Let the Past Die
WARNING: This is a SPOILER-FILLED review of the movie!
The statement Luke Skywalker says in the film “this not going to go down the way you think” has never been more true in regards to the reception to The Last Jedi. I predicted that some people would be a bit mad at the risks Rian Johnson took, but never to this degree. This has become one of the most polarizing films of 2017 with fans divided on whether they love it, hate it, like it, dislike it, or just view it as an “ok” entry in the epic space opera franchise. I loved the film and consider it my favorite Star Wars movie, but it does have some glaring problems.
I will start with the things I did not like about the film. First off, I did not enjoy the character of Rose at all. I felt she did not serve any purpose in the film and did not belong in this story. I have no problem with the actress who played her, as she definitely feels excited and happy to be there. I just could not get behind her motivations and arc since it was so boring and slowed the movie down.
This brings me to Finn. Finn is a great addition to the Star Wars universe mainly due to John Boyega’s charismatic performance, but he is totally underutilized in this film with the subplot featuring Rose. In the first film, Finn felt like a redeemable hero. Even though he tried running away, he still came back to help Rey and fight against Kylo Ren. Here, however, he is just along for the ride.
Finn is even shown to be a hero in this film when he is about to sacrifice himself in the end. You see the determination in his face to finish the fight and save the Resistance. But Rose saves him and delivers one of the corniest lines in all Star Wars movies: “we win not by destroying what we hate, but saving what we love”. Saving what we love? Was there supposed to be romantic chemistry between Finn and Rose? Because that kiss was super awkward and really took away from what could have been a powerful moment for Finn’s character.
The story of them going to the Casino planet and meeting Benicio Del Toro’s character, DJ, is slow. We are building on the momentum from all the conflict between Rey and Kylo Ren, Luke’s conflicted past, and Poe clashing with leaders to switch to an arc that does not feel necessary. In the end, Rose and Finn’s plan does not even work and it is almost a complete waste. The Resistance already had a plan to save themselves from The First Order, so this entire hacker subplot of trying to disable the tracker was a bit useless in the end.
That’s another thing that I noticed when I thought some more: The Resistance had a plan to ensure survival, so why was General Holdo withholding the information from Poe? People are scared and worried for the fate of their lives, and Holdo just does not reveal the true plan until after the mutiny. Even after Leia tells Poe the plan when they are escaping, Poe acknowledges that it was a good plan so why did there have to be unnecessary conflict?
Granted I was invested in this conflict. The fact that Poe has to bump heads with leaders like Leia and Holdo provided a good dynamic for The Resistance story to rest on. While there is some argument in both perspectives on how to fight the First Order, seeing the dichotomy provides good drama even if it was not completely necessary in an already lengthy movie. It is nice that the conflict did not go in the typical story beats. Usually the worried hothead was right all along and the wise leaders have to hold their heads in shame because they didn’t listen. Not this time. Poe was wrong to act so hasty and shows that he still has some learning and growing to do before he can be a great leader. Maybe we can see more of that in Episode IX with Leia not having an active role.
The way Leia was handled in this movie was great and, in the end, poetic. I liked seeing her being a wise leader and carrying the burden of leading a revolution on her shoulders. She too does not know the best course of action, but she does what she feels is right for the movement.
I legitimately thought Leia was dead when Kylo Ren’s ships blew up the command center. But then she used the Force to get back to safety. I found a hidden double meaning in this scene. Yes, her use of the Force to get her safety is a little far fetched, but she is the only one that survives this attack. With Fisher’s passing, I thought Johnson was immortalizing Leia, showing that she cannot be killed and will be forever with us. We think she is about to die, but Johnson once again subverts our expectations and gives us her survival. He has made Leia, and Carrie Fisher in that matter, immortal and it is incredibly touching. Of course, the scene is a bit weird considering she survives space, but I see it as honoring Carrie Fisher in a way and to that end it succeeds.
Her scene with Luke on the planet Crait was particularly touching. The lines that both of them say have a double meaning given Fisher’s passing and it was a good emotional moment before an epic confrontation to follow. It provided a nice send-off for her legacy in the series and told audiences that “she will never be truly gone”. I give props to the team for handling it so eloquently.
This does beg the question of what will happen in Episode IX now that Leia will not be in it. Allegedly, she was supposed to play a major role in the upcoming film but they had to rewrite scripts to adjust. I thought Leia would be the one to die in this film and Luke would die in the next, effectively putting an end to the Skywalker saga. But Leia is still aboard the Falcon at the end of the movie so I am curious to see how that will be handled moving forward.
The crux of this movie centered around the past, present, and future conflicts surrounding Rey, Luke, and Kylo Ren. This is where I felt director Rian Johnson wanted to spend his time as it is so engaging and riveting that I genuinely did not know what was going to happen throughout!
Let’s start with Luke. I noted that this was Mark Hamill’s strongest performance as Luke Skywalker and I stand by that statement. Yes, he is cranky and a bit unlikable at times but at the core he still retains the kid from Tatooine we all grew attached to. His scene with R2-D2 exemplifies this as you see his heart bounce towards his old friend. You can see it in his eyes when he asks about Han, or when he is reaching out to Leia through the Force. Luke is still there behind all the worn out facade he puts on, but it’s understandable since he has been thrown in the dirt and stomped on since we last saw him in Return of the Jedi.
The way he presents the story of how Kylo Ren became Kylo Ren was interesting as we got basically three different accounts of what happened that night. What also was equally if not more interesting is how Luke views the Jedi and the ways of the Force in the aftermath. He considers himself a legend, but he wears that title with shame and believes that is what ultimately lead to the downfall of his school. The audience even views the Jedi as deities in a way and it is intriguing to see that concept broken down through Luke’s view. The Jedi should not be viewed highly, according to Luke, and are just as flawed and broken as regular human beings. Just because they are able to manipulate the Force does not make them unstoppable.
I really liked Luke’s talk about the ways of the Force. How the Force does not belong to Jedi, but to everybody. That further expands on the mythology of what the Force is and what it can do. He talks of wanting there to be balance and that theme is exemplified throughout the movie. Rey is supposed to be the light where Kylo is the dark. But at the center of it requires a balance that the Force resides in. I thoroughly enjoyed this exploration and it enhanced an already deeply engaging story.
What better to bring an end to Luke’s journey than to bring back Yoda. That scene was awesome, and provided some great humor yet excellent character moments. There’s not much for me to analyze in that scene other than it provides some good closure for Luke and it’s just exciting to see Yoda again (in puppet form too)!
Luke’s use of the Force at the end to project himself has to be my favorite scene in all of Star Wars, period. The way the scene is presented, you start to believe that Luke is only reaching out to Leia, but then C-3PO acknowledges him. Then the members of the Resistance see him, then the First Order, and finally everybody has their eyes on Luke. The ploy was simple to distract Kylo so that the Resistance could escape, but the execution was phenomenal.
The reason it worked so well for me is that I kept questioning what was going on. I first thought that it was a vision, but then I thought he was actually there. But his hair was wrong so did he cut it before coming to the planet? No it was still a vision, but then everybody else could see him so he actually was there?! Then Kylo blasts him, but he survives so he’s not there? My point is, my mind was racing through what could be happening and it was not until Luke revealed himself did I realize what was going on. That just went to show how powerful he was with the Force, and in the end it drained him. He gave himself up to the cause he helped ignite and let go to be at peace with the the Force. It was poetically beautiful and a great way to conclude that epic scene.
Thinking back on that scene there were so many giveaways I can now pick up on. Like the fact that Luke doesn’t make red footprints on the planet or that the lightsabers never cross. It was beautifully directed and kept the tension so elevated that it was spectacular. Going into the movie, I so badly wanted a Luke vs Kylo Ren scene and I essentially got it but not in the way I was expecting. It surpassed my expectations and delivered tremendously, similar to the way that Rian Johnson directed most of the other moments in the film.
And that scene says so much about Kylo Ren! Like I noted, he is by far one of my favorite villains of all time. The conflict within him is so interesting! We are left questioning throughout the entire movie if he will turn good or not. He doesn’t know what he wants but he is also someone to be reckoned with in his powers of the Force. Yes he is a bit whiny, but that adds depth to him and makes him human instead of a mindless killing machines. Villains that are brought down to a human level are far more interesting to me rather than those that just want to rule an empire. Even where the film leaves Kylo at the end of the film with his motivations is powerful. He swings at the empty projection of Luke and is angry. He is fighting for nothing at this point, he has nothing and I imagine that will drive him to more unexpected places in the next film.
I have not talked much about Rey yet, but Daisy Ridley’s performance was utterly captivating. The way she is fascinated with the ways of the Force, or how she addresses Kylo in her visions portray a dynamic range of emotions that prove Ridley can hold the series on her own. Especially the scene in the cave with all the clones of herself and how she marvels at what the dark side is showing her is brilliantly acted.
Rey’s parents are revealed to be (according to Kylo Ren) nobody of importance. I loved that. Why does Rey need to be related to someone big, she should be able to stand as her own character. This just adds to the theme of Star Wars with heroes. Heroes effectively do not come from big grandiose legacies, but rather from humble dirt beginnings. Heroes can start off as nobodies but grow up to be someone of importance, and that is what I feel they are doing with Rey.
I do see why people feel cheated by that reveal, especially because it was a major question people had. However, can we truly trust Kylo Ren? Sure, Rey’s facial expressions seem to confirm the story but is that enough? The fact that J.J. Abrams is returning to direct Episode IX may hold some more information into her legacy, but I am completely on board with the fact that she is nobody. Kylo Ren cannot be trusted as a narrator, especially since he misinterpreted what happened those years ago with Luke.
As I said earlier, I thought the Rey and Kylo Ren connection was well thought out. The way they communicate with each other at first has Rey hashing out in anger and Kylo in curiosity. Then Rey starts to become more inquisitive and Kylo starts toying with her. Finally, when Rey finds her faith in Luke questionable, she turns to Kylo for guidance and starts to see redemption in him. It was all built quite well and ascends to a great crowd-pleasing moment when Kylo finally kills Snoke and “turns” to help out Rey. The way the music score cues in followed by the triumphant grab of the lightsaber by Rey and again followed by the look the two share was fantastic.
And that’s what makes the lightsaber fight with the guards so amazing. There is so much drama and conflict left to be figured out that I was questioning what could happen. Is Kylo going to join Rey with the Resistance? Will Rey join Kylo with the First Order? Whose side are they on? Does Kylo Ren killing Snoke effectively mean he is good? This is what made the movie so tense and exciting for me,: moments like these. You think it will go one way but it goes another, and makes it all the more engaging to watch. That scene is one I will remember for the years to come.
I have to address the issue of Snoke as a lot of people were disappointed that he was killed off. We never found out who he was, where he came from, or what his importance to the story was. I personally did not mind that he was killed off as I was not invested in him as a villain.I am much more interested with the conflicted Kylo Ren. I viewed Snoke as a driving force for Kylo Ren, a way for him to wrestle with the conflict within himself and give him the depth that he needs as a villain. I did not have a lot of theories of who he could be, but I understand that it was built up for there to be a big reveal with him especially with the shrouded illusion of him in The Force Awakens.
This brings me to the larger issue people have with the film: it does not properly deliver on threads and allusions from the previous film. In The Force Awakens, it is set up for audiences to believe that Rey’s parents are a big deal. There are so many teases to get people theorizing, but in the end it was all for nothing. This is the same for Snoke, a character covered in so much mystery for him to only be killed off. Even character’s like Captain Phasma, or Maz Kanata and her story of how she got the lightsaber are tossed aside for bigger and better things.
That’s the problem you get when you have multiple directors putting their own vision on the new trilogy. J.J Abrams can set up events that need to be followed, but it appears the Rian Johnson was not entirely interested with some of those threads. You don’t want too much studio interference of Disney saying how everything needs to go, but at a point you do need some to keep up on all the promises. Just like the Force, there needs to be a balance of the amount of involvement the studio has with the script. In this case, while I viewed the film to be brilliant some fans are disappointed due to the decision to not have much studio involvement.
But that is entirely okay! It is just a movie, it is allowed to be flawed in terms of these designs. I loved the way that all my expectations of who Snoke was and who Rey’s parents were are shattered when I watch this film. Anything that has this amount of unpredictability is something I find easy to engage in and connect with. It is why I love Breaking Bad (a show that Rian Johnson directed a few episodes of) so much. Expectations are turned around and you are presented with what is right in front of you.
In essence, I loved almost everything that The Last Jedi offers. It tells an engaging story in its own way by taking so many risks with characters and established mythology. It has a complete beginning, middle, and end, and the series could have ended off with this film. But there is one more chapter in this epic saga and with the stakes raised so high in this one, the pressure is on for J.J. Abrams to deliver a stunning conclusion that honors the legacy of everything that came before and puts the new material on a high note. The problems in plot are definitely noticeable, but the positives outweigh the negatives for me. The past has died with characters from previous films being killed off to wipe the slate clean and pave the way for new things. I am super excited to see what happens in the inevitable conclusion.