This review of The Last Jedi is not going to go as you think. I take my Star Wars VERY seriously. I’m the guy who got pissed that they said The Force Awakes was opening on Christmas instead of Life Day. I created an online Jedi Temple of the Balancing Force awhile back where I talked in detail about some of the themes and philosophies of the Saga. I even interviewed the founder of the Church of Jediism and discovered he wasn’t nearly as into Star Wars as I am. Don’t believe me? Check out his book.
I am also very much aware that I have some controversial opinions about Star Wars. I loved the Prequels and was less than impressed with J.J. Abrams lack of vision. I had some very harsh words for both The Force Awakens (TFA) and Rogue One (R1)… more so for TFA, which was missing George Lucas’ storytelling magic. Say what you will about the guy, that dude knows how to tell an epic story with themes and philosophical depth… unlike that “Mystery Box” obsessed hack, J.J. Abrams.
I came into The Last Jedi expecting a continuation of the Abrams universe of Mystery Boxes and ‘membering but got something completely different. Rian Johnson took J.J.’s Mystery Box, closed it, and nonchalantly threw it away just like Luke Skywalker in the beginning of The Last Jedi threw away the lightsaber Rey handed him at the end of The Force Awakens. Come to think of it, that might have been some sort of subtle jab. And sure there were a lot of things that Johnson did that made us remember the Original Trilogy, but they weren’t cheap gags. When R2-D2 plays back the holographic recording of Leia’s message to Obi-wan from A New Hope, it is poignant. And while there was also a throne room scene in this film that was very similar to that of the one in Return of the Jedi, it isn’t a mere copy, but rather a parallel, just like the throne room scene in Revenge of the Sith was also a parallel. It is the difference between ‘membering and mirroring.
The Last Jedi had lots of great themes:
“Amazing, every word of what you just said, is wrong!” – Luke Skywalker (TLJ)
Yes, oh yes. Rian Johnson took everything we thought we knew about Star Wars and taught us that we were wrong. Luke asks Rey, “What do you know about the Force?” Her response is what most of us might say, “It’s a power that Jedi have that allows them to control people and make things float.” Oh, and they also use cool laser swords. But The Last Jedi teaches us to unlearn what we thought we knew and reminds us that neither the Jedi nor the Sith possess the Force. Nor do either have the monopoly on the Force. The Force is a force of balance between things. It is a force, not just The Force.
We were taught that the Jedi were the guardians of peace and justice and could do no wrong… and yet, Luke Skywalker has some really good and valid criticisms of the Jedi order. Their dogmatism, hypocrisy, and hubris not only allowed Palpatine to rise to power but also helped to create Darth Vader.
“Burn down your past; kill it if you must.” – Kylo Ren (TLJ)
We thought Star Wars was about the Skywalker bloodline. But we were wrong. Luke talks about how he believed his great Skywalker blood made him a legendary Jedi Master, but it was just hubris. Supreme Leader Snoke saw something in Kylo Ren. He not only saw pure, untamed power, but something truly special, the potential of his bloodline. But bloodlines don’t make people truly special. Our actions and our deeds make us special. Finn had no special bloodline. He was just a Stormtrooper. But now he has become a hero of the rebellion. Rose came from nothing and by the end of the film she too is a hero of the rebellion. When Poe orders everyone to follow him out of the bunker toward the end of the film, everyone looks to Leia because she is their leader, but leadership is earned. It isn’t just a title. She knows that and her response plays into this theme, “What are you looking at me for, follow him.”
Finn and Rose are sent to find the Master Codebreaker, but again, the codebreaker they were sent to find was too busy throwing away him money at the gabling table. He may have a reputation for being a Master Codebreaker, but DJ is the codebreaker who has shown he can actually do what they need him to do. Forget about some dude’s elite status based in the past and go with the guy who in the present moment is showing you that he can do what needs to be done.
Side point about DJ is that he mirrors Jengo Fett in that he is “just a simple man trying to make his way in the world.” DJ doesn’t care about the First Order or the Rebellion. He points out that at the end of the day both sides are paying the same people… and those people aren’t very nice. They may look nice in their fancy dresses and pristine cities, but all that is on the backs of slaves. Personally, I’m hoping that DJ ends up mirroring Lando and realizes that his deal is getting worse all the time.
Even Master Yoda is in on killing the past… or burning it. When Luke threatens to burn the “Sacred Text” of the Jedi Order, Yoda seemingly at the time beats him to it. It is time to move beyond them. Luke points out that these books are sacred, but Yoda laughs and points out that Luke hasn’t even read them. While they contained wisdom, they do not contain any wisdom that Rey hasn’t already figured out. Still, Rey secretly stole them anyway, but that isn’t really the point here.
Let’s go back the J.J.’s Mystery Box. Who are Rey’s parents? Is she a Skywalker? A Solo? A Kenobi? No, they are no one special. They traded her for junk. She has no special bloodline, no Force heritage. Forget about your past; kill it if you must. Keep your focus on the present.
Maybe that was what the Dark Cave was showing her. She is her own bloodline, her heritage is herself. She comes from a long lineage of Rey. She is on her own and has to create her own destiny. Speaking of Dark Caves…
“The greatest teacher, failure is.” – Yoda (TLJ)
I guess we should start with Hux. Oh that Hux. He lost that Dreadnought right at the start. But he learned not be baited. If only Kylo would have listened to what Hux learned, Kylo wouldn’t have been baited with the Falcon and then baited again by Luke at the end of the film. But Hux learned his lesson from his failure.
Poe too learned his lesson from his failure. Poe destroyed the Dreadnought, but at what cost? He failed to follow orders and lost half the rebellion. He failed to follow orders later in the film too, when he committed mutiny because he didn’t trust Vice Admiral Holdo. Both times he was wrong. But then he was put in their position when he had to order Finn to stand down on Crait.
Meanwhile, Finn and Rose were on their impossible mission that in any other Star Wars movie would have succeeded despite the impossible odds… but not this time. This time they failed. There were no Ewoks to come to the rescue and not even the Porgs could save them. Their elaborate plan didn’t work and Vice Admiral Holdo’s plan would have worked if Poe had just followed orders. But instead, Finn and Rose introduced DJ to the First Order and he cut a deal.
The Jedi failed. Rian Johnson took everything we thought we knew about the Jedi and showed that they were failures. Even Yoda was a failure. This is something I loved about Revenge of the Sith. Yoda lost again Sidious because he acted out of anger, fear, and aggression. He learned his lesson and passed on what he had learned to Luke in ESB and ROTJ. Johnson reminds us of that.
Luke failed… a fact that he can’t stop telling us about. I admit, that was drilled in a little too much. He failed Ben Solo by fearing the Dark Side. Fear, as we know, leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. Nod to Phantom Menace.
“Many of the truths we cling to greatly depend on our point of view.” – Obi-wan Kenobi (ROTJ)
Borrowing from one of George Lucas’s inspiration, Rian Johnson plays out the Jedi version of the Japanese classic film, Rashomon. Nod to Dan Fincke for pointing this out. Luke tells Rey about how he went to confront his student Ben Solo, but Ben had turned on him and left him for dead. Then Ben burned the Jedi Temple down and killed some of his fellow students. That was Luke’s version of the story from his point of view. But Kylo Ren had a different point of view. He tells Rey that Luke came to kill him in his sleep and that he had to defend himself against Luke and escape. Luke later admits that while he did initially go to kill Ben Solo, he realized that it was the wrong thing to do and became ashamed. Both Luke and Kylo Ren have their own point of view and they are all true… all of them.
We also see this same Rashomon effect plays out with Kylo and Rey. Rey tells Kylo that she had a vision that he would turn back to the Light Side of the Force. Kylo had a similar vision except that it was Rey who turns to the Dark Side. In reality, they both worked together to defeat Supreme Leader Snoke and his guards, but neither have actually turned. If you watch that scene from Rey’s point of view, you could understand why she might think Kylo had turned back. After all, she might have seen him kill Snoke. She even tells him that there is still time to save the fleet, thinking her vision had come to pass. Kylo on the other hand might have seen the exact same thing. He might have seen Rey fighting at his side against Snoke’s guard. He might have even seen her pass him her lightsaber to save him from one of the guards. They both saw what they wanted to see.
“We are what they grow beyond.” – Yoda (TLJ)
This film has grown beyond the original Star Wars Saga. Forget The Force Awakens. Kill it if you must. The Last Jedi has taken us into a bold new direction. Just as Luke grew beyond Obi-wan and Yoda in the Original Trilogy, Rey has grown beyond Luke. She isn’t tied to the Jedi Order. She isn’t beholden to sacred texts or arcane rules. While she is now that last Jedi, the Jedi have become something different. Even what it means to be a Jedi has grown beyond what a Jedi once was.
Kylo Ren has also grown beyond his Master too. He is no longer the puppet on Snoke’s string. He is the Supreme Leader now and he is making a play to turn Rey to the Dark Side. Forget the rebellion. Forget the First Order. Kylo still wants to finish what Darth Vader started. He wants to rule the galaxy with his love at his side… yeah, yeah, there is a ton of sexual tension between Kylo and Rey and they might end up together… or not. But that is another story for another day.
Force users aren’t the only ones moving beyond their mentors. Rose was so excited to meet Finn, a hero of the rebellion. But in the end, she was the hero who saved him both literally at the end of the film and figuratively by teaching him that it isn’t enough to fight against what we hate, but that we also have to fight to protect the ones we love.
One of the best scenes in The Last Jedi was when Luke showed up on Crait, Earlier in the film, Rey asked him to come back to save the galaxy. Luke asked her what she expects him to do, take on the entire First Order by himself? Of course, this is exactly what he ended up doing — Luke vs. the entire First Order. Luke was such a badass. What an awesome scene! I also loved that Kylo Ren ignited his lightsaber first. It was a small detail that J.J. would have screwed up.
Luke’s journey began with him looking off to the horizon of twin suns and it end with him not paying any attention at all to the horizon of the twin suns. It is a poetic. He learns his lesson at the end just as Obi-wan learned his at the end when he turned off the lightsaber that he had been obsessed with all his life.
It is interesting that the Jedi sacred texts are a trilogy of books that were seemingly destroyed, but actually survived to be passed on to a new generation.
Carrie Fisher died. We all expected them to kill Leia and they did…for about 3 minutes. Will Kylo Ren kill his mother? The suspense of it all. Nope, two random fighter pilots take the shot and Leia gets blown out into space… except of course that she is the daughter of Skywalker and is just as powerful with the Force as Luke. Luke was trained by Kenobi and Yoda, but Leia had no training. That’s okay because we are reminded in this film that the Force is everywhere and the Jedi don’t have the monopoly on it. So I am actually sort of okay with Leia flying in space back to the ship and bringing herself back to life. Cheesy as it was… and it was cheesy. Still, it was a missed opportunity to close a character that our actress can no longer play. But it doesn’t end there. When Vice Admiral Holdo launches the escape transports down to the planet, she tells Leia that someone needs to stay behind and pilot the flagship and distract the First Order. Enter that second opportunity. It would totally be in Leia’s character to volunteer for that job. Holdo could have still done it arguing that Leia was more important or something, but there should have at least been a conversation about it.
Once again, Captain Phasma did almost nothing. At least this time she got her fight with Finn, but still I was disappointed that her character really has no character.
Maz Kanata: Either have her do something meaningful of don’t have her in the film at all. Rose or just about anyone else could have heard a rumor about some Master Codebreaker. We didn’t need Maz for that. The scene just seemed like something for the Blu-ray… where it should have been left.
Admiral Ackbar: Nothing else need be said here.
BB-9E: The droid did play an important role, but it was a little small for a character that is all over the toy stores. There better be a BB-Droid fight in the next film.
Porgs: I love them! They were cute and funny, but at the end of the day they didn’t do anything. The Ewoks were cute and funny too, but they took down a legion of the Emperor’s best troopers. More Porgs; more substance!
Mystery Box Question
When Luke fought Kylo on Crait, why did he have his father’s lightsaber that Rey and Kylo had just split in two a few scenes back? He should have had his green lightsaber. Johnson is obviously aware that Luke’s lightsaber is green, since Luke had it in the flashbacks. So it was a deliberate choice and I am not sure what the significance of it was.
J.J. Abrams handed Rian Johnson a pile of crap and Rian Johnson turned it into The Last Jedi, quite possibly the greatest Star Wars movie ever! Yeah, I’ll say it. By no longer attempting to recapture the past, Johnson was able to focus on where he was and what he was doing. He moved Star Wars forward with bold choices and strong themes. This is what Star Wars is about. Like the Original Trilogy, I can watch this movie a hundred times and probably find new things each time.
The last scene in the movie is a scene that was all too familiar to anyone who saw the Original Star Wars in the theater like I did — Little kids playing with a Luke Skywalker action figure. Taking a broom or whatever stick-like thing one could find and imagining it a lightsaber. They will be the next generation of heroes. The Force has awakened inside of them as the last Jedi ignites the spark that will light the fire that will burn the First Order down. But make no mistake, Star Wars isn’t about moving rocks and wielding laser swords. It is about the Force inside of us all and that Force will be with us, always.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is currently available on Blu-Ray.
Additional Sacred Jedi Texts Worthy of Internet Clicks
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ teaches the value of failure by Michael Rosch
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