If you have not seen the “The Last Jedi” and you don’t want to know anything about the movie please don’t read any further. Consider yourself warned.
Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” is a wonderful movie, and beautifully shot. I have seen it getting some criticism about its similarities Empire Strikes Back, I think they are overlooking a few things. First, Johnson is dealing with the set pieces that were set-up for him in episode VII. He didn’t have much choice about there being an evil empire attacking a small rebellion. Because he is dealing with the set pieces given him, I don’t really see this criticism as valid.
Second, this really doesn’t recognize the deliberate choices he makes to be different from “Empire Strikes Back”. First, in Empire Strikes Back all they have to do is go to light speed to escape the empire. He does away with this and gives the Empire the ability to track them. You might not like that choice, but you have to admit, that if you were the empire and your enemies kept eluding you, you would want to figure out a way to neutralize that. It also serves as a major plot point in the story, even if it is one that doesn’t pay off and is distracting from the main story told.
He also fast forwards, including elements of both Empire and Return of the Jedi. Snoke meets his doom here instead of next episode. However, Kylo doesn’t turn to the light; he instead claims power for himself. I could list others.
Johnson takes advantage of the story’s familiarity so that the turns, and the ways that this film is different can take you by surprise. At least that’s how it worked for me when Kylo Ren killed Snoke, and then didn’t turn to the light. It is how it worked, when you are all geared up for Finn to sacrifice himself for everyone else. It’s how it worked when Luke ultimately passes by himself on the island. You thought for sure Luke would be there to have one last show down, and would pull an Obi-wan. It was just great story telling.
But here is the BIG IDEA that I see throughout the film that I haven’t seen many people address. It is a line from Kylo when he is force-linked with Rey. “Let the past go. Kill it if you have to. It’s the only way you can become what you were meant to be.” By killing off Luke, and the Jedi tree, and setting up Kylo as the true villain who cannot be turned, he also killed off a major element of the past 7 episodes – the Skywalkers.
Many of the same people who have complained about this movie being repetitive, have also complained about how small the galaxy is because it seems to be all about the Skywalkers. By having Luke die at the end of this film and revealing that Rey’s parents were scavengers who sold her off to get drunk, he has passed on the baton for these films to a “no one.” In doing so, he counteracts one of the main ideas of the force being somewhat dependent on your parentage. Now, the most powerful light-side user in the universe can be anyone. That idea is reinforced by the final scene in the movie, and if you want millions to be able imagine themselves as being the hero/heroine of the universe this is the exact right way to do it. It opens up the stories to really go anywhere.
And ultimately, that is how I see this film, it gave nods to Empire, but also set the franchise up to go anywhere. It can become whatever it wants, and has freed itself from being the soap-opera of Skywalkers. If JJ Abrams comes along and does another Death Star that with Kylo being redeemed that will be his own fault, but I doubt that is where it will go.
Small Quibbles: I found the movie very funny at times, but the humor here is different than the originals. It is irreverent, and pokes fun at itself. Which is very funny. But it comes at the expense of taking itself seriously, or at least the main drama seriously. Also, all the main characters get in on the action of being funny. This eliminates there being straight characters, and character who were set-up for comic relief. (Obi-wan, and Luke were the former, and Han, C3PO, and R2D2 the latter.) I know these are meant to be fun, but I find the humor to be distracting at times and especially when it came at the expense of Hux. This made him a caricature, and I am not sure I can take him seriously from this point on.
I also didn’t care for the closing scene, but I get it artistically of why we revisited those three children and how it symbolizes the spark of what happened that day spreading around the galaxy. And again we see a force user who is a “no one.”
About Luke’s Death
I wish we could have seen Luke train Rey more, and seen him and Kylo really duel it out. That would have been fun. However, I liked how when he did pass, they made a call back to his original decision to go on this adventure in a New Hope. I thought it was masterfully done. Symbolizing two things at once, the sun setting on his time in the galaxy, and his moving on to a new adventure by becoming one with the force. A well done and fitting end to his story.
I am happy with this movie, and have a feeling that because I have only seen it once there is more there that I have missed. I look forward to see where we go from here.
After seeing it a second time, I take back everything I said about the humor. I now know where I have seen this type of humor and feel before. It was in a Lucas film, just not Star Wars. It was Indiana Jones. The whole movie was better on the second viewing. I would rank it up there with Empire as one of the best.