When I saw The Force Awakens two years ago, I needed a place to share my thoughts without sharing Star Wars spoilers all over the internet, and my blog turned out to be the perfect place to do it. The same problem arises for The Last Jedi which, on a whim, I went and saw super-late on opening night Thursday. My only twitter comment:
This response also seemed appropriate:
So, below the fold I’ll share more specific, COMPLETELY SPOILER-LADEN, thoughts on the newest Star Wars movie! You can also use the comments to share your own thoughts. Though don’t be a jerk.
WARNING: Do not read further until you have seen the movie.
Seriously, I’m going to talk about major movie spoilers, so turn back now if you’re not prepared.
THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING.
Okay, here we go:
Soooooo much to say. First of all: I loved it. One of my big takeaways of the new movie is that it deliberately tried to destroy people’s expectations of what a Star Wars story is about. Lots of folks complained that The Force Awakens was too much like the original Star Wars; here, Rian Johnson was like, “Oh, reeeeeally?” and threw us a bunch of curveballs.
It certainly wasn’t an accident that the movie trailers included Luke saying, “This is not going to go the way you think!”
For me, this worked really well. I felt like The Last Jedi expanded the range of what a Star Wars movie can be but did so without ruining or changing anything that came before it.
Where to begin? Let’s start with Canto Blight, the casino planet that Finn and Rose head to in order to find a code-breaker. This whole scene seemed unnecessary to many viewers, but to me the point was to show part of the unromantic, nasty greedy side of the heroic wars, which ironically manifest in a beautiful paradise. As Benicio del Toro’s DJ notes cynically, SOMEBODY is building X-Wings for the Resistance to use; it turns out to be the same people building TIE fighters for the First Order. No matter who wins the war, these profiteers will come out ahead.
DJ also gives us a very different sort of morality than we usually see in Star Wars movies, which are usually portrayed as a battle between The Light and The Dark. Putting it in terms of Dungeons & Dragons alignments, the First Order seems to be Lawful Evil and the Resistance seems Chaotic Good; in DJ, we have a character who is practically true Neutral: he will work for anybody, and doesn’t give a shit.
The BIGGEST twist for me in The Last Jedi, though, is the message it tells. The original trilogy was a story of redemption for Darth Vader: it suggested that it is possible for the most corrupted being to be saved. Rey falls into this thinking, based on the “legend” of Luke Skywalker saving Vader, and goes out of her way to try and rescue Kylo Ren from the Dark Side. But The Last Jedi flips this whole line of thinking on its head. Kylo Ren was shown to be conflicted in TFA and TLJ, the final conclusion seems to be: he’s irredeemable.
Rian Johnson teases us cruelly with Ren’s murder of Snoke: we are given a brief moment of hope that he’s truly turned to The Light, only to have that hope stripped away as he becomes the Supreme Leader once and for all.
This new trilogy, then, seems to be addressing the problem of how one copes with the realization that someone you care about is beyond saving.
Another thing that must have been intentional, and hit me hard about the movie: the Resistance fails UTTERLY in this movie. There isn’t a single thing that they do which is really successful. The destruction of the dreadnought at the beginning is a pyrrhic victory: it hurts the Resistance more than the First Order. The attempt by Finn and Rose to break the First Order’s tracker makes things WORSE, as it in turn ruins the plans of the Resistance to sneak off to Crait. And on Crait, the attempt to rally allies to the fight brings no response at all (which I thought was incredibly heartbreaking and unexpected). Furthermore, the valiant battle to trash the mini-Death Star weapon fails, and the weapon is fired after all. In the end, the Resistance is forced to flee, their numbers reduced so drastically that they can all fit on the Millennium Falcon.
So what is the point of all this failure? Well, there’s one thing that they succeed at, in spite of it all: they survive. I think Rose says the line that summarizes the whole point of the movie: “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”
The apparent unexpected love story between Rose and Finn seems to have outraged lots of people, seemingly coming out of nowhere. But, hey, it isn’t necessarily reciprocated, or lasting: who knows what will happen in the third movie? Remember, up until The Return of the Jedi we were all still wondering if Luke and Leia still had a romantic spark. (Spoiler: they didn’t.) A single kiss does not a lasting romance make: it may or may not, and I’ll wait to judge until I see how it plays out in the third movie.
By the way, how clever was the murder of Snoke? Kylo Ren turning his own lightsaber over in his hand, focusing on killing “his enemy,” which Snoke mentally could read but failed to interpret? Snoke getting killed was, for me, another awesome shocking moment that broke the “traditional” mold of what a Star Wars movie should be.
Another of those, and one I particularly delighted in, was the revelation of Rey’s parents. They’re nobodies. This made me sooooo happy, because I really didn’t want to see another Skywalker-family connection. A lot of people felt let down by this, but for me it was one of the most profound moments, finally breaking us from treating Jedi as some sort of Royal blood lineage. And it was a great character moment for Rey, because Kylo tried to use this as a weapon against her, to turn her to the Dark Side. He essentially says, you are a nobody, unless you join me and my awesome Skywalker lineage. And she replies, “nah.” (I thought about this a lot due to a post on Tor about the movie.)
There was a lot about the Force in this movie, and so much to take in. A few years ago, I saw a blog post, or a twitter thread, that suggested that the prequel trilogy was a missed opportunity, because the lesson it should have showed is how the Jedi Order, by its antiquated nature, had failed the galaxy and allowed the rise of the Emperor. I swear that Rian Johnson must have read that post, because this seems to be the lesson that Luke and Yoda have taken away from the past, as well.
I think one of the most emotional moments in the movie for me was the deliberate destruction of the Jedi tree by Yoda. Luke was going to destroy it because he felt that the Jedi had failed and were worthless; Yoda destroys it because he feels that the Jedi had failed and need to EVOLVE. As he tells Luke, “We are what they grow beyond.” The old Jedi order was blinded by a set of antiquated rules; Luke and Yoda destroy those old rules apparently in order that a new, wiser era of Jedi can begin. As Luke tells Kylo in their final battle, “Every word that you just said is wrong. The Rebellion is reborn today. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the last Jedi.” Luke ends up being the last Jedi of the old order; Rey appears to be the first of the new order.
What would a new Jedi order look like? There are a couple of hints. One is Rey’s rapid rush to explore the Dark Side of the Force on Ahch-To, which scares the crap out of Luke at first. Maybe the path to true wisdom, and balance, requires understanding, and accepting, the Dark Side, rather than simply ignoring it?
Another hint is in Luke’s final battle with Kylo, as was noted by a smart dude on the internet. The first bad encounter between Luke and Kylo is back at the nascent Jedi academy where, in a moment of weakness, Luke thinks to strike down Kylo. But in their final battle, Luke does not strike a single blow: he saves the day through sacrifice, not violence. (Of course, he’s not really there, but still, his final act is saving everyone else, not fighting. Again: saving what we love.) As smart dude Walt Williams tweeted:
There are so many other cool things about the movie, and things to chew over. There was a nice blog post the other day about how the men of the movie, particularly Poe Dameron, suffer from toxic masculinity, and end up making things worse for the Resistance because they can’t trust the women in charge. In the end, though, they learn from their mistakes and are better for it. Was Rian Johnson specifically thinking of “toxic masculinity” when he wrote the script? I kinda doubt it, but it’s clear he at the very least unconsciously thought that the women of the series weren’t getting their due.
And wasn’t that suicide run by Admiral Holdo one of the coolest things to ever happen in a Star Wars movie?
I could probably go on all night, and I’ve probably forgotten some things I want to comment on. Let me end by saying that I loved Mark Hamill’s role in the movie, and would love to see him get a Best Actor nod at the Academy Awards. He really led us, in the course of this one movie, along his character’s journey from guilt-ridden cynic back to believer and heroic inspiration. And “See you around, kid” has to be one of the best final lines in Star Wars history.
The Last Jedi was, in a way, a weird movie: the whole story takes place over the course of a few days or weeks, and superficially you might think that nothing much of importance happened. Under the surface, though, it changed everything.
So what do y’all think?
UPDATE: Okay, on the second showing, I found the movie to be even better! A few extra thoughts:
Rose’s big statement: “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” I think that’s the major theme of the movie. Even before Rose explicitly tells Finn this, she tries to show it to him back at Canto Bight. When Finn and Rose are up against the cliff, Finn says something like “at least it was worth it to wreck that whole corrupt city.” Rose takes the saddle off of the Fathier, letting it return free to its herd, and says, “now it’s worth it.”
I now see the whole Canto Bight scene in a new way, as well. DJ says that the Resistance and the First Order are, basically, just two groups that keep blowing each other up. They even buy their weapons from the same people. So what makes them different? The fact that the Resistance is working to save what they love.
When Luke appears on Crait, he isn’t there to kill Kylo Ren, he’s there to save the people he loves.
When Finn tries to rush out to help Luke, Poe realizes that the important thing is not to win, but to survive: to save themselves.
When Admiral Holdo crashes the cruiser into Snoke’s ship, she does so in order to save those Resistance fighters that she loves.
Leia is so mad at Poe at the beginning of the movie because Poe opts to destroy the things that he hates, instead of escaping with the Resistance.
A few little cool things jumped out at me, too, which made the script seem so much more solid. When Kylo and Rey first see each other through the Force, Kylo wonders if Rey is doing it, but then realizes that such an effort would kill her. This is exactly the effect that Luke uses in his duel with Kylo at the climax of the him — and it kills him.
When Luke says to Kylo, “every word of what you just said is wrong,” he’s repeating what he said to Rey earlier, “every word in that sentence was wrong,” when she tried to explain the force.
One last thing: Kylo’s statement, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.” Ironically, that’s good advice that Rey and Luke also follow. But the choice of what to let die is the difference between them.
UPDATE 2: Okay, now I’ve seen the movie a 3rd time, and liked it even more! I felt like commenting on a few things that other folks have questioned or griped about that seemed to make more sense to me this time.
Admiral Holdo’s “need to know” for Poe. Folks are like “guh why didn’t Holdo just tell Poe what the plan was? It would’ve avoided all the problems?” First, let’s note that it was Poe who basically mutinied, so we really should consider him in the wrong here. But, watching the movie again, one can see why Holdo didn’t share with Poe: she was pissed at him. Poe had just disobeyed orders and gotten a lot of good Resistance fighters killed. Holdo knew this, and as a military leader, she was probably enraged by it. Unlike Leia, her anger wasn’t tempered by knowing Poe personally. Having this reckless jerk demand to be informed of all decisions would have just pissed her off even more.
It also occurred to me that there was another reason not to share the plan with anyone: what if it had failed? If something unexpected came up and they weren’t able to use the shuttles to escape, it could have been a devastating morale blow to the remaining Resistance fighters, which could have kept folks from functioning in any “Plan B.” Best to not let anyone know until things were ready to go.
Why didn’t Holdo and Leia hang Poe for treason? Seriously, I saw internet comments about this. I think the best answer is: the Resistance aren’t assholes like the First Order. After the “mutiny” failed, Leia and Holdo knew that Poe’s heart was in the right place and that he could learn from this. They saw in him something better.
The Jedi were a failure. This is Luke’s argument through much of the movie, and it seems to be a message of the movie, but I think it’s more nuanced than that. The Jedi temple has existed for one thousand generations, by Luke’s estimate, and it’s hard to say that a religion that has kept order for that long is a complete failure! But it had a blind spot, which is what Darth Sidious exploited, and this failing demonstrated that the Jedi needed to change. My current take: it’s not that the Jedi that came before were a disaster, it’s that they needed to become something better.
Luke was a failure. Part of the internet outrage about The Last Jedi seems to be the view that Luke had an ignoble, tragic end, marked largely by his failure to teach Kylo Ren. One thing that I realized in this viewing, though: though Luke failed to create a new Jedi temple, he did train what would be his most important student: Rey. Though Luke begins his encounter with Rey just wanting her to go away, he realizes by the end that she is the future, and he has taught her key lessons to continue the Jedi order. He has reformed his connection with the Force, and has faith again. It turns out that Luke wasn’t the one who would rebuild the Jedi order; his role would be to keep the fire burning for the next generation.
What I think is particularly beautiful is that Rey taught him, too. It was, in a sense, a mutual training. Rey taught Luke to care again while Luke taught her important lessons about being a Jedi.
PS Luke’s final “battle” with Kylo was, in my opinion, a triumph. He made Kylo look like a complete idiot and at the same time demonstrated that he is possibly the greatest Jedi master of all time with his projection ability.
The whole story of Luke, Han and Leia is now a tragedy. I think I talked about this related to The Force Awakens, too. It’s been almost 35 years since Return of the Jedi came out; during that time, there was peace in the galaxy for many years. Even Luke acknowledges in TLJ that there was balance for a time. I like to think that there was some 20 years of happy times before the darkness came again. Maybe this is partly a symptom of my getting older and having lived through many times, good and bad, but 20 years of happiness is truly a victory. And more than many of us will ever have.
Is Kylo Ren truly irredeemable? I really feel like this movie intended to show us that some people, like Kylo, can be truly lost. However, there’s a little wiggle room in Luke’s last talk with Leia. He says “I can’t save him,” to which Leia replies, “I know my son is gone.” Luke replies, “Nobody is ever truly gone.” I suddenly wondered if Luke’s first sentence could be interpreted as, “I can’t save him.” Luke can’t save him, but perhaps someone else can? It’s a very vague thought, and I don’t like to speculate about future movies (as we always get things wrong), but I thought it was interesting.
Rose’s line “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” was definitely my high point of the whole film. It’s still running through my head the next day, more than anything else.
I also thought it was really interesting how, perhaps for the first time, this Star Wars film included someone who’s force-sensitive but doesn’t see it as a light vs. dark thing. All the earlier films have focused heavily on the force having a “light side” and a “dark side”, and Luke is clearly still held up in this idea as well.
But when he shows Rey the force, I got the impression that she didn’t see it split so far, and like you said her reaction to explore it was different to how any other characters have acted. Perhaps more importantly, doing so didn’t make her evil in the way that every Jedi seems to have warned it would throughout all the previous films!
After watching The Force Awakens, the clear parallels with A New Hope reminded me of an idea I’ve seen through a few different fiction series, of repeated cycles of prophecy. Sort of like Anakin failed to bring balance to the force, like he was said to do, so now it rolls around again and there’s another chance to get it right. Rey’s reaction to the force here gives me hope that she can do it.
I also really liked the symmetry of Luke’s last fight with Kylo Ren compared with Obi Wan’s last fight with Darth Vader, though Luke’s actual death was I think the second time we’ve ever seen a Jedi (or anyone force-sensitive) die through non-violent means, after Yoda. As I’m writing this now, it makes me think not only of Yoda’s note that masters are “are what they grow beyond”, but also Kylo Ren’s comment about letting the past die so something new can form.
I really liked the film. Except, I have to say, I wasn’t really a fan of the porgs
Ha! Yeah, I neglected to comment about the porgs, though I have thoughts. They’re cute, but they don’t really serve any purpose in the movie at all. People criticized the Ewoks in ROTJ as a cynical toy ploy, but the Ewoks served a very important story purpose. The porgs are… just porgs.
Thanks for your thoughts!
Everything you wrote.
This might have been the best SW yet, or at least gives TESB a run for it’s money. I also loved how it gave echoes of TESB w/o copying it (cough cough Force awakens).
1 Snoke drives me nuts. Who is this super strong force user. Where did he come from? He taps into the dark side, but is he Sith? If so where did he come from? Did the Emperor survive and take on a new apprentice or are there multiple Sith pairs out there?
2 The hyperspace suicide strike is bit of a deux ex machina. If that works, why done we see kamakazis, or droid pilots, or just missiles? That crap should be weaponized.
Yeah I had the same reaction to the light speed jump crash. It was really cool, but… did no one think of it before? Maybe it requires a large enough ship to do that sort of damage that the rebellion couldn’t afford it earlier, even against a target like the Death Star.
The lack of origins for the baddies in Star Wars is something that bugs me a lot. Darth Vader had an origin story, but to be fair it took 3 movies. Still, so many of the baddies have come out of no where. Darth Sidious has one brief anecdote about his rise to power in the force, but Darth Maul and Snoke both came pretty much completely out of no where. Count Dooku at least had a little back story, as an ex-Jedi.
I’m hoping that the next film might explore some of Snoke’s origins, as he was referred to a lot by Luke around the time he was training Ben Solo and the others. Maybe that’ll get explored further in the next film?
I also struggled a little with the light speed suicide crash. FWIW, I had a few rationalizing thoughts: 1. It only would work with really large mass ships. Little ships or missiles would be caught by the shields. 2. Nobody can afford, financially or logistically, to build giant ships with hyper drives that are just there to blow up. 3. They’re hard to properly aim, so in large space battles like we usually see, you’d often hit your friends along with your target. 4. They’re so hard to aim that only a skilled pilot like Holdo could have any hope of hitting.
It would be nice to learn a bit more about Snoke, too. Kinda hoping there’s some backstory to him in the third movie, but I’m not counting on it.
I guess it helps as well to have an *enormous* target. But then again that kind of re-raises the question “why not use this tactic against the Death Star?”
I think your rationalisation of requiring a large mass ship makes the most sense, it’s what my brother came up with when we were discussing this too.
The friendly fire point is a good one as well – we saw a lot of Star Destroyers ripped to shreds by the debris from the crash.
Your point about Snoke was probably my biggest point of contention with the film. The idea that a force user so strong existed in the same universe as Emperor Palpatine is just odd. Solid points.
Though Chewie trying to eat his porg was funny
In the final battle with Kylo, I loved that Luke’s response to Kylo’s whiny taunting is just, “No.” I turned to my friend and said, “This is what it looks like when you cut a toxic person out of your life.” No wonder he finally had peace afterwards – Kylo is controlling and poisonous, just like the rest of the first order.
And seriously, all the resistance dudes in this movie *are* suffering from different facets of toxic masculinity – full of knee-jerk crap reactions, while entirely missing the point. Finn tries to run away so much it’s a standing joke. Poe wants to blow everything up. Luke both venerates and hates the Jedi teachings, and ffs HE DIDN’T EVEN READ THEM. Reminds me of a lot of guys I know who’ve positioned themselves as the greatest fans of whatever, without actually learning the thing. Every single one of these guys is placed in counterpoint to a woman (or several) who understand pain, sacrifice, wisdom and right action better than they do.
I completely agree with pretty much everything in this post. I thought the fact that Rey’s parents are essentially nobodies is the key to whole trilogy. Even with the kid at the end with the broom shows ANYBODY can have the Force. And that’s the point the haters keep missing. This was the first Star Wars movie that showed how big this galaxy far away is.
Yes on the expansion of the Force to the masses!
Rey has the Jedi scriptures. I saw them on the Falcon so Yoda only pretended to burn them (and the Jedi Tree for real) to set Luke free to do what he needed to do. So Rey might continue to teach herself using those books but without shying away from exploring the Dark side and tapping into her emotions.
I had seen that, and wondered about it, so I guess the explanation is that Rey went ahead and just took them and Luke had no idea? The historian side of me likes that: even if the Jedi evolve, the record of the past shouldn’t be lost.
OK – I’ll stand on Porg Hill. As a Naturalist I saw value; gave Ach-To a Galapagos vibe & reminded me (at least) that this battle of Light vs. Dark isn’t just about the “people” but about Nature throughout the galaxy as well (brighter light shown on this via Fathiers later).
Yes, Porg are stupid cute – but as a Naturalist who champions wasps and spiders – I know well that cute is what really gets people’s attention and emotional buy in. 😀
“OK – I’ll stand on Porg Hill.” You MONSTER. 😜 But seriously, that’s an interesting take.
Just got back from seeing it. Loved it as much as everyone here.
The one thing I can’t figure out is why Adm. Holdo didn’t inform the rest of the crew of the actual escape plan. What was the point of letting Po think that they were just biding their time until they were shot down? The only thing I can come up with is they were afraid of First Order spies on board after being tracked through hyperspace.
Still, the light-speed ramming was the coolest thing I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. Also, seeing Star Destroyers come out of hyperspace from a planet surface was oddly surreal, as if a blue sky is a more realistic setting into which this massive ship appears, making it more unsettling.
The idea of spies is my best explanation, as well. Though I guess it could also just be operational security? A fear that someone might contact friends/family/allies in such a way that would tip off the First Order? This is basically what happened in the end anyway, with DJ overhearing the plan!
Here’s a nice balanced article that discusses what The Last Jedi may be about and why it may have received a negative reaction from some vocal fans. https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/12/star-wars-the-last-jedi-backlash-negative-fan-reactions-rotten-tomatoes-score
I don’t like Johnson needed to see that blog post because that was Scott & my’s overarching opinion. The Jedi are just as bad as the Empire, just in different ways. A lot of that opinion gets built in the back of the two animated series. If you haven’t seen them, I suggest them.
Obi-Wan failed the Jedi and Anakin hardcore. Anakin showed signs of going off the trails much much earlier than the when he finally turned to the dark side. The Jedi were absolutely terrible to the Clone Army. There’s just so much. I can’t do it justice without the other half of my brain that doesn’t exist anymore, but I’m super pleased Johnson went this direction.
I haven’t and will not see TLJ, for Reasons, but I’m glad it exists. I’m glad someone saw the flaws we did.
I loved it. It left me in a state where I honestly didn’t even realise until the following morning that I could now go and read things about it on the Internet, and I’m happy about that too.
There are four^Wthree points I wanted to add:
0. The books!!! (already covered in earlier comments)
1. The ‘hyperspace tracking’: https://twitter.com/kyleauxren/status/942516563730722817
2. Porgs are basically Tribbles, and by nesting in the Falcon they have now escaped their quarantine/confinement/immolation on Luke’s island.
3. I haven’t seen anyone else mention this, but the Resistance now has stun guns, which people maybe missed or saw as a cute tech / sfx upgrade, but is a huge thematic shift for the Star Wars universe.
(adding both “set phasers to stun” and Tribbles to Star Wars is just about the most JJ thing ever)
I’m sure I saw the same blue stun circles being fired from blasters at some point in the original trilogy?
Yes, they explicitly used them in ANH at the beginning to capture Leia.
Yeah. When I finally did find discussion of the stunners elsewhere, it was to note that they had revived this long-forgotten thing, and now I feel bad.
In the interests of digging myself deeper into this hole: I still do not remember blue circles. Were they maybe added along with the rest of the CGI graffiti in the “special edition” versions?
Hmm, I don’t *think* that’s the case? Though I’m young enough that my primary and most memorable exposure to the original trilogy has been the “special edition” versions with the extra CG stuff.
Could Kylo have been lying about Ren’s parents being nobodies?
Ahh! That would be Rey
The failure of the Jedi Order, ultimately, is the false dichotomy of Jedi vs. Sith. Light vs. Dark. The lesson of TLJ is that the force is a natural phenomenon, encompassing the full spectrum.
I was looking for the “this won’t go the way you think” gif and ran across your post. Really good stuff! I loved TLJ and I wish more people talked about the deeper meanings of this film. It’s really layered.