Friday, December 29, 2017

The Last Jedi and narrative risks *major spoilers*

This is Joseph

The last Jedi is visually amazing and has some great character moments.  The plot is not the best, although that has rarely been a strength of Star Wars movies.  But I did want to comment on how the plot was, in a very odd way, just as safe and conservation as the Force Awakens. 

Needless to say: SPOILERS

REALLY, no kidding, SPOILERS

The Force awakens was basically the plot of a New Hope rehashed for a new group of heroes.  It is not necessarily the wrong artistic choice -- bringing a series back to the basics can create a fertile ground for exploring new paths forward.  Unfortunately, the Last Jedi seems to have managed to mangle the plot. 

The main conceit of the new series is that they reverse expectations at every step, often just to reverse them:

  1. Luke is a grumpy old man and not a wise Jedi master
  2. The plans that the heroes try cost lives and don't save them (Finn's expedition leads to the death of most of the surviving members of the resistance)
  3. Poe's reckless actions make things worse, not better, and being a hot shot ends up being counter-productive
  4. Snoke is killed immediately
  5. Turning on his master doesn't redeem Kylo Ren
  6. Rey falls for Kylo not Finn
  7. Heroic self-sacrifice is stopped by another character, with no viable plan to prevent everyone from dying
I could go on, but the trick seems to be to reverse expectations at every turn and try to make it fresh and original as a result.  But what struck me is how they somehow managed to avoid all of the real narrative risks that they could have taken with the story.

And we end up with the status quo.  A resistance against an empire that is overwhelmingly strong and is led by a person strong in the dark side is being led by a small group of heroes.  None of the new people died.  Luke becomes a force ghost, just like Yoda. The situation at the beginning is exactly like the end and we don't really have new plot angles that take us in a new and fascinating direction.

If you are going to invert expectations then you should create new paths forward.  Instead we get the same set up and very little narrative payoff.  Maybe that isn't the main thing in a Star Wars movie, but it definitely detracted from the otherwise very beautiful piece of film.  


  1. Your assumption is that the writer was in full control of his medium and made skillful choices as part of a definite plan, which then somehow did not quite work out.

    An alternative analysis is that the writer was not skillfull, and just haphazardly recycled a lot of previous Star Wars set pieces in a garbled and ultimately pointless way, as have most of his predecessors in the franchise.

  2. "Rey falls for Kylo" - Rey feels a connection to Kylo but I don't think that it is love.

    Rey wanted to know who her parents were. Kylo tells her they were nobodies and Rey comes to agree - Rey probably doesn't know, he was just using it to his advantage and Rey was too emotional to think that through.

    Since Darth Vader was capable of producing twins, what's to say he didn't have other children (and grandchildren) scattered about.