Movie Review - Star Wars: The Last Jedi
We’re often warned against ever meeting our heroes…as such an encounter more often than not leads to disappointment. This, in a way, lies at the core of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. There are a couple of other main themes that we’ll dive into here, but like The Empire Strikes Back, Episode VIII has the story turn darker, as any second act worth its salt should. [Episode II, we’re looking at you. – Ed.] This is a heavy film…and upon exiting, I felt every pound of it. Hell, writing this review almost feels like catharsis. But don’t take that as a negative…not at all. Instead, Episode VIII is extremely enjoyable. To paraphrase Golden Age Hollywood…you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be astounded. The Last Jedi runs the gamut and never disappoints. The short version is for me to say ‘Go see it…now!’ But if you’re still reading, let’s sit and talk about the film a bit…and save my therapist some time and my health insurance company some money.
[We went through 18 different openings…all of them were shot down for being too spoilery. – Ed.]
Masters and Students
The core of this film is this very relationship. We see it illustrated the relationships between Luke and Rey, Luke and Ben, Snoke and Kylo [Yes, he did that on purpose. – Ed.], Leia and Poe and, if we stretch this into ‘heroes’ territory, then we see it also between Finn and Rose. The problem with meeting your heroes is that you’ve built them into this ideal so that when you finally meet them, you tend to think of them as that monolithic ideal, not the human…flaws and all…that stands before you. Some of us fall into that trap and never really climb out while some of us eventually come to an understanding and grow to respect our teachers/heroes all the more for their humanity and being more nuanced than our original one-dimensional ideal. And the film doesn’t shy away from any of this. Most notably, it shows us Luke in a way we’ve never seen or thought of him before…and for all his flaws, we’re shown how those flaws make him a far deeper hero than we ever realized. This film also accomplishes through this theme something we rarely get to see in long-running film franchises: the passing of the torch. At no point in the last film of the Prequel Trilogy do we see any sort of this…although it certainly sets up the world for the Original Trilogy to occur. Here in The Last Jedi, definitely more than its preceding film The Force Awakens, we see each student accepting the baton from those that carried it before. Our new trinity of characters, Rey, Finn and Poe, have stepped out of the shadows of Han, Luke and Leia and are ready to conclude this story on their own.
A Certain Point of View
“Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view…” This is where I’ll focus on the Luke and Ben relationship…although it certainly involves Rey as well. [Don’t be spoilery…don’t be spoilery…don’t be spoilery. – Ed.] I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that we get to see what happened to Luke’s attempt at a Training Academy. But what’s important is that we see it from two points of view: Kylo’s and Luke’s. And like Obi-Wan’s words to Luke, the blame for the fall of this academy and the transformation of Ben Solo into Kylo Ren all depends greatly on your own point of view. The viewer finds themselves in the same position as Rey: do you accept one version of events over the other…or do you forge both POV’s into yet another…a third point of view? While this theme is most apparent in the Luke/Rey/Kylo storyline, it’s also present with the other two…the Finn/Rose storyline and Poe’s story arc. With Finn and Rose, we meet a thief, code-breaker and overall scoundrel in Benicio del Toro’s character…who in many way ends up being a dark reflection of Han Solo…showing both the characters and the viewers that perspective is a key thing to keep in mind before passing judgment…a helping hand might just turn into a hurting one and vice versa. Lastly, Poe’s arc takes this theme and asks when is a charge into battle the most cowardly thing you can do…and when is a retreat the bravest? And…of course…vice versa.
In trying to figure out how to write this review, I had a hell of a time trying to think of a way in…and then it struck me: Frank Herbert.
No, no, no…this doesn’t have anything to do with Dune…at least, not directly and not in any story sort of way. Instead, I was reminded of how his son, Brian, along with Kevin J. Anderson tried to take the late author’s notes and forge them into a conclusion of the series. Their Dune 7 ended up resulting in not only two books that take place after Chapterhouse: Dune, but in three books chronicling The Butlerian Jihad…that universe’s war against the thinking machines. [You can get to the point any time now. – Ed.] My point is that it took the younger Herbert FIVE novels what his father could’ve done in ONE. Translating this to Star Wars, we have the Prequel Trilogy telling us the story of the fall of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader and the Original Trilogy shows us the rise of the hero Luke Skywalker. This Sequel Trilogy is managing to do both in the span of three movies: the fall of Ben Solo into Kylo Ren AND the rise of the heroic Rey. And to the credit of writer/director Rian Johnson, we actually get to see these storylines intersect at a pivotal moment where Rey finally understanding that she needs to rise at the same moment that we see Kylo Ren pass his point of no return. To the larger point, in some ways this concentric storytelling may be necessary. You see, when the Original Trilogy came out, Americans were looking for hope after Nixon, Watergate and Vietnam…but it was also seeing itself transform into a Superpower. When it came time for the Prequel Trilogy, and this is maybe due to the fact that I had a bender of George Romero films for a while there [Which you still need to finish. – Ed.], but perhaps those films were a prescient warning from Lucas about the fall of republic into empire. It’s not a stretch to imagine how this current Sequel Trilogy mirrors our current time: hope fading and darkness rising with a resistance fighting to reignite those embers of long lost hope. A new hope…if you will. [You couldn’t resist, could you? – Ed.]
And I say condensed because, well, if you recall ‘The Beginning’…the documentary that focuses on the creation of Episode I: The Phantom Menace…George Lucas pointed out that he felt that it was very important that Episode I “rhyme” with Episode IV. The specific events differ, but the viewer feels that each chapter in Anakin’s story resonates with chapters in Luke’s story. Here, we’re given resonant moments from both Empire and Jedi…although it doesn’t fall into the charges of copying that plagued The Force Awakens. [Or maybe it will…because The Internet is nothing if not nitpicking the tiniest thing to death. – Ed.] In this condensation, I can’t help but feel that there’s a certain liberation. Sure, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll see some things borrowed from Jedi in the final film of this trilogy but I can’t help but feel that we’re on a fresh new road to some extent also.
Okay, so enough of my trying to be a film snob, what did I think of it? Well, the cast for the most part did a phenomenal job. I think the top marks have to go to Mark Hamill though. His turn as Luke in this film gives nuance to a hero who feels his journey has ended…and yet has a way to go still. It pretty much has all the feels. I do find myself agreeing with most critics that the Finn/Rose story is probably the weakest or most forced in the story…but as I stated in the above analysis, it needs to be in the story for both the themes about heroes and points of view. And honestly, my distaste for it really didn’t occur until its final phase…which, obviously, I can’t talk about if I want to avoid spoiler territory. To speak in the vaguest of terms, the conclusion to their part of the story suffers from two flaws, the first being what Harrison Ford though was the biggest flaw in Empire and Jedi and the second being…well, let’s just say that the ending feels a bit…forced. We never really see any development that should lead us to see this as a satisfying conclusion. Everything else sets a pretty high new standard when it comes to Star Wars storytelling.
Given the place in our culture that Star Wars occupies, you don’t need me to tell you to go see it, you’re more than likely already planning to at some point. What I will emphasize is that this is something you need to see as soon as possible on the biggest screen possible.
And it may not hurt to have some tissues handy…and not just because this is Carrie Fisher’s final appearance as Leia due to her untimely death in late 2016.
Coming as a surprise to no one, we're looking at a HypnoCat rating here.