Note: Spoilers below.
In my previous movie reflection, I pondered the good lessons from Episode 8. I would have gladly stopped there. But unfortunately, the movie offered some seriously bad lessons that I couldn’t ignore them. Before I start reviewing the lessons, here is my one pet peeve.
Since I had seen the original “Star Wars” many years ago, I always expected the light saber fights to improve. In terms of light saber duels, Episode 3 was so packed with them that I watched the movie multiple times in the theaters. “The Force Awakens” had a great duel between Rey and Kylo. My expectations for Episode 8 were high. But it was a massive letdown in the lack of intensity. Rey and Kylo’s takedown of the red imperial guards was well choreographed. But that fight was similar to the light saber vs. electric staff fight of Obi-Wan and Anakin against General Grievous’ drone guards in Episode 3. Nothing new there. Even when Kylo confronted Luke, Luke was masterful in dodging Kylo’s swipes, but he never parried. Of course, it made sense since Luke was using the Force to appear on the planet Crait while staying on the Jedi island of Ahch-To. A potential fight was never a fight at all.
That was my pet peeve. Let’s move to the serious problems in Episode 8.
Social Justice — Who matters more: kids or animals?
“The Last Jedi” carried plenty of commentary on social injustice, especially when Finn and Rose arrived to the casino planet to find a master codebreaker. “Star Wars” always had a theme of the backwater hero (Anakin, Luke, Rey) toppling the rich, evil enemy (Trade Federation, Galactic Empire, First Order). Episode 8 was very heavy handed in pushing the injustice of the rich. Rose told Finn about the rich enjoying life from the sales of weapons to the First Order while she, her sister and everyone else were crushed underneath. During the escape from the planet, Finn and Rose relied on the slave children caring for the fathiers, racing animals. The pair rode the escaped herd as it trampled through the casino with the rich screaming and fleeing for their lives. Afterward, Finn asked, “Didn’t it feel good smashing a few holes in that place?” If social justice is just smashing stuff and not moving to change conditions, why bother? A temper tantrum achieved nothing other than giving oneself a pat on the back.
But after Finn’s question, Rose removed the saddle from the fathier and allowed it to go free. “Now, I’m happy,” she said. So the animals were liberated while the slave children were left behind to be punished by their masters for losing the animals. Shouldn’t Rose feel just as much sympathy for the children because she had been one of them? Are the “Star Wars” producers aping the wider culture in showing that cute, big, furry animals were more important than children? Would it have been better for Rose and Finn to tell the kids to jump on the animals and escape? It would have been more inspiring at the end of the movie for the escaped children to assemble together, talk about Luke Skywalker and the Resistance, and be inspired.
Does evil carry any consequences?
In “The Empire Strikes Back,” Luke entered the cave permeated with the dark side of the Force. He encountered the possibility that he could become the next Vader. That foreshadowed the shocker that Darth Vader was his father. Meanwhile, in “The Last Jedi,” Rey fell into the dark side cave on the Jedi island, swam inside, and faced mirror images of herself. She failed to find answers about her parents. But she exited the cave without any harm from the dark side. No harm??? Those tapping into the dark side would acquire lots of power, but they would be corrupted by it. Anakin descended into a blinded, lustful grab for power and control. Kylo’s internal conflicts intensified. If Rey can dabble into the dark side without any harm, does that mean that evil actions have no consequences? Wouldn’t the Sith be right all along that the Force is just a neutral power to be used to manipulate and control others? Why bother being a Jedi? The movie seemed to blur the lines between good and evil when good storytelling would clearly delineate between the two.
As for zero consequences, the movie had plenty of characters who achieved nothing. Finn and Rose went on a fool’s errand to find the master codebreaker and deactivate the First Order’s tracking device. The producers created their side plot to pull attention away from the slowest, most boring space chase in “Star Wars.” Finn fought Capt. Phasma, but that fight wasn’t crucial to reach to the transport ship. He failed to blow up the battering ram. Poe Dameron’s plans ended up getting people killed. Leia spent half the movie in a coma and reappeared as the matronly guide. The rebels kept shrinking, sent an unanswered distress signal and fled again. Even Chewbacca’s actions were limited to escorting Rey to the next location. Only four people did anything noteworthy. Luke healed from his guilt and shame to confront Kylo and stall for time as the Rebels escaped. Kylo killed Supreme Leader Snoke to take over the First Order. Rey saved the Jedi books from destruction. Vice Admiral Holdo rammed the First Order starship by having the rebel cruiser go into light speed. That allowed the rebels to reach the salt planet of Crait.
Would the boys be allowed to play?
I’m glad that to see the more women have stronger roles in movies. But Hollywood seemed to treat strong and weak roles as a zero-sum game. If the men are strong, then the women must be weak. If the women are strong, then the men must be weak. What made the original “Star Wars” a legend is that all main characters (Luke, Han, Leia) were strong characters that people want to emulate. The male characters in “The Last Jedi” remained weak. Poe Dameron’s hotheadedness never tempered. Finn’s growth in self-assertion amounted to yelling at the duplicitous code breaker. His attempt to take down the battering ram was foiled by Rose.
Well, the rebels were reduced to a measly band in the Millennium Falcon. Rey has only begun to understand her Force powers. If they are meant to conquer the First Order, they have a lot of ground to cover. Let’s hope that Episode 9 exceeds every expectation.