J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek) failed in reconciling the themes presented in The Last Jedi: in the first 10 minutes of the movie, Rey’s family lineage returns as the central mystery. This is not only a dramatic thematic departure from its predecessor, but also cheapens the message the movie itself is trying to convey. In fact, while it seems to convey that blood relations do not define us, but our choices do, this results slightly hypocritical: the creators went out of their way to resurrect a mystery that had already been answered. In fact, the contrived explanation provided to justify the departure is not only disappointingly pointless, but it retroactively cheapens one of the best moments of the previous movie. In fact, the same message had been delivered in a much more succinct manner by Rian Johnson (Knives Out, Brick) in The Last Jedi: almost directly addressing the audience, Johnson had the antagonist explain that Rey’s parents were nobodies. This is refreshing. It flashes out Rey as her own character, by distinguishing her struggles from those of Luke, the original hero: the protagonist being related to a villain had been satisfyingly explored in the original trilogy, creating one of the most iconic revelations in movie history. Rey’s revelation was never going to live up to that. Moreover, an element of that was already successively repurposed by J.J. in The Force Awakens by having Kylo Ren being the son of Han and Leia. To understand why the revelation that Rey is related to Palpatine is so disappointing, we must look to a beautiful illustration presented in The Last Jedi. A child, son of nobody, looking to the stars, inspired by the myth of the Skywalkers to become a hero. Rey could have represented that child, and shown, through her progression throughout the series, that a hero can come from anywhere.
Themes and messages are not the movie’s only failure. The first installment of the trilogy delivered on moments that harkened back to the original trilogy with skill, invention, and coherent storytelling. This one panders to the audience in the most cynical way I can remember witnessing. This is evident when comparing it to a successful fan service-heavy film: The Force Awakens. In J.J.’s first contribution to the Star Wars franchise, call backs to the original do not derail the story: they help make it more interesting. For example, Rey starting off as an orphan on a desert planet is a hugely similar to how Luke starts his journey. However, this is justified and helps advance the story: Rey is a reflection of the audience, both in her fascination for the legend of the Skywalker, and the way she is dragged in an adventure that she wasn’t necessarily destined to be a part of. This can be contrasted with the worst eye-roll inducing moment of the new movie: the ending. In fact, Rey looking to the setting suns of Tatooine, declares herself a Skywalker. Two issues with this: we have established that it’s not your family that matters, but your choices, so her being a Skywalker doesn’t carry much meaning. Yes, it indicates that she is part of a family, but that was already clear in the moving scene showing her exchanging tearful hugs with Finn and Poe. Secondly, her looking over the suns would have been enough to establish a connection to the Skywalkers, since that moment from A New Hope (1977) remains one of the most iconic in filmmaking. J.J. has never been a subtle filmmaker, but this movie is absurdly heavy handed even for him.
This movie’s failure was neither unforeseeable nor inevitable: it could have been solved through planning. In fact, this entire trilogy lacked one cohesive creative director, like Kevin Feige is for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Someone who, while giving space to directors to bring their own flare, overlooks the coherence of the overall plot and themes. This would have allowed J.J. and Johnson to contribute their own vision, without derailing the story in ways in which the other creative could not handle. The success this would have had is clear in one consistent arc throughout the series: the relationship between Rey and Ben. It was set up in The Force Awakens, during the interrogation scene, setting up a conflict that always felt very intimate: they do not try to destroy each other; rather, they are immediately connected through loneliness and fear. Therefore, when they kiss at the end of the third installment it doesn’t feel forced, nor cynical: it was an earned logical progression of their relationship. Had this entire trilogy been planned like their relationship was, it could have had a satisfying ending.
This movie fails not only as a sequel to The Last Jedi, but as a film. Incoherent storytelling, lack of cohesive direction and heavy-handed fan service all contribute to making this a disappointing conclusion to the Skywalker saga.