The Last Jedi: Story Gripes

I found the last Jedi a rather tedious movie-going experience. And it did not improve with age. As a student of story-structure, I thought I’d apply some story-analysis to the film and examine why I felt the writers involved made some poor decisions in the construction of the story.

1) Tone. The new generation of Star Wars creatives have clearly forgotten that the original film was a bright, happy antidote to a bleak depressing time. The 1970’s were downright dystopian: Vietnam, the Nixon administration, oil embargo, energy crisis, economic stagnation. It was a mess, and the films of the time reflected this with nuclear devastation, apes in charge, and people eating soylent people. And then “Star Wars” came along. The technology was new, but the story was as simple as a child’s toy. We all found a thrilling world of adventure and the thrill of a nobody farmboy beating the empire.

Coincidentally, we now live in another dystopian time and a bright optimistic story could have had the same soul-cleansing effect as the original film. But optimism is nowhere to be found in “Last Jedi.” The filmmakers have embraced the same bleakness that has fueled so many recent disaster films. This began with “The Force Awakens,” which essentially hit the reset button on the franchise, erasing all the advances made in “Return of the Jedi.” Luke, Leia, and Han were denied the happy ending they richly deserved. “The Last Jedi” doubles down on this bleak view as though flipping the bird to fandom. There are no happy endings for our heroes. Thanks for taking a big steaming dump on my sense of wonder.

2) Bifurcated Plotlines. The simplicity of Star Wars was based on the consistent through-line of Luke Skywalker’s story. His adventure is our adventure. We are with him almost every step of the way with the exception of a few beats with the villains. This single-perspective narrative structure links audience and hero and hooks us into the story.

Jedi adopts a more complex plot structure that essentially cuts between three separate locales and storylines. The result is a more taxing audience experience in which we need a scorecard to keep track of events in each location. This results in less involvement in any one of the plots. Some of this was done in “Empire Strikes Back” (still the series reigning champion), but in that case there were only two storylines to follow. In “Jedi” there are three…four is you count Kylo Ren’s interaction with the other villains.

The film would have been significantly improved if there had been fewer threads and less cutting between them. Grouping together much of the activity with Luke and Rey, for example, would have given that thread more weight, with the audience unable to jump away from that bleak island.

3) Ludicrous Machinations. Any action film has to orchestrate physical conflicts that result in action. Heroes must infiltrate enemy positions, shut down defenses, or battle gathered forces. But these machinations should be organic to the story being told. The threat of a Death Star-style weapon, for example, naturally leads to an effort to find its weaknesses and destroy it.

All the recent Star Wars Films, but especially “Jedi” commit the writing-sin of inorganic or contrived machinations. For example, the rebel cruiser remains conveniently just out range of the enemy ships. Can’t the enemy ships turn on their thrusters and catch up? The same cruiser is later used to disable the enemy ships, but only after suffering many losses. Why wasn’t this part of the plan to begin with? Did the rebels really think they could get away on smaller ships? That the bad guys wouldn’t see those ships…or the big planet they were heading toward?

 

“The Last Jedi” delivers a lot of eye-candy, but eye-candy should be justified by a strong, logical plot. We deserved an epic adventure—a “Lord of the Rings”-style mission with Luke Skywalker in the Gandalf mode. We deserved to see Luke, Leia, and Han on screen together, catching up over glasses of blue milk around the checkerboard table in the Falcon. We deserved so much more than what we have been given.

 

About Deke

Writer and filmmaker Dale Kutzera is a recipient of the Carl Sautter Screenwriting Award, the Environmental Media Award, and participated in the Warner Brother Writers Workshop. His credits include the TV shows “Strange Frequency” and “Without a Trace” and the independent film “Military Intelligence And You!” He is the author of five novels and the popular “Plot Machine” story-structure guides. He writes about writing and filmmaking at www.DaleKutzera.com.

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