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The Last Jedi

When I watched The Last Jedi at the cinema I enjoyed it immensely. Then I went on with my life and disconnected from it. I didn’t watch it again at the cinema. I didn’t purchase a retail copy. I have to admit as time went on I became less enamoured with it.

My feelings towards it started to go from positive to indifferent.

The danger with these things is you’re influenced by the negativity towards the film on the Internet as I ‘know’ people on the Internet who detest it. I decided I needed to watch it again so I could form an opinion with some distance from the cinema viewing rather than be buffeted by the very angry winds.

Warning: At this point a spoiler warning seems moot but here it is. This is also quite long because I’m laying down my definitive view and there is a lot of issues to cover.

Going Into This…

Going into this it’s probably wise to understand a number of things about my perspective.

I’m 47. I’ve been a fan since the original films in the cinema. I’m white. I’m a guy. Some people would probably like to tell you I’m the typical Star Wars fan who is now angry about the direction of Star Wars. In truth, I have concerns about the direction of the franchise, but The Last Jedi isn’t one of them.

I ran the Star Wars D6 role-playing game. A lot. During the dark times after the original trilogy before the prequels and things like the Extended Universe it was this role-playing game that was further developing the lore of the Star Wars universe. It did this to such an extent that it founds its way into Lucasfilm products like the Extended Universe.

Despite this, I feel the obsession with lore in stories is a bad direction. Lore only exists to support the story not stranglehold it and at times it feels fans of film series are more invested in the lore than the stories themselves. Lore in and off itself has NO value.

I don’t believe the characters from the original trilogy should be the central protagonists of the new films. They are secondary characters. They are not the main protagonists. In the new series Han, Leia and Luke have the narrative positions of Vader, Obi-Wan and Yoda. They are important but there purpose is to define and grow the central protagonists which, whether you like it or not, are Rey, Kylo, Finn and Poe. They should not be disrespected but they have had their defining moments.

The Extended Universe was, by and large, a pile of bilge and I don’t miss it.

I guess these beliefs going into this may well be telling you whether you want to read any further, but hopefully you will.

Rey, Kylo and Luke

The core of the film, and by far the best bit, from the perspective of the narrative, is the interwoven journey of Rey, Kylo and Luke. After my second viewing I’m now firmly in the camp that believes they made some bold choices here and they were totally the right ones.

Does Luke get shafted and treated badly?

I don’t believe so. While I realise I disagree with Mark Hamill on this, I believe the journey Luke goes through makes perfect sense. While it’s right that the Luke in the original trilogy always saw the good in people, and would never give up the fight, people change as they get older. We often become less willing to take risks. We come to better understand the decisions people made in relation to us in the past. We also foster webs of connections over time with people we do not want to let down. All these things make an older man much different to his twenty year old self.

You also have to consider Luke has nearly failed before, despite seeing the good in his father he nearly killed him in The Return of the Jedi and would have if not for a previous moment of recklessness against all advice.

It makes perfect sense to me that in a fleeting moment of weakness, that Kylo interpreted very differently, he fails his nephew. In doing that he faces something he’s never faced before. He wasn’t responsible for sending his father to the dark side. He had little active connection to his father but in this instance he failed both his sister and his best friend. Throw in the fact he’s right the Jedi failed the Old Republic and, though not mentioned, both Ben and Yoda either lied directly or through omission, concluding the Jedi must end makes perfect sense. Is it that hard to believe he was seeing himself fail like the Jedi before him? That all he was doing was repeating perpetual cycle like the Jedi and Obi-Wan before him?

I also believe the film gives him the best defining moment. Luke sacrificed himself via a move that had been built up to over the course of the film, gave us a moment were Luke and Leia both know it’s their final conversation, and gave Luke his ultimate victory. A victory beyond death by rekindling a rebellion that had effectively died. This was what the First Order was trying to achieve, to extinguish the flame of resistance, before it became a rebellion, and in doing so he took Kylo’s moment of victory away from him.

Instead of that people would rather have a lightsaber duel in which he beats Kylo but cannot truly win? Or maybe he defeats Snoke which may well have looked fantastic but the true villain is Kylo anyway. Really? It seems that some Star Wars fans are obsessed with the traditional characters getting to show their power, this is why they all love the Vader scene in Rogue One. I don’t get that. I want a character to grow and make strong, meaningful choices not smash AT-AT walkers aside or pull down a Star Destroyer from orbit. This is the narrative I’ve heard on YouTube that Luke should have got his Thanos moment.

The moment we were presented with in The Last Jedi was better.

Kylo seizes the day

Let’s get something straight I didn’t care who Snoke was. We didn’t really know who the emperor was in the original trilogy. He was just the guy who seduced Anakin and manipulated the senate (and we didn’t know much details of that in the original films either).

The obsession and theorising of who Snoke is and expecting those to be realised in The Last Jedi is the worst form of lore becoming more important than the story. Even worse, it’s more like lore theoycrafting.

I hold to the following beliefs: Snoke is not a primary protagonist in the story he only exists to further the stories of the main protagonists: primarily Kylo and secondarily Rey. This is, again, very similar to the purpose of the Emperor.

The fact they broke the dynamic of all powerful master and student carrying on into the third film was pure genius. It was a defining moment of ‘are they going there’ and it was brilliant when it happened. It was possibly one of the best moments in a Star Wars film.

The Emperor and Vader dynamic could not continue because unlike that dynamic Kylo is the central protagonist. When Kylo is subject to manipulation and abuse by Snoke as part of his wider plan for Rey the central protagonist has to make a decision. One that moves the character forward. It can’t just be left ‘to be the norm’ through multiple films. That decision defied expectations and puts Kylo in a perfect place to further develop as a character, as the leader of the First Order, and the buck stops with him.

Hopefully, the final film will jump forward a bit and allow us to see our main protagonists having settled into their new ‘roles’ including Kylo leading the First Order. Brilliant.

The fact Rey is a nobody is fantastic

It’s fantastic because it breaks with the idea that the hero has to be from a great lineage. I’m fine with the lineage idea, as that is often part of the hero mythology, but something different is also great. I also see it like this: Rey’s great failing is she is constantly looking for mentors and surrogate parents. She hit upon that with Han. She then moved to Luke. When Luke turned out to be not what she hoped she transferred that hope to a partnership with Kylo.

All of them failed or where taken away and then Kylo took the final one away: she is even born from nothing. She has nothing left but to find what she needs from within herself and that is a perfect direction for Rey rather than easily finding the external answer she wanted.

Consider it this way. Luke was a no one who became someone? He had a lineage. Rey was the opposite, she internally believed she was someone. That her parents left her secretly on Jakku for a reason. She was looking for confirmation of that. So the devastating news is that she is no one was the best way to go.

I really hope they don’t reverse this in the final film as that would be weak and take away one of the greatest, character defining moments from Rey. You see, now she knows she is from nothing, she can enter the third film a stronger protagonist realising she is going to have to find the reserves of what she needs from within herself.

What do I think of the theory we may find out she is special due to being a vergence in the Force? I’m fine with this. It will explain the importance of her awakening, her natural ability and also play directly into her being a ‘no one’ as she was even foisted on her crap parents by a force event.

Poe and Holdo

The narrative arc of Poe going from hot shot pilot to resistance leader is a sensible one. It’s a good choice. The problem with it is purely who the writers decide to give him that lesson. If the writers had found a way for Poe to receive this lesson, even down to Poe being wrong, through Leia or some other character who had earned the position to do it all would have been well.

The problem is Admiral Holdo has not earned earned the right narratively. We are introduced to Holdo for the first time in the film (outside media doesn’t count for me). We are told she is great we are not really shown she is great. We don’t even get visual queues she has earned respect from the audience as the film chooses to dress her like she’s swanning around a dinner party rather than being a military leader.

Admiral Holdo is a problem because the character didn’t earn the narrative place she has in the story. It’s irrelevant that she is female.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the arc of Poe making steps towards being the resistance leader we’ll hopefully get to see him be in the final film. It would just have been stronger if Leia has been the source of that education not Holdo. Hell, even Admiral Ackbar would have been better though I can understand why they wanted to avoid extended fish voice scenes.

Finn The Badly Written

Canto Blight is the weakest area of the film, but not for the reasons many people list. To me it’s the weakest area of the film because of how they write Finn. Finn was to some extent the comedy black dude in The Force Awakens and I was hoping this would stop in The Last Jedi but alas they doubled down on it. This is disappointing.

The problem isn’t Rose or the purpose of the whole Canto Blight sequence but the fact Finn isn’t written as a strong, primary protagonist.

In part this problem is because of the presence of Poe. It would have made sense for Finn to be the military man who just started on the wrong side and eventually became the military leader he always hoped to be but for the side he could honestly fight for. That would be awesome. The trouble is his time in the First Order is instead used for narrative shortcuts and jokes.

As for Canto Blight itself? It doesn’t gel as well as it should. I’m not sure a high class casino feels Star Wars, it’s not terrible as presented in The Last Jedi but it does feel slightly out of sync with Star Wars as a presentation. The purpose of the Canto Blight scenes make perfect sense, it’s an argument that war itself is not enough what you need is a groundswell of hope.

This argument isn’t even knew. The whole argument that a rebellion, at least a space opera one, has to be built on hope has been said before: in Rogue One. The strongest character in Rogue One was the birthing of the Rebel Alliance as it realised waging a more ‘realistic’ war of subterfuge or assassination couldn’t win against an Empire with a planet destroying super weapon. The same argument is being made here that fighting the military war isn’t enough, a resistance isn’t enough, a groundswell of hope and rebellion is needed throughout galactic society.

Remember the Resistance in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi is NOT the Rebel Alliance. It is a ‘rebel’ force within the New Republic that itself has been beheaded. It does not have public support, proven when they call for help! Canto Blight, though not perfect, and to some extent the The Last Jedi itself, is about the resistance and those in it becoming a new Rebel Alliance.

It’s Frickin’ Gorgeous

I can’t get over how gorgeous The Last Jedi is. Whatever people might think of some of the modern Star Wars films what everyone can agree on is they are visually stunning in a way that is unique even when compared to the original trilogy and the prequels.

This is especially true of Rogue One and The Last Jedi.

The space battles are gorgeous, but I go more into that and the locations are amazing. Ahch-To is beautiful in every moment. The fact that so much of the film is so beautiful probably doesn’t help Canto Blight as while it’s perfectly well done it seems to suffer against the rest of the film.

Then some scenes are just so gorgeous and brilliantly done they totally absorb you. Snokes thrown room is haunting with that impressive red backdrop and the scene that plays out from the moment Kylo kill Snoke is brilliant. The throne room has a sense of scale and the fight with Snokes guards is brilliantly shot and ingeniously choreographed. It’s stunning. Yes, I realise if you slow it down it doesn’t look as good but I don’t care because I only watch my films at normal speed.

Don’t even get me started on Crait and the way they use the layer of white salt and the underlying red colouring. It turns what could have been a rather mundane scene into something that is astoundingly picturesque and unique.

The Space Battles Are Great!

As said, the space battle sequences are gorgeous. I also happen to think they are inspired and take an original approach that we’ve not seen in Star Wars before and that makes them exciting. This is also a source of criticism laid against the film that the bombers are unrealistic or the that the space chase is stupid.

I don’t get that. Star Wars has always used periods in history as the basis for its space battles, the most notable one being World War II fighter planes for the space fighter battles. We accept this. It’s what Star Wars is. You know what that’s just as stupid as what we saw in The Last Jedi. A space battle would not work like that in science, it’s a space opera construct and analogy with ‘real life’ that we accept for the purposes of excitement and understanding of the action.

So why is it any different when a film uses a World War II bomber analogy or an Age of Sail chase across the ocean? It’s not, it’s exactly the same it’s just some people can’t accept that the process and results are exactly the same.

I loved the opening battle sequence. It was exciting and beautiful and unique. It was very interestingly shot. It’s one of my favourite battle sequences in Star Wars. It feels gorgeously Star Wars. The Age of Sail approach to bringing a ‘ticking clock’ to proceedings was also very clever. It was dramatically great. I think there are some weaknesses around what took place within the chase, but the chase itself was perfectly fine.

Is Rey A Mary Sue?

I get this criticism of the film and it’s one I’ve wrestled with for a while. The conclusion I’ve come to is she does push the envelope of being a Mary Sue but I don’t believe she crosses the line and I don’t find it as big a problem as most.

The reason she doesn’t trip over into the Mary Sue problem for me is the elements that bring her close to the line are primarily focused on the skills she exhibits not her dramatic power in the story. She remains a character that doesn’t have all the answers. She doesn’t walk through the film finding all the answers, solving all the challenges and putting every other character to shame solving their challenges for them and being better at everything.

Those are the main negatives of a Mary Sue, not so much whether the character is highly skilled, though that is part of it.

Rey remains a very challenged character narratively in terms of her weakness to always look for validation in the eyes of others? To always look for a surrogate father figure, which she has done twice in both films. She is always looking for answers in her past, as if those answers will define her, rather than defining her own future. In this respect, she is quite a weak heroic figure, as while powerful, she isn’t striding forward, confident in that power and in herself.

As for the skill she exhibits. Well, I’m pretty sure flying an X-Wing in a space battle isn’t really the same as attacking Wamp Rats back home. We also have a small kid being the best Pod Racer just because of natural force ability. While I agree Rey pushes the envelope of these things even further by showing skills we’ve normally associated with some training (certain force powers, flying the Falcon), considering it would take only a small scene or two to make anyone who isn’t a misogynist happy with her skills (such as mentioning Wamp Rat shooting skills, or her being another vergence in the force) it’s not the end of the world.

The Film Is Unbalanced

It’s ironic considering the nature of the force but the principle problem with the film is it’s unbalanced. I recognised this as it plays out and I can understand, beyond the dislike of how Luke was approached, how it accounts for a large proportion of the criticism.

The two areas that unbalance the film are:

  • Both male heroes are told how wrong they are or seemingly better advised by new female characters
  • The choice of what characters to use in certain situations tips the balance

As as been stated we have the sensible arc of Poe becoming a better leader the problem is his lectures come from someone who hasn’t earned it with the audience. Rose also suffers due to the weaknesses of Finn as a protagonist in that dynamic. Hell, Finn gets overshadowed by BB8 as much as he does Rose.

The final sacrifice by Holdo is a well executed scene, but again it’s weakened slightly by the fact the script didn’t allow her to earn it. As a result, it’s all too easy to see it as a women just getting these unearned moments in the film at the expense of established characters we should be following. It really should have been a character that had earned the narrative authority with the audience.

In truth it’s about characters not having earned the position they’ve been put in narratively, it’s sort of irrelevant they are women other than it happens twice.

This leads to the criticism of the social justice warrior agenda, which I don’t hold to as much, though I realise some of it comes from actual comments of those behind the films (so there is some truth to it). I prefer to see it as a problem of script choices that could have been easily resolved by using different characters in different situations who had earned the narrative respect and they could very well have been women.

And, Finally…

Watching The Last Jedi again was a key moment in how I saw the film. I was carried away with it in the cinema, but that doesn’t always hold up over time. It doesn’t invalidate the cinema experience but you want to enjoy some films over time.

The second viewing has put me firmly into the territory of believing The Last Jedi is, overall, overwhelmingly a positive move for the current Star Wars trilogy. I realise the reactions to it may have impacted the wider franchise and it may turn out to not be a long-term great business decision, but I think thing those fans are wrong and are largely holding onto the past.

The Last Jedi, it has its faults, like why was the scene of Luke harvesting sea cow milk really needed? Canto Blight served a purpose but could have been done better? Finn continues to be written really badly. Despite all this The Last Jedi is a very good Star Wars film.

It isn’t focused on nostalgia porn. It realises the central protagonists of the original films aren’t the central protagonists in this trilogy. It does cater to fan service which seems to be obsessive with seeing original characters get their moment (often based on displays of power in the case of Force characters), despite them having it in the conclusion of their trilogy.

It’s a very good Star Wars film. I guess I would say that though, as I rarely look to the past but the future.

About Ian O'Rourke

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