Initial Thoughts on The Last Jedi (SPOILERS!)

Monday, 18 December 2017


Okay, I am a massive Star Wars nerd – probably only a few pegs down from ‘walls of unopened Star Wars action figures in their original packaging’-level nerd – so I’ve obviously been extremely excited this year to see The Last Jedi.

I went into The Force Awakens with hope but scepticism – I’d never been disappointed by Star Wars before (yes, I do enjoy the prequel trilogy) but I’ve seen so many reboots and remakes and sequels go wrong, and Star Wars is my thing. The thing that has stayed with me my entire life, that I still adore to this day, that I literally have tattooed on my body. Much to my delight, I ended up being blown away by the combination of nostalgia, new direction and some of the best representation we’ve seen in a fictional movie world so far. Similarly, I went into The Last Jedi ultimately hopeful, but still not knowing what to expect, and knowing that there were so many unanswered questions that I may not end up liking the chosen answers to.

Unexpectedly, I wasn’t really sure what I thought when I left the cinema. “This isn’t going to go the way you think” was an understatement Luke, and as it turned out massively foreshadowed a number of different elements of the film. I walked away invigorated but confused by my own feelings; it didn’t end with me wanting to jump out of my seat with thunderous applause like I had with The Force Awakens. It wasn’t until I had time to reflect on it that I realised just how much I enjoyed and genuinely appreciated it.  I’ve heard others say it and I wholeheartedly agree: it may not have been what we wanted or expected, but it was what we needed.

I thought I’d include some of my early thoughts here, but be warned: there will be spoilers. Stop reading now if you haven’t already seen The Last Jedi!

You have been warned!

The Force

The Force is, obviously, integral to Star Wars and something that features heavily in canon and Expanded Universe lore, but it’s something that many of us have felt we already knew the limits of. We knew what to expect – Force push, maybe some mind tricks, lightning if you’re into that, all that good stuff. The Last Jedi shattered these expectations and used Luke and Leia in particular, but also Snoke, Rey and Kylo Ren to dip its toes into a wider world of what the Force really is.

We finally got to see Leia actually use the Force – not as a trained Jedi, not wielding a weapon, but as a seemingly dormant survival instinct that kicked in just as she was about to die. In true Carrie Fisher style, it was almost as if Leia simply wasn’t finished yet and was unwilling to check out until she was ready.

Luke’s use of the Force has apparently been a controversial one, but it was absolutely the display of Jedi power that we needed to see and I didn’t fully pick up on it until we saw him back on the island at all. We got a glimpse of the immense power that those of us who are familiar with the EU know Luke Skywalker wields – not in the form of an epic lightsaber battle but in the form of a grand but pacifist and elegant trick that brazenly exploited Kylo Ren’s weaknesses and that, to me, was 100% fit for a Jedi Master.  Mark Hamill in this movie was also utterly incredible, but I plan to go into this in another post.

The connection between Rey and Kylo Ren engineered by Snoke was another hint at elements of the Force that haven’t been explored before – we know that people can have connections and sense feelings through the Force, but having a ‘physical’ presence in the way we’ve experienced with these two (and Luke) in The Last Jedi is new and unfamiliar territory. Regardless of whether or not it was Snoke’s doing, it was a clever way to bring the two of them together without having to somehow get them to end up in the same physical location, and created a vulnerable intimacy that I found really compelling. And for the record, that’s even as someone who hates Reylo as a concept, but I’ll get to that another time because I disagree that the film suggests it’s even a thing moving forward.

The Theme of Identity

The cast and crew thought that Rey’s backstory and lineage were done and dusted with The Force Awakens, but with the massive amount of interest from fans evidently needed to address it and put it to rest once and for all. Assuming that Kylo Ren isn’t lying or manipulating Rey in some way, she (and we) now know that her parents simply weren’t important. I find this a huge relief, not just because I didn’t personally want to see any other Skywalkers or Kenobis or what have you, but because it’s integral to the theme of identity that runs through the film.

Kylo Ren and Rey are two sides of the same coin; in addition to being representative of dark and light, they’re both trying to navigate who they are and find their places in the universe. Rey is the nobody thrust into a world of adventure and heroes and expectations, who constantly looks to her past to try to find meaning and her place and purpose in the circumstances she’s found herself in. Kylo Ren is the reverse of this; he’s consumed by his family’s history and, unlike Rey, burdened by his lineage and the expectations placed upon him because of it.

Their stories and their desires to solidify who they are run parallel, and ultimately end with Rey realising that Maz Kanata was right all along (“the belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead”) and choosing the Light, while Kylo Ren casts off Snoke’s shackles and finally refuses to be a tool endlessly compared to his grandfather, but unfortunately makes the decision to choose the Dark and create his own ‘empire’ as he wishes it to be without being under the thumb of another. Both find themselves by abandoning their pasts, but they choose to embrace dramatically different futures as a result.

It isn’t just the younger characters that struggle with identity though; Luke experiences his fair share too and unlike Rey and Kylo Ren who look to their family for answers, he’s burdened by the weight of his own legacy. He maintains that he isn’t a legend, that he isn’t a master, that he has nothing to teach Rey. With the help of a couple of blasts from the past, he finally comes to term with his mistakes and lets go of his own history and failings, embracing the legend of Luke Skywalker one final time to give the galaxy not the version of him that he believed in, but the version of him that it needed.

Our Perceptions

Tying in somewhat to the idea of identity in The Last Jedi was the running theme of perception. It’s a huge element of Kylo Ren’s turn to the Dark Side – we see two different versions of that night in Ben Solo’s room before we finally see what really happened – and is touched upon by DJ when he brings up who funds the excess and oppression of the Canto Bight rich, as well as played with for individual characters like Rey, Admiral Holdo and Luke himself.

In Return of the Jedi, Obi-wan said to Luke: “…you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” and this is called upon again and again in The Last Jedi. Our point of view determines whether or not Luke was attacked by an already dark Kylo Ren, if he attempted to murder his nephew, or if he contemplated it and ultimately decided it was wrong. Our point of view determines whether or not Canto Bight is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, people just making a living or a simple necessity in the reality in which we actually live.

The concept of our point of view can also extend to Luke’s final showdown; I didn’t catch it until I read about it and listened to podcasts later, but there were numerous hints to suggest that he wasn’t really there. Yoda mentions in The Empire Strikes Back that Luke always looked to the future, never where he was and what he was doing – it seems that he jogged Luke’s memory with this too, and it ended up being what Luke was able to use to buy the Resistance time to flee. Kylo Ren lacks the same focus on the here and now, and missed all of the same tells that gave Luke away that I did. Kylo Ren perceived Luke to be there, and looked no deeper than that.

Political Statements

The Star Wars films have always been a statement about war, about good vs evil and have even explored some elements of politics in the prequel trilogy, but I’ve never seen mainstream Star Wars make as many overt, political statements as The Last Jedi did. I didn’t love the scenes on Canto Bight in and of themselves, but I loved the messages that they tried to convey and the purpose that they served in the end.

Rose hates the city of beauty and wealth and wishes she could tear the whole thing down, and Finn doesn’t see why until he sees the disparity and oppression when he looks at things a little more closely. They’re both then forced to grapple with the reality that it isn’t just the First Order who are buying weapons from these obscenely rich arms dealers, but the Resistance, too.  It suddenly isn’t as black and white as ‘good against evil’ anymore, although they maintain the need to pick the right side.

I didn’t take to the scenes with the children right away, but when I sat back for a moment I really embraced the imagery and the story The Last Jedi tells with the kids in the Fathier stables and the Broom Boy at the end of the movie. When it comes to the bigger picture, I took away that anyone, from anywhere, has the potential to change the universe; the boy looking up at the stars and dreaming of the legends of Luke Skywalker and the Resistance fighters he met harks back to Luke first staring off into the twin sunset, hoping to one day be a part of that change himself. On the smaller scale, it feels to me like a nod to the new generation of Star Wars fans, the ones who are looking up at the stars and embracing the future – the fans that these new movies are really for – instead of those dwelling on the nostalgia of the past.

Combined with the other elements of the movie, whether it be the idea that change is possible and worth fighting for, that heroes can come from anywhere or that there’s always a place for you (in the world in general, or in Star Wars as we can now come to know it), these scenes ended up being really emotional, heartwarming and hopeful for me.

Oh, and being vegan I couldn’t let the apparent, subtle plant-based leanings slip through the net. Luke’s drinking the milk (on top of being a wonderful way for him to show Rey ‘hey look I’m not that great look at me I’m a gross weird old hermit man, leave me alone’) and Rey’s obvious discomfort with what just happened, coupled with Chewie caving into porg-pressure and the use of the Fathier racing to illustrate the injustice and cruelty of the upper classes of Canto Bight were a very unexpected accidentally (I assume…) vegan message!

I loved The Last Jedi. It may not have been what I had expected or had hoped for, but it nevertheless exceeded all of my expectations and has been a movie that has grown on me the longer I take to think about it. I may not have loved everything about it, but it’s left a stronger impression than I thought it would, and both is and represents everything I hope Star Wars continues to be from now on.

Expect some more musings as time goes on! What were your first impressions of The Last Jedi?

6 comments

  1. I really enjoyed The Last Jedi but I know a few people who think the final scene with Luke and Kylo Ren was ridiculous - I think they need to come and read your review cos I thought it was a stroke of genius! I loved it so much I *might* have to go see it again to see if I missed anything first time around.

    Jess x
    alrightblondie.com

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    Replies
    1. Glad to hear you think so, Jess! I think there's a lot of valid criticism about it and obviously not everyone has to like it, but unfortunately the voices shouting the loudest at the moment seem to simply be looking at the old trilogy through nostalgic, rose-tinted glasses - makes me v sad! Hope you get to go again soon, I'm planning on trying to squeeze it in again on Friday. :) x

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  2. I am definitely not the most knowledgeable Star Wars fan there is - I only watched all the films last year. I enjoyed it but I thought it felt quite disjointed in places and I really think I need to watch it again. I picked up on a couple of political statements - I loved it when Rose said "That's how we're going to win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love."

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  3. Great post Steph! You've summed up my own feelings brilliantly and I completely agree with you. I'm so excited to see Episode IX now and see how this trilogy will end. I kind of hope they never stop making Star Wars films although I don't think I'm very excited for the Han Solo film, as I'm not too sure about revisiting character's back stories. I would rather them make films like Rogue One that are in the same universe, but not using original characters. I feel like it could ruin the perception of the orginals and I'm not sure I'll like that!

    Kayleigh x
    http://hazelnutmusings.blogspot.co.uk/

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