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SPOILER WARNING!!! If you haven’t already seen the film, stop reading right now and go watch it! Otherwise, read at your own discretion…
The eighth episode and the second installment in the third Star Wars trilogy has hit theatres – and as it turns out, it is the most polarizing thing we’ve seen since last year’s U.S. presidential election. It has been certified ‘fresh’ by critics on Rotten Tomatoes at 90 percent, yet the audience rating is all the way down to 50 percent.
The Force Awakens felt like a soft-reboot of A New Hope, and some fans despised that direction. Because of this, I think mostly everyone was expecting The Last Jedi to be the Empire Strikes Back of 2017. But as a result, it shattered everybody’s expectations and it definitely stands out on its own at the dismay of many ‘traditionalist’ fans. As an original-trilogy purist, I walked out of the theater feeling like Luke’s lightsaber being torn in half between Rey and Kylo Ren. The questions I had before the opening title crawl were left unanswered in the most painful way possible. But maybe that’s the point that director Rian Johnson wanted? Maybe we’re supposed to feel shocked and uncomfortable with change?
If that’s the case, I think we’ve been massively trolled.
“Let the past die….. Kill it if you have to!”
– Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren
These famous words summarize the theme appropriately, and is especially evident the moment Luke Skywalker tosses his beloved father’s lightsaber over his shoulder at the beginning of the film. Mark Hamill reprised his role well as the conflicted Jedi in spite of the framework he was given. Here we have a weathered old man reminiscent of Obi-Wan who was once a legend, yet has completely closed himself off from the Force because of some painful regrets. It was a little bit weird to see him milk a sea-alien, but who’s to say he didn’t go a little crazy while in exile, like Yoda on Dagobah? The use of flashbacks also felt rather out-of-place for a Star Wars film, but it at least helped with recollecting what happened between Luke and Ben Solo.
This isn’t the Luke Skywalker we all knew and loved from Return of the Jedi when we last saw him. Rather than seeing the triumphant Jedi Knight who redeemed his father from the dark side, we see a very insecure and traumatized human being. I guess when people elevate Luke to the status of some infallible space-Jesus, it’s bound to lead to some massive disappointment.
Considering Carrie Fisher’s death earlier last year, many fans were expecting some kind of emotional sendoff for Leia – especially in the scene where Kylo discerns blasting the bridge of the ship where she stood. But given that it happened during the post-production stage, there was little to no wiggle room for tweaking the storyline to accommodate for the loss of our beloved princess.
At first glance, the scene where Leia uses the Force to protect herself from the blast and the vacuum of space felt extremely out of place for a Star Wars film. But come to think of it, fans have been anticipating seeing Leia wield her Jedi-abilities on screen for over three decades. On second viewing, this was probably one of the most beautiful displays of her connection with the Force since rescuing Luke at the Cloud City in ESB. This was something nobody would have predicted, especially from the movie trailers that alluded to her possible death.
If I were in the director’s shoes and if time and budgeting weren’t a factor, I would have had Leia stay with the abandoned ship rather than Admiral Holdo (who was played by none other than Ellie Sattler from Jurassic Park). It would have been a beautifully heroic sendoff to have Leia make the hyperspace jump to rip Snoke’s Star Destroyer in two, and have Holdo as the new leader of the Resistance going into Episode IX. It makes me wonder what the original plan was for Leia’s fate in the next film.
The Resistance bombers were a really cool sight to see. However, the last remaining bomber pilot (who happened to be the sister of character Rose Tico) could have been an introduction to a more prominent character, but her scene felt more like a distraction from the main story arc than anything. It would have been more appropriate to use that scene to introduce Rose as the bomber pilot and have her survive the Dreadnought approach, rather than building up the audience to become attached to a character who would be killed off in less than 5 minutes of screen time.
The Canto Bight casino scene did not seem to fit well within the Star Wars universe, nor did it feel necessary. It was a chance to build up the relationship between Finn and Rose, while seeing the snobby and rich scumbags of the galaxy who benefited from the profits of war – although it wasn’t exactly a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than what you’d see in Mos Eisley’s cantina. Belnicio Del Torro’s character also felt awkwardly shoe-horned into becoming the back-stabbing ‘Lando Calrissian’ of the story, which somehow made the journey all the way to Canto Bight somewhat pointless.
While some viewers complained about the excessive humor in the film, at least it wasn’t Jar Jar Binks humor. Poe Dameron’s distracting conversation with General Hux was reminiscent of how the prisoners in the television show Hogan’s Heroes made the Nazi’s look like a bunch of dimwits. Part of what appeals fans of the original trilogy is seeing intimidating-looking militia-like Stormtroopers being outwitted and easily obliterated by seemingly less-threatening protagonists (like the Ewoks throwing rocks and arrows in ROTJ). And seeing Luke do a gullible prank on Rey while ‘reaching out’ wasn’t any more inappropriate than Yoda’s slapstick introduction in ESB. So I wouldn’t say that the humor of the film was completely out of place.
After seeing the train-wreck CGI version in the prequels, it was also a pleasant surprise to see a puppeteered Yoda by Frank Oz on the big screen for the first time since ROTJ. It looks slightly different from when he appeared in the original trilogy, but was a much more handsome-looking Yoda than the ugly thing we saw in the theatrical version of The Phantom Menace. It’s easy to tell most of that scene was intended for nerd-service, but made for a final enlightening lesson for Luke.
In hindsight, I loved the unpredictability of the plot. But I’ll admit that the things that caught me off guard initially angered me. Supreme Leader Snoke seemed like a highly powerful Force-weilder, but my initial reaction to Ben Solo sneakily killing him was of angry shock. I was disappointed at how Snoke was unable to sense Ben’s motive to kill him for someone who can read minds. Although I enjoyed the skirmish between Snoke’s guards, Rey and Kylo, the slow-motion effects during the fight felt out of place as though it were a homage to The Matrix.
Captain Phasma was useless. I hope she doesn’t return in Episode IX, because it would be dumb to have her survive another explosion. The cheesy one-liner by Finn at Phasma’s demise was something I would have expected from an Arnold Schwarzeneggar action film. More pandering to toy-buying adolescents.
With all the craze over Porgs, I was expecting to see a little more screen time with them, but I’m glad it wasn’t more than that, otherwise their cuteness would have worn off quickly like Jar Jar’s personality in TPM. I appreciated the fact that most of them were animatronic props with CGI enhancement, rather than being entirely CGI. Again, more pandering for toy sales.
My favourite scene was the iconic standoff between Luke and Kylo Ren. The rain of fire from the walkers upon Luke reminded me of a scene in the Dark Empire comics when a much younger Luke faced off against an AT-AT walker. Kylo Ren’s maniacal behavior especially escalated as he commanded for more gunfire upon Luke in an attempt to finally obliterate him. What I appreciated the most out of this scene was having no fancy, overdone choreography with the lightsabers – just an intense staredown, a few swipes and pivotal dialogue just like the showdown between Luke and Darth Vader in ESB. This is what made the duels in the original trilogy so memorable, the sabers only came out when they had to because if they were flaunted too often they would lose their overall charm.
Astral Projection has never been seen in a Star Wars movie before. On second viewing, I definitely picked up on the clues that the Luke that was present on Crait to face off against Kylo wasn’t the same physical Luke that was still on Ach To. In light of all the flaws and alternatives to the story, the dramatic face-off between Skywalker and Kylo Ren had to be the most redeeming quality of The Last Jedi.
Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII is a film about letting go of the past and embracing the future for an audience who can’t let go of the past and is scared of the future. Unlike ESB, The Last Jedi ended on a high note as opposed to a dark and foreboding one. The ending seems to allude to the fact that the Force has awakened in a new generation of potential Jedi and Resistance fighters, but the audience has absolutely no attachment to these Force-sensitive kids who appeared briefly in Canto Bight which, again, was a pointless scene to begin with. It makes me worry about what direction Episode IX will take, but I think that’s exactly the point Johnson was trying to make.
For original-trilogy purists like myself, we are left asking ourselves, ‘Now what?’ Perhaps this is a sign that we all need to let go of the past and embrace an unknown future. In my perspective, one of the biggest downfalls of the prequels was the fact that we already knew Anakin was going to turn to the dark side and become Darth Vader, and there was nothing in those films that made us question ourselves, ‘What if he doesn’t turn evil?’ That is what makes these new films terrifying for this generation of Star Wars fans – the fear of the unknown that shatters all our expectations.
Am I afraid of what is yet to come? Of course, I am! But that’s what keeps us watching and longing for answers. All I know is the show must go on, and it’s going to be a very long two years.