I deeply loved The Last Jedi. I was alternating between crying, laughing and gripping my armrests during the entire movie - both times I went to go see it. But there’s still some things about it that I thought could have been done better. Here is a list of problems I have with the movie, despite thinking it’s an A+ film and being completely on board with pretty much all of its controversial aspects.
If it wasn’t obvious... this post contains spoilers.
From the beginning to the end, this movie takes place over only about 2 full days. And on top of that, close to no time at all has passed in between TFA and TLJ.
Rey spends one night on Ahch-to (I have no idea how to spell all these new planet names and stuff so please forgive me for spelling errors) and leaves after confronting Luke in the middle of the second night. Moreover, her entire stay with Luke - and her conversations with Kylo Ren - happen within less than a week after witnessing Han Solo get murdered. Finn and Rose feel like they’re at Canto Bight for maybe less than 2 hours total.
I know it maybe needed to be this way for the low-speed chase between the First Order and Resistance to be plausible, but I feel like maybe some of the events could have been re-arranged a bit to make the other subplots feel less rushed and cramped. For example, maybe it takes a few days for the First Order to get the tracker up and running, which gives the story some more breathing room at the very beginning. While the short time frame did not ruin the movie for me, it does feel like there was little to no build-up because the movie starts off with everything already cranked up to 11.
2. The Poe/Holdo arc had too many issues that got in the way of understanding the overall point the movie was trying to make.
Poe’s arc with Holdo is one of the best things in the movie, but on my second viewing it became more obvious to me how people who Didn’t Get It could immediately write the whole thing off due to a few important aspects of it being unclear, left as implication, or just unexplained.
Perhaps being an attorney has trained me to anticipate your opponent’s arguments before they make them and maybe I shouldn’t be applying the same idea to film. After all, movies are not necessarily meant to be an “argument” being made to the audience. But I feel like it was very predictable for people who are more conservative politically, or who watch Star Wars for its surface-level fun, or who maybe simply look at movies with a more skeptical perspective, to come out of the movie unsatisfied with this subplot.
The big problems/complaints I keep hearing are: 1) “Holdo had no reason not to just tell Poe what the plan was”, and 2) “the message of this subplot is that it’s bad to question authority and that’s stupid/goes against the other themes of the film.”
Of course, there have been many discussions in response to these complaints about how Holdo did have good reasons not to tell Poe (he just got demoted, he wasn’t entitled to an explanation from his boss, Holdo already knew Poe had issues with following orders, the first thing Poe does when he gets a whiff of the plan is to stage a mutiny thus proving Holdo right not to trust him, etc etc), so I won’t get completely into that as it’s already been discussed to death.
Rather, I’m saying something different but related: the subplot could have easily been cleaned-up and polished a bit better in order to make the whole thing more clear for the entire audience. Developing Holdo and her motivations more, or just setting the situation up slightly differently, could have helped more people come away from the movie understanding the emotional/thematic point that Rian Johnson was trying to make.
First, the set-up for the Resistance’s situation could have been altered somewhat to give Holdo more of a clear basis for not wanting to tell Poe the plan. Perhaps someone floats the idea that a spy or traitor is on the ship and that’s how they are being tracked, so Holdo aggressively doesn’t want to tell the plan anyone except her most trusted friends. Then, Poe expects himself to be one of those people. But Holdo reminds him that Leia demoted him and he got their entire bombing fleet killed and destroyed - and hey, after he ignored orders and wasted so many of their resources, on purpose, who’s to say that he couldn’t be the traitor?
Later, when Finn and Rose theorize that the First Order is using new technology to track them, they go to her to try to explain it. But the science officers dismiss the idea as being impossible or something, and because Holdo has to be choosy about who she trusts, they conclude that the most plausible explanation is still that there’s a spy.
This small change would have given Holdo a more concrete reason for not wanting to tell the Resistance members the plan immediately and it would have still set-up all the elements necessary for Poe to learn his big lesson at the end about being part of a team, putting aside his trigger-happy glory-seeking, and trusting your comrades in a time of war.
Another option would be to make the take-away from this subplot more clear to the audience. This could have been accomplished, in my opinion, without having to make any alterations to how the subplot plays out in the movie.
Just keep everything as it is, but add a single minute-long conversation between Poe and either Holdo or Leia. Maybe have Poe straight-up ask why they didn’t tell him the plan in the first place - giving a voice to the audience members asking the same thing.
Then Leia/Holdo can explicitly explain to him that he wasn’t entitled to be told what the plan was. Wars are fought by groups of people trusting each other enough to follow orders according to a hierarchy - not by leadership having to explain every choice they make to everyone, as if all of their underlings are actually equals instead of underlings. Poe - and thus, the audience - could have been outright told that he had betrayed the trust leadership put in him when he ignored orders, and he needs to understand that his actions have consequences and can impact his relationship with others. If Poe wants the other Resistance members to trust and respect him, he’s going to have to be willing to extend that same trust and respect to them.
The movie sorta tries to do this when Leia beckons Poe over to her after they get on the transport ships to escape, but all she really talks about with him (that I remember) is how Holdo didn’t do the things she did because she cared about glory or getting credit. This... kinda gets at the overall message - it’s better than nothing - but Poe/Holdo’s conflict isn’t really about glory. It’s more about how Poe was being self-centered when it came to teamwork and trust, and how he felt entitled to respect that he wasn’t entitled to following his stunt at the beginning of the movie that gets him demoted.
You might think that spelling out the themes of Poe’s arc explicitly to the audience might be a little heavy-handed. But seeing as how so many people didn’t get it, maybe it needed to be spelled out more blatantly so that everyone could walk away from the movie not feeling frustrated.
So to summarize: Poe’s arc with Holdo could have been written in a way to make it a little more palatable to the people who would predictably whine about it. While I personally loved it exactly how it is, if the filmmaker wants the entire audience to get it, including more conservative or surface-level audience members, spelling it out a little stronger would probably have been a good idea. Too many people came away from the movie thinking that the whole problem would have been alleviated if Holdo had just told him the plan, which means the movie didn’t adequately convey or explain why she didn’t tell him the plan and why she was right for making that choice.
I liked Rose a lot more after my second viewing, but her big finale moment when she stops Finn from sacrificing himself is still, easily, the stupidest thing in the entire movie.
At that point in the story, Luke has not shown up yet. The pilots in the junky glider vehicles were still their only hope for stopping the battering cannon at that point in the story. They rush towards the battering cannon, but they’re getting picked off one by one. They’re given the order to retreat to avoid more casualties, but one glider manages to get through the onslaught: Finn’s.
Finn driving his vehicle directly into it was, at the time, literally the only thing that could plausibly stop the cannon. After two movies of running away from every scary situation he finds himself in, Finn finally makes a choice: he’s going to take advantage of the opportunity and drive straight into the cannon, sacrificing himself to give the Resistance a chance to survive.
And then Rose crashes into him.
When Rose does this, she is essentially putting her feelings for him over both his conscious decision to sacrifice himself and the larger, overall need to save the Resistance. Not only is she assuming that the crash itself is not going to kill either herself or Finn (which it very easily could do seeing as how she’s injured at the end of the film), but she’s also forgetting the fact that they’re all going to fucking die anyway even if she saves him because they have no other way to stop the giant fucking battering cannon.
Stopping Finn does absolutely nothing to prevent him from being ultimately killed anyway, and puts all of the other survivors in a situation where they basically have no hope to stop the battering cannon anymore.
Good thing Luke showed up to bail her out! Otherwise the scene probably would have ended with her watching Finn get turned into hamburger meat by Kylo Ren. So romantic!
I am not trying to be one of those people who nitpick the literal plausibility of everything in Star Wars. Rather, here, these factual details are important because they are all feeding into the essential point that the movie makes when Rose saves Finn: her line about how you have to save what you love in order to win a war.
As beautiful as this line was, it’s COMPLETELY ABSURD for her to be saying this at this specific point in the movie. As far as Rose knew, she had essentially doomed herself, Finn, and the entire Resistance by stopping him. I fail to see how dooming your friends and the rebellion you believe in is “saving what you love.”
4. The New Trilogy continues to fail to give us the larger political context that everything is taking place in.
This movie made no attempt to clarify my #1 and maybe only problem with The Force Awakens: we still have no idea what exactly the political situation is at the beginning of the New Trilogy.
I still don’t understand what the First Order is exactly - if it’s a terrorist organization that was against the New Republic, or the remains of the Empire that renamed itself while refusing to recognize the New Republic as a legitimate government, or something else. We still don’t know how much of the galaxy the First Order actually controls, not just from a military perspective, but from a governance perspective as well.
Similarly, we didn’t learn anything new about what exactly the Resistance is or how/why they were being bankrolled by the New Republic, or why the Republic couldn’t just employ its own military might to fight the First Order, or why Leia wasn’t just working for the Republic as a general instead of operating on the fringes. This is less important now that the Resistance basically got destroyed and needs to be rebuilt and funded some other way, but this gap (and the gaps in details about the First Order) continue to make the New Trilogy just a little less engaging and engrossing than they otherwise would have been.
With a smidgen more explanation of the larger political context that these war stories are taking place in, I would feel more grounded in the world and have a better understanding of what’s going on and what’s at stake.
(EDIT: I know this has been more explained in the novelization for TFA or something, but in the words of Harry S. Plinkett, “What matters is the movies.” This is critical information about the world that the new trilogy takes place in, that really needed to be included in the movies. It’s not like Threepio’s red arm where it’s just a random tidbit that provides some nice fodder for a comic book.)
Anyway, those are my thoughts for now. I know there are many other flaws that people have pointed out regarding The Last Jedi, but these four are the big ones that are problems for me personally. I am still willing to give TLJ a score of 4 stars out of 5, so you can see how much I loved this movie even if there are a few things wrong with it. No movie is perfect - which includes all Star Wars movies, past and present.