[WARNING: This review contains spoilers]
So it’s been over two months since The Last Jedi hit theaters. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to see the movie three times and have thought about it nonstop. During that time, I realized that I was (sorta) wrong about the movie. If you read my spoiler-free and spoiler-filled reviews, you know that I was very disappointed with the movie upon my first couple of watches, and had a ton of problems with it. A lot of those problems still remain for me, but many of them have subsided, or even disappeared altogether.
The Last Jedi is a pretty good movie. It’s not great, and I will never fully love it. However, there are some downright genius elements to this story, and I feel that it’s a step up from 2016’s Rogue One.
Much of my disappointment with this movie came from my subverted expectations. Prior to having ever seen it, I would have assumed that the following story beats would definitely happen:
- Luke Skywalker will leave the island.
- There will be a lightsaber fight between two or more main characters.
- Rey will be fully trained by Luke Skywalker.
To my complete surprise, none of these things happened (or they at least happened in ways that I didn’t expect).
“I came to this island to die. It’s time for the Jedi to end.”
After my first viewing, I was especially angry about the fact that Luke never left the island; I wanted nothing more than to see him running around with a lightsaber in the middle of a battle. After having time to think about the film, I’ve come to realize that it’s the character development that matters, not the action.
Luke Skywalker’s development in The Last Jedi is nothing short of great; this is the most interesting he’s ever been. The movie adds nuance to his character to an extent that has never been done before, and I fully applaud the decision to make him a more damaged and jaded person. I know that a lot of people feel like the movie goes against Luke’s characterization, but it’s been 30 years since Return of the Jedi. How could people possibly think that he wouldn’t change after all that time? To me, if they had kept him as the same idealistic and hopeful do-gooder that he was in the Original Trilogy, it would have been boring and pointless.
“He had sensed my powers. As he senses yours. And he feared it.”
At first, I was a bit wishy-washy on the idea that Luke thought about killing Kylo in his sleep. Would Luke Skywalker really do that? Wouldn’t he try to redeem Kylo, like he did his father, rather than considering killing him? This is one of the elements of The Last Jedi that has grown on me as I’ve seen it more and more. In fact, I’ve come to think it’s brilliant.
The scene in which Kylo tells his side of his story is chilling, and was easily the most surprising scene in the movie for me. Luke no longer appears to be our lovable hero; he looks completely insane, with his sword drawn, ready to strike down a sleeping teenager. The scene also adds so much more tension to the whole Luke-Rey relationship, and it actually made me worried for Rey’s safety. Would he plot to kill Rey in her sleep? They actually foreshadow this reveal earlier in the movie. When Rey is sleeping on the bench outside Luke’s hut, the camera pans up to him standing over her ominously, which startles her. That was a really cool visual tidbit.
Anyway, I think it’s really impressive that they were able to take such a great and lovable character and actually make him scary. The fact that I was fearful for Rey also shows how much these characters have grown on me; I like Rey so much that I was concerned she would be killed by the galaxy’s former greatest hero, Luke. I actually sided with Rey, the new character, rather than Luke, who was my childhood hero!! Obviously this only lasted for a brief moment, as we eventually hear the truth about Luke’s confrontation with young Kylo. He had only briefly considered killing Kylo in a moment of instinct, eventually becoming overcome with guilt. This is the moment where Kylo Ren was formed, and I love it. Kylo’s entire life is defined by having terrible adult figures and mentors; Han failed him by never being there for him as a father, Luke failed him by considering killing him, and Snoke fails him by being abusive and harsh rather than actually helping him. All of these people have driven Kylo further into the dark side. I also think this explanation makes Force Awakens better. It’s very common in the fantasy genre for the former apprentice of a prominent mentor character to have turned evil at some point. However, the former apprentice always hates the mentor irrationally. Why does Voldemort hate Dumbledore? Why does Vader hate Obi-Wan? The evil apprentice’s motivation for hating his/her former mentor is often left unexplained. However, we know why Kylo was so hell-bent on finding Luke in Force Awakens: he perceived that Luke was trying to kill him in his sleep. It’s honestly brilliant storytelling, and I’ve come to love it.
“Strike me down in anger and I’ll always be with you. Just like your father.”
Another aspect of The Last Jedi that originally annoyed me was Luke’s final confrontation with Kylo. I was so disappointed that Luke had been projecting him from his island the entire time. With repeat viewings, I now really appreciate Luke’s final scenes. We’ve seen so many lightsaber duels, and rather than have another one happen during the climax of Last Jedi, Rian Johnson decided to do something new and fresh. By introducing this new force ability from Luke, he further develops and expands upon the force in a way that feels very organic. Force projection feels like something that a Jedi would be able to do; if they can manifest across the galaxy as ghosts, why can’t they do it while they’re living? This final act of heroism obviously killed Luke, making it seem like a very difficult power to wield, but it’s still extremely interesting nonetheless.
When I first saw the movie, I also wasn’t a huge fan of the final scene on Canto Bight featuring the broom kid. However, I now feel like this was a necessary element of the movie. The kids on Canto Bight are shown to be playing with a homemade Luke Skywalker toy, reenacting his final show of heroism on Crait. This scene shows that, even though Luke only physically saved about 20-30 people, his sacrifice inspired an entire galaxy with hope. As the opening crawl states, Luke is the “spark of hope” that the galaxy needs during its time of tyranny. This also adds more context to why he decided to project himself; he is able to literally take on the entire First Order, adding to the legend of Luke Skywalker that inspires the galaxy. The entire fleet of AT-AT’s fires on him and he walks out unscathed!! It’s no surprise that the galaxy would change its mindset after hearing about that.
I also love how the final fight essentially shows Luke making a fool out of Kylo. As Snoke foreshadowed earlier in the movie, “A cur’s weakness, properly manipulated, can be a sharp tool.” This is exactly what Luke takes advantage of; he knows Ben is still full of anger and hatred from their last confrontation, so he manifests himself as a projection to distract Kylo and allow the Resistance to escape.
A minor complaint that a lot of people have had is the fact that Luke doesn’t use his green lightsaber in the final fight. To be honest, I think it makes so much more sense for him to project his blue one because it symbollically shows that, after denying it twice, Luke has finally “accepted” the lightsaber that Rey had offered him and is fulfilling his destiny. That wouldn’t have been as powerful if it was a different lightsaber.
“I’ve seen this raw strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.”
If you read my spoiler-filled review of The Last Jedi, you know that I wasn’t too happy about Rey’s lack of training…
I’ve come to realize that I was being unreasonable. Like, really, really unreasonable.
One of the biggest complaints about The Force Awakens is that Rey was overpowered. To be honest, I never really minded the way in which Rey used the force in that movie; it was shown to just be instinctual. I was really hoping that Rey would trained in this movie, though, since it seemed like the obvious setup from the end of Force Awakens. I wanted her force abilities to be more than just instinct, and to be the product of Luke teaching her. Well, she doesn’t really get trained in the movie, due to Luke’s constant fear of failing as a teacher once again. She has two scenes: one in which Luke essentially explains what the force is (an excellent scene, by the way), and another where she trains on her own with her lightsaber (okay, fine, Anakin’s lightsaber. Are you happy now??).
If, after leaving the island, Rey had been jumping around and flipping like the ridiculous cartoon Yoda from the prequels, I would have had reason to feel like she was overpowered and didn’t receive enough training for her crazy abilities. However, upon further thought, she doesn’t really do all that much after leaving the island…
In The Last Jedi, after receiving minimal training, Rey uses her powers to force pull some lightsabers and lift boulders on Crait. You could definitely argue that she shouldn’t have been able to lift all of those heavy rocks, but it’s not that unreasonable, especially when you consider everything that Luke could do in A New Hope without training.
This issue has’t completely subsided for me, though. I still feel like Rey is a little too adept at using a lightsaber during her battle with the praetorian guards. She did have experience using a staff, but as displayed by her frantic and unskilled swinging and flailing during the duel in Force Awakens, she wasn’t knowledgeable about sword fighting. The change definitely came too quickly in Last Jedi in regards to her lightsaber skills.
After multiple more viewings and plenty of contemplation, I definitely have a more positive outlook on The Last Jedi. I still don’t love it though, and many of the problems that I originally had with the movie still remain (Canto Bight, the humor, the forced romance between Finn and Rose, Holdo, etc.). However, I think Last Jedi succeeds in doing what all good sequels should do: expanding and challenging its characters. For that reason, I think The Last Jedi is a mostly solid sequel, but it isn’t without its problems. There’s a ton of depth and meaning to many of the scenes in the movie, and I hope to explore it more in repeat viewings.