeeding where Luke was a complete, utter, and abject failure, that won’t negate the destructive nihilism on which the sequel trilogy is built.

    This sort of nihilism is inherent in destructive reboots like the one the sequel trilogy is fundamentally built on. You see the same thing in the first two Ghostbuster movies: “No, no, this time we WON’T end up bankrupt and Venkman totally won’t screw up his relationship again, even though everything we did in the second movie was exactly the same thing as what we did in the first movie.”

    You may see some glimmer of light in the movie allowing each of the OT heroes a brief moment of remembering a time they weren’t complete, abject, and utter failures before killing them off. But it’s an illusion.

  50. krokodylzoczami says:

    Thanks for the review!

    I think nihilist themes are very topical these days, with Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight again. Maybe we as a society don’t believe in lasting victories anymore. This is also a running motif in the appraisal of TLJ (“if Luke et al. never succeeded, that’s great, because apparently we can’t ever succeed, too”).

    I wouldn’t mind the nihilism if it was addressed in the film, i.e., if the film was framed as a tragedy. I would be glad to see many more shots of despairing Leia, of characters discussing that nothing can be ever changed, and similar stuff straight out from No Country For Old Men.

    However, while in the context of the OT, the despair is the very thematic underpinning of the sequel films, they keep masquerading as fun adventure stories.

    I somewhat liked TFA for the humanity of Rey and Finn, with their exposed vulnerabilities, supporting each other (just think about them being silly and complimenting each other after the escape from Jakku, or about Finn getting the jacket from Poe). They seem like normal people lost in the world of action heroes.

    TLJ doubles down on darkness, but neglects humanity, as R&F ascend to being action heroes themselves. The hope the film offers is false. The kid with the broom will grow up to be another Luke or Vader. The star wars will continue, and wars are horrible.

    I believe TLJ should embrace its underlying despair. Or seek transcendence. But it should not frame another chapter of the vicious cycle as a story of hope and redemption.

  51. Confanity says:

    Okay, I still don’t agree with you about the assertion that TLJ is nihilist in its message or intent, but perhaps trying to argue that isn’t the best use of our time now.

    Let me instead ask, in your mind, what differentiates the new trilogy from the original? I mean, the originals open with a major good guy getting captured after the men on her ship are slaughtered. A populated planet gets blown up. One good-guy ship after another are blown out of the sky in every battle. Obi-Wan meets his former student who turned to the dark side, and is killed by that student. Yoda is hiding in a swamp because that same former student slaughtered the entire rest of his school, and then he dies too. Just to top off Yoda’s “abject failure,” his new student (Luke) obeys his explicit orders and runs straight into Vader’s trap. The Empire Strikes Back – the parallel point to where we are now in this trilogy – ends with the Rebellion on the run, the main heroes defeated and scattered after being betrayed, Han Solo captured and turned into a brick, and the bad guys ascendant without any clear path forward. Heck, Luke spends the second half of the original trilogy skirting the edge of turning to the dark side himself, where we’ve already seen Rey reject that path. The more I think about it, the more I feel that the new movie is more hopeful and less nihilistic, because its messaging is so clear about how the only true failure is in refusing to face and learn from your failures.

    Throw away for a moment your expectations about what Luke’s career “should” have been and pretend, if you can, that you watched each set of movies on its own without any preconceptions. What, if anything, is it that makes the new ones nihilistic where the old ones weren’t?

  52. Confanity says:

    Just a quick edit: Yoda’s new student *dis*obeys explicit orders.

  53. BillD says:

    Good review, in the main, but I do NOT share the nihilism complaint. I don’t see it as much more than complaining that the larger-than-life heroes of childhood turned out to be people after all, living in a world more complex than fairy tales where everyone lives happily ever after. Frankly, it makes it more like real life in many ways such as when the US military went from helping save the world from Nazism and brutally racist imperialism by triumphing over Germany and Japan only to stalemate in Korea and lose in Vietnam – from hero to goat in approximately 30 years. Life’s like that. It takes some nasty turns and you can’t rest on your laurels for long.

    Ultimately, in order for there to be some kind of plot driving conflict post-original trilogy, something has to come along and mess with the original triumph of the heroes. In the expanded universe, they had the remnants of the Empire (more or less the role the First Order plays), they had a Solo child turning Sith (Jacen), they had marital strife occasionally between Leia and Han as well as political difficulties, and they had to invent some enemy to blunt the use of Force/Force users as deus ex machine (the Yuuzhan Vong). At least with the sequel trilogy, we’ve dispensed with the Yuuzhan Vong (and good riddance to that).

  54. Monkaptomus says:

    @Confanity: the main issue with your argument is that Obi-wan and Yoda are not the main characters. They are background characters whose previous actions failed. The original trilogy isn’t about them it is about Luke, Leia, and to a smaller degree Han. Do they have setbacks and challenges? Yes. Are they ultimately successful? Yes. Having bad things happen to characters doesn’t mean the movies are nihilistic.

    The Empire Strikes Back, while darker, is not nihilistic. Bad things do happen but in the end the Rebellion escapes to fight another day, Luke gets some Jedi training, he gets a new hand, they escape Darth Vader and get to safety, and they have a plan to get Han back. There is genuine hope in the end.

    On the other hand, having all of the characters actions accomplish nothing is nihilistic. Which is the problem with the new movies (not just The Last Jedi). Successfully destroy the First Order’s main base and super weapon? Yes! Does it change anything? No! The First Order still takes over the galaxy and destroys the republic (which they don’t actually explain how that is possible in the movies – it only makes sense if you have information from the books). Escape from planet with our lives? Nope. They can track you through hyper space. Escape on cloaked ships? Nope! They have our codes. Settle in on planet with bunker to protect ourselves? Nope! They have super laser to burn down door. You could go on.

    On top of that, unlike The Empire Strikes Back, the Last Jedi doesn’t even end with any real expectation that they can be win outside of deus ex machina in the next movie. Outside of Rey getting some Jedi training (which is only slightly less than what Luke gets in The Empire Strikes Back) the movie ends with a handful of people, out of hundreds if not thousands, escaping with their lives with no plan for the future. There is no reason to expect help or assistance once they escape since the movie already established that no one answered the call for help.

    Lastly, the whole, “We are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down” thing is preposterous. How do they expect that to work when only a handful of people made it off the planet alive and nobody in the rest of the galaxy knows what happened? The First Order just wiped out the capital of the Republic, the entire Republic fleet (which they don’t tell you in the movies), and is in the midst of taking over and I’m expected to believe that the galaxy somehow knows that Luke Skywalker showed up to fight Kylo Ren on some forgotten back water planet? So unless everyone else in galaxy was watching the movie there is no reason to believe the would know what happened. How do those kids at the end of the movie know that Luke faced off against Kylo Ren? Were they watching the movie too? The whole thing is preposterous.

    There were some enjoyable moments and good ideas in the movie but overall it was a disappointment.

  55. Confanity says:

    A lot of time has passed, but just in case….

    @Monkaptomus: The main issue with your argument is that Luke and Leia are not the main characters (of the new trilogy). They were background characters whose previous actions failed. The new trilogy isn’t about them; it is about Rey, Finn, and to a smaller degree Poe. Do they have setbacks and challenges? Yes. Are they ultimately successful? (One assumes that in the next movie, yes, they will be.) Having bad things happen to characters doesn’t mean the movies are nihilistic.

    The Last Jedi, while darker, is not nihilistic. Bad things do happen but in the end the Resistance escapes to fight another way, Rey gets some Jedi training, she never loses any hands, they escape Kylo Ren and get to safety, and Poe is with them. What’s more, we see explicitly that both the Resistance and the Force are alive throughout the galaxy without being limited to a single small group of heroes, so there is genuine hope in the end.

    Other the other hand, having all of the character’s actions accomplish nothing in the first two movies of the original trilogy is nihilistic. Successfully destroy the Death Star? Yes! Does it change anything? No! The Empire continues unchecked and proceeds to build a second, fully-functioning battle station. Escape the planet with their lives? Nope; Luke is wounded and teetering on the edge of the Dark Side; Han is encased in carbonite and a prisoner of Jabba the Hutt; the Rebels are still being driven off of planet after planet and out of base after base. All the old Jedi masters are dead and the only person in the galaxy poised to take over their legacy lacks much in terms of confidence and skill, not to mention any knowledge of the history of the order he hopes to restore. I could go on.

    On top of that, unlike The Last Jedi, which offers explicit messages of the Resistance living on within the spirits of all living things and Rey explicitly granted the mantle of Jedi by Luke, The Empire Strikes Back doesn’t even end with any real expectation that the good guys can even get together again, much less win. They’re on the run from an overwhelmingly powerful Empire and have no plan for the future. There is no reason for them to expect help or assistance, since the movie already established that there’s nobody out there who could conceivably break out of a moment of fearful inaction and become powerful allies.

    Lastly, your idea of “preposterous” is full of holes. You just admitted that people all over the galaxy DO know what happened because they heard the call, even if they didn’t spring into action against a terrifying foe at the first instant they heard a distress call. It’s clear from the events of the movie, including the fact that some random stableboy has a friggin’ Secret Resistance Ring, that the lines of communication are open and that soon the whole galaxy will know what went down with Luke. The point you’re trying to make is only true if you ignore pretty much every single detail of the Resistance’s stand and escape.


    I’m not saying you can’t be disappointed in the movie if that’s how you feel. Yes, it was dark. Yes, it made a point of showing how even the most heroic people still have flaws and failings. But let’s be clear: using your personal emotional reaction as the basis to call a movie “nihilistic” when its core message is “We grow stronger by learning from the mistakes of the past” isn’t good criticism, and doesn’t hold water.

  56. Monkaptomus says:

    @Confanity: I actually enjoyed the movie when I first watched it but the more I think about it the more I don’t like it. For me it has gotten worse with more viewings.

    Yes, the Last Jedi SAYS that these things happen but it isn’t what they show. Am I honestly supposed to believe that the Resistance has kindled the flame of hope throughout the galaxy based off a handful of people escaping Crait? If anything the movie shows the opposite. They started off with what, 4 or 5 warships, dozens of fighters, and thousands of people and ended up, after relentless pursuit by the First Order, with barely enough to fill a freighter. Wow, that is inspiring. Their mantra, if anything, smacks of desperation. As for the slave kid, I can’t find it believable that he would know what Luke did just because those same handful of Resistance fighters escaped Crait. I honestly assumed he picked up Rose’s ring after she lost it at Canto Bight not because he was some kind of Resistance agent. Just because the movie shows it doesn’t mean it makes sense.

    The more I watched the movie the more I got the feeling they were showing one thing and saying another.

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