I still choke up a little bit when the words STAR WARS explode onto the screen and that John Williams fanfare kicks off. I had a bumper sticker in high school that proudly declared “My Other Vehicle is an X-Wing Fighter.” I read the books, played the video games, loved the re-releases in the 90s and the prequels in the early aughts (before we all collectively came together and declared them bad).
I’m a Star Wars fan, and I enjoyed The Last Jedi.
*** MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW ***
If The Force Awakens played things a bit too safely by essentially recreating A New Hope for a new generation, The Last Jedi boldly steps forward and proudly stands on its own. It infuses elements from both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but also takes the venerable series in some fun new directions.
Every Star Wars film is defined by its unique planet locations. Empire had Hoth and Cloud City. Jedi had the moon of Endor. Dagobah, Naboo, Tatoinne, Geonosis, and Mustafar were all memorable set pieces.
Meanwhile the bulk of The Last Jedi actually takes place in space, inside spaceships. The entire plot could be boiled down to a long drawn-out chase sequence between the last remaining fleeing rebels and the pursuing First Order.
That’s a vastly different framing device for a Stars Wars film. It helps not only create a sense of urgency throughout the story, but finally paints the rebellion as incredibly small, weak, and vulnerable. Throughout the original trilogy the Empire and Rebellion felt like two nearly equal sides in a war. Sure the Empire had vastly more resources and a damn Deathstar but the rebels never seemed wanting for their own spaceships, rebel bases, and numerous allies.
But here, no help arrives. The rebels are down to a total of three ships, then one, then, well, a handful of transport vessels. The Last Jedi does a great job making the situation truly dire. Holding on to hope was a major theme throughout Rogue One and it’s exemplified here, most notably in Poe’s slightly cheesy but still fist-pumping line, “We are the spark that will light the fire that will burn The First Order down.” While Empire ended bleakly for our heroes, TLJ ensures our plucky heroes survive, and hope remains alive.
To help organize my scattered thoughts, here is what I liked and didn’t like about The Last Jedi.
Old Man Luke
Luke’s transformation into a grumpy old man who has shut himself off from the Force and placed himself in exile is startling. He’s a broken man 30 years after RotJ, haunted by failure, and all we have to go by is a single scene that’s shown from like three different perspectives (and I believe was originally teased way back in the first trailer for The Force Awakens).
Luke, like Obi-Wan, has had no one else to confide in or share his Force-woes. Unlike Obi-Wan, he doesn’t even have hope for the future, or anyone to protect.
I love that we got lots of screen time with Mark Hamill, particularly after such a huge tease at the end of TFA. Grumpy Old Luke was a fun character, an interesting combination of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and an old uncle who is bitterly shouting at a sports match on television.
He had a hell of a sendoff when he faced down The First Order by himself, using an entirely never-before-seen Force power. If this were a prequel film he would’ve been dancing around, crushing AT-ATs and flipping his lightsaber in the air. Thankfully they didn’t do any of that, instead focusing on a very character-driven moment with a brief, none-flashy duel between he and Kylo. He even uttered the “strike me down..” line, and his rebuttal to Kylo was pure badass. He went out like a hero, even though his actual passing felt a little anti-climactic.
Yoda and the Jedi Order
Yoda! Unlike the prequels (and granted, he was definitely younger then) we returned back to the goofy old puppet-looking creature for a fun little scene between he and Luke. They absolutely nailed Yoda and his wise though frustrating knowledge.
Yoda delivers one of the most important, resonant lines of the film, and one that holds up with some of the greatest lines ever spoken in a Star Wars film: “The greatest teacher, failure is.” The Sith view failure as a weakness, while Luke had let his failure with Ben Solo lead him on a path of self-destruction (Luke really needed to take a page from Obi-Wan).
Interestingly we also dove a bit deeper into the Jedi religion, which, correct me if I’m wrong, is the first time we’ve hard a character actually describe Jedi as an official religion in the films. It makes sense why Luke has almost entirely turned from it: the Jedi were militant and political, which is pretty much the worst way to handle any religion (*cough*). I don’t recall Yoda making any specific comments on that, but him burning down the tree and texts (mother-fucker can call lightning as a god damn Force Ghost!) speaks volumes.
What the Jedi order needs to do is represent the balance and harmony between things, which is what the Force is. Less crusader, more monk. I think this is personified during the climactic assault on Crait, when Finn is about to sacrifice himself (an overused dramatic moment throughout the film) to the battering ram cannon, and Rose saves him. Before she passes out she says something to the lines of “don’t destroy what we hate, save what we love.” I think Yoda would’ve loved that line.
While ultimately meaningless, I did enjoy the brief moments when Poe Dameron staged a coup aboard the last rebel cruiser. We got a lot more of Poe this time around, and he’s somewhat evolved into the Han Solo character, albeit with a passion for the rebellion.
His extreme measures toward not seeing eye-to-eye with the newly introduced Admiral Holdo (amazingly portrayed by Laura Dern) only make sense in the context that he was trying to buy time for the shaky plan of Finn and Rose breaking into the Dreadnought and disabling the device.
I’ll be honest – I thought that was going to become the main plot of the film, instead it was a side quest that ultimately failed. But what I did like was it showcased the rebellion has not being a unified group. They are not the First Order, they are a ragtag, diverse group come together under dire circumstances, and that’s never before been properly explored until now.
Rey’s Parents and Democratizing the Force
We learn the truth about Rey’s parents, which was one of the biggest mysteries from The Force Awakens. The Prequels and Original Trilogy were obsessed with family ties, so I consider it damn refreshing that Rey is literally a nobody (I half expected Kylo to turn to the camera and repeat “YOU HEAR THAT, HER PARENTS WERE NOBODY!”).
This also ties into the ending sequence, where we saw one of the young children from Space Monte Carlo casually use the Force while sweeping the floor. Despite Lucas’ obsession with the Skywalkers (and dumb midichlorian/virgin birth bullshit) I always thought Force attunement was more like being born a mutant in Marvel or a wizard in Harry Potter.
Thus, the Force awakening was actually about random people around the universe (like Rey) discovering this power, which could lead to all kinds of interesting story lines. I also see Rey being a guiding force as she accepts both the Light and Dark side has two sides of the same coin – remember, The Force is about Balance, not about Good vs Evil or the Light defeating the Dark. I would ultimately like to see her establish an order that’s neither Jedi nor Sith, but represents the middle ground, the balance, and using the Force spiritually rather than for military or political gain.
Space Monte Carlo
In what is no doubt the most divisive sequence in The Last Jedi, Finn and Rose travel down to a casino resort (which I’m dubbing Space Monte Carlo) in order to secure a code breaker to then continue on their main quest of disabling a tracking device that’s preventing the rebels from escaping. Whew.
The timing is very odd here and the plot slows down considerably. How the hell do our heroes have time to travel down to a planet and do all this during the overall chase sequence? Even worse, everything here is ultimately meaningless as their plan eventually fails.
So why am I putting this in the Good section? Because it was a lot of fun, and very different compared to the rest of the film. It showcased an interesting new location full of aliens, and while we’ve seen plenty of dingy bars and trading posts, we’ve never experienced anything like this high-class resort.
Rose got some useful character development and backstory, we’re introduced to some rebel-friendly kids (gotta plant those seeds), and we’re treated to a fun little chase sequence with alien horses that thankfully doesn’t wear out its welcome. I think it’s important to see Rebels actually helping/inspiring people (and friendly space horses), rather than just battling the Empire/First Order all the time.
Oh and Benicio Del Toro is in a Star Wars film! And he’s pretty fun, for the brief screentime he gets.
The whole sequence felt like something out of Star Wars Rebels rather than the main films, and is a great example of Disney striking out and tentatively trying new things, though it does come close to derailing the whole movie. I’m boldly declaring this sequence a half-thumbs up, but I can see where people are going to point their fingers at it as the weak link of the film.
This was one of the most jaw-dropping sequences in the entire film. As soon as Holdo turned the cruiser around I knew she was charging the First Order fleet – but I didn’t realize she was lightspeed charging. It was a hell of a heroic sacrifice, though frankly she could have done that the moment the transports were clear and saved a few more lives. But still, very cool.
In a related note, this would’ve been a great way to send off Leia instead of Holdo. A part of me though they were grooming Holdo to be Leia’s replacement as de facto Rebel leader. Instead Leia survives the entire film, only for Carrie Fisher’s untimely death to put a bleak note on the theme of hope for the future. Hindsight is 20/20, but now I wish Leia could’ve had the proper heroic sendoff here, instead of whatever they’ll have to scramble together to explain her absence/death in the next one.
I thought levity was better balanced this time around. The Force Awakens leaned a little too goofy (Finn especially). Here it was mostly regulated to BB-8 (who’s still a lot of fun), and, surprisingly, surrounding Luke and Rey with the Caretakers and Luke’s curmudgeonly, hermit ways.
It’s certainly not as dour and serious as Rogue One, but TLJ had a better balance between serious character drama and a few funny moments and one-liners. BB-8 controlling the AT-ST is a great example of inserting a funny, yet awesome moment during a dramatic sequence. And yeah, Porgs are cute as hell.
Phasma’s Last Stand
As one of the only named, important Stormtrooper characters, Phasma was horribly underused, and easily defeated in The Force Awakens. Here she’s mostly left as a stepping stone for Finn’s character arc.
The battle between her and Finn lead to some of the cringiest one-liners of the film. Her best weapon was a tiny spear thing? I was disappointed to see her offed at the end. It was a neat character idea who never reached her full potential.
The Thing Beneath the Island
I’m very confused on what this whole sequence was trying to do. We already knew Rey was anxious about her parents, and Luke warns that she doesn’t at all hesitate when the Dark Side calls out to her. The sequence shows her touching a crystal wall, then a weird section that shows a bunch of Rey’s echoing each other’s movements. I had no idea what was going on here, and it didn’t seem to lead to anything.
Kylo, Rey, and Snoke
Of everything that happened in The Last Jedi, the scenes between Kylo, Rey, and Snoke were the most predictable, and most heavily drawn from previous source material – in this case Return of the Jedi. Emperor Palpatine/Snoke is overconfident of his apprentice Vader/Kylo to destroy Luke/Rey.
Instead Vader/Kylo kills Palpatine/Snoke. Who would’ve thought that demeaning your young hotshot apprentice would make him pissed at you? Snoke was clearly never a parent (and frustratingly, we still know nothing about him). Bye Felicia.
Now granted, the subsequent fight scene that joined Rey and Kylo together against the red dudes was pretty awesome. Fourteen-year old me would’ve ate that shit up – I want to know more about these pseudo-light whips, daggers, and glaives!
It was a fun twist to let them join forces in a fight, only for her to ultimately reject him (and destroy Luke’s saber in the process). Kylo was already pretty emo, and the girlfriend rejection naturally pushes him over the edge. Next he’ll be sharing alt-right memes, harassing women, and voting for Trump (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Kylo’s a complex character. He’s not particularly menacing or scary. He’s whiny, needy, and emotional, pretty much the opposite of his idol, Darth Vader. He says he wants to cut all ties to the past and move forward, but after Rey’s rejection he takes over The First Order and becomes obsessed with hunting down and destroying The Rebellion so, whatever dude. I’m not a big Kylo fan as so far he’s a slightly more interesting version of Episode III Anakin, but I generally liked what they did with him in TLJ.
Leia Space Flight
I adore Carrie Fisher in the New Trilogy and she had lots of worthy screen time in The Last Jedi, but the sequence where she’s blown out into space only to fly back was just goofy. Yes she has some natural Force powers, but surviving in deep space and flying back to the ship went over the top in deifying her (and it just looked kinda stupid too). It’s also frustrating in that if she had that much raw talent, why has A) she never thought to develop it for the better of the rebels and B) no one else (like Snoke) seemed to sense it or give a shit.
The overall run time felt a little long. At one point when the transport ships were speeding toward Crait and Holdo had kamikaze’d the First Order ships I thought “hmm I wonder if they’re going to just end it here,” completely forgetting about the war footage on the salt flats shown in the trailer!
Most Star Wars films are fairly long but this one just felt like the plot was a bit too simplistic for the nearly 2.5 hour run time. It really hit home when Rose, Finn, and DJ (apparently that was Del Toro’s character, I had to look it up), get caught before they can disable the tracking device, rendering that entire plot sequence (including Space Monte Carlo and Poe’s Coup) mostly meaningless. And while Rey’s training and drama with Luke in the first half was important, it was entirely removed from everything else that was happening. By the time Crait rolled around I was ready for things to end, though I’ll admit that Crait had some of the best parts of the film.
Rose Loves Finn?
I’m all for rescuing Finn so we have one less sacrificial martyr during the film, but I did not see that awkward kiss coming at all. If she was supposed to develop feelings for him they did a poor job showing it. I can get that they become friends and want to help each other but romance?
More importantly she’s now standing in the way of a Finn-Poe romance and that is NOT COOL.
May it be with you.