As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I was extremely excited to see the latest installment of the Star Wars saga. I could not wait to discover the answers to the questions with which the previous film, The Force Awakens, left us hanging. Mainly, who are Rey’s parents, who is Supreme Leader Snoke, and what has Luke Skywalker been up to for 30 years?
The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!
“This is not going to go the way you think!”
The above phrase, uttered by Luke Skywalker, accurately sums up The Last Jedi’s story. I entered the film with expectations of having questions answered.
The film picks up exactly where The Force Awakens leaves off. The leaders of the First Order, Kylo Ren and General Hux, have retreated back to their leader, Supreme Leader Snoke after their planet killing space station, Starkiller Base was destroyed. The Resistance’s victory over Starkiller Base is short lived because their location is now known to the First Order. At the same time, Rey, Chewbacca, and R2-D2 have left in search for the long-lost Jedi master, Luke Skywalker.
This marks only the second time in the Star Wars saga that a film starts exactly where the previous film ended (Rogue One and A New Hope).
First off, I want to address the issues I had with the narrative of the film. Instead of one main plot tying the film together, there were multiple subplots merging. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. The issue I had was with one subplot in particular. The subplot involving Finn and the new character, Rose, reminded me of when I play fetch with my puppy (who just so happens to be named Rey). I will throw her favorite stuffed animal for her, and she will run after it. Getting that stuffed animal is her goal. She finally reaches her goal and starts running back to me with the stuffed animal. All of a sudden, she sees another toy and completely abandons her stuffed animal to go get the other toy. Finn and Rose’s story in The Last Jedi is like that scenario in the sense that their original goals are abruptly abandoned and replaced for another.
The Resistance discovers that the First Order is tracking them through hyperspace, and in order to escape them, they must sneak onto the main Star Destroyer and disable the tracking device. To sneak on the destroyer, they first need a code-breaker, which they find on the casino world of Canto Bight. Once they have “a code-breaker,” they sneak onto the main Star Destroyer. Meanwhile, onboard the Resistance flagship, it is revealed that their mission is not needed, as the interim leader, Vice Admiral Holdo, plans to have the crew abandon the ship and make their stand on the planet below. It appears as though Finn and Rose risked their lives for nothing. In reality, it seems like the writers needed a subplot to keep the characters of Finn and Rose occupied while everything else was going on. The only thing that was accomplished by their mission was the establishment of their friendship and a possible romantic relationship between the two characters. Although this subplot was poorly written, the visuals of Canto Bight and the horse-like creatures they freed were quite stunning.
Another subplot that was alluded to in The Force Awakens was the Jedi training of Rey by Luke Skywalker. The entire plot of The Force Awakens was basically comprised of everyone looking for Luke Skywalker, who had gone into hiding. We do not see him until the very last scene, which left us with an old silent bearded man standing on an island being handed lightsaber. The Last Jedi picks up where that scene left off with Rey handing him his old saber. He takes one long look at it and flippantly tosses it behind him and silently storms off. Talk about anticlimactic! Rey keeps following him around the island, begging him to teach her the ways of the force. We learn that Luke has shut himself off from the force and has come to live out the rest of his days in solitude on the island that houses the first Jedi temple. He blames himself for Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren, falling to the dark side, and thus causing the destruction of his new Jedi Order. He says he will never train another Jedi. His character serves as a contrast to Obi-Wan Kenobi when we meet him in A New Hope. In the end of Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan’s apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, has turned to the dark side and has pretty much eradicated the Jedi Order. He takes Anakin’s son to his aunt and uncle and goes into hiding for 20 years. He undoubtedly feels responsible for failing Anakin and the destruction of the Jedi Order, yet he has hope in the form of Anakin’s son, Luke. His regret and failure is replaced with this hope, and that new hope keeps him going. Unlike Obi-Wan, Luke doesn’t have hope after failing his apprentice and seeing his new generation of Jedi be destroyed. He has regret and shame. Nothing to put hope in. This depressing version of Luke Skywalker upset many fans. There has even been a petition to recall The Last Jedi from the official Star Wars canon in order to save Luke Skywalker’s legacy and image. Admittedly, I, like many fans, was really looking forward to seeing an awesome, fully-trained, powerful lightsaber-wielding version of
Luke Skywalker, much like the Jedi we saw in the prequel trilogy. Shoot, even Mark Hamill himself was disappointed in this version of Skywalker. “I fundamentally disagree with virtually everything you’ve decided about my character,” Hamill told director and writer Rian Johnson, “Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.” Although I didn’t expect Luke to have that defeatist attitude, I can understand how he got to that point. Honestly, I wasn’t as disappointed with this as I was other elements. After the second time seeing the film, I am okay with the writer’s choice.
However, as Yoda’s force ghost reminds him, he forgot to heed the final command of our little green friend. In his last breath, Yoda tells Luke to pass on what he has learned. “Heeded my words not, did you,” Yoda reprimands, “Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery, hmm… but weakness, folly, failure also. Yes: failure, most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is.” After all these years, Yoda is still taking us to school. Anyone who has ever had any type of failure can attest to this lesson. We messed up, yes, but we learned from it. It reminds me of a quote attributed to real-world inventor, Thomas Edison, who said, “I didn’t fail. I just found 2,000 ways not to make a lightbulb”. Another lesson Yoda teaches us is that the goal of leaders, mentors, and teachers is to have their pupils rise above and beyond what they are. “We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda says, “That is the true burden of all masters”. That is one of the biggest things I learned while going through a leadership fellowship in college. As a leader, we should train and teach those we lead to be better than us. I put that into practice as I led multiple student organizations while in college. It takes humility, but it is a satisfying feeling to see those you have trained grow and do much more than you have done.
In his stupor, Luke turns to read more about the ancient ways of the Jedi. He discovers and reads the ancient and sacred Jedi text. He comes to the conclusion that the dogmatic black and white teachings of the Jedi are what ultimately led to the rise of the Sith and subsequently, the destruction of the Jedi. He talks about how it was a Jedi (Obi-Wan) who trained Darth Vader, who destroyed the Jedi. He says that it is heresy to say that the force belongs only to the Jedi. He teaches Rey that the force doesn’t belong to anyone, it is simply there. It is, as Obi-Wan once told a young Luke, “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together”. The force is there and certain people have the ability to tap into it and manipulate it to do wonderful or terrible things. Luke seems to now take a neutral stance on how the force is to be used. There is the light side and the dark side. In order to have balance, you must have both. That “middle ground” idea is something that we see repeated throughout the film.
The older I get, the more I realize that the “middle ground” idea is prevalent of most big things in this world. In politics, you have Democrats and Republicans. Both are polar opposites and accuse the other of being evil. When in reality, I have found, both parties have good and bad points. It is on that middle ground between the two parties that I have found the most reasonable and open-minded people.
Likewise, in my studies of biblical theology, I found similar opposing views in the form of Calvinism and Arminianism. At first glance, the two seem to have opposing views regarding salvation. Both start from the Bible and go out from there. I’ve witnessed the damage done by dogmatic theologians from both
sides, and have concluded that neither man-made theology has it right. The middle ground that is safest to stand on is that which is found in the Bible, not the man-made philosophies of Calvin or Arminius and their followers.
Another interesting thing that I didn’t catch the first time seeing the film was the location of the Jedi books. When Luke attempts to burn down the old force tree containing the ancient Jedi texts, Yoda steps in and does the deed for him. He tells Luke that the texts do not possess anything that Rey doesn’t already possess. We are left to think that this is a metaphor meaning that she has all she needs to know and the force will lead her. But we find out later that Yoda was being quite literal. Towards the end of the film, we see Finn open a drawer on board the Millennium Falcon to remove something. In that drawer are the very books from the ancient force tree. Yoda said that the texts did not contain anything that Rey didn’t already possess because she, in fact, possess the books themselves.
One of the big questions that The Force Awakens left us with was, “who are Rey’s parents?” Surely she must be of some force-sensitive lineage. People have speculated everything from the granddaughter of Obi Wan Kenobi to the reincarnation of Anakin Skywalker. We know from the 7th film that she has been on the desert planet of Jakku from an early age. She’s been alone, fending for herself, and waiting on her family for over 20 years. Even when she finally leaves the planet, she keeps talking about going back so she won’t miss her family when they come back. Maz Kanata tells her in the previous film, “You already know the truth. Whomever you’re waiting for on Jakku, they’re never coming back.” We learn in The Last Jedi that what Maz told her is true. Her family is never coming back. Her family wasn’t anyone important. They were nobody from nowhere. She just happens to be someone who is very strong with the force.
Many people were upset with this revelation. They wanted her to be connected to someone from previous films. I, for one, am perfectly fine with her being a “nobody from nowhere.” Most people seem to have forgotten that in the original Jedi Order, the Jedi didn’t usually come from long lines of force users. Kids around the galaxy were randomly born with powers and the Jedi detected them and started training them from a young age. This was true of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windu, Yoda, and most of the other Jedi. Most Jedi back in the day were nobodies from nowhere. The fact that Rey is the same is just pointing back to the fact that any random person could be born with the force. Very much like the wizards and witches in Harry Potter, or the Mutants in X-Men. What defines them isn’t where they came from, it is what they do with their abilities. That is exactly what we will see with Rey.
On a similar note, we see the “nobody from nowhere” theme repeated in the film with the little boy from the stable on Canto Bight. We meet him in the first act of the film when he helps out Finn and Rose. Rose gives him her secret Rebellion ring as a token of gratitude for helping them escape. In the very last scene of the film, we see him with several other kids from the stable playing out the battle of Crait with homemade action figures. These kids have obviously been inspired by the acts of the Resistance. We see the boy walk outside. He reaches his hand out toward a broom and the broom comes to him. He sweeps a little and then looks out among the stars. This kid is a “nobody” working a lowly job in a stable and yet the force has awakened in him, just as it did with thousands of generations of Jedi. This force sensitive child is shown at the end scene to tell us two things: hope is being restored to the galaxy, and that where you come from doesn’t matter. Both are beautiful things to end the movie on.
A review that I read brought up a very interesting point about Rey and Kylo. Supreme Leader Snoke mentions that he knew that the more powerful Kylo grew in the dark side, the more the light side would rise to compensate it. He says that he originally thought that it would be Luke Skywalker that rose to meet it, but he now realizes that it was Rey. All throughout the first two trilogies there was talk of bringing balance to the force. You can’t have balance with just the light side, like the Jedi, or just the dark side, like the Sith. You need an equal amount of both light and dark to have balance. It appears as though the Kylo and Rey are two sides of the same coin. The “yin and yang” of the force. If you recall, in the original Jedi temple that Rey and Luke visit, there is a mosaic on the floor with a yin-yang design. The design depicts a being sitting down, legs crossed, holding a lightsaber. The lightsaber splits his body down the middle, one half is dark and the other is light, with opposite shades behind them with corresponding orbs. The Visual Dictionary for The Last Jedi says that this mosaic is an image of “the prime Jedi, the first of the Order, in a state of meditation and balance”. The Visual Dictionary also shows a map of the island, on which the Jedi Temple is set on the far west side of the island, while the dark side cave that Rey explores, is on the far east side, further showing the theme of opposite sides of the same object.
The Force Awakens really played up the power and mystery surrounding the First Order’s leader, Supreme Leader Snoke. He is only seen in holograms in the 7th film and appears to be the dark side master of Kylo Ren. His position of authority over the First Order and Kylo Ren are very reminiscent of the previous two trilogies’ antagonist, Emperor Palpatine. Snoke was powerful enough to turn Kylo Ren against Luke and bring him to the dark side and charismatic enough to become the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Ever since the film was released fans have had a plethora of theories as to who exactly he is. Some theorized that he was Darth Sidious’ master, Darth Plagueis or even Palpatine reincarnate. Others speculated that he might be an ancient Sith Lord that has been around for centuries. I didn’t particularly care, either way, I was simply looking forward to finding out who he was and how he was so powerful. As anyone who has seen the film knows, he was killed by Kylo Ren using the Skywalker lightsaber to cut him in half. I was shocked at this. It was very anti-climactic. Build a mysterious and powerful character up only to have him abruptly killed when we first get to know him.
The first time I saw this film, I was very disappointed. One of the biggest questions I had going into this film was “who was Snoke?” Not only did this film not answer that question, they failed to answer how he became so disfigured, how he became the Supreme Leader, and how he turned Kylo to the dark side. Nothing was answered. I think this was the main thing I was disappointed with leaving the theater. The second time I saw the film, I was less on edge. I knew what was going to happen. I could just sit back and take everything in and observe it. Upon approaching it with this in mind, I found my disappointment lessen. I sat there and watched his scenes thinking: “okay, he’s just some old deformed dude wearing a gold house robe and slippers who can use the force.” I realized that his character, although hyped up by the mystery and power, is just a random guy. As Andy Serkis once said, “Snoke is Snoke”. When The Force Awakens came out J.J. Abrams said that Snoke was a completely new character, not connected to anyone else. The director of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson brought up a very good point in relation to Snoke, “… in the original trilogy, we didn’t know anything about the Emperor except exactly what we needed to know, which is what Luke knew about him, that he’s the evil guy behind Vader. We’ll learn exactly as much about Snoke as we need to.” I think most fans are so accustomed to knowing the history of the Emperor from the prequels, that we forget that the Emperor and his history was a mystery to everyone for roughly 16 years. From the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983 to the release The Phantom Menace in 1999 nothing else was known about the Emperor. Although I was very disappointed as to the lack of back story to the character, I can understand why they did what they did. It makes sense. Snoke wasn’t a big part of the narrative, he was just a minor character. His back story didn’t do anything to carry the story on. He was just a stepping stone to get Kylo to the seat of supreme power and control.
Overall, I really liked The Last Jedi. It was a completely original story that didn’t copy from previous films like The Force Awakens did. It was full of good life lessons and attitudes that people in the real world would do well to listen to. The extra bits of comedy, undoubtedly from Disney, were different from the comedic styles of the previous films, but were nicely done and not drawn out. I will admit, I teared up when Luke was reunited with R2, and almost teared up each time I saw Carrie Fisher on screen. Carrie’s grown-up portrayal of Leia was amazing and very believable. You could see the respect that Poe Dameron had for her, even when she demoted him. I thought they would kill Leia off when the bridge of her ship exploded, but they kept her in. I believe that this film, although it was finished filming before she died, was a perfect last film for her. It did her and Princess Leia justice. The team-up of Kylo and Rey against Snoke’s fearsome Praetorian Guards was one for the ages. The final duel between Kylo and Luke was amazing. Luke’s attitude was very reminiscent of the humor from the original trilogy. The fact that he was able to project himself across the galaxy shows us just how powerful he really was. His death from that feat was foreshadowed earlier in the film when Kylo remarks that projecting oneself across the galaxy would surely kill them. In an Obi-Wan like fashion, Luke uses his last, and most miraculous bit of energy to distract the enemy and buy time for the heroes to escape.
As far as the next film goes, I believe that we will see something in the opening crawl about Leia dying or being assassinated, and that will play a big part in the story of episode nine. With Kylo Ren as the new Supreme Leader, I think things within the First Order will operate quite differently. Instead of the super structured and organized ways of General Hux, I think we will see a more sporadic and emotion-driven leadership from Kylo. With a huge chunk of the First Order’s fleet and military power destroyed, I can’t help but wonder if Kylo will call upon the help of his mysterious “Knights of Ren” that were mentioned by Snoke and seen via Rey’s force vision in The Force Awakens.
If you had reservations about the film after seeing it just once, I suggest seeing it again with an open and analytical mind. I have met several others who, like me, had mixed feeling about it the first go-around, but felt much better about it the second time. If you have any theories or comments on what I have written, please comment. I am always up for a good Star Wars discussion or debate. Until next time, see you around kid, and May the Force Be With You….Always.