After a week of waiting and scrupulously avoiding social media lest I come across spoilers, I finally had the chance to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Overall, I enjoyed it and I think it is absolutely worth watching (maybe twice or thrice!). Read on for more of what I liked, disliked, and questions that need answering.
SPOILERS AHEAD. Proceed at your own risk. (Also, this is a long post. Grab a drink, have a snack, and settle in to read this.)
What I liked…
Kylo Ren and Rey. Honestly, I thought Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and Rey carried the entire film. I found myself anticipating their scenes during scenes with the other characters because Kylo and Rey were that compelling to watch onscreen. The lightsaber fight scene after Kylo kills Snoke is my favorite scene in the entire film (and quite possibly my favorite lightsaber fight scene in the entire series). The chemistry between Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley is perfect—they are able to strike a great balance between having a natural ease with each other, but also having a good deal of tension. I love the idea of the protagonist and antagonist striking up a friendship/relationship. It adds a lot more depth to both of them, and watching Kylo and Rey connect over their shared feelings of isolation made me root for both of their characters, even though they were on opposite sides. I found myself sympathizing with Kylo Ren—which is not an easy feat considering he killed Han Solo in The Force Awakens. Kylo Ren and Rey both had amazing character development in this film, and I hope that in Episode IX, JJ Abrams carries on what Rian Johnson started. I know the whole Reylo ship began back in Force Awakens—and though I honestly didn’t really notice their chemistry in that film, after watching The Last Jedi, I am officially so here for Reylo.
Conflicts between light vs. dark. The relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey ties into this theme, but this theme is highlighted in other ways as well. I really love how light and dark aren’t so cut and dried, the way they have been for the previous seven films (though Rogue One plays with this theme a bit). With Kylo and Rey, we see them both tap into their light and dark sides. Rey willingly taps into her dark side when training with Luke, rather than shutting it out the way previous Jedi had been taught. Kylo Ren isn’t all bad either—we see how torn up he is after killing Han, and we see the constant conflict and the push/pull between his dark and light side. Even Luke’s character development in this film shows this conflict—he’s not the pure, perfect Jedi hero who helped lead the Rebellion to victory. In the film, when Luke sees Ben Solo/pre-Kylo get more powerful and more tapped into the dark side, he momentarily considers killing him before realizing the error in his thinking—a mistake that led to Ben Solo turning over to the dark side to serve Snoke. Even the legendary Luke Skywalker is human and prone to human temptations and errors in judgment. Furthermore, we even see that the ultra-wealthy in Canto Bight have earned their wealth not only by selling weapons to the First Order but to the Resistance as well. I love how this film subverts the theme of light vs. dark and shows that it’s not completely black and white. Playing with the concept of light vs. dark in this way adds a lot more dimension to the characters and challenges us to view the light and dark sides differently.
YODA. Need I say more?
The idea of non-exclusivity. I know that the revelation of Rey’s parents is quite a controversial topic. There were those who were so sure (or who really wanted) Rey to be Luke’s daughter or be related to Luke somehow. (Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of this theory. It’s too obvious/simple, and I really didn’t get fatherly vibes from Luke and Rey’s interactions. It’s like if Sirius Black actually did turn out to be Voldemort’s servant in Prisoner of Azkaban, instead of Peter Pettigrew. It’s too straightforward; it’s not complicated enough.) There were those who thought that Rey might be a Palpatine based on her lightsaber technique and why Kylo Ren was so fascinated with/threatened by her. There were those who, like me, were so convinced (and really wanted) Rey to be descended from Obi-Wan. (There are many convincing arguments to be made for this theory, and part of me is still holding out for this to be true…) BUT, we find out in The Last Jedi that Rey’s parents were nobodies. They were, as Kylo Ren says to her, nobodies who sold Rey off for drinking money. Even Rian Johnson confirms that Kylo isn’t lying when he says this to her—he does actually see this, and he is being honest with Rey in that moment.
While this wasn’t the revelation I (along with many other fans) was hoping for, I think it works really well, and I personally would not change it. First off, since I unabashedly ship Reylo, I like that Rey has no relation to the Skywalkers. Secondly, and most importantly, I like how the film played into the idea that Rey didn’t need to have any special lineage in order for her to be significant in this story. She wasn’t special because she was a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, or what have you—she was special because of who she was on her own. She didn’t need to be a descendant of important people in order to find her place. It plays right into the idea that the Force doesn’t belong to just the Jedi and/or Sith—which is exactly what Luke explains to Rey when he trains her.
The Force is something that binds us all together, and it’s something that belongs to all of us. I love the end scene where the stable boy Force-summons his broom into his hand. He, like Rey, isn’t anyone well-known. He’s not a Jedi—but he, like Rey, is able to tap into the Force. I love this last scene because it shows that what happened in The Last Jedi, and the Star Wars saga as a whole, goes beyond the characters we’ve come to know. There’s always more to the story. There’ll always be more people, more heroes—who may or may not come from unlikely places. A character doesn’t need to be a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, or even a Palpatine, in order to have a place in this story.
What I disliked…
Luke’s character arc (or at least, bits of it). So, I have a lot of mixed feelings about Luke’s character arc, and I’ve discussed this at length with fellow Star Wars fans. On one hand, Luke’s character arc isn’t completely uncharacteristic. While Luke did insist that there was still good in Darth Vader, and while he did believe Vader could be redeemed, Luke was also impulsive and susceptible to the dark side. There’s a scene in Return of the Jedi where Luke does let his anger and aggression consume him, and he fights with Vader and slices off Vader’s hand—exactly the same injury that Vader gave to Luke in the previous film. That’s what wakes him up; that’s what reminds him of who he really is and brings him back to the light side. I can buy that Luke did have a moment of weakness and a momentary error in judgment when it came to Ben Solo. I can even buy Luke’s disillusionment with the Jedi Order, and his reluctance to train Rey because of it. But what I really didn’t like was Luke’s role in The Last Jedi. The Force Awakens made it seem like Luke was the key to helping the Resistance, but Luke’s role in the Resistance was mainly buying the Resistance fighters more time by distracting Kylo Ren with his Force apparition. While I love that scene, and while Luke’s Force apparition and his battle with Kylo has significance in both the film and the overall story, I really wish Luke had done more. Even if Luke was reluctant to train Rey, I wish he still had, but with his own unique philosophy that he developed after realizing the error of the Jedi ways. Luke’s role in this film was quite passive. He doesn’t really do much to train Rey—in fact, Rey is the one who steals the ancient Jedi texts and leaves after waiting around for Luke to train her. While Luke’s final act was meant to signify hope for the Resistance, I wish we had seen more of why he had a change of heart, aside from Yoda’s pep talk. I wish we had seen more of a story with Luke. I feel like his arc was cut off at several points with scenes of Rose/Finn/Poe, and that made his story feel disjointed and incomplete. So, while Luke made a great sacrifice at the end that ultimately saved the Resistance, I would have really liked his story to feel more complete.
Spirituality vs. Religion. The way the film approached Jedi training and the Force reminded me of the differences between spirituality and religion. Religion is quite tradition-oriented, and there are rules and order and requirements—much like the Jedi Order in the first six films. Spirituality is quite the opposite. It’s less rigid, it’s less structured, and it focuses more on self-growth and transformation. It doesn’t require rules or training; it’s about transcending and being true to your inner self—very similar to how the Force was presented in The Last Jedi. I hate how the film played up the idea that the Force isn’t something that requires a great deal of formal training, and that the training and tradition are actually hindrances. We see the stable boy using the Force, and we’re often reminded about how Rey has a great deal of raw talent but is untrained. I hate when films play up the “raw talent” angle, as though it’s somehow better than hard work and formal training which are really just impediments and are “too traditional.” I hate the idea that you can have some kind of special skill and be able to master it with no training—that’s not true anywhere, including Star Wars. While the Force does belong to everyone, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to hone it in order to use it well. While I love the idea of the new films challenging the rigidity and tradition of the Jedi order, I don’t think it has to mean that the exact opposite is a better way. It’s all about balance, just like the films reiterate—so there should also be a balance between the Jedi traditions and the new ways of using the Force.
Finn and Rose scenes. I really liked Finn in The Force Awakens (even though every other line for him was “Rey!” or “Where’s Rey?”). In The Force Awakens, Finn had a significant role—if you cut Finn out of the film, the story wouldn’t be the same. In this film, Finn’s scenes with Rose felt almost like filler. Finn and Rose went on some rogue mission that ultimately didn’t need to happen and actually got in the way of Holdo’s plans for the Resistance. I wish Finn had a bigger role than that. I get that Rian Johnson was trying show that it pays to know how to listen to others (cough*POE*cough) and that your heroes aren’t always who they seem to be, and I appreciate that. But, for a character like Finn, who was quite significant in the previous film, I wanted his scenes to have more weight. I wanted to see more personal growth. In the previous film, he mainly joined the Resistance to escape from the First Order. I can see how this film tried to show that Finn is no longer running away and is learning to stand for something and fight—but I think the execution was lacking. That said, I think Finn’s scenes with Rose would have done really well in a standalone Rogue One type of movie, rather than squished into a saga film. I would have enjoyed them much more that way; in this film, I found myself waiting for those scenes to end so we could cut right back to the center storyline with Luke, Rey, and Kylo. It almost felt like the film tried to bite off more than it could chew—like it tried to show too many things, subvert too many things. It felt like there was too much going on and the story wasn’t tight enough. I get that second films in a trilogy are a really tall task to take on, and it’s hard to create a film that doesn’t quite begin and doesn’t quite end. Overall, Rian Johnson did a great job—but I think trimming down the Finn/Rose scenes, or making those scenes more relevant to the central plot, would have gone a long way in improving the pace of the film.
Questions I still have…
Why did Luke’s Force apparition cause him to die? Why did he have to die to begin with? I’ve discussed this question with fellow Star Wars fans as well, and it seems that the consensus is that his Force apparition required a great amount of exertion and is something that hasn’t been attempted by any Jedi, ever. I don’t love the idea of Luke’s death, but I think the film might have been trying to echo Yoda’s death in Return of the Jedi, where he tells Luke that his training is complete. What are your thoughts on this?
Where did Snoke come from? (I still want this question answered even if he’s dead.) I HATE that Rian Johnson just decided to pull a “fuck it” and kill Snoke, even though fans (including me) read theory after theory trying to figure out where Snoke might have come from. I hate that this film sort of killed or quashed a lot of loose ends the previous film teased—including Snoke. Rian, you do not get off the hook for this. I still want an explanation for who Snoke was and where the hell he came from.
Why is no one even mentioning Obi-Wan? I love Obi-Wan’s character in both the original trilogy and the prequels. He was a significant character, so the films are either saving the best for last or they’re pretending like he doesn’t exist. If it’s the latter, I will be fifty shades of pissed. I really hope Episode IX includes Obi-Wan a bit more in the film. I want to see the characters I love at least mentioned or having an appearance in the new films. It doesn’t work when new characters are just shoved down our throats without any reference to the older characters. STOP TRYING TO MAKE “NEW CHARACTERS” HAPPEN; IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Just kidding; I do like the new characters a lot. But seriously, I want to see some kind of mention of Obi-Wan in the next film. He deserves that.
I know this film was pretty divisive, but you can’t deny that it was a memorable film. I mean, weeks after seeing it, I’m still talking about it and thinking about it. There were things I loved, and things I didn’t love—but it’s a film that makes me think. It made me ask questions and challenge ideas I had about the Star Wars universe. It’s not a perfect film (no film is—and Empire Strikes Back had a similarly mixed reception when it released), but it’s a film that gets people talking and thinking. The film was impactful, and for me, it is right up there with my favorites.