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Warning: The Spoilers are coming! The Spoilers are coming!
I think it’s time for me to share my thoughts about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Before I get into that, though, let me remind you of my Star Wars resume. I’ve been a loyal fan since 1980. The Empire Strikes Back is one of the earliest movies I remember watching in the cinema. I remained a fan when it appeared that no one else really cared about the saga anymore.
Immediately after its release, I read the Thrawn Trilogy several times. I was also a fan of the Han Solo Adventures, the Jedi Academy Trilogy, and the Tales of the Jedi Dark Horse comics. I was a Star Wars trivia fanatic – I even won our school-wide Star Wars trivia contest when I was in college. And I have to intentionally get questions wrong so I can get people to keep playing Star Wars Trivial Pursuit with me.
Needless to say, I’m a big fan. I have been for nearly four decades.
Not too long ago, they announced that the storyline that was created during the three-plus decades of novels and comic books were no longer “canon.” Shortly before that announcement, I had just finished reading the “Fate of the Jedi” series. In some ways, this announcement had come as a bit of a relief. Because while I appreciated a lot about the series – especially the new relationship between the New Republic and the Galactic Empire – I had finally come to a conclusion. It was a conclusion I had been wrestling with for some time and it had been rattling around in my heart and mind for a while. This isn’t my Star Wars anymore.
And it hasn’t been since shortly after the Thrawn Trilogy.
There were hints of greatness, like the Jacen and Jaina Solo dynamic. There’s parts of me that wishes these two were in the new Trilogy instead of Ben Skywalker (who was Luke and Mara’s son). Oh, and a married Jedi who didn’t have to hide it? That would’ve been cool. I really liked Mara Jade’s character.
But there were other things. The lost Sith ship. The Maw. Abeloth. The way they killed Chewbacca. Not a fan. It felt like they started to deviate a bit from the spirit of the Original Trilogy. In many ways, it felt like Star Wars had lost its way.
But it’s not my Star Wars anymore. It hasn’t been for a long time.
Spoilers ahead. Abandon all Spoiler-free hope, ye who continue.
Now that I’ve said all of this, I’m not so sure if I’m happy about what I’m going to say. I can understand the frustration of some of my Star Wars fan brothers and sisters. In many ways, it feels like the latest installment takes a sharp, unexpected 90º turn from the previous two trilogies. It was easy to find yourself disoriented. And disappointed. Believe me. I get it. It’s how I felt after The Phantom Menace. The film just didn’t live up to the hype.
And maybe that’s part of the problem. We build up these movies and expect the new offerings to capture the same magic of the Original Trilogy. That’s an impossible task.
There’s a reason A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are my favorites and will always be my favorites. It was new. It was exciting. And it was unlike anything I’d ever seen or experienced. Of course, the massive collection of Star Wars toys that my friend down the street and I had didn’t really hurt things, either. That was my Star Wars. It’s the saga I grew up on.
These other trilogies are fine. The Prequels are not my cup of tea, but I think I’ve softened on their value over time.* They mostly keep the spirit of the Original Trilogy, building on the grand story that George and Marcia Lucas were able to tell.**
They’re part of the Star Wars saga. But they’re not my Star Wars.
I’ve tried to accept them as my Star Wars, but they really aren’t. And that’s OK. Because they really aren’t geared towards me. Although my demographic is buying the Star Wars toys to 1.) collect and 2.) encourage my kids, nieces, nephews, and cousins’ kids to play with, I wasn’t the target audience of the Prequels. And I’m not the target audience of this sequel Trilogy.
And if you’re reading this, that probably means this isn’t your Star Wars, either.
Does The Last Jedi go places that I wouldn’t have taken the series? Yeah. Are there some things that make the movie feel like it isn’t part of the Star Wars saga? Sure. But if I’m honest, there’s only three movies that feel like my Star Wars. So I shouldn’t be surprised by this. In fact, I’m OK with it.
After all, Master Skywalker says in The Last Jedi that change is inevitable. You might say it’s unavoidable. It is your…destiny.
Spoilers start here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Personally, I liked the way The Last Jedi made references to The Empire Strikes Back and even Return of the Jedi. One of the loudest criticisms of The Force Awakens is that it feels like a retelling of A New Hope. Protagonist grows up on a desert planet…Millennium Falcon takes protagonist away from out of the way planet…Bad Guys have built a big weapon that can destroy a lot of stuff with one shot…Hooded, helmeted Dark Side dude kills the protagonist’s father figure…Bad guy base is destroyed by a group of stunt fighters…Leia is not blown up by the planet destroying Bad Guy Base.
I get it.
The similarities were undeniable. But at least the first episode of the new trilogy didn’t involve a planet named Tatooine. You know, for an out of the way planet, Tatooine was pretty central to the events that occurred that changed the course of the galaxy. AmIright?
But I digress…
So there was an uproar about how The Force Awakens is just a retelling of A New Hope. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Maggots were even running down from the hills. Because, heaven help us if the second installment of the third trilogy winds up being a retelling of The Empire Strikes Back. Nevermind the fact that most of the people who shouted so loudly about how awful The Force Awakens is probably also say that The Empire Strikes Back is their favorite Star Wars movie (it’s mine, too. Kind of.). It’s pretty obvious that the storytellers behind The Last Jedi wanted to pay homage to both Empire and Jedi. But it’s pretty clear, however, that this film is not merely a rehashing of Episode V. Every time I recognized a nod to Empire, feeling like I was in familiar territory, the story took an unexpected turn.
I think some found that refreshing. Others found it very unsettling.
A brief interlude…
As I was listening to Christmas music on the radio during the days after watching The Last Jedi with Aiden, I came to a small revelation. I hope I can explain it as well as it sounds in my head.
Every year, we listen to the same Christmas carols. There’s the classics like Joy to the World, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, and the Hallelujah Chorus. We know what those are supposed to sound like. They should have a certain tempo to them, even if they were just recorded yesterday. As a rule, you don’t mess with the classics unless you want a backlash. This rule is not unlike the Star Spangled Banner rule I learned in marching band.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. When you can bend this rule just the right amount, creativity abounds. It takes an artist to know how far is too far and how much is too much when it comes to changing the classics. Because everyone knows the rhythm. Everyone knows the melody. Everyone knows what the song is supposed to feel like. It’s familiar. It’s comforting. That’s why people keep going back to those songs. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
If Star Wars fans are anything like me, they’ve become familiar with the rhythms of the Original Trilogy. I’m such a geek when it comes to this stuff, I can tell you within the first few measures if a recording of the Main Star Wars Theme was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra or some other performance group from around the world. It’s embedded into my memory. You might even say it’s been etched into my soul. I’m so familiar with the original that my hairs stand on end when I encounter something different.***
Big. Huge. Spoilers. Here. Right now.
Whether you were expecting a retelling of The Empire Strikes Back or not, you surely recognized patterns in the story. I mean, the story opens up with the Rebels evacuating a compromised base. Sounds a lot like Hoth. Right? More on that in a minute. But you expect the good guys to get away and rendezvous somewhere out in space where they can regroup and plan their next attack.
And now you’re fired up because you’re all ready to fire up your twitter machine and complain about how this is the exact same movie as your favorite movie, The Empire Strikes Back. And how that’s a bad thing, showing no creativity at all.
Oops. The story takes a 90º turn. They’re tracked. And ambushed. The Resistance is doomed. More than a third of the movie (that’s an estimate) involves the
Imperial First Order engaging in the slowest car chase ever.
But now that I mentioned Hoth…
The final battle took place on a white planet with a bunch of AT-AT looking machines. Just like Hoth in the first battle in Empire. Much of the cinematography echoes that battle, including the Rebels taking to the trenches to make ready for the ground assault, since a shield was protecting them from bombardment. The whole sequence leading up to the Falcon’s arrival echoed the Hoth battle. But then the whole story took a major shift. Just like almost every other reference to Empire during The Last Jedi.
Then there’s the Jedi training.
If The Last Jedi was going to follow the rhythm of the Original Trilogy and The Empire Strikes Back, the Student would meet the Master and beg him to be trained. Of course, the Master will come up with all kinds of excuses not to train the prospective student. That’s expected. Right?
Of course, Luke takes us for another 90º turn. It’s not that he just doesn’t want to train Rey. He doesn’t even want the Jedi to exist. This is totally unlike anything we’ve heard from any other Jedi. Instead of a hope-filled, inspiring Luke Skywalker who wouldn’t give up on his twisted and evil father, we find a broken, bitter, and defeated Luke who has lost all faith in the religion that was supposed to keep the galaxy in balance.
Luke was right. From a certain point of view.
I know Mark Hamill was pretty vocal about Jedi don’t give up and he disagreed with almost every decision Luke made. But look at how the Jedi acted in the Prequels. They were arrogant. They could not be questioned. And in their hubris, they got played. And the galaxy suffered for their pompous conceit. The arrogance displayed in the Jedi Order has always bothered me. I have always expected the Guardians of Peace to show more servant leadership, but I get the feeling I’m in the minority with that.
And if you bring in the noncanonical formerly canon books, there’s even more damning evidence: Kyp Durron and Jacen Solo. Yes, Kyp eventually found redemption, a lot of damage was done beforehand. Of course, those are “legends” now and not really part of the story, but they do give us some background. So when he really trains his nephew in the now-canonical storyline, he failed him.
Maybe Luke isn’t a very good teacher.
And if that’s the case, then maybe the Jedi should have just puttered out and a new movement of Light Side Force sensitive disciples would rise up and take their place. They could be the spark that lights the fire…you know the rest.
But that’s neither here nor there, I guess. Yoda reminded Luke that the Jedi aren’t the only keepers of the Light Side. But then Luke told Kylo Ren that he will not be the last Jedi.
So Luke had a very good point. And I hope the new Jedi who rise up out of these ashes will learn from their predecessors past mistakes and maintain a certain level of humility. That’s my hope for this new generation of Jedi we will hopefully see in the final episode of this Trilogy.
Back to the Master/Padawan training in Episode VIII…
In addition to Luke’s belief that the Jedi must end, here are a few other things that are counter to how Yoda trained Luke:
- Luke offered only three lessons.
- When Rey says “I’ll try again,” Luke did not reply with “There is no try.” Had he forgotten everything he had learned? It certainly appears that way.
- Much like Empire Strikes Back, Rey runs off before her “training” is complete. Her encounter with Snoke sure feels a lot like Luke’s Throne Room encounter with Palpatine in Return of the Jedi. Of course, there’s another 90º turn in Snoke’s defeat. And then another turn when Kylo and Rey join forces then fight each other for the lightsaber.
It’s almost like the audience is lulled into a secure place with a familiar storyline and then sent on a dizzying surprise of a ride. It can leave you reeling. This entry into the saga felt a lot like The Empire Strikes Back. It also felt absolutely nothing like The Empire Strikes Back. What does that mean? Conflict. Inner conflict.
I get it. I really do.
Let’s talk about character development.
The “lack of character development” is the biggest criticism I’ve seen in regards to The Last Jedi. Before we dig into this too much, I’d like to point out that this is only the second act of a three act arc. Of course, some of the characters are supposed to be fleshed out a little more while moving the story towards the final climax of the third act. Not all of their issues will be resolved at the end of the second act.
That being said, a lot of development does happen in The Last Jedi. I’m really not sure where this criticism comes from. Maybe the critics were so distracted by all of the unexpected 90º turns that they lost sight of what was happening. Or maybe they didn’t see more development in the characters they wanted to see. But let’s take a look at some of the development that occurred…
Although concerned about seeing Rey again, Finn is really only looking after himself at the beginning of the film. When things go south and all hope is lost, he tries to run away. By the end of the film, he’s trying to sacrifice himself for the Resistance. He has certainly changed during this time.
Luke isn’t merely the typical heroic character anymore. He has completely shut himself off from the Force and gone into hiding. He has no desire to get involved in matters of the galaxy. And he’s living in fear. In the end, he sacrifices himself for his sister and her band of rebels.
There’s a tremendous amount of angst in this character, and we see the conflict within him in almost every scene. He wants to be evil. He wants to rule the galaxy. And it’s clear that he still wants to take his “rightful” place as the successor to Darth Vader. But he also can’t bring himself to kill Leia. There’s this tension with Rey. There are times when he wants to kill her. Or he’s beginning to like her. While he might still be the same character at the end of the film, we know a lot more about him. He’s conflicted. He’s not just the whiny, temper tantrum throwing boy from The Force Awakens. I saw more depth in his character this go-round.
We saw how manipulative he is. Remember when Luke told the Emperor that his overconfidence was his weakness? We saw that with Snoke. It was his undoing.
Did we learn his whole backstory? Nope. Did we know Palpatine’s story in the Original Trilogy? Nope. I don’t really care where Snoke came from. I don’t see how it would have helped to move the story along.
She’s still searching for her place in this story. But her little “making rocks float” trick at the end of the movie certainly pointed her in the right direction. I’m not convinced she really knows who her parents are. I’m still holding out hope that she’s the long lost daughter of Luke and Mara Skywalker. But that hope is quickly dying. But hey, all you need’s a spark. Right?
Here’s the deal, though. Even if her parents really were just junk traders who are now buried in an unmarked grave, there’s no reason to get all bent out of shape about that. Yes, this saga is about the Skywalker family. But there’s room for more. After all, “Always in motion is the future.” Or something like that.
Moviemaking has changed.
I think another way this trilogy feels so out of place is that they’re continuing the story more than three decades after the Original Trilogy was released. Storytelling has changed. Technology has changed. The special effects finally caught up with the vast space opera that George Lucas envisioned in the Original Trilogy. Storytelling rhythms have changed. Lighting has changed. Comedic relief has changed.
Things have changed. And that’s OK. Does that make this movie better or worse? Not really. It just makes things different.
But it’s also a great example of how this isn’t my Star Wars anymore. There’s no way it can be.
I’ve defended The Last Jedi quite a bit. Here are some things I don’t like about the movie.
Super Space Leia
Oh my gosh. I had heard that they were going to have to deal with the untimely passing of our dear Carrie Fisher in the next episode. But when the bridge blew up and she was floating out in space, I thought that maybe this was it. It was a way to surprise everyone and give her a noble death early in Episode VIII instead of IX.
But then Leia became Supergirl. In space.
I’m not going to lie. It felt like I was watching Guardians of the Galaxy. I’ve always had the impression that Leia was stronger in the Force than Luke. And this sudden revelation of her ability to fly through space certainly revealed Force sensitivity.
But it was too much for me. It didn’t sit well with me. In fact, it’s my least favorite part of the movie. It might even be my least favorite part of the entire saga.* It’s awful. I wish they had never included this.
Maybe they can digitally remove it when they release a Special Edition.
I’m not holding my breath.
Admiral Ackbar’s death.
I feel like this character deserved more than just an announcement that he was dead. I realize that you can’t sit around and dwell on every little death in a sweeping epic like this. But Admiral Ackbar deserved better.
And because they already hastily announced his off screen death, I feel like they limited themselves in how they’re going to be able to handle the absence of General Leia in the next episode. But that really shouldn’t be my concern, I guess. I’m not telling this story.
And it definitely isn’t my Star Wars anymore.
The storyline is a bit disorienting because of the unexpected turns that the film takes. I have to say, though, that I liked most of the turns that the film takes. I think it winds up going in the right direction.
Do I wish they used more from the older material like the books, comics, and video games? Of course. But there’s a danger in using that original material. We could’ve wound up with a movie about Abeloth. Or Prince Xizor. Or wyrwolves (that’s not a typo) or zombies. Yes, zombies.
There’s a lot of great stuff in the original material. I get that. But I think I’m OK with the way they’re handling the story. Upon reflection, in spite of the obvious faults, I think The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars episode outside of the Original Trilogy. And I’m interested to see how they tie things up in Episode IX.
But it really doesn’t matter what I think. Because this isn’t my Star Wars anymore.
I promise, though, that if they wind up dropping a planet on Chewbacca’s head in Episode IX, I might have to go pull people’s arms out of their sockets.
I’m sure you disagree with me. What did YOU think of The Last Jedi?
*Except Episode II. The Clone Wars is the worst entry in the entire series. While I’m not familiar with many other films from 2002, it’s hard not to say that this is possibly one of the worst movies of the year. The only redeeming event was Yoda’s lightsaber skills. But he displayed those again in Revenge of the Sith, so it’s not the only time we see his fighting skills in all its glory. The plot is contrived and confusing. The dialogue is wooden and forced. And the chemistry between Anakin and Padme is virtually nonexistent. The Clone Wars is the culmination of all of the weaknesses of all of the other Star Wars films rolled into one stinker of a
video game movie.
**George’s wife at the time, Marcia, saved the first entry. According to several reports (including here and here), she re-edited the final Death Star Battle in A New Hope. That’s the best 20 minutes of storytelling in any film in the history of filmmaking. Don’t believe me? Tell me about a better 20 minutes. Fight me. She wasn’t around for the Special Editions or the Prequels. It shows, if you ask me.
***I think this is why the small changes in the Special Edition DVDs really bother me. Unnecessary sound effects were added and crazy things like the Jawa and the Ronto in Mos Eisley just stick out like sore thumbs to me. The re-insertion of the reunion of Biggs and Luke on Yavin 4, however, was a great addition because it finally helps the audience understand that this is the Biggs Luke talks about on Tatooine. That’s why Biggs’s fate in the Trench Battle is so heartbreaking. It’s not just that Luke is the last x-wing. He just lost his best friend.
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