Thursday, 25 January 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Apparently an opinion needs to be backed up with a report, so here it is.

The Last Jedi has divided opinion. Although I place far more importance on what is really happening in the world, part of me kind of understands the importance placed upon the Star Wars universe. I grew up in the 80s and my older brother was old enough to remember the the first Star Wars film coming out. I watched that film on TV when I was very small and grew up playing with the toys. The first film I went to see at the cinema was Return of the Jedi when I was six years old. Looking back and knowing a lot more now about my childhood psyche than I did then, I think, like many people have done with many different stories over the millennia, I lost myself in this fantastical Universe of aliens, heroes, villains and regular people finding they have magical powers (it still affects me now: the other night I dreamt I could 'force grab' objects and when I woke up, for a split second I wondered whether I really could!).

When the 'special editions' came out, I watched them back to back and, like most fans of the original trilogy, I ended up disappointed with the changes. When The Phantom Menace came out, I was really excited to see it and even convinced myself it was good - at first. I don't even remember going to see episodes II and III in the cinema - it's possible I didn't bother - but when I watched them later, I could only see the things I didn't like about them: the bad CGI, awful dialogue, plot points that affected the the original films and of course the awful Jar Jar Binks (and other less-mentioned but equally bad characters, e.g. Watto). But I own them on DVD, and I own the special editions, and I watch them from time to time and try to focus on the bits I enjoy and not the bits I think could have been done better. The Force Awakens was a relief. It's never going to be my favourite star wars film but I really enjoyed being introduced to the new characters and new worlds. I bought it on iTunes very early on and have watched it countless times.

I've seen The Last Jedi twice and loved it both times. I can't wait to see it again, I'll try to explain why.


There are recurring themes artfully woven into the story that hold everything going on in this film together.

Conflict and Decisions: 

Rey wants someone to help her to understand who she is and why and how to use her powers and while Luke is reluctant, Kylo is keen to bring her under his wing.

Luke has shut himself off: since RoTJ (when he was still very inexperienced and didn't know much about the history of the Jedi order), he has learned about the failings of the powerful Jedi council who allowed Palpatine to rise up right under their noses and he has learned about the origins of the Jedi order and feels that some of the origins - such as the Jedi being keepers of the peace - have been forgotten. He failed his family and he failed the galaxy by training Ben to use the force, only to see him take Snoke's side*. Now he sees this powerful young woman needing his help and questions whether he can do anything to help her and ultimately the galaxy.

Kylo Ren is battling the good in him - as shown in the moment he chooses not to destroy the part of the ship his Mother was in - with the knowledge that he has killed innocent people, notably his Father. He is also fighting incompatible feelings of inadequacy (compared to his idea of Vader that is probably based on minimal facts - he may not know that Vader killed Palpatine, for example), with an urge to prove his powers to himself, and to Snoke, who constantly taunts him.

By the end of The Force Awakens, Finn seemed to have decided which side he is on, but as the First Order show their strength, he gets cold feet. He wants to help but he's human, and he's scared of dying. DJ shows him and Rose that the Resistance also buy weapons of war from the wealthy people on Canto Bight and that doesn't help his indecision. The battle on Crait shows the point when he decides he is willing to die for the cause, only for Rose to 'save' him.

Leia feels she needs someone to step up into her shoes: perhaps simply fearful she might die in battle; perhaps she knows her time is coming to an end. But Poe, the hero most likely to be able to rally the troops, is still a trigger-happy ace pilot and isn't ready for leadership. Her frustration shows when she slaps him.

*We haven't yet seen exactly why Ben turned to the dark side but mentioned in Bloodline is the moment he found out that Vader was his Grandfather and it wasn't his that told him. When that truth was discovered (the entire New Republic senate found out at the same time), not only might he have felt betrayed by his parents and by Luke that they had never told him themselves, that event might also have been what alerted Snoke to Ben's existence, lineage and his potential.

Legacy and Weight of Expectation:

Parts of the way this theme is explored is meta: the expectations of this film and the questions the Force Awakens left us with mirror the legend of Luke and the Jedi order. How can everyone's expectations be satisfied? Is the praise and the legend deserved?

We have been waiting for Luke's reaction for two years and I thought him tossing the light sabre over his shoulder was brilliant and the scene of Rey following him around the island while he caught fish and milked some sort of sea cow showed him in slightly-crazed hermit Jedi mode, like Yoda on Degobah: starved of social interaction, cantankerous and a bit awkward. People who hate this film wanted to see Luke 'ignite the green' and take out hundreds of First Order troops and battle dark side force users. But what we got was unexpected and I think far more interesting for that. Some have said Luke is not a hero, but he used force powers we've never seen before to not only allow the remaining resistance fighters to flee but also to inspire people across the galaxy to rise up and fight the First Order. Those kids, telling each other the legend of Luke Skywalker might be future Resistance fighters or even Jedi but they are also us as fans, watching the films, reading comic books and playing star wars video games, talking about the Jedi Knights and creating our own legends about our heroes. (We could also speculate that when Luke gives himself up to the force, he could potentially be releasing his power back into the galaxy that may become manifested in other force-sensitive characters.)


Traditionally in Star Wars, we see a small band of rebels succeed against seemingly insurmountable odds and after a while, that gets predictable (we knew in Rogue One of course, that they would pull it off). People have criticised the Canto Bight sequence as pointless but it is important for a number of reasons: we see child slaves and get a sense that it's not just our shrinking band of heroes we should be hoping to save; DJ overhears the Resistance's plan and tells the First Order which allows them to reduce the Resistance to almost nothing; Finn learns more about the galaxy that will ultimately help him choose to stick with the resistance.

And that's not the only bit about failure. Luke tells Rey about the Jedi Order's failure to even detect Palpatine, let alone stop his rise to power. We see how Luke failed Ben and nearly killed him. Poe fails to learn how to follow and how to lead until it falls to him because there's no one else left for Leia to turn to. Snoke fails to see that Kylo Ren is going to kill him (I'm still not 100% convinced his spirit is dead but he looked surprised by Kylo's attack!). Kylo Ren fails to sense that Luke isn't even there on Crait. Yoda talks about lessons we learn from failure.


I wouldn't have minded if there'd been less humour in The Last Jedi but I liked what was there. At the beginning of the film, I was so tense: I was excited but worried it wouldn't be a good film. The opening scene with Poe taunting Hux settled my nerves with some - in my opinion - well-placed and well-executed humour, and I feel that way about most of the humour in this film^. Yoda's "Read them have you? Page turners they are not!" is a particularly memorable line for me.

^All of the original films used humour in tense moments and the opening gag from Poe could easily have been something Han Solo might have come out with while stalling for time ("....we're all fine are you?" / "Threepio you tell that slimy piece of worm-ridden filth he'll get no such pleasure from us."). And there were cheesy gags in those films too. Humans make jokes in real life during difficult times. Trust me on that: my Mum died last year and we made jokes in difficult situations to help us through.

Scenes / ideas I loved

I've already talked about a few things I really liked but here are more.

I really like the new force powers. Snoke connected Rey and Kylo's minds, I guess assuming that Rey would lead them to Luke, and/or would come to him and he could turn - or kill - her. I thought Luke's astral projection was amazing: I didn't see that coming. Each of the originals introduced us to new force powers (mind control and choking; moving objects; lightning) and, just like humans are continually getting beating world records and using science to find new solutions, force users are able to learn new ways of harnessing the force.

I like grumpy, reluctant Luke. He had a brief dalliance with success as a hopeful, youthful hero, then set about learning more about the Jedi and the force. He failed with Ben's training and feels, understandably, that he is to blame for everything that happened thereafter. Coupled with what he learned about the past failings of the Jedi, he decided that even if the Jedi were to again become the peacekeepers they were once meant to be, he certainly wasn't the person to do it. Imagine feeling you're the only Jedi in the whole galaxy? And one whose Father caused so much death, fear and suffering: Luke could have had legitimate reasons to worry that an extremely powerful dark side-user (Snoke, rather than Kylo) could turn him to the dark side too. The pressure these things would put on anyone would be incredible, especially if they didn't feel they were up to the task.

The fight with the praetorian guards was a triumph of choreography. It was great to see Kylo Ren and Rey working together, and it was actually a twist when they then didn't team up.

I loved Yoda's appearance, his laughter as he destroys the tree (which Luke thinks contain the ancient Jedi texts) and his ideas about the Jedi teachings which both tell Luke he needs to use what he has learned but also not be too reliant on old theories that might be open to interpretation (another possible meta point, which could be referring to fans who've pored over the old non-canon novels).

Adam Driver is particularly good. It must be really tough to play a tortured, complicated character without coming across as over-the-top and he nails it. Mark Hamill is really good too. I totally believe that is Luke Skywalker even though everything has changed for him. I wasn't so keen on Carrie Fisher in TFA (where I thought Harrison Ford stepped uncannily into the shoes of an older Han Solo, I didn't feel Carrie Fisher came across like Leia) but in TLJ, Leia was back. Kelly Marie Tran is really good and plays a very likeable Rose Tico. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are also good, although I think it was always going to be tough to match their brilliant performances in The Force Awakens - I need to watch TLJ a few more times to make a judgement on that. Other notable performances include Laura Dern and Andy Sirkis. 

And I think possibly my favourite ever moment in any star wars film was Holdo tearing through the star destroyers at light speed. When the First Order said she was preparing to jump to light speed and we saw the Raddus turn I knew - but was astonished by - what she was going to do, and the way it was executed with the silence heightening the visual impact of the moment was astonishing. I honestly don't ever remember feeling so amazed by any scene in any film I've ever watched.

Things I didn't like (as much)

I don't hate the Canto Bight sequence as much as a lot of people but it could have been done better. I really liked the idea of seeing the wealthy people in the galaxy: apart from politicians in the prequels, we haven't seen anything of their world but there was something a bit tacked-on about it. I liked the fact that the mission failed and I liked the ideas it gave Finn about the galaxy. I thought the Fathiers looked pretty good for CGI creatures but the scene when they run through the casino doesn't really work for me. 

I'm still not keen on Hux. We're not meant to like him of course and he's not there on merit (his Father was a general so we assume he's sort of inherited his reputation in some way) but he seems like too much of a cartoon villain to me. I like Domhnall Gleeson but I don't think he's right for this part.

I wasn't too keen that everyone in that docking bay was knocked out and most killed but Finn and Rose were fine. I've tried to tell myself they were protected from the blast because they were already on the ground, but whatever, it still seemed a bit unbelievable - even in a film where people can use their minds to communicate across the galaxy!

I wasn't keen on the Maz Kanata scene, it felt a bit shoe-horned in. I wasn't a big fan of Maz in TFA: although Lupito Nyong'o is really good, to me Maz is too obviously CGI. Perhaps Rian Johnson feels that way too, which might explain her brief appearance via hologram.

Although I liked seeing Leia use the force, the way she moved through space wasn't great for me. I'd have preferred more visible effort or at least for it to be less straight, less Mary Poppins.

It took me a while to think of all these negative points. None of them impacted my overall enjoyment of the film.

Final Thoughts

The Empire Strikes back, partly due to good writing and excellent editing and partly due to luck (sometimes with creating a song or a painting or a film, it all just comes together), is probably as close to a perfect film as Star Wars is ever going to get. I think. I find it impossible to be objective about the original trilogy because I grew up with them and I still love almost every minute of all three films (the originals, that is - there are definitely quite a few minutes in the special editions that I don't like). The corny gags, Threepio's annoying ways, plot holes later inadequately explained away, none of it matters because I will always be that little boy, escaping the bullies and other worries by immersing myself in the possibilities of this fantastical galaxy.

When watching a new film for the first time as an adult, it's difficult to be subjective like a child can be. But we can try. And if we don't want to try, that's fine - perhaps for some people star wars will always be in the past and maybe they need to accept that and move on and let the next generation enjoy star wars the way we did. It's ok to not like something but try not to spoil it for everyone else. Big budget films need broad appeal. Star Wars can't be written to appeal only to the fans who grew up with the original trilogy: it also needs to appeal to fans who grew up with the prequels and it needs to win over new fans too. Star Wars fans in their 30s and 40s aren't enough. Some critics seems to have a very rigid view of what a star wars film should be, or perhaps they've read all the non-canon books and see Luke differently - but unfortunately those are no longer relevant to the story of this character. Perhaps Luke doing something unexpected to inspire kids across the galaxy was an intentional metaphor for Star Wars doing something different to breathe new life into it. I know for certain that if we always got what was expected - based on past films and canonical stories - the films would get very samey and quite boring and I don't want that. I think Rian Johnson and the other creators and editors of TLJ have made a film that is new and different and expands the lore and yet it is all done in a completely Star Wars way.

I saw it the morning it came out and by the second time I saw it, I was worried that the online criticism would spoil it for me but it didn't at all. For what it's worth, after watching it twice, I give The Last Jedi 4/5 and I can't wait to buy it and watch it many more times.

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