-MASSIVE SPOILER REVIEW-
I don’t think I’ve ever met a Star Wars film I don’t like. That being said, I don’t know if I’ve ever walked out of a Star Wars film more torn asunder. The Last Jedi is not satisfied to give you a simple movie experience. Rather, the movie gives you meat to chew on for weeks and months to come; most viewers shouldn’t be able to come to an easy decision on the movie quickly. Read on to see how I wrestled with the film. (Be warned: I do not separate spoilers as Ryan did in his review!)
Luke Skywalker. Never would I have thought that I cared about him the way I know I do now. I’ve loved Luke for a while. I thought his arc in the Original Trilogy was golden, and I thought that it was incredibly touching and powerful. But The Last Jedi totally revamped my view of Luke. He is a man: he is vulnerable, compassionate, and flawed. At first, I was shocked to hear that Luke was going to retain some sort of distance from Rey, giving her somewhat of a cold shoulder. As the film progresses, we learn why: his disastrous last encounter with Ben Solo led to Ben’s fall. Luke fears Rey’s raw power because she reminds him so much of Ben: she rushes into darkness to find answers and has trouble controlling her overwhelming power. But to see him warm up to Rey and show up again at Crait as a hero was a highlight of the Saga for me, even if he was not truly there in flesh. Luke, looking out at Ahch-To’s sunsets, provides a beautiful finale for our favorite hero, as he disappears into the Force as Yoda did before him.
I would have loved a bit more time in Luke’s mind in the film, especially as Ben and Luke tell Rey about what happened the night that Ben turned on the Jedi. I am torn here: I recognize that getting too in-depth in Luke’s mind would have distracted from Rey, who was the star of the film, but I also think it would have been great to get a deeper insight into his mind. What would have made the same man who threw away his lightsaber on the second Death Star arm himself against a child? I’m sure we will get into this in the novelization, but the more times I watch the film, the more I long for its inclusion.
General Organa’s story could not have ended more perfectly. Watching her deftly lead the Resistance during an evacuation, standing up to her new son-figure, and taking control of a disaster was the perfect send-off to one of pop culture’s most well known characters. When she was blasted off the bridge of the Raddus by incoming TIE Fighters, I was stunned. No one else had seemed to think she was killed, but I couldn’t believe it. I know watching her pull herself back onto the ship is already one of the most polarizing scenes in the film, but I thought it was perfectly done, and a necessary moment for her. We’ve been watching Leia’s Force powers develop through the canon, from sensing Darth Maul on Theed to her adventures with Kier, and this was a powerful pay-off as a climax of her career. Leia commands a powerful presence throughout the film, even as she steps aside for other women to lead the Resistance. Her final words in the Saga are a powerful inspiration to Rey: Rey has everything she needs to rebuild both the Resistance and the Jedi Order. What more could we want from our general/princess?
The movie, just as The Force Awakens does, plays with our nostalgia to pull on our heartstrings. It forces us open to the pain that Luke and Leia are feeling, and invites us into their dark places. We feel anguish when Luke learns that Han has not come to Ahch-To with Rey and Chewbacca. When Leia senses Kylo’s TIE Silencer, a familiar theme reminds us of their familial ties and puts us emotionally on edge, unsure of what Kylo will do to her. R2 has a fun surprise to bring Luke back into the fight while conversing on the Falcon. In the end though, this film pushes further than the last: we don’t rest in our nostalgia as Episode VII might have wanted us to. The nostalgia brings bittersweet memories of where we have been, but the film forces us to look forward. With the main three gone, we have to put our galactic hope into Rey and the Resistance.
This movie cleverly sets itself above resting on older characters. It is about the new characters, and having the Big Three of the Original Trilogy step off the scene and letting the new characters take the spotlight was a stroke of brilliance. I was dead-set on my hopes for Rey Skywalker; the only last name I couldn’t accept was Rey Nobody. In what was probably the best move ever, this movie showed both me and Rey that our expectations don’t define reality. Neither of us got the answer that we wanted, but dang, if it wasn’t satisfying anyway. The answer was set up boldly in an esoteric Force vision. As Rey wanders into a pitch black hole, she is granted what she wants: a vision of her parents. Two shadowy figures approach her, combine into one, and she sees only herself. The lesson? Her parents were nobody: but she is somebody. Stop hoping that your legacy carries you: only you carry you.
Watching Rey embody both Luke’s compassion and Leia’s determination was a true delight, but finding out that she is related to neither makes her all the more special. You don’t need special blood to be a strong character: you need strong character to have special blood. If Luke wasn’t compassionate, and Leia not resolute, their last name would mean nothing. But watching Ersos and Nobody’s rise to prominence through their own efforts is rewarding in itself. The end of the movie has a special treat: where we’d expect the movie to end, it continues. We see a child on Canto Bight take a broom with the Force, another nobody, as far as we know, and look into the stars, emblazoned with hope by the Resistance. A theme of this movie is that anybody can be a Jedi – even us.
Speaking of nobodies, I will move to Rose before Finn or Poe. Rose seems to be another polarizing character. A lot of my friends have expressed that they did not care for her, but wouldn’t put a finger on why that was the case. I felt like Rose was a good fit, put into the wrong scene. I think Rose was characterized excellently as loyal, powerful, and empathetic. Watching her free the fathiers from their slavery, decrying the opulence of Canto Bight, was the true mark of a new kind of hero. In general, though, I thought the scenes on Cantonica were a bit superfluous, and I wonder if she could’ve been given a different mission with Finn, something to bolster her character a bit further. That being said, I am excited to learn more about her through Cobalt Squadron and Bomber’s Journal as part of the “day of” releases.
Rose is an excellent bridge into discussing Finn, because she is the one who convinces him to stay. I wondered if Rey would be able to convince Finn to stay. Maybe out of love for her, but would it have been enough? Interestingly, it was not Rey who got through to Finn, but Rose. I think Rose taught Finn a lesson Rey couldn’t: don’t fight to run away, but fight for what you love. Rose showed him there’s more to the galaxy than Rey, and more reasons to fight for freedom than one person. Finn is really the heart of the redemption saga we may not get with Kylo now that he has chosen a darker destiny. To watch him turn from Stormtrooper to full-blown Resistance fighter, willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, is as great a character arc as I can think of. I am interested to see where he can possibly go from here? I think Finn has shown an incredible amount of growth in the past two films, becoming a well-rounded character in a short amount of time. And, as a bonus: his fight with Phasma was incredible. What a satisfying conclusion to their relationship, given more weight from both Marvel’s Captain Phasma and Delilah Dawson’s Phasma.
Speaking of Phasma, this film did not spend much time in the First Order. While we expected some backstory on Supreme Leader Snoke (is he related to the great extra-galactic evil Palpatine sensed?), we were left with something more fun: his murder. Watching Kylo turn Luke’s lightsaber on Snoke, cutting him in two, was one of the best moments in the entire film. I did not notice this at first, but the film brilliantly parallels Luke with Snoke. While Luke was afraid of Rey’s raw power, Snoke claims that every Master desires raw power from their student. Where Snoke embraces murder, Luke shuts down when the thought crosses his mind. The manipulations of Snoke only serve to make Luke’s teaching more heroic and powerful in the end.
Other characters, like Hux, were given screen time, but were relegated to secondary positions. While this is completely understandable, I can’t wait for some contemporary fiction to give us more about Hux as he learns to deal with the new Supreme Leader. Hux provides a great foil to Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, as a humorous partner. Where Kylo doesn’t think any longer, only motivated by his rage and his pain, Hux is able to keep Ren focused on the First Order’s larger goals. It may not take a new Resistance/Jedi Order to take down the First Order with these two in charge!
Yep – after Snoke is brutally butchered by Kylo Ren, Ben Solo takes his final steps toward the Dark Side and takes up his former Master’s title. Supreme Leader Kylo Ren may finally have earned his place as Darth Vader’s successor. Now, I liked Kylo since we first met him on Tanuul Village. I thought his internal turmoil was a great commentary of our age, and people growing up in this climate. His exemplified toxic masculinity and entitlement. In this film, Snoke links Rey and Ben’s minds to exploit both of their weaknesses. It turns out, Ben was more conflicted than we initially thought, and Rey jumps on that and hopes to redeem him because of the light she can clearly see. But, now, he’s moved. He offers Rey a chance to join his new government after killing Snoke, and she turns him down. He views this as yet another rejection like he feels he experienced with Luke and Han. Because of this, he lashes out at her. He’s changed. He’s no longer a brat. We see a man who has been hurt, rejected, scorned, and pushed away. No longer is he afraid of his anger: if he won’t be accepted, he won’t hold back. His fiery attack on the Crait base was a powerful show of how much the character has changed. From hesitating to kill Han, from not firing upon Leia, to turning on Rey and trying to obliterate Luke, we’ve seen the birth of a true villain.
I think, of any aspect of the movie, including plot lines, characters, locations, or anything else, Commander Poe Dameron’s character was bolstered the most from reading the rest of the canon. The Poe Dameron comic prepared readers for a pilot who was brash, headstrong, and almost too committed. Though we’ve seen General Organa try and coach him before, his interactions with Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo really helped those lessons sink in. Seeing Poe lead a disastrous run on a Dreadnaught was a bold move: we’ve seen loses before, but rarely because of a main character’s simple stupidity. Poe learns a solid lesson from Holdo and Leia, hopefully moving him from flyboy to thoughtful commander of the Resistance.
One of the things that I appreciated most about the film was that it was truly a passing of the torch. The Legends canon never seemed to be able to let Luke, Leia, and Han go, never letting the New Jedi Order rise into the prominence it deserved. The Last Jedi forces the Saga to let these characters go. But they don’t go quietly: from Rey learning about the Force from Luke, to Poe learning about leadership from Holdo and Leia, to Kylo learning from Luke about himself, the Big Trio’s ghosts will haunt the characters for the rest of their lives. The film was truly about letting the new characters make gargantuan mistakes, but letting them lean into the wisdom of their elders who also made bad decisions. In this way, even if the Big Three are with the Force, we can still hear them throughout the film.
Some complain that the pacing of the film was off. In weaker moments, I might agree. I largely felt like the Canto Bight scene went on a bit too long, and Rose and Finn’s time between D’Qar and Crait could have been spent somewhere else. Maybe, ultimately, I don’t want to admit that this didn’t need to be a two and a half hour long film, but that sounds like the direction I am falling into. But a whole film focused on the Resistance flying slowly away from a Mega Star Destroyer? I never, ever, ever would have seen that coming. And I loved that they were bold with the direction of the film! Who knew they would spend a film on a story like this? A lot walked away disappointed, but as a reader of the novels, which sometimes have plot like this, I loved it. It was nice to have a movie move at the same plot speed as a novel.
This film introduces something new into the franchise: nuance and fresh depth. The alternative tellings of Kylo’s initial fight with Luke, first from Luke’s half perspective, to Kylo’s perspective, to Luke’s honest and vulnerable portrayal of the event, made both Luke and Kylo feel more human. Both can make mistakes, and both can react poorly to the world around them, but neither is clearly right nor clearly wrong. Luke’s lessons on the Force, that it is not about lifting rocks and controlling people, seems very much in line with the canon so far, and it felt rewarding to see the benefits of Luke’s Jedi training come to fruition here. Even scenes that felt like adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back were slightly subverted. Whereas Luke, on Dagobah, sees himself in Vader’s armor based on his current trajectory, Rey doesn’t get a straightforward answer. She wishes to see her parents, but sees herself instead. This scene ultimately helped me realize that she stands on her own; she needn’t look into the past or future for her destiny, but look to herself, within.
And really, The Last Jedi can be defined by its boldness. From killing off the major character of the franchise; by not giving us Snoke’s backstory, and instead killing him; by not giving us the answers many expected about Rey’s backstory, this was a bold film. Even stylistic changes were made that were shocking, from flashbacks to intercut island scenes in Rey’s vision. This movie has rewritten the rules for future movies, and for the Star Wars franchise at large, and I am here for it.
The Old Republic Era: Dawn of the Jedi: Into The Void | Lost Tribe of the Sith | The Old Republic: Revan | The Old Republic: Deceived | Red Harvest | The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance | The Old Republic: Annihilation | Knight Errant | Darth Bane: Path of Destruction | Darth Bane: Rule of Two | Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil
The New Jedi Order Era: Scourge
Canon Novel Reviews:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Star Wars Young Reader Reviews:
Adventures in Wild Space: The Escape (Prelude)
So You Want to be a Jedi?
Beware the Power of the Dark Side!
Poe Dameron: Flight Log
Princess Leia: Royal Rebel (Backstories)
Darth Vader: Sith Lord (Backstories)
The Force Awakens: Finn’s Story
Forces of Destiny:
Daring Adventures vol 1 | Daring Adventures vol 2 | Tales of Hope & Courage
LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures Reviews:
“A Hero Discovered” 1×01 | “The Mines of Gabralla” 1×02 | “Zander’s Joyride” 1×03 | “The Lost Treasure of Cloud City” 1×04 | “Peril on Kashyyyk” 1×05 | “Crossing Paths” 1×06