Two Years Later: A Look at ‘The Last Jedi’
Since December 15th, 2017, seemingly every conversation involving Star Wars drifts into a discussion about Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson. Regardless of your personal thoughts on the film, one thing remains abundantly clear: its cultural impact is more significant than any other Star Wars film released since Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012. Leaving out the sliver of the Star Wars fandom who label any fan of the film an “SJW liberal snowflake” or hurl pathetically childish insults at the cast and crew of the film despite being a group largely consisting of sad adult men, the film was divisive to Star Wars fans in general who don’t identify with the group that still wastes a significant portion of their lives verbally abusing individuals who either made or enjoyed a film made for children about wizards in space. If you are reading this article, and you have flaws with The Last Jedi, that is perfectly alright. The purpose of this piece of writing is for me to explain what I see in the film, which is this: warts and all, The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars film and is one of the boldest and most exhilarating blockbusters of the decade.
I think that while people play up the current division in the fandom, the truth is that Star Wars has always divided fans. There is an entire documentary about the division in the fandom caused by the Prequels titled The People vs. George Lucas. Some fans now whitewash history and act as if the prequels were beloved all along, but the divide in the fandom has been around for virtually as long as Star Wars itself has. I’ve even heard from older viewers reminiscing like Obi-Wan in A New Hope that the divide in the fandom has been around since even before I was born. In the times of the Original Trilogy. Before the dark times… My personal theory is that likely the first time many people viewed Star Wars, they were the target audience: children. Time does things to people (it’s a big theme in The Last Jedi), and I think some people hold pretty unrealistic standards for movies to make them feel the way they did when they were young. At the end of the day, these films’ intended target audience are not 30-year-old men, they are 12-year-old girls and boys. So, when I say The Last Jedi made me feel a sense of childlike wonder, it is because I understand that I am meant to view this film with the lenses of a 12-year-old kid. Meaning: I don’t give a shit if bombs would actually drop in space, if people believe that someone demoted in military ranks for causing countless deaths should be privy to strategic information, or how a magical, made-up force works. If you watch ANY of these movies with any sort of awareness of how physics or science in the real world works, then you are watching them wrong. Star Wars is a fantasy tale about heroes and villains and how each of us can find it within ourselves to succumb to darkness or light. To not dwell on negative emotions such as anger and hate. (There are surprising amounts of both in the discourse surrounding this film spouted by people who hail Luke Skywalker as a childhood hero…Obviously they didn’t heed the themes and morals of the original films).
This brings us to the film itself. I think what made The Last Jedi such an incredible viewing experience for me, was largely due to its focus on character. Director Rian Johnson has stated that he approached this second film in the trilogy with the goal to test and train the characters. The Force Awakens laid the groundwork by creating new characters who are likable and interesting, and The Last Jedi builds upon their fears, their flaws, and their failures. It also takes the character of Luke into far more interesting directions than I ever could have hoped they would have and gives him one of the best arcs in the entire saga. Ultimately, this is a film about failure. About failure to follow orders and as a result letting others down, failure to commit yourself to a cause despite knowing that it’s right, failure manifesting itself deep into someone who feels they’ve let another down, and feeling like a failure because you don’t understand your identity. But it’s also about rising above that failure. Accepting it and learning from it.
Poe is a character who has fully committed himself to the cause of the Resistance, but he is terrible with strategy. The opening scene shows his incredible skills as a pilot, but it also shows him disobey orders and single-handedly wipe out the entire fleet of Resistance bombers. Sidenote: the dialogue-free sequence featuring Paige in the bomber is unlike anything we have ever seen in Star Wars. It somehow feels both small and big in scale at the same time. One of the most beautiful scenes in a film filled with beautiful scenes. The act of demoting him further shows his character’s sense of entitlement to leadership. He believes he is smarter than a fully capable woman, and he believes he is entitled to her plans despite his now lower rank because he knows General Leia. He even goes as far as to cause a mutiny on his ship and label Vice Admiral Holdo as a traitor (something she later proves to most definitely not be). Poe’s arc is about learning the value of the rebellion as a whole. About how surviving to fight another day can be what “burns the First Order to the ground”.
Finn also has a very interesting arc. In The Force Awakens, Finn decides to stop running from the First Order, but his allegiance isn’t with the Resistance, it’s to his friend, Rey. In this film, the first word he says when he awakes from the coma is “Rey”. He is prepared to abandon the Resistance when they need him most to find Rey and leave the conflict behind. This is when he meets Rose, an unapologetically optimistic woman who is fully committed to the Resistance because she knows that they are the only hope for the galaxy. It is what her sister, Paige, died for in the opening scene. Their journey takes them to Canto Bight to find a code breaker, but this sequence is deeply important to Finn as a character because it allows him to learn about allegiance. He sees firsthand how the downtrodden in this galaxy are the ones most in need of hope, and how the Resistance symbolizes and embodies that spark of hope. This inspires him to fight for the cause and ultimately, it becomes something he would willingly die for. He also learns the value of the people fighting alongside him, and he learns all this from a Resistance mechanic named Rose Tico.
I believe Rey and Kylo Ren are the two most interesting characters in this movie because they both have very similar journeys, they just happen at opposite ends of the spectrum of light and dark. A significant portion of this movie is the two creeping closer to one another on this spectrum until, in a significant scene in the film, they team up to defeat a common enemy: Supreme Leader Snoke. What is fascinating about Rey is that her story in any other franchise would be that of the villain. She is a nobody from nowhere whose family sold her for drinking money. She has had to fight for survival every day in a cruel world that doesn’t care about her at all. She doesn’t know where she belongs and finding a Jedi master who has been a symbol of hope for the galaxy doesn’t help her understand her place any more than she did at the beginning of the film. In the most crucial scene for her character in the entire film, she sees a vision of herself in a cave, standing in a line of infinite versions of herself. At the front of this line, she feels she will see the reflection of her parents in a mirror-like wall, but instead the figure(s) approaching appears to be herself. Rey’s biggest fear and insecurity is that she doesn’t belong anywhere. That she is completely alone with no family. So she turns to the villain for connection, and along the way she finds something she never would have imagined: understanding.
Kylo Ren is, in my opinion, the most interesting character in this franchise. He largely has the same journey as Rey, just the inverse. He is a character very much like the hero of the Original Trilogy. His parents are important people in this universe. He inherits the powers because of who he was born as. Pretty much, he has everything handed to him. The difference is somewhere along the way he collapsed under the pressure of that and became seduced by the dark side. He doesn’t know if he belongs on the evil end of the spectrum and he has a constant interior battle with the good within himself and does everything within his power to attempt to eradicate that good. He also finds the same thing in Rey: understanding.
Finally, in the best scene in the film, we see the two join forces in the best lightsaber fight in the entire saga. Immediately after the fight, however, their differences remain present. Their allegiances opposite of one another. Where the first half of the film was about the two coming together, the second half is about them coming undone. By the end of the film, they are once again, at opposite ends of the spectrum of light and dark.
This brings us to Luke. A man torn by his failures. By making Luke a man who, not unlike his nephew, collapsed under the pressure of who he was seen as, Johnson crafted one of the most meaningful portrayals of a hero of all. We see in Luke qualities that every human has: fear, despair, pain, and regret. He had a part in creating Kylo Ren despite being the person who, 30 years previous, brought hope to the galaxy and conquered evil. He failed Ben Solo, and as a result, shut himself off from the Force in a vain attempt to protect himself and others from his perceived failures. But as Yoda says in his beautiful appearance in the film: “the greatest teacher, failure is.” Luke Skywalker may have failed Kylo, but there is still hope as long as there is good. So Luke does the exact thing he sarcastically suggested at the start of the film: he faces down the entire First Order with a laser sword. He does the most heroic thing he could do: he gives his life for his family and friends, he admits his failure to Ben Solo, and as the final scene displays, he inspires hope across the galaxy.
Two years later, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi remains the most exciting addition to this franchise since the original trilogy.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on The Last Jedi? Comment down below!
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