The Last Jedi? Didn’t that come out, like, three years ago? What does it have to do with all this 2020 craziness?
Well, I watched it a few weeks ago, showing it to the little sissies for the first time, and it turns out—there’s a really powerful connection to 2020 in it.
I wrote this review on letterboxd first, but here it is for you folks (and seriously—get letterboxd accounts, guys!!). If you’re interested, here’s my review of The Rise of Skywalker (which may change a little when I re-watch it soon … we’ll see.)
The Last Jedi—How It Connects to 2020
& How I’m (S L O W L Y) Changing My Mind About It
I am so SO torn about this movie. The first time I watched it, I hated it. It was one of the biggest letdowns of my life (at least art-wise). The second time I watched it, there were a few things I enjoyed, but I still hated it. I think I watched it a third time and lost the hate but retained the disappointment. This most recent viewing, I actually think—I might actually—like it?
Here’s the thing: I still dislike all the things I disliked originally. But each time I watch it, I see more things that I like. I get more used to the style, to Johnson’s vision. Those things start outweighing the stuff I don’t like. I actually wish Abrams had run with some of the ideas Johnson proposes. If he could have done that, while keeping the more traditional SW vibe that he (maybe too faithfully?) does, The Rise of Skywalker would have been a triumph.
But that didn’t happen, so now we have a trilogy that is a director tug-of-war and can’t decide what it wants to do. Star Wars deserves FAR better. Which isn’t to say that I hate these movies, because I don’t. I will be re-watching that my whole life. But they don’t live up to the originals, of course, or Rogue One.
Anyway, this is a review of The Last Jedi, not the whole trilogy.
What I DON’T like
I appreciate that Johnson wanted to do something different, wanted to shake up what we expect from Star Wars, didn’t want to repeat the originals. I love fresh ideas injected into a beloved fandom. But this was not the way to do it. It didn’t feel original and exciting—it felt like a cruel tease, like he was dangling an idea in front of us and then yanking it away, cackling with malicious glee. You thought Rey’s parents were important? Haha, just kidding! Oh my WORD Rey and Kylo are fighting TOGETHER—oh wait, haha, just real quick, tricked ya there, didn’t I?
And don’t get me STARTED on Finn & Rose’s escapade. A third of the movie spent on something that doesn’t end up mattering at all?? It doesn’t even propel their character arcs (not that Rose has any at all). The one time Johnson actually includes a SW trope (a Cantina-like setting) and it’s just stupid and pointless? And I don’t know WHAT was up with that weird code-finder dude.
The Phasma-Finn thing was anticlimactic—the showdown should have been saved for the last Ep anyway, and I wanted way more exploration of Finn reacting to/working through her statement of “You’re always scum.” That relationship could have been way deeper and more poignant. So much potential wasted.
Also, I desperately want to be able to root for Holdo. I like that Poe actually has some character growth and has to learn a lesson, and I love the exploration of what it means to be a leader and a follower, when to follow orders and when to make your own decisions. And what she does in the end is admirable. But I can’t root for her because she’s so condescending to Poe and has no legitimate reason for withholding her plan. She’s supposed to be showing him what it means to be a good leader, and yet she is a terrible example (until her final action—but one action does not absolve all previous ones).
Not even going to discuss Leia’s ridiculous space flying, an affront to my favorite princess …
Luke. Throwing. Away. His. Lighstaber. Listen, I don’t mind being him being grumpy and jaded and bitter and whiny. That’s all in character for him. But some of the stuff he did, like throwing away the lightsaber and drinking that stupid green milk, wasn’t about him avoiding his Jedi past. It wasn’t even funny. It felt like Johnson was trying to throw all our nostalgia and love for the characters & the series in our faces. Take that, loserrrrs. The Luke you loved is gone! This is a subjective point, but no matter how much my opinion on this movie has changed, I still hate some of the things Johnson makes Luke do. Again, fine goal, bad execution.
Last big thing: why in the all the galaxies did Rose save Fin?? The worst part about it is that I agree with what she says, that we should be saving when we love instead of destroying what we hate. The thing is, Finn was trying to save what he loved! Sometimes you must destroy the enemy to do so. Don’t use such a great line and idea on such a terrible plot point.
What I DO like
The cinematography when Holdo’s ship goes into lightspeed and splits the Destroyer !! I think the whole theater gasped when we saw it the first time. It was the scene I kept remembering and thinking, “I might? Like this movie?”
At first, I was disappointed with Rey. I thought she was flat. A friend disagreed, saying she had this sweetness and strength about her that was really unique and inspiring. I didn’t see it until this time. At first, she is angry at Kylo Ren, unable to understand him or his decision. She is set on Luke coming back with her to the Resistance. She is obsessed with finding who her parents are. And throughout the movie, she has to dismantle each of these things. She finally comes to understand Kylo Ren, and Luke, and she learns not to react out of emotion to either of them. She makes her decisions (to leave Luke for the Resistance, to refuse Kylo Ren’s offer to join him) based on what she values and believes is right, not on emotions around whether they live up to her expectations or imaginings. She does not let Kylo Ren’s revelation of her parentage turn her to anger or rash action; instead she converts it to quiet, strong purpose.
I do wish there was more of a struggle for her. I wish she made more mistakes, like Luke did so often. Her character arc is lacking there. But she still has to make hard decisions, and she still changes from the beginning of the movie.
Speaking of Luke—as with Rey (and most of the movie), the first time I watched TLJ, I was disappointed and confused with how he was portrayed. This is Luke, the idealistic dreamer and hero of the original trilogy? But I’ve come to see that Johnson’s portrayal is pretty consistent with his character—he was always a little whiny (“this R2 unit has a bad motivator!”). And while the young Luke might have taken the setback of accidentally causing his nephew to destroy his Jedi training center with a bit more resilience and hope … it’s understandable that Luke, fiercely loyal his loved ones and ideals, decided that it was better to run away and shut himself off from everyone and everything both as a punishment for his failure and to protect his friends/family. As Yoda says, I’ve missed you, young Skywalker.
Oh yes, that Yoda scene? That was one I liked from the start. And here is where we get to what really struck me about TLJ we watching at this time, what made me really start to like it—and this is how it relates to 2020:
The theme (you knew it had to be theme-related) of what to do with the past. Do you destroy it all? Do you keep following tradition with no changes? What do you do when you realize things you have done, traditions you have followed, are wrong and unhealthy and flawed? How do you move forward?
You burn the Jedi texts—but you don’t abandon the Force, your Jedi calling, or the next generation of Jedi.
You release your need to know your parents—but you don’t throw away all your past associations or loyalties. You continue to fight for the cause you’ve come to believe in.
You change plans and decide to retreat instead of fighting—but you do so out of hope, knowing that to win the bigger battle you have to flee this immediate one.
Kylo Ren is right—Luke made a mistake. And Luke is right—not everything the Jedi did or believed is good.
But Kylo Ren is also wrong—you don’t forsake everything and forge your own path (which usually leads down the same dark road many have taken before). Luke, ultimately, is vindicated as the noble, if beautifully flawed, hero we love: He understands that there are some things worth preserving, even as there some things we must abolish.
I’ll leave the exact correlation to 2020 to each of us, to sit with and wrestle with.
And hope—Star Wars always comes back to hope. The vibe of TLJ may be very different from anything else in the canon, but in this at least Johnson is faithful to the heart of SW. Luke’s “And I am not the last Jedi” gives me chills. Him walking to Leia gives me chills. Rey standing there holding up the rocks gives me chills. And, oh, Poe’s “We are the spark that will light the fire that will burn the First Order down” gives me CHILLS.
Also, Luke’s death—it is perfect. I liked it when I first saw it, and it makes me like the movie more and more upon each re-watching. First of all, the twist is truly clever, a twist that takes my breath and thrills me, unlike others in TLJ as I’ve mentioned above. Second, the aesthetics of him facing the setting sun is the kind of fan service that Abrams delights in—but maybe, because it is more rare in this film, it means more.
One last take-away I love, that I only noticed this time: Rey goes down to the pit, hoping to find answers about her parents, but there is nothing. And I thought: There are never answers in the darkness.
See, Star Wars talks a lot about balance and needing both Dark and Light, but it doesn’t really believe itself. I don’t think anyone who talks about balance really wants it. We want the Light to win. As with any good middle movie of a trilogy, Light doesn’t quite win here—but there is hope, there is a spark.