In a post earlier this week I provided a non-spoiler review of the movie. If you haven’t seen “The Last Jedi” yet I suggest you start there first.
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
OK with the spoiler warning out of the way where to begin? Initial first impressions are probably best so here goes. I absolutely loved the Kylo/Rey dynamic. Through the marketing of the movie I understood they had a mysterious “connection” but was unclear what this meant or how it would unfold. By far this was the best part of the movie. Rey and Kylo are more similar than one would expected given the events of “The Force Awakens” and appear to be the Light and Dark sides of the Force personified. I thought this bold and compelling narrative choice that provoked a lot of food for thought both during the movie and well after.
Luke is the other key element in both Rey and Kylo’s stories. At the film’s open, Luke is disgruntled and in a self-imposed exile. This was another narrative choice I really liked. I always thought the Jedi, particularly Yoda and Obi-wan, failed Anakin and contributed to his downfall. How could they not have seen that he was in love with Padme? Further, when a legitimately terrified Anakin confesses his fears to the most powerful Jedi in the universe the sage advice he receives is (paraphrasing): “Fear leads to the dark side. Let go and accept the will of the force”. Absolute bullshit. How is that in anyway helpful to a young man in serious crisis? I love Yoda but he seriously dropped the ball.
Seeing Luke cynical about the Jedi was a welcome change and I completely understood his perspective at this point in his life. I saw “Return of the Jedi” when I was around twelve years old and even at that young age I knew Luke would not have an easy life. The melancholy scene when he is burning Darth Vader’s body sealed it for me. Luke is so extraordinary, but sometimes it’s those people that have the most difficulty – burdened with too much power, expectations, and too few people in the world with whom they can relate. This is particularly true for Luke as he was the last Jedi. Of course he was going to make mistakes as he took up the mantle set by Yoda to “pass on what you have learned.” His own learning was tragically incomplete and likely led to his greatest error, inadvertently creating Kylo Ren. Interestingly, however, Yoda and the well-established Jedi Order were chock full of masters and yet they still failed to prevent the rise of Darth Vader and the Emperor. Something was clearly off with Jedi dogma. At some point Luke must have come to the same conclusion which resulted in a crisis of faith and a self-imposed exile.
Kylo, Kylo, Kylo. By the end of the film my heart broke for him. This is not to excuse the terrible things he’s done and I’m not sure he deserves to be redeemed. At the same time, I’m not convinced he doesn’t either. It’s been established that somehow Snoke was aware of Kylo since his birth and has been manipulating him his entire life. Young Kylo didn’t understand this ever present dark shadow and apparently his parents didn’t either. Now this was either because they were unaware or simply didn’t know how to deal with it. Neither explanation is satisfactory and implies Han and Leia were not the best parents. They loved their child certainly but they had no idea how to help him. When it finally became clear that there was a serious problem Kylo was sent to Uncle Luke to train as a Jedi and all hell broke loose.
During Kylo’s training years Luke becomes aware of the conflict in his nephew. In a moment of weakness Luke senses the darkness in Kylo and considers killing him in his sleep. Yikes! I have wondered if Luke really felt Kylo’s darkness or was he picking up Snoke’s influence? Unclear, but either way Kylo wakes up at this exact moment, sees that his uncle is about to kill him, defends himself with his lightsaber (Anakins!) and brings down the roof of his hut. From there we are told Kylo destroyed the school, absconded with a handful of students, killed those that wouldn’t join him, and ultimately found his way to Snoke. Is this the full story? I do wonder. Are those students that left with Kylo the infamous and barely seen “Knights of Ren”? Episode IX will tell I suppose.
While certainly insightful, what bothered me about this backstory is that it turned three highly beloved characters into negligent family members to explain/justify the emergence of Kylo Ren. When I consider the Han, Leia, and Luke of the original trilogy do I really think this is how it would all go down? It’s a possibility, certainly, but in my mind a very low probability on the spectrum of future outcomes. In any event, this is the cannon narrative of the sequel trilogy and the source of a lot of fan backlash. Not entirely unjustified.
Regardless, the Kylo/Rey/Luke part of the movie was spectacular. My only real gripe was that it felt rushed in order to fit in the two other story threads. Here’s where things get a little more dicey.
Finn needs to stop running and commit to a cause, yes? I know, let’s help him do that by sending him on a futile, wild goose chase through a new world that feels more like a heist movie than Star Wars. “Ocean’s 11” in space? Here we go! Now part of this narrative was entertaining, and I really loved Finn’s new sidekick Rose Tico, but it takes away from the core of the story and into this tangential plot line that could be deleted – or at least dramatically streamlined – without much impact.
Moving on to Poe. He needs to become a leader, yes? Great, let’s have him make horrible, knee-jerk decisions, commit insubordination, be demoted, then stage a mutiny. At the end of all this nonsense give the man a promotion! That should help his character develop nicely! Ugh…
Meanwhile, idealistic Rey learns of Kylo’s tragic backstory and takes it upon herself to go rescue him. This leads to the best sequence in the movie in which Snoke and all of his guards are taken down by the Kylo/Rey dream team. I can’t say enough about the pairing of these two. It’s pure Star Wars magic! In fact, I feel like Ben Solo needs to be redeemed in order for these two to get the happy ending that by this time I think they BOTH deserve. But will they? Doubtful, because once the fight is over they both retreat back to their original Dark Side vs. Light Side positions. How demoralizing. So much for forging something new and unexpected…
All of these disparate threads converge at a final battle on Crait. The Luke from the original trilogy finally emerges, reunites with Leia and faces his nephew. All of this was beautifully done. Finn has a moment where it looks like he might sacrifice himself in the fight and it was definitely a nail biter. Thankfully he lives to see another day. Luke does not, however. His showdown with Kylo drains him of his lifeforce (I guess?) and he peacefully passes on while staring at a dual sunset reminiscent of the twin suns on Tatooine from “A New Hope.” Not going to lie, this scene evoked real emotion and plenty of tears from me. Not to worry though, I’m pretty confident we’ll see force ghost Luke in Episode IX. Hopefully armed with some new found wisdom after reuniting with his old Jedi friends in the Force netherworld.
At the end, the last of the Resistance escapes and the First Order is now being led by Kylo Ren. Another new revelation? There are more force sensitive people in the universe and, like Rey, their names are not Skywalker. Hooray! Seriously, this is the right thing for the Star Wars universe. It’s time to look beyond one family for heros of a new age.
So why did I leave the theater confused, befuddled, and a little angry? I think it all comes down to this. As much as I agree Star Wars needs to exist beyond one family, The Skywalkers – the beloved heros of the original trilogy – appear to be cursed and perhaps marked for destruction? That really pisses me off. Let’s take a closer look at their history:
- Grandpa Anakin: Had no father, lived as a slave, taken from a beloved mother at a young age never to be seen alive by her son again (pretty much), falls to the dark side, loses the love of his life and wrecks havoc across the universe, has a moment of grace than then dies immediately thereafter.
- Gradma Padme: Dies heartbroken.
- Son Luke: Grows up on a crappy desert planet, never knows his real mother, learns the love of his life is his sister and his father is the worst person in the galaxy, redeems his father but inadvertently creates another monster in his only nephew, goes into exile, dies alone (supposedly at peace).
- Daughter Leia: Never knows parents, step parents and home planet destroyed, never acknowledges her true father, never trains in the Force (ironically if she had may have been able to save her son), sends son to trusted uncle who almost kills him, son goes dark, loses love of her live at the hands of their only son. Likely to die heartbroken in Episode IX.
- Son-in-law Han: marries into the most powerful Force family, only son goes dark, loses wife and best friend as a result, and is ultimately killed by that son trying to bring him home to please ex-wife.
- Grandson Ben/Kylo: Neglected by his parents, haunted by a malevolent presence since birth, almost murdered in his sleep by hero uncle.
And now the only remaining Skywalker – Kylo/Ben – appears to be on an irredeemable path of destruction. The Skywalkers deserve better. Han’s sacrifice deserves better. Is this really how Disney – DISNEY!- will bring this historic Star Wars Saga to close? God I hope not.