Why, the utter refusal to bring podracing back into Star Wars, of course! What the heck, Disney? You have a scene set on a gambling racetrack and you give us some cliche animal rights message with puppy-eyed giraffe monsters instead of a podrace? I know you don't want to raise the spectre of the prequels too much, but come on! Just show a quick shot or two of a podrace, then have Finn and Rose hijack a podracer and fly it through the casino as a diversion so the slave children who were being abused can escape.
Actually, the trend I really want to discuss is plot twists that toy with viewer expectations -- which is sort of what my little rant there did, so I'll count it as staying on topic.
Writer/Director Rian Johnson has said in interviews that he wasn't aiming to subvert the fans' expectations in The Last Jedi, stating that doing so "would lead to some contrived places." He claims that everything that happens to Rey, Kylo Ren, Luke, Leia, and Snoke in the story is what felt like the most natural course to take with each character. I'm willing to believe him, especially after reading his explanation on Slashfilm.com for what happens with Kylo and Snoke:
"[...] Kylo’s arc in this movie, besides his relationship with Rey, I saw as the big arc for Kylo breaking down this kind of unstable foundation that he’s on and then building him to where by the end of the film he’s no longer just a Vader wannabe. But he’s stepped into his own as kind of a quote-unquote villain, but a complicated villain that you understand, right? So with that in mind, the idea that Kylo would get to that place by the end of it led me to think, well, then what is Snoke’s place at the end? And does that work with him just kneeling before Snoke at the end? No. If Kylo’s gotta get to a place of actual power the ultimate expression of that would be him ascending beyond his master.
And that also then gives the opportunity to have a great, dramatic moment that you don’t expect of getting Snoke kind of out of the way. So that really is where it all stemmed from. It was thinking about Kylo’s path, thinking about where I wanted him to be at the end of the movie to set him up for the next film. And thinking okay, that means we’re gonna clear away this slightly more familiar dynamic of the Emperor and the pupil. Clear the boards from that, and then that’s much more exciting going into [Episode IX], the notion of now we just have Kylo as the one that they have to deal with. You can no longer take a rational guess at how the Snoke-Kylo thing is gonna play out in the next movie."
Still, after how much The Force Awakens borrowed from the original Star Wars, I doubt very much that Johnson never noticed any of the resemblances to The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi while writing this film. So many of the setups in The Last Jedi, such as Rey's attempt to sway Kylo to the light side during a showdown in Snoke's throne room, are so familiar that you'd swear Johnson started writing those scenes by copying and pasting the ones from the original trilogy screenplays.
Maybe the studio pressured him to follow tropes of the series, or maybe he felt compelled to follow the precedent of The Force Awakens (which he didn't write) for consistency. Whatever the case, I'm not sure if it was totally his choice to have such derivative setups throughout his plot. Since those setups are so derivative though, it only stands to reason that their payoffs should be different this time around. That's not toying with viewer expectations so much as being a good screenwriter by avoiding redundancy.
What I find more questionable are the plot twists that Johnson put into the film's secondary storyline, the one that doesn't borrow so heavily from the previous films.
So basically, that entire subplot was irrelevant.
To be fair, I suspect this storyline was the result of Johnson being saddled with the supporting cast of The Force Awakens and not entirely knowing what to do with them. However, a part of me does still blame it on the trend that we're discussing today.
I'm probably not the first person to say this, but I'm starting to think The Sixth Sense is actually M. Night Shyamalan 's worst contribution to film -- in that its only lasting impact has been the notion that movies must contain big, surprising plot twists in order to be good. I know plot twists were a thing before that (a certain big reveal in a certain other Star Wars movie comes to mind) but The Sixth Sense seems to be the film that really made using them the trend that it is today. I know I'm not the only person who jokingly thought "What a twist!" in an Indian accent after seeing The Last Jedi.
And I mean it, practically every movie contains a twist now, whether it's revealing a surprise villain, revealing a character's secret identity or agenda, revealing a red herring, or most notoriously, revealing that it was all a dream. And you know what? The majority of those plot twists seem to just confuse or annoy audiences.
I think screenwriters need to view plot twists almost like a special effects budget: you only have so much use that you can get out of them, and if you want the quality to be top notch, then use them sparingly and make the story justify each use. Otherwise, you're likely to just cheapen them.
As for The Last Jedi, I still liked the movie overall. The confusing, pointless story arcs are over for now, and I am genuinely curious to see where the core characters go from here. My biggest hope is that since the story is far enough removed from The Force Awakens now, Rian Johnson will have a lot more freedom to write what he wants in the next film. If the second part in a trilogy is supposed the lowest point for everyone involved, then maybe he can truly give us the third part that resolves everything both on the screen and behind the camera.
Wait. He's not writing or directing Episode IX?