When we went into the theater, we each saw a different film. I mean, we both saw The Last Jedi, but our reactions were so different that it’s like you didn’t see what I saw. As you know, “many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” So allow me to tell you about the new Star Wars film I saw.
The Star Wars I saw had a strong voice and its own clear themes.
This film honored Star Wars tradition. The battle sequences were inspired by World War II, the nature of good and evil was a major theme, and Yoda was a puppet. In short, it put me in that galaxy far, far away. And while it espoused the worldview of the original saga, it also had its own unique message.
I saw two primary themes in The Last Jedi. They work in tandem and weave together. The first is that “anyone can be a hero.” Vice Admiral Holdo’s heroism isn’t as flashy as Poe’s but it was pure nonetheless, and Poe learned from it. Rey sees the potential in Ben to become a force for good. Rey herself, it is revealed, descends from completely unremarkable lineage. Anyone can be a hero. Then there’s the new character of Rose, who nearly personified this theme. She’s not the average hero, not as attractive as Rey, or as showy as Poe. But Rose is best contrasted with Finn. She went all fan-girl over meeting Finn, who appeared to be a real resistance hero, but she quickly saw his true nature. He is a serial runaway. Rose challenged him to a higher standard. And the sacrificial love she displayed in saving his life was the ultimate expression of her unlikely heroism.
The other primary theme I saw was that “all heroes are flawed.” This film reintroduced Luke Skywalker. We’ve come to think of him as a legendary Jedi master, but the film subverts our expectations, making him into a somewhat ridiculous hermit. He’s weird, and he’s flawed. He had misconceptions about the student-master relationship and about the nature of who could be a hero. He thought Ben could be great because of his Skywalker blood. His failure of conception led to disaster. Discovering the darkness in Ben’s heart, he nearly stooped to murdering him. He avoided this sin but realizing that he could be tempted shook him to his core, and he sent Ben off the deep end. It turns out the legendary hero is still one of us, still flawed.
But Luke, a true seeker, was onto something. Hubris was a real problem for the Jedi, and he fell victim to it. He remained disillusioned on his remote island until Master Yoda dropped some truth bombs on him. Setting the ancient house of Jedi texts ablaze, Yoda declares “Page turners, they were not!” Yoda makes the Jedi way clearer, and Luke sees beyond the trap that ensnared him. As that tree burned, so did the shallow concept we have of a heroes as perfect. The illustrious image of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker became smoke. And one more thing went with it—the sacred cows of Star Wars, which this film was brave enough to question, they burned too, clearing the way to observe the deeper truths latent in the saga.
“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.”
When Luke appeared at the rebel base, in their most desperate hour, his visage was that of the legendary hero they believed him to be. His garb was immaculate, and his beard was trimmed. He sparked their hope. And amazingly, it was an illusion. The true hero was a scraggly-bearded man in rags, on an island a galaxy away. This singular moment beautifully encapsulated the film's themes on the illusory nature of heroes.
The Star Wars I saw outright stole from Star Wars I’ve seen
Elements were copied from a few Star Wars films, but most notably, many things were taken from The Empire Strikes Back. Too many things to enumerate in the space I’ve carved out here. And I've said many times that copying Empire was the one thing to avoid with this film, but I stand corrected. The repetition works as a form of emphasis. Essentially, the movies are saying that the events they depict symbolize truths so deep, they will play out again and again in our world.
Take, for example, the repetition of the student-master dynamics we’ve seen in other films, for both Jedi and Sith. This emphasizes the lessons we’ve learned previously. A wise master is wary of taking on a student, and rightly so. A cruel master will be undone by the cruel henchmen he created. Not only are such things repeated to draw our attention to them again, but this film adds additional insights on the topic of student-master dynamics. “We are what they grow beyond, that is the burden of all masters.”
George Lucas originally conceived of this “rhyming” thematic structure for his prequel films, but I’d argue his ambition exceeded his ability to execute. The Star Wars I saw redeemed this thematic structure, which seemed derivative and too safe in its predecessor, The Force Awakens.
The Star Wars I saw sparked wonder anew
The film’s earnest handling of the Star Wars mythos laid the foundation for the revelation of heretofore unseen Force powers which dazzled with their spectacle, and intrigued with their mystery. I was left with a renewal of the wonder that the Force, and Star Wars, are meant to instill in the first place. A "spark” in the parlance of this film.
The Star Wars I saw had great performances and great characters
The way Luke was handled was unexpected, and Mark Hamill performed it brilliantly. Carrie Fisher was at her best, easily topping her somewhat shaky performance in TFA. While the presence of a new cast limited the potential screen time for scenes between Hamill and Fischer, the one we got was superlative.
The film showed us why it is that Leia’s character commands the presence she does in the galaxy. It did so with several scenes, but the most salient was the scene where she returned from the vacuum of space. What a striking, and unforgettable image — the aged Leia Organa suddenly adrift in space, alone. It was disturbing, and remained so until we were directed to observe her outstretched hand, her eyes flick open, and she sends herself back to the ship. As Carrie returns from certain death, her daughter, Billie Lourd, playing a resistance officer, looks on in wonder from a porthole. I found this incredibly powerful given Carrie’s sudden passing since we last saw her on screen.
Then there’s Andy Serkis, who gave life to Snoke in a way that barely seems possible. Though CG characters usually don’t pass as real, Snoke as a character felt real, and menacing.
This film also further developed its trio of new protagonists, each one working through their individual issues. And the chemistry between them was great as usual.
Rey, the abandoned one, ever eager to find acceptance in others is challenged by a master who ignores her, and a foe who reaches out to her. Not to mention the revelation that her parents never intended to come back for her, sealing the deal on her abandonment. Ultimately, she overcomes each challenge and blazes her own trail.
Poe’s tendency to take control proves to be a liability and for his costly insubordination, Leia demotes him. When Leia is absent, Vice Admiral Holdo feels no responsibility to share her strategies with him, being that he is a lowly captain now, and again he takes control, hatching a secret plan. His plan fails, though, when Finn and Rose are betrayed into the hands of the First Order. Through these failures Poe learns to yield control when necessary. He’s becoming the leader the Resistance will need.
Finn, because of his connection with Rose, deals with his tendency to run when faced with difficulty. His notion of a binary good and evil is challenged by the thief DJ’s insights, which unmask the evil of a society of beautiful people profiting off both the good and the evil.
The Star Wars I saw obliterated my puny predictions
I entitled my last blog post "This is not going to go the way you think”, a line from this very movie, because it was inevitable that I would get it wrong. Rey and Ben did not switch sides. They did tease the possibility though, when Ben and Rey inform each other of their visions, which seemed to indicate that each of them would convert to the other side. They didn’t and I was wrong. But I wanted to be wrong. I wanted the film to overrule my predictions with unexpected plot turns of quality that surpassed my own. And that’s what it did.
The Star Wars I saw was beautiful
Filled to the brim with creative locations, imagery, and creature designs, this movie was fascinating to watch.
The Star Wars I saw was imperfect, but welcome
Brandon, I saw a lot in this film. And hopefully you see it now too. If my perspective is true, what flaws could you have seen that are comparable to the wonders we saw?
By our shared standard, the original saga can’t be beaten. It can’t be expanded, tweaked, or reimagined in any way that will compare to what it has already achieved. Knowing that, the question is whether you will decide to see the added Star Wars films you're getting for what they’re worth.
Thanks for reading. Now, read my brother Brandon's take: Please come back, George Lucas