Star Wars: The Last Jedi released a couple weekends ago, and while it’s making a lot of money and most people seem to enjoy it, there’s no denying that it’s a divisive movie among hardcore Star Wars fans. There are complaints about how the movie handles Luke’s character, the reveal behind Rey’s parents and other controversial moments. Although people forget that Last Jedi certainly wasn’t the first divisive Star Wars movie.
This isn’t a review of the movie, nor will it be a long-winded apologetics piece like the “Why Rey Isn’t a Mary Sue” post that I wrote not long after The Force Awakens released. I’ll save my actual review for the Star Wars Blogathon that I’m planning for some time next year, hopefully ending it around the time The Last Jedi releases on Blu-ray. Nor will this be an apologist piece. These are just my thoughts and interpretations on some of the movie’s major themes, characterizations and reveals. So needless to say, there will be spoilers in this post. Stop right now if you don’t want that.
Even though this isn’t a review post, let’s start with my overall thoughts on the movie. I just got home from seeing it a second time (my father’s first viewing). The first time I watched it, I liked it, but needed a couple days to think over a few things. Two weeks later, I’ve decided that I really like this movie.By no means do I think it’s a perfect movie (I don’t really believe in the perfect movie anyway). But to the movie’s credit, it’s visually stunning, some of the action scenes are very creative, all of the major actors and actresses put in fantastic performances (especially Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher), and I find the main story compelling and challenging.
As for the downsides, there are pacing problems. There are mild inconsistencies in tone (although I feel that Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith are both worse in that department). The Canto Bight (casino world) subplot feels more like a side-quest in an RPG than a part of the main story, it’s the weakest section of the movie and it goes on a bit too long. I don’t dislike it, but it distracts from the far more compelling scenes with Luke and Rey, or Poe’s lessons in humility. But I’ll get more into that stuff around the movie’s Blu-ray release.
Here are my thoughts on the following. 1: Luke’s portrayal. 2: Rey’s journey/parents reveal. 3: Kylo Ren’s new position/Snoke’s end. 4: The movie’s theme of learning from failure. 5: The theme of letting go of the past. And I want to make it clear that I’m not saying any other opinions are wrong. If you don’t like something or you disagree, that’s fine. In the end, The Last Jedi is just a movie. If you feel like it ruined your childhood, than perhaps you’re taking it a bit too seriously. And the fact that he petition to remove Last Jedi from continuity even exists is an insult to Carrie Fisher’s last ever performance (and a great one at that).
1: Luke’s Portrayal
From what I can tell, this is the most controversial aspect of the movie. In the original trilogy, Luke is the most optimistic character. He is the guy you rooted for. He was the one who sensed the good in his father when neither Yoda nor Obi Wan could. He is a true hero, one worth looking up to. Yet in The Last Jedi, he’s a broken, bitter man who wants nothing to do with the force or anybody.
Even Mark Hamill himself has spoken about how he doubted the movie’s portrayal at first, and that’s understandable. He’s very protective of Luke Skywalker’s character. That said, there are a lot of people online taking his quotes way out of context. Even back in June in a Tony’s red carpet interview, he spoke about how it took him a while to get around to director Rian Johnson’s way of thinking.
The Last Jedi related comments are about half-way through this video
Mark Hamill recently apologized for making his initial criticisms public, and even that’s been taken out of context.
While it took me a couple days to decide this, I think it’s for the best. It would have been so easy to show Luke unleashing his learned force powers. It would have been so glorious to see Jedi Master Luke take down the mysterious knights of red on his own. Maybe he could have even take down a star destroyer with the force alone. I would be very tempted to do that myself if I were in charge. But none of that would adequately explain why Luke was on such an isolated planet, or why he deleted Ahch-To’s entire region of space from R2D2’s memory. That would also completely overshadow the new characters, of which this trilogy is supposed to be about. And while it’s true that Luke was the most optimistic character in the Original Trilogy’s trio, he was also the most easily discouraged.
In A New Hope, he clearly grew frustrated with his uncle, asking him to stay on the moisture farm longer. He constantly whined about anything going wrong. And that makes sense for someone who grew up in a sheltered environment on a harsh planet, no matter how big of a dreamer he was.
This continued in the Empire Strikes Back, holding back his Jedi training. Remember “You ask the impossible” during the scene where he tries to lift his X-wing out of the water? And after Darth Vader revealed himself to Luke as his father, Luke dropped into the bottomless pit, having no idea that he could survive. He was ready to give up.
That’s nothing compared to what happened to his Jedi in training. Not only did all his students either join Kylo Ren or die. Not only did him considering killing Ben Solo, followed by his hesitation, make the situation worse. This all happened with his nephew, who his sister entrusted with. He failed to help his nephew the way he helped his father. That’s rough.
It took Rey, Chewie, R2 and ghost Yoda working together to turn him around. For Luke’s character, The Last Jedi is a story of Luke regaining his faith, his hope and his sense of purpose. And as for his use of the force at the end of the movie, I’m not sure if I can put my thoughts into words in a way that makes any sense, but I like it. It’s a new power, yes, but it’s an extension of things we’ve seen before. Regarding the complaint where he should have been on Crait instead of creating an illusion, tell me how he could have gotten to Crait with his X-Wing being underwater for who knows how long? That thing would be completely useless by now.
As for Yoda setting the tree on fire, it’s about time we saw Obi Wan’s words “strike me down and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine” actually pay off.
2: Rey’s journey/parents reveal
You can’t properly talk about Luke’s journey in this movie without mentioning Rey’s. Their journeys go alongside each other. Like both Snoke and Kylo said, her greatest weakness is holding onto the past. She’s so focused on finding who she is and learning who her parents are, that it’s stopping her from moving forward. This held her back multiple times in The Force Awakens, it pulled her into the dark side cave on Ahch-To, and Kylo Ren tempted her with her need to belong somewhere.
A lot of people would have loved to hear that Rey was either a Skywalker, a Solo or a Kenobi. But here’s the thing – The Force Awakens never really alluded to that directly. That’s just the fans reading into it too much, and I was guilty of this too. Sure, Rey looked up to Han and he clearly noticed that, but there wasn’t any suggestion that Han and Leia had any other child besides Ben. As far as I can tell, none of the extra material like the books mentioned any other children either. I’m currently reading Bloodlines, and it seems like Han and Leia spent so much time apart (her busy with politics and him busy with racing and his shipping company) that they couldn’t have any more kids old enough to be Rey. Also, the main question of Force Awakens isn’t who Rey’s parents are, but where Luke is. The movie answers that.
It took a couple hours for me to consider that “they were nobody”, but I think it’s for the best. Why? It works the same way that Vader being Luke’s father does. It takes away all the easy answers. Luke wanted to live up to his father’s legacy, but then he learns that his father helped destroy the Jedi – the complete opposite of what he believed. Rey hoped that her parents were somebody, or at least that they cared. She hoped they would give her a sense of identity. She can no longer rely on them to find her place in the galaxy. But she also doesn’t need them to find belonging. She’s already found it with Finn, Chewbacca, potentially Poe, and strangely enough, Luke. She just didn’t fully realize that.
For the record, I do think the Darth Vader twist is still far more shocking than anything in this movie.
Also I still don’t think she’s a Mary Sue on any level. Sure, she’s powerful in the force and she’s learning quickly, but as someone who survived Jakku on her own, she needed to learn how to adapt. Learning the force quickly is just a side-effect of her survival instincts. But as Snoke said, her power could very well be the force itself balancing out Kylo Ren’s extreme power in the Dark Side. He suggested that the stronger Kylo Ren becomes, the stronger Rey will become as a direct result. That’s one of the movie’s philosophical points, that the force kind of balances itself. Luke also didn’t say anything about Rey already being a Jedi. He simply said that he won’t be the last Jedi.
By the end of Empire Strikes Back, Luke has not only shown more versatility in the force, but more consistency. All Rey’s done is reactionary mind control, sensing things with the force, moving rocks and potentially boosting her strength (that wasn’t made clear). Luke sensed things, trusted the force to guide his shots, intentionally contacted people through the force, clearly boosted his strength and his jumping ability and lifted rocks, plus surviving a lightsaber fight with an uninjured Sith Lord known for killing Jedi, while Kylo Ren’s spirit was split (according to Snoke himself) and he was badly injured.
3: Kylo Ren’s new position/Snoke’s End
I’ll make this one quick. I somewhat agree that Snoke may have been killed a bit too quickly or a bit too easily, but I don’t agree with the complaints that we don’t know enough about him. Why? Because we don’t know any less about him than we did about the Emperor based on the Original Trilogy alone. He’s the big bad sure, but he’s not the dramatic focus of the movie and neither was the Emperor. Star Wars has never been the kind of franchise that needed to explain everything. The real dramatic focus is between Rey and Kylo Ren, the same way that it was Luke and Darth Vader.
I also don’t like Kylo Ren as a villain as much as Darth Vader and I probably never will. But I still find Kylo Ren to be a fascinating villain. He’s not fully trained, he’s emotionally unstable and while he’s smart and capable of being deceptive, he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. And now he’s in charge of the First Order. His emotional instability doesn’t make him any less dangerous now that he’s a lot more driven – it just means that he’s also dangerous to the First Order itself. It’ll be interesting to see if the First Order is still in as good shape by the time episode 9 comes out, or if his recklessness is starting to crack the evil empire from within.
That and I find it kind of hilarious that the whole force connection between Kylo and Rey kind of teased the Reylo shipping that’s out there, only to throw it in their face when Kylo reveals that he’s still evil. Even ignoring that, I found it quite dramatic and well-done.
4: Learning from failure
This is a theme that’s pretty consistent throughout the entire movie. All of the major characters go through an arc of this type. Poe’s hot headed attitude gets the Resistance’s entire bomber squadron killed. His later plan puts Finn and Rose in serious danger as well, for a plan that doesn’t give them a very wide window of opportunity in the first place. Through his own failure, Finn finally finds his fighting spirit. He becomes a true member of the rebellion, instead of someone who’s just looking out for his friend. Back to Poe – General Leia is clearly using these failures to groom Poe into a better leader, which the new Rebellion will certainly need. He even demonstrates what he’s learned during the battle of Crait in several ways.
Rey suffers her own failures in the movie. She’s fooled into thinking there may be some light in Kylo Ren, when he’s too far gone to the dark side. This reveals Luke’s location to the enemy and almost gets her killed. Kylo only spared her for his own lust of power – his desire to become the master, with Rey as his student. Therefore, both Snoke and Kylo fooled her. As for the consequence, Luke’s lightsaber is destroyed. I said back in my “not a Mary Sue” post that Rey needed to lose in some way, but preferably not with repeating the same losing a hand shtick that both earlier trilogies did. At least for me, this is satisfying.
5: Letting Go of the Past
This is a theme that applies not only to the characters, but to overzealous Star Wars fans as well. It’s about not holding too much reverence for legends of the past. For both Luke and Rey, letting go of the past holds them back. Rey’s search for her parents, and subsequently a parental figure, holds her back more than anything else. Luke’s regret over the loss of his Jedi students stops him from heeding Yoda’s message of “pass on what you have learned”. Although I’m not sure if Rey has fully learned that lesson, Luke clearly has.
However, the movie still explores the value of legends, and how inspiring they can be. It’s a contradictory, yet complimentary theme.
Kylo Ren on the other hand goes way too far in the other extreme. After his humiliation early on in the movie, he wants nothing more than to burn everything down and start anew. Only time will tell if he learns from his failures in the Battle of Crait.
As for fans, and I’m somewhat guilty of this too, some of us take Star Wars way too seriously. There were so many fan theories on Rey’s parents, Snoke’s identity and everything else that it’s ridiculous. If the Star Wars franchise can ever truly move forward, we need to get beyond the Skywalker family. We need to move beyond the original cast of characters (especially now that Carrie Fisher is gone). The original movies will always be there. If you prefer just to stick with them, go right ahead. I won’t stop you.
I’m not sure if the same fans are complaining about both of the Disney era episodic movies, but a lot of fans complained about how The Force Awakens is too much like A New Hope. I would also agree that there are a few too many similarities. But when The Last Jedi comes in and shakes everything up, some of the more zealous fans exploded in rage. If you’re one of those people who asked for Episode 8 to be different, you got exactly what you asked for.
The Last Jedi didn’t play it safe with Luke, either with his depressed hermit characterization nor killing him in the end (I’m sure we’ll be seeing his force ghost in episode 9 though, especially with Carrie Fisher gone). It didn’t play it safe by killing Snoke half-way through the trilogy. It didn’t play it safe by wiping out so much of the resistance that they could all fit onto the Millennium Falcon. It didn’t play it safe by becoming the only episodic Star Wars movie without an actual lightsaber vs. lightsaber fight. As much as there are parts of the movie I kind of shrug at, overall I’m very thankful that this movie took risks. I love that Luke’s portrayal and the lessons he teaches Rey are challenging. It excites me that Episode 9 could go in so many different directions.
Of course I can’t write this post without sharing my opinions on the most important debate in this movie – the porgs. My reaction is, meh. They’re kind of cute and they’re mildly amusing, and it’s a creative way to change the real life puffins on the island into something more Star Warsy. I also like how if anything, they’re a nuisance to the characters in the movie.
I hoped you enjoyed reading, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. And again, I’m not necessarily trying to defend the movie – I’m just sharing how I feel about some of the more controversial parts of the movie. My opinion could very easily change with time, but right now I feel like it’s the best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back. It’s a flawed movie sure, but as much as I love Return of the Jedi, that movie isn’t without glaring flaws either. I would currently put Force Awakens somewhere between the two trilogies. I look forward to learning more about Episode 9. Can’t say I’m as excited for the Han Solo movie as I prefer not knowing too much about his past, but I’ll watch it at least once.