I was very uncomfortable when I walked out of The Last Jedi. It wasn’t the movie I wanted at all. None of the stuff I was looking forward to had happened. And I couldn’t wrap my head around the stuff that had.
Thanks in large part to my understanding partner I was able to go see it again, free of expectation, the next night. I liked it a lot more, and some of the ideas and sequences are some of the best ever in Star Wars. I take issue with some stuff, but I can say I'm already planning to see it again.
After two viewings, here are my thoughts.
I’ve had a Luke Skywalker ANH lightsaber as my keychain since before I actually needed to carry keys around. It’s worn down at this point, barely recognizable, but I still carry it with me.
Luke’s story was, by far, the hardest thing to accept in The Last Jedi. It wasn’t so much who he was in this movie, it was who he apparently was in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens (which The Last Jedi filled in). I don’t imagine him giving up on a student. I don’t imagine him going into exile. I don’t imagine him losing hope, ever.
Maybe it’s that he’s older and wiser. As you become wiser, you lose the naivety could have driven Luke to take big risks and be a hero in the original trilogy. Maybe that same wiseness is what led him to give up. Maybe as he gained experience he lost hope.
Regardless of why he was the way he was, the only thing I needed to do to appreciate, and even enjoy, Luke’s arc in The Last Jedi was to let go of who I thought he’d be. This is literally something Luke says in the movie, out loud. The film shares its main themes with the audience pretty explicitly.
Luke gets the heroic moment I desperately wanted, but he has to find hope again to get there. Standing on Crait is the Luke from Return of the Jedi (minus his green lightsaber) performing a feat that only a Jedi master could. I also really like the conversation at the end with Leia, loosely paraphrased as “I can’t save him. But, nobody is gone forever.” It’s the hopeful Luke we want, except now it comes from a place of experience.
“See you around, kid.”
I hope so.
Side note: People are blaming Rian Johnson for ruining Luke, but shouldn’t we be blaming Lawrence Kasdan or J. J. Abrams? They wrote The Force Awakens and sent Luke into exile.
On the Kylo Ren / Rey force connection
I am 100% here for this. Their reactions are so pure: Rey immediately gives into instinct while Kylo Ren focuses on the mechanics of how it is happening. Since neither of them can affect the other, it completely disarms them and they can form an emotional connection and be vulnerable. This builds, with each conversation, in such a real way and ultimately culminates excellently in the throne room scene, which we’ll get to later.
On top of that, there are fun force mechanics to speculate about: ”Whoa, he had water on his face!” “Wait, could Luke see Kylo Ren too?”
This quickly became one of my favorite things in a Star Wars movie ever.
On the throne room and Kylo Ren’s “redemption”
This whole scene, start to finish, is already standing out as one of my favorites of all time. It’s twisty and unexpected, but still holds up on repeat viewings because of that jaw-dropping lightsaber battle.
After Snoke is killed, it seems like Kylo Ren is redeemed. But, in a double twist, he’s not. He doesn’t save Rey and kill Snoke because he’s conflicted. He knows he’s been used by Snoke and Kylo Ren kills Snoke because he has resolved to be his own person.
This is consistent with what he’s been saying the entire film. He doesn’t care about what his elders tell him to care about. Han, Luke, Snoke, the Jedi and the Sith are the past. Kill them all. (His words, not mine.)
Kylo Ren has spent the film up to this point forming a connection with Rey. He knows she’s powerful. He almost begs her to join him. The disappointment in her voice shows she feels the same connection.
I find this challenge to the good/bad duality to be deeply satisfying. Kylo Ren killed the bad guy but is still the bad guy! In another surprising twist, this character arc actually made me like Kylo Ren more in The Force Awakens. I find him much easier to sympathize with now.
On Rey’s powers
Rey has always seemed to be overpowered. She knows how to do things that people in previous films have had to practice. I don’t know if this is a narrative change in the way the force works or if we’re supposed to think that Rey is just super in touch with the force.
The throne room battle is a good example. How can she be so skilled with a lightsaber? How could she possibly defeat those guards?
Her power isn’t “right” or “wrong.” The writer doesn’t have to stick to the previously decided “rules”. But, it IS less interesting. It’s more rewarding to watch a character get powerful through training, not just discover they have super powers.
I was hoping for a Jedi training montage. Obviously that wouldn’t have made sense thematically in this film, but some explanation for her skills would have been nice. I just decided to accept her powers and that makes it so much easier to enjoy things like the throne room scene.
One theory I had: Snoke mentions that as the darkness rises the light rises to meet it. And then specifically says as Kylo Ren gets stronger someone will meet him. Maybe Rey is literally getting stronger because Kylo Ren is? That could be cool that the balance is being kept and Kylo Ren and Rey can’t get any more powerful without giving power to the other one.
On Leia’s powers
In Return of the Jedi Luke reveals to Leia that they’re siblings by telling her that she also has the power he has: “You have that power too. In time you'll learn to use it as I have.” It isn’t a big surprise that she’d actually use that power.
Rian Johnson has said he likes to think it was instinct, Leia reacting automatically in an emergency situation.
Thematically, I’m on board. But, something about the scene didn’t play right. Maybe it was how drawn out it was, maybe it was the CGI, or maybe it was that Carrie Fisher has passed away and that added a strange layer to the scene.
On Canto Bight and the plan to sneak onto Snoke’s ship
The Canto Bight side-mission ultimately accomplished nothing. If you removed it from the movie, the plot stays intact. But, is that all there is?
I think this huge failure of Poe, Finn, and Rose speaks to one of the films core themes. When Yoda visits Luke he explains that failure is the best teacher. Poe gets another lesson in the costs of being a hero, hopefully one that sticks. Finn learns what the resistance is really fighting for and about being a part of something bigger, which is something he struggles with. And Rose is pushed onto the front lines, no longer a background player.
I think thematically it was important. And I think it accomplished a lot in terms of character growth. But, why didn’t Holdo tell Poe what was up when he found out she was loading the transports? Why was it a secret? Was it her pride that kept her from answering to a lower ranked officer? If so it’s clearly a mistake in judgement since it led Poe to mutiny.
Not telling Poe is the only thing I’d really call a plot hole in the film.
On Luke’s show of power
I had hoped, as soon as The Force Awakens ended, that we’d get a huge show of power from Luke in The Last Jedi. And when he walked out onto Crait to face the walkers I knew this was it. At first I was disappointed in what we got, a force illusion.
But, pretty quickly a couple of things become clear. First, Luke wouldn’t walk out onto the battlefield and throw walkers around. He’s become a peaceful hermit, running from the dark, I doubt he’d show such aggression. Second, projecting himself physically, across the galaxy to a crowd of people (and droids!) is pretty incredible. He kissed Leie! He talked to C-3PO! Not only that, but he projected the dice too!
In the end I got my show of power, just not in the way I imagined.
If you want comfort food, here is where The Last Jedi delivers. Yoda is in his very best form, the mischievous old master who always knows how to get his point across. This is original trilogy Yoda delivering an important lesson. He’s even a puppet again!
I think they can go the comfort food route with Yoda because it’s a one scene cameo. There doesn’t need to be an arc, there doesn’t even need to be story. As much as I would have liked to see Luke from Return of the Jedi, I’m not sure what kind of story arc that would have left him with.
It’s apparent right away that this is the best looking Star Wars movie ever. It’s like a flip-book of awesome posters. But, the cinematography is masterful in how it also serves the story. Here’s an example I noticed from my extremely limited experience as an amateur photographer:
When framing a person close up we typically put them off center, looking towards the open part of the frame. This feels natural and comfortable. If you frame them off center but looking towards the edge of the frame it feels like they either have their face up against a wall or are looking at something off frame the audience can’t see.
In the Jedi library when Luke is interrogating Rey about why she’s there, Rey is framed exactly the “wrong” way. She’s off center and her face is close to the edge of the frame in a way that feels claustrophobic. That’s probably how she was feeling too.
I think Star Wars should be all things. That means emotional, but it also means funny. I think The Last Jedi does this almost perfectly. I felt Rey’s tears, I felt Kylo Ren’s anger, and I appreciated a frustrated Chewbacca having his meal ruined by a crying porg.
But, that first scene with Hux and Poe that everyone is talking about? Yeah, I felt that too. I think the problem is that the joke feels like it’s based on cell phone reception and also like the kind of thing we’d see on SNL. It doesn’t quite fit in.
That first joke landed wrong for me and I was worried. But, the film quickly corrects itself. Luke milking that creature fit right in and I even had a laugh at a drunk leprechaun trying to play BB-8 like a slot machine.