I really loved The Last Jedi, even if I have some minor complaints about the way the universe was utilized, or some dialogue that directly stated themes that were already clear. I loved it because it’s a big franchise movie that had something we rarely see in big franchise movies right now: impact. Consequences. Stakes. Whatever you want to call it, things happen in this movie that help it stand on its own and will clearly have a huge impact on the next Star Wars film. Big characters die, power shifts greatly, and everyone is pushed to their absolute limits in ways that show the audience what they’re made of.
I got annoyed with the good guys in The Force Awakens, with all their talk about holding onto hope and persevering in the face of adversity, because the movie just wasn’t dark enough to lend that attitude any weight. It’s easy to say that hope is important when you lay an unholy ass-whooping on the First Order every time you encounter them. It’s just a pile of words. In The Last Jedi, they talk about hope because they’re down to a few hundred people after we get to watch the bad guys massacre most of the Resistance.
Their base gets destroyed, their bomber fleet gets destroyed with humanized characters on board, and then they’re forced into a desperate retreat where they get to watch helplessly as one support ship after another gets lit up by their ruthless, numerically superior, and better-equipped enemy tightens the noose. It’s still cheesy for them to talk about hope, but I don’t care about that anymore because now those words have meaning. Being cheesy is fine if it has meaning.
The other big franchises, especially Marvel’s cinematic universe, have an unhealthy relationship with death. They kill off characters and just bring them back in an attempt to get emotional impact without any storytelling consequences, and they’ve done it too many times to be convincing. DC filmmakers killed Superman and surprised absolutely no one by bringing him back. Marvel’s people also did it with agent Coulson and War Machine and that makes it hard to care when people die. They wanna have their cake and throw it on the ground as well. It is repeatedly demonstrated that even when there are consequences, there are no consequences.
With Rian Johnson’s contribution to the franchise, Star Wars doesn’t share that problem. They kill people and if you feel bad about it, that’s the point. Rose’s sister dies in the very beginning in an event that launches Poe’s character arc and gives Rose a compelling motivation that gets quickly and clearly explained through visuals. It’s so easy to get on board with them. When people sacrifice themselves, the events influence other events, and Johnson bothers to make you care first. The Last Jedi definitely has flaws, but it’s lightyears ahead of its competitors because the story has stakes. The events that happen have major impacts that drive the story forward.
Building stakes for the conflict is a basic tenet of storytelling, and Rian Johnson does it with a total lack of subtlety, but he still does it. Movies like Captain America: Civil War or any recent DC film other than Wonder Woman fail to compel me because their writers don’t push their characters to their limits or make decisions with enough impact to turn the story.
They refuse to make impactful decisions largely because the owners of the IP don’t want them to change the canon or kill popular characters, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi just showed everyone else what they’re missing out on. Sure, superhero movies with repetitive plots will continue to make profits, but who’s going to remember in ten years? Twenty years? Thirty years? I’ve already forgotten most of the stuff I’ve recently watched in theaters.
Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments!