There aren’t many problems Hollywood couldn’t solve by hiring me to fix all of their scripts. Now, as a caveat: I really enjoyed The Last Jedi. It was fun. It had three really good performances. It was often visually arresting. But it wasn’t good, and that’s because it had a lousy screenplay. So here, spoilers, I’m going to fix it for them.
The good story is Benicio del Toro’s character, who a lot of folks disdained as a needless B-plot distraction, a weird device met at random in search of a different device, trusted for no reason by a couple of other characters, and hauled through forty minutes of distraction only to peter out in an anticlimactic recapitulation of the Lando Calrissian bait-and-switch from Empire. But Benicio is interesting, and not only because he has a huge screen presence that entirely outshines the dim John Boyega and the desperately underwritten Kelly Marie Tran. Hey, he says, you cruel, violent idiots, Rebels and First Order, have been grinding the galaxy beneath your endless stupid war since the Rebellion and Empire ground the galaxy beneath its endless and stupid war thirty fucking years ago! And he’s right.
That, of course, is also the interesting—and abandoned—idea underneath the Kylo/Rey relationship, the other good performances here: that Kylo is not entirely bad, and Rey is not entirely good. That there’s a spark between them, some frisson, a kind of passionate compassion. That a thousand generations of elder conflict seem suddenly gray and less-than-heroic due to the telepathic instragramming of a conflicted millennial and her fuccboi counterpart.
Well, here’s how you’d make a good movie out of it. You’d start it in the same place: the rebels on the run and the order in pursuit, but you’d rewrite the pairings. Poe Dameron, this series’ Han Solo, is in desperate need of a romantic foil. He is the one who’s grown disillusioned with the Rebellion, with imperious Leia and her stupid orders, with the endless battles he’s called upon to fight, with his friends who keep dying for no reason, to no end. He is the one who’s angry at the loss of all those heroes in the attack on the dreadnaught: good men and women, comrades in arms. This makes his pairing with Rose, a true believer, on a last-ditch effort to find one guy, who turns out to be Benicio, really work; this gives it tension: Poe and Rose are deeply attracted to one another, and she thinks he’s a hero, but he is wracked by doubt and really wants to run away. And when, at last, Benicio shows him that the same guys are selling weapons to both sides of this terrible war, it breaks him, setting up his arc for the next inevitable movie.
Finn is paired up with Leia, the Phasma-less acolyte finding a new matriarch into whom he can pour his new-found zealotry. Leia has been hardened and radicalized by forty years of war. She’ll risk it all; she’ll do anything, compromise anything to win. She is the one who sends Poe and Rose on the suicide mission. Luke is gone; Han is gone; she has nothing to live for but the war. Finn is her Ren; she operates in parallel to the evil Supreme Leader. She’s Picard from First Contact, a powerful Ahab whose many losses to the Empire and First Order have hardened her. She’s a general, not a princess. Laura Dern (or, as she should be known in-universe: Vice Admiral Lorah Durn), is the call-back to the original Princess Leia: noble but kind; a hopeful realist. Her big role isn’t coming until the next movie anyway.
Luke, Rey, and Ren are all the same. Luke is defeated and broken. Rey and Ren are powerful but lost, the children of failed teachers and parents who both sense that the orthodoxies of the older generations are a lie.
The plot works the same way, except it’s Leia who sends Poe and Rose on the probably suicidal mission to find the guy who ends up being Benicio del Toro (Lorah Durn thinks it’s a baaaaad idea). We end the film with the rebels on the run, getting picked off one by one. Luke is back on his island moping. Kylo Ren still kills Snoke; he and Rey still fight the red samurai dudes; Ren says to Rey, “Join me, and we’ll start anew.” She says no. “You’re nobody,” he said, “but not to me.” He reaches out his hand. She hesitates for just a moment, and then she takes it. Cut to credits.