I’ve seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi again, and with a little bit of time in between viewings, I’ve crystallized my thoughts. Here are the five things that I most liked about the film, its story and its characters. Later this week I’ll share what I didn’t like as well as my thoughts on the fan reaction to the film.
This post is spoiler heavy, so proceed with caution.
Luke was not what we expected
In The Force Awakens, Han and Leia are pretty much right back where they started; Han’s smuggling, getting into trouble, has bounty hunters after him and so on. Leia is heading up a rebellion. It was familiar and it brought us back into this world, 30 years later. It worked; it was amazing to see those characters back, and it was wonderful that JJ Abrams and Disney understood them so well.
They could have gone the same route for Luke. But I’m glad they didn’t. They proved to us with The Force Awakens that they understood Star Wars; with The Last Jedi, it was an opportunity to try a different direction.
As such there was no need for Luke to be the triumphant, heroic Jedi Knight that we last saw him as in Return of the Jedi.
In the intervening years, he set out to live up to that heroic legacy by finding and training the next generation of Jedi. He failed; his nephew turned to the dark side and most of his students were killed. We knew this after The Force Awakens. Here, Rian Johnson tells us that the experience broke Luke Skywalker. He doesn’t see himself as the hero anymore, he sees himself as the guy who let his nephew, his sister and his best friend down. Heck, he let the whole galaxy down.
It seemed very natural to me that he wouldn’t want anything to do with Rey or her training, and that he doesn’t want to get involved with the Resistance and the First Order. He doesn’t think he has anything of value to offer.
That story arc makes perfect sense to me, but even if it didn’t, I am glad that Luke is in a different space than when we last saw him, and different from Han and Leia. 30 years have passed—he shouldn’t be the same guy anymore. I mean, think about it this way: We met Luke when was roughly 20; let’s say he was 25 when we last saw him. Who in the world is the same person in their mid-50s as they were in their early 20s? People aren’t even really fully formed adults in their early 20s yet. (I’m 40 and still not. Clearly.)
Luke’s character arc, and the journey he’s taken since Return of the Jedi, just works.
Rey’s parentage is finally revealed
This one I’ve gone back and forth on. I think I’m possibly a little invested because I was so firmly convinced that she was Han and Leia’s daughter; there’s a part of me that doesn’t want Kylo Ren’s reveal (“They were nothing. They were filthy junk traders who traded you for drinking money, and they’re buried in an unmarked grave.”) to be true.
But I think they made the right choice in the end. It makes sense on a number of thematic levels: that you don’t need to have special ancestry to be a hero, that the spark of hope can come from anywhere. It’s something all great heroic fiction has; from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to Spider-Man to, of course, the original Star Wars. It’s easy to forget, now, years later, but you have to remember that originally, Luke wasn’t the son of Darth Vader or heir to some great Force legacy; he was just a farm boy, a nobody, who happened to bump into a droid one day. Just like Rey.
In terms of canon, though, Rey’s unremarkable background fits perfectly with what we know about The Force and the Jedi Order: Another thing that’s easy to forget (especially because it’s a prequel invention and we’d all like to forget those), it’s forbidden for the Jedi to have intimate relationships, so the idea of The Force being something that’s passed down genetically isn’t something that would be seen very often in the Star Wars universe. Jedi and other Force-sensitive beings have to come from random backgrounds or upbringings. Why wouldn’t Rey?
(I just thought of something: is it possible Jedi are forbidden to have relationships because their offspring end up too powerful? Hmm.)
Narratively, it also simply makes more logical sense. The great military and political powers of this galaxy can’t rise and fall on the backs of one family forever.
Most importantly though, it frees this story up to be something fresh, while still keeping the Skywalker legacy—through Kylo Ren—as part of its core. We’ll see that showdown, between Kylo and his family history, and Rey and her lack of history, in the next film. And we have no idea what the outcome will be. And that’s awesome.
(Of course, there’s still the chance that in Episode IX, it’s revealed that Ren is lying and Rey does have a more remarkable background. But I don’t think so.)
Daisy Ridley manages to top herself as Rey
I fell in love with Rey, and Daisy Ridley’s performance, instantly in The Force Awakens. I loved how genuine she felt as a character, how earnest her performance was, how everything the character did has a sense of wonder and discovery about it, as she was exposed to this larger world beyond Jakku. It was a tough act to follow, but, I’m happy to say Daisy Ridley knocked it out of the park again.
From her quizzical look when Luke tosses his lightsaber aside, to her moments of genuine compassion for Ben Solo all the way to her rage during the throne room fight, she plays everything perfectly. Her plea to Luke to help her. Her tears in the throne room. How much fun she has in the Falcon’s gunner seat. Any time she’s on-screen it just puts a smile on my face.
Rey and Kylo Ren 4-ever
Every scene with Rey and Kylo Ren is superb, from the “Force conversations” all the way to Snoke’s throne room. Their final Force conversation, before Luke interrupts them, is wonderful—two people momentarily setting aside their enmity and just connecting as human beings. And it leads perfectly into the throne room scene, where, after Snoke and his guards are dead and the room is burning down around them, they finally face each other again in person.
There’s a wonderful juxtaposition here. Rey’s never had anyone in her life, and wants to find someone to help her connect to the larger world. She’s never had anything, and she’s alone. Ben Solo had a loving family and a teacher and the support of the whole Republic, pretty much, but he turned his back on it. He had everything, tossed it aside, and now he’s alone as well.
And now they have something together. They’re connected through the Force. They’ve defeated Snoke together. They’re at this crossroads, with pretty much the whole galaxy in front of them, and they have to decide which path to take…
And it quickly becomes clear that—despite what they’ve shared—their paths are separate.
It’s such a perfect moment, these two incredibly lonely young people, who have made this connection, and are now coming to grips with the fact that the other person will never be the person they want them to be. And Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver play it beautifully; she’s heartbroken that she couldn’t turn him, and he’s devastated at being abandoned.
(One other thing I love about this movie: despite the obvious chemistry, and the power of their scenes together, there’s nothing romantic in the relationship between these two lead male and female characters. It’s just two people making a connection. It was the same with Finn and Rey in The Force Awakens; just two people who have made a connection and shared something, and there’s compassion, and even love between them, but not romance. I find that very refreshing, that this story is saying that men and women can have feelings and relationships that don’t have to be romantic or sexual.)
In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, ladies rule
I haven’t made a secret of how awesome I think Rey is, and how much I adore Daisy Ridley’s performance in these two movies. But beyond Rey, I’m so impressed by how front and centre these movies have put their female characters.
I love that throughout this film, it’s the women—Rey, Leia, Holdo, Rose—who are in charge (of themselves and the people around them), who move their stories and situations (and the plot) forward without hesitation or doubt. Meanwhile, it’s the men who keep making poor decisions (Poe, Finn), are full of doubt and uncertainty (Luke, Kylo), overconfidence (Snoke) or incompetence (Hux). I have some problems with the plot that Rose is a key part of, but I love the role—just a mechanic, working in the bowels, a regular person—and more importantly, I love how she teaches Finn—who’s never seen much of anything except the polished floors of the First Order fleet—to look deeper and see the world around him for what it really is. I love how Rey has taken up the cause of the resistance. I love that Leia slaps Poe, and that Holdo takes charge and puts the Resistance escape plan into place without getting approval from the old boys club. Even Rose’s sister gets to blow up the dreadnaught.
It’s so great to see. (And naturally, I can’t help but wonder if just a wee bit of the “fan backlash” (or perhaps a large part of the fan backlash?) is because those fans—consciously or subconsciously—don’t like seeing women and minorities as key characters? Hmm.)
Now, question is: Is there a place in Star Wars for some nonhumans to be front and centre?
I think those are my top five favourite things about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I’ll probably end up posting a few more at some point; there’s a lot that I liked in this movie.
Of course, there were things I didn’t like as well. Come back tomorrow and see what’s on that list!