- Release Date: 2017-12-15
- In-universe Date: 34 ABY
- Name of Series/Era: Sequel Trilogy Era
- Media Type: Film
- Genre: Space Opera
- Writers: Rian Johnson
- Directors: Rian Johnson
- Publishers: Disney
- Timeline: Star Wars Canon
Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.
I’ve now had a weekend to fully process this film. And after literal hours of pondering, I think I have finally formed solid opinions on it. And I would add, that I think the long approach to forming opinions is exactly how people should think about this film. Instinctive reactions will result in rushed, biased opinions that you might want to re-think. This film made a number of bold decisions, and it’s easy to see those unexpected decisions as poor decisions, because they weren’t what we expected or wanted. But when you take a deeper look at what this film has done, you’ll find that those decisions were exactly what this film, the characters, and we as an audience needed.
Let’s start with the things I thought could be better. Notice I didn’t say the things I didn’t like. There are things I didn’t like but I don’t think were mistakes. Thankfully, I actually thought this film was really good overall. I didn’t think it made that many mistakes, not after thinking it through very carefully.
Start with the problems
First of all, let’s talk about Snoke. His death was completely unexpected, and I loved it! Never have I been more intrigued by a creative decision than killing off the person who was supposed to be the big bad of the trilogy. That’s not my issue. My issue is with the fact that we still know nothing about him. To me, that makes his death kind of unimportant. If we knew what made him special, about why he holds the respect of the entire First Order, perhaps his death would have meant something. With more reason to fear Snoke, it would have made Kylo’s final outwitting of the Supreme Leader a much larger achievement. Instead, it just made Snoke look weak, because he was outwitted by a student who really isn’t all that scary (I mean, come on, Kylo’s been bested twice, once from an untrained force user who had never held a lightsaber before, and the second time by a Force projection that wasn’t even physically present).
Second: Phasma. One criticism I have of The Force Awakens was the way Phasma went out like a punk. After reading the recent book and comic about the character, I assumed that Lucasfilm was building her as someone much more dangerous than she appeared. And then she went out like a punk…again. Now I never really considered the idea that she died in The Last Jedi (Star Wars has a history of bringing back people who fell into pits), but she no longer seems very interesting to me. Though I will say that Gwendolin Christie has an amazing physical presence that seemed almost Vader-ish when she fought Finn.
So overall, I thought the villains were kind of…not scary at all. Hux became comic relief, Phasma went out like a punk, we had no reason to fear Snoke, and Kylo…well I have mixed feelings about him.
Lastly, my only other critique is that I felt the film was a bit scattered. It was a relatively simple story, but I felt like it jumped around a lot and struggled to tell a simple narrative. That said, I’m not entirely certain how I would do it better, especially when trying to tell so many themes. Maybe I would reduce the number of themes and character moments, but it would come at the expense of some characters. So maybe it was exactly as good as it could be, but maybe not. We’ll probably never know.
And that’s it for the problems I had. Notice I haven’t said anything about Luke’s end, or Rey’s parents. Those things initial troubled me, but I’ve since realized that they’re perfect, and I’ll get to those last.
On to the good!
I LOVED that this movie had themes. The Force Awakens, though an enjoyable film, didn’t really have much of a theme. Rogue One had one about hope, and The Last Jedi continued with that idea, but also added themes of letting the past die, and the theme of balance/peace. It’s the last one that meant a lot to me. This film finally provides an official explanation of what “balance of the Force” means. It is presented starkly on Luke’s island on Ahch-to, where it is unveiled as a balance of ecology, where nature finds that perfect balance of life and death and rebirth. Mufasa might call it the circle of life. This is crucial in those final few scenes with Luke, which I’ll get to below.
I also loved that almost every character had an arc, even though some were kind of small, like Finn’s. The Rose storyline worked for me, and I loved her last line that kind of summed up and tied together each of the themes for this film: (and I’m paraphrasing here) “We won’t win by fighting those we hate, but saving those we love.” Also, it was nice to see Poe have an arc, something he definitely did not have in The Force Awakens.
Other minor things I liked, I loved the fight scene in the throne room, Leia’s use of the Force in that space theme, the humor, the music (as always), and that lightspeed ramming scene. Talk about a beautiful shot!
Okay, so let’s talk about the two big ones:
I’ll admit, I was one of those people who wanted Luke to be Rey’s father. I desperately wanted her to be a Skywalker, just so Kylo was not all that was left of that legacy. So I was naturally disappointed when I found out that her parents were “nobodies” (although whether Kylo was telling the truth about this will be a hotly debated topic for the foreseeable future. He was, after all trying to manipulate her by making her feel worthless to everyone but him, a classic manipulative technique from abusers to the abused).
But assuming this revelation about Rey’s parents was true, it does a terrific job of developing Rey’s arc, where she’s learning to stand on her own and not rely on father figures or a past legacy to inform her self-worth. Rey is Rey, and she’s learning to let that be enough. That was the message she received from the mirror-cave thingy, and that’s definitely what the filmmakers are trying to say.
Now it could be that she will learn this lesson, then find that there’s something else that makes her super extra special, on top of just being herself. But that can wait for Episode IX, if it happens at all. Personally, I think it will work either way. I’m fine for Rey’s parents to be “nobodies” because that is the hardest answer that Rey herself can deal with, just as Vader’s pronouncement that he was Luke’s father was also the worst thing that Luke could have dealt with.
Luke’s Nobel End
This is really what bugged me on my first viewing of The Last Jedi. I, like many, wanted to see Luke decimate the First Order single-handedly, for lightsabers and Force powers to go flying in all directions, and instead…he sat on a rock and tricked people into thinking he was somewhere else. I get it, it was not what I expected or wanted. And I especially didn’t want him to die at the end, not like that.
Let’s return to the theme of balance. In The Last Jedi we learn that balance is peace and harmony. At the start of this film, Luke is not at peace. He hates himself and his past failures. He is not balanced. It takes Rey, R2-D2s little reminder, and a word from Yoda to finally bring him into harmony and peace with himself. Now let’s think about this. If Luke had gone in lightsaber swinging, killing members of the First Order as he went, would that have been peace? The old Jedi certainly thought so, which is why they became Force warriors during the Clone Wars, generals in a “noble” cause against the powers of darkness. And that eventually became their downfall.
Luke, by the end of the film, has finally understood what balance means, and it is peace. That’s not to say that fighting the First Order is not necessary. It is. But instead, Luke chooses to save those he loves, rather than fight the enemy. And in doing so, he has achieved balance. He fulfills the purpose of the Skywalker legacy, to bring balance to the Force, to bring peace. Luke gives the Resistance, now a new Rebel Alliance, the spark of hope they need to continue in this fight.
Overall, I thought that Rian Johnson made some bold moves, most of them important and necessary. Like the mirror that Rey looks through, Johnson has shown us a few things that we didn’t want to see, but were definitely what we needed to see.