This essay on Star Wars: The Last Jedi was originally posted on another platform in December 2017.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the most polarising Star Wars movie to date. It is also perhaps the most polarising movie of the decade, period. Since its release in the fall of 2017, fans have been dissecting, discussing and debating the film with an intense passion. No other movie of the 21st century has driven such a wedge through its fan base (some love the film with all their heart, others hate it and say it destroys their love for Star Wars).
No other movie of the 21st century has caused a portion of its fanbase to not only be vocal about their disdains but also be hateful about it to this degree. No other movie of the 21st century has revealed the worst of geekdom; the worst of us! — the hate spewed towards Rian Johnson and his family on social media and the racist remarks and personal attacks on Kelly Marie Tran (who plays the character Rose Tico) is unacceptable.
But you know what? When A Clockwork Orange was released in 1971, many including the late great Roger Ebert considered it a failure. “An ideological mess,” he once called it. Now the film is widely regarded as an all-time classic. The same can be said about Fight Club, Taxi Driver and heck, even Empire Strikes Back. Great art is quite often polarizing.
Look, I understand where the hate towards The Last Jedi is coming from. After my first viewing, I walked out feeling dazed and confused. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie but something didn’t feel right. Perhaps it’s because I was too transfixed on my theories and predictions that I didn’t see the movie for what it really is.
But after the second viewing, everything clicked (I’ve since watched the film at least 10 times). This is very much a STAR WARS film, made by the man — Rian Johnson — who is ferociously obsessed with these characters. He loves these characters as much as we do. He loves Star Wars as much as we do. And his passion for this project bleeds through every meticulously crafted story beat. Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn’t just a fun time at the cinema; It is a god damn masterpiece.
Poe Dameon, Snoke, and the consequences of male ego.
At the start of the film, we see Commander Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) doing what he does best. He uses his confident, charming personality to toy with General Hux before flying around in his X-Wing, blowing stuff up. When presented with the opportunity to escape, Poe Dameron disobeys General Leia’s direct orders and instructs his team of fighter pilots to go on with their plan and bomb The First Order’s Dreadnought.
The First Order’s defence is strong and many members of The Resistance die. Despite that, our heroes successfully take down the Dreadnought, in an explosive (no pun intended) fashion. Everyone celebrates, and Poe Dameron is a hero… right? Wrong.
Instead, General Leia slaps Poe and demotes him. Sure, he took down the Dreadnought in badass fashion, but at what cost? “There were heroes out there,” Poe says. To which Leia replies, “Dead heroes. And no leaders.” We have seen suave, overconfident, defiant fly-boys before, particularly in Han Solo. But in past Star Wars movies, those traits were presented in a positive light — a rousing moment for us fans to cheer and go, “Yeah!! Go, Han Solo!” Not here.
In the second act of the movie, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) takes over leadership from the hospitalized General Leia. Once again, Poe is defiant. He devises a plan with Finn and new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), to infiltrate Snoke’s ship and deactivate their tracking device, which brings us to one of the most shocking and interesting moments in the film.
We have seen a bazillion fantasy films in the past, including all the Star Wars movies. This type of plot thread always ends the same way: Finn, Rose, and Poe successfully carry out their plan, the crowd cheers, Holdo apologises to Poe and thanks him for saving the day…. right? Wrong.
In a surprising turn of events, Finn and Rose get caught by The First Order officers and Poe’s balls shrivels up (he is just as shocked as we are) — “They didn’t make it?” And then, the now conscious Leia shoots Poe with a stun blaster. When Poe wakes up a few minutes later in one of the escape ships, Leia delivers one of the many powerful lines in the film, “Holdo was more interested in saving the light than being a hero.” It is at that moment where Poe understands what it takes to be a true leader.
It is also important to know that all remaining Resistance members could have escaped to the mineral planet, Crait unscathed IF Poe had put his ego aside and listened to Holdo. It is because of Poe’s (and Finn and Rose) overconfidence, that they land themselves in an unfortunate situation and then get betrayed by DJ (Benicio del Toro), which leads to The First Order killing more Resistance members. If it weren’t for Vice Admiral Holdo’s noble sacrifice, the Resistance would have been completely wiped out.
Supreme Leader Snoke
It is that very same ego and arrogance that leads to the demise of Snoke. Many have problems with Supreme Leader Snoke’s death in The Last Jedi, understandably so. In the first film, he was set up as THE BIG BAD of this new trilogy. He would be like the Emperor in the original and prequel trilogy. But in the second act of The Last Jedi, Snoke dies… just like that.
People say they feel cheated because Snoke turned out to be a loser who isn’t powerful at all. But is that really true, though? Throughout The Force Awakens, we’re shown that everyone is genuinely afraid of him. This extends through to “The Last Jedi’ as well. We learn that Rey and Kylo Ren are no match for him. Snoke constantly belittles Kylo Ren. When Kylo tries to retaliate, Snoke uses force lightning to keep him down. The same can be said about Rey, who is effortlessly dragged around like a puppet by Snoke. Snoke IS powerful.
But it is his overconfidence and sheer arrogance — he literally chuckles and says “I can never be betrayed” — that leads to his death. Kylo isn’t more powerful than Snoke, not even close (not yet anyway). Snoke is killed because he was too busy jerking himself off to see what was really going on. And this isn’t the first time something like this has happened in Star Wars. In “Return of the Jedi”, the Emperor did not die because Vader and Luke beat him straight up in a fair fight. The Emperor died because he was too egoistic, unable to see that Vader had turned on him.
The difference is, Darth Vader killed The Emperor to save his son. Vader’s grandson, Kylo Ren killed Supreme Leader Snoke to take his place. It is poetic.
Magnificent Luke Skywalker and the truth about the Jedi
Just like many fans, Mark Hamill himself has come out and said that he does not like the direction Rian Johnson takes Luke Skywalker in this movie. I mean this is THE MIGHTY LUKE SKYWALKER we’re talking about. Everyone expected Luke to accept the lightsaber from Rey and then begin a training sequence of sorts ALA Rocky. It would’ve been a glorious Star Wars moment.
But Luke is uninterested. He throws the lightsaber away — almost killing Porgs in the process — and tells Rey that the Jedi Order must end. This isn’t the Luke Skywalker we know from the original trilogy. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t OUR Luke Skywalker. Hear me out.
One of the more interesting character moments happens when Luke talks to Rey about the Jedi Order. He says Jedi are seen as this incredible beings. Everyone looks up to them, especially to Luke Skywalker, the Jedi who came when there was no hope left, defeated The Emperor and brought Darth Vader back to the light. And for that, Luke Skywalker is put on a pedestal and is seen as a legend. I find it funny that even in real life, we have put Luke Skywalker on a pedestal. We see him as this flawless superhero.
But just like how Luke wants Rey to listen, Rian Johnson is challenging us to listen too. Strip away the myths and look at the truth. Because of vanity and pride, the Jedi has failed multiple times. And when you put someone on a pedestal, you’re also mounting an enormous amount of pressure on his/her shoulders.
Luke felt that burden and pressure when he sensed darkness in Kylo Ren. What would people think of the great Luke Skywalker if his own nephew whom he trained has darkness growing in him? What would he think of himself? And in that moment, he lost control and decided to kill Kylo Ren. It was just a fleeting moment. Luke realized the error of his ways immediately, but he was too late. We know what happened next.
Now think about it. What would an experience like that do to someone? You have a man who was idolized and romanticized — the embodiment of perfection. A legend. But one day, because of his insecurities; because of a mistake, he created a monster in his OWN NEPHEW.
It would break him. The Luke Skywalker we see in The Last Jedi is someone who has isolated himself from the world because he is ashamed and depressed. This is a man who wakes up every day full of regret and disappointment.
So yes, of course, he isn’t the Luke Skywalker from the original trilogy. If Luke went through everything and still remained the same Luke from 30 years ago, then he isn’t human. And that’s what Rian Johnson is trying to tell you: Luke Skywalker is HUMAN. Martin Luther King Jr cheated on his wife, Mahatma Gandhi was a crappy father and Luke Skywalker created Kylo Ren. Humans, regardless of how revered they are, make mistakes.
The keyword here is mistakes.
Because Luke eventually chooses to reconnect with the Force. Luke wanted to destroy the temple and the Jedi texts, but he couldn’t go through with it. Yes, Yoda may have burnt the whole thing to the ground but that’s only because Yoda knew that Rey has already taken the Sacred Jedi texts with her. After a heart to heart talk with Yoda that harkens back to Empire Strikes Back, Luke fully realises the error of his ways.
During the climactic battle with Kylo Ren, Luke says “I will NOT be the last of the Jedi!” And right before we roll to credits, we see the enslaved kids on Canto Bight playing with a DIY action figure, talking about how Jedi Master Luke Skywalker saved the day. The legend of Luke Skywalker has started to spread across the galaxy, slowly restoring hope. Rian Johnson doesn’t hate Luke. He sees Luke as an absolute badass.
Should Luke Skywalker have faced Kylo Ren in person?
The short answer is hell no.
Don’t look at it from a perspective of “he’s Luke Skywalker and I want Luke Skywalker to do cool sh*t!” Look at it from a storytelling perspective. Had Luke Skywalker faced Kylo Ren in person, he would’ve given Kylo Ren exactly what Kylo Ren wanted.
Luke would’ve walked out, get blasted by all the First Order’s weapons as Kylo Ren instructs, and he would’ve died, The Resistance along with him. But by projecting himself there, he gets to do his theatrics and toy with Kylo, which then gives The Resistance just enough time to escape.
We need to learn, just like Poe Dameron does, that it’s not about being a hero, but knowing when to walk away from a fight, rebuild and be the spark that would light the fire that would give hope to future generations.
Great people do not always come from greatness
In fact, more often than not, they do not.
The question of “who is Rey’s parents?” became one of, if not the biggest mystery in geekdom over the past couple of years. In The Force Awakens we’re introduced to Rey and learn that despite her newfound powers, she feels lost and alone, in search of her identity and parentage.
And so the fandom began theorising. Could she be Luke’s daughter? Could she be Obi-Wan’s granddaughter? Some even wondered if she’s Kylo Ren’s twin sister, while others theorised that she’s Jar Jar Binks’ niece’s friend #JarJarIsTheKey
Then the big moment came. The moment of truth. And… she’s a nobody? Or at least her parents were nobodies — drunkards who sold her off to slavery for drinking money. It is perhaps the most shocking moment in Star Wars since Vader’s reveal in “Empire Strikes Back”.
My immediate reaction was Wtf? Are you kidding me?!
Once again, Rian Johnson flips everything on its head. This is not something you’re used to seeing in fantasy films. In “The Lord of the Rings”, Aragorn the ranger was later revealed to be the true king of Gondor. In “Game of Thrones” we have the R + L = J theory come to fruition. Jon Snow, the bastard of Winterfell is a Targaryen and the true heir to the Iron Throne.
But The Last Jedi challenges you to think. What if Aragorn isn’t the true king of men? What if Jon Snow doesn’t have Targaryen blood in him? And what if Rey’s parents are nobody. She doesn’t have the mighty Skywalker blood, not related to royalty nor any legendary Jedi of the past. Would that make these people any less awesome?
The truth of the matter is, sometimes you do come from nowhere and have nobodies for parents. Rian Johnson chose to sacrifice a cool moment for an honest one.
Here’s the good news. You are not defined by your parents. You are not defined by your surroundings. The blood that runs through your veins does not matter. Or at least, it shouldn’t matter. What matters is what YOU choose to do as an individual. John Lennon grew up without a father and lost his mother when he was 17. Barack Obama’s father was an alcoholic who abused his several wives.
But if the filmmakers were not interested in a big reveal, then what was the point of the build-up?
Go back and rewatch The Force Awakens. Did they actually build that up? The only thing Maz tells Rey is “Dear child, the longing you seek is not behind you — it is ahead.” Sure, that could be interpreted as you will find out who your parents are in the future, but isn’t that just us fans WANTING it to be that way, just like Rey does?
What’s great about The Last Jedi is that we’re always shown both sides of the spectrum. Both Rey and Kylo Ren have had horrible experiences with parents/parental figures. Rey was sold off into slavery, while Kylo Ren felt betrayed by his own uncle. Rey chose to stay on the light side, while Kylo swayed to the dark.
Let the past burn
The Last Jedi isn’t an “un-Star Wars” movie; it is a deconstruction of Star Wars. It takes everything we love about the franchise and examines it on a deeper level. And along the way, it makes us question the very lore that we love. And that is a good thing.
Rian Johnson’s film is about letting go of the past. Luke tells Rey that the Jedi religion must end — anyone who thinks a power as incredible as the Force belongs to them is narcissistic; it should belong to everyone. He also tells Rey about the great mistakes the vain Jedi Order has made over the years. And when you think about it, Luke has a point. The Jedi customs are full of contradictions and even hypocrisy, just like real-world religions. They claim to be good people but are always quick to judge.
Even Yoda and Mace Windu were adamant about not training young Anakin Skywalker because they assumed that he would one day turn to the dark side. While their assumptions are proven to be correct, it still doesn’t change the fact that they were insistent on not accepting an innocent boy into their fold. It is because they constantly rejected him, even as an adult, that he goes to Palpatine for acceptance. And as explored in The Last Jedi Luke assumed that Kylo had already made up his mind about the dark side.
The Jedi order should end… to a certain extent.
Later in the movie, Yoda burns down the sacred Jedi tree, symbolising the burning of the past. But the important lesson he teaches Luke is that it isn’t just about burning down the past, but about learning from it and rebuilding.
This is a relevant and important teaching, now more than ever. Perhaps traditional religious and political values served its purpose in our world many, many years ago. But now, it is time to burn everything to the ground and rebuild — whether it’s our values towards women, LGBT, traditional governments, etc. The Jedi Order should evolve with the times and the same goes for our real-world religions and politics.
Heck, the same can be said about the Star Wars fandom. As fans, we keep looking to the past, particularly the original trilogy. We cling on to our Han Solos and Luke Skywalkers, but we must learn, just like many of the characters here do, that while the past should always be remembered, we must also learn to let go and rebuild. Just because The Last Jedi isn’t like the original trilogy, doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie. We can’t always expect a rehash of the original trilogy. The franchise needs to grow and evolve.
Good guys and bad guys? It’s all just a facade
The Star Wars movies have always touched on society and politics, but none of them has been as undisguised as we see in The Last Jedi. The Star Wars movies have for the most part been black and white. The good guys are the light side, the bad guys are the dark side and that’s all there is to know.
Here, we dive even deeper. When Finn and Rose go on their side adventure to Canto Bight, we learn about the elite class of society in the Star Wars lore. Just like in our world, war and political turmoil only affect the middle class and the poor, while the rich sit on their high horse, unmoved and unconcerned. In a gut-punching line, Benicio Del Toro (who Finn and Rose stumble into) tell them that the dark side and the light are all made up bullsh*t. The rich — who are largely weapons dealers — supply their weapons to both sides. The only side they care about is money.
The Force Awakens danced to familiar beats because it had to. It needed to bridge the gap between the fans of the original and the fans of the prequels. It needed to bring in a whole new generation of Star Wars fans. It was a celebration of what we already know about Star Wars. The Last Jedi explores new ideas and breaks new ground, and does it well.
So thank you Rian Johnson for making my favourite Star Wars film of all time. You challenged me, broke me and then gave me a hearty bear hug. I have always loved Star Wars, but I walked out of The Last Jedi a changed man. It reached into my soul the way not many films do.