The Last Jedi: A symphony of Light and Dark
It's been about a week since I saw The Last Jedi, but I've finally felt ready to give my thoughts. I think I should begin by telling you how much I was looking forward to this movie. For those who may not know, I am a huge Star Wars fan. (You can probably tell that already if you've read my Shiva XIV series.) I first saw A New Hope in 1977 when I was five years old. I remember standing in a line that wrapped around the block. It was a big theatre in Seattle, and I had never experienced anything like it before. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was the first movie I had ever seen at an actual theatre. As I sat there in the dark and saw "In a galaxy far, far, away..." I was floored. The experience stayed with me forever.
My story with Star Wars isn't unique. The light saber battle between good and evil, and the journey a farm boy takes to save a princess captured not just my imagination, but an entire generation... and now, with these new films, yet another generation.
But what many people may not have experienced was a spiritual awakening... or maybe they did, but they didn't consciously realize it. For me, Star Wars wasn't just a fun space opera with laser swords; it wasn't just spaceship battles or snarky, lovable characters having an epic adventure in space. It was all that, sure... but it was much, much more. For me, it was Shakespearean and beautiful. It was a search for a father, only to find your own face staring at you in a cave. It was the pull of light and dark inside your own soul, and how to balance those extreme emotions. It was all about the spirit: "The Force" inside... and outside, and all around us.
George Lucas may not have realized what he had awakened. I'm not really sure he understood what he'd written. After seeing those horrible prequels, I'm unsure he even really gets his own story, and the deep mythos he created. Of course, he didn't truly create it, for these battles and philosophical notions had been passed down in many myths before Star Wars. But the story of Luke, Leia, and Han was something special. It not only had deeply spiritual themes, but it had characters we all loved. The hero was scared, insecure, and someone I totally related to, even at 5 years old. The princess was a smart, sassy, yet devoted and loving heroine, and the hero's friend was the fun "bad boy" all the girls liked and all the guys wanted to be. Their friendship glued the story together, much like the force binds the universe. It had such a profound effect on me, as a person... and as a storyteller.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, because I think it's important in explaining how I felt about The Last Jedi, and the new saga J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson have created.
First of all, I should say that I loved The Force Awakens. Everything about it. Despite the criticisms that it was just a replica of the original movie's plot, (which I didn't believe was true... So there is a new death star? That's just what the Empire/New Order does best! lol) I loved Rey right away. I love her spunk, her need to survive (Yes, she could learn things that fast; she's a survivor!) and most of all, I love her heart. Rey is a great character, as relatable for me as Luke was, if not more. After seeing Last Jedi, I love her all the more. I also loved Finn and Poe - they have so much spirit and determination! I thought it was brilliant to have a "bad guy" want to be good, and to see it through his eyes. This was NOT just a replay of a New Hope. This was totally new! Poe was so fun and brave, and I loved the instant connection between him and Finn. (OK, I admit I shipped them, if not totally a romantic one, at least a bromantic one!) And I adored BB8. It was like he was R2D2's younger, sillier, more mobile brother.
After the Force Awakens, I couldn't wait for The Last Jedi!
So as I was sitting there, waiting for the stupid trailers to end (my Gods, they're like a 1/2 hour these days!) I got so excited, I could hardly handle it.
SPOILERS AHEAD! I mean, it's been a week, but just in case, here is my official spoiler warning!............................................................................................................................
The first battle sequence immediately knocked it out of the park for me. Like the Force Awakens, there was Poe being as irreverently ballsy and awesome as always. And OMG that battle was intense and right away instilled this sense of sacrifice and "edge of your seat" type of film this one would be. I was smiling from ear to ear in that first sequence. In fact, I think I had that happy smile going on for a while.
I was so excited for Rey and Luke together. I knew he'd be a grumpy hermit, but wow, I didn't know how much. But it worked to build the tension, and I loved it. And when he broke down and told her about the Force, I wanted to cry. It was beautiful. The idea that the Force isn't good or bad, that it is energy within the universe itself; that was something I wanted spoken in a Star Wars film since forever! I was so happy to see Rey pushing for her own depth, for the truth within the darkness... to see her unafraid to know such pain and truth made me elated! And when she saw only herself, I understood completely what that means. As someone who has never known their own father and who has only longed for connection, I knew what she felt. I so got it. In the end, there is only self: no fathers, mothers, family to help you find your identity; in the darkness of the void, there is only YOU.
There were funny as hell moments up til this point too: the Porgs were actually quite hysterical (That scene with Chewy was laugh out loud funny!), Luke's crabbiness was great, the sea cow was disgustingly silly, and Finn and Poe's timing is always so good.
But here is where things went strange for me. First of all, Rose. She's a sweet character, sure... and I liked her connection to her sister. But why, oh why is she there with Finn instead of Poe?! Why is it Rose who goes with Finn to the casino planet instead of Poe? I'm sorry, but that whole sequence seemed so out of place. It was fun and all (I loved the idea of sticking it to the careless rich bastards in the universe, and I loved those horse creatures!) but it felt so unimportant to the main story. OK, I get that they needed to somehow board Snoke's ship, but... it dragged down the main plot for me, and maybe that was because the main characters weren't together.
Poor Poe... all he got to do after that awesome first battle sequence was bitch and moan at Laura Dern (Holdo is her name, I think. And I couldn't stop myself from making Twin Peaks jokes during that part!)
Honestly, I just feel like it should have been Poe and Finn together on that trip. They had such chemistry and an immediate connection from the first film. It was a huge mistake imo not to have the two leading men spend screen time together. OK, I get they wanted a new character there, but did she have to take the spotlight so much? I mean, one of the best things about the original movies was the bond between Luke, Leia, and Han. It was bad enough that Poe and Rey hadn't met on Force Awakens, but I really thought Last Jedi would have had more character connection between our new 3 main heroes! I guess not! I was so disappointed, and it was hard for me to embrace Rose because of that.
Big complaint #2... The whole Rey and Kylo Ren... thing. I don't know what to even call it. lol Seriously, what the hell happened? I was watching their Force Skype scenes and just frozen, thinking "What the hell is happening?" lol
I don't mind the idea that they're mentally or emotionally connected (I don't buy that Snoke really did it all, considering that Rey and Kylo seemed to have that closeness even when he was interrogating her in Force Awakens) but when they had him without his shirt on, and she was all nervous, and there was this OBVIOUS sexual tension happening, I just couldn't deal. I felt like the writing was trying to force (pun intended) a romantic relationship, albeit dark romance (he kind of did kill her father figure.)
But it felt wrong, seriously wrong. Maybe it was supposed to, I don't know. But Rey, who I always felt was a strong-minded, gutsy, powerful young woman was now attracted to a deranged murderer, and she was reaching out for him, allowing herself to be manipulated by a man who clearly wants power over her. I mean, sure, I get that she felt alone, and friggin Luke wouldn't train her, and yes, Luke let fear make him almost kill Kylo... but still, she was willing to run off to Snoke, just for the mere chance she could save her new beloved guy?! I was sort of appalled, to be honest. She put the entire mission at risk to go save Kylo Ren's soul?! That put it on the level of how Luke was about his father. I mean, what? Is Kylo Ren her friggin soul-mate?! It was just... so hard for me to swallow. It made Rey seem so lost and desperate, like a little innocent sheep wanting to be loved. Yes, maybe we've all been there, but she had been stronger than that! She was on Jakku and surviving ALONE for so long. I guess one could say that was why she was so needy and able to fall for the first guy to show her that kind of attention, and yeah, they share the force connection and all... but still, it put Rey in a weakened character arc, and I was VERY bothered by it.
However, I loved her fight sequence with Kylo Ren and Snoke. And NOBODY saw that coming with Snoke. Actually, I did kind of see it coming about 10 seconds before it happened, but no one thought they'd get rid of Snoke in this film! Crazy! I am somewhat saddened we never learned how and why he was able to turn Ben Solo before he even trained with Luke... but at the same time, his death was pretty damned awesome, and I loved Rey and Kylo's light saber fight that followed. I also liked the idea that Kylo tells Rey that her parents were just nobodies and she is too, except to him. I don't know if he is telling the truth or just manipulating her, but the idea that she isn't from the Skywalkers or from anyone known or special worked for me on so many levels. I too came from nothing special... and I always felt like a discarded orphan, and yet, I've written epic novels... and I think they're pretty damned good. Basically, the message is it doesn't matter who you come from or your lineage, all that matters is your heart and the power that emanates from your own soul. Love it.
I also adored the final battle where there is hardly any hope. They are trapped on a salt planet in a dark cave with only crystal foxes for company. (LOVE those foxes! I want one!) When Luke arrived to face Kylo, I was practically jumping out of my chair! It was such an awesome moment. (I also loved his line to Leia: "No one ever truly leaves us." Couldn't help but get choked up thinking about Carrie Fisher. I also feel the need to add here that I thought it completely reasonable that Leia was able to Force feel her way through the cold of space. She has Skywalker power too, dammit, so why not? I loved that Carrie was finally given such power at the end of her Star Wars career!)
Halfway through their duel, I realized Luke wasn't really there. I didn't expect him to be on his deserted planet, sitting lotus style like a madman Jedi Master! I did NOT expect him to die, watching the sun (suns?) come up through the mountains. It was really beautiful... and I found myself both horrified and happy, all at once. Here was my childhood hero - the farm boy I wanted to be as a 5-year-old, and he was leaving the physical plane... just like Yoda did. (Which reminds me, his scene with Yoda was SO amazing! Loved that they chose to use the actual puppet too!) His death was painful to watch, but powerful and moving.
The truth is, this is a film that is filled with good and bad, light and dark, and everything in between. There is so much hope and fun infused in this film. When Rey shows up with the Falcon and Chewy, saving them all, it's extremely satisfying. And when she hugs Finn, it feels like coming home. I am also relieved she finally met Poe. lol
Rey asked Leia how there can be hope when there is hardly anyone left in the resistance, but Leia says that there are others out there, and they will find them. When the last scene reveals the child who has been awakened, it felt like an answer to a larger question in our own often hopeless society, especially in 2017. We need to remember that we still have the Falcon, we still have our hearts, and we CAN reach others out there who just need to be awakened.
My final verdict of this film is it's amazing. There are strange, unexpected parts, but it's an epic, thought-provoking, and ultimately fun movie. If you're a Star Wars fan, you HAVE to see it. Just try to keep an open mind, because as Luke forewarns, "This is not going to go the way you think." I am completely curious, and excited to see where episode IX takes us next!