This has been an overlong analysis, but now it finally pays off. What was the purpose of this film? Why was it actually made, and why was it made so seemingly incompetently? What did Disney hope to gain from it all? Was it just a marketing endeavor? Was the virtue signalling just the cherry on top? Not exactly. The Mouse is a bit more sinister than that.
In Which the Film Inflicts an Orwellian Nightmare
To reiterate: leadership is subservience. The past is irrelevant. Failure is a form of success. Self-sacrifice for your friends is simply suicide. Power, not virtue, the only reason for honing one’s skills, and power cannot be learned or passed on. Good and evil, whatever their pretensions, are just alternative ways of pursuing power.
The Last Jedi enumerates these points one by one as each arc unfolds. Characters are set up with arcs and then knocked down again and again; there is nothing to show for their failure, no lessons learned, no punishments inflicted, and no greater moral dimension revealed about their flaws. Each arc is simply a lesson in failure for the sake of failure, with the added heinousness of inflicting upon the audience several contradicting conclusions from the premises of the characters actions.
Luke learns to get over his flaws as a teacher by admitting that nothing he can do will ever help the student he failed, and in so doing, he embraces the very ethos his fallen student came to understand when he fell away. Destroy the past—in Luke’s case, the ancient texts that reveal the centuries-old understandings of the very Force Luke has spent his life studying. Luke goes to destroy it out of a misplaced sense of guilt. Kylo’s destructive urges, however, manifest in a greater sense of destrata: he does everything he can to destroy his own personal history and take down the galaxy’s past with it. Yet he learns nothing after he kills all of his masters and rejects what friends he could have had. There’s only his own will to power and that will simply continue to destroy him.
Rey’s hubris, meanwhile, suffers a mild defeat in her inability to turn Kylo from his deranged and solipsistic path into evil, yet for some reason, it gets reinforced by Leia’s baffling words to her at the conclusion of the film. “We have all we need,” she mumbles, holding Rey’s hand while the entirety of the Resistance has been reduced to the ten people standing around on the Millennium Falcon like it’s some kind of pathetically small frat party. Luke implies she’s a Jedi before his death. And to top it off, she figured out for herself how to levitate a bunch of rocks, which by her own admission seems to be one of the only things the Force is good for. Exploitation, according to these films, is a virtue unto itself. There is the kernel of the idea that the room of mirrors Rey encounters is intended to teach her humility, that answers aren’t easy, and that things that promise the indulgence of her dreams are almost always empty—and yet, immediately after encountering the room, instead of humbling herself before her teachers and learning from the past, she strengthens her stubbornness and indulges in the absurd belief that she could in some way redeem the man whom she was just minutes before cursing. Rey, who seemingly was supposed to learn humility, has instead doubled down on her arrogance and masked it beneath some kind of savior complex.
Moving on, Finn comes to terms with his place in the Resistance and the meaning of friendship—or at least, he would have, if he hadn’t had the peak of his self-sacrificial love for his friends stolen at the last minute by a woman whose erratic actions throughout the whole film made no sense. Watching her fall into unconsciousness after she flew her plane into his and crashed, she tells him that friends aren’t saved by fighting the people trying to kill your friends. We’re supposed to view her sacrifice as noble, since it meant Finn lived to fight another day, except she told him not to fight, and in the meantime, a boatload of his friends got vaporized at the hands of the machine he was about to sacrifice himself to destroy.
Lastly, returning to where we began, we have Poe, whose arc is the easiest to criticize because every problem with it hinges around the existence and insanity of one character. Poe’s enormous talent is squandered as he is reduced from one of the Resistance’s chief assets—both as a pilot and as a field commander—to a hamster stuck spinning his wheels while his commanding officers sit around and let their subordinates get killed. Poe is admonished by his female superiors to remember his place and never to question the decisions of those who command him. Meanwhile, their incompetence leads to the destruction of the Resistance, while his brashness resulted in an overwhelming Resistance victory. And yet, somehow, he’s the problem.
This film is very easy to criticize. There are plenty of obvious and superficial things that are wrong with it. The pacing is a compete mess, there are massive edits in the action that make following some of the plots confusing, and of course, the writers have wreaked havoc upon the Star Wars continuity by leaving all sorts of details unresolved. I could have done what every other reviewer critical of this madhouse has done and complain about how every segment of Finn’s arc relied on incalculable levels of convenience and coincidence, or how using ships entering hyperdrive as a battle tactic undermines the tension of the Original Trilogy’s Death Star attacks. I could have complained about the inappropriate humor, the tonally schizophrenic writing, and the fact that everything set up in the last film was thrown out in this one.
There are several reasons why I didn’t. In the case of plot minutiae like the hyperspace ram, you could weasel a stupid explanation that could tie things up, involving technical details about how hyperspace works and involving light-speed jumps and mechanical devices that don’t exist in real life. Star Trek made an entire franchise out of bizarre technobabble like that and while it’s certainly stupid, it’s not inconceivable that it can be hypothesized away. In the case of the writing’s bizarre and inconsistent tone, as well as the bad comedy that didn’t belong, these things were somewhat expected after the glib and pretentious writing that permeated The Force Awakens. The Sequel Trilogy is just going to be written this way, and since I complained about it in the last film, there’s no use complaining about it now. As for Rian Johnson’s idiotic decision to take what mysteries were set up in the last movie and just throw them all out the window like they don’t matter: it’s crazy to do, but given how badly The Force Awakens kicked off the trilogy, he may not have had much of a choice.
The film is fundamentally garbage. The presuppositions it makes about storytelling and the principle according to which the action unfolds is garbage. Too many of the main characters are garbage. The conflicts are garbage. About the only things that aren’t garbage are the themes, but the film undermines them so thoroughly that they end up lost in the stink.
As I wrote in my review of The Force Awakens, Disney excels in producing films that are advertisements for themselves. Their Marvel films are other good examples. They feature collections of action scenes and some dialogue to pad it all out, a few actors people recognize speaking some lines of dialogue that sound cool and imitate the presence of conflict and plot, but nothing in the film has any substance or bears any resemblance to problems people actually encounter in real life. These bloated budget-soaking box-office features are stories engineered by committees and pumped out purely for consumption, a sort of narrative coke or cotton candy. You won’t remember it in three years and you’ve wasted your time watching them.
But The Last Jedi is on another level entirely. It bothered to give the characters some real conflicts. Poe’s struggle with an insane boss that intentionally leaves him in the dark is something anyone who has worked a nine-to-five can understand and relate to. Finn short-sighted attempt to save Rey, although stupid, makes sense based on his character—it’s just everything that happens to him after that is surreal. Luke’s guilt over screwing up his disciple gives him a moral dimension that no one in the previous film had. And to top it all off, Kylo even takes his stupid duck mask off. The film has solid origins to work with, even if the larger political drama of the First Order’s galaxy-spanning empire is completely out of place.
It strikes me as being more than sheer incompetence that crashes a story like this. The way these characters fail and the way these arcs are thrown into the trash are all too obvious to have been done accidentally. The Last Jedi, far from being the product of incompetent writers and overpaid marketing executives, comes across as a deliberate and dishonest attack on not only Star Wars, but the broader notion of storytelling itself. The kind of subversion that The Last Jedi embarrassingly tries utilize falls right in line with the postmodernist drivel that gets taught at any contemporary liberal arts college. The sacrifice of coherent stories in favor of self-indulgent political pandering and the arbitrary use of women as tokens rather than characters points toward this leftist-Modernist version of storytelling and art as a means of political control. And what’s troubling about it all is how blatantly and unapologetically it goes about indulging in this nonsense.
Subversive texts used to be enveloped within a sense of shame that forced their theses into the realm of shock territory. They were typically violent, profane, or disgusting enough to attract only the attentions of edgy teenagers or college professors so stupid that they had gotten bored with the classics. Mainstays of popular culture were never within reach as subversive fiction for a couple of reasons: one, the writers weren’t considered good enough to be writing for large projects, and two, the mainstays of popular culture hadn’t yet turned into the superflat nightmare of consumerism that we have now. At some point in the last sixty years, culture gradually shifted into pop culture, and the nursery rhymes, folk tales, and family songs that communities shared were dispensed with in favor of commercial jingles, bloated movie franchises, and the Top 40 songs that pollute the public places over loudspeakers.
Culture was not something capable of selling a product or presenting an agenda. It was the emergent quality of an entire people’s conscious and unconscious wills. Today, culture is chained at the neck to this pop culture monstrosity, an artificial titan defined by the corporate interests of key entertainment industries. Pop culture consists of fetishized post-nerd paraphernalia, politicized comic book stories turned eventually into two-hundred million dollar films, music singles produced by multi-millionaires who made their money rapping about poverty, crime, and sex, and a video game industry increasingly forced into line by a tight handful of production companies. Pop culture is accessed by the internet and by the advertising industry. It has its gate keepers. It’s controlled and manipulated very intentionally by the people who greenlight scripts and sign off on merchandising deals. In the twenty-first century, it’s not reasonable anymore to pretend like pop culture the product of some grassroots interests that emerge to form a common identity. Far from it: it’s the embodiment of edicts from on high issued to force everyone who participates in its industrial human personality farming to fit in. You participate in pop culture because you don’t want to be left out of the loop.
The Last Jedi is the latest, and perhaps most egregious example, of a deliberate attempt by those on high to sacrifice the very coherency and cohesion of storytelling in order to push their obvious and obtuse agendas. Every decision made in the writing of its story was oriented toward two goals: how can Star Wars be further destroyed? and how can we force men to be evil? It isn’t hard to see the parallels between the media’s widespread and far-reaching response to the somewhat niche Gamergate fiasco of several years ago and the present mainstream’s response to negative crowd reception to this film. Gamers who didn’t tow the line back then were racist, misogynist bigoted shut-ins who played too many shooters in their mother’s basements—insults hurled from the pages of the very industry’s own magazines. They were insulting their own market demographics in order to score points with the SJW crowd. Today? I’m Glad The Last Jedi Destroyed My Childhood; You Hate the Last Jedi Because You Hate Women; Russia Hacked the Last Jedi’s Ratings and Those Russia-Defenders who Voted For Trump are the Only Ones Who Actually Hate it.
It’s all the usual suspects pumping out this bizarre stream of shilling—Huffington Post, Salon, IndieWire, Vox, and various SJW-affiliated blog sites. You know it already if you’ve been paying attention. Disney themselves are certainly shilling their failure of a movie, insisting it’s a success when it failed to meet projected box office expectations, ignoring the fact that China—a market Disney has actively tried to capture for the last twenty years—pulled it from all of its theatres after only a week, and of course, this says nothing of the gargantuan score discrepancy between the professional critics and the general audiences on Rotten Tomatoes. Rian Johnson has been going on the defensive in interviews, insisting that the movie’s more obvious flaws were intentional all along, but this only makes him look like either an appropriately clueless idiot or an appropriately bought-and-paid-for yes-man for Disney.
There was a similar attempt made to shill the Ghostbusters reboot last year, but the difference was that nobody actually cared about that movie the moment they announced it’d have an all-female cast. The reason was obvious. Nobody wanted a Ghostbusters reboot, nobody wanted Ghostbusters without the classic original cast, and nobody wanted to watch the hackneyed and unfunny women flaunt their vagina/fat/body-positive/BBW jokes around no matter what costumes they wore. The difference is that Ghostbusters isn’t Star Wars, and it wasn’t the direct follow-up to the arguably successful first installment of a new trilogy. All The Last Jedi had to do in order to be a successful follow-up was fill out a couple of arcs for the main characters and keep things coherent. It would have still been a blatant commercial cash-cow like its predecessor was, and I’d probably still have hated it, but there’d have been nothing to spark the sort of viscerally disgusted response that the current product actually gave us.
The Last Jedi failed because its messages are too obvious. It is a political vehicle that wants its audience to know all of the themes encapsulated in its main plotlines. It wasn’t written with the intention of developing characters, resolving conflicts, or continuing the story from The Force Awakens. It wasn’t even written with the cynical eye for marketing and what could be turned into toys or video games or commercial tie-ins. It was written to force its agenda. Don’t just abandon your past, throw it in the garbage. Don’t ever question authority, especially the authority of women, and especially if it seems like their plans are completely insane. Ignore those feelings of sacrificing yourself for the greater good of a particular group. Don’t put up a fight.
And what does it say about the self-professed Star Wars fans who actually enjoyed the film? Contrary to what the tabloids are insisting, it’s striking how easily satiated those looking for a nostalgic trip actually are; the movie featured the Millennium Falcon, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, lightsabers, Stormtroopers, giant ships, a superweapon, space battles—great! What more could you ask for? The Star Wars fans who are upset are pissed because the story doesn’t make any sense, not because it didn’t have enough lightsaber fights or because they rehashed all their ship designs but made them look stupid. If that was enough, The Force Awakens wouldn’t have been greeted with even lukewarm appreciation by a majority of the fandom.
The question is, will Hollywood to try to force this stupid meme even further? Will audiences be subjected to months of media pressure in the wake of every over-politicized action blockbuster’s failure for the next ten years? Will movies now be engineered purely to push agenda all the way down into the manner in which they are written? Have we finally reached the Orwellian stage of consumer entertainment, where even our popcorn flicks come with doublespeak baked into them? The answer is probably yes.