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Sunday, December 17, 2017

'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Review and Discussion

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has finally arrived. The eighth chapter in the Star Wars saga and the second in the Sequel Trilogy is hitting theaters this week, bringing back heroes and villains old and new for the most divisive episode yet.

Two years ago, the Force awakened as a lonely scavenger on Jakku was swept into the galactic conflict between the Dark Side and the Light. Though initially anxious to return home and wary of the mystical power calling to her, Rey used the Force to summon the Skywalker family lightsaber and defeat her nemesis Kylo Ren. 

She then ascended the island of Ahch-To to return the weapon to Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, inviting him to take up arms against the Dark Side once again...as well as show Rey her own place in the galaxy.

Those were her first steps. But she still has a long way to go... 

(I'm about to be discussing the movie's plot and characters in great detail, so a *MAJOR SPOILER ALERT* should be assumed.)

The Plot

The movie opens on the evacuation of the Resistance's base on D'Qar as the First Order fleet arrives, led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and BB-8 face the Dreadnought alone in an X-Wing and destroy its turrets. Resistance bombers target the massive battleship; gunner Paige Tico sacrifices herself to drop the last bombs, destroying the Dreadnought before it can fire on the Resistance flagship, the Raddus, commanded by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher).
On Ahch-To, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Chewbacca implore Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to join the fight once again. Rey is drawn to the island's Force-sensitive tree, the first Jedi temple; even after learning of her connection to the Force, Luke refuses to help, telling her that he came to the island to die along with the Order itself. R2-D2 changes his mind by presenting Leia's old hologram message to Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The Resistance fleet jumps to hyperspace but Hux tracks them and follows, with Supreme Leader Snoke's giant destroyer, the Supremacy, leading the pursuit. Ben Solo / Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), pressured by Snoke to prove himself after his loss to Rey, targets the Raddus in his own starfighter. He and Leia sense each other through the Force and Kylo can't bring himself to kill his mother, but TIE fighters destroy the ship's command bridge anyway. 

Leia uses the Force to glide back to the ship through the vacuum of space, critically wounding her in the process. Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) assumes command of the Resistance and quickly clashes with Poe over her plan to evacuate the ship on smaller transports. At Poe's behest, Finn (John Boyega), having awoken from his coma, and mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), Paige's sister, embark on a secret mission to find a codebreaker who can disable the First Order's tracking device.
Luke begins to train Rey in the Force, while she secretly communicates with Kylo Ren through Force visions. She learns that Luke blames himself for failing his nephew when there was still a chance to keep him on the Light Side, but Kylo thinks that Luke tried to kill him out of fear of his power. Having come to believe that Kylo can be saved, Rey leaves Ahch-To with the Skywalker lightsaber and sacred Jedi texts. Alone on the island once again, Luke burns down the Force tree with the ghost of Yoda.

Tipped off by Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o), Finn and Rose land on Canto Bight, a casino city. Finn is wowed by the luxury of the inhabitants, but Rose tells him that they're war profiteers who sell weapons to the First Order. With help from enslaved children, they free abused Fathiers and ride them through the city before taking off with DJ (Benicio Del Toro), an eccentric codebreaker.
They land on the Supremacy at the same time as Rey, who is betrayed by Kylo and brought to Snoke's throne room. Easily overpowering her, Snoke searches her mind to uncover Luke's location, revealing that he created the bridge between her and Kylo's minds in order to find and destroy the last Jedi. He then orders Kylo to kill her; instead, Kylo ignites his family's lightsaber to slice Snoke in half. He and Rey then face Snoke's Elite Praetorian Guards together, killing them all.
Finn, Rose, and DJ disguise themselves as Imperial officers but get caught by Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and her troopers. Poe attempts a mutiny on Holdo, but a recovered Leia stuns him. Holdo stays behind to pilot the cruiser while the rest of the Resistance evacuates to Crait. The First Order, having uncovered the Resistance's cloaked transports with help from a treacherous DJ, opens fire on the defenseless ships.

Rey tells Kylo to spare the transports, but he wants them to rule the galaxy together and forget about the Resistance and the First Order, the Jedi and the Sith. He tells her what she's known all along: her parents were nobodies, and she's a nobody, too, but not in his eyes. He offers his hand, but instead she summons the Skywalker lightsaber and they grapple over it with the Force, eventually splitting it in two.
Holdo rams the Supremacy with the Raddus at lightspeed, decimating the First Order's fleet, interrupting Finn and Rose's execution, and saving the remaining Resistance ships. Rey flees and Kylo becomes the new Supreme Leader, telling Hux that she killed Snoke and the guards alone. Finn faces off with Phasma and she falls to her death in the crumbling ship. He, Rose, and BB-8 commandeer a First Order shuttle and join the Resistance on Crait.
The Resistance sends out a distress beacon as the First Order lands its AT-M6 walkers on the salt flats of Crait. Poe, Finn, Rose, and others pilot old ski speeders to counter the walkers. The Millennium Falcon arrives and draws the TIE fighters away, with Chewie piloting and Rey manning the gunner's position. 

Against Poe's orders, Finn heads on a suicide path to the First Order's battering ram cannon that threatens to blow open the Resistance's bunker. At the last second, Rose crashes her speeder into his before he can sacrifice himself. The cannon breaches the bunker and she kisses him before passing out from her injuries.
With no one answering their call, the Resistance is at its lowest until Luke appears and reunites with Leia. He steps out and faces the First Order alone while Poe, Finn, Leia, and the remaining Resistance members follow crystal foxes towards a secret exit. Kylo furiously orders all walkers to open fire on Luke, to no avail. Kylo steps out of his shuttle to deal with his uncle himself. 
Kylo duels Luke until he realizes that it's only a Force projection, and Luke is still on the Ahch-To island. Luke tells him that the Rebellion isn't over, the war is just beginning, and he's not the last Jedi, before vanishing. Back on Ahch-To, Luke breaks from his intense concentration and looks up at the planet's twin sunset before becoming one with the Force.

Poe, Finn, and Leia find their exit blocked by rocks. Rey lifts them with the Force and she and Finn embrace. The Resistance escapes aboard the Falcon as Kylo and Hux storm the base. Finn tends to an unconscious Rose and Poe introduces himself to Rey. She and Leia both sense Luke's passing, but Leia tells her that the Resistance has everything they need to rebuild.
Back on Canto Bight, the enslaved children who helped Finn and Rose recount the story of Luke Skywalker. One boy uses the Force to summon a broom. He holds it like a lightsaber and looks to the stars, wearing Rose's ring with the Rebel Alliance symbol. 

Review

There are many things you can call Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It's epic, it's emotional, it's long – like, long enough that it drags in places, particularly Finn and Rose's subplot – but the best word would be "unexpected." It's a genuinely surprising movie, and no one could have predicted that events would pan out quite like this.
When The Last Jedi is good, it's really, really good. Kylo killing Snoke with his family's lightsaber, then pulling it towards himself so that Rey can grab it and fight the Praetorians alongside him is shocking and spectacular and everything we could have hoped for. It's the film's best fight scene and quite possibly its best scene, period.

And Finn and Rose's subplot, while dull and superfluous in comparison to Rey and Kylo's, is a key part of the film's central theme: anyone can be a hero, anyone can fight for what they believe in, as long as they have people they care about. You'd think the whole "hope and rebellion" thing would be boring by now, but The Last Jedi manages to explore it in a whole new way. 
But for a movie that was billed as game-changing, it doesn't really change that much. By the end of the movie, Rey's firmly on the Light Side, while Kylo is darker than ever. The Resistance is still on the run from the First Order, who suffer heavy losses but still probably have dozens more Star Destroyers and other new terrifying technology. 

The Last Jedi doesn't give us a truly satisfying resolution to the mystery of Rey's parents. It kills Snoke before we can learn his identity. It completely throws away the Knights of Ren, an intriguing concept only teased in The Force Awakens. It gives Luke a badass scene, but it's not really him, it's just an illusion, and then he suddenly dies. And yet, all of these moments are done so beautifully that it's easy to forget how disappointing they really are.
JJ Abrams set up the mysteries of Rey's parents, Snoke, and (to a lesser extent) the Knights of Ren, and then The Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson just decided that they didn't matter. Not only is this a huge letdown for all the fans who have been theorizing for the past two years, but it also spells all kinds of discontinuities when Johnson hands the story back to Abrams for Episode IX.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi will go down in history as a polarizing movie. It has the superb character work of The Force Awakens and the boldness of Rogue One, but unlike either film, fan service is very low on its list of priorities. If you think it's the best Star Wars ever, you may not be wrong, but unless you're looking for a fight, you'd be wise not to say so in the presence of other super-fans. 
If The Last Jedi has proved anything, it's that Johnson's recently-announced Star Wars trilogy is something to be truly excited for. As the sole creative force, he won't be obligated to explore – and ultimately discard – story threads that other directors deemed significant. This trilogy is going to be different, it's going to be beautiful, and it's going to drop our jaws every step of the way. 

The Characters

Rey

If The Force Awakens was about Rey discovering the Force inside of her, then The Last Jedi is about her finding her place in it. She struggled with this throughout the film; when Luke first encouraged her to "reach out," she was quickly drawn to the Dark Side because it promised the truth about her parents. She sought out Kylo to bring him to the Light, but when fighting by his side, she had no problem brutally killing the Praetorian Guards.
Ultimately, it was Rey's loyalty to her friends that kept her on the Light. She chose them over a partnership with Kylo, and she accepted her role as the next Jedi. She now has the original Jedi texts (we don't see her taking them but if you look closely, they're clearly stored in a compartment on the Falcon), a near-mastery of the Force, and Luke's teachings about how the Order failed in the first place. And as the last scene showed us, there are Force-sensitive children out there who are ready to join the Rebellion and Rey's new order.
In many ways, the truth about Rey's parents could be viewed as anticlimactic, especially since the film goes to great lengths to build the suspense (in the scene in which she looks in the mirror in the Ahch-To cave and sees her parents as two shadowy figures). She's not a Skywalker, or a Solo, or a Kenobi, or a Palpatine, or even a Chosen-One-virgin-birth-Force-creation, and everyone who spent two years developing those theories must feel pretty dumb now.
But it's an empowering message for both Rey and the audience, and it keeps with the film's theme of bringing the Force back to the people. If the daughter of two alcoholic, cruel "nobodies" can be the galaxy's new hope and one of the most innately powerful Force wielders of all time, it teaches us that you don't have to be born to privilege to make a real difference in the world.

Luke Skywalker

Luke's arc in The Last Jedi was about accepting his failings. He failed Kylo by not believing that he could be saved from the Dark Side, and he failed Rey, too, by pushing her away when she revealed her own plan of turning Kylo to the Light. But as Yoda told him, failure is the best teacher. Luke learned to stop focusing on his mistakes – "still looking to the horizon, never here, now," Yoda said – and face reality: his nephew was beyond redemption, Rey was the key to saving the galaxy, and his sister needed his help.
Luke's showdown with the First Order wasn't just his return to the forefront of the galactic conflict. Appearing on Crait as a Force projection rather than in person could be viewed as just a more convenient method of helping his friends ASAP, but it can't be a coincidence that Luke stalled the First Order and saved the Resistance all without hurting a single person. Jedi aren't supposed to respond to violence with more violence, and the Order never understood that. 
Luke's death was difficult to swallow, but as he said himself, no one's ever really gone. He seems to have overexerted his physical form by projecting himself across the galaxy like that, but there's no way that he isn't coming back in Force ghost form in Episode IX. And since we saw Yoda's ghost summon a bolt of lightning to burn down the Force tree, Luke might even be able to make tangible contributions to the Resistance from beyond the grave.

Kylo Ren

The Force Awakens treated Kylo as an immature villain whose deep inner conflict and emotional depth was overshadowed by his hilarious tantrums and highly-debated loss to Rey in their duel. But The Last Jedi cements him as a fascinating character whose significance to the Sequel Trilogy nearly rivals Rey's.
For the better part of the movie, Kylo was a protagonist. Rey saw the chance for redemption in him, and so did the audience. He couldn't bring himself to kill his mother and he formed a genuine bond with Rey over their shared turmoil. When the time came, he killed Snoke, his true enemy, saving Rey and freeing Kylo from his master's control.
But at the end of the day, Kylo's neglect by his parents and uncle has made him an unstable and selfish individual. He finally found someone just as powerful and emotionally damaged as him, and it's no surprise that he seemed to develop more-than-friendly feelings for Rey. So when she rejected him, it only sent him spiraling further toward the Dark Side and seemingly destroyed any mercy he previously held.
Now that he's the Supreme Leader of the First Order, Kylo will be the central villain of Episode IX, completely focused on snuffing out the Resistance and getting revenge on the mother who abandoned him and the girl who refused to join him. There's still a chance of his redemption, but you can bet he and Rey will have some epic duels before he considers switching sides.

Leia Organa

When Leia was thrown into the vacuum of space, body icing over, it was so easy to think that she was really gone. Carrie Fisher's death has loomed over the film for almost a year now; it wouldn't be surprising if they cut out most of her role and gave her this sudden death after just a couple of scenes. The quiet notes of "Princess Leia's Theme" made it an especially tearjerking tribute to the character and Fisher herself.
But then Leia's finger moved and her eyes opened and her body started to thaw, and then she used the Force to fly back to the cruiser and save herself, as her musical theme played loud and strong. This wasn't her tragic sendoff, it was one of her most empowering scenes ever. The filmmakers originally wanted to give Leia an incredible Force moment, they wanted her to keep on giving orders and doling out advice for the rest of the film, and Fisher's death changed none of that. 
The Last Jedi was never meant to be Leia's last appearance, but it captured the essence of her character perfectly. She wielded blasters, she had no patience for her hotshot male friends, and she stood strong as a symbol of hope and rebellion. She had a beautiful reunion with Luke and even some semblance of a reunion with Kylo (they were probably intended to have a real face-to-face confrontation in Episode IX).
Editing Fisher's scenes to give her a convenient death – either if her body stayed still when she was blasted into space, or if she took Holdo's place as the veteran leader to stay behind on the Raddus – would have been far easier in some respects, since Episode IX will now have to explain her sudden absence. But this really is the sendoff that Leia – and Fisher – deserved.

Finn

Finn started off The Last Jedi the same way that he ended The Force Awakens: focused on Rey, just Rey, and not really caring too much about the Resistance. Once again, he tried to run, but it was Rose who inspired him and changed his mind. On Canto Bight, she showed him just how much injustice there was in the galaxy, and despite DJ's advice to stay neutral, he chose to do the right thing and stick with the Resistance.
Of course, Finn's whole mission with Rose was pointless. They failed to find the codebreaker that Maz suggested, they got caught aboard the Supremacy, and the whole mission was totally unnecessary, since Holdo and Leia had their own plan of escaping the First Order. If anything, they hurt the Resistance by handing the First Order a codebreaker who exposed their transports.
But at least Finn got some closure on his past by defeating Phasma, and he learned to be just as boneheaded a hero as Poe, which, uh, is some kind of progress for his character. Finn seems to be motivated by a true moral compass now, not just his crushes on smarter, braver women like Rey and Rose, and we can assume that he'll be giving his all alongside them in Episode IX.

Poe Dameron

Poe Dameron is an idiot. That's not really an opinion, it's more of a fact that the movie repeatedly presents. His disrespect for Leia and Holdo's orders had sexist undertones, and it was almost nice to see them (literally) slap him around for the first half of the movie. 
But Poe did seem to learn something from it. At the end of the movie, he evolved from his immature "hero" mentality and stepped in to lead the Resistance, guiding them through the Crait caverns to safety while Leia proudly trailed behind. With the General out of the picture in Episode IX and most of their other leadership dead, Poe will certainly be taking up the mantle as the new head of the Resistance in Episode IX.

Chewbacca

After his one reunion scene with Luke, Chewie didn't have much to do on Ahch-To. In fact, most of his scenes were just comic relief involving the porgs; as fans predicted, Chewie roasted a few and intended to eat them, but ultimately let them nest in the Falcon and hang out in the cockpit during his dogfight on Crait.
Though he served as Rey's chauffeur to and from the Supremacy, Chewie proved himself to be the Falcon's rightful pilot and the savior of the Resistance, rather than just her sidekick. And this time, he got the hug with Leia that he was so sorely deprived after Han's death in The Force Awakens. With new pets and a ship full of friends, Chewie's doing pretty well. 

Rose Tico

As expected, Rose was the most relatable character and a stand-in for the audience. She was wowed by Finn as a legendary stormtrooper-turned-hero who blew up Starkiller Base and saved the day. But she didn't play second fiddle to him during their adventure; she saw right through the glamour of Canto Bight and educated him on galactic classism.
Rose's had the natural moral compass of Rey or Poe, but without either of their heroic star power. Coming from a planet stripped by the First Order for its resources, she had a natural grudge against the First Order, but it didn't make her jaded. She was fun, she was good at her job, she was compassionate, she was selfless, and it was these subtleties to her character that made her the Asian-American female hero fans were waiting for. 
The film didn't let Rose shine in the way that Holdo or her sister Paige did. But when Finn questioned why she risked her life to stop his suicide path to the battering ram cannon, she delivered one of the best lines in the movie that perfectly summed up her purity: "I saved you, dummy. That's how we're gonna win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love."

Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo

Initially introduced as an antagonist for Poe, Holdo proved herself to be nothing short of a hero and an icon. She wasn't the coward and traitor that Poe made her out to be; she was a skilled tactician who confidently stepped in to lead the Resistance, and no one can blame her for having no patience for Poe's hotheaded insolence.
Holdo's death had the potential to be a "the captain goes down with the ship" cliché. Instead, she pulled off one of the most ballsy, awesome starship maneuvers ever seen in Star Wars. The whole suicidal ramming technique has been done before – just ask the A-Wing in Return of the Jedi, or Rogue One's Hammerhead Corvette – but Holdo took it to a whole new level, resulting in a silent, stunning sequence in which she literally split the First Order fleet into pieces.

Yep, Amilyn Holdo singlehandedly saved the Resistance in a stunt that would have Han Solo turning in his grave. Even if she had been the villain Poe first saw her as, that would have redeemed her. It's a shame she was certainly obliterated in the process, but God damn she went out with a bang.

DJ

DJ was probably the worst of the three major new characters, mostly defined by his stutter and eccentricity. But in a trilogy that definitively presents the Resistance as "the good guys" and the First Order as the "the bad guys," it was interesting to see the perspective of someone who chose neither. Both sides perpetuate ceaseless violence and destruction, so can you blame him for staying neutral?
DJ seemed to have left on his (stolen ship) with the First Order's paycheck before the cruiser got Holdo'd, so as long as the fan response to his character turns out positive, he'll probably come back in Episode IX to lend a hand to our heroes or villains...and then switch sides again.

Snoke

Snoke's scenes fleshed him out (literally, since he was seen in-person for the first time) as unforgiving, sadistic, and very strong in the Force. He probed Rey's mind without breaking a sweat, and both times she tried to fight back (first by summoning the Skywalker saber, then Kylo's), he flung her around like she was nothing.
As the Emperor-like figure of this trilogy, we all expected Snoke to live on until Episode IX and eventually reveal his true identity to the audience...which is why his death was such a shock. Given his immense power and influence, it's easy to imagine him returning, but that would make no sense from a storytelling perspective; his death serves the purpose of liberating Kylo and making him the new "big bad," and there's no point in undoing that.
Someday a story might explain who Snoke really is. Or maybe he's just Snoke, a plot device used to facilitate Kylo's descent to the Dark Side and then bisected when deemed unnecessary. If Rian Johnson decided that he doesn't care, maybe we shouldn't, either.

Captain Phasma

Oh, Phasma. It turns out all you needed to become a badass was a hunger for revenge. Between addressing Finn as "FN-2187," insisting that he and Rose die painfully by laser axe rather than blaster, and pushing Finn over a ledge after proving herself the better warrior, Phasma was finally treated as a threatening villain in The Last Jedi...which is why it's such a shame that she had to die.
At least her death was a memorable one. After getting pushed over a ledge by Phasma, Finn got the drop on her and smashed part of her mask, exposing Gwendoline Christie's eye in a shot that called back to a memorable Darth Vader scene from Star Wars Rebels. She even got one last verbal jab – "You were always scum" – before falling into flames.
Of course, Phasma didn't fare too well at the end of The Force Awakens either, but still managed to come back, so we can't completely rule out her return. After all, the Phasma novel revealed that more than anything else, she's a survivor. The only question is if fans even care at this point, since the Sequel Trilogy is clearly uninterested in giving her the meaty villain role that we so desperately wanted.
Ultimately, Phasma's character has always been defined by her relationship to Finn. And maybe that's okay. Maybe Phasma was always meant to be Finn's antagonist, in the same way that Kylo is Rey's. Maybe she just didn't serve that much purpose anymore, seeing as the Kylo/Hux dynamic already provided tension in the First Order's leadership. She'll probably still go down in history as a woefully underused Star Wars character, but hey, at least she'll always have that one Supremacy hangar scene. 

General Hux

While The Force Awakens made Hux out to be a ginger Hitler, The Last Jedi toned down the Nazi allegory and instead mocked Hux as the sniveling, cartoonish general that he was. From the first scenes of the movie, he was more of a source of comic relief than a legitimately threatening villain.
Hux's rivalry with Kylo – the most interesting part of his character – has taken an interesting turn, now that Kylo is the Supreme Leader and they're not competing for Snoke's praise anymore. With Kylo growing increasingly unhinged, we can look forward to more delicious scenes of him bickering with (and Force-choking) Hux in Episode IX.

Maz Kanata

Maz only got one scene in the movie, but you have to give the filmmakers credit; they could have easily just given her a generic hologram communication with Poe, Finn, and Rose. Instead, she was in the middle of a war zone (a "union dispute," as she called it) with a blaster and a jetpack as she provided our heroes with details on an old acquaintance of hers.
Granted, her cameo was almost definitely due more to Nyong'o's contract more than a necessity for her in the story, but at least it revealed something new about her character: she can fight. And with the Resistance in desperate need of allies, she's sure to return in Episode IX to lend them a hand once again.

The droids (BB-8, C-3PO, and R2-D2)

Once again, the new, shiny droids – BB-8 and BB-9E – took the spotlight while the legacy bots stayed to the sidelines. BB-8 wasn't nearly as central to the plot as he was in The Force Awakens, but he still had some great scenes with Poe and Finn and Rose, saving each of them at various points. (The highlight, of course, was BB-8 piloting an AT-ST to draw Phasma's attention.)
C-3PO got some funny interactions with Leia and Poe as he fretted about their imminent demise. Artoo, meanwhile, had far too small a role but still made quite an impact, singlehandedly changing Luke's mind with Leia's heartwarmingly nostalgic "Help me, Obi-Wan..." recording.

Yoda

If Yoda's ghost had appeared in front of Rey to give some generic words of wisdom, it would have been sweet but unnecessary. Instead, his appearance was a truly touching one, as he and Luke both reflected about the end of the Jedi Order and the failure that all masters must accept. (Yoda, after all, trained Count Dooku.)
There's always the possibility of Yoda coming back to coach Rey alongside Luke's ghost, but he really shouldn't. The practical effects, while jarring, made this scene a perfect callback to Yoda's introduction in The Empire Strikes Back. He was funny, powerful, and as wise as ever. It'll be nice to see him in future stories in different time periods, but when it comes to the Sequel Trilogy, let's let Yoda rest.

Paige Tico

More so than even Holdo, Paige was the unsung hero of The Last Jedi. We never expected that Rose's sister would have such a pivotal role in the opening scenes of the movie. We saw her fear, we saw her struggle, we saw her determination, and we saw her drop those bombs to destroy the Dreadnought, saving the Raddus and all of its crew and personnel. 
Rose's screen-time and character development was exponentially greater, but Paige was the one who got the true hero moment, the kind of which has never been given to a woman of color in Star Wars before. The Tico sisters are equally important when it comes to the representation and empowerment of Asian-American women in this movie.

What did you think of Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Where do you think the Sequel Trilogy will go from here? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @SithObserver, and may the Force be with you all. 

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