Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

"To say that if the Jedi die the light dies is vanity-- can you feel that?"

Sometimes, the most diehard fanbase of a franchise can be it's most deadly opponent. There's an intangible element to some fandoms that reacts disproportionately to any perceived attacks to what they deem to be the core tenets of whatever series is the object of their affection, and though they're typically easily ignored, occasionally these dissenting voices can become loud enough to reverse major decisions for a franchise that may be critical to its immediate survival.

This is one of those cases. Disney probably should've listened to the critics, rather than a comparatively small subset of extremely vocal fans-- because Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi (or Star Wars: Episode VIII- The Last Jedi) is absolutely the best entry to the main saga since The Empire Strikes Back, and it's only real competition in the franchise as a whole is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story... Which is a take, I guess.

I suppose there's some degree of irony to be seen here, given the film's subject matter-- although I'd argue the underlying reason for many of these protests would be directly antithetical to any messages the film was trying to covey. It wasn't because of poor writing, or because Rey is a Mary Sue-- this is the franchise that gave the world Luke fucking Skywalker, there's no room to complain about a walking plot device. Nor is it because the film's supposed "PC sensitivity" somehow corrupted what was apparently once holy.

Instead, I'll dare to speculate about what is a far more likely, albeit significantly more depressing (and unsurprising) reason-- they were mad that Rian Johnson has the gall to break from the trend established by Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the sequel trilogy of doing a beat-for-beat retelling of its analogue from thirty-five years prior.

Though this certainly shares some thematic commonalities with The Empire Strikes Back, it approaches them in a significantly different way. Couple that with a less one-dimensional cast-- that is far more inclusive of groups that saw little to no representation in the series before-- and a specific subgroup of people who take any instance of any other stories being told as a perceived slight against them will come crawling out of the woodwork.

I guess some people just really want to Make Star Wars Great Again.

Ironically, they'll ignore the director most apt to do that in favor of the one who wants to coddle their sense of nostalgia, substance be damned. It seems clear to me that the biggest cause of conflict in the sequel trilogy is J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson's disagreement about what route the franchise should go-- the Jedi rebuilding, or being destroyed.

Rian Johnson seems to lean towards the side of the former-- and in an attempt to convince us of the same, Luke's character serves as a conduit for this message to the audience, often rather directly. The first thing he does in the film is unceremoniously discard his old lightsaber, as it means nothing to him now. From there, he breaks down what will quickly become one of the most important themes of the film. In the process, Rian Johnson will even patch one of the most obvious plotholes from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it only takes a few lines of throwaway dialogue.

Luke's isolated archipelago is beautiful, and is where some of the most thematically-heavy content of the film comes in. In his exile, Luke has discovered a harsh reality about the nature of the Jedi. They strip children's individuality through a forced exile from their parents, which in turn leads to deeply broken adults. Kylo's breakdown after his murder of his own father is one of many examples we see of this, and is a large part of why an untrained Rey was able to fend him off. At the same time, the need to paint themselves as the all-knowing protectors of light blinded the Jedi to this fatal flaw in their own system.

Luke and Kylo's increasingly detailed retellings of their separation further underline the faults of the Jedi way, and thus its hard to argue with Luke's thesis that they shouldn't be reborn-- and that perhaps the best route is rooted in the duality of good and evil, rather than attempting to foolishly deny the reality of ones existence in blind favoritism of the other.

Yoda must agree, anyways, because his mischievous ass appears as a Force Ghost to help Luke fully commit to burning down the Jedi legacy when his confidence momentarily wavers.

We learn Kylo's perspective on this through his bizarre link to Rey. Though this connection is eventually revealed to be Snoke's doing, it's existence opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the Force-- and is certainly among the most thought provoking concepts of the entire film. Kylo's character is probably the most complex of the entire franchise, at least when strictly confined to the film's themselves, and not any supplementary material.

Still distraught in the fallout of his killing of Han, Kylo decides maybe he didn't actually have daddy issues and goes after his mom instead. Though he isn't the one to pull the trigger, he only narrowly avoids killing here here.

I feel like I should take a moment to address this scene, as it's one of the more heavily criticized of the film. Leia floating through space doesn't make a ton of sense, but it's really not as egregious of an outlier for the series as people say. If we assume she can use the force with even a tiny bit of competency-- which her lineage would suggest-- protecting herself from the vacuum temporarily should be within the barely-existent limitations of the forces abstract abilities. While I would have preferred to see some development of Leia's force sensitivity between sensing Luke's condition in Return of the Jedi and here, I can't complain too much.

Rey and Kylo's connection comes to a climax in Snoke's throne room. This is probably the single best action scene of the entire Skywalker saga, as far as I'm concerned-- the choreography is stunning, the stakes are high, and the potential plot fallout is incalculable. They successfully kill Snoke, though this is ultimately in vain as Kylo would sooner become the dictator himself than acknowledge his own complicity in all of the tragedies around him.

Before moving on to the film's climactic last stand on Crait, there are two other major plotlines to address-- each with their own major overarching theme.

Poe is the logical target for Johnson's discourse on the dangers of the hero complex. His opening scene shows his immense courage, single handedly leading the charge in the bombing campaign against the First Order dreadnought. He even successfully brings down the massive ship-- by far the largest we had seen in the franchise to date, though it is immediately outclassed by Snoke's enormous personal flagship.

And as soon as he lands, he's immediately demoted-- which is clearly the right call, as he sacrificed countless lives the resistance couldn't afford for what was effectively one last act of meaningless defiance. Laura Dern's character exists seemingly only to teach him this lesson, as she mercilessly shits on his ego for the entire runtime. Though her indecisiveness irritated the shit out of me the first time I watched the film, by the end I knew she was right-- and ultimately, she's the one constantly left cleaning up after Poe.

The true nature of her character is equally beautiful and tragic. She knew the movement was never about her, and its survival to fight another day was far more important than whatever fleeting victory they might've had if they stood their ground and fought. And in the most selfless act of bravery in the film, she crashes her ship into Snoke's at lightspeed-- sacrificing herself to save the few Resistance fighters left. That collision is one of the most visually stunning moments of the entire series, and somehow it's thematic fallout completely overshadows it. In her final moments, Admiral Holdo showed Poe what true heroism was-- and why its tragic, not something to strive for.

While all this is happening, Finn and Rose are tasked with an act of covert espionage that ends up becoming an incredibly on-the-nose thesis on class conciousness and solidarity. The rich monsters of Canto Bight are weapons merchants, and the trail of broken lives in their wake are a large part of why the Resistance is possible. They all brutalized the lower castes in their vain quest for limitless wealth, and thus its as important for Rose and Finn to spread the message of hope among the disenfranchised as it is for them to get back to the ship-- because the Resistance dies without hope. Plus, they free those badass horse creatures from their cruel exploitation-- so that's pretty fucking cool.

Oh, and for anyone missing the class solidarity part-- Benicio del Toro sold out people to the First Order who were ostensibly his equals in order to selfishly attempt to buy the "class" he'll never be allowed to have. He was willing to sacrifice the entire fucking galaxy for himself, while Finn and Rose were ready to lay their lives down for what they belive in. Don't be a Benicio del Toro.

And finally, Crait-- where it all ties together.

Poe gets his moment of growth here, ordering Finn to abandon a suicide mission he would've stubbornly fought for himself only a few hours earlier. This prompts Leia to pass the baton of leadership to him, while Finn grows into his role as an icon of the Resistance-- even if it takes an extremely heavy-handed explanation of the thematic breakdown from Rose for it to click. Even Rey's back, saving the day with Chewie in the Millennium Falcon.

Oh, and Luke?

Luke's force projection takes the entirety of the invasion force's might on Crait, then holds Kylo to a standstill so the Resistance can escape. I don't care if the effort kills him, he did it from halfway across the galaxy-- what a fucking badass. The reveal that he was a projection the entire time is incredibly well done, and really puts the literal worlds of difference between his mastery of the Force and Kylo's into perspective.

When people ask me why I say Star Wars fans got exactly what they deserved in the lackluster conclusion to this forty year saga, I tell them to look no further than their own treatment of Rian Johnson. We didn't deserve Star Wars: The Last Jedi-- and I'm concerned that we may not ever get anything quite like it again.

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