The Last Jedi has been out for a few weeks, so hopefully there aren’t too many spoilers here, but just in case you haven’t seen it yet, be prepared for spoilers.
OK, so unlike other entries in this series, this one picks up RIGHT where the previous entry ends, so let’s just jump right in here.
Episode Number: 8 — Released: 2017 — Production Number 9
The New Order Strikes Back
People were so worried that this would be a rehash of Empire, but it’s nice to see them going a different route in a Post-Rogue One universe. Though I do like the subtle rhyming elements that DO call back to Empire.
We’ve got Rey seeking training from a great Jedi Master who isn’t what she expected. We’ve got Yoda! We’ve got a mysterious dark tree that contains secrets relating to the Force (I wonder if it’s the same sort of tree that Luke went into on Dagobah). We’ve got a scoundrel who ends up betraying them, though Lando is WAAAAY cooler than DJ and gets a redemption arc. We’ve got the debut of a new type of freaking huge Star Destroyer a la the Executor from Empire. We’ve got a huge confrontation in which the parentage of the main character is revealed, though it is the opposite of Luke’s earth-shattering revelation.
But this isn’t an Empire rehash. The trilogies are all supposed to rhyme, but this one goes in new directions not just in terms of story twists, but in terms of its entire mythology. While the Prequels felt like a Greek tragedy and the Original Trilogy felt like a Greek myth in terms of their scope and their heightened reality, this new trilogy feels more like a Shakespearean history, presenting a vast scope while remaining intimately connected with the personal journeys of its characters. It feels a lot more visceral and less concerned with Fate or Destiny with capital letters. The Force Awakens was literally about the end of a perfect fairy tale existence, and The Last Jedi is about a frantic dash for survival in a purely Darwinian fashion.
There are no grand plans at play. Our heroes escape with barely anything left, suffering huge losses over the course of the film, and there’s no rosy horizon. In fact the very end suggests that, though everyone will probably die, there are Force-sensitive folks out there in the galaxy as well as tons of heroes who will still fight for what’s right. It’s not the Jedi’s job to persist. The galaxy can survive without them.
And I think that’s my favorite thing about this. Its about people, not the destiny of one super powerful family.
I am Snoke, the Darkside Master
I love that Snoke was a red herring. I feel like who he is and where he came from is still important, but it doesn’t matter who he is because Ben Solo’s fall was the result of Luke losing faith for a terrible instant and Ben listening to the first dark side user who decided to use him to further his own goals. We KNOW there are dark side users out there in the galaxy who aren’t Sith. It’s obvious that one would sense Ben’s power and swoop in as soon as possible, dazzle him with visions of him as a dark side successor to Darth Vader and even create a troop of followers named after him. The Knights of Ren didn’t appear in this movie, but they don’t have to. They were bait that drew Ben Solo to the dark side (or at least 80% of the way there because he’s still very conflicted). It doesn’t matter who they are.
Ultimately, the whole dynamic of the apprentice turning against the master to grow more powerful is a Dark Side trope Snoke should have seen coming (though he’s probably not a Sith, so maybe he was clueless). We needed Kylo Ren to overthrow Snoke earlier than Episode 9 because we need to see what would have happened had Vader succeeded in overthrowing Palpatine before episode 6. Luke redeemed Anakin in his final moments and he gave his life to save the galaxy. But in this trilogy, there are no prophecies or destinies. Kylo Ren is conflicted in a human way, and he makes the right choice as Vader did…but then his self doubt and insecurity take over and he doesn’t want to step outside his comfort zone, so he turns to Rey and asks her to join him, choosing the security of power (that isn’t really security at all) over the light that he needs to balance himself out.
Kind of a Strange Old Hermit
Luke’s journey in this one is AMAZING. Going back to A New Hope, we see an Obi-Wan who’s completely at peace with his life. He’s made HORRIBLE mistakes, and he’s been involved in terrible situations, but he’s worked through it all, and he’s ready to face the end of his life with a serene acceptance. Luke in The Last Jedi has no such serenity. He ran from his problems, but instead of working through them, he’s hid from them so that when Rey forces him to deal with it, the emotional trauma of his own catastrophic failure is too much.
Luke does finally find that peace and acceptance once he tells Ben that he failed him, but his journey to that incredible apotheosis is a jagged very human one. Luke is not the wise old wizard who has all the answers, he’s a man who made a mistake and who is paralyzed with fear and regret. His ultimate end is so incredibly powerful because it’s one of relief. He stretches himself to his absolute limits to save his sister, and in so doing is able to finally find the sort of peace that is necessary for him to become one with the Force. I know we’ll see him again as a force ghost (because it’s just really important) but his arc in this one is so well done, I’ll be super mad if he’s not at least considered for an Oscar. That performance was stunning.
This only goes to show what little people can do
I really liked how, following Rogue One’s incredibleness, this film really played up the Normal People Being Heroes aspect of the whole thing. The bomber gal who gives her life at the beginning, Rose (who doesn’t feel like she’s a “hero” but ends up nearly sacrificing herself to save everyone), and the little boy at the end (when he grabbed that broom with the Force, I just about squealed in delight out loud and made everyone around me hate me) were essential parts of this movie, showing that Rey isn’t the One who can save them all. It’s the actions of lots of people who will save them.
Admiral Holdo’s INCREDIBLE final moment is just as heroic as Vader’s final moment. Rose’s standing up to Finn is just as important as Leia standing up to Han. I liked how Rose and Finn’s mission was a failure. They trust the wrong person and get captured and nearly executed. Sometimes plans fail. Finn then learns not to be selfish and nearly sacrifices himself to save everyone before being stopped by Rose who sees his potential.
Rey does help save everyone, but it’s not a deus ex machina. Luke distracts Kylo, Leia’s leadership keeps everyone alive, and Rey allows them to escape. They’re ALL heroes. And they’re all flawed humans. It’s perfect.
Burning bridges (and trees)
Star Wars is all about its iconic imagery, and The Force Awakens was, too. It was a study in nostalgia. The Millennium Falcon got a big crowd-pleasing reveal, Han and Chewie did, too. Darth Vader’s helmet was sitting on a pedestal. Luke’s first lightsaber was discovered in a chest, surrounded by ominous voices and a flash of the past. The iconic stormtrooper armor was immortalized in Captain Phasma’s silver variant. The whole movie was about familiar icons.
This movie is about reducing those icons to their utilitarian reality. Luke tosses his lightsaber over a cliff. The Millennium Falcon is just a ship. Luke’s X-wing was sunk into the ocean. Kylo Ren’s Darth Vader-esque helmet is smashed. Phasma’s armor is broken. The pedestals all come crashing down, taking the beloved icons with them, and the series is making it clear that the past needs to be learned from and then allowed to drift back into the past. Yoda even burns the tree so Luke can see how little those symbols of the past matter. Yoda knows what’s up. Holding on to past and tradition and icons is what allows dark side users to periodically rise and wreak havoc (it’s literally been going on for thousands of years). But by attaching more importance on personal growth and strength and an intuitive and more all-encompassing view of the Force (which Qui-Gon Jinn followed, making him something of an outlier), the whole concept of dark forever in competition with light can be replaced by a more balanced grey approach that matches the reality of nature. Luke has yet to tell Rey this, but she seems perfectly placed to take up the grey Jedi mantle down the road.
I hope we get a Force Ghost Luke in the third movie…
There have been lots of reviews about this movie, and there are tons of comments on Facebook from fans complaining that this movie has ruined everything they’ve loved about the whole franchise, but, respectfully, they missed the point of the movie. It’s not about flashy lightsaber battles, it’s about people wrestling with real conflicts, and I really enjoyed it.
I feel like the character arcs will make a lot more sense once we get to the third movie and the whole journey will conclude and it will be mind-blowing. I just hope we get actual closure. i don’t even really want a huge superweapon to be destroyed. I want Return of the Jedi where the amazing battle is mostly psychological (the scene with Luke, Vader, and the Emperor is the greatest moment in the entire franchise) and we get closure for all the characters…and hopefully done in such a way that Kylo Ren doesn’t die…though I feel like that’s a tragic inevitability…
And now we wait for two LOOOONG years before episode 9! Eeee!