‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’: Rian Johnson issues Order 66

How can you even take that green puppet seriously?”

This was my mum’s reaction to Master Yoda, maybe the most iconic character of the ‘Star Wars’ saga. I must have been 11 at the time, sunken into the family couch, ready to be amazed. There and then, my mother almost ruined the experience for me.

It wasn’t the first time I was watching a ‘Star Wars’ movie, of course, but I had been too young to really grasp anything beyond the mythical ‘woosh’ of the Jedi’s lightsabres or the crazy coolness of X-wing Starfighters. But that night, I went to bed a ‘Star Wars’ fan.

It’s around the same time ‘The Phantom Menace’ was released with all the excitement it could bring. Fans had been waiting for new instalments of the franchise for decades; Darth Maul had everything a badass villain needed to enter the Pantheon of bad guys, Obi-Wan was the real hero of the whole thing and Anakin, an utter and complete disappointment through and through. Sorry, but not sorry, I’m part of those who will gladly dismiss the prequels without even a flinch.

So, when years later, Disney decides to buy the franchise and reawaken the monster, I was a little worried… and still is in all honesty. We won’t talk about ‘The Force Awakens’ – we well know it was a copy-paste of ‘A New Hope’ and it would take an incredible amount of bad faith to say otherwise. J.J. Abrams did what he was paid to do: reintroduce the franchise to new generations and ride the wave of nostalgia older fans won’t come off of.

With such a complex and rich history, expectations for ‘The Last Jedi’ skyrocketed: for the past two years, fans have made up theories, looked for hints or resemblances in canonical and non-canonical stories… in short, they had a very precise idea of what they wanted to see on screen. Needless to say, it didn’t go their way.

Although I admit I was quite curious about Luke’s return to the franchise, I refused to make any projections. Because I got my priorities straight, I rushed to the closest theatre as soon as the film was released… Nice’s clear blue winter sky and gorgeous sunset over the bay be damned.

Fans’ grievances and plot holes: we have so many questions, Rian!

People had plenty to say about the most divisive ‘Star Wars’ movie to date and to be fair, some of the plot holes were too big to dodge criticism. I mean, if the First Order’s strategy is anything like what real armies do in the field, I understand better why the war in Afghanistan is still on…

Was there a concrete reason why Vice Admiral Holdo withheld her plan from Poe? How did Finn and Rose get back to the cave before their enemies… without being killed even? Or how did Rey get back to the Millennium Falcon and why? And who in their right mind would trust Benicio Del Toro in a movie, like ever?

And please, someone give me a rational explanation for Hux’s out-of-nowhere “I have my orders directly from the Supreme Leader” line.

Rian Johnson traded the vaudevillian nature of ‘Star Wars’ for on-the-nose jokes that rubbed many the wrong way, including me. Vaudeville variety entertainment relying mostly on saucy situation comedy – mainly carried by Mr. Macho-with-a big-heart, Han Solo – I didn’t really mind. But despite best efforts, I found the jokes didn’t bring much, au contraire. ‘The Last Jedi’ is supposedly a grim story, thus the want to lighten the mood, maybe (?) but let’s agree that in some cases, less is often more…

Moviegoers also complained about the film’s length, saying the 2 hours and 30 minutes actually felt longer. Difficult to blame them, it has real pacing issues. From the beginning through the end, some scenes feel forced, stiff, and unnatural. If there is one thing the original trilogy has done right, it’s to balance out moments of frantic accelerations with moments of quiet intrigues, so what happened here, Rian? Why give us the yawns like that?

In defence of the (boring) Canto Bight subplot…

Politics have always been the background of every ‘Star Wars’ movie, nothing new here. The original trilogy was an avowed critic of America’s imperialism in the context of the Vietnam war, so the Canto Bight subplot shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. But the insertion was so clumsy, I could literally hear the people next to me cringe in their seats (unless they were falling asleep).

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The message is delivered with a voice-over by Rose Tico (played by the breakout star, Kelly Marie Tran), commenting on the complicit elites reaping the benefits of the ongoing war and making fortunes on the back of impoverished populations.

To be fair, this is the first time we see a somewhat more complex aspect of the stellar conflict instead of the Manichean view we’ve been fed for the last 40 years. Of course, it is an oversimplification of the interlink between warfare and financial interests, but it makes it relatable and similar enough to real-life situations, yadda, yadda, yadda. But oh boy, could this have been cheesier, I don’t know!

However annoying this is, Canto Bight is another teaching moment for Finn. When we meet him in ‘The Force Awakens’, his one and only goal is to flee from the First Order and hide as far as possible, using Poe, then Rey, as means to an end.

In ‘The Last Jedi’, when Finn awakes from his coma, his first instinct is to escape and find Rey, wherever she is, again chasing a personal gain. Rose – and Canto Bight – are plot devices to 1) teach him there is something bigger than his personal interests or self-preservation and 2) give him a selfless purpose. Not a very glorious use of Rose’s character in my opinion but hey, who am I to judge?

And then Rose… Kelly Marie Tran is the first actress of Asian descent in such a prominent role in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise. Praise be! Everybody and their mama noticed that diversity was the star this new trilogy was placed under, and I’m all here for it.

I really tried, I swear, but I was absolutely not convinced by the character nor the performance and found Rose pretty irritating, starting with her name. I hope they flesh out her story further than here-to-open-Finn-s-eyes in the next episode. And oh… if we could avoid the whole overdone love triangle / rectangle thing too, I would be grateful.

A chance for growth

Finn is not the only one who gets a magic mushroom in ‘The Last Jedi’. Actually, all three main characters go on their own path to learn about themselves – another aspect of the movie fans didn’t like.

In the original trilogy, Luke, Leia, and Han spend very little time apart and when one is absent (i.e. when Luke goes training with Yoda on Dagobah), the other two stick together. But here, Rey, Finn, and Poe go on separate ways giving them very few opportunities to bond and form a truly iconic team – which I don’t doubt will happen in episode IX.

Star Wars Rey

While Finn raises beyond his Stormtrooper condition, Rey arguably learns how to master the Force with Luke, and Poe is handed his behind by Leia who is decided to groom the trigger-happy hotshot into a thoughtful leader for the next generation of rebels.

Even Luke and Leia are still in the process of learning in spite of being anchors of wisdom for their younger counterparts.

Although Luke has become a Jedi Master, his inability to be in the now caused him to fail as a guide with Ben Solo – a lesson Yoda endlessly tried to teach Luke as a young Jedi knight.

It’s only when he understands what it entails that he is able to make the ultimate sacrifice: in dying, Luke becomes the symbol that will keep the Resistance alive. Going full circle, he is again a beacon of hope.

Star Wars Leia Organa

On the other side, Leia has been on a journey of her own: she had to deal with the absence of Luke, the crumbling of her union with Han, the falling of Ben for the Dark Side, and the traumatic rise of the First Order.

Leia is the most pragmatic, and maybe bravest, character of the original trio. In ‘The Last Jedi’, she finally accepts that she can’t always be in control and is willing to take the backseat.

My mind is still not made up about the infamous scene where she’s blown into space and uses the Force to propel herself back into the ship, though. I mean, I’m more than okay with the idea that she knows how to channel the Force – after all, she is force-sensitive and Luke promised he would teach her in ‘Return of the Jedi’ – but I’m sure there were better ways to showcase the prowess… Points for efforts, I guess?

But for all of our beloved characters, the toughest lesson is to learn how to let go.

Old man Luke

We are what they grow beyond.
Master Yoda

For many, Luke is completely misrepresented. Gosh, we barely had time to recover from the first blow that Kylo Ren was in ‘The Force Awakens’, that we have to mourn the central character of the franchise.

“He’s changed”, “he would never act like that”, “he’s an optimist at heart”, “he’s not my Luke” … he’s anything but that cranky old bastard retreated on an almost-deserted island.

Well, let me tell you, it might be the best thing that ever happened to Luke Skywalker. How could one expect him to be the same, years after the events of ‘Return of the Jedi’? We left Luke a hero, but heroes are flawed too. I’m happy we allowed some space for that.

Star Wars Luke Skywalker

Luke’s presence is the medium through which we ponder the Jedi Order’s obliteration. His failure with Ben Solo made him reconsider the necessity of an order he now finds too ancient, out of touch, and dangerous. He wasn’t able to turn Ben, as Obi-Wan and Yoda were not able to turn Darth Vader and Darth Sidious back to the Light. One could even argue it was the Jedi philosophy that drove them away.

In a sense, Luke realises that righteousness creates its own monsters.

Nevertheless, because the light and the dark side are the two faces of the same coin, one cannot go without the other; one cannot rise without the other to meet it. It’s all part of keeping the balance: as much as we want it, the Light can never really win.

Here you have it, Luke trying to make peace with what he thinks – certainly, in a very hubristic manner – he is responsible for: the creation of Kylo Ren. So, would the younger version of Luke try to kill an ‘innocent’ Ben Solo?

On multiple occasions, Luke almost crossed the line with his father, giving into his darker instincts. That he could hesitate, even for a second, is in no way surprising – at least for me.

Jedi Masters are constantly subjected to temptations and fluctuations – they continuously have to reaffirm their faith in their belief system… which means they are tested over and over again. What it doesn’t mean is that the faith cannot change, evolve to adapt to new circumstances. Enters Rey.

With Luke gone, she is the new guardian of the Jedi Order. That she stole the books only implies she has now access to the basic knowledge she needs to teach herself. She has now the power to give a stir that will bring back balance into the Force.

Luke is simply the last Jedi of his kind.

The Force being the Force, there will always be force-sensitive beings: new generations of Jedi are waiting in the shadows – talking of which, noticed the little boy’s shadow at the very end of the movie?

Let it go, let it go…!

Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you’re meant to be. Kylo Ren, ironically the biggest grudge bearer of all times.

Letting go is the underlying theme of this episode. Each and every character has to let go of something they held dear in order to move on.

The only character who remains metaphorically idle is Kylo Ren – in his desperate attempt to kill the past, he is the one still worshipping Darth Vader’s memory, ignoring the latter’s return to the Light. He is also unable to let go of his love/hate relationship with his parents. Killing Han did nothing but begrudgingly pull him back to his mother… and he hates her more for it. His hatred for Luke was born out of fear, a fear he could never shake and ultimately became his downfall.

Star Wars Kylo Ren

I somehow liked that there was no redemption for Kylo Ren, that his killing Snoke was no switch to the Light. When Anakin became Vader, it was out of fear too, but also out of love for Padme, leaving him with a glimpse of Light in him. On the other hand, Ben’s choice to become Kylo Ren and later to rule over the First Order is rational if anything – it reveals his psychopathic tendencies making him even more terrifying.

You always hope there is good in someone. Sometimes there just isn’t. Deal with it.

However, we still don’t really understand Kylo Ren’s motives. His backstory, if a little clearer, doesn’t explain why he has such a fraught relationship with Han and Leia. As for Snoke… do you hear the crickets too?

But forsaking the past doesn’t only affect on-screen characters. It’s a message to all ‘Star Wars’ fans who in just two episodes had to say good-bye to their childhood heroes: Han was killed off in ‘The Force Awakens’ (I’m still not over it, personally), Luke evaporates into the Force, and we’re forced to salute Leia one last time given the tragic circumstances of Carrie Fisher’s death.

With two episodes out of three, this trilogy feels more like a transition to something new, still holding on to old heirlooms that made ‘Star Wars’ the incredible franchise we know whilst trailblazing and finding a new identity untainted by the original characters. The scene where Rey and Kylo Ren fight over Anakin’s old lightsabre makes for a good parallel of that. Future and past.

As a matter of fact, we know Disney is determined to suck dry the ‘Star Wars’ franchise with a 4th trilogy to follow. Their intention is to create new characters, new stories and stay away from the Skywalker bloodline as much as possible – Rey being the first step in that direction… and you could easily understand why.

Taking a step back, one could say we are trapped in a ‘Star Wars’ scheme putting the Skywalkers front and centre. That Rey is not a lost Skywalker (or a Kenobi) reminds that anyone could be a Jedi.

Well, okay, but I hope everyone realised that Luke and Yoda were never related…

Since its release, I have literally immersed myself in ‘Star Wars’ movies, re-watching every episode from I to VII multiple times. I, too, is able of great sacrifices. For all those talks of ruining the saga, I have to say that episode VIII does not stray away too far from the original trilogy: in many respects, it matches ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ to a T, with hints of ‘Return of the Jedi’ too.

Star Wars AT.jpeg

It made me realise, we’ve actually been pretty hell-bent on recreating the magic the original trilogy brought to the big screen. Like obsessed mad scientists in a lab, studios are looking for the right formula to create another instant hit, another instant high: a few drops of nostalgia spiked with icons, sprinkled over updated storylines and characters.

Once a vivid critic, ‘Star Wars’ has become a symbol of sclerotic cultural imperialism itself: it defined a genre for generations to come killing its own creativity in the process. What made ‘Star Wars’ what it is was the courage that novelty demands, the bravery of bold choices… and that is exactly what we may never get back.

  1. Great reviews. I am glad you included some of what we discussed. You successfully resumed my problems with the movie.

  2. I absolutely loved this, your review was spot on and matched my opinion word for word! The only thing I’m surprised you didn’t mention was the convenient introduction of the use of the force to project oneself that allowed Luke to help the others but die in peace. So many such concepts in the movie seemed like Johnson first decided what he wanted to show, and then came up with new concepts (because after all, it’s a fictional world) to make it happen.

    • You’re absolutely right… and I have much more to say about the movie still! But combing through all of it… I think I would need to write a book xD

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