I know, I know. This is a modeling blog. But for this one post, it’s not going to be. Because I have to talk about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And I have to talk about it in more depth than a Facebook post allows.
Don’t like it? Don’t care? Don’t want to be spoiled if you haven’t seen it yet? Simple – don’t read.
Two quick notes before we dive in.
- First, this post will contain spoilers. Fair warning.
- Second, this post will probably be long. Because I have a lot of thoughts.
*****SPOILERS AND RAMBLING FROM THIS POINT ON*****
On the Divisiveness
The Last Jedi is more divisive than any Star Wars film – and perhaps any major franchise film – I can recall. And yes, I say that in the wake of the prequels.
That’s because with the prequels, there’s a general consensus around their flaws. With the notable exception of Ewan MacGregor, the performances were not great. The dialogue and storytelling were clunky. The reliance on CGI was often a distraction. The lightsaber fights could be great, but could also slip into flipping and spinning out of an amusement park stunt spectacular.
The thing is…even people who love the prequels acknowledge these flaws, and love I, II and III in spite of them.
With The Force Awakens, you have a similar dynamic. The broad strokes similarity to A New Hope, from a droid with secret information to a spherical planet-killing superlaser, is broadly acknowledged. Love it or hate it, nobody is out there saying “there’s no similarity to Episode IV!”.
The Last Jedi is different. There are a few elements of universal eye-rolling – bombers in space, Leia’s Force Poppins – but a lot of the big moments of the movie are polarizing as shit. The portrayal of Luke. The fleet chase. Canto Bight. Rose. Snoke’s abrupt end. Luke fucking dying. Or transcending or whatever.
Some people love these things. Myself included. Other people hate the shit out of them.
And on some level, if you hated this movie, I agree with you. Or rather, I understand where you’re coming from.
Because ultimately, when a lot of us expected this movie to zig, to show us the Jedi Master Skywalker we’ve been picturing and reading about in the EU for three decades, it zagged. And it zagged hard. It’s not that it didn’t live up to our expectations, it’s that it took our expectations and ran in the opposite direction. It didn’t even try to live up to them.
And that’s hard to swallow. And if you’re not willing to go with the movie, if you’re holding on to those expectations, I can see how they can work against you. Maybe this rabbit hole will help you adjust your perspective, maybe not.
Nobody hates Star Wars like Star Wars fans
Before diving into the movie itself, I want to address one segment of haters that I just do not agree with. Those are the ones saying that The Last Jedi is not Star Wars, that Disney ruined Star Wars, that are starting fucking online petitions to give Star Wars back to George Lucas (lol – how would that even work?).
Star Wars has always been campy and mythic and hand-wavy. Star Wars has always had plot holes and vehicles that make no sense. The Empire was brought down by teddy bears. The most powerful being in the original trilogy was a green swamp frog muppet.
Disney, more than any other major studio, understands that the best way to make money is to make good movies. And in the last 15 or so years, they’ve shown that the best way to do that is to let their properties more or less set their own destinies. Pixar has given us some of the best animated movies ever made, and they show no signs of slowing down. Any other studio would have followed Incredibles with Incredibles 2 in 2007 or 2008. Disney let Pixar wait until they had a story they wanted to tell – and here we are getting Incredibles 2 thirteen years after the first one. They’ve let Marvel build, film-by-film, a massive, interconnected cinematic universe that stands as one of the most impressive feats in the history of filmmaking. And they’re letting Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm do their own thing with Star Wars.
And honestly, Lucasfilm is being fearless. The original script for Rogue One had several of the characters surviving, because of an assumption that Lucasfilm wouldn’t let them kill off the entire cast. Kathleen Kennedy told them to go for it. The Last Jedi doesn’t go the way fan expectations think – which is the opposite of what you’d expect from a profit-driven greed factory.
If you want a counterpoint, look at how badly Warner Brothers is stumbling with the DC films. They keep course correcting, trying to adjust to fan expectations, and we get shit like Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad and Justice League.
Ultimately, I think this particular segment of haters want to be right more than they want a good movie.
Accept the past
Okay, let’s actually get into The Last Jedi.
Earlier this week I was asked to sum up TLJ in three words for someone who hasn’t seen it yet. And it took me a minute, but ultimately my answer was “accept the past”.
This movie is all about the past, and our relationship with it. If you extrapolate that into a commentary on the state of Star Wars and how we see it, it becomes quite meta. But for the moment, let’s stick with the movie itself.
Almost every character in the movie is obsessed with the past. I think the only one who isn’t is Leia. She’s the only one who is clear-eyed about it throughout pretty much the entire film.
Rey wants to know where she came from, who her parents are, why she has this Force sensitivity, and how all of that defines her “place in all this”.
Kylo Ren wants to obliterate the past. Maybe, subconsciously, he knows that his reaction to Luke in his hut was over the top, and that his perception was clouded by the dark side. From the temple slaughter to joining the First Order, murdering Lor San Tekka, murdering his own father, if he turns around and accepts the past and accepts what he has done, well, it’s too much. So instead of facing it, he seeks to destroy the past and tear everything down.
Luke is haunted and ashamed of the past, of his hubris and his failure. He started to believe in his own legend, and when he failed in a moment of fear and weakness, he couldn’t face it. Couldn’t face Leia and Han. Couldn’t face the enormity of the horror that he created Kylo Ren. The legendary Luke Skywalker would never do that, so he ran the fuck away from the legend. Cut off his connection to the Force. Left his X-Wing sunk on the sea floor, and drank green alien walrus tit milk.
Finn starts the movie still running from his past, from the First Order. He has one thing he cares for – Rey – and his first thought when shit goes south is to run to protect himself and protect her.
Poe is the gifted flyboy still living in his glory days as an ace pilot. He thinks hotshot flying and attacking against impossible odds is the way out of any crisis. When his approach leads to massive losses over D’Qar, and especially once he loses his X-Wing, that certainty is cast adrift.
The idea…cemented most prominently in Rey’s storyline…is accepting the past for what it truly is, and then accepting that it is the past. The trippy infinity mirror scene in the cave? It confused me a bit the first time I saw TLJ, but on the second viewing it became clearer. When the cave shows her the two shadowy figures merging into one, who turns out to be her, what it’s really telling her is “it doesn’t matter who your parents were – what matters is who you are”.
It’s not that the past doesn’t matter. It’s not that everything Luke, Han and Leia did in the original trilogy is meaningless. It’s that it’s the past. And to go all meta here, reliving the past, freezing Star Wars in amber and telling the same story again and again, is not the right path. It’s not a healthy path.
When Yoda says “we are what they move beyond”…well…
Once our characters accept the past, that’s when they start to grow. Luke accepts that Kylo Ren is his fault, and takes the extraordinary step of becoming the legend the galaxy thinks he is. Finn confronts Phasma, literally puts a dent in the armor of the First Order, and instead of running away, is willing to die charging at them. He maybe course corrected too far and clearly still has some growing to do.
Poe becomes a wiser leader.
And Rey comes to understand that her “place in all this” is hers to determine. Not her parents’, not Luke’s, not Kylo’s, hers. This moment of clarity is also when she stops trying to turn him and instead goes for the lightsaber, resulting in the tug-of-war.
Kylo, meanwhile, doesn’t learn this acceptance and becomes increasingly blinded by his drive to destroy the past. He fails to notice for far too long that the Luke he is facing on Crait is not real – even though he doesn’t leave footprints in the salt, even though he’s wielding the blade that Kylo himself played a role in destroying shortly before. And by the time he notices, the Resistance has escaped.
Don’t sacrifice for nothing
Some of the most defining moments of the original trilogy are suicide attacks against long odds with heavy losses – the assault on both Death Stars.
So it’s somewhat ironic that Leia would slap Poe for leading a suicide attack against long odds with heavy losses. When I mentioned that she’s the only character not obsessed with the past, this is where it starts. The Resistance is not the Rebellion. It’s not as well supported, it doesn’t have the numbers or the equipment. Every ship, every life is precious and not to be sacrificed unless absolutely necessary. And taking out one dreadnought is not absolutely necessary.
We see this again a few times with the fleet intrigue between Poe and Holdo, and of course on Crait when Poe calls off the doomed ski speeder attack. Finn has picked up the zealotry of a convert, but Rose, who already lost her sister in a pointless sacrifice, takes action to save Finn.
Legends aren’t real
The Last Jedi spends a lot of time tearing down legends and idols. Principally with Luke Skywalker. But also with Poe (Holdo cuts right through his legendary reputation) and Finn (Rose discovers the coward behind the heroic veneer). Snoke, too, gets cut down (literally) after fans have spent two years building him up in all manner of theories.
It’s brilliant then, that when Luke finally does act, does embrace the legend of Luke Skywalker, he does it as a fucking projection. It’s how we want to see Luke – but it’s not the real Luke.
At the same time, by embracing that legend, by playing that role, Luke brings hope to the galaxy. A hope that he let wane after he walked away from the legend before.
Failure is the best teacher
Accepting the past is about accepting the good – and the bad. Which Luke did not, and Yoda admonishes him for.
Failure – if you can face it – is the best teacher. It is where true growth comes from. But accepting failure requires humility – and if you notice, Luke talks a lot about vanity in this movie. And Poe kind of embodies it. It’s only when they’re taken to task by their mentors that they embrace their failures.
And ultimately, the entire movie is about failure. Poe’s dreadnought attack is a tactical victory but a strategic failure, as it came at too dear a cost (and maybe gave the First Order time to set up tracking of the Raddus…but that’s just conjecture). Rey fails to bring Luke back to the Resistance, but in that failure learns valuable lessons about herself. Rey also fails to turn Kylo from the dark side, again with valuable lessons.
Finn and Rose’s subplot to Canto Bight is the biggest failure of all. Not only do they not enlist the help of the master codebreaker, not only do they get arrested, not only do they not disable the hyperspace tracker, DJ’s betrayal allows the First Order to locate and target the transports, killing hundreds of Resistancers (when can we just start calling them rebels again?) and creating an even more dire situation. If they’d never gone on that mission, the transports could have escaped to Crait, the Raddus could have jumped away, and the First Order fleet, none the wiser, would have followed.
As it stands, all that’s left of the Resistance can fit comfortably on the Falcon.
There is power in not fighting
Do you know why Luke is a legend? Because, in a moment of truth, he did not fight. He tossed his lightsaber aside and declared that he was a Jedi, like his father before him. In not fighting, in pleading with his father, he turned Vader from the dark side.
Luke’s greatest triumph was, essentially, pacifism.
But for the last two years, everyone’s been eagerly picturing him slamming AT-ATs around with the Force and fighting off thousands of Stormtroopers and basically being a Force god.
Rey herself was hoping for this, and Luke shoots her down with a line about facing down the entire First Order with a laser sword.
And looking back at ROTJ, and at his triumph in the throne room, it makes sense.
It also makes sense that Luke goes out with the most non-confrontational confrontation in all of Star Wars. He’s not even there. He never trades so much as a blow with Kylo. And he wins that encounter by getting way inside Kylo’s head, and by buying the Resistance time to escape.
Save the ones we love
Rose’s line on Crait seemed a bit hokey the first time I heard it, but it’s been growing on me.
“It’s not about killing the people we hate, it’s about saving the ones we love. That’s how we’re going to win this war.”
I don’t think this is a call to some kind of flowers-in-barrels pacifism. It’s more about the idea of fighting for something rather than against something. And Finn had kind of lost track of that – “I won’t let them win”, etc.
Think back to the original trilogy. Most of the action is about “saving the ones we love”. Luke, Han, Obi-Wan and Chewie head off to save Leia. The X-Wings attack the Death Star to save Yavin IV. Han returns to the fight to save Luke during the trench run. A movie later, he heads out into the Hoth night to save Luke. Leia stays as Echo Base is collapsing around her to save the evacuating Rebels. Luke heads to Cloud City against Yoda’s warnings to save his friends. He, Leia and friends save Han from Jabba. And he ultimately confronts Vader to 1) save his friends and 2) save his father.
If Poe had been more concerned with saving the Resistance rather than taking out that dreadnought, Paige and the bomber squadron would probably still be around. Which is totally in keeping with the original trilogy and also what we know of the Force.
Nobody can be somebody
A New Hope set up a classic everyman fantasy – a farmboy from a backwater world going on a grand adventure, learning mysterious new powers, rescuing a princess, and striking a massive blow against the evil Empire.
There’s the sense that anybody can become the hero.
And as great as The Empire Strikes Back is, it’s the film that started to unwind that egalitarian optimism. Luke wasn’t just special, he was special. The son of Darth Vader.
This cascaded frightfully in the prequels, when we learned that Anakin was the chosen one. And when midichlorians were introduced. Suddenly we had bloodline and an actual Force scoreboard. And Force sensitivity was hereditary.
And it infected everything. Our main characters in the prequels were all special – Jedi Masters and the Chancellor and a Queen/Senator. Jyn Erso in Rogue One had to be the daughter of the man who designed the Death Star. Even the characters in Rebels have powerful lineage.
For the last…hell…going back to the first rumblings of The Force Awakens, we’ve been speculating about who Rey’s parents are. She has to be a Skywalker, right? Or maybe a Kenobi somehow? Or she’s a clone of Palpatine or a vergence of the Force or something.
But she’s not. She’s nobody.
And I fucking love it. We have our egalitarian, accessible Force back. We have the sense that anybody can be a hero.
And if not Rey…there’s Finn. The janitor-stormtrooper who managed to break his conditioning and defect from the First Order. There’s also Rose, who in past movies would have been the sort we see running around and getting blown up in the background while our heroes save the day.
And if it’s still not connecting that heroes can come from anywhere (like Ratatouille…in space with lasers and shit), the movie ends on broom boy.
This movie is a lot deeper and more thoughtful – at least in terms of themes and arcs – than it may seem on first viewing. Which is why this post has stretched for so long…when you really start digging, there’s a lot to sift through.
But some stuff doesn’t fit very well into the larger thematic unpacking above, so here are a bunch of random musings for discussion/amusement/hatred.
Chewie is the best father figure for Rey. I saw this in a tweet – but think about it. He drives her to Jedi practice and keeps the car running. He loves to grill. He drops her off to meet the new boy he doesn’t exactly approve of, but just tells her to get home safe.
Twas better to have recognized a trap and died, then to never have recognized a trap at all. Yes, Ackbar dies in this movie. And rather unceremoniously. And fans are apoplectic. But…come on. Ackbar is the perfect case of 30 years of expectations and expanded universe wish fulfilment coming home to roost. The fish admiral has what, three lines in Return of the Jedi? And he’s goofy looking, so there’s a certain humor to him. And that humor got turned into a meme. And he had a pretty prominent role in the Thrawn trilogy. All of which made him somewhat of an icon outside the movies. But that’s…outside the movies. I’d say be thankful that Mr. Fish got the kiss of canon with cameos in TFA and TLJ. Besides…as much as I like Ackbar, Rogue One topped him with Admiral Raddus.
Shut up about the bombers. Star Wars has never been about realistic military tech. They’re an obvious homage to B-17s. Hell, the name is Starfortress (which is a play on the Flying Fortress, Superfortress, etc.). How do they drop bombs in space? With electromagnets. Why do they even bother with bombs? My guess is that slow-moving bombs can pass through deflectors while energy weapons and high-speed projectiles can’t. But we’re arguing about this when Empire featured giant, completely impractical walking tank things that were designed to be a space nazi version of ancient war elephants.
The Holdo Maneuver. Holy shit who knew hyperspacing into a ship like that could be so beautifully devastating? And…if it’s that devastating how is it not a significant piece of combat doctrine? Fuck, where are the hyperspace torpedoes? Why didn’t the rebels sent a Mon Cal cruiser into the Death Star II at lightspeed in ROTJ? Don’t get me wrong – it works so well from a narrative, visual, audio, etc perspective. It just creates…problems for the larger universe.
Time is problematic in TLJ. Timing is problematic in Empire, too. But the compressed timescale of The Last Jedi, and it coming so hard on the heels of The Force Awakens, I just don’t feel it necessarily represents enough time for the character development that we see. It takes time to internalize and act.
The sequel trilogy’s ship designs continue to be derivative. In a way this makes sense – the Resistance is using what old shit it can get its hands on – hand-me-down X-Wings and A-Wings and the like. And the First Order seems to be doing variations on imperial designs. For a movie that upends so many other conventions, I was hoping for more.
The visual foreshadowing is amazing. Early on, we see a porg looking into the emitter end of the Anakin lightsaber, while another hops on the power switch, a nice tease of what’s coming for Snoke. When Leia Force-flies back into the Raddus, she passes through an upended hologram of the Supremacy – exactly where Holdo cleaves it later in the movie. And on Crait, there are a few glimpses of footsteps on the surface knocking away the salt to reveal the red crystal beneath – presenting one of the visual clues that tell you Luke is not really there later on.
We don’t need to know more about Snoke. Snoke is dead. And I hope to god he stays that way. Because his unceremonious bisection is a major fuck you to the conflict dynamic most fans were assuming we’d follow, with Rey turning Kylo and them defeating the bigger bad together. Bringing him back would cheapen that. And providing more information…while it would be nice…it isn’t necessary.
Episode IX is wide open(ish). Star Wars is Star Wars, so to an extent we know how Episode IX is going to go. The good guys are going to win. The bad guys are going to lose. There will almost certainly be a lightsaber duel. Kylo Ren may or may not turn from the dark side…but at this point I’m hoping he doesn’t. We’ve already been through that with Vader. Beyond that…who knows where it will go?
Episode IX needs a time jump. The events of TFA and TLJ play out over, at most, like two weeks. But the way things end, it seems like a time jump is necessary. The new rebellion needs to find its feet. Rey needs to build a new lightsaber. Kylo needs to consolidate his command of the First Order. Plus, a time jump would be an elegant, respectful way to phase Leia out. Make it five, ten years later. Leia, never fully recovered from her exposure to space, has become one with the Force. The rebels gather to pay their respects, providing a time for reunion and for filling the audience in on what’s been happening.
Episode IX needs new ship designs. We’ve had two movies now of lightly evolved X-Wings and TIE Fighters. But with the Resistance down to one ship – the Falcon – there’s an excellent opportunity for some new blood. Even if it’s a third-generation X-Wing.
So what did you think?
What did you like? Not like? Think I’m full of shit? Respond in the comments and all that business.