The latest Star Wars film has earned over $400M domestically and will likely be North America’s best box office success of ’17. But plenty of longtime fans know The Last Jedi was a waste of two hours. The expectations built after the last two installments led to a monster opening weekend, and the iconic brand continues to sell tickets and merchandise. That doesn’t mean it was a worthy addition to the franchise.
For sports fans, I’ve been searching for the perfect comparison. The Last Jedi didn’t live up to expectations, and failed to match its predecessors’ success. It had a central figure in Luke Skywalker ruined by poor management decisions, and too many groan-inducing, stomach-churning moments. It had a handful of reasonably satisfying moments like the X-Wing fight scenes in space. But it mainly swung between uncomfortable (BB-8 shooting coins at stormtroopers) and underwhelming (that’s how Luke dies?).
At first I thought of the Seahawks, a team that had Super Bowl expectations but fell flat this year and flirted with dysfunction all season. They had a pair of incredible Super Bowl runs, just like The Force Awakens and Rogue One. However, Seattle’s season still has a pulse heading into Week 17. So I can’t consider them DOA like The Last Jedi.
The Packers are a decent comparison since a chance at a championship crashed and burned when Aaron Rodgers went down. But that’s just bad luck, beyond Green Bay’s control. The issues with TLJ were because of nauseating directorial decisions. TLJ is as though the Packers ran Rodgers scrambling into the teeth of the defense without a center every play.
The San Francisco Giants struck me as a decent parallel as well with a history of World Series runs. Their usually savvy roster building was undone by a disaster of a ’17 season. But again, the bulk of the Giants’ collapse into the worst team in baseball was due to a historic rash of injuries. The problems with TLJ were completely avoidable.
Which brings us to the New York Giants, who were by any definition the biggest disappointment in football. The Browns were the worst team in the league, but nothing was expected. It’s like saying a Van Wilder spin-off starring Carrot Top was the worst movie of the year. But the Giants were picked to be Super Bowl contenders and ended up in the middle of a diaper fire.
The expectations were high as Big Blue came off an 11-5 season and a playoff berth. Star Wars was riding the high of the rebirth of the franchise. Force and Rogue set a high bar. TFA melded nostalgia with freshness, plus a loyalty to what made the first three magical. Rogue captured a seriousness and drama that reminded audiences of Empire Strikes Back. These two flicks were esteemed peers of the saga’s tradition, just like the Giants dual Super Bowl runs of the last decade hearkened back to the franchise’s glory years of the ’50s and ’80s. These two captured the spirit of the original films, and the argument Star Wars should “let go of its past” is ridiculous. Without the DNA of Star Wars you’ve merely made a new Marvel superhero flick or Transformers movie.
But this Giants season’s unraveled, making the Giants a laughingstock. It was a series of dysfunctional scenarios that could’ve easily been avoided. Like TLJ, the main decision maker was fighting out of his weight class. Rian Johnson’s attempt at writing the screenplay and directing it proved how he was not ready for the responsibility, Ben McAdoo did the same in steering the Giants into the iceberg. McAdoo attempted to be both offensive coordinator and head coach. He failed miserably at both, just like Johnson. His play-calling was clunky, just like Johnson’s awkward attempts at humor. Poe begins the movie prank-calling General Hux? This is now Crank Yankers in space? Just like watching McAdoo call for yet another wide receiver bubble screen on third-and-19. TLJ bordered on Space Balls at times, a guffaw-filled parody of Star Wars.
JJ Abrams didn’t rely on CGI when he rebooted the franchise. He instead used physical sets and models. When George Lucas produced the sets of Tatooine, Endor, and Jabba’s Barge, they were all tangible set pieces. He used puppets, costumes, models and animatronics. It made everything feel real, even when the characters and landscapes were from distant galaxies. It gave TFA its soul. But Johnson scrapped that, pathetically drawn to computer graphics like a 12-year-old and his Xbox Gold. This is what did in the prequels (even beyond the awful acting and boring storylines). TLJ’s Canto Bight (the casino planet) is almost entirely computer generated. Finn and Rose ride massive, CGI horse-kangaroo creatures, which of course looked completely fake. It didn’t feel like Luke and Han atop Tauntauns (which had actual fur and when cut open spilled real guts). These two atop dopey cow-emu cyborgs may as well been Anakin doing parkour on that oversized anteater in the Fields of Naboo. On the casino floor a Daddy Warbucks gremlin, drunk and looking to spend money, tries to pop coins into BB-8 like he’s a slot machine. Yes, it is every bit as bad as that sentence sounds. No, Lucas would’ve never tried something that absurd in the originals. These decisions were like the Giants attempting to be a pass-heavy attack with a terrible offensive line, no running game, and a 37-year-old immobile Eli Manning at quarterback. What did you think was going to happen?
The new casting additions for TLJ were clearly terrible, just like the Giants rotten roster. Laura Dern in purple hair made me think I was watching a South Beach rave episode of Twin Peaks. Rose Tico had all of the depth of the Giants linebacking unit, continually displaying the one-dimensional persona of a dancer in a Gap holiday commercial. General Hux plays the bumbling, foolish, overly frustrated lieutenant of the First Order, as though he’s a villain from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. The child stable sweepers of Canto Bight were yanked out of their JC Penney fall-fashion line shoot for filming. The Giants signed aging, self-obsessed Brandon Marshall, who was a flame out. They drafted Eli Apple with the 10th pick in ’16, and he’s been benched for nearly half the season because of insubordination. Erick Flowers was the starting left tackle even though he’s been an abject failure since coming into the league.
The head-scratching questions Johnson creates by mindless decisions are even more problematic. How can Leia float through space and survive? Why are there fish people who randomly clean Luke’s castle ruins? Who exactly is Maz Kanata fighting (for no reason) while she gives advice? Johnson botched this seven ways to Sunday, like the Giants clock management, breakdowns on defense, and in-fighting all season.
Which brings us to the worst failure of TLJ: Giving one of the most beloved characters in cinematic history an off-putting, unceremonious, undignified end. Like the Giants ham-handedly demoting Eli Manning and replacing him with Geno Smith, they forced the two-time Super Bowl MVP and franchise icon to answer questions from reporters at his locker as teammates whooped it up nearby. This was the football equivalent of how Johnson embarrassed Luke Skywalker. The greatest Jedi of them all now sulks away his years angrily swigging milk from the teat of an overstuffed sea lion? I’m getting angry just thinking about it. This is the send-off the Star Wars franchise decided to give Luke? This is the best Johnson could come up with? This was just as disgraceful as the humiliation of Eli.
McAdoo butchered his chance at running a historic franchise just like Johnson, but while McAdoo is radioactive in NFL circles the movie reviewers who were bought off by the studios will give Johnson enough support to keep his job. McAdoo had early success too (a playoff berth in his first season), like Johnson’s “Looper.” But ultimately these two were exposed as frauds and self-indulgently oblivious when given more control. The reviewers loved TLJ, while the actual hardcore fans hated it. This is the disconnect that exists in Hollywood. In sports, if you stink, you stink. As Giants head coach Bill Parcells once said: You are what your record says you are. But the box office numbers can’t save TLJ. Just like this Giants season, which set the record for most losses in franchise history, The Last Jedi is a wasted opportunity, a set back that will take years to clean up, and a painful reminder of what could have been.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.