Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Movie: Directed by Rian Johnson.

Inciting Event:

Rey: After demonstrating an attraction to the ancient Jedi texts, Rey tells Luke she wants to be trained and why. In this instance, Luke is the one who refuses the initial Call to Adventure, telling her he’ll never train another Jedi.

Finn and Poe: The Resistance’s fleet drops out of hyperspace only to realize the First Order has tracked them. They are too short of fuel to stay out of range of destruction for long. This is the Inciting Event because this is the moment that first introduces the specific main conflict of this film. The battle previous to this, which opened the film, was just setup.

First Plot Point:

Rey: Rey experiences her first real connection to Kylo Ren, allowing them to communicate as if standing in the same room. Luke agrees to “train” her by giving her three lessons. From here, they enter the main conflict of Rey’s story—that of learning about being a Jedi.

Finn and Poe: Poe agrees with the plan to let Finn and his new friend Rose sneak off ship to go to the rich gaming planet of Canto Bight in search of a master codebreaker who can get them onto the First Order ship and help them disable the hyperspace tracker, so the Resistance fleet can escape. Here, Finn literally leaves the story’s Normal World to travel to a different Adventure World. For Poe, it’s merely the focus of the story that changes now that he has a plan to resist the First Order.

First Pinch Point:

Rey: Luke tells Rey about why Kylo turned to the Dark Side. Not a huge scene, but it at least advances Rey’s perception of Kylo as a threat, thus (kinda) emphasizing the antagonistic force’s threat.

Poe: The First Order begins to gain on the Fleet.

Finn: On Canto Bight, Finn and Rose are captured by guards. In jail, they meet the codebreaker DJ. They escape and must run for their lives.

Midpoint:

Rey: Rey hears Kylo’s side of the story about how he and Luke fell out, in which he entirely blames Luke for betraying him. In a Moment of Truth, he challenges her to “let the past die.” She flees to the dark cave on the island, where she experiences a mirror moment in which she searches for the truth about her parents but finds only her own reflection ad infinitum. Afterwards, she bonds with Kylo. Luke sees them together and tells her the whole story about Kylo’s turn, trying to warn her off from him.

Finn: Finn, Rose, and DJ escape Canto Bight.

Second Pinch Point:

Rey: Rey goes to Kylo and is captured. He takes her to Supreme Leader Snoke. They learn that the visions each had of the other’s future were false, planted by Snoke.

Poe: Poe is outraged when he learns Admiral Holdo plans to abandon ship and sneak away in the transports. He attempts a mutiny.

Finn: Finn, Rose, and DJ infiltrate the First Order’s ship.

Third Plot Point:

Rey: Kylo provides Rey a brief False Victory when he kills Snoke instead of her, but then dashes her hopes when he refuses to save the Resistance fleet.

Finn: Finn and Rose are captured, and DJ sells them and the Resistance out to save himself.

Poe: The escaping Resistance transports come under fire, and Admiral Holdo sacrifices herself to destroy the First Order ship.

Climax: The First Order follows the Resistance planetside and attacks.

Kylo: Kylo battles Luke. This is the central conflict in the Climax. The reasons for making it so are understandable, but unfortunately this conflict was not properly set up in the previous structure. We understand Kylo and Luke have an important history that needs resolving, but because neither were primary movers in the plot up to this point, there is no cohesion or resonance in their suddenly being central to the most important moment in the story.

Poe and Finn: They escape with the Resistance out the back way while Luke provides distraction.

Rey: She finally shows up for a very anticlimactic Climax, where she does little more than shoot some people and then lift some rocks with the Force to help the Resistance escape out the back of the cave.

Notes: At first glance, it may seem like this movie’s structure puts all the right pieces in the right places. However, a closer look shows a number of problems. Honestly, there’s very little I feel this movie does well. It has a few interesting moments and ideas, but in my opinion they’re utterly lost in a splatterfest of a plot that strains suspension of disbelief at every turn.

In short, there are many things I could critique about this movie (and have, indirectly, here and here), but for the sake of a structural discussion, I’ll mention only the three most egregious:

1. Few of the plot points are powerful enough to create change in the characters. The only way to know if the plot has been progressed is to look for signs of change. Here, if we compare the beginning and the end, we find all the characters changed only nominally, at best.

For example:

Finn learns not to run away (as he appears to be inclined to do in the beginning), but this “change” feels weak in light of the fact that his actions at the beginning of the movie weren’t necessarily selfish and his desire to sacrifice himself in the end certainly isn’t at odds with his overall personality.

Rose learns that Finn was right, in the beginning, when he was willing to run away from the fight in order to save someone he cared about. She says “we have to save what we love.” Arguably, however, this is a horrible lesson, since her choice would have gotten everyone killed, if not for Luke’s serendipitous arrival.

Poe learns sometimes it’s better to retreat than to attack. This is obviously intended to be the culmination of a change arc, but it comes across weak since someone would only overlook the choice he makes in the end (to help the Resistance fighters escape) if they were complete idiots.

Kylo’s only change is in overcoming some of the doubts he experienced in the middle of the story. For the purposes of plot, he changes his alignment not at all.

Luke changes by deciding he will help Rey, the Resistance, and thus the Jedi survive. Why he decides to change his mind so utterly could have been strengthened though.

And, finally, Rey our daring protagonist—who learns… I’m not sure what. She changes neither in her goals, her alignment, or for all intents and purposes, her understanding of either her inner or outer conflicts.

You can probably make arguments for greater change in some of the characters, but it’s vague at best.

2. None of the plot points affect one another. We have three different storylines going on, but with the occasional exception of Poe’s and Finn’s, most of them do little to nothing to drive one another. This is most obvious with Rey’s storyline. As the (arguable) protagonist, her storyline should be central. Even if it does not directly affect other plotlines until the Climax, it should affect the others (or be affected by them) dramatically in the final act. Here, she not only has little effect on the finale, but is basically sidelined for almost its entirety.

3. The Climax itself is the most telling proof of the story’s structural problems. The ending should always be found in the beginning. Here, the central part of the Climax is the battle between Luke and Kylo. Although Luke and Kylo’s relationship is discussed throughout the movie, it is never central. As a result, not only are the major characters sidelined for the Climax, the Climax ends up tacking on a conflict that, if it was going to work, should have been set up in the Inciting Event.

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