It’s been three years since The Last Jedi hit theaters and I’m still thinking about it all the time.
This movie, released December 15th (though I, along with many, saw it the 14th) and I remember that night very well… I remember being nervous, like my team was playing in the Super Bowl… Pacing around the house, trying desperately not to read any spoilers online, though I did manage to catch that the movie was “controversial” which only made me more nervous!
I remember waiting in line for 2 hours at the IMAX theater and looking back at it, I think the “waiting in line, surrounded by hundreds of people in close quarters” is the most novel memory of that night, back when we could actually do that sort of thing.
When the movie before us ended (because we couldn’t get a time until 10:30, meaning the movie would be over around 1 AM and we both had work in the morning), my friend and I blocked out ears to prevent spoilers but watched people’s reactions. One of the last people to pour out of the theater looked at us, tears in his eyes, and gave use thumbs up and it was then that the hype built to it’s peak.
We sat down in the theater, and for two and a half hours I was mesmerized… hanging on ever beautifully shot scene line dripping with subtext… and then the movie was over and my friend said “See ya” in the parking lot with not another word. My other friends and I gushed about puppet Yoda, Luke’s final battle and the hyperspace ram scene… but the next day, while discussing the movie with my friend who dipped out, I learned he didn’t like it and I think that’s most people;’s experiences with this movie. If you watched it, you either did not like it or you did but know someone who didn’t.
The film was very polarizing, I’m not going to deny that, though to this day I don’t understand how polarizing it was. I remember sitting in the theater, looking for moments where I thought the movie would slap me in the face like so many other people felt and that moment never came for me. I thought maybe it would come in the throne scene, but I was in love with Snoke’s death… I thought, perhaps it would be the end when, at first, instead of a force projection, during the reveal I thought Luke was a Force Ghost, having crashed on Ahch-To and died there, but when I saw Luke hovering over the stone slab, I returned back to Earth and still couldn’t figure out the hate.
And now, when I think of this movie, all I can think about is how well-made it is. Three years later, I don’t have a problem telling people it’s my second, only to “Empire” (the best since Empire being a title bestowed on every Star Wars movie since ESB to gain clicks and reads, but this is genuine!).
This film is incredibly thematically solid in every way. I love the arcs each character goes through. Poe learning how to lead without always going for the full frontal assault, Finn learning that not actively fighting against the fascists helps the fascists, Rey learning that her blood connections don’t matter and Luke learning to move past his failures to be the man legends say he is…
Luke is probably the most contentious point in this film. Having him be a surly hermit who has lost faith in the Jedi and wants no part of the galaxy is definitely a controversial decision to make. I think Rian Johnson, though, handles this depressed Luke very, realistically well. It’s as if Luke had watched the prequels with us, learning the institution he’d fought to revive were not the heroes he once thought they were and him projecting his failures onto them, teaching Rey, the next generation ,exactly how things went wrong to prevent her from repeating the cycle Luke no longer wants to be a part of.
Rey, being a stand in for the audience, wants to scream and yell at the man they see as the virtue of good and hope, but he’s stubborn (as Luke tends to be) and sees himself as a failure who can’t live up to that image and doesn’t think anything less is good enough.
Only after speaking with Yoda, who returns in puppet form acted and voiced by Frank Oz again, the previous leader of the Jedi who burned down around him because of his inaction, does Luke realize that legend-status is enough to be heroic again… that just standing up, even if he can’t live up to his myth, instills hope inspires people…
And so Luke appears on Crait at the end of the film, the physical manifestation of that legendary image. Unkillable, idealized, in full form to save the day without shedding a drop of blood, apologizing to his nephew, confronting his biggest failure and teaching his nephew a lesson that stays with him well past the end of the film (“I will always be with you, just like your father”, is it any coincidence Ben talks to his father when he returns to the light?)
The Battle of Crait, like the battle of Camlann for King Arthur, is Luke’s final stand and, in my opinion, the perfect send off for the character that always been one of my favorites of any franchise. It is one of the my favorite Star Wars moments and the perfect way to make Luke powerful without making it feel like a power fantasy trip (or having old man flips like Yoda and Dooku…)
Canto Bight was one of my most anticipated moments in the film. I used to look at the promotional images, of aliens in tuxedoes and lavish casinos and I was hooked. When the scene came to the movie, I actually loved it. I love the production design, costumes, aliens (stay tuned for a video on this) and message of this arc. Not just the message of “fence sitting is bad”, but also the message that “greatness can come from anywhere”. “But wait” you might ask ”I thought that was Rey’s arc’s message” well, I’ll get to that in a bit.
Rey from nowhere and Kylo Ren obviously shine in this film. They are the backbone of the plot and their relationship, coming together and then falling apart, is definitely the most interesting concept introduced in the film. Learning about Kylo’s past, about Ben Solo and tying Luke directly to Ben’s fall was genius and gave both of their arcs more depth. Having the event told three different times in flashbacks from three perspectives is the the most unique and perfect way to introduce flashbacks to Star Wars and Mark Hamill’s acting in those scenes alone is worth the ticket of admission.
When Kylo Ren says “let the past die, kill it if you have to”, people took that statement and ran with it as the thesis of the film. It is not, though, as usually films do not form their thesis around the villain’s perspective. The villains are usually portrayed as wrong (which is why they’re villains). “Kill the past” is actually the antithesis of the film. Every arc culminates to the actual lesson to take away from the film, that is learn and grow beyond the past, or, learn from your failures.
Kylo fails to learn this lesson at the end, when he doubles down as the villain, and is left alone and miserable, having been humiliated by his own mantra.
Rey learns this lesson, the “grow beyond your past” part, at least, when she comes to terms with the fact that her blood relations do not make her great or heroic or even belong amongst these legends and that the force chose her for another reason, that she’s “nobody”. And the genius thing about this idea, that “greatness can come from anywhere”, is that it’s solidly self-contained in this movie.
Going back to Canto Bight, it’s most important addition to the film is the concept introduced by Broom Boy, or, Temiri Blagg, as he’s known as. No matter what Episode IX did with Rey’s lineage, Rian got the message that “greatness can come from anywhere” to stick in the film by introducing this character who wields the force and inspired by Luke’s legend and Finn and Rose’s antics on Canto Bight, looking up at the stars with the same kind of lust for adventure that Luke did, coming from the same slave origins that Anakin did… just without the Skywalker name… the “Blagg” name carries no heroic clout… yet. This is why Canto Bight is important. It’s the ultimate pay off to the film’s largest theme.
Seeing a red and blue lightsaber fight side by side was an incredible thing to see in theaters… the throne room fight is a spectacle no matter how many people try to nitpick it to death and the light speed ram from Holdo is equally spectacular (no the rules of Hyperspace are never fleshed out for this very reason and the 1/1,000,000 explanation in TRoS is more than enough to answer any questions)
Poe’s arc on the Raddus, though the weakest part of the film for me, is still incredibly important and I love it nonetheless. Holdo is an interesting character who is too busy to humor a recently demoted captain who tries to usurp his punishment (like telling the babysitter he’s not grounded). Poe is too focused on being a leader he doesn’t understand what being a leader means… and it all comes down to Poe spilling the plan to the enemy (whoops, but Holdo should have told him the plan, right?) and Poe planning to take command when we also get to see Leia stun someone (after seeing her get stunned 40 years ago). And while, sure, he definitely should have been punished, Poe learns his lesson nonetheless, calling off the speeder run that is getting his soldiers killed to find an alternate to the violence…
Finn doesn’t take the command, much like Poe did earlier in the film, and decides to sacrifice himself to get back at the First Order (like he’d done earlier on Canto Bight and the war profiteers) but is stopped by Rose because his intentions had clouded his judgement… his sacrifice would accomplish little for the wrong reasons. Finn’s arc is completed in this moment, not just when he’s saved, but when Luke shows him that “saving what we love” instead of “fight what we hate” is “how we win”.
I could type more. I really, really could. There’s so much depth and nuance to this movie that I haven’t even touched on, the amazing score (The Spark, The Rebellion is Reborn, Canto Bight all amazing), the incredible direction and stunning visuals (Ahch-To has become one of my favorite planets in the Galaxy) but I just wanted to share some of my thoughts on the ideas and themes that I see in this movie and hopefully share some of the love with you. This movie sold the sequel trilogy for me (after I loved, but was a bit hesitant after The Force Awakens more “rhyming” approach) and basically fueled my total resurgence in my Star Wars fandom…
I suppose I’ll see you all next year for the fourth anniversary or I’ll be typing until then.
Thank you for coming to this very special Ewok Talk.