As the credits rolled on The Last Jedi, I have to admit there was a sense of disappointment that came over me. I was deflated, and initially I thought I was feeling that way because this wasn’t a good movie, and that was tough to accept of such a cinematic event. After some time taken to reflect though, I’ve realised that it was more a rejection of the realisation that what I knew Star Wars to be, was dead.
Rian Johnson pulls no punches in The Last Jedi. By the end of the movie many of the huge questions that fans have theorised over since The Force Awakens are shown to be red herrings. Who really is Supreme Leader Snoke? It doesn’t matter. He was merely a placeholder for Kylo Ren to succeed. Who are Rey’s parents? Potentially nobody’s if Kylo is to be believed. They’re jarring revelations to hear after such speculation, but absolutely compliment the theme of this movie – accept your past, but no longer let it define you.
This is true of most of the main characters. Luke must accept the mistakes he’s made in order to step up when he’s needed after so long. Leia must accept that her estranged son is truly lost, and that she cannot blame herself for that any longer. Rey must accept that perhaps she doesn’t come from some sacred dynasty, but that doesn’t mean she cannot forge her own path, and Kylo must accept that he cannot live in the shadows of Vader or Snoke any longer if he is to reach the heights to which he aspires.
The moral ambiguity of the ‘good guys’ that was explored in Rouge One is also continued in TLJ, as we are returned to the moment Luke and Kylo’s conflict began. Having been told different versions of what happened throughout, by the end of the movie the audience are none the wiser as to what the truth really is. Perhaps Luke was actually the one at fault, and is just as conflicted with the light and dark as Kylo is?
Thematically then, there is some heavy stuff going on, and Johnson does an excellent job of progressing each characters arc throughout. There are a whole lot of sub plots happening at once, like plates spinning on sticks, and just when you think one plate may fall, the story will return to that character to keep it turning on.
Visually, TLJ is absolutely stunning. Our introduction to new planet Crait, with its white and red sand, is just gorgeous to watch and is easily one of the most iconic visuals of the entire franchise so far. The vibrant colours of Snoke’s lair are also a joy to behold. Cinematography all round is a triumph.
That’s not to say there aren’t flaws though. The Last Jedi is a movie that has some big pacing problems, especially with the story of Finn and newcomer Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran. The entire journey these two characters embark on is extremely detrimental to the flow of the plot, however there’s also no way it could have been left out, as it’s so intrinsically linked to the end of the movie. It feels as if Johnson backed himself into a corner by committing to the last shot of a downtrodden Force sensitive stable boy.
There are also some performances that just didn’t quite work for me. Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo was largely forgettable and unlikeable. John Boyega as Finn had lost some of that endearing charm from The Force Awakens. Also surprisingly, Daisy Ridley seemed to be missing something in her scenes alongside Mark Hamill. Although throughout the rest of the movie she was excellent, especially during moments with Kylo Ren, played masterfully by Adam Driver. I’m unsure if a Star Wars movie could ever be nominated for an Oscar, but if it were Adam Driver would have to be seriously considered for Best Supporting Actor.
The connection between Rey and Kylo is by far the most compelling part of The Last Jedi. The two learn through the Force they can interact and experience each others surroundings from across the galaxy. There will for sure be people that hate this addition to the lore. But for a new generation that are discovering Star Wars it won’t give them a passing thought. Ultimately, this is what I take comfort in from The Last Jedi.
We all feel an entitlement to this wonderful saga. Having lived with these characters and movies for so long, we have our own hopes for them. For years we theorise and debate, and by the time they arrive we’re almost convinced that things will go a certain way. So when these hopes are quashed, in TLJ’s case pretty abruptly, it can be hard to take. But perhaps as an audience we need to accept that Star Wars isn’t just for us, it’s for everyone.
So, yes, initially I was deflated after The Last Jedi. But I began to realise that for a new generation of fans, The Force Awakens and TLJ are likely as influential as the original trilogy was, and who are we to shit all over that? Watching Luke Skywalker slowly fading away into the Force was perhaps as iconic as Ben Kenobi’s sacrifice. Kylo Ren’s blind rage and presence every bit as intimidating as Darth Vader, and Rey’s journey from lonely scavenger to lightsaber wielding warrior as inspirational as Luke’s transition from farm boy to Jedi Knight.
For so many years, Stars Wars for me and so many other was Luke, Leia & Han. It was Obi-Wan and Yoda. It was Darth Vader and The Emperor. But that was some forty years ago. I realise now that it was naïve of me to think that it could continue. That it can’t and won’t is no bad thing, because the reality is that at some point the old had to make way for the new.
As Kylo says to Rey – “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.”