We waited until Boxing Day to see The Last Jedi, but long before that I had heard – or rather felt – disturbing rumours. I’ve yet to read other reviews, so I am still not quite sure what people are all up in arms about. This review might not touch on any of the so-called “issues” people had with the film. I can see that some might find a few things hard to swallow, but this review has a lot of stuff to talk about, so I’ll save the in-depth discussion of Luke for another time. Let’s get into it.
SPOILERS DOWN BELOW
The Last Jedi follows closely The Force Awakens and finds our heroes evacuating the rebel base. The rebels can not escape the gigantic ship of Supreme Leader Snoke, and can only keep out of range until they run out of fuel. Almost like an old high-seas adventure where one ship is just a little quicker than the other (see for example Master & Commander). This device creates a classic feeling of suspense in me. It could have been used to show the slowly growing despair among the rebels, huddled inside the ship with nothing to do but pray that a solution will be presented by their leader. Unfortunately, this device is not utilized to its full potential. A common problem in this film.
Meanwhile Rey, having found Luke Skywalker, must play the patience game to try and convince him to come help the rebels, and also train her in the ways of the Jedi. He, old and disillusioned, fears her strength and the darkness he sees in her. Her waiting on him is an old master/student trope, used just recently in Doctor Strange, and fits with our idea of the Jedi masters as Samurai. This trope is usually employed to show the resolve and strength of the student, while the master’s cold heart melts and he is convinced of their potential. Luke’s heart does not melt, and the old trope is in a way subverted. He decides to teach her lessons to warn her against the Jedi.
Ultimately, like Luke before her, Rey leaves her new found master to help her friends. But the catalyst to her leaving is the knowledge of Luke’s ultimate failure as a master. His moment of weakness once sent Ben Solo into a murderous rage, and now the same moment sends Rey away, into the arms of Snoke. The Last Jedi has several misinterpretations that lead to mistakes: between Luke and Ben, Luke and Rey, Poe and Holdo, Rose/Finn and the codebreaker, and perhaps the viewer and the whole movie.
But before we get too deep into themes let’s talk structure. The Last Jedi is not ideal in its “excitement graph” (or spenningskurve in Norwegian). The ending does not feel like part of the same line as the rest of the film. It’s hitched to the film in order to, 1. have the rebels at their lowest point at the end of the second film of the trilogy, 2. have Luke confront Ben in this film so we don’t tease it out even more, and 3. have a ground-battle because the rest of the film has been all in space. In my mind most of these reasons could have been solved in other ways, or simply left on the cutting room floor. The visuals of the battle are brilliant, but I still felt the length of the film at that point.
Other parts of the film are also good, but ill-fitting. The Casino-sequence was interesting visually, but lacked any sort of weight until they were back in space. I wonder if it hadn’t been more exciting to have them captured by the First Order on the planet, making the question of whether they make it back much more open, and their ultimate failure more impactful. But that’s a difficult “what if”, and the sequence is fine. Just fine.
Structure and editing leave much to be desired, but what about themes and plot? This is the biggie we need to unpack, and I think (though again, I haven’t been reading reviews) some of the bad reactions come from the fact that this Star Wars movie has an occasional mocking tone. I’d argue, however, it’s almost the most logical place to take the Star Wars franchise, ever since A New Hope set things in motion. Maybe I don’t have enough skin in the game, as a casual fan, and smarter people have probably already written essays about this, but here’s my take.
The Last Jedi makes me think a lot about the place of heroes and legends in relation to truth and consequences. Our hero Luke, who exemplifies The Hero of Joseph Campbell’s story structure, has not grown old to become Yoda, the wise master. He isn’t a cranky old master either, one who only needs to be convinced to get back into the game. He is instead the shameful remnants of a hero who thought he could be the wise old master.
His disillusionment mirrors our own, and Rey’s. Stories don’t always end the way we want them to. Even the wise make mistakes. In The Force Awakens Rey meets one of the old legends, Han Solo, and is introduced to the mystical force. Although many of her ideas about the myths of the old rebels are challenged, her idealism about the rebels and Jedi are still very much intact at the end of that movie. The Last Jedi forces her, and maybe us, to ask ourselves the question I have been asking since the prequels: what’s so great about the Jedi? Sacrilege, some might cry. But we’ve heard that question murmured within the franchise since day one with “that old religion”, all the way through the blind monk who still believes. I’d say that’s a much more interesting question to ask than to rehash of Empire Strikes Back.
The other side to this is the Dark Side, of course, and how Star Wars has gone from condemning those who dare question its power, to mocking those who find it intimidating.
At the start of The Force Awakens we see a new Vader enter the scene: he’s crazy strong, intimidating with an updated look and creepy voice. The first person he confronts is Poe, and his reaction? Mockery. This carries on until The Last Jedi when the Supreme Leader himself tells Kylo Ren to “take off that ridiculous thing”. The helmet is Kylo Ren’s attempt at cosplay, and it is mocked even by the man who wants to make him “the next Vader”. Becoming a legend is harder than they thought: no one can live up to the original that has taken shape in the minds of all of us.
The idea of becoming something great is found within Poe’s story (wanting to be the one who saves the day), and within the rebels as a group too. We see it in the children who look up at the sky dreaming of joining them. What reality will they face should they attempt the same journey as Rey? The same disappointment if reality doesn’t compare to their dream of rebellion?
Kylo Ren offers a solution: let it all go. Let the past be the past. That can feel like a cheap answer. For fans it might even suggest that nothing in the past two trilogies matter at all. That’s a harsh interpretation, I admit. There is, after all, still hope at the end. The Last Jedi title is probably going to prove to be untrue: Rey is the last Jedi, right now, but I find it unlikely she will be the very last. Luke’s departure from the world felt like both a result of his enormous feat of strength, and a defeat. He held off Ben Solo only for the rebels’ sake. He could do nothing to earn Ben’s, or his own, redemption. His mistake has no solution, not from him at least. And in a way that makes him wise to me. A less wise man might not have wanted to admit that. His journey had no hero’s welcome at the end.
These themes and questions are a natural end point when dealing with such a long franchise centred on classic mythical heroes and villains. But it is also easy to see how it can be interpreted, justifiably, as mocking those who still believe, whose who still want to see Luke be the Jedi Master he clearly was when we last saw him.
I don’t think The Last Jedi is a great film, but it certainly allows itself to move deeper into areas we haven’t explored in this franchise. We can’t sit around discussing the force and the pull of the dark side forever – hell, even this movie re-treads that yet again. So, I give it props for daring to look at the other side of myth-making.
Dice roll: 5