I’m planning to write up some essays about the film, but wanted to get my initial thoughts out before I see it for the third time, and really start to dive in.
WARNING: SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT
First things first, I liked the film when I saw it the first time, but absolutely loved it the second time. When I was watching it the first time, I had this nagging feeling that it wasn’t Star Wars-y enough. There was so much humor; Luke was such a wise ass and didn’t seem to be as serious as I thought he should; the weird relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey; the seemingly meaningless casino subplot. Then I started thinking about why it was bothering me, and I think it’s because we, as fans, have this idea that Star Wars films must follow a certain structure, must conform to this idea of what we’re expecting to happen, and when it doesn’t, it’s uncomfortable. Hell, part of why I loved The Force Awakens, and why I watch it every time I feel down is because it conforms to the expectations we have for a Star Wars film and having it be similar in structure to A New Hope makes it feel so comfortable. It’s like the macaroni and cheese of Star Wars films–it makes us feel all warm and gives us the characters we love but also has that extra spice of something new. With The Last Jedi, it’s like I was expecting macaroni and cheese, but when I looked at my plate, the waiter brought me fettuccini alfredo instead–the ingredients are basically the same but it’s also much different in flavor and feeling; it tastes delicious, but it takes a bite or two, after accepting that it’s not what I expected, and then realizing how much I enjoy it.
So before seeing it the second time, I started picking apart the discomfort I had with it:
- What does being Star Wars-y even mean?
- Isn’t Luke still, at his core, a smart ass farm boy? Why is it so shocking that he’s still a smart ass?
- The relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey–what is it that bothers me? It is because they’re male/female? Is it something else?
- Am I mad about the casino subplot because they fail and if heroes are doing something, we expect them to succeed?
Once I started thinking about these things, and why I was uncomfortable, I realized that’s kind of the point. The trailer laid out the point for us: “This is not going to go the way that you think.”
Johnson’s visual style is so unique, which is part of why I love him as a director. I also love the subtle nods to his own work-the image of the light on the detonator immediately made me think of the “Fly” episode he directed of Breaking Bad
And the work of others including:
The tracking shot in the casino referencing Wings
The B/SF-17s being modeled after the B-17 and the opening sequence drawing from Twelve O’Clock High
Being on the run from the First Order who is tracking them through Light Speed, similar to the “33″ episode of Battlestar Galactica
The fight with Kylo Ren, Rey, and Snoke’s guard modeled after samurai movies like Three Outlaw Samurai
I know there are plenty more, and I’m planning to write one of my essays looking at the cinematic influences and their significance, but I wanted to add these here too.
I also have been thinking a lot about the subtle use of language to reveal the true insidiousness of Kylo Ren–primarily, utilizing the language of abusers, e.g. telling Rey she is nothing and worthless to everyone…except him. Kylo Ren and Rey’s have a lot of chemistry together (which, shout out to Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver for some really fantastic acting, especially considering that, for the majority of their scenes, they weren’t even in the same room), but, at it’s core, their relationship is abusive. It’s not a healthy relationship, and I wish I could impart to people how important it is to not idealize their relationship. I’m planning to hone in on this point in another essay as well, and delving into the idea of learned behaviors and how those who have been abused often abuse others in the same way, but there’s a lot to unpack there–more than I can get to here. There’s another a fantastic article out on Den of Geek about the impact of toxic masculinity on both the heroes and the villains of The Last Jedi, and I think it would be interesting to analyze the film within the framework of feminist film criticism. I would be remiss without also mentioning that @infinitybuttons pointed out to me that “A lot of the same ideas are at play in Looper, too. Possessive, selfish men making decisions that affect & hurt everyone around them until one has the courage to put someone else’s needs ahead of his own,” which also ties into my next point…
As far as the casino scene, this is the thing I’ve heard the most complaints about, and it felt odd to me at first too, but the point, to me, is twofold. The first is that this is the first time our protagonists have truly failed, and seeing the “heroes” fail isn’t comfortable. I think a huge failing of a lot of movies is that we feel like no matter what, the heroes are going to succeed, which gets boring after a while. Having this plan where that doesn’t work out, where the heroes fail, is a good thing, not just for something different, but to have some sort of reality, and some sort of stakes. This subplot is also inherently political, and demonstrates something that we don’t see often in science fiction–that is, whenever there is war, there is someone profiting from that war, and that there are people who are exploited, regardless of who is in charge. One of the best reviews I’ve read so far was on /Film, and I love this quote:
Rian Johnson is unabashedly political and unafraid to slaughter the sacred cows. The First Order isn’t just a group of guys whose costumes provide cool cosplay opportunities – they are fascists, evil and cold and frightening. The Resistance isn’t a team of plucky heroes – they are a band of fighters who are specifically cast with diverse men and women to reflect the fears and frustrations of millennials who feel trapped and afraid in a world where resistance often feels futile (and who really wouldn’t mind tearing apart a casino city operated by the 1%). The Force isn’t just a cool excuse for heroes to lift rocks – it is something mystical and mysterious that cannot be easily explained and comprehended, something that even Luke Skywalker has a complex relationship with at this point.
I really loved that this movie wasn’t focused on the Skywalkers, at least in the traditional sense. It’s about the main characters overcoming their greatest weaknesses: Rey not letting herself be defined by her past and letting go; Finn no longer running away; Poe learning to become a leader instead of a hot-shot fly boy. While I think the repetition of “Destroy the past” is a little on the nose, I think balancing it with the “Nothing’s ever really gone” is at the core of the movie. Letting go of the past is necessary for growth–you shouldn’t cling to it so tightly but letting go doesn’t mean it’s completely pointless. The old Star Wars films that we all love aren’t going anywhere–but in order to grow as a franchise, to continue, it has to grow away from the past, to focus on more than the Jedi lineage, to recognize that The Force isn’t something the Jedi and Sith have exclusive access to, but is something that binds together this universe, and that encompasses the galaxy.
And that’s really the point to me–that loving Star Wars, being a fan of Star Wars, isn’t something that only “purists” have a right to. Star Wars is for everyone, and I believe The Last Jedi seeks to break down a lot the gatekeeping that goes on within the Star Wars fandom, and, really, geek culture in general. To me, Star Wars isn’t about the Skywalkers, and never has been. It’s about the choices we make.
The Force doesn’t belong to a certain bloodline. It belongs to all of us–whether we’re a farm boy on Tattooine, the child of drunks who sold us for beer money, or an enslaved stable boy hearing the tale of how Luke Skywalker single-handedly stared down the First Order.
- Katelyn Sweetapple