Warning: Spoilers ahead.
When my friend Chris Taylor walked into the star-studded Star Wars: The Last Jedi premiere afterparty on Saturday, he quickly tweeted his initial impressions of the new movie: “I am too stunned to participate right now. Lot to process,” he wrote. “Don’t think I’m the only one. There were a lot of stunned faces when we left the theater. Jaws on the floor.”
Taylor, the author of the terrific book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, and a columnist at Mashable, knows that Star Wars universe as well as anyone. So I went into a screening of the new film yesterday with his words echoing in my ear. Would I, too, come away with my jaw on the floor?
The short answer: Not really. Before I go further, it’s worth noting that although I have been a Star Wars fan since the day it opened in 1977, I’ve never been the one who could adequately explain the many little intricacies that make George Lucas’s movies—and the creations that have come along since Lucas let go of the franchise in 2012—so rich. That’s why, just as my screening began, I leaned over and asked Taylor, who was seeing the film for the second time, if he felt like the jaw-dropping was more likely for people much more intimately familiar with the significance of every little plot twist and story line in the new movie. He wasn’t sure. The theater went dark, and John Williams’s famous score began.
To start, I really liked The Last Jedi. It’s monumental. It’s grand. It’s what you want. It’s a long film—the longest Star Wars ever—and yet, it feels much shorter. It moves quickly. It boosts your heart rate again and again and again with huge, epic battle scenes, heartstring-tugging drama and sentiment, and so much more. And yet, it’s not a complex film. It is, yes, a story of the bad guys chasing the good guys through space, again and again. And it works. Bravo, Rian Johnson, the director.
In The Last Jedi, we find out at last what those three words mean. From the first days that the official title of the film was announced—instead of just being known as Episode VIII—everyone’s been parsing the words. Was “Jedi” singular or plural. Was the title looking forwards or backwards. Now we know. But you’ll have to see the film or read other reviews to find out, as I won’t reveal that spoiler.
But audiences absolutely come away from the film with a better understanding of the larger story arc of the Jedi order and a clear sense of whether to expect more Jedi in future films like Episode IX, due out in two years.
We also learn quite a bit more about what’s been going on with our old pal Luke Skywalker all these years. The last we’d seen of him, prior to 2015’s The Force Awakens, was at the end of Return of the Jedi in 1983. And in The Force Awakens, we get mere moments with him.
So, don’t worry, there’s plenty of Luke this time around. There’s also plenty of Rey, the heroic heroine of the last episode. Having traveled to the farthest, most remote reaches of the galaxy to find Luke, she’s tracked him down and is now pleading with him to emerge from years as a recluse, strap on a lightsaber, and come kick some First Order ass.
Luke’s response? He literally tosses the proffered lightsaber over his shoulder and nearly into the sea. Turns out, Luke’s not quite ready to save the day. Perhaps, instead, he’ll train Rey to do it herself.
After The Force Awakens, many people, myself included, tut-tutted that the film was merely a remake of the original Star Wars. People like Taylor disagreed in the strongest terms, and I think there’s arguments to be made for both positions. Still, I joked with Taylor that I was expecting The Last Jedi to be a remake of The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, though there are some elements that very much bring Empire to mind, there’s equally moments that recall Return of the Jedi, as well as the prequels. And all new stuff, too. As Taylor tweeted, “Guys. Rian Johnson has ALREADY made his Star Wars trilogy. He just put it all in the same movie….Rian Johnson: ‘Yo dawg, I heard you like Star Wars. so I put some Star Wars in your Star Wars and added some Star Wars.'”
— Chris Taylor (@FutureBoy) December 10, 2017
Yup, pretty much. Rey’s training, for example, very much reminded me of Luke’s own at Yoda’s hands. What was odd was the interplay between Daisy Ridley as Rey, clearly a very talented actress, and Mark Hamill. As you may recall from the original trilogy, great acting was not what made Luke so lovable. Perhaps, in fact, Hamill’s shortfalls as a thespian enhanced the character’s likability. In any case, I couldn’t help but be struck by the differences in Ridley’s and Hamill’s acting chops. It was mildly distracting.
Another moment very reminiscent of one of the older films was when Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren must decide whose side to take–Rey, with whom he’s developed a keen psychic bond, or the evil Supreme Leader Snoke? Darth Vader faced a similar choice–between Luke and the Emperor–in Return of the Jedi.
Still, The Last Jedi felt like its own movie, far more—to me, at least—than The Force Awakens. And for that, I thank Johnson.
The movie has the incredible bravery, the questionable decisions, the pure evil, and even some of the bad jokes you’d expect in a Star Wars movie. It has innocent romantic longing, and plenty of both sorrowful tragedy and triumphant victory.
There are some filmmaking decisions that are sure to be debated. As everyone knows, Carrie Fisher died last year, and we’ve been left to wonder ever since how that would be handled in the portrayal of General Leia. Let’s just say that there’s a moment early in the film where no one in the audience is at all certain if we’ve just seen the last of her, and if so, there’s the answer to the question. Yet there’s also a moment with Leia–related to the one I just mentioned–that introduces a kind of superpower we’ve never seen before in a Star Wars film, not even from a direct descendent of Anakin Skywalker. It will surely be controversial.
Equally so will be another superpower, practiced by Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren, that we’ve not previously seen. And it’s really odd to imagine that in the span of Luke’s lifetime, such a power would just be, I don’t know, discovered. Yet it’s absolutely crucial to the film’s epic ending. So, you know, just accept it and move on.
The fate of the Resistance, obviously, has been placed in the hands of Luke, Leia, Rey, and of course Finn and Po Dameron, played by John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, respectively, as well as a newcomer, Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran.
As you’d expect, Finn and Po can be counted on for grand heroics central to success, as well as poor decisions that endanger everyone and everything. But where Finn teamed up with Rey in The Force Awakens, this time it’s him and Rose.
After the film, not having emerged with my jaw all that much on the floor, I asked Taylor what had struck him so much the first time around. It’s a little hard to explain the answer without revealing too much, but suffice it to say, it’s Luke’s fate that Taylor said left the premiere audience mouth agape. And indeed, you can be sure that after watching Luke single-handedly take on The First Order, you will need a second to collect yourself.
So. You were going to go see The Last Jedi anyway, but from this corner, you can feel confident that you’re going to be happy that you did. it’s a big movie, one that covers a lot of ground, and that lives up to its heritage. There’s a few moments that fall flat, a few questionable story choices, and the aforementioned sure-to-be-controversial superpowers. But all in all, it’s a Star Wars film. And that’s a good thing.