Let the Past Die: A Review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I knew this movie was going to be different and unexpected. The promotional material made that very clear. If you saw the sizzle reel released at San Diego Comic Con (and/or D23), almost everyone involved in the production stressed how much this movie would depart from fans' expectations. And the lines they chose for the trailers - "Let the past die." "This isn't going to go the way you think!" - telegraphed that as well.
So my biggest expectation walking into this movie was that it would defy all my other expectations. And it did. And it was glorious.
Many fans noticed that this movie's predecessor, The Force Awakens, was very reminiscent of A New Hope. Some made the observation, and thought it was very apt, something that Lucas himself - who always stressed that these movies have rhyming story beats - would do. Others criticized it, saying it was just a glorified remake of A New Hope. I saw it as a safe move for Disney's first outing into the galaxy far, far away. Safe, but effective. They ensured the movie "felt like Star Wars," while introducing audiences to new characters and a new galactic status quo. My hope was that they would build on that foundation, and strike off in a new direction with the next movie in the saga, The Last Jedi. Many of those who criticized The Force Awakens as an A New Hope remake, on the other hand, feared that The Last Jedi would follow the plot of The Empire Strikes Back too closely. I think we can agree that The Last Jedi did not earn that criticism.
That being said, there are some similarities between the middle films of the Original and Sequel Trilogies. The main one being how much it departed from what came before. The Empire Strikes Back is a totally different kind of Star Wars movie. And so is The Last Jedi.
There is just too much to talk about and think about in this movie, so I'll just focus on the main, Force-related storyline. But first I'll make a quick aside and say that Poe Dameron was amazing in this movie. He made me laugh, he grew a lot in this movie, and he had a lot more to do than he did in The Force Awakens.
Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren
I don't know what I thought Luke was going to say after Rey held his old lightsaber out to him on Ahch-To. But I did not expect him to flippantly toss the lightsaber and walk away. He simply didn't care anymore. The reason, it turns out, that Luke had abandoned the galaxy, was because he had been too prideful in the past. He had bought into his own legend, and as a result, he'd made some terrible mistakes. I was about to say that he was humbled by this. But his initial response was actually a false humility. Running away from his problems, cutting himself off from the Force, and trying to bring about an end to the Jedi - that was not the solution.
Enter Rey, the young scavenger who had been abandoned as a girl. She had finally found acceptance from Finn, from Leia and the Resistance. And she was sent by Leia to bring Luke back. She also hoped he would tell her what to do with this connection to the Force that has awaken in her. But Luke is not going to help her with either of those things. Even when he eventually agrees to give her lessons, he is only doing it to show her that the legends about the Jedi are wrong, and that the Jedi Order should end.
Meanwhile, Kylo Ren has failed in his mission. Snoke wanted him to bring Rey before him. And while Kylo was successful in killing his father, it tore him apart so much that he was able to be bested by a girl using a lightsaber for the first time. Snoke humiliates him for this.
Rey and Kylo are both vulnerable now, and isolated, but they suddenly find themselves connected through the Force. We later find out this is because of Snoke, but it's interesting how the two interact.
From Rey's perspective, she knows that the Dark Side is evil, and that Kylo Ren is evil. It was easy for her to reject Kylo's offer to train her during their duel on Starkiller Base. He had a lightsaber inches away from her face at the time, so his offer couldn't have been very tempting. But Rey's temptation is much more subtle this time. She ends up drawing close to the Dark Side in her meditations, and in her physical journey on the island, because she is looking for answers. Even though Maz had told her that the belonging she sought was not behind her, Rey is still looking into her past. Meanwhile, she draws closer to Kylo because she sees the conflict in him, and she believes she can turn him back to the Light. This is particularly appealing to her, because it doesn't look like Luke is going to help in the fight against the First Order and the Dark Side.
On Kylo's side of things, I think he's lonely. His master has no respect for him. He has no intention to leave the Dark Side, so if he wants companionship, he will have to turn Rey to the Dark. So he tries to drive a wedge between Rey and Luke by telling him his version of what happened leading up to the destruction of Luke's Jedi Temple. I think Kylo intends the whole time to turn on Snoke, but only so Kylo can rise to power. He will convince Rey that she has no one, that she is alone, so that she will have nowhere to turn except to the Dark.
So both Rey and Kylo think they can turn the other. Both are convinced of this by visions of the future. I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention a third vision of the future, Snoke's. It's interesting that all three of these visions are misinterpreted. It's also interesting how this parallels the viewer's assumptions about the future going into this movie. But let's talk about those visions.
Rey thinks she sees Kylo rejecting the Dark Side and turning to the Light. I think what she really saw is Kylo killing Snoke, and fighting alongside her against the Praetorians. Of course, this is all part of Kylo's plan to gain ultimate power.
Kylo thinks he sees Rey learning the truth about her past and joining him on the Dark Side. I think he sees Rey breaking down after her illusions about her past have been shattered. He sees her legitimately conflicted about it, and reaching her hand towards his, but this is actually to pull her lightsaber back into her hand.
And Snoke. Poor bisected Snoke. He engineered this whole thing by breaking down the walls of Rey's and Kylo's minds to connect them together. He believed that Kylo and Rey would form a bond, that Rey would believe she could turn Kylo, since Kylo really was conflicted. And he thought Kylo would bring Rey before him, and loyally strike her down at Snoke's command. Of course, what he saw was Kylo igniting a lightsaber to strike down his true enemy.
I can see all of the plotting and planning in retrospect, but it totally caught me by surprise in the movie. When Kylo ignited Luke's lightsaber to stab Snoke and cut him in half, my jaw dropped. My mouth remained agape until the conclusion of the battle between Kylo, Rey, and the Praetorians. Folks, I don't remember experiencing the "I am your father" moment in Empire Strikes Back for the first time, because I was so young. But I imagine I understand now how moviegoers felt in 1980.
Let's jump back to Luke on Ahch-To. He's positive that Rey is going to run off, and either be killed or seduced to the Dark Side. Despairing, he goes to the tree that holds the ancient Jedi texts, and tries to burn it down. Surprisingly, he's stopped by the Force ghost of Yoda, who beats him to the punch by summoning lightning down to the tree. When Luke tries to run in and get the books, Yoda gives him a clever line about there not being any knowledge inside the tree that Rey doesn't already possess. Which is just classic Yoda, because we later find out that Rey has already taken the books, and stowed them away on the Millennium Falcon. Yoda takes Luke to task for still "looking always to the horizon," instead of focusing on what's happening right now. And he reminds Luke that he was supposed to pass on what he had learned, and that his failures are an important part of that.
This leads to Luke's arrival on Crait, which elicited all kinds of emotions in me. When I first saw him enter the room, I was excited. Luke was finally back! But then, as he approaches Leia, John Williams comes in with Luke and Leia's theme (first used in Return of the Jedi when Luke reveals to Leia that they are brother and sister), and I just lost it. Tears streamed down my face during their entire conversation. Luke and Leia were reunited after over 30 years. It was even more poignant because of Carrie Fisher's death last year. And then there was a transition to pure awe as Luke stepped through the shield door to face the First Order alone.
Luke seems invincible as the gorilla walkers barrage him with blast after blast, and he emerges unscathed (and hilariously brushes off his shoulder). And Kylo Ren is no match for him in their duel. In some ways though, he seems even more powerful once it's revealed that Luke never actually left Ahch-To. He accomplished all of this through the Force. And he spent the last of his energy doing this, before he vanishes and becomes one with the Force.
New Force Powers
Luke's Force-projection of himself brings up a good question: What's with all these new Force powers? Leia pulling herself through space back onto her ship. Kylo and Rey being able to see and even touch each other through the Force, even though they're lightyears away. Luke appearing on Crait, handing Han's dice to Leia, and dueling with Kylo, all while he's actually meditating on Ahch-To. And looking back at The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren immobilizing people and blaster bolts. Luke's lightsaber calling to Rey. As cool as all of these are, they are mostly without precedent in the first six movies. So what's up with that?
The key comes from an exchange between Rey and Luke in The Last Jedi. Rey attempts to define the Force as "a power that Jedi have that lets them control people and move things." (Or something like that.) And Luke's response was that "every word in that sentence was wrong." The Force is not a Jedi's power set. It's not like Superman having flight, super strength, super speed, laser vision, etc. The Force is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together. (Wow, that was really eloquent. Someone write that down!) It is something that exists even if there are no Jedi. So the "powers" we see are a manifestation of the Jedi's (or other people's) interaction and connection with the Force.
The movie ends on a hopeful note. The Resistance is down to a handful of soldiers. The last Jedi has died. But hope has not died. Rey will continue the legacy of the Jedi. And we see in the final scene that she is not the only one. A young slave boy, inspired by stories of Luke's actions on Crait, and by Rose's actions right there on Canto Bight, wields a broomstick as a lightsaber, while wearing a ring with the symbol of the Rebellion/Resistance.
Edit: My wife caught a typo. I mentioned Rey finding acceptance from Rey. I have corrected that to Rey finding acceptance from Finn.
I have plenty more I could talk about, but I've gone on long enough. I'm sure I'll have more to write about as I digest this movie (and see it again and again). Meanwhile, thanks for reading! If you like my blog, and you'd like to receive emails each time I upload a new post, you can enter your email address below. Or, you can "Like" or "Follow" GCD's Facebook page here. Find me on Twitter here. What did you think of The Last Jedi? Was it your favorite movie ever? Did it ruin Star Wars for you? I'd love to hear what you liked and disliked. If you want to express an opinion, ask a question, or give feedback about this post or others, feel free to leave a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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