I do not envy the producers, writers and directors of Star Wars; the tightrope they walk is thin and razor-sharp.
For some, Star Wars is a religion, with truths that cannot be bent and rules that cannot be broken. These disciples devour the universe around the films, reading comics, playing the games and holding the canon as gospel. Their childhood dreams are at stake each time a new film is released, and the sanctity of the extended universe is of paramount importance.
For others, they are just entering the story on the 8th/9th installment, yet to decide on whether this series is worth the hype spun up around it.
I’m somewhere in between all that. I’ve watched all the films (several times) and enjoyed the story, character development and action that the series has provided. But the extended universe is not something I’ve delved into, unless you count LEGO Star Wars (probably a heretical statement).
I’ve seen The Last Jedi twice now. The first time left me satisfied, but with questions. After mulling it for two days, I headed back to the cinema expecting the 2.5 hour film to drag on. It did anything but. The second viewing cemented my positive feelings and answered many questions.
It seems to be popular (as with every Star Wars film) to slate it for it’s inaccuracies, character shifts and plot holes. I thought I’d provide a bit of a positive alternative. Spoilers below this point, you’ve been warned…
Letting go of the past
Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.
This was the most vocal theme in The Last Jedi. We start with Luke having distanced himself from the force. Kylo Ren urges Rey to leave the past including her the mystery of her family. Yoda helps Luke let go of the sacred Jedi scrolls.
As the film draws to a close, the old guard in Luke and Leia (plus Han last time out) step aside for Rey, Finn and Poe. The Force Awakens pandered pretty heavily to the original trilogy and used the old characters as a bridge to the new, this film ends ready to kick-off Episode IX with our new protagonists.
I’ll admit that I left the first viewing feeling a bit ‘meh’ at what the next episode could bring. But the second viewing was totally different. The Resistance let go of Luke and put their hope in Rey. The First Order break free from Snoke, lose a considerable number of resources and have to regroup around Kylo Ren.
Rian Johnson also cuts off a number of JJ Abrams’ ‘mystery boxes’; to a point where it was a bit jarring at times. His mark on this film was very clear so it will be interesting to see how JJ Abrams ties it all back in for the next installment.
I feel this theme is as much for the film itself as it is for the fans watching it. Star Wars has to move on from the standard ‘big empire with Sith Lord and superweapon vs. underdog resistance with hope and a few Jedi’ theme. As much as the die-hard fans seem to only want more of the originals, it’s not possible to keep regurgitating the same plot every few years. Therefore, change will have to come and fans will need to let go of the past and choose to get behind the future for this brand/series.
The blending of dark & light
Adam Driver’s portrayal of Kylo Ren was sensational. He embodied this conflicted character with passionate anger and vulnerability and you can really see the struggle within him. Kylo Ren is not just another Sith, blindly following his masters orders. He knows good has a place, even when he suppresses it. He’s become my favourite antagonist in all of Star Wars after this film.
Rey delving to the dark in her first lesson with Luke showed the appreciation of what the force is, balance between all things, both light and dark and all in between.
Good guys, bad guys, made-up words… Finn, let me learn you something big. It’s all a machine, partner. Live free, don’t join.
As futile as the trip to Monaco/Canto Bight was, it gave us a glimpse into the funding of a galactic war and who profited. Furthermore, we got the refreshing evidence of the two sides to arms dealing, the Resistance were by no means blameless. In the opening scene when Leia consults her bomber bingo card to see so much loss, you could see how responsible she felt for those deaths as the General in command.
I hope the future films will continue the blurring of dark and light, or at least continue to acknowledge all sides of war and the consequences that come from it. This was a real highlight of Rogue One, it didn’t make the rebels look like saints.
The greatest teacher, failure is.
The Canto Bight quest is a contentious one, it could’ve been handled far better. When the coincidence and blatant luck of the characters actions is so obvious, it’ll rile even the most casual of fans.
But putting the parking violation aside, it was genuinely refreshing to have a plan in Star Wars properly fail. So many previous plans come to the brink of collapse before being saved by a well timed torpedo, jump to lightspeed or a last-minute use of the force. Having our protagonists go down the garden path, only for it to be thwarted at the last minute, and then to be betrayed by DJ was pretty satisfying.
Luke didn’t deal with his failure in teaching Kylo Ren until he was badgered by Yoda. It showed fallibility. From speaking to fans of the originals, Luke is held in such high esteem by fans, to the point of him being untouchable. Thus any admission of guilt or wrongdoing was a character assassination. I don’t see it that way. In the same way Obi Wan (and the Jedi at large) let down Anakin, Luke let down Kylo Ren - even the best Jedi fail. This film gave enough detail to show that he wasn’t perfect, he had flaws and could fail like the Jedi before him. Given how central the theme of failure was in this film, I felt they got his character right.
In Poe’s dreadnought attack, the resistance ultimately failed losing so many bombers. His arc was one of the more apparent, ending the film a more rounded leader and well tee’d up to take on Leia’s gauntlet from this point on.
Democratisation of the force
I was so pleased with the parent reveal for Rey, had it been another Solo or Skywalker child, we’d be treading water for another 3 films. Everyone’s eyes rolled at midichlorians in The Phantom Menace and yet the desire for another Skywalker filled die-hards with glee. It’s great to finally put an end to a bloodline being the only path to a ‘chosen one’.
In every corner of the galaxy, the downtrodden and oppressed know our symbol, and they put their hope in it. We are the spark that will light the fire that will restore the Republic. That spark, this Resistance, must survive. That is our mission.
This made the casino trip worth it. The distress call went out to all corners of the galaxy and no responses came back - drawing a line in the sand for the old republic. But the hope inspired to the ‘downtrodden and oppressed’; demonstrated by the children on Canto Bight, will kickstart the future.
Rose freeing the oppressed animals may seem cheesy to some, but as a metaphor pointing towards the future she longs for, it worked for me.
The hubris of the Jedi
I only know one truth. It’s time for the Jedi… to end.
It was so good for someone to finally acknowledge the arrogance of the Jedi, especially in the prequel years given their bigheadedness practically created Darth Vader.
The character shift in Luke has been another bone of contention for many, specifically his inability to see good in Ben Solo, to the point nearly killing him. This ‘goes against’ his character in Episode VI. First of all, it was only a momentary thought to kill Ben Solo, albeit one with huge consequences, and this just solidifies Luke’s fallibility. In a few years he went from being a humble farmer to a Death Star defeater, to the last Jedi, to the hero that turned Vader and defeated the Empire. Thinking all that wouldn’t go to his head seems naive. He became arrogant believing he could create a new Jedi order and continue the Skywalker bloodline. Upon retreating to his sanctuary, he realised that he’d gone the same way the Jedi had. But even with all that, he failed to train Rey properly. Until Yoda arrived, he still held the position that he alone was in control of the future of the Jedi. It alluded to how little training he had from Obi Wan and Yoda, and that maybe he wasn’t ready to be a teacher.
Star Wars seems to have special dispensation when it comes to plot holes. None of them are watertight, nor show perfect realism (I mean it’s science fiction after all…). Picking holes in the gravitational specifics of bombs in space is petty at best.
But there was one main issue I had that wouldn’t have taken much to clear up: Resistance communication.
Rey couldn’t call the Resistance, but Moz could happily Skype mid-skirmish (a low point in the film for me). Admiral Holdo held back her plan causing an entire unnecessary quest. Leia didn’t appear to tell anyone she’d demoted Poe, and yet Holdo was aware moments later.
Had there been a spy in the Resistance, a lot of this confusion could’ve been dealt with. It would explain why Paige’s bombing colleague was dead when she investigated and would have provided a low-tech solution to hyperspace tracking. Poe and Holdo ousting the spy would have given them something to do, too.
First Order sluggishness
The 18-hour chase between the First Order and the Resistance wasn’t particularly elegant. Given the size of this empire, why they couldn’t muster another ship to hyperspace jump two-minutes up the road and point back towards the fleet, I don’t know. It seemed like a convenient way to keep the chase up whilst Rey trained and Finn & Rose travelled to Canto Bight.
Leia ‘Mary Poppins’ Organa… on the plus side it was cool to see Leia use the force properly. But it wasn’t tastefully done.
More importantly, I thought they’d created the perfect death for her. Kylo Ren’s hesitation on the trigger, the beautiful cuts between their faces, the sense of connection through the force, his decision to spare her and then the First Order taking control and finishing the job against his will. It was a brilliant scene.
Even the tender close-ups of Leia as she floated through space were beautiful. Then came the wide shot. It just felt like there was a better way to save her, or a better way to end her story, this didn’t sit right.
I wasn’t particularly invested in Snoke after The Force Awakens so seeing his demise was fine in my book. His taunting of Hux to Kylo Ren, sharing the way he manipulated such a weak chess piece, before humiliating his apprentice in an equally manipulative way was inspired. He owned Kylo Ren, which made his death all the more satisfying. Seeing the concentration in Kylo Ren’s eyes, desperately trying to shield his thoughts from Snoke made for a great scene. Sure, a bit of backstory would’ve been nice, but it’s not a make or break.
Star Wars releases are pretty predictable: New film announced, the hype begins. Trailer released, the disciples rejoice with mass hysteria. Edging towards the release, a few cast quotes are taken out of context and the concerns start. Premier night, thousands of sleep-deprived fans watch the film and decide to hate it. Months later, a new film is announced and repeat.
My point is, I’m not sure a lot of die-hard fans have enjoyed any of the Star Wars films since 1983. Perhaps it’s time for them to pull out the VHS player from the loft and stick to the original trilogy. If that’s the series that brings joy, tremendous!
Star Wars is a victim of its own success, it has to appeal to so many people and it’s not possible to cater for all of them. The directors should be bolder and run with the direction they have in mind, not listening to the many differing opinions and suggestions on the internet.
Rian Johnson has provided the opportunity for this series to go off in an exciting new direction. Maybe it’s time to let the past die and look to the future.
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