I loved this movie. And if you read this, it might spoil it for you. But hopefully you have made it to the movie already. Hopefully you have gotten to experience it, too.
I’ve read a lot of Last Jedi reviews since the movie came out. A lot. And if you’re recall, the day of the release I posted a blogpost about my hopes for the film. I want to start from that point, and talk about my feelings, and talk about some of the reviews that have stuck with me. I want people to understand why this movie left me glowing, why when I woke up the next morning I was still glowing. This movie gave me hope.
2017 has been a hard year. It’s been a joyful one for me, too, but I’m not blind to what is happening in our world. When Rogue One came out in December of last year, it felt like the movie we needed. That desperate fight in the rising darkness. The resolution of faith, when hope was gone. I don’t think that I was wrong, in that feeling. I wasn’t entirely right, either. Faith and hope and love must all hold hands. I can have Jyn Erso’s faith, bitter and solid and true. I can have Leia’s hope, the bright vision. And I can have Rey’s love. Rey’s arc has always been about love, and this movie shows us that unshakably.
In my blogpost last week, I talked about how closely paralleled and yet how divergent Luke and Rey’s characters are. In the wake of watching The Last Jedi, I can confirm that Rey is the hero we need. Her character arc continues – as she has come to the force, she comes to it with more skills than her mentor managed in his time. These skills, however, are not just the physical skills that I had previously cataloged. They are emotional skills, too. Rey has learned to forgive others, over and over, sometimes to her own detriment. In fact, Rey’s only character flaw may be that she does not always value herself. She looks up to others, first her lost parents, later Han and Luke, and even, a little, to Kylo Ren. Even though none of these people gives her everything that she wants, though, Rey does not blame them for it. She grows. She becomes what she needs.
In this way, her arc parallels Luke’s in the original trilogy. This, I would argue, is intentional. The thing that Rian Johnson and the new writers of Star Wars want to keep, the inescapable thing that makes a Jedi a Jedi, the thing that Anakin never could hold onto, is emotional maturity. And that maturity requires vulnerability. Without being vulnerable, a Jedi cannot care for and protect what she loves.
Nothing else plays out quite like what we expect, however. I agree with Chuck Wendig that this is a lot of what has made this movie divisive. The Force Awakens trades on the familiar. The Last Jedi steps beyond it. But it keeps the heart.
“They want the familiarity. They need nostalgia.
And this movie burns it all down.
A lightning strike setting fire to a sacred tree.”
– Chuck Wendig
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the burning of the sacred tree, the original Jedi temple. Luke intends to burn the past, to let it die as Kylo has tried to do. Their journeys, here, parallel. Luke is tired, he is angry and afraid. His anger and fear are for himself. He has failed. The Jedi will always fail, because they are human, and so there is no point in any of it, not anymore. Luke is lost. He goes to burn the tree as an act of destruction.
Yoda, on the other hand, burns the tree as an act of emancipation. The past cannot die. The path of the Jedi will always exist, because the Force will always exist. Whatever petty symbols of it may remain are crutches. A Master does not need them. This movie keeps the Force at its heart, and burns down the trappings of it.
And yet, at the end, the books, the knowledge of the Force that the temple guarded? They are carried in the Millenium Falcon, safe. Finn finds them, not during battle. He finds them when he is caring for Rose. Rose, who gave herself up to save him, when he had given up on hope and love and let it all go to rage.
Rey’s power to defy the First Order comes from love. Love for her friends, love for the world. When she goes into the cave to face her test, she doesn’t see an enemy. She sees herself. She sees herself, alone, forever. This is her greatest fear, this aloneness. Luke’s fear was to become his father, to fall to the dark side. His fear of the dark side is also what destroys his relationship with his nephew, starting Kylo Ren along his path.
Rey’s fear is to lose her new family, but she has been alone before. It is a fear she has faced before, a horror she has lived through. It is no wonder that the dark side does not tempt her as easily. She knows that she has survived her fear. It cannot, therefore, consume her. Luke is horrified when she is pulled into the dark side so easily, because he does not believe that she can withstand temptation. He, after all, could not, not entirely. The dark side has marked his life, forever, it has lost him too much.
Luke’s fear moves the plot of this film just as much as Kylo’s anger and Poe’s pride. Each of them must work through those feelings, because “building that emotional intelligence is the difference between the dark and the light.” Luke succeeds, and finds oneness with the Force. Poe begins his journey by valuing his comrades over the cause. Only Kylo does not embrace that emotional maturity, and in his anger and hatred he writes his own downfall. He is so afraid of Luke, so focused on his hatred, still, of his father and the Millennium Falcon, that he fails to accomplish his goal, effectively losing the final battle to crush the Resistance. He cannot grow without bringing himself into balance, and he shows no signs of doing so, even when Rey offers him a clean slate despite everything.
In the end, The Last Jedi is the truest bit of Star Wars cinema that we have seen since The Return of the Jedi so many years ago. No, it does not look the same. Many things have changed, but hell, there’s a whole galaxy out there. Who would want to stay in the same old orbit? The heart of this story, however, remains. It is the new hope of a new generation.