No movie this year has generated the level of polarizing discussion Star Wars: The Last Jedi has managed to produce since its opening last week. The Rian Johnson experience has people on both sides of the discussion going hard with their opinions and it’s time to talk about it. With spoilers. Those who already read my spoiler-free review know that I loved the film, but in spite of all the good stuff I saw, it’s fair to say that this is by no means a perfect film and there are a few things that could’ve been handled better. A few. Let’s start with the good first and then I’ll talk about a few things I didn’t like as much.
A New Balance To The Force
By far, the thing that’s dividing people the most when talking about The Last Jedi is the film’s handling of the Force and all the new things characters are doing with it. Between the start and the end of the movie we see people use the Force to do all manner of new things, from Leia withstanding an explosion in space, to her “flying” through the void back to safety, and Luke creating a projection of himself to face the First Order, nothing seemed as cool as watching Kylo Ren and Rey communicate and literally see each other across the galaxy.
It’s not just awesome that these two youngsters can connect to the Force on that level—even if Snoak revealed that it was him who opened that link between them in the first place—but some of the most powerful moments in the plot happen when these two are chatting it up about what they feel. No matter what you say, these scenes managed to show how scary and thrilling it must’ve been for both of them to find someone who understand what they’re going through, even if both Rey and Ren were surrounded by more experienced elders who couldn’t see their connection coming.
It also helps that this very same connection led us to…
The Fight At Snoak’s Throne
Man. What. When Rey entered Snoaks chamber as Kylo Ren’s prisoner, everyone int he audience already knew that both of them had seen the future, but we didn’t know how the plot would get us there. Ren astutely tricked Snoak to deal him an unceremonious death (of which this film has a few), but the battle that ensued immediately after against Snoak’s Praetorian Guard was as epic as every other good moment in the film. For years I’ve seen these red dorks standing there doing nothing and here comes Rian Johnson and puts them to good use.
The fight is impressive for its action, but also because, for a brief instant, it wasn’t about good or evil, but about two kids protecting each other and trying to make it out alive. Do you know how many times I’ve seen a famous Jedi duel? One vs One fights on a bridge or a ship or a bridge inside a ship? Lots. When Snoak gets split in half, and Rey’s lightsaber flies to her hand as Kylo Ren runs to her side to back her up, my heart skipped a beat and the room exploded with cheers.
Seeing these two characters on opposite sides of the force put aside their differences was incredibly refreshing, more so when the two only manage to save their asses through the skin of their teeth. Thanks to this fight the film’s ending is even more bittersweet, although it’s clear that both of them are still in each other’s heads and it’s only a matter of time if Rey allows that door to be opened again.
Over and over. In the first act, Poe ends up killing almost the entire remaining fleet of the Resistance trying to be a hero, then in the second act Finn and Rose try to sneak into a First Order dreadnaught and not only do they fail misserably, but their plan ends up killing even more people, and finally in the third act it’s revealed that 10 years prior Luke allowed for an insurmountable number of good people to die when he unwittingly created Kylo Ren. The Last Jedi is a movie about heroes who make mistakes and pay them with devastating consequences to those who manage to survive. It’s a film about good people who screw up big time in moments of despair. But it’s also a film about heroes who don’t give up and try to cope with their guilt to find a solution until the very last minute.
Every epic moment in the third act is basically a narrow escape in which our heroes manage to barely make it out alive at the expense of great sacrifices. There is no Hail Mary pass like in the old movies where heroes would simply win by using the Force at the right time. The only Star Wars film that’s sadder that this is Rogue One for the same reasons, which made these characters feel more human and their fight more interesting, their victory more deserved. In the vast majority of Star Wars battles we scream and shout because we won and the plan worked. Here we shout because we made it out alive.
Holdo and Her Last Defense
For the larger part of her time on screen I hated the newly-anointed Commander Holdo. Where does this dyed-hair hag without a plan gets off telling Poe Dameron to shut up and follow orders? At one point I even got to thinking this woman was a First Order spy who infiltrated the Raddus’ crew precisely to avoid our heroes’ escape.
It wasn’t until Leia came back that the truth was revealed and then we had a real badass moment, where Holdo put on her big girl pants and turned Snoak’s dreadnaught into baby shit by JUMPING TO HYPERSPACE THROUGH IT. This lady was metal af.
Rogue One showed us what would happen if a small ship were to try a hyperjump and somehow crashed against a Star Destroyer, but Rian Johnson took that idea and flipped it on its head with results so satisfying people had to hold their breath for a second before breaking into cheers of “OSTIAAA” and “TOMAOS POR CULO HIJOS DE PUTA!” because #Barcelona. Even the way the scene was shown, with multiple shots of the point of impact, it was as dramatic as any pivotal anime in history and the total absence of audio was like the cherry on top.
“…let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.” – Kylo Ren
The Yoda Puppet
This was a very lovely touch by director Rian Johnson. I want to picture his pitch for this to Disney in my head: “hey guys, I’m gonna stick Yoda in there, but he won’t be made with CG. Instead I’m gonna grab a puppet and then I’m gonna make it shoot lightning from the sky”. By this point into the movie, we’ve already seen Luke squeeze the tit of an alien and drink its green unpasteurized milk straight up. Dude, this was entirely valid and it damn near jerked a tear out of my partner in the room.
Yoda is not just one of Luke’s mentors, but also the last of them who met him before he turned into the legend everyone thought would save the Resistance. That green dwarf knows Luke as the ingenuous and insecure young kid he’s always been, in spite of all the experience he has accrued over the years. It was a good reminder to the audience that even though our hero is now a Jedi master, there are still plenty of wiser characters before him, not because they’re better masters, but because they’re older than him.
Lose The Helmet
I know some people will disagree, but I smiled when Kylo Ren smashed his own helmet after being ridiculed by Snoak at the start of the film. Ren’s helmet represented another of The Force Awakens‘ ties to its legacy. In that film we are led to understand that Ren is the new Darth Vader and then we get to painfully watch for an hour and a half as he suffers trying to live up to that kind of expectation.
Rian Johnson understands that if Kylo Ren is to be his own person and become a villain unlike any we’ve seen yet, he must forego the legacy of Darth Vader and become something different. Something new. The act of destroying his helmet goes hand in hand with the scene in which Rey hand Luke his old lightsaber and he tosses it over his should like a used diaper. In Ren’s own words to Rey: “let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.”
Phasma With A Vengeance
Captain Phasma’s return lasted all of about 5 minutes, but it was almost enough to justify the convenient detour Finn and Rose had to put up with in the film’s weakest subplot. Phasma turns up to finally execute Finn and, in a scene that has all kinds of shit going down including BB-8 piloting an AT-AT, Finn stands his ground and sends her to an apparent death.
I loved the dialogue in this scene more than the fight itself, and to be honest I would love to see Phasma return. After all this is the same crazy lady who somehow escaped the destruction of Starkiller Base like some kind of space Terminator.
Chewie Holding It Down
Give that wookie a gold medal for being the best pilot in the galaxy, goddammit. With Han Solo dead, Chewie is now the sole owner of the Millennium Falcon and at the assault on Crait he proved once again that the fastest piece of junk in the galaxy is safe in his hands.
When Luke shows up in front of Leia wearing shorter hair and a black tunic, the audience is supposed to think this is the Luke we’ve been hoping to see all along. This is “He Who Will Bring Balance To The Force”, ready for action and to finally end all this bloodshed.
Except the film has spent the last two hours telling us this version of Luke no longer exists and it’s impossible to see him return after a mere couple of days talking to Rey. Luke is pissed at life and at himself, he’s a cranky war vet who has yet to forgive himself for what he did to his sister’s son. This is a character who admits to not having what it takes to change the course of this war, let alone what others expect of him.
The best idea this movie carries forward is that Luke and Leia are secondary characters who for various circumstances must watch the events unfold from the bench. In spite of having the experience and a certain amount of power on their side, neither of them is in a position to change the course of events before their eyes, because a younger generation is in control. Dumb and scared, but full of talent. Young kids making the same type of mistakes they did at their age, in a more complicated world.
Luke knows that facing the First Order with nothing but a lightsaber is madness and in fact he said he wouldn’t do such a thing, but when he goes and stands in front of the First Order, and it looks like he’s about to contradict himself, it’s a relief to find out he was only projecting his own image, which leaves no doubt about his power in being able to accomplish such a feat while sitting on a rock who knows how many light years away in another planet. Further more it shows that this is not the same character who carelessly showed up at Jabba’s palace looking to save Han Solo with nothing more than a half-ass plan and his instinct. Luke transcends the hero’s journey and his final purpose when he realizes that even if hope has left him, there are others like Rey who harbor hope deeply and he must make way for them so that they can develop all their potential and prevent a repeat of the same mistakes he made with Kylo Ren.
Now let’s talk for a bit about the things that caused The Last Jedi to invoke the wrath of Star Wars fans. Personally I don’t think these are big problems, but with a hand on my heart I can truly say these were the low points of the film.
RIP Almirante Ackbar
Earlier I mentioned that this film tends to discard things and characters from the original trilogy with no fuzz, and most of the time this is ok, but finding out through a line of dialogue that Admiral Ackbar kicked the bucket during the first battle in the film was a cold surprise. Granted, Ackbar was never really a pivotal character to the saga and his legacy is mostly limited to the one brief phrase we turned into a meme, but his exit was rather brief and cruel.
As a counterargument, it would’ve been an epic Hollywood-style ending if instead of Holdo it was Ackbar who turned the ship and with his last line—”you just walked into a trap, motherfuckers”—activated the hyperjump to sacrifice his life for the Resistance. Alas, it will never be and the giant squid will live on in our hearts forever. Respect, homie.
Leie Is Left In A Comma To Stretch The Story
It’s clear to me that there is no other reason for a key character to the plot to spend half a movie in an incubator, only to reawaken and reveal the big winning plan, which apparently everyone in high command knew from the beginning, but nobody bothered to share with Poe, Finn and Rose.
Sure, I get that when Poe challenges Holdo, the new bosslady could’ve revealed the plan, but at that moment she was asserting her authority over an insubordinate officer. Looking back on it, this was one of the best interactions in the film because it is exactly what would occur in a real chain of command, but the downside of not sharing this vital information is that Finn and Rose went all the way to Canto Bight only to make it back on a very slim chance, get betrayed by DJ and unwillingly provide the First Order the necessary information to obliterate even more defenseless Resistance ships.
It wasn’t all a total waste of time, but they could’ve trimmed much of the unnecessary fat, such as…
The Alien Dog Races in Canto Bight
During their sneakathon through the interstellar casino—the one we could only watch for like a minute—Rose tells Finn that the animals involved in the betting races are mistreated and on top of that, pretty much everyone who comes to play at the casino made their millions through dealing weapons for the First Order. In short, they would score a lot of karma points and maybe even an Xbox achievement if they sidetracked for a minute into this optional objective and save the animals to screw the wealthy warmongers.
It’s completely unnecessary and I’m pretty sure all the alien dogs they managed to “rescue” got sent back into slavery before Finn and Rose were even back int the First Order dreadnaught.
Rose Saves Finn
This scene got me all icky because it’s clear that Finn has a thing for Rey, and when Rose seizes the moment to kiss him after saving his life, the kiss felt forced and just plain awkward. Rose isn’t a bad character, and she had legitimate reasons to hate the First Order, but her idealism clashes heavily with the way this galaxy has become more nuanced and complicated.
When Rey notices Finn looking over Rose in the Millennium Falcon, it’s hard for me to believe she will still look at him with the same eyes. After all, it’s hard to deny the sexual tension between her and Kylo Ren when they were chatting it up using Forcechat, specially that time Ren showed up with no shirt and his pecs looked like an action figure modeled after a very old wrestler. Random.
“We are what they grow beyond.” – Yoda
Like I said at the start of this lengthy rant, The Last Jedi is not a perfect film, far from it, but to posit that a Star Wars movie should always somehow be tied to its fans and give them what they think they want is absurd.
Star Wars, or rather our idea of what a Star Wars movie should be, is simply a thing that’s buried itself so deep in our pop culture that we have normalized it, to the point where we can’t even remember that, at one moment in the past, these films were absolutely bat shit weird and bizarre.
Rian Johnson’s job wasn’t to please the myriad of so-called purists who see the original trilogy of films as the alpha and omega of this universe. Johnson’s goal was to break through paradigms to give us something new and maybe even elevate our notion of these movies to a higher plane, and for my part he accomplished exactly that in a very funny way, while dragging some screaming and kicking to its bittersweet end, because this universe can’t possibly spin around the Skywalkers forever.
Let the man do his job and while you’re at it let a brother know where I can find roasted Porg on a stick.