I’ve seen the latest Star Wars epic twice now, and I thought it time to share some thoughts. To briefly sum up, I found it compelling and ultimately quite good, but a few parts fell flat for me. The amazing thing about the Star Wars universe is how it can hit so many notes for so many people. Please remember, these are just my meager opinions.
The best parts of the film are spent with Luke Skywalker, Rey and Kylo Ren, and so I will focus my energies on them. (I simply am not moved by the others. Except BB-8.)
The heart of the film is spent on Acho-To, the gorgeous island at the end of “The Force Awakens.” Plenty of ink and keystrokes were spilled wondering where the moment with Luke Skywalker, semi-disgraced but still legendary Jedi Master, and the upstart scavenger Rey, would go. Is she his daughter? Will he help the Resistance?
I, like many of you, pondered those same questions and more, but unlike at least a sizable swath of the Internet, I had no issues with Rian Johnson’s direction of Luke. It makes sense to me why Luke would end where he is, because he’s harboring incredible guilt for a mistake that destroyed his upstart Jedi Order, drove a stake into his family, shattered his nephew and ultimately, more than anything, crushed Luke’s own pride.
The Luke Skywalker we come upon in “The Last Jedi” is not a Messianic figure anymore. He’s broken, and while he certainly does redeem himself to some degree in the end, the mistakes remain. Luke became rather grounded in “The Last Jedi”, and the more I dwell on that, the more I like it.
Kylo Ren enters the film also damaged. He’s been deeply humbled by his defeat at the hands of Rey, scarred in fact. On the plus side, he’s killed his father, so he’s happy about that at least. (Or so it seems …)
It’s that murkiness I find so compelling about Ren. Once we learn about the tragic events that send Luke into exile (a Jedi tradition!) and Ren to the First Order, doesn’t it make sense why Ren would be so conflicted? Don’t get me wrong, he’s got his grandfather’s taste for blood. Ren is t a monster, as Rey points out, but perhaps the biggest question is, which one of them isn’t a monster? Luke is horrified to discover that the young scavenger has just as much power and just as little control as his nephew, but Luke’s own devastating mistake sets all of this in motion.
This is no longer such a cut-and-dry morality play.
Ren and Rey are crippled by their own loneliness, a point that Ren makes to sizable effect to his counterpart. The scavenger spent her whole life wishing for someone to simply care for her. Ren spent his life grappling with forces he couldn’t fully understand.
So when Ren, moments after they slaughter Snoke’s personal guard together in dramatic fashion, says what he does, there is heavy weight behind his words. Given the reveal of Rey’s lineage, his point to her is chilling: You come from nothing. You’re nothing. But not to me.
The second time I watched the movie, that scene stuck with me drastically more than the first. Ren’s delivery speaks volumes more than what he said, which was powerful in its own right. Yes, the fate of the galaxy was hanging in the balance and without question, Kylo Ren demands power because it’s in his very nature to acquire it.
But for just a moment, perhaps in a way he had not experienced before, he found someone who understood that crippling loneliness. They could sense each other’s pain and feeling of abandonment, by Rey’s parents and their choice and by Luke and his failure.
Yes, Ren recognizes Rey’s power and is smart enough to recognize her value to him as a partner. Perhaps that’s all he was doing in the Throne Room, but I don’t buy it. Kylo Ren seems like a man hunting for something more than just power. He longs for fulfillment, and it simply never came from being Luke or Snoke’s disciple. It turns out he doesn’t want to be just like his grandfather.
He needs something more.
What was Luke searching for? The end, and he told Rey as much. I came to this island to die. (The dejection Mark Hamill put behind those words was palpable, and overall I thought Hamill was absolutely spectacular.) The Jedi Master found what he desired, but not before Luke Skywalker became once again what he was so many years before: a spark. Luke Skywalker’s first appearance on the galaxy’s stage was a sign of hope, a recognition that the Force had not abandoned them, and that the Empire could fall.
His reappearance, even as a Force Ghost, did it again. A spark that will light the fire that will burn the First Order down. The path we see Luke walk in “The Last Jedi” is captivating, and he was consistently my favorite part of the movie. I wanted to spend the entire film with him, digging into his conscience, peeling back his pain. The scene with Yoda was mesmerizing, and featured perhaps my favorite quote in the entire series, a beautiful examination of what teachers pass on to students:
Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.
“The Last Jedi” has grown on me. As I dwell on what the film is and not what I wished it to be, I can appreciate the path these characters are on and how messy it all is. Nothing has worked out as Leia, Han or Luke would have hoped right after the events of “Return of the Jedi.” Tragedy and terror has struck the Skywalker family, and by extension the galaxy.
No one is without fault and everyone is under pressure. Doesn’t that somehow feel familiar as we enter 2018?