My deal with this blog is that it doesn’t nag me to post more often than my not-so-slightly insane life allows, and I will post whenever the urge strikes and time allows.
I’m never quite sure when the urge will strike, but it turns out that I have thoughts about The Last Jedi that want out of my head.
First up: I liked it a lot. It’s never going to top The Return of the Jedi or The Empire Strikes Back for me, but it’s quite close to the top of the list. (I think Rogue One edges it out, and I’m a little hazy on where A New Hope sits in the line up.)
It’s not a perfect film, and feels a little long to me. (And I have a lot of tolerance for long films due to The Lord of the Rings.) But it kept surprising me in good ways, gave me some new things to think about, indulged me with moments of joy in respect to beloved characters, and left me with questions to be answered by the next film, which all add up to a win for me.
Most of the hard-core fans I know love it, but I’ve heard from a few who don’t, and that makes sense to me. I think whether a something works for you or not largely depends on why you love the story in the first place: if you feel like they got that right, you’re good; if not, the whole thing can be wrecked.
(Come to think of it, that might be part of my response here: while I liked The Force Awakens, I did so despite the fact that it reversed what I’d loved about the earlier films; The Last Jedi opens up the possibility of repairing that. But that might be a whole other post.)
Another factor in our response to stories is what we’re expecting. Me? I went into this assuming I was going to see both Leia and Luke die in what would be emotionally devastating ways. I didn’t want either of those things, but figured Carrie’s death meant Leia would die, and that the film’s title meant that we wouldn’t have both Luke and Rey at its end.
So the fact that Leia survived was a relief, even while logic insists it’s temporary, and Luke…well, there are different ways to die, and his death, “peaceful and with purpose,” to quote Rey, did not take the toll on me that watching Kylo Ren kill Han in The Force Awakens did. Plus, we had Yoda’s appearance to remind us that Jedi have a way of appearing when needed, death be damned.
And I loved that, by the way. I loved that Yoda wasn’t an afterthought, or fan service, or writer indulgence or whatever. His conversation with Luke is important not only to the story here, but to Luke’s larger character arc, so huge win there for me.
(Plus…wise. Yoda’s ‘Do or do not, there is no try’ is one of my favorite life quotes; I’m now adding, “the greatest teacher, failure is” to that.)
As to that failure…there’s a long history of Jedi screwing up in different ways, including lying (“Darth Vader betrayed and murdered your father”) and then taking refuge in creative justification when confronted about that lie. (“What I told you was true…from a certain point of view.”)
And so, we get different versions of what happened between Luke and Ben during the latter’s training: Ben went berserk without warning vs Luke trying to kill him. I do think it’s important to note that Luke raising his light saber to kill him, only to have Ben fight back doesn’t mean that Luke would have killed him if he hadn’t awakened.
When push came right up against shove, Kylo Ren couldn’t destroy the ship he knew Leia was on – his finger could only hover over the button – and I think we might have seen something similar from Luke if Ben hadn’t awakened and fought. Only in Luke’s case, there would have been guilt, regardless: make no attempt to stop Ben’s growing darkness vs. killing his nephew vs. pushing him further toward the dark side.
There are no good choices there for Luke, and that means I don’t see anything so much as a man who understands more than anyone the terrible cost of someone with great power choosing the dark.
This is where interpretation of what we’ve been told in the past affects things the most. My understanding of the Force has always been subject to tweaking, but my current theory is that the choice between light and dark isn’t something you make only once. It’s a balance that has to be kept, and while certain choices can push you further in one direction or the other, you’re never wholly, permanently committed to either light or dark. Light can always fall, dark can always be redeemed.
So Luke is both right to fear the bent-toward-the-dark he senses in his nephew, and wrong to have given up. He did fail, on multiple levels, as Obi-wan did before him, but he learns from it, and, in the end, will, I believe, be instrumental in saving the galaxy by giving it a new hope. (Ha. See what I did there?)
It’s not just Luke who’s fascinating to me in this installment, though. So is Kylo Ren, because I can sense the conflict in him, enough that I can honestly say that I don’t know what story they’re telling here. I don’t know whether we’re watching the dark claim another Skywalker and the next film will be wholly Kylo Ren pitted against Rey until she defeats him, or if we’ll see him redeemed – possibly before the end of the film. I love that I can see it going either way.
One of my favorite moments in this film is when, Smoak defeated, Kylo Ren and Rey fight together. I will continue to love that even if we see him wholly dark in the next film, because it did allow us to so clearly see that conflict.
And that conflict? It’s the one we should have seen in the prequels. I tolerate The Phantom Menace, mostly because I like Qui Gon Jinn (and his relationship with Obi-Wan), but on a recent list of all the films, I put The Attack of the Clones and The Revenge of the Sith somewhere after ‘food poisoning.’ I hate them. Not because they’re tragedies (and it’s not as if Anakin becoming Vader was a surprise ending.) But rather, I spend the entirety of both films simply wanting to smack Anakin and then send him to his room. He never strikes me as anything other than a sulky, spoiled teenage boy having particularly deadly temper tantrums.
But Kylo Ren? While he’s clearly still a young male, I feel the conflict in him. I believe in it. I think he loved Han and loves Leia; I think his pride in having killed his father is mixed equally with grief and guilt, and that he fully expected that act to give him the peace of mind being wholly given over to the dark side should have granted him, and it didn’t.
That fascinates me.
And speaking of failures…I liked seeing the plot Poe, Finn, and Rose hatch go sideways. It did add to what was already a long film, but I think seeing our heroes completely fail before they succeed is important, and one we’re too often deprived of in action films. (Plus? I think the little kids we saw on that planet are important to the story – as is Finn and Rose’s relationship. Sometimes, it’s okay to take time away from the main plot to develop characters and plant seeds for later plot stuff.)
Another thing I enjoyed was learning so much more about how the Force works. I’m intrigued by the ability to be elsewhere, whether it’s Rey and Kylo Ren’s connection allowing them to experience where the other is, or Luke actually transporting himself across the galaxy.
Am I bothered that we’ve never seen that skill on display before? No, in part because it feels of a piece to me with things like sensing the destruction of a planet, Leia knowing (seeing?) where Luke was at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, and even the ability of the Jedi to appear after their death.
As to Leia saving herself from space…okay, visually that was the weirdest moment of the film for me, and it might be pushing things generally, and…I don’t care. Because Leia’s not dead, and I’m willing to give them a lot of leeway in exchange for my not having to watch her die in this film.
I did like seeing her strength in the Force manifested. We’ve always known she’s as much a Skywalker as Luke, but whoa. And now I have more questions about what the Jedi are capable of, and I’m enjoying that.
For starters, her ability to not die in circumstances that would normally guarantee death is making me re-think other Jedi deaths: Obi-Wan told Darth Vader, ‘if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you possibly imagine’ – and then appeared to vanish rather than actually being killed. I’d always assumed the vanishing was simply how the Jedi die, but now I’m wondering if it’s more a choice they make when they know it’s time for that next stage of things.
Similarly, maybe Yoda didn’t live to be 900 plus years old because his species is naturally long-lived but because he knew he needed to be around for Luke. I don’t know, and there may well be things I’m forgetting, but I’m enjoying thinking about it.
None of that is all that film was for me: I loved Luke and Leia’s moment, enjoyed Rey’s story, was breathless when Admiral Holdo turned her ship around, liked getting to know Rose, and am fascinated by Leia and Poe’s relationship. I’m planning to see it again in a week or two, and may have more thoughts then, but for now will say that I’m more invested and interested in the Star Wars universe than I’ve been in a long time, and that’s what The Last Jedi has given me.
“Permission to hop in an X-wing and blow something up?”
“Permission granted.” (Poe, Leia)
“That’s how we’re going to win. Not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love.” (Rose, to Finn)
“Strike me down in anger, and I’ll always be with you. Just like your father.” (Luke, to Kylo Ren)