Star Wars XIII: The Last Jedi — Narrative Problem: General Leia

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Spoiler warning: Please be advised before you sit down to this Medium piece with your popcorn and soda: there will be major spoilers concerning Star Wars XIII: The Last Jedi (2017) and previous Star Wars films.

I enjoyed Star Wars XIII: The Last Jedi (2017) enough to be worth the $7 dollar-matinee ticket I spent on it. It was generally entertaining. However, in my mind, it represented a significant credibility failure for the brand, setting the brand back to almost Prequel levels. It dismantled much of the goodwill established by the overly faithful and obsequious Star Wars XII: The Force Awakens (2015) and the truly amazing Rogue One (2016).

Thesis: In correcting for 2015’s addition to the Skywalker saga, 2017’s addition rejected much of the established story elements, doing so in a way which would have been acceptable with good writing. It suffered from bad writing.

One of the major problems with Star Wars XIII: The Last Jedi (2017), and a low-hanging fruit for me to address in my initial article on the topic of the narrative failures of the film, is Leia’s death-defying force salvation.

It has been called a Mary Poppins moment, and I am nobody to disagree with that term. So, to add to the previous terms of Jumping the Shark or Nuking the Fridge, I’d add: Mary Poppinsing Leia.

The scene I’m referring to is the one in which General Leia is expelled from the bridge of her ship, along with other rebel leaders as luminary as Admiral Ackbar and Mon Mothma, into outer space, lacking protective gear, by an explosive attack on the bridge.

For sure she’s dead just like the others, right?

No.

She uncrackles the film-world frozen nature of deep space, suffering no implosions or other deep-space issues, opens her eyes, points her fingers to the spaceship she was exploded from, and flies, for lack of better term, to the ship, where healing hands are ready to help her convalesce.

First, let me express: RIP Carrie Fischer. Your untimely demise was a sad day for me, and I was sorry for those who genuinely knew you. I am saddened by the loss of both the actor and the character she portrayed.

That said, the Mary Poppinsing of Leia was a grotesque and inexplicable assault to narrative.

Here’s why:

We know Leia has some force powers based on Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), in which she communicates with and finds her brother, Luke, on Lando Calrissian’s planet.

This narrative point is ignored in both Star Wars VI: The Return of the Jedi (1983) and in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015). Leia simply doesn’t have force powers that anyone acknowledges. She receives no training, and, most notably, she doesn’t use any powers in TFA (2015) to contact Luke.

For her to suddenly be able to resist death and navigate outer space back to a moving space ship simply doesn’t make sense within the narrative structure of Star Wars.

In addition, it catches Rian Johnson in a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t moment: either she has been developing force powers since 2015’s TFA, or she has not been. If she has, nobody seems to know about or acknowledge them during most of Star Wars XIII: The Last Jedi (2017), and, if she hasn’t, nobody seems to puzzle over her sudden use of them to defy death.

I would have expected one or the other from a competent story teller and a narrative structured to satisfy audiences.

The Mary Poppinsing of Leia is one significant element which destroyed the credibility of the story telling, and is, therefore, one of the fatal flaw in Star Wars XIII: The Last Jedi (2017). Again, I enjoyed the film, but I walked out with that annoying itch telling me a junior scriptwriter could have easily edited some major flaws, like the Mary Poppinsing of Leia, out of the film to make it compatible in narrative levels with other outings after the Prequels.

Note: I wanted Leia, after Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), to train and to develop her force powers. I’m all for strong female force-using characters, and it makes sense for her to have those powers. However, it didn’t happen, so the inclusion here, without explanation or appropriate reaction, strikes me as being a fatal flaw in the movie.

In addition, I loved her final scenes in the movie, and I believed them to be a suitable farewell for her as an actress and a character, but I believed they should be earned a different way than the way the storytellers took.

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