If The Force Awakens was a love letter to the Star Wars films of my youth, The Last Jedi is the “we need to talk about our relationship” note that’s left on the kitchen counter. There’s a lot to love in the film, but I have some issues. You need to see the film spoiler free, so stop now if you haven’t seen the film, and come back afterwards. As Master Luke says…Just breathe because this film is not going to go the way you think.
Ok, let’s do this.
In many ways, the Last Jedi doesn’t feel like a Star Wars movie, and that is both a good and bad thing. There are moments that are absolutely brilliant, but there are other moments that are groan inducing. The film begins right after the ending of The Force Awakens where we left our heroes bruised but celebrating after the destruction of the Starkiller Base, and there was hope once again in the galaxy. Finn was healing from his injuries, Leia was coping with the loss of Han, and Rey had landed on tiny island on a distant planet, face to face with the legendary Jedi Master — and hero of the Rebel Alliance — Luke Skywalker.
The middle chapter is always where our heroes really get tested, and the Resistance’s victory fades very quickly. They have located Leia’s base and send a squad of Destroyers to crush the rebellion once and for all. There is a thrilling space battle where Poe Dameron leads a squad of pilots into battle against the mammoth Dreadnought in order to buy time for the survivors to jump to Hyperspace. The cinematography is thrilling and intense as Poe and his team give cover for a fleet of slow moving bombers, and the editing keeps the action moving briskly and never confuses the viewer. Unfortunately, it begins with a terrible scene where Poe prank calls General Hux. The humor feels incredibly forced and seemed completely out of place. It’s the complete opposite of the humor that BB-8 brings partway through the battle as he desperately tries to get Poe’s targeting screen back on line. At the end of the battle, Poe was successful in destroying the Dreadnought, but at the great cost of all the bombers, most of the X-Wings, and Leia slaps him for his going against his orders. He tells her that there were a lot of heroes during the battle, and Leia replies that they are dead heroes, and there were certainly no leaders. In the past films, the daring and cocky “fly boys” always won in the end and were congratulated for it. It’s one of our earliest hints that Rian Johnson is going to take us in a new direction.
The Resistance jumps to light speed to avoid the First Order and believe they are safe because ships can’t be tracked through Hyperspace. Moments later, the First Order is somehow right back on their tail. Once again, Rian is subtly hinting that things are going to be different in this film, and it’s only just begun. The rebels realize that another jump is fruitless and will just waste precious fuel, so they open the engines full throttle to stay out of range of the small Tie Fighters, but they can’t out pace the artillery range of the Star Destroyers. In previous films, the shields for ships didn’t last long, but for some reason the shields on the Resistance ships hold out for over 6 hours under constant barrage. This sets up one of the major plot points – with the Resistance running, and the First Order chasing – and it goes on too long, Throughout the movie we are told by both sides about how little fuel is left in the fleet, and several ships are forced to evacuate and race to Leia’s command ship after they have run out of fuel, and the First Order destroys them.
Kylo Ren and General Hux are both called in to face Supreme Leader Snoke, and both are ridiculed and insulted by their leader. Snoke calls Kylo a “child in a mask” and mocks him for being bested by a girl. Kylo throws another temper tantrum and destroys his helmet in his rage. This isn’t the last time that Rian Johnson will sweep aside something that J.J. Abrams created. Kylo takes off in his new short range fighter and almost blows up the bridge of Leia’s ship, but stops at the last second – unable to do to Leia what he did to Han. Unfortunately, some of his fellow pilots are not as kind, and they make a direct hit. Admiral Ackbar is killed in the explosion and Leia is pushed out into space. It’s a truly shocking moment, but at the last moment, she channels the Force and pulls herself back inside to safety. I was ok with this moment in theory, as we know that Leia is Force Sensitive and could have been a Jedi herself if she wanted – but my issue was the execution. Something about the way she gently floats with her arm outstretched just didn’t work for me, and it took me out of the film. She has suffered major damage and is moved to the sick bay to recover while Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo in charge. Poe demands to know what her plan of attack is, and is not pleased to learn that she wants to merely continue to run from the first order as Leia had done. This sets up the next plot arc – this time with Poe, Finn, BB-8, and a mechanic named Rose Tico racing to find a hacker on the city Canto Bight where the rich and powerful play while the rest of the universe suffers. They need to find the hacker named DJ, buy his services and then smuggle them all aboard Snoke’s personal ship where they can find the tracking mechanism, disable it, and escape without the First Order noticing. This will allow the fleet time to jump to Light Speed and give them the escape route they need.
Unfortunately, Canto Bight’s plot story is the least necessary and least successful part of the film. We’ve been told multiple times that the Resistance has less than 6 hours of fuel left, and the clock is ticking. If Leia’s group is destroyed, so is the Resistance, there’s no one else to take up the mantle. The team heads to Canto Bight, and they and the story seem to linger here for a while. They have time to stand on a balcony and discuss how the people of Canto Bight are evil and have made their wealth selling weapons to the First Order at the expense of all the working people across the galaxy. They have time to notice that the fathiers – giant horse like creatures that run the tracks of this gambling town are mistreated by their owners, and then get thrown into jail for parking their ship on the beach. It’s by sheer luck that they find their cellmate is the hacker they have been looking for – and Benecio del Toro’s weird and unnecessary stutter took me right out of the film every time he was on screen. Some people have claimed that this sequence is important because an Asian woman and a Black man are working together to save the universe. It’s a great thought and one I totally support, but not at the expense of slowing down the narrative. This section also reminded me of the prequels – with some bad CG of Rose and Finn riding the racing fathiers to escape the police. This whole plot line could almost be completely cut, except for Rose telling the young stable boy that they are part of the rebellion and giving him a ring with their symbol. That scene comes back into play big time at the end of the film.
Now we need to talk about the most important plot line of the film – Luke Skywalker and Rey. It’s been widely reported that Mark Hamill was taken aback with Rian Johnson’s script, and it took him time and a lot of conversations with Johnson to discover a way to execute the vision his director had of the beloved character. We know from The Force Awakens that Luke has become a hermit, and that film left us with Rey wordlessly handing Luke his old lightsaber, the same lightsaber that once belonged to his father Anakin. We didn’t know what Luke would say, how he would react, and we waited to discover what had become of our hero. Luke was so devastated by Ben Solo’s turn to the dark side that he fled to Ahch-To as a slow death sentence. He is determined to let the Jedi order die with him, and when he takes the lightsaber from Rey’s hand, he simply tosses it over his head and walks away. It’s a shocking moment and is the first of many decisions that Johnson makes that leave me conflicted. This simple act begins to explore the central theme of the film – the deconstruction of how myths and storytelling are to us, and it’s one that I didn’t agree with.
When we first met Luke Skywalker, he was an innocent farm boy, a restless young man stuck in the backwoods planet of Tatooine with little to no hope of the life of adventure that he desperately seeks. In one of the most famous shots in cinema history, Luke walks out of the hovel he lives in with his aunt and uncle and watches as the twin suns of the planet slowly set. It’s in that moment that we see his yearning for something greater that propels Luke’s story into history. Through the original trilogy, Like becomes a hero, a mythical figure, and the name Skywalker even becomes synonymous with the word hero. A New Hope was the first movie I remember seeing and that film would go on to shape much of my childhood. Han Solo was the man the boys wanted to be, but Luke Skywalker was who we really needed to become. He was always full of hope, full of light, always ready to help his friends no matter the cost, and a gentle heart. Rian Johnson has created a Luke that is miserable, bitter, apathetic, and unwilling and unable to help his sister and the Resistance. It’s a shocking and brave decision, but it’s one that I struggle with. I understand that it echoes Yoda’s arc from the previous trilogy, but it didn’t sit well with me. It’s possible that upon multiple viewings that I will accept it more, we shall see. One moment that I don’t know that I can ever get past is the fact that for a brief moment, Luke Skywalker considered murdering Ben Solo, his nephew, his sister’s only child, while he slept. It felt completely and utterly wrong to me, even if it was only there for a fraction of a second. It goes against the grain of everything this character is and I don’t know that decision will ever sit well with me. Ben Solo wakes up, sees Luke standing over him with an ignited Lightsaber, ready to swing, and then uses the Force to pull the entire building down on top of them. He takes several of Luke’s students with him – the Knights of Ren I guess? – and they burn the Jedi temple down, killing the other students, and leaving Luke for dead.
Luke exiles himself to Ahch-To and lives alone except for the Caretakers of the ancient Jedi buildings and the Porgs. That is until Rey, a young woman very much like Luke, seeks him out. Luke tries to convince her to leave, he ignores her, leaves her to sleep on a bench outside of his hut, rarely speaking to her except to say something cynical and that the Jedi have to die. Rey responds with heartfelt logic that echo the words Luke used to turn Darth Vader back from the dark side of the Force. The Jedi were flawed, but they did a lot of good, Luke made mistakes, but no one is past redemption. Luke reluctantly begins to train Rey, but he’s convinced in doing so that she will agree with his beliefs. There is ominous suggestions that there is a deep well of darkness inside Rey, and that she is an equal of Kylo Ren in terms of her connection to the Force. Luke warns her to avoid a black hole that exists at the bottom of the island, but she is drawn to it, and doesn’t resist it, which cements Luke’s decision to end the Jedi. This fascination with the Dark Side is interesting, but ultimately, it doesn’t go anywhere. Rey goes down the hole and finds herself in a cave similar to the one Luke experienced on Dagobah. She wants to see who her parents were, but she only sees herself – echoing when Luke cut off Vader’s head only to see his own face inside the mask. Rey has been communicating with Kylo Ren via the Force and she becomes convinced that she can turn him from the dark side to the light. She leaves before finishing her training, and Luke even goes so far as to try to burn down the ancient tree that was the first Jedi temple. Before he can, he is visited by Force ghost Yoda who tells him that failure is the best teacher, and calls down lightning to set the tree on fire – much to the sure horror of the caretakers.
Rey travels to Snoke’s Dreadnought and is immediately captured by Kylo and taken to Snoke’s chamber. Snoke praises his apprentice, and tells Rey that he was the mastermind behind their Force conversations. That he used Kylo as a trap to get Rey, and ultimately Luke. He throws Rey around the room with his little finger, and demonstrates how strong he is with the Force. He tells Kylo to kill his true enemy that is keeping him from reaching his potential, and in a surprising move, Kylo uses the Force to ignite Luke’s lightsaber and cuts Snoke in half. Rey and Kylo fight and kill and the red guards, and then try to convince the other to join their side. Kylo doesn’t want to rule as a Sith, he doesn’t want to become a Jedi, he wants to burn them all down and create a NEW order. He and Rey struggle to get control of Luke’s lightsaber, only to literally tear it in half. It’s another of Johnson’s breaking from the original films. It’s a brave and shocking death, but I felt cheated. Snoke was an interesting character that Abrams setup as a major character, only to have him killed halfway through the film. It felt rushed and we don’t get many answers to this mysterious character. Who is he? How did he become so strong with the Force. How did he begin the First Order? What was his relationship with the Solo family? Why did they let their son become so close to such a dangerous character? These questions will probably be answered in books and video games, but I don’t want to have to research these things outside of the film to get the answers.
The Resistance is continuing to run, but their fuel is almost completely gone. Leia has recovered and it’s revealed that Vice Admiral Holdo’s plan was to have the First Order concentrate on the larger ship, have all passengers get into shuttles, and run for the old abandoned Rebel base on the planet Crait. For some reason, it’s said that the enemy can’t track these smaller ships – nor see them fly away and make their escape. This seemed very strange and was another plot point I questioned. Everyone is abandoning the ship except for Holdo who is staying behind to keep the ruse intact. In one of the most poignant moments of the film, Leia says she can’t take any more losses, and Holdo assures her that she can and must. It’s a gut punch to an audience that recently lost Fischer and this is her last movie. Back on Snoke’s ship, Finn, Rose, BB-8 and DJ have successfully boarded and are seeking out the tracking device. They are caught at the last minute by Captain Phasma because DJ sold them out to the First Order for some credits and his own ship. She orders the Rebels to be executed, but BB-8 saves the day by taking over a Walker in the hangar bay, and blasting Phasma and her troops. Finn battles Phasma for a moment, and she ultimately falls to her death. She’s the new version of Boba Fett – a visually awesome character that turned out to not really do anything of consequence. DJ told the First Order about the plan to evacuate the main ship, so Kylo Ren begins to fire on the fleeing Rebel ships. It’s probably only because of editing between the multiple storylines, but after what seems like a lifetime, Holdo turns the ship around and jumps to Hyperspace – ramming into the Dreadnaught and causing massive damage to the First Order fleet. Kylo Ren orders all remaining forces to gather on Crait to destroy the Rebels once and for all.
Crait is similar to Hoth in that the surface is white, but it’s salt covering a layer or red mineral instead of snow. Our heroes are hiding behind massive blast doors, and sending out a call to help for anyone in the outer rims that will listen. No one comes to the help, and it seems like the rebellion is doomed. The First Order has a miniaturized Death Star weapon that will be able to break the blast doors, so Poe, Rose, Finn, and others head out in ancient and rickety ships to face down the First Order in one desperate last stand. It’s some of the most visually stunning parts of the film as the speeders kick up the red minerals into the air. Finn speeds towards the weapon on a suicide run, but at the last moment Rose slams her speeder into his and makes both speeders crash off to the side of the massive weapon. She tells him that it’s better to live for what you love, than to die for what you hate. It’s a great line and a great moment, but then she suddenly kisses him and passes out. The two have known each other for less than 6 hours, and the kiss seemed very out of place.
The blast doors are the only way in or out of the cave, and the rebels are convinced of their death. Leia tells them that they fought to the end, and all hope seems lost. Suddenly, Luke appears and tells Leia that she is never alone and that no one is ever really gone. It’s another gut punch to the audience, and I was so grateful that the twins had a poignant moment together. It’s breathtaking. Luke then walks through the broken blast shield to face the entire First Order on his own. Kylo Ren orders that all fire should be concentrated on Luke, and then is amazed that he is still walking towards the front line. Kylo leaves his ship to face his uncle, his master all alone on the battlefield. Luke apologizes to Kylo for failing him and admits his mistakes. Kylo swings his lightsaber several times which Luke avoids several times, until Kylo finally strikes what appears to be the fatal blow. It turns out that Luke is still physically on Ahch-To, but has projected his image to Crait through the Force. It’s a good twist in theory, but unfortunately I figured that Luke was never there from the moment he showed up at the Rebel base. Earlier, we saw his X-Wing was crashed into the waters of Crait – and while he could have raised it back to land ala Dagobah, I figured it out when he appeared inside the base. We were told several times there was no way in or out, and several times we are shown closeups of people walking across the salt surface and leaving red mineral footprints below. When Luke walks, we never see this. The Luke I know and love had finally returned, and without hesitation, he has helped his sister and friends when they needed him the most. It reveals Luke for who he really is, not a God or a warrior, not an all-powerful Jedi Master, but a gentle, kind, and brave man that is mortal just like everyone else. He has returned to be the same young and idealistic boy that left his home all those years ago. Luke knows that he has bought enough time for Leia and the Rebels to escape through the caves, lead by the beautiful crystal foxes. He knows that the Jedi Order will continue with Rey and will not die with him. He knows that he has redeemed himself, and under the twin suns of Ahch-To, just like the suns of Tatooine, he becomes one with the Force and passes away. The war isn’t over, it’s just begun, but Luke has made the universe a better place and is at peace.
Leia and a handful or rebels including Poe, Finn, Rey, Chewbacca, and Rose escape the First Order in the Millennium Falcon. Leia tells them that the Rebellion isn’t dead – they have everything they need right there in that iconic ship.
Earlier, when Kylo tells Rey that her parents were nobody – they were scavengers that traded her away for money – it suggests that the Force isn’t exclusive to a few select few – anyone can access it. The final shots take us back to the casino city of Canto Bight where young children are telling others the story of the brave Jedi Luke Skywalker. His story, his legend will live on in the children, and a young child steps outside to stare at the stars – that big and amazing sky that Luke Skywalker gazed upon as a boy, and subtly calls a broom to his hand through the Force, and swings it like a lightsaber. It cements the idea that a new generation of children are taking up the mantle, and that is a good thing.
Rian Johnson broke a lot of the rules and toys in the Star Wars sandbox, and tells us several times that the old must die to allow new life to grow. If the Star Wars universe is to survive, it must change and adapt. It must leave the past behind, and move into the new. It’s a harsh but important message that I wasn’t expecting. Luke was right, this didn’t go the way I planned. Luke is dead and it appears that he meant for the next film to feature Leia – but now that will never happen. I think they’ll have a time jump and just explain her death in the opening crawl. Han, Luke, and now Leia are all gone. I feel like J.J. Abrams spent the first film starting to put together a puzzle, and Rian Johnson tipped over the whole table, scattering the pieces and even taking some away. He’s burned it all to the ground, and hopefully J.J. Abrams can use this as fertile ground to grow a 9th film that will bring an end to the Skywalker family story which is now being told through Kylo Ren. J.J. has an almost clean slate to take us wherever he wants to go. It’s exciting and it’s scary – and that’s overall a good thing. I applaud Rian Johnson for being incredibly brave. He told a deep and rich story over 2 1/2 hours, he challenged the audience, he tore down the structure of a 40 year old franchise, but he gave us hope, and it’s up to the new generation to bring us home.
What did you think of the film? Leave us a comment below!