Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review - Part One
Star Wars History
As a life long Star Wars fan, the Star Wars Saga has been a part of my life since I was 4 years old. I can remember bits and pieces from seeing Star Wars in the theaters in 1977, the Death Star shootouts between our heroes and the Stormtroopers, the Tusken Raiders, and Darth Vader. I can remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back for the first time and just being enthralled with the Tauntauns and Hoth and everything I saw on screen especially the duel on Cloud City between Luke and Vader. Interestingly enough, I don't remember my first time seeing Return of the Jedi in theaters, but I do remember seeing it for the second time with my cousins and how they kept asking me when Darth Vader takes off his mask.
As a young child, my friends and I loved Star Wars as did many other youth of our era. We played the video games, watched the movies on HBO, played with the action figures, and made up our own adventures in the fields behind our house. I couldn't comprehend a world without Star Wars growing up, and even when the "Dark Times" were happening, ie. the post-ROTJ era, we still had the novels and video games to help us revisit the galaxy far, far away.
Then the Special Editions were released in 1997! Then the Prequels were announced! I saw The Phantom Menace multiple times in theaters in 1999, as well as Attack of the Clones several times in 2002. In 2005, I was able to take my son to see Revenge of the Sith in theaters and the circle seemed to be complete as this last Star Wars movie was released and I was able to experience Star Wars with my then 4 year old son. Life was great.
I am one of the oddballs who enjoyed the Prequels and still watch them religiously. Sure, they have their faults, but so does the Original Trilogy (OT); to me that's just how Star Wars is. It's fun, awe-inspiring, and cheesy all at the same time. I've never understood why my fellow fans, mostly my peers, could hate the Prequels so much. Dislike them? Sure, why not. However, the level of hate and spite that was and is spewed forth at the mere mention of Jar Jar Binks or Hayden Christensen is remarkable.
As much as some love the Star Wars OT, others have come to hate the Prequel Trilogy (PT) just as much. It's almost like the balance in the Force, the light and dark must balance each other out (Plus check out Mike Klimo's ideas on the Star Wars Ring Theory to see how the Prequels are just the Originals in reverse and the hate of the Prequels starts to make more sense) Just like the OT, not everyone was a fan. My father couldn't understand the Star Wars hysteria that took the world by storm in the '70's as it wasn't his type of movie, my mother thought they were fun movies, but didn't see the long lasting appeal. Star Wars appeals to different people in different ways and that is just fine.
Now, here we are in the latest era of Star Wars, the Sequel Trilogy (yes, the ST), and now instead of having George Lucas to blame, as everyone did with the Prequels, the new perpetrator is Disney. But yet the same hatred is still out there. While overshadowed by Episode VII - The Force Awakens' success of $2 Billion dollars made worldwide, there was a small, vocal group of fans who still spewed the same hatred that we heard during the PT. Now, with the release of Episode VIII - The Last Jedi, the grumblings and criticisms have returned and have grown louder.
I am not one of those fans.
Rian Johnson is the one responsible for The Last Jedi. He wrote the script and directed the movie with Lucasfilm's blessing. Rian Johnson, a self proclaimed super fan of Star Wars with a similar path of fandom as I described previously, turned the Star Wars Saga, and it's fandom, on it's head. Some say he is the next great Star Wars storyteller, and Lucasfilm tends to agree as he has already been awarded the opportunity to create and direct a whole new Star Wars trilogy with all new characters and situations. Rian can be considered George Lucas 2.0 and he has an opportunity to have a similar impact on the filmmaking world. Others claim he is the newest Sith Lord and like Darth Sidious usurping The Galactic Republic in Episode III, Rian Johnson has ruined Star Wars Canon from within. A petition has been created to remove Episode VIII from official Star Wars Canon! The hyperbole from these Star Wars fans is laughable at best and mostly just disrespectful.
With The Last Jedi, Rian has crafted a Star Wars story that is fresh and engaging for the fans. Upon first viewing, I didn't know exactly what to think, in fact I had to take some time to think and process what I had just seen. There was so much that happened that was unexpected, (Like Luke tossing his long lost saber over his shoulder) that it took time to let it sink in. In the first weekend after my first viewing, I spent hours talking with friends and family about what happens in Episode 8. After these conversations and subsequent viewings, these new ideas began to coalesce together along with old ideas, as well as with the previously established mythology of both the Star Wars Prequels and Originals, combined with what we saw in The Force Awakens to ultimately create something new and unexpected. With one movie, Rian Johnson has unified ALL eras of Star Wars just in time for the final chapter of the Skywalker saga!
Luke Skywalker has been my hero from the beginning. He was the one I identified with growing up and his hero's journey was mine. Not only as a youth, but with repeated viewings as a grown up, I watched his journey with satisfaction as he left his unfulfilling farm life on Tatooine and eventually grew to become a powerful Jedi. So to see his situation in The Last Jedi and where Luke was at physically and emotionally was very hard to watch. How could my quintessential boyhood hero just run and hide and not help his sister and best friends in their fight against the First Order?! I was appalled as Luke hid in his hut and and rebuked Rey's pleas for help.
As the story and Luke's reasoning for being on the island of Ahch-To unfolded and as Rey engaged with Luke as to why he was a hermit on Ahch-To instead of coming with Rey to get 'back in the mess', it began to make sense to me. Luke, my hero, had failed miserably and was ashamed of his failure. He was responsible for the galaxy's newest Dark Side villain, Kylo Ren. Everything Luke had fought against in his hero's journey, to overcome Darth Sidious and Darth Vader, was back and it was his fault. Just like his nephew, Ben Solo, was striving to become the new Darth Vader, Luke was now the new Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi who trained Darth Vader. Similar to Obi-Wan and Yoda, Luke decided the best course of action was to go into hiding. But instead of training the new hope to become a Jedi, Luke reasoned that that would be just perpetuating a cycle that was too dangerous to repeat. Hadn't he just tried to do the same as Obi-Wan and Yoda had done with him and failed? (Interesting that as Rey leaves Luke on Ahch-To, she claims that Ben Solo is the galaxy's only hope against defeating Snoke and in the end, she was right!). Over the years, Luke had come to the conclusion that the Jedi must end for this cycle to be broken.
Enter R2-D2 and as in previous Episodes, he plays a pivotal role in the story. Luke reunites with R2 on the Falcon and in his droid wisdom, R2 replays the message that started Luke's hero's journey, "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope.". This was Leia's plea for help to Luke's former Master so many years ago and it is just as pertinent now as it was back then. You can see it on Luke's face as he realizes, it is now his turn to take up the mantle and help Leia, just as Obi-Wan did. I believe he also comes to the realization that just like Obi-Wan, he doesn't need to be the one to do the deed, but he is to be the one to put everyone on the right path and then let the new generation handle the rest. Luke's angst and inner conflict in this moment is palpable as he decides to do what for years he said that he wouldn't do. He decides to teach Rey about the ways of the Force. Luke commits to teach Rey three lessons about the Force, but in an effort to help her understand why the Jedi must end. He helps her understand how Ben Solo succumbed to the Dark Side and his involvement in Ben's downfall and provides Rey with a cautionary tale. However, just like Luke in Empire Strikes Back, Rey is drawn away from her training before it is completed by a vision of the future in the Force. Rey thinks she can turn Kylo Ren back to the light, just as Luke thought he could turn his father to the light in Return of the Jedi. Luke warns her that Kylo Ren and Snoke are too powerful and that Kylo will not turn.
Luke stays on the island while Rey leaves with Chewie and R2 to confront Kylo Ren. Luke decides to burn down the first Jedi Temple and the ancient Jedi texts contained within. But he is unable to bring himself to do that, as he is holding too much on to the past. The Force ghost of Yoda appears and Yoda again teaches Luke a valuable lesson, failure is a harsh but necessary teacher. Through the Force, Yoda uses lightning from a storm to ignite the Jedi Temple on fire and together they watch it and the Jedi traditions burn. Yoda scolds Luke for not heading his advice and not passing on what he has learned to Rey. Yoda tells Luke that they must not lose Rey to the Dark Side.
At the end of the film, we see Luke arrive at a pivotal battle on the planet Crait and he is able to say goodbye to Leia and C-3PO one last time. Luke confronts Kylo Ren on the plains of Crait. We find out that Luke isn't physically there and that through the Force, Luke is projecting himself across the galaxy to make it appear that he is there on Crait. Luke doesn't engage with Kylo Ren and avoids Kylo's saber attack to buy enough time for the newly christened Rebellion to escape. We then find out that Luke is still on Ahch-To and that the effort of using the Force across such a great distance is too much and Luke becomes one with the Force, in the same way that Yoda did on Dagobah in Return of the Jedi.
As mentioned previously, I was initially confused and disappointed as to why Luke would not fight and join the conflict. Then I remembered a lesson taught to Luke by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the most beloved Star Wars film of all time, that a Jedi only uses the Force "for knowledge and defense, never for attack." This put the whole hermit on Ahch-To idea into perspective. Luke is actually living the Jedi teachings, something the Prequel era Jedi were unable to do due to The Clone Wars.
Even when Luke confronts Kylo Ren on Crait, he still took a defensive approach in the confrontation. How can Star Wars fans, myself included, fault Luke for being the ultimate Jedi and doing what all of the Prequel Jedi, even Master Yoda and the great Obi-Wan Kenobi, could not do? How can some Star Wars fans criticize Luke for not being a great Jedi warrior and not confronting the whole First Order with his laser sword, but yet at the same time condemn the Prequels for not being real Star Wars movies as the Prequels show us the downfall of the Jedi because they didn't follow their own Jedi codes?
Luke had completed his hero's journey in Return of the Jedi when he defeated Darth Vader and threw down his lightsaber at Darth Sidious' feet. Luke stayed on the hero's path by not being drawn into the Galactic conflict once again and not repeating the mistakes of the Jedi Order. As a result, Luke became the ultimate Jedi Master, even more so than Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the end Luke Skywalker became the Legend the galaxy needed.
Leia's Final Chapter, Rey is the Last Jedi, Finn Grows Up, Poe Becomes a Leader, Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, and more.