I saw The Last Jedi the weekend it came out, and I've been thinking about it and discussing it with my family (especially my son) sporadically since then. I'm not going to write a review; suffice to say that I give it a B and leave it at that. Nor am I going to reel off a long litany of plot holes and bad choices — there are hundreds of hard-working other nerds on the Internet who've been doing that for weeks.
Instead I want to ask a question, and in order to do that I must prepare the ground. The Last Jedi had some serious plot holes, mostly centering around the long chase sequence which occupies the middle third of the film and is notable for its lack of tension and the large number of "why didn't they . . . ?" questions it has spawned. Why didn't the Empire, or First Order, or whatever the guys in white armor are calling themselves these days, send ships ahead to ambush the fleeing Rebel, er, Resistance task force? Why couldn't a giant space battleship hit a fleeing cruiser when they seem to be only a mile apart? Why could small craft leave the cruiser, travel to distant planets, and return, yet the whole point of the cruiser fleeing was to reach someplace to call for help? There are others. Many others.
But my question isn't any of those. In fact it isn't about any of the specifics of The Last Jedi at all. It's about why nobody asked any of those questions before filming began. A big-budget "tentpole" movie like any of the Star Wars films is an immense undertaking. The number of people involved takes something like ten minutes just to scroll past on the screen during the end credits. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake — and literally billions of potential profit in the future.
I'm a science fiction writer, and my novels and short stories are five or six orders of magnitude smaller than a Star Wars film, at least in monetary terms. Yet I submit just about everything I write to the mighty Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop, so that eight or nine of my fellow SF professionals can work it over. Even if it's just a short story we spend a couple of hours tearing it apart, looking for flaws and suggesting improvements.
The people making the Star Wars movies don't seem to do that. As far back as Return of the Jedi one sensed that nobody was even trying to point out plot holes or bad ideas. When it was just George Lucas writing the prequel trilogy, one could possibly explain it as the creator's runaway ego and nobody having the authority to tell him to make changes. But now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, that shouldn't be an issue. And yet the problem remains.
I was once a tiny cog in the Star Wars apparatus. Back when West End Games had the Star Wars roleplaying game license, publishing Greg Costikyan's groundbreaking rules, I submitted several adventures to their house magazine, the Star Wars Adventure Journal. Even my pitches had to be accompanied by FIVE signed assignment-of-copyright documents, surrendering those ideas to Lucasfilm forever. One of my published adventures even made it into "canon" — a planet I created turned up in one of my son's Clone Wars comic books, which gave me a few days of Awesome Dad status when I pointed it out.
The odd thing about the Star Wars universe is how much of the worldbuilding and "continuity" are left to the tiny cog people — game designers, licensed fiction writers, toymakers, and the like. When one of the movies makes some lunatic assertion (example: "the Galactic Republic has no army") it's up to the cogs to come up with some way to explain it (answer: "the Republic was like the U.N. and relied entirely on member worlds for military forces"). The cogs are going to be working overtime to explain some of the issues in The Last Jedi.
And that leads to my question: how is this possible? How can a huge, successful company like Disney manage one of the most valuable "media properties" which has ever existed in such a slapdash way? For the price of about one minute of CGI special effects they could hire the entire membership of the Science Fiction Writers of America to "workshop" the script, long before a single nail gets hammered by a set-builder or a single concept artist puts pencil to paper. They could have a salaried "chief nerd" position dedicated to tracking continuity and maintaining the "bible" of the Star Wars universe. This has been done before: Peter Jackson hired Tolkein consultants for his Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and set designer Mark Okuda was the unofficial "Trexpert" for Star Trek: The Next Generation.
What's depressing is that it all ultimately comes down to respect. Respect for the material and respect for the audience — and the attitude toward the material directly reflects the attitude toward the audience. The viewers have shown they love that material and want more; contempt for one is contempt for both. The audience respects the material. The tiny cogs respect the material. The hundreds of people buried in the credits at the end of the film respect the material. Why can't the people whose names are at the top show the same respect? And why does Disney hire people who don't respect the Star Wars universe to oversee it?