The LAST JEDI that could have been

The Last Jedi. I give it a 6.5 out of 10. I also think with maybe one or two significant tweaks to the main plot points, it could have been an 8. Alas, the fingerprints of whatever committee Disney is running these days, were all over this thing. It tried too hard to be too much to too many people. I liked Rogue One a lot more, and felt like Rogue One didn’t have to work so hard to appeal to the sense-o-wunda that lives in the heart of every STAR WARS fan.

Yes, The Last Jedi had some very, very good moments. But these tended to get undercut by the choppy nature of the other material. So while those moments were on the brink of soaring, some of the pointless and gratuitous plotting (as well as pointless and gratuitous characters) were a net drag on the entire enterprise. The movie just wasn’t “tight” the way it could have been tight, if someone in a position of authority at Disney (and with a clearer eye, aimed backward at the original trilogy) had been allowed to chop the damned thing down. Scuttle some of this stuff that clearly sounded neat in pitch sessions, but should have stayed there. And gone no further.

Thus, here’s how I would rank all of the extant STAR WARS films. This is a gut rank, based purely on my personal satisfaction with each of the movies, in relation to each of the other movies. I’m not basing it on any kind of aggregate (Rotten Tomatoes) nor am I comparing these films to any other movies or franchises.

1) Episode IV
2) Episode V
3) Rogue One
4) Episode VI
5) Episode VII
6) Episode VIII
7) Episode I
8) Episode II
9) Episode III

I do think it’s quite true that all of us who grew up with STAR WARS (as kids and teens and young adults) can never go back home again. Meaning, the unbridled excitement of the original three films cannot be captured in a bottle. We will never see these new movies through child-like eyes. And it’s clear that the franchise does struggle with too much self-awareness, in terms of its global cultural footprint. But ROGUE ONE was an illustration (to me) that they can still nail it, when they want to.

On that note, how hard would it have been to boost The Last Jedi into an orbit matching Rogue One’s? Not very.

Case in point. Imagine a Last Jedi with these modifications . . . .

1) Ditch the Vegas Planet dead end, and have Rose tag along with Finn as they are dispatched (instead, with a tiny team) to Crait. Which is not an old Rebel base, but an old abandoned Imperial base. Which Finn can get into using “older codes, but they check out” and he needs Rose’s help, because she knows what kinds of Imperial fuel and which kinds of Imperial weapons can be quickly adapted for Resistance use. DJ the arms smuggler is already there, though. And isn’t willing to give up his hideout — and cash cow — without a fight. Finn must lead the Resistance expedition against DJ’s small army of mercenary thugs. Eventually DJ bails out, stating, “I sell stuff to your side too, kid. This fight you’ve brought to me, it’s bad for business.” He escapes and lives, to return and play a bigger part in Episode 9. Finn and Rose get back to Organa’s command cruiser — with the goods in tow — only to find:

2) Poe Dameron and Vice Admiral Holdo in a shouting match over what to do now, as General Organa’s cruiser is mere minutes from losing the aft shields. A wounded (but surviving) Admiral Ackbar stumbles from the medical bay, upbraiding Dameron and Holdo both — about how General Organa would be ashamed to see Resistance discipline and chain-of-command so grossly disregarded. He orders the two of them to cease fire, and rally the troops — using the weapons and fuel provided by Finn, with Rose’s assistance. Holdo will put the remaining “brain trust” of the Resistance into the transports for escape to Crait, while Ackbar takes sole command of the cruiser, with Dameron out in front leading a small squadron of the last Resistance snub fighters, co-attacking the big Snoke star destroyer. Both Ackbar and Dameron know it’s a suicide mission. Holdo, with a comatose Leia aboard, departs.

3) Leia, who has been in a kind of Force Fugue since being expelled into space (after her bridge was hit) experiences a dream-like sequence during which she communicates with Luke’s soul, similar to how she heard Luke calling her at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Luke says he has turned away from The Force, after ruining Ben Solo, and contributing to Ben’s flight to the Dark Side. Luke is too ashamed to re-assume the mantle. Leia begs Luke to come back one more time, and do what a Jedi knows must be done. She loves Luke. She forgives Luke. She wants him to help her one last time, and possibly help Ben Solo, too. Lest the First Order snuff out the Resistance utterly. Luke is inspired, as well as humbled. We then see a scene of Luke quickly trimming his facial hair, military-short. We also see him using The Force to raise his old X-Wing out of the Ahch-To sea, with R2D2 obediently at Luke’s side.

4) Dameron and Ackbar are deeply engaged against Hux and the First Order. Kylo Ren orders Hux to ignore Ackbar and Dameron, so as to pursue Vice Admiral Holdo, in whose care the “kernel” of the Resistance now rests. With fresh fuel and weapons, Ackbar is able to keep Snoke’s super-dreadnought occupied, but cannot block the pursuit of Vice Admiral Holdo. In desperation, with his ship falling to pieces, Ackbar wishes Dameron, “May The Force be with you,” and punches the hyperdrive, launching his cruiser — like a missile — into Snoke’s the super-dreadnought. Dameron retreats to cover the fleeing Holdo, with her transports. A cloud of angry TIEs is all over them, as they descend to Crait. Into this swarm of angry TIEs, the Millennium Falcon appears, communicating with Dameron on Resistance bandwidth. Together, Chewie, Dameron, and Rey, give Holdo cover while Holdo and Finn land the transports, and flee (with Organa in medical stasis) into the old, abandoned Imperial fortress

5) With the Millennium Falcon now badly damaged from overwhelming TIE strikes, Chewie is forced to crash-land the Falcon at the mouth of the imperial fortress. He and Rey disembark, and pursue Finn. Dameron is frantically trying to keep the cloud of TIEs busy, while a force of First Order walkers marches on the horizon. Severely outnumbered, Dameron concludes he’s not going to survive this fight. But just as he’s about to suicide-run one of the walkers, a second X-Wing appears. Older, somewhat worn down, but being piloted with expert precision. The old X-Wing uses proton torps to disable several walkers, while also downing a mess of TIEs, allowing Dameron to get his badly-damaged advanced X-Wing out of the fight. Both fighters eventually fly to where the Falcon is smoldering, and land. Poe and Luke have a moment of mutual admiration — for the fine flying — and then Luke tells Poe to go alone into the fortress in pursuit of Rey. “But you’ll never escape,” Poe says. “Escape is not my plan,” Luke informs him.

6) The remaining First Order walkers, with Kylo’s command shuttle floating among them, close on the abandoned fortress. Seeing one man out in front of the old X-Wing — a blue-accented droid at the pilot’s side — Kylo orders the walkers to stand fast, and his shuttle to land. Kylo stomps down the ramp and walks across the salt, to face his old master. They exchange words, about how things went sour back in the Jedi temple. About how Luke did Kylo wrong. And about how Kylo then did Han Solo and Leia Organa wrong. Enraged, Kylo finally shouts, “Your powers are weak, old man!” And ignites his cross-saber. Luke throws off his Jedi robe — revealing the old fighting Jedi uniform underneath — and replies firmly, “You’ll find I’m full of surprises.” At which point Luke ignites his own saber. The two men raise their weapons, as if to strike, and . . . . cut to black.

THE END

Star Wars fanfare trumpets through the theater.

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