Seeing as a lot of my friends (most of whom are avid Star Wars fan) failed to enjoy the film as much as I did, I wanted to write about exactly why I loved the new film, and address key points which divided a lot of fans. There will be spoilers ahead (and a small spoiler involving Blade Runner 2049) so stop reading right now if you’ve yet to see the film.
What Rian Johnson has basically done, is tear up the Star Wars rule book and start everything from scratch, and far from disrespecting the franchise, he has re-energised it.
With The Force Awakens a lot of complaint were geared towards the fact that it was basically a retread of A New Hope (although it does bring new things to the saga), and now, with The Last Jedi, Johnson has followed a different trajectory.
One of the key issues fans wanted to see addressed were the identites of Rey’s parents. There were a lot of theories swirling around that Rey was the daughter of Luke, or Obi Wan or even Darth Sidious, but you could hear the collective gasp when it was revealed that wait, Rey’s parents were actually junk dealers who sold her for drink money. Now whether Kylo Ren was telling Rey the truth or not is irrelevant at this point, what is more important is that fact that it goes against the “special one” trope and makes us root for a character who must forge his/her own destiny. This idea was something that was delved upon in the recent Blade Runner 2049 where the character K find out that he isn’t all that special after all, but must find his own calling in the bigger scheme of things. It makes it all the more fascinating and is refreshing to see. However, whether JJ Abrams sticks with this revelation in the next film remains to be seen.
The development of each character especially Rey and Kylo Ren is one of the best things in the movie. In The Force Awakens, Daisy Ridley’s performance was a little shaky, but in The Last Jedi she truly finds her feet and excels. It mirrors the transformation of Mark Hamill, being unsure and naive in A New Hope to being assured and confident in The Empire Strikes Back.
Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo also comes in leaps and bounds, the conflict within him is more raw and the absence of his “silly mask” (as Snoke puts it) works in his favour. You also feel sympathy for him, especially when you discover that fateful moment between him and his uncle Luke, which changes things forever.
Now why would Luke want to kill his own nephew? Was it out of character? I would say no. A long time has passed since we last saw Luke in the Return of the Jedi and now, and it is clear that one of Luke’s greatest fears is slowly materialising in the form of his nephew who is being seduced to the Dark Side by Supreme Leader Snoke. He may be a Jedi but he is fallible, a point he makes to Rey, and he makes a grave error, one which has many serious repurcussions. The Rashomon style sequence where we get different views from what actually transpired on that day is handled brilliantly. From Luke’s point of view we see him ready to strike his nephew with the light saber, but stops, having a change of heart. But from Ben Solo’s point of view (before he becomes Kylo), he sees his uncle ready to strike him down in his sleep. It’s a powerful moment and a key juncture in the story.
Luke is now an embittered old man, disillusioned with the Jedi way of life and living like a hermit on Ahch-To. The solitude has maybe made him a little crazy, just like Yoda on Dagobah, not to mention the feeling of guilt. When Rey comes to him reaching out and trying to give him back his light saber, he casually takes it and chucks it over his shoulders. This is not only a funny moment (and believe me, it made me chuckle), but it’s also like a big “fuck you” to JJ Abrams (although not in a mean spirited way). It was Rian Johnson stamping his own ideas, and to paraphrase Luke himself “things are not going to go the way you think”. Fans were in uproar, and even Mark Hamill voiced his disagreement about how he envisioned Luke to be, but this was a bold move from Johnson. Essentially, Luke was more of a Gray Jedi now, turning his back on the Jedi teachings and trying to do things his own way (which also mirrors the direction the movie is heading). This is Luke’s movie and he is a towering presence in it, and all credit goes to Mark Hamill for putting in such a great performance. The final confrontation with Kylo Ren is beautifully orchestrated. We see him brushing off all manner of attacks by Kylo, only for the audience to realise that it is in fact, a Force projection. Luke is actually still on Ahch-To, and what this does is demonstrate the power of Luke, although it does come at a price.
His death was tragic, but it was also very poetic. In A New Hope we see Luke looking up at the binary sunset of Tatooine, dreaming of a different life amongst the stars, and in his death, he again looks up at a binary sunset, in the twillight of his life; his journey has come full circle. I wasn’t too saddened by his death though as he’ll probably come back as a Force Ghost in the next film, also, he didn’t really die in the traditional sense, just vanish and merge with the Force like his old friend Ben Kenobi.
Rian Johnson’s direction is utterly engrossing, from the spectacular space battles to the quieter moments. Look at Rey’s descent into the cave on Ahch-To and her trippy encounter with her mutliple selves. It felt like an arthouse flick merged with a blockbuster, or that nod to Hardware Wars when we see a close up of a ship which turns out to be a steam iron! The growth of each character is handled in masterful sync, almost like an orchestra. The colour red is also very prevalent, from the interior of Snoke’s private quarters and his guards, to the red salt of the planet Crait.
The samurai like design of Snoke’s Praetorian Guards calls to mind the work of Kurosawa, and of course the colour red was prevalent in Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, which incidentally, George Lucas was a producer on. The action scenes are thrilling, especially when Rey confronts Snoke, and the Rey and Kylo team up literally had me delirious with fanboy glee.
The early demise of Snoke is another thing which grated with a lot of fans, but I always felt he was actually a “Macguffin”, and a diversion to throw the audience off track. There are a lot of questions which will remain unanswered, for example, who was Snoke? Where did he get his powers from? Was he actually Jar Jar Binks in disguise? I suppose we will never know, actually scratch that, I think we will know soon enough albeit through different means. The Last Jedi Visual Dictionary (which is a gorgeous book by the way) already hints at the origins of Snoke, and I am certain we will probably get a comic series about Snoke in the near future. I personally feel he looks an awful lot like the Grand Inquistor from the Star Wars Rebels series.
Now on to the Mary Poppins controversy: the scene of Leia floating in space and using her powers to steer herself back on board, did not go down well with a lot of fans. I must admit, when I first saw it I too was taken aback, but let’s put this in context. Leia flying back is not that big of an issue because we all know that she is strong with the Force, but unlike her brother, we are not used to seeing her using her powers therefore the scene would seem awkward. If she had regained some sort of consciousness, then it makes sense that she would have utilised her powers. I think amongst all this nitpicking we had actually forgotten something more pressing: the death of Admiral Ackbar! My heart laments the death of this iconic fish faced warrior, no more utterance of “it’s a trap”, next time when the bad guys come, everyone will be well and truly fucked.
Canto Bight is also another area of contention, the casino planet has become very divisive. But far from serving no purpose, I say it actually does, not only do we see the relationship between Finn and Rose develop (I mean as friends, I don’t know what the future holds), but we also see the dark underbelly of a dazzling place which is teaming with the abuse of animals, and forced child labour. Scratch the surface and you’ll find something dark and unsettling (the opening scene of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet comes to mind). Rose gives her ring to one of the child in the stables, and we see that same boy at the end, looking up at the night sky imitating a light saber with his broom.
The spark that will ignite the fire.