Skulls in the Stars

Spoiler-filled The Last Jedi thoughts and open discussion thread (updated)

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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.

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Seriously, I’m going to talk about major movie spoilers, so turn back now if you’re not prepared.

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THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING.

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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.

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