Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Last Jedi: The First Time

At the time of writing this post, I had only seen the movie once and had not talked about it at all with anyone. I saw it Thursday night because I didn't want to know what anyone's thoughts on the movie were before I saw it; I didn't even want to know whether or not people liked it. I'm seeing the movie again today, so I will follow later with further thoughts. 

It is generally impossible and generally pointless to talk about a film without giving spoilers. All I can say, technically without spoilers, about Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that I liked it. So if you have not seen the film yet, don't keep reading.

Spoilers will be below the page break.


Okay, then.

Let's continue.

And warning that this will be a long post. That's just the way it has to be.

The Beginning

I didn't overly care for the beginning of the film. The quirky humor (is quirky the right word? either way, you know what I mean) reminded me too much of the (granted, popular) movies coming out right now that I can't sit through because I get bored. If anything, this humor reminded me more of the prequel trilogy than the original trilogy--which seemed odd given that most people talk about how bad the PT was and yet the audience seemed to enjoy this humor. So I was worried that the tone shift of this film would be too much for me. That changed, though, as soon as we got further into the movie; then all of these thoughts were gone.

The Tone

Not to say that there wasn't a tone shift. I get why Adam Driver said that the tone of this one was different from the previous film in the same way that Episode V differed from Episode IV and then went back and explained that everyone had misunderstood what he'd said (they all assumed he meant that, like Empire, this film would be darker). This movie wasn't exactly darker than The Force Awakens--but the tone was definitely different. The Force Awakens was basically the hero's journey story. The Last Jedi was all about failure, repercussions of actions, and personal choice. And Reylo. A couple of those moments (mainly the shirtless moment) seemed a little un-Star-Wars-like. Reylo wasn't unexpected, but the way they approached it was at times. Then again, it does all hearken back to certain Attack of the Clone moments between Anakin and Padme--particularly the scene by the fireside.

I think I'm fine with this tone. It reminded me of something, or else simply felt familiar. Maybe just because the overall feel was of closeness. This movie was very much focused on the inner self; maybe that's why it drew many of us in. I would certainly say this film pulled my emotions this way and that way more than I am used to (and surprise, I might add, wasn't one of those emotions, but I'll get into that more in a moment).


While we've just touched on the subject of Reylo, let's talk about that. Some people used to hate the mere mention of this theory; others loved it. I came to think it was inevitable, just in the way that The Force Awakens developed. Star Wars has always been built on archetypes, which makes even the "surprising" moments predictable. This isn't a bad thing; it's just the way that the story is. So I would have been more surprised if we didn't get more hints of Reylo. VII had Kylo's pick-up line to Rey ("You need a teacher. I can show you the ways of the Force."); in VIII he practically asks her to be his dark queen. And the aforementioned "moment" pretty much removes any doubts as to whether or not Reylo is at least something.

Kylo, at least, seems pretty smitten. I think he was before, too, but he for sure is now. Rey I don't know exactly; I feel somewhat disconnected to Rey in this film. I don't know what she's thinking all the time. But she did put herself in a pod and hand herself over to the First Order for Kylo--that's sacrifice for someone that she just had a big lightsaber fight with. So obviously her thoughts towards him have changed.

And I have to admit, after Kylo killed Snoke and he and Rey started fighting the guards, that was a pretty cool scene. Again, it felt simultaneously different and familiar, like something in your blood that you've never pondered before. Then Rey thinks that it's so easy, that she can just "get him back," only to turn and see that he's still with the First Order. No happily ever after, at least not for now--life is too complicated for that.

Now about that connection between Rey and Kylo. I think Snoke was partly lying or at least misleading/manipulating when he said that he was the one who orchestrated those "conversations" between them. There was already a connection, even before Snoke was interested in Rey. During the interrogation scene in the last movie, Kylo told Rey, "Don't be afraid. I feel it, too." Feel what? The connection between them, whatever that connection might be. So it was always there. Rey had seen Kylo in a vision (in Maz's castle) and Kylo had (possibly/presumably) seen Rey, as well (the deleted line that lingers in the novelization has him state, "It is you," after he sees her call Luke's lightsaber to her). So I think that all Snoke did was cause that "Skype call" to open up at particular moments, moments that would cause both Kylo and Rey the right combination of discomfort and comfort to lead Rey to the ship.

One more thing to add in relation to this subject. When Rey heads over to the First Order's ship in her pod, she is reminiscent of Padme on her funeral byre. A beautiful and deadly image, an image of love and hate, of life and death, of forgiveness and misplaced trust. More potential evidence that Rey might, at some point, choose Padme's grandson.

Kylo's Brokenness

In VII, Kylo was volatile, a live wire of hatred and rage and frustration. In VIII, he is broken, broken from his encounters with Han and Rey. Because his heart wasn't in the patricide, it left him weaker where he'd expected to grow stronger (like Anakin did after he killed everyone in the Jedi Temple). When Rey sliced his face, Kylo lost all sense of his own power. I said before that his mask represented his vanity, the image of himself that he built up. Now, even Snoke laughs at his mask and calls it pointless. So Kylo destroys the mask, destroys the false image, and lets what will be be. If his face is like a book to read, not like an immoveable Sith, then so be it. If everyone can see his scars, then so be it. Now that he is broken, he has nothing left to hide.

Now we see more of his pain than his rage. We also see the reasons for his earlier rage. He was so desperate to find Luke before because the wizened Jedi Master tried to kill him when he was young. Ben Solo was betrayed, by his parents and by his uncle/mentor. They are the evil ones. Why would he want to be like them?

Remember, Ben was an adult when word got out that Leia was Vader's daughter--when Ben found out his own lineage. So it must not have been long after that that this scene with Luke took place. Imagine that for a moment. He just finds out this terrible secret (for it must be terrible, otherwise Luke and Leia would have told him about it), and then Luke holds a lightsaber over him, confirming that he (Luke) believes that Ben is something bad that must be extinguished. Ben escapes and aligns himself with a group seeking to return this mess to order--the First Order, that is.


So how far "gone" is Kylo Ren? He's murdered people, so he has let darkness in and that's a fact. But, as many people point out, his eyes have not turned to the yellow of the Sith. And the main point of this film seemed to be that everyone has dark moments--we all have times when we make the wrong choice. Poe made a choice that led to many deaths in the Resistance. Rey made a choice to listen to the darkness that called to her on the island. Kylo made a choice to kill his father. And Luke made a choice to ignite his lightsaber over his sleeping nephew. Everyone makes bad choices--and they all have to live with the consequences.

The characters are not their mistakes but they do need the people around them to believe in them and help them out of the mess they've created. Leia helps Poe get his perspective back. Luke warns Rey of the danger of darkness. And so Rey decides to reach out a hand to Kylo and give him the chance to walk away from what he has done, to leave it all behind and start over.


Probably most of us had heard what Mark Hamill said, that he was shocked when he first read Luke in this script. So maybe hearing that prepared me. Luke ran away from Rey, threw the lightsaber and went inside and shut the door, refused to have anything to do with her. And then later when he does agree to give her some training, we learn of what happened between him and Ben. So in a way, we as the audience are betrayed by Luke just as Rey is. She went out seeking a great figure of mythology who would heal the galaxy like he had done before; all she found was an old man hoping to die and leave his past behind him.

But is this shocking? Luke was never, after all, that powerful. The way he saved the galaxy was by letting the Emperor pummel him with force lightning until Anakin emerged back out of Vader to save his son. Luke's journey was the hero's journey; it was the journey and the choices that he made that mattered rather than "great actions." Luke was just a person.

And like any person, he made a mistake--a mistake with wide-reaching consequences. He lost Ben's trust. Qui-Gon regretted forcing Obi-Wan to take an apprentice possibly before he was ready. Obi-Wan regretted losing Anakin. And Luke regretted losing Ben. Things like this happen: mentors are just people and so they fail, too. That's why everything comes down to person choice; what do the students decide to do even when their teachers fail them?

Oh, and just for the record's sake, even though most people in the theatre audibly gasped when we found that Luke wasn't physically present during his confrontation with Kylo, I knew from early on in the scene that there might be something going on. The classic would be a projection; I kind of forgot that he could just use the Force. (Might sound like an odd comparison to make, but this moment kind of reminded me of that bit in Breaking Dawn - Part 2 where the scene turns around on its head.) This is an interesting side of the Force that we haven't really seen much of before (in the movies, at least). In both this scene and in the conversations between Kylo and Rey, the Force "transports" people. Almost makes you wonder why the Jedi bothered with communication technology.

About Luke being the last Jedi. Probably just an instance of us over-analyzing the title of the film. Luke is literally the last Jedi left--and yet it's interesting what he says about how the Force will still exist and will not change even with him, the last Jedi, gone. His day is gone and over. And for the people who come next, they should strive not to be like him, some mythical figure, but to simply be people who make good choices.


This isn't something that exactly shocked me, but once I started pondering the film I was quite surprised by Snoke's role. People have spent the past two years wondering who Rey's parents are and who Snoke is. Now Snoke is dead and we still didn't learn anything about who he was. So I thought, okay, either they'll tell his backstory in a book or something or we'll learn it later through a flashback or a conversation. But then I realized that, well, maybe Snoke isn't dead, after all. It all depends on who he was to begin with. If, for instance, he was Darth Plagueis or Sidious (the Emperor), then he has already brought himself back from the dead and can probably do so again.

Here Kylo is, fashioning himself the new Supreme Leader, finally having unshackled himself from Snoke's grip--only to one day find that Snoke still lives. This time, would he do more than try to take the tyrant's place?


And I did get shocked when the glass broke and the bridge crew, including Leia, were sucked out into space. I didn't expect Leia to die so soon; I'd thought she was going to have a larger role in this movie, so I was genuinely shocked here, not expecting this moment to happen like this. Then, of course, we had that scene of her floating in space and reaching out with the Force to pull herself back to the ship. Very poetic scene, over-the-top in a kind of Doctor Who way (it reminded me of Astrid in the episode Voyage of the Damned). A little different from previous Star Wars imagery, but in a welcome way. And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they made this scene longer and more poetic in postproduction given the news about Carrie Fisher.

You know, I was expecting to see a darker side to Leia in this film. The way they put that shot of her back into the trailer (so reminiscent of Vader's silhouette) made me think they were going to emphasize that angle. But instead we kind of got Leia at her best, the royal leader stepping into the military zone and doing whatever it takes to take care of her people, never losing her cool.

And that moment where Kylo is ready to fire on her ship, then holds back because he can't fire on her--that was a wonderful moment between the two of them. I wonder if it is the only "reunion" mother and son will get.

I wasn't expecting for this film to end with Luke gone and Leia still alive; if anything, I thought it might be the other way around (or likely that both of them would die, at different points). Of course, here I'm hinting at the obvious question: will Leia be in the last film? Will they use footage that they had already shot (possibly they moved a scene from VIII to IX) or use CG footage like they did for Rogue One? Will an opening crawl or a quick conversation explain that the princess/general/leader has met her end? Kylo lost his chance to make up with his father; will he also lose the chance with his mother, even if he so obviously still cares about her?


I mentioned that I feel disconnected to Rey in this film. I was expecting her temptation to the dark side to be more of a big deal. She sat on a rock and the dark side called to her and she listened, okay, that was cool--but once she became distracted by talking to Kylo, all of that seemed to fade away in favor of her quest to save Ben Solo. And though she suddenly seems quite ready to give her loyalty to Ben, she is not at all willing to side with Kylo Ren and the First Order.

Luke said that he only seen such raw power once before, with Ben, and it didn't scare him enough then. But maybe since he knows this and he tells her and warns her, maybe Rey did listen. Maybe she does see what darkness is and she does know how not to fall into it. That's why, even though she has somehow come to care about Ben, she cannot go with Kylo--and so the Force quite literally breaks them apart for the second time, as if to say that now is not the time for them to be together. He has made his choice and she has made hers.

I like how we all thought that J.J. Abrams was saying something mysterious when he said that Rey's parents weren't in VII and we all over-analyzed what Daisy Ridley said when she mentioned that she thought that it was obvious who Rey's parents were. Now, there might be a chance that Kylo is lying when he tells Rey the truth, but I don't think so. One, Kylo is many things but he doesn't really lie--he's too raw for that. Two, it just makes sense. They didn't set Rey up to mimic anyone except for Kylo (like I've mentioned many times before, they were pretty much wearing the exact same outfit in VII, just in light and dark). And if we are to go with this concept of person choice (as opposed to inheriting the sins of the father), then it really doesn't matter who Rey's parents are; all that matters are the choices that she makes. When Kylo tells Rey that she already knows the truth, he's telling the audience, too. We can theorize for two years, then realize that we knew the truth all along.


The Jedi had a prophecy about one who would bring balance to the Force. Qui-Gon thought that it was Anakin. I thought it was Anakin at first because he destroyed the Emperor (eventually). But was it? I know I've heard references from the EU about a child of Han and Leia's, which leads some people to believe that this person in the prophecy will turn out to be Kylo. This makes a certain sense, given that Snoke did, after all, encourage Kylo to stand, torn, at the edge between the light and dark sides in order to be more powerful. But what if the prophecy means something else?

Does it have to refer to one person? What about to one couple? Kylo and Rey are already flip sides of a coin. They are exactly the same while also being polar opposites. So what if the prophecy refers to their co-existence, somehow having to do with that strange connection that exists between them?

When Rey described what she saw of the Force to Luke, she described the balance between life and death, growth and decay. If that is balance in the Force, then surely it's possible that it is both she and Kylo who will bring balance to the Force.

Random Thoughts

Canto Bight almost felt like an obligatory inclusion, like they thought, oh, we have to fit in a random planet, preferably one with a bar or something like that, let's go to Space Vegas. We covered some good ground there, sure. I like Finn and Rose is a good character, too, so I like seeing scenes with them. That concept of the downtrodden was good. It's just that, on the first watch at least, I felt like these were things shoved in to distract me from the storylines I wanted to be following.

Mentors have to feed their students, right? Yoda gave Luke root stew--and I kept picturing Luke preparing fish stew for Rey. I pictured quiet on the island, with Rey following Luke in silence while he cooked fish. So I was probably the most thrilled person in the theatre when he walked over carrying that big fish. We didn't get to see him cook it, but hey, I knew there would be fish. (Yes, this was exciting to me.)

This movie may not have had the tone of Empire, but it was certainly full of references to Empire. Lots of them. I wonder what the final count is--they kept piling up. They were generally less obvious ways of including references, though, which I appreciate.

The film did plenty of quick cuts between scenes; we'd see short snippets of one set of characters and then go to the other set and then back. This kept the pacing moving and made sure that we didn't stay away for too long at a time from the important scenes.


As the movie seemed to be drawing towards its close, I wanted to protest. It felt like we had barely received anything, only to be left more deeply drawn in to the story and yet with another two years to wait to find out where it all goes. VII was the adventure and VIII was the emotion. It just kind of ended, not in the middle of a scene this time but in the middle of an arc. In a way, we saw so much: we saw the story of Luke and Ben, we saw the defeat of Snoke, we saw the emergence of a connection between Kylo and Rey, we saw the death of Luke, we saw the near obliteration of the Resistance, and we saw seeds of hope through legends told to the next generation. It just felt like less because it all came back to those person connections between characters. Luke and Leia, Leia and Kylo, Kylo and Luke, Luke and Rey, Rey and Kylo. Trust, forgiveness, lack of trust, lack of faith. This movie hurt a lot, and it was sometimes terrifying in its vulnerability (looking at you, Rey, headed off to go to Ben in your little pod, facing armies of stormtroopers to save this person you just realized was inside of the monster you saw before).

I have no idea if this movie was good or not. In fact, it is irrelevant if it was good or not, as long as it was enjoyable or likable. As I mentioned, I guess I liked it given everything that it gave me to feel and to think about. It'll take at least a year to decide how it compares to other Star Wars films, or where it stands in the mix; that's just the usual way of things.

I guess I'm obviously most excited about the scenes with Rey and Kylo because that's where the center of the story is. When they fought in the snow, she called him a monster and burned a slash in his face. When they met again, she called him Ben and begged him to go with her. When he first met her, he took her captive. This time, he killed her captor, his captor.

What if, instead of leaving the First Order, Kylo does truly change it? What if he does make it into order, after all? The Resistance seems too outnumbered now to do much against them. So maybe it will turn out to be a good thing that Kylo didn't leave with Rey, that instead he stayed to assert his control over this powerful group. Maybe instead of defeating the enemy by changing one man (Vader), this time we'll see defeat happen by changing thousands of people (the members of the First Order). Maybe this time more than one person will be saved from the darkness.

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