Star Wars: The Last Jedi Would Be A Fitting End To The Series

9.5
  • Science Fiction
2017-12-15
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Rey has a lot to learn in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Lucasfilm

There’s a character right at the beginning of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, an instrumental figure in a Resistance vs. First Order engagement, whose story crunches Jyn Erso’s whole arc from Rogue One into a few short minutes. She even has a dumb necklace. We see why she rebels, what it means to her, what she has to lose. We see her heroism. This isn’t a main character. No, she’s something less than a secondary character: a footnote in a rebellion of over-sized personalities and self-sacrificing heroes. But her choices are so powerful and her moment all hers. And she’s just the first sign that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is something categorically different from The Force Awakens or Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, or even any Marvel movie.

Where every other series is managing product, massaging a franchise, considering its options, portioning out its characters in endless Zeno’s Paradox tic marks, The Last Jedi is telling an actual story and being a real movie, showing all of us what we’ve been missing in these decades of over-processed baby food. The Last Jedi should be seen as a shot across the bow for the entire sci-fi action-adventure mega-nexus, just as Mad Max: Fury Road was for the action genre.

Rian Johnson is the first Star Wars writer/director to take Star Wars seriously since George Lucas’ wretched prequels. Rogue One was a video game. The Force Awakens wore bits of Star Wars skin and did a ghoulish dance. Where The Force Awakens narratively proceeded from meta-considerations — How do we make it familiar, but not too familiar? How do we get back to a simple underdogs vs. powerful empire binary? — The Last Jedi is built from actual Star Wars logic.

It asks tough questions of itself and the series. If the Jedi are so awesome, how did they fuck everything up so badly by training Darth Vader and enabling the rise of Darth Sidious? If the Rebellion is a populist uprising, where’s the teamwork? If Luke Skywalker is a myth and a legend, as TFA establishes, what kind of pressure does that put on him? What aspects of his character must his fans overlook to keep him in such a position?

But The Last Jedi’s impulses aren’t deconstructive. Instead, there’s a genuine reverence for the inner lives of these characters. Sure, we can learn that Ben Solo destroyed Luke Skywalker’s Jedi training temple, but the movie cares about how that made Luke feel and how it changed him as a person. There’s dynamism to characters in The Last Jedi that no Marvel movie would ever risk with, say, Captain America.

More than any Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi is concerned with The Force and the Jedi religion. There are moments in The Last Jedi that radically expand the spiritual iconography of the Star Wars movies. While every other movie hero is endlessly enacting arms-spread Jesus poses, The Last Jedi evokes religious awe to more powerful and ambiguous ends. The Force is the wellspring of superpowers in TFA, but here it’s more mysterious and often used emotionally, connecting people’s minds more than it gives them super-duper sword fighting powers.

Because its narrative concerns are different, The Last Jedi isn’t a great sequel to The Force Awakens. Johnson frequently subverts, undermines or simply ignores revelations promised and questions asked in Episode VII. But that’s okay, because TFA is a trash movie (if you haven’t seen it in a few years, you may have a bad case of afterglow).

There are weaknesses, particularly on Canto Bight, scene of a blurry, rushed action sequence without the weight of the other fantastic Last Jedi battles. But most of The Last Jedi’s problems are contrivances that eventually earn their keep. Is it a little silly how the Resistance’s flight from the First Order is prolonged? Sure. Is the lesson Poe Dameron learns a little pat? Yes. But when contrivances aren’t done for expediency or to justify an action scene, but instead hammered into place to maximally grow each character, then those plot tricks pay for their stay. The Last Jedi’s greatest asset may be that it knows precisely how to test each character. Rey must make a life for herself, important parents or not. Luke must learn from his guilt and shame. Finn must not only decide where he stands, but what it means to be a hero.

And that’s about all the vagueness I can manage. Time for some spoilers. I won’t blow any major plot twists.

The Last Jedi is roughly divided into two parts: a reckoning with The Force and the last remnants of The Resistance fleeing from Hux and his First Order fleet, including Supreme Leader Snoke’s personal flagship (shaped like a miles-wide B-2 Stealth Bomber).

It’d be best not to go too far into Luke’s journey in The Last Jedi, but a series of flashbacks that slowly shed light on what happened between him and Ben Solo makes for the most devastating and tragic character arc in Star Wars history. Luke’s choices are explicable, but lead to so much pain. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching to watch Luke, the original goofball boy hero, go through what he goes through in The Last Jedi. This isn’t cheap theatrics, it’s just character work beyond anything the mainstream action-adventure mold is typically equipped to deliver.

But, in one of many amazing surprises in The Last Jedi, the core of Rey’s journey is her relationship with Kylo Ren. Bound by a mysterious psychic link, their quiet conversations, with Kylo standing in forlorn hallways (or shirtless, in one memorable scene) and Rey alone on Ahch-To, they each share their doubts, fears and anger. Each wants to convert the other to their side, and one of the absolute miracles of The Last Jedi is that I could have believed either outcome.

In The Last Jedi, the Light Side and Dark Side of the Force are both opposing powers and idea-spaces. Kylo isn’t motivated by badness, but by a desire to create himself anew. The galaxy failed him horribly, so he works to sweep away everyone and everything that let him down. Rey and Luke must grapple with the essential emptiness of the Jedi belief in their own moral superiority. They too, must grapple with the past. And so Kylo, Rey and Luke find themselves on parallel journeys, looking for a way out from under the horrible weight of history and their own weaknesses.

The other half of The Last Jedi interrogates The Resistance, with Poe and Finn as two halves of the traditional Star Wars hero archetype. Each must learn how to work as a team and when it’s prudent to strike out on your own. New character Rose Tico offers a perspective never seen before in a Star Wars movie: the dutiful. You know, that person that actually does their job while Poe Dameron is breaking all the rules? That’s Rose. And it’s Rose who exemplifies The Resistance as a team, working together to preserve what’s good in the galaxy.

Beyond its complexities, which already elevate The Last Jedi above other franchise movies, there’s also an astonishing visual richness and inventiveness. One shot, involving a Resistance ship at lightspeed, will be talked about just as much as any other element of the movie.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn’t disposable entertainment, so there’s so much more to talk about in the years ahead. General Leia is extraordinary (both Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill are very much secondary characters, but excellent ones). The new planets are more than Desert World and Snow World this time. Snoke’s centurions. The Ahch-To caretakers. That weird monster Luke milks. Rey’s insanely trippy journey into the cave beneath the first Jedi Temple.

I never thought there’d be a Star Wars movie like The Last Jedi ever again — a movie that makes you believe in the Force, returning even crusted-over hearts to the same realm of overwhelming possibility and beauty as Luke Skywalker on Tatooine, gazing at a binary sunset. If it were the last Star Wars movie ever made, it’d be a fitting end.

REVIEW SUMMARY
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
9.5
Star Wars: The Last Jedi Would Be A Fitting End To The Series
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is unlike any other movie in the current franchise era, miles above anything Marvel, Rogue One or The Force Awakens can offer.
  • Pushes each character forward
  • Amazing ship battles
  • I love Kylo Ren
  • Kylo Ren shirtless
  • Kylo Ren
  • Luke Skywalker has the most astonishing arc in mainstream hero history
  • That one Leia moment no one liked, but they're wrong
  • Plot contrivances to position characters
  • A few clunky lines
  • Canto Bight action sequences feels superfluous
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