It’s Time for Hate of The Last Jedi…to End (SPOILERS)

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“Your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them.”

“Who’s more foolish? The fool, or the one who follows him?”

-Obi-Wan Kenobi (A New Hope)

It’s easy to forget amidst all of the hype that it wasn’t so long ago that the mention of Star Wars was done so in hushed tones and with an air of slight shame attached to it. We were (and still are) one of the largest fandoms in the world today. It is an IP that has inspired countless novels, video games, comic books, toys, board games, card games, and any other medium that you can imagine, and yet it was only less than 5 years ago that it was considered an odd gesture to be a fan. Fast forward to 2015 and you would be hard pressed to find anything so celebrated in this day and age. After the travesty that is considered the prequel trilogy, it was cool to like Star Wars again. No doubt we owe the debt of gratitude to J.J. Abrams for resurrecting and delivering a return to the universe that many thought George Lucas had sold out to the Dark Side years ago. Hope was anew inside the hearts of many geeks, young and old. You could sense the joy of those who were raised on the foundation of the original trilogy being able to share their childhood passion with kids of their own today. Even the one-off side story of Rogue One, drawing much skepticism at first, was very well received and became a favorite for many (myself included).

And yet somehow here we are, fresh off the release of a brand new Star Wars film and we’re already back to the cynicism that defined the early 2000’s for many of us. Having finally gotten around to seeing The Last Jedi, I felt it only necessary to throw my hat into the ring to be a voice against the rising tide of hate flowing from people who I know to be avid fans; people who know and love the galaxy far, far away as much as myself. What follows is HIGHLY FULL OF SPOILERS, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I suggest you leave, but also come back after you’ve seen it. The large amount of chatter about this movie that I heard going into it was that it was either better than The Empire Strikes Back (my favorite movie of all time), or that it was hot garbage and a disgrace to the Star Wars universe. The truth, like in most things, is actually closer to the middle. 

The Plot

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As far as conflict and the flow of events that takes us from scene to scene, the story for The Last Jedi is pretty basic and easy to follow. Some time has passed since The Force Awakens, and after their failure at Starkiller Base, The First Order is PISSED. It opens with a few Dreadnoughts (not Star Destroyers, since I guess it’s still fresh that they just lost their only weapon that can destroy stars) closing in on a Resistance base and getting set to just torch everything. The Resistance meanwhile, as usual, is trying to escape by the skin of their teeth, and maybe take down one of the big First Order ships with it. At the risk of being long winded and summarizing the entire plot, they succeed and then zip off into hyperspace, seemingly escaping. We find out, however, that The First Order has new technology that can track ships through hyperspace. Cut to a chase sequence for 30% of the movie. This is largely where most of the tension comes from as the Resistance figures out from their First Order janitor turned Resistance “hero” (Finn) that tech like this exists. Their ships can outspace the Dreadnoughts to the point where their blasters won’t do significant damage to their shields, but their low supply of fuel means that the Resistance is living on borrowed time. This is where the plot splits into four different spokes (like a wheel on a bike, interconnected and different, but all turning at the same rate).

All of a sudden we have four sets of characters doing their own thing:

  1. Finn and newcomer, Rose, off to find a master codebreaker to take out the tracking device.
  2. Poe coming to terms with his place in the chain of command as someone who is very action driven having to be patient stuck on the main fleeing ship.
  3. Kylo Ren and the First Order’s dealings.
  4. Rey and Luke doing the ol’ “will he, won’t he” train me schtick.

Did all of the pieces fit together neatly? Perhaps not, and maybe it should have a bit more for a movie with a run time of 3 hours, but I can honestly say I was entertained while watching. More so than the plot, I was more interested in the character development, which, in my opinion is where this movie shines. The character development also ends up being some of the most debated and controversial parts of this movie just because a lot of fans disagree with me. But we’ll get to that.

While the plot was a little messy or underdeveloped, I think the themes that ran through the film were wholly solid and a great foundation to build upon. From what I gathered, there were 3 main themes that pervaded this film:

  1. So long as a spark of hope exists, there’s always a chance to overcome the darkness.

I thought this was so well done. The entire movie the Resistance is just getting their butts kicked. You think I’m kidding, go back and watch it. You feel the ominous oppression of the First Order seeming to be unbeatable with their power and resources. They are outmatched, outgunned, and out-manned, and yet even in the most dire, bleak situations, the scrappy group of zealous fighters somehow finds a way to survive. That’s honestly the best that they were able to do in this movie: survive. But hope lives, however faint, inside their hearts, and if there’s one thing that Rogue One taught us, it’s that rebellions are built on hope.

2. Let the past die. Grow from the ashes.

Everything you thought you knew about this universe kind of gets turned on its head. I think a lot of people were expecting this movie to go a certain way with a lot of the characters, and because it never paid off the way they anticipated, they were disappointed. There were a few people upset in relation to this. Many thought that Luke was written poorly as a character (again, more on that later), the ancient Jedi texts were just burned without a second thought, Rey’s parents are nobodies according to Kylo Ren, and probably the most hotly debated, Supreme Leader Snoke’s life was abruptly ended without an explanation as to where he came from, where he got his power, and what his evil machinations were. Allow me to address a few of these points:

  • Obviously you can’t trust Kylo Ren. If you honestly thought he was being truthful about that statement, your mind just might be weak enough to be susceptible to a Jedi Mind Trick.
  • The lesson to be learned from the texts being gone is simple: in the end, wisdom and teachings are passed down from those who teach it. As a teacher, I know that most of the knowledge can be attained from a textbook, but really the accessibility of learning is in the skill of the teacher to present the information correctly. The Jedi Code being burned doesn’t mean that the Jedi are gone anymore than if I threw out a math textbook then math ceases to exist.
  • The point about Snoke might be better explained when I talk about Kylo’s development. It is disappointing that we’ll never get to know where he comes from (or will we?), but when the original trilogy was being developed, we didn’t necessarily know where the Empire or the Emperor came from. We kind of just accepted the fact that there were evil people out there that wanted power and control in the galaxy and that they needed to be stopped. I know it’s different now that we have the prequels to weigh that narrative against and we can’t just dismiss that there was no payoff to that, but maybe there was more to that death than we realize. Again, when I go into Kylo’s development I think I can hit this one better.

I think it’s just time to accept that the series is different now. Abrams gave us all the fan service that we could possibly want in TFA, and he was criticized for being too safe. Now that Rian Johnson takes a few risks with the franchise, all of a sudden we want it to be familiar and safe again? You can’t have both, and I think a lot of people are nitpicking. Remember the past and learn from it, but let it die.

3. The line that divides good and evil changes depending on where you’re standing.

This was probably my favorite theme, and the main subject for a few of my fan theories. Going back to the prequels, there was a prophecy of a legendary Jedi that was supposed to bring balance to the Force. That Jedi was believed to be Anakin Skywalker, and we all know how that ended. After his fall from grace, people believed that it was supposed to be Luke that was to be the one to bring balance to the Force, but honestly, what is that supposed to look like? In TLJ, Snoke mentions that wherever there is darkness, light rises up to meet it, a play on the Yin-Yang symbol. What if the prophecy never really meant that light would bring about the end of darkness, like most assume? Because if light is the only thing left, then guess what? There is no balance. The only balance that can exist is if the Jedi and the Sith were to both disappear at the same time, which almost happened in the movie! I loved the Force-bond between Rey and Kylo Ren as it brought about that very specific dynamic. We got to see how Jedi are constantly at conflict with the darkness inside them, and Sith with the light. After Snoke’s untimely demise, I was ready for the clean slate. I was with Kylo when he said it was time to start over, because then the entire book gets rewritten. But we were deprived of that, and both Rey and Ren went back to their respective factions. For a moment I almost thought they were going to switch sides, which would’ve been a really interesting dynamic, but probably too big of a risk, even for Rian. I think the most poignant example of good and evil being relative comes from the codebreaker on the casino planet (can’t remember names). When he shows Finn that war profiteers were selling to both sides, it really kind of proves to you that in the end every faction has their own agenda that they’re working towards. Jedi, Sith, First Order, Resistance. In the end, you have to answer to someone else’s law or code. Harmony is a myth.

The last thing that I’ll mention about the plot is that a huge criticism has been how little TLJ connects to the events of TFA, and I kind of agree with that. All of the mystery and intrigue found in Episode VII kind of evaporates once we get to Episode VIII. You never really leave the theater with any questions. The ending of the movie, while I get its significance, doesn’t really leave us with anything to wonder about Episode IX. In Empire, Han is taken away in carbonite to Tatooine, and the rebels are still looking for a way to overthrow the Empire. There are logical starting places to daydream about what comes next. TLJ doesn’t give us that. There is plenty to wonder about, but the ending leaves us more with a message than a cliffhanger. And while that’s important, it makes it that much harder to begin the next episode with no real goal to still attain at the end of the previous one.

The Characters

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As mentioned above, I really thought this was where the movie shined. Seeing how each of them grew from the previous movie(s) was a real treat, even if people doubted that there was actually any character evolution.

-Luke-

Where to even begin with him. The last time we saw Luke (besides in TFA), he had just gotten done coming to terms with the darkness inside of him, turning his father over to the Light Side just before his death, and helping the rebels destroy a second Death Star with the help of some furry mistakes. On a high after seeming to vanquish the pillars of evil in the universe, Luke, probably with help from the Force ghosts of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and maybe even Papa Vader, sets out to restart the Jedi Academy and train up young people in the ways of the Force. His star student ends up being his nephew, Ben. With that famous Skywalker blood in him, his power is untamed and great. Luke wasn’t the only Jedi to flirt with the Dark Side of the Force, but being the only one left probably left him a bit unreconciled with his feelings. This might’ve been what caused that “fleeting shadow” to make him think killing his nephew was a good idea. I loved what they did with Luke in this movie. His failures turn him into a severe cynic where once he was the greatest champion of the Force, now he is the biggest skeptic. I predicted that they would cast him as a bit of a villain here, and that prediction paid off a little as we find out he was somewhat responsible for creating Kylo Ren. His conversation with Yoda proves to be just a profound as it was back in Empire Strikes Back, all of this against the backdrop of burning the old Jedi texts which was genius (see themes 1 and 2, because that was the literal spark that lit the fire for Luke to begin giving a crap again). My favorite part of this movie was how they wrote Luke out. After being the legend and hero we knew he was from back in the day, expended of all strength, Luke sees once more the twin suns of his home world of Tatooine, all of a sudden that same teenager who looked at the stars with wonder and excitement, dreaming of adventure. He then disappears into the wind, becoming one with the Force, his purpose fulfilled and ready to join his old masters. It still gives me chills thinking about it. His last line to Kylo Ren was perfect, as it served to foreshadow that he could haunt him and keep him conflicted, as well as maybe tip him over the edge with a line that was clearly ripped right from Han Solo.

-Leia-

First off, I was sad just knowing this would be the last time I saw Carrie Fisher on screen. She was still the hard-nosed, fiery general that she’s always been. My only critique (even though I know it’s canon), is how after she got blasted into space, she channeled her inner Neo and just flew back to the bridge like it was nothing. It just looked a bit ridiculous. Force users have been known to be able to survive the vacuum of space for a little bit, so I have no problem with that. It’s just that the way that it looked was so lame. Other than that, I have nothing else to say about her.

-Rey-

Curious and headstrong in TFA, this morphs into a little bit of hatred in TLJ as she resents every bit of Kylo Ren. Their conversations serve to connect her with the only other person in the galaxy that knows what she’s going through as a newly conflicted Force-user. This hatred soon turns into what I would imagine is a sort of kinship with Kylo. I never interpreted it as a romantic thing at all. It’s just that when you go through something traumatic and life-changing, you tend to bond more with people who have also been through the experience. This kinship keeps her hope alive that Kylo can be turned to the Light Side still. I’m still not sure how that Force-bond actually works, but I can see a lot of interesting story dynamics coming from it. Can’t wait to see Rey in Episode IX as we get the REAL explanation as to who her parents are most likely.

-Poe-

My personal favorite from TFA, he’s still a bonafide badass when it comes to being the best X-Wing pilot there is. Passionate to a fault, he wears his heart and his mind on his sleeve, while being fiercely loyal to those he trusts. We see this with Finn, BB-8, and Leia particularly. I didn’t like how he got reduced to the guy that likes to just blow stuff up as I think he can be more complex than that, but he acts as a convincing foil to the Vice Admiral. He struggles with confronting authority a ton in this film, and by the next movie we can hope to see him coming to terms with this lesson.

-Rose-

A new addition to the cast, she is an engineer on the main Resistance ship that catches Finn trying to desert once more. Her sister died bombing the Dreadnought that Poe and company took down, so she has had plenty taken from her during this war. She acts as a sort of comic relief type character. If you’ve ever seen or read Scott Pilgrim, she’s Knives Chao. Obsessed with Finn, a Resistance legend, she follows/stalks him across worlds, but also teaches him how to look beyond the exterior of something to see through to things underneath. She also has one of the most important lines in the movie: “Maybe we should stop fighting what we hate, and start saving the things that we love.” (It’s a paraphrase because I don’t remember the wording exactly). She has a thing for Finn, which throws a wrench into the works of the already one-sided pining of Finn for Rey. Not sure how this triangle will work out.

-Kylo Ren-

Still haunted by the ghosts of his past, he begins this movie being shamed by Snoke. My interpretation of TFA was that Han was the one that pushed the button on the lightsaber that eventually killed him, not Ren. Keeping that in mind, Kylo probably is ashamed knowing that he wasn’t strong enough to kill his father, he later balks at killing his mother, and throughout seems like he’s just on the verge of doing the right thing. In fact, the first time he does something without having it done for him is when he kills Snoke. The secrets we learn about him and Luke are equally intriguing. Kylo Ren just exudes raw, uncontrolled power. We see this in his mannerisms, and especially in his lightsaber, an extension of himself. It’s easy to think that Kylo killing Snoke was his Light Side getting the better of him, but I’m not so sure. The one thing that probably bothered him the most is that people who presumed to know him tried to control him. Luke mistakenly thought Ren was part of the Dark Side and lashed out, and Snoke mistakenly thought he was part of the Light Side and also lashed out. His murder of Snoke was not so much a righteous act so much as it was a desire to not have his destiny controlled anymore. Why label him as either Jedi or Sith? The most evil and villainous of individuals aren’t the ones that are predictably evil, like Snoke was, but the ones where you don’t even know what they’re thinking. When you help your enemy only to turn on him once more, that makes for a much more intriguing and complex character (see Loki from the Marvel Universe). I think overall it was a brilliant character choice by the writers, and the fact that you thought he was going to join the Jedi made it that much more painful when he didn’t. I still stand by my thoughts where I might like Kylo Ren more than Darth Vader.

-Finn-

While seemingly minor in the grand mix of things, Finn’s development was my favorite. When he first “joined” the Resistance, it was clear that he was only in it just to be around Rey. After all, he had been a First Order trooper for his entire conceived life. He knew nothing except following orders, and all he wanted to do was to go somewhere where someone wasn’t telling him what to do. He’s like Kylo Ren in this aspect. However, while I didn’t necessarily like Rose, I do acknowledge that she played a great role in pulling Finn away from his infatuation with Rey. Which isn’t to say I don’t think he still has feelings for her. He does, but with Rose she helped him to find his purpose. You can see how happy he is when he’s in the casino, not just because he’s never seen this much wealth before, but because if anything were to happen to the ship, he would be safe from harm to still go and find Rey. Where once he was with the Resistance for the people he was around, now he was actually married to the cause. I also like that he was able to exact a bit of revenge on Phasma. I hope that she wasn’t killed off. She still has great potential I think for a revenge narrative in Episode IX. They left that a little open ended, so we’ll see.

Comments on some other critiques I’ve heard

  • How can Rey be so well-trained in the Force without, well, any REAL training?
    • I mean, the same thing can be said for Luke. He gets a loose explanation from Old Ben about what the Force is and how it works. Somehow that translates to being super good at aiming a proton torpedo without using his targeting computer and grabbing his lightsaber when he’s captured by the wampa. I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility for her to be able to do that. As far as her fighting skills, she lived on Jakku and had to fend for herself with her staff. TFA clearly established that she can fight. Also, that whole line that Luke has about her “raw power” could point to, oh, I don’t know, who her REAL PARENTS ARE? EVER THINK OF THAT?
  • Oh so I guess just anyone can use the Force now, huh?
    • This in reference to the boy at the end using the Force to pull the broom towards him. I mean, that was a little bit of a stretch for them to suggest that anyone can do that, but the last movie was called The Force AWAKENS, so maybe Rey wasn’t the only one that received the gift. I think it was mostly used to visualize the impact that the legend of Luke Skywalker can have on the average person in the galaxy, as well as to make all the kids in the theater excited that it isn’t just angry adults and angsty teens that are able to use the Force. I like to think of it as though there’s a little Luke Skywalker in all of us, looking up to the stars and imagining the greatness that we could be capable of.
  • What’s up with the whole casino plotline?
    • To be honest, I wasn’t too crazy about this part either. We get a little political jab about cruelty to animals here, which I didn’t mind. It did seem a little out of place tonally when set against the ticking clock of all of their friends about to die. It’s worth it to get to Benicio del Toro’s character, as I was honestly pretty interested in how he was developed.
  • What the heck was that trippy scene where Rey is reflected into infinity?
    • I was super confused by this. When she fell into the black hole of despair and seaweed, she mentioned that she was looking to the answer to one question: who were her parents? Afterwards, when talking to Kylo Ren, she says that she didn’t find an answer, but that she felt more alone than she had ever felt. I’m thinking that maybe it’s supposed to be a metaphor for how the Dark Side is supposed to make you feel. It pretends to have all the answers that you’re looking for, but in the end it leaves you hanging and feeling worse than you did before.
  • What’s with all this dumb humor in my Star Wars?
    • I don’t know what movies you’ve been watching for the past 40 years, but Star Wars has always had cheesy, campy humor. It’s not a series well-renowned for its wit. If you came here expecting layers of subtle references, you probably haven’t been paying close attention. This is, after all, a series whose main demographic is SUPPOSED to be children.
  • This is the worst movie since the prequels.
    • Uh, have you watched the prequels recently? No? No desire to go back? Hmmm. Do I have to remind you how awful Attack of the Clones was? 2 hours of space politics, 20 minutes of gratuitous lightsaber fights, and literally the worst dialogue in all of movie history. Next. 

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  • Porgs?
    • Porgs.

Final Verdict

All in all, The Last Jedi fails to reach the heights of the glory of the original trilogy, although it definitely has a ton of cool moments and is visually very breathtaking. However, I don’t think that it sinks to the depths of the prequel trilogy either. If I had to rank it among the rest, here’s how my list goes:

  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Rogue One
  • A New Hope
  • The Force Awakens
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Last Jedi
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • The Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the movie. I would definitely like another run through of it since it was 3 hours long and it’s hard to sit down and remember everything that happened. If you have any thoughts, disputes, comments, let me know. I’m open to discussing this movie more as nothing has divided Star Wars fans this much. Hope you enjoyed the read.

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