The following is a guest post from Peregrine North, a longtime friend. She gave me this review to publish back in March. Now, I’ve had a lot of life hit me in quick succession, which is a good chunk of why this blog has been so neglected, but that doesn’t make it any less my fault that it’s July and only now am I getting around to posting it for her. She’s certainly reminded me enough times, and I kept putting it off until after the next crisis. One crisis turned into another, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon, so I’m squeezing a few minutes in now to do what I should have done months ago. 

You can find Peregrine North at her website, along with her music. If you’re in the right geographic area, you can even hear said music in person. 

Star_Wars_The_Last_JediIn my review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I decided to focus on my primary interest as a writer: characters. Instead of being a movie review per se, it’s more of an exploration of the arcs and plotlines surrounding the various characters or groups of characters in the film, with looks back at The Force Awakens and the original trilogy. For me, character creation and development are the best part of story writing, and excellence in these departments is critical to any good story. Let’s see how The Last Jedi scored.

The Resistance

I found that the entire half of TLJ devoted to the Resistance was unengaging, and that I didn’t really care what happened to the characters there. The original trilogy did a brilliant job interweaving the Jedi half of the story (the story of Luke becoming a Jedi/Vader’s redemption) with the military half (the overall story of the failures and successes of the Rebellion), but in The Last Jedi, I found the story of Rey becoming a Jedi and Ren’s continuing redemption arc very disjointed from the story of the Resistance. I cared about the former stories; I didn’t care at all about the latter one. Not even Leia’s presence made me care.

As regards the particular episodes in this half, I found Finn and Rose’s mission to the casino planet completely irrelevant to the story and Rose herself an artificially introduced character. The military maneuvers against the First Order are either unrealistic, such as the bombers trying to take out a Dreadnaught (were they expecting not to get blown up?), full of artificial problems, such as the tracker device, or artificial solutions, such as the First Order conveniently not monitoring for small transport ships when the Rebels wanted to escape to the mineral planet.

The First Order

What a bunch of dweebs. Please, give us some bad guys we can believe in.

Although the First Order buys into the space Nazi stereotype and never had the villain power of the original Empire, Hux, as he is presented in TFA, had the potential to be a scary ideologue and a ruthless military commander. Instead, TLJ turns him into a caricature, making him a boyish clown who is the brunt of a couple of the movie’s several instances of stupid humor. Additionally, the rivalry between Hux and Kylo Ren that is evident in TFA is lacking in TLJ, and it could have been an interesting aspect of the story had it been given due attention.


Speaking of bad guys we can’t believe in, Snoke is an utterly unconvincing villain. He inspires nothing but a solid trolling. In such a story, I expect a villain of whom we can be terrified, who negatively inspires us to root for the right, who makes us scared and worried for the good guys and all the more invested in their fate. In the particular case of TLJ, it is also important for it to be believable that someone of Kylo Ren’s intelligence could have fallen under Snoke’s influence, that he represented the Dark Side and its power in a way that Kylo Ren would have found lethally convincing. But I have a very hard time believing any of that, if for no other reason than the glittery gold robe.


Rey is harmless; I don’t find her particularly shallow or deep. Her obsession with finding her parents is fairly banal, and it gets tiresome by Episode VIII. It is less her parentage and more a sense of belonging that she truly seeks, and I think it would have served her character better if this latter fact had been better highlighted, and if it hadn’t been contradicted by her experiences with the Resistance.

The need to belong, to be accepted and to be a part of a larger story – which is Rey’s real search – and the psychological wound that comes from experiencing alienation, isolation and a sense of uselessness are interesting, relatable problems, and ones that could have set Rey up for a difficult and dramatic decision between the light and the dark. But, all her experiences up to that point had proven her to be an integral part of the Resistance story, clearly a Jedi in the making and an accepted member of the people she encounters. She had already been provided a solution by the time Episode VIII begins, and this fact both makes you tired of hearing about her parents, and makes the decision between staying with the light or joining the dark a fairly unexciting one when it happens.

I find her seemingly magical ability to use Jedi powers without proper training an unwelcome departure from the way things work in Jedi-world. In TFA, she is able to defeat Kylo Ren without, as we find out in TLJ, even knowing what the Force is. Of course, this is more because Kylo Ren is both physically and mentally shattered from his recent act of patricide than Rey’s abilities, but she is still able to use the Force in a way that I find hard to accept. She receives little training from Luke, and is left at the end of TLJ still untrained, with no teacher, yet somehow we are meant to accept the fact that she’s a Jedi. I don’t buy it.

Overall, Rey’s all right, she’s just not that interesting, and the paths that could have been explored regarding her psychology are left with only superficial treatment. 

Kylo Ren

Kylo Ren is by far the most interesting and complex character in the series. He is a familiar type of character, a Dark Side warrior, and yet one that breaks that mold by actually having real problems, a real past and real sources for his anger. He makes you ask questions. What is it in your past that made the Dark Side appealing? What’s your gripe with your parents? What in the galaxy is it that you want, and what do you think is going to get you there?

As for Ren’s character in TLJ, it’s a real shame that it did not get the development it deserved. The lightsaber battle with the Imperial Guards is fun to watch, and his expounding upon the death of “old things” while the throne room is burning is visually impactful and reveals more about his motivations. Other than that, he doesn’t do much of interest.

One of the big roadblocks to Ren’s character development is Snoke. The scenes wherein Snoke berates Ren for his lack of commitment to the Dark Side are like watching a bad parent yell at a teenager. Ren already being much more psychologically complicated than your average Dark Side character, and as his complications spring from some still-unknown wound, these scenes give unfortunate ammunition to the “emo” accusations often leveled against him.

It would have been far better to spend that time delving deeper into Ren’s history, and the real persons and events that were a part of the development of his deeply rooted anger and fear. Snoke’s influence is not a plausible or sufficient explanation. My hope is that those persons and events exist and will be revealed in the final film, but it seems like bad planning to leave it all until then, whilst doing nothing notable with Ren’s character in TLJ.


The news does not get any better here. The Luke we find in Episode VIII is just not the person that we left in Episode VI. It was utterly disheartening to have the hero turn out to be…not really a hero. He was, apparently, a letdown after the events of The Return of the Jedi. Even if we accept this, it seems like Luke, having retreated from the galaxy and renounced his Jedi status, would have a much more interesting psychology than can be encapsulated by the phrase “grumpy old man.”  And his “facing” of Kylo Ren was totally uninspiring, facing your enemy in astral-projection format just never quite as compelling as the real thing.

The Timbre of the Film

Here we come to a problem that I don’t think is specific to TLJ, but strikes me as a more widespread problem in modern sci-fi/fantasy moviewriting: no one takes anything seriously.

Not even the characters take things seriously in The Last Jedi, and this lack of seriousness takes a couple different forms. One of them is the aforementioned crowd-pleaser humor that does not conform to intelligent, tasteful comic relief. Poe’s silly trolling of Hux over the intercom was nothing that anyone in a serious military scenario would ever have done, and neither was Hux’s monologuing. And do not get me started on the Porgs.

The other form is the way that the characters don’t even seem to believe in the reality of their own problems. This is an issue not just in terms of taste, but also in terms of the idea of pathos, that is, the sympathy we have with the characters and our emotional investment in what’s going on. If the characters don’t believe in their own story, we sure aren’t going to. For example, the way Leia and Admiral Holdo giggle upon interrupting each other when saying “May the Force be with you” ended whatever seriousness the phrase ever had. The jokes about Leia changing her hair made characters look like actors, which is what happens when you bring an off-screen joke on-screen. Luke tossing the lightsaber over his shoulder when Rey hands it to him guts that scene of all gravity and inspiration – emotions that had been built up since the end of TFA, which concluded with Rey reaching out the lightsaber to the old Jedi.

As an audience, we want to care deeply about what happens, about the characters and their fate: we want to laugh with them, and we want to cry for them. And if we’re not allowed to do either at any deep level, the result is a film that smacks of nothing but superficiality.


The End

In short, the overall result of the character development or lack thereof in TLJ is that the film ends up looking like a piece of fiction. But the thing with Star Wars is that it was all so believable; our suspension of disbelief was firmly locked and bolted into place, even if Leia’s hair looked like cinnamon buns and the Rebel fleet was commanded by a squid. Something about the characters made us take them seriously, and as a consequence, we took the hairdos, aliens and the rest of the universe seriously too.

The whole thing gave the impression that it actually happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; the modern films, by contrast, give the impression that they were created last year in Hollywood. Yet, there is still one more installment in the series; the final film has an unfortunate amount of ground to make up, but one can hope. And after all, rebellions are built on hope.