Before getting to the meat of my opinion on The Last Jedi some context is required. As anyone that knows me (or has taken even a cursory glance at this site) can tell you, I’m a massive Star Wars fan. Not the rabid, prequel-trilogy apologist kind of fan that thinks Star Wars can do no wrong. No. I’m quite aware of the plot holes, shoddy scripting and weak characters that have occasionally blighted the saga.
However, I still love it. For all its faults and frustrations, nothing lifts my spirits like a good dose of Star Wars. You can imagine, therefore, how excited I’ve been waiting for The Last Jedi (TLJ). I saw it for the first time last Saturday (a couple of days after release – I had to wait for my brother to travel south so we could see it together, those are the rules). Then again the other evening (Wednesday 20th December), after having watched The Force Awakens (TFA) the night before to provide some context.
In all honesty, I can’t remember a more divisive entry in the Star Wars saga. Sure, Episodes I-III may have been praised by some initially, but this was mostly because they were in traumatised denial of the facts. All but the most rabid fanboys now accept they are largely complete tripe. Yet I can’t remember anyone raising internet petitions to have them stricken from the canon or even (for some reason) remade, which is what is happening with TLJ.
A QUICK, NON-SPOILERY OPINION
So has Rian Johnson really got it terribly, terribly wrong? Are Disney and Lucasfilm dumber than a bag of hammers to be handing him the keys to a new trilogy? Well, to cut to the nub of the matter, no. To both questions.
This is the point where I want to talk to those that haven’t seen TLJ, just for a moment. Here’s my one line review: it has its faults but I love it. Don’t listen to what anyone else says – go and see it and make your own mind up.
Right. So anyone reading now should be fully versed in both TFA and TLJ, because there will be spoilers. Significant ones.
I mean it. Spoilers. Here they come. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Also I’m giving fair warning that this will be long. Very long. I’ve done a lot of musing on this.
!!SPOILERS!! REALLY, I’M NOT KIDDING !!SPOILERS!!
MORE THAN JUST A WALKING CARPET
Let’s tackle things a stage at a time, starting with the film’s faults. Now, I really do love TLJ. I’d go so far as to say it’s my second favourite Star Wars film, behind The Empire Strikes Back. But it ain’t perfect.
My first beef is something I hadn’t considered until it was pointed out by a friend. And that’s that some feel Chewie was underused, or reduced to porg-sitting comic relief status. I can see their point. Chewie has a couple of good moments in the film (smashing in the door of Luke’s hut, daringly piloting the Falcon through the mines of Crait), but nothing truly stand-out. You could say that this is poorly servicing one of the franchise’s key players, and one of only a handful of original trilogy characters that have survived to this point.
I understand that argument. And I’ve definitely got some sympathy with it. I’d love to see Chewie being used properly. TFA came close, giving him a couple of decent scenes. But in reality, he’s probably the saga’s most underused character generally. From growling at droids on the Death Star to putting C3PO’s head on backwards or complaining about the cold, Chewie has always just been the sidekick. Often played for mild laughs.
So although I agree that Chewie is underused, I don’t think it’s fair to single Rian Johnson out here. Every Star Wars director since A New Hope has done the same, and Johnson has inherited so many story strands and so many complex characters that, in reality, there simply isn’t room for them all to share the limelight. Hopefully, the now rather trimmed down cast will stay that way for Episode IX, allowing Chewie, Rose, General Hux and other second-string characters a bit more time to shine.
WHAT GOOD IS A REWARD IF YOU AIN’T AROUND TO USE IT?
Han’s death still hurts. He was always my favourite character from the original trilogy, and his death in TFA, while inevitable, was genuinely upsetting.
What surprised me initially with TLJ was that none of the big “emotional” moments had the impact of Han’s death from TFA (or even of Han and Chewie’s “we’re home” moment). Maybe that’s to be expected. After all, TFA was the first time we’d spent time with these characters in over 30 years. There’s a big emotional release in just seeing them on screen again. TLJ didn’t have that luxury.
Sure, Luke’s passing into the Force pulled at the heart strings, especially in combination with that oh-so-obvious twin-suns-setting parallel. But on initial viewing it wasn’t the devastating emotional blow I was expecting. Which is odd. This is a character that’s been a big part of my life since before I can remember and his passing just seemed a bit… slight.
Strangely, on second viewing it hit much harder. There may have been actual watery eyes. Maybe the lack of impact first time was because there was so little time to process it before the end of the film. The last fully trained Jedi, the last direct link to the Republic, Yoda, Kenobi, Vader and all that comes along with that – gone in a moment. There was just so much to process.
Of course, the chances are it won’t stay that way. As demonstrated by Yoda’s wonderful cameo in TLJ, characters don’t stay gone in the Star Wars universe. Not to mention the fact that, judging from the last scene in the Falcon, it appears Rey got a little light-fingered in the Jedi temple. Maybe that knowledge, heritage and mythology isn’t completely gone after all.
But I digress. Back to the slight lack of feels.
Even Leia’s momentary dalliance with death, before Force-tractor-beaming herself across open space (a nice touch, by the way, and one of the best moments in the whole saga) was robbed of any emotional heft or panic because we knew she was going to be okay. After Carrie Fisher’s death, Johnson and others had gone on record as saying that Episode IX was intended to be Leia’s film, and that TLJ wasn’t changed in the wake of her death. So any peril in that moment was extinguished because we knew she made it.
In fact, and surprisingly, the real emotional heart of the film is Kylo Ren. A damaged, angry, tortured, endlessly sad and conflicted young man, played brilliantly by Adam Driver and very nicely written by Johnson. There are moments where the carapace of hate and anger cracks and we see this wounded, divided, emotionally abused youth tearing himself apart as he tries to decide which path to take. It’s a complex and nuanced performance.
It’s a shame none of the other characters have the same emotional heft or complexity (although Daisy Ridley’s Rey does come close). Star Wars has always painted in pretty wide brush-strokes, dealing predominantly in archetypes. Things are different in TLJ, but not tremendously so. Or at least, they don’t appear to be at first. I found on second viewing I noticed nuances in Rey, Rose and Finn particularly that I’d missed first time round. Glimmers of hidden turmoil, love, hope, fear, loss and turmoil. Maybe TLJ is more subtle than I realised on first viewing. Only time and the chance for multiple viewings will reveal if it is.
While we’re on the subject of emotion – Carrie Fisher’s Leia certainly holds her own here. I’ve a feeling that a lot of the emotion her performance draws is from the fact that we know she really has gone. However, there’s a true depth of hope, loss and sadness in her arc and performance. We’ll know more once the rawness of her loss has subsided a little and we can judge her final role purely on merit.
Hopefully Episode IX will make good on some of the emotional promises TFA and TLJ make…
A WRETCHED HIVE OF SCUM AND VILLAINY
There’s one area where I really can’t disagree with some of the naysayers, and that’s in regard to Canto Bight, aka “that slightly weird bit in the middle”. Now, I actually quite like elements of it. I’m all up for seeing new areas of the galaxy far, far away, and it stands to reason that some of those areas will be rich and shiny and populated by rich, shiny doofuses. I’ve no problem with that. I didn’t even mind the giant-space-horses chase scene. Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without a good chase scene or two.
However, in general, the whole segment felt a bit tacked-on, strangely paced and slightly at odds with the rest of the film. It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly what didn’t feel right. But it definitely stood out even more on second viewing as not quite belonging to the rest of the narrative. Granted, some of the alien denizens did look a little ‘Doctor Who’ rubbery (always a peril with practical effects). And the polemic/moralising on the perils of wealth in a film franchise that’s the Hollywood equivalent of the Golden Goose did irk somewhat. But neither of these was a deal-breaker. The whole set-up just didn’t feel like Star Wars. A bit like when I saw Episode I for the first time and the opening crawl started banging on about trade negotiations. It just caused a weird “is this turning into Star Trek or Babylon 5” moment in my head.
Then we come to Benecio Del Toro as a mumbly, stuttering, rather bizarre character called ‘DJ’ (aka the most obvious amoral, treacherous git in the history of amoral treacherous gits). Here’s an idea: if you’re going to have a character betray the heroes, at least make us believe we might have been tricked too. All I could think was “well obviously he’s going to stab them in the back for his 30 pieces of silver as soon as he gets the chance”. When he inevitably did, I was just left feeling that Finn and Rose were, well, a bit thick.
Don’t get me wrong, the Canto Bight segment is no shark-jump. More something that just felt like it was from another franchise. Almost as if Johnson wasn’t 100% sure what to do with Rose and Finn while he concentrated on Poe/Holdo and Luke/Snoke/Kylo/Rey, so came up with something for them to do that wouldn’t really get in the way of the main story threads. Which brings me to something that some of TLJ’s critics have got very, very wrong. And I never realised it until after the second viewing…
NOW HE REALLY IS A BIG DEAL IN THE RESISTANCE
Some have compared Finn and Rose’s escapades to Indiana Jones in Raiders, stating that they add nothing of significance to the story and don’t really contribute to the outcome. At first, I could sympathise with that view. Then I watched it a second time and really analysed what happened.
Now, while I’m not a big fan of the Canto Bight segment generally, you can’t deny that Finn and Rose’s storyline has a HUGE bearing on the outcome of the movie.
Allow me to explain. Finn and Rose go to Canto Bight to enlist a master code-breaker so they can break into Snoke’s capital ship, turn off the tracking device and allow the Resistance fleet to lightspeed their way out of Dodge. Seems sensible right? Covert mission to deactivate something, minimal chance of success – all very Star Wars.
But what do they actually accomplish or change? Well, they get captured before they can switch off the tracker and the code-breaker they enlist betrays them, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Resistance fighters. If they’d never gone to Canto Bight, this wouldn’t have happened. Not looking good for them so far.
And yet, if the Resistance shuttles weren’t in peril, then Vice Admiral Holdo wouldn’t have had her (rather awesome) lightspeed kamikaze moment, which resulted in heavy First Order losses – Snoke’s capital ship, a number of Star Destroyers and a whole bunch of TIEs, AT-STs, AT-ATs etc. were all destroyed in a split second – and allowed Rey to escape the clutches of Kylo.
While the loss of the Resistance shuttles was devastating, surely this wasn’t too high a price to pay? After all, it’s quite possible Rey would have succumbed to Kylo, or been seduced by the dark side. Then all hope truly would have been lost for the Resistance and the Jedi would have completely died out.
Then there’s that rather cool little snippet at the end. While on Canto Bight, Finn and Rey encounter some stable kids that help them escape. One of them, right at the end of the film, calls a broom into his hand using the Force and stands, looking up to the stars, broom handle aloft like a sabre, for all the world like a miniature Luke Skywalker. The implicit statement here being that there’s a galaxy of heroes, just waiting to be called to action. An interesting set-up for Episode IX and the proposed new trilogy,
So to say Finn and Rose’s escapades are throwaway is to do TLJ a grave disservice. It may not be the film’s strongest or most interesting storyline, but it is a vital one in the grand scheme of things.
IT WAS A TRAP
Now there are a number of quite prominent characters that don’t make it to the end of TLJ. Many a keyboard warrior (but not critics, you’ll notice) has whinged that these major character deaths are dealt with in a fairly dismissive manner. Well, I strongly disagree with that (I’ll discuss them and the reasons why I disagree in more depth later on), except in one notable instance that seems to have gone unnoticed: Admiral Ackbar.
Ackbar is a prominent second-string character from the original trilogy. A fan favourite that spawned a trillion memes. The way his death is dealt with (“Leia’s fine, but the rest of the leadrership including Admiral Ackbar are all dead, anyway carrying on…) did grate. It felt a little off-hand for such a beloved character. But that could just be the fanboy in me. It’s a relatively minor grievance in the grand scheme of things, but one that does grind my gears somewhat.
LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT THING
Okay, so those are, as I see it, the film’s niggles and faults out of the way. I know some have raised more specific issues, but I’ll address those as we now charge recklessly and headlong, Solo-like, into a legion of positives.
Some things are a given with a movie like this. Unsurprisingly, the cinematography, art direction, production design and effects are uniformly excellent. Real top drawer stuff. The only slight weak point is a couple of patchy looking aliens in Canto Bight, other than that, this is technically flawless film-making. The battle of Crait, in particular, is exceptionally beautiful. The Resistance ski-speeders throwing up rooster tails of salt, revealing the crimson surface beneath. It’s all very, very pretty.
The score is, as ever, masterfully composed by John Williams. Not much else needs to be said. Williams never misses a beat. Even on a bad day, he’s better than 99% of composers out there, and he was having a very good day when he wrote TLJ score. For me, it’s the finest, most coherent Star Wars score since the original trilogy.
AMAZING. EVERY WORD OF WHAT YOU JUST SAID WAS WRONG.
Story-wise, the first thing we have to talk about is THAT opening scene. Crikey. Surely it has to go down in Star Wars lore as one of the saga’s greatest scenes? Everything about it is perfectly judged. Poe taunting Hux by pretending not to hear him; Hux’s hubris and frustration gradually building until the “yo momma” joke makes him crack; Poe’s X-Wing acrobatics (the “handbrake turn” around the two TIE Fighters is amazing); BB-8 gamely using his head to bypass a short; the segue into real pathos as the Resistance fleet crumbles and Rose’s sister takes the First Order Dreadnaught down with her dying breath. This is as breathlessly exciting and tonally spot-on as Star Wars gets. A perfect balance of light and shade.
Sidebar – can we just talk about General Hux for a moment? Going full “no more merciful beheadings” Rickman in a Star Wars film is a bold choice. Personally, I think it works. I know some think he goes a little over-the-top (not sure that’s possible in a giant, overblown Space Opera, but hey-ho) but personally I think he brings just the right amount of obsequious grovelling, snark, spite and instinct for self-preservation to the character. Hux is a petty, scheming, manipulative, back-stabbing space Nazi, and Gleeson treads a nice line between comedy villain and just plain villain. Snoke is your stereotypical nasty bad-guy here and Kylo is the tortured but still pretty monstrous sidekick. Adding a third straight-down-the-line villain with no hint of humour would be laying it on a bit thick. So I think Hux is played just about right.
Anyway. The opening scene is some statement of intent, that’s for sure – and probably the most “traditionally Star Wars” scene in the film. I think this was deliberate on Johnson’s part. He’s allowing us to get comfy. To think we know how this is going to go, before showing us that no, we really haven’t got a clue and all bets are off.
EXCITEMENT… ADVENTURE… A JEDI CRAVES NOT THESE THINGS
Which is where one of TLJ’s most contentious scenes comes into its own. Throughout TFA, Anakin/Luke’s lightsabre seems portentous of weighty, galactic matters, inextricably linked to the return of Luke from exile. The fact that when Rey presents it to him he simply looks at it for a few seconds before tossing it over his shoulder has induced howls of outrage and diatribes from fans across the internet. Combined with Luke’s unwillingness to re-engage with the galaxy, his momentary desire to kill Ben Solo, his self-imposed exile, desire to see the Jedi end and finally his act of sacrifice, those howls become deafening. “Luke wouldn’t act like this” they scream.
It’s not as if Johnson (or Disney for that matter) would have taken the decision to present Luke in this way lightly. Of course they understand how beloved the character is, how big a step this is. They’re not idiots. So why do it? Well I firmly believe that Luke’s actions are easily explainable, even perfectly logical and understandable, if you sincerely examine his actions in the movies so far.
Firstly, and let’s be honest about this, Luke was never a model Jedi. Impulsive and emotional, given to follow his instinct rather than listening to Obi-Wan or Yoda, he was very much in the mould of his father.
Secondly, we’re not dealing with a particularly well-balanced individual here. In A New Hope (ANH) his guardians are killed by stormtroopers and Luke discovers their bodies. Then his mentor (Kenobi) and his childhood friend (Biggs) are both killed in front of him. In The Empire Strikes Back (TESB), his impulsive nature costs him his hand, just as he finds out his enemy (and the murderer of his mentor) is actually his father. In Return of The Jedi (ROTJ) he discovers that his best mate’s missus is actually his sister (who he once also had a thing for, but crikey let’s not fall into that particular vortex of weirdness), uncovers the fact that both of his mentors lied to him extensively, watches his second mentor (Yoda) die, then looks on helplessly as hundreds of his friends are killed in a giant space battle, is tortured by the Emperor and finally only saved from destruction by his father suddenly turning back to the light. His father then dies in his arms.
Now we discover that, in the years since ROTJ, hubris led Luke to try and reestablish the Jedi Order, something that goes very wrong when his nephew succumbs to the dark side. Upon discovering this, Luke briefly considers killing his nephew to prevent the dark side rising again – something that backfires spectacularly when his nephew discovers this momentary treachery, attacks him, burns the new Jedi Order down and wipes out Luke’s Padawans.
Is it any wonder he disassociates himself from the Force and the Jedi? Does it really surprise anyone that, after all that trauma, he exiles himself to die alone? Just one or two of those events would be enough to cause serious PTSD. Having to go through such trauma, with the accompanying guilt, loss of confidence and damaging introspection from isolation would make anyone a bit loopy and unpredictable. It’s an entirely believable consequence of the character’s experiences. Remember too that it’s been more than 30 years since we’ve seen Luke – a lot can change in a person’s personality and mental state in 30 days, let alone more than 30 years.
It would be incredibly insincere and naive to just say “well he’s a Jedi, none of this stuff should affect him”. The one thing the Star Wars saga has been very clear about is that the Jedi make mistakes like anyone else. Often. And usually quite big ones.
If you take all of this into account, Luke’s self-imposed exile, reluctance to get involved, rejection of the Jedi way of life and eventual (kind of) confrontation with Kylo Ren make perfect sense. Is he acting any differently to Obi-Wan or Yoda, who took similar action in exiling themselves? Or to Obi-Wan in deliberately sacrificing himself to make a point? In many ways, Luke is simply following the path laid down for him by his predecessors.
Even some of his willful weirdness (giant spear fishing, milking a giant elephant-seal-cow-thing, pretending the tickling of a leaf is ‘the Force’, being a general pain wth Rey) really only echoes the way he was treated by Yoda when he went to Dagobah for training. Isn’t Luke just testing Rey’s resolve here? Making sure she truly wants this and understands all it entails? Patience and tolerance were never his strong suits, perhaps here he’s pushing this wannabe-Jedi to see where her limits are. Again, this would be entirely within character given what Luke has seen and been shown.
Of course, it’s not what most fans wanted or expected. They wanted bad-ass, all-conquering, take the First Order by the scruff and give them a Force-slap Luke. In short, they wanted Luke from the Dark Empire comic-book series. But they’re forgetting that that’s a thin, poorly drawn sketch of a very complex character.
I’m convinced that if, instead of Force-projecting himself to Crait, Luke had got on the Falcon with Rey, dived into battle and started throwing First Order Walkers around with barely any effort, those hating on this film would mostly be loving it. But it wouldn’t be true to the character. He’s a physically and emotionally battered man in his mid-60s, as old as Obi-Wan ever was. Isolation and trauma no doubt having left significant scars on his psyche. He is, quite understandably, a bit broken and weird.
So the fact that he gets past all of that baggage and still has the power and determination to do what he does in the final act of the film is staggering, but still in character.
I can’t think of a more satisfying or fitting end to Luke’s story.
JEDI, SPACE NAZIS AND REBEL SCUM
Of course, while Luke’s arc is the major bone of contention for some fans, there are many new and returning characters. Again, the internet is awash with teeth-gnashing in regard to the way certain characters acted, but is it justified? Let’s see…
Leia (Carrie Fisher)
As I said earlier, Leia’s arc is excellent here. Authoritative yet kindly, mentoring yet unafraid to discipline (at the sharp end of a stun blast, if necessary). She’s the beating heart of the Resistance, and it’s great to see her handing over the reins to Poe by the end of the film. Like Luke, she seems frail and worn-down by this decades-long battle. But the twinkle hasn’t faded, the spark is definitely still there. This is one princess that really doesn’t need rescuing.
Many have mocked Leia’s “Superman moment”. But is this really such a stretch, considering the material and history of the franchise? We know her bloodline. We know she’s Force sensitive. Prior to TLJ we’ve had seven films featuring Jedi and Sith characters doing all kinds of seemingly impossible things: lifting gigantic structures, leaping unfeasible distances, shooting lightning from their fingertips. Are we really saying that, in a moment of crisis, when her life was at stake, Leia’s Force abilities couldn’t come to the fore and move her across a frictionless vacuum? REALLY?
Again, this smacks of deliberate snarking and, dare I say it, rank hypocrisy. I’m sure if Luke had done the same thing, many of the dissenting voices would be saying how “cool” and “awesome” it was. One does wonder if gender might be playing a part here.
Whatever the case, I think it’s a great moment. One we’ve been waiting for since ROTJ, and I for one am delighted (and gutted that Leia won’t get to explore her powers in Episode IX).
Finn (John Boyega)
I feel a bit sorry for Finn in TLJ. As I alluded to previously, he doesn’t seem to have much to do. Still, Boyega really has made the character his own. What he has to do, he does with real gusto and is completely believable. Like Kylo, he’s realistically human. He makes bad, impulsive decisions and often says the wrong thing. But he’s also incredibly brave, ready to sacrifice himself and generally just a thoroughly decent human-being. Finn’s chemistry with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) seems natural and genuine. They’re great characters to spend time with and work really well together. He also gets a proper hero moment as he knocks Phasma down and corrects her insult: he’s not “scum”, he’s “rebel scum”. The proud smirk on his face says it all.
Boyega is a fine young actor, and I really hope he gets more screen time and a bit more to do in Episode IX. I’m sure he will; in fact, I’m pretty sure there’s a love-triangle of sorts developing between Finn, Rey and Rose. Interesting times lay ahead.
Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)
Ah, Poe. What a chap. Some have criticised him for being “annoying” in TLJ. I don’t understand this. He’s really not any different than he was in TFA – he’s a wise-cracking, hot-headed, smart-mouth flyboy who runs on adrenaline and dopamine. AND THAT’S THE POINT. Leia and Vice-Admiral Holdo clearly want him to mature and realise that, as a leader, you have to think, not just act on bravado. This is a lesson he learns in TLJ. Granted, it takes him a while and he does it the hard way, but that’s correct for the character. The level of bravery and self-belief required to pull off some of the things Poe does would require a substantial dollop of stubbornness and even a touch of arrogance. Would that be annoying to be around sometimes? Yeah, probably. Is it correct for the character though? Absolutely. In reality, Poe is no less arrogant, cocky and (occasionally) annoying than pre-carbon-freeze Han, a character very much cut from the same cloth. Han matured and calmed over the course of the original trilogy, and it seems Poe will do the same.
I do have one criticism of his arc, however, which actually affects two characters. The friction between Poe and Holdo seems to have been willfully scripted to cause tension. There’s no sensible reason for it, as it all stems form a lack of communication. All Holdo has to do, knowing Poe is a hot-head, is take him to one side and say “I have a plan, here it is, now stop worrying”. But that would mean Finn and Rose wouldn’t go to Canto Bight (which would doom Rey, and thus the Resistance), and Poe wouldn’t learn his lesson about the perils of heroic hubris and therefore wouldn’t be equipped to take over from Leia. Therefore, on this occasion, I can forgive Johnson his contrived tension as it serves the overall focus of the narrative and isn’t too out of step with the characters’ revealed natures.
Rey (Daisy Ridley)
AKA Lucy Skywalker. Rey is the beating heart of this new ‘Skywalker Saga’ trilogy. She’s Luke for a new generation – by turns outraged, kind, naive, selflessly brave and willing to see the potential and good in others. She’s a far more typical Star Wars character than, say, Kylo Ren or Finn. This is a good thing. She’s the anchor point for the audience, the fulcrum that the lever swings across. Without her providing such a direct link to the original trilogy (orphan, sandy planet, close relationship with a droid, dreaming of bigger things, dark secrets in her past, learning the ways of the Force from a grumpy old hermit, facing an enemy she believes can still be turned to the light etc.) some of the changes to lore and new story directions might be too much.
Daisy Ridley does an absolutely fantastic job of making Rey believable and sympathetic, even when it seems she might just wander over to the dark side. She’s a fine young actor. I’ve heard some criticise her for being “overly-earnest”, but isn’t that the nature of her character? She’s desperate to belong, to make a difference, to make her life mean something – not to be dismissed as a scavenger whose parents’ didn’t want her.
Ah yes. The hot potato question of Rey’s parentage and Johnson’s handling of it. We’ll come to that in a bit…
Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran)
Rose is probably my favourite addition to the cast in TLJ. Granted, she does get sucked into the weird Canto Bight vortex with Finn, but what we see of her really shows her potential. She’s certainly no one-dimensional scene-filler. From mourning the loss of her sister one moment to zapping Finn in outrage at his ‘escape’ attempt the next and finally almost killing herself to save him in the battle of Crait, Rose is a complex and interesting (if under-used) character. Here’s hoping we see a bit more Rose in Episode IX.
Vice-Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern)
Laura Dern is wonderful in almost everything she’s in. I get the feeling that the casting director was told to find an actress that could do “steely-kookiness” and basically just called Laura Dern (although I reckon Gillian Anderson or Julianne Moore would have been great in this role too).
I’ve already commented on her slightly frustrating relationship with Poe, and I definitely feel more could have been done with her character. However, she brings a real gravitas and seriousness to proceedings. And, amongst all the sarcastic pilots, snarling villains and cheeky droids, that’s really needed. Her character (much like Rey’s), provides a dose of reality to proceedings – much is at stake here and people are dying. Holdo never lets us forget that. I do also like the fact that, for a good chunk of the film, we’re not entirely sure whose side she’s on. Again, this is a mild contrivance as she could very easily make where she stands clear. But then again, isn’t it the job of a film-maker to keep us guessing a bit? To not just go “here’s this person and by the way they’re on ‘X’ side of things” every time a new character is introduced? As with so many characters in TLJ, there are shades of grey here, for quite some time. This is a good thing.
She also gets one of the best deaths in the whole Star Wars saga – that lightspeed kamikaze moment that takes out half the First Order fleet nearly had me on my feet in applause. As Han said, flying through space ain’t like dusting crops.
DJ (Benecio Del Toro)
I am torn by this character. On the one hand, I love the ambiguity and moral uncertainty. You genuinely don’t know who he is, what he wants or what he’s going to do. Even when he betrays Finn and Rose, it’s difficult to condemn him as a thoroughly evil guy. At the end of the day, his opinion that the Empire/First Order and Rebels/Resistance are just two sides of a coin (“It’s all a machine, partner. Live free, don’t join.”) is pretty difficult to argue with.
But, and it’s a big but, HE BETRAYS FINN AND ROSE. For money. To people he knows will kill them. That’s reprehensible on a galactic scale. Especially when you consider the way he simply saunters off with his loot, a disinterested shrug and no apparent guilt whatsoever. He’s another of Johnson’s mercurial, morally-ambiguous characters. Yes, he’s a plot device to set up Holdo’s death, Rey’s escape and Finn’s confrontation with Phasma, but he’s an interesting and very watchable plot device.
The only other minor irk I have with the character is that it feels a bit like Del Toro is rehashing his character from The Usual Suspects, but this time in tramp mode. The heavy mumblings, the twitches, the unpredictability. It all feels a bit familiar. But maybe that’s just me.
Whatever the case, I’ve a feeling we’ve not see the last of DJ.
Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis)
Ah yes, the big wrinkly ratbag of the piece. For all the mystery and portentous build up in TFA, it turns out that Snoke is just another traditional Star Wars bad-guy. Power-hungry, sarcastic and cruel, he’s what we expect from a Sith Lord. From emotionally abusing and manipulating Kylo to sarcastically smacking Rey on the head with her own lightsabre, Serkis plays Snoke as the typical, arch, boo-hiss baddie. He does seem to prefer a rather blingy robe, to the normal Sith black/grey combos though. Again, there are subversions of expectations here, and I can understand why some Star Wars fans have bucked at some of the twists.
First of all, we soon discover that Snoke is incredibly powerful: Force-lightning (only previously seen being used by Darth Sidious), linking minds across space, easily controlling Rey and Kylo (neither of whom are exactly weak). It’s clear this chap is someone to be reckoned with.
So I completely understand that some fans feel a bit cheated by his rather sudden (and apparently quite dismissive) demise. They were no doubt hoping for a big Episode IX showdown with Luke/Rey on one side and Snoke/Kylo on the other. But that would be too in-keeping with what’s gone before in the original trilogy.
What they seem to have missed is that Rian Johnson returns again and again throughout TLJ to the idea of hubris. Luke’s hubris caused him to try and rebuild the Jedi Order and led to him mishandling Ben Solo. Poe Dameron’s hubris cost many lives in the dreadnaught attack and nearly undid Leia and Holdo’s plan to save the Resistance. Kylo’s hubris prevents him turning to the light after Snoke’s death, instead stoking his lust for power and his offer to Rey for them to rule the galaxy side-by-side (which should sound awfully familiar to any Empire fans)…
As Luke said to the Emperor: “your over-confidence is your weakness”. Well it proves to be so for Snoke. In reality, Snoke’s death was in the finest Star Wars tradition, and entirely in keeping with the themes of TLJ – his hubris simply got the better of him. Much like the the Jedi Order not detecting the rise of the Sith in Episodes II and III, like an unprepared Luke facing Vader in Episode IV, or the Emperor failing to detect the light in Vader in Episode VI. How’s that for honouring Star Wars tradition?
Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie)
Of course, Snoke’s end wasn’t the only death that split the fanbase. Phasma was a much-lauded second-string character in TFA, and a lot of fans were hoping she’d get a meatier role in TLJ.
To be honest, I can understand why Rian Johnson got rid of the character. Was it a little dismissive? Perhaps. But even in TFA, Phasma was little more than a cool outfit (a victim of Boba Fett syndrome) and there are simply too many interesting characters and storylines to give her much in the way of screen time. It was her or Hux, I reckon. And Hux is a much, much more interesting character.
The one thing that her character does do is afford Finn the chance to complete his emotional metamorphosis. She was the Captain he lived in fear of, a symbol of the hatred, oppression and evil he was once party to. By not just standing up to her, but defeating her and declaring himself “rebel scum”, he completes his transformation from Imperial automaton to fully-fledged hero. Personally, I think Johnson was wise to trim her character from the plot going forward. It should help keep Episode IX that little bit leaner and more focussed.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)
This is the big one. When the howls of rage at Johnson’s choices for TLJ started in certain quarters of the internet, Kylo’s back-story was one of their biggest issues.
Let’s tackle the character first. Without doubt, Kylo is the most interesting and complex character in this new trilogy, and perhaps in the entire saga. We see a glimpse here of how Lucas could have made Anakin’s arc in Episodes I-III more compelling, believable and sympathetic.
The events of TFA have clearly taken their toll on Kylo. He feels betrayed, torn, angry, distraught, desperate to please, to belong, and guilty to the core. Sometimes all in the same scene. It’s something of a tour-de-force from Driver – one I personally feel he should get a few award nominations for. Anyway. We revisit Kylo at a crossroads. He has killed his father in a fit of dark-side prompted pique, his mentor is emotionally abusive and manipulative, he’s recovering from a serious injury, his confidence has been knocked from being bested by a Padawan and he can still feel the light pulling him back. This is one confused, damaged young man.
At one point it feels like he might come back to the light. He gradually connects with Rey through Snoke’s mind-melding trick, to the point where she seems to genuinely care for him, to feel sympathy for his deep guilt and confusion. When the chance arises, he cannot bring himself to harm his mother. He kills Snoke rather than harming Rey, then helps defeat Snoke’s Praetorian Guards. The signs are good.
Then we see a glimpse of what Luke must have seen. The darkness rises in him almost immediately. His thoughts are not “I can redeem myself, I can make this better”, instead they are “I can take Snoke’s place, I can have this all for myself”. We see here something even more frightening than Darth Vader. A mercurial, bad-tempered, vicious and petulant child with the full power of the dark side and no apparent leaning to the light.
No wonder Luke thought about striking him down. Ah yes. The bit that made the internet howl. Luke’s story of Ben Solo suddenly turning on him never did ring completely true. Surely a Jedi of Luke’s power would have had some inkling of the path his nephew was going down? After all, even as a relatively untrained Jedi, Luke could sense the light in Vader.
Then again, Kylo’s story didn’t fit the characters either. Luke, suddenly deciding to try and kill his nephew because he was jealous of his power? Nope. Clearly such actions wouldn’t fit with Luke’s character, even as emotionally scarred as he was after Episode VI.
As Rey discovers, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Luke sensing the dark-side growing in Ben makes complete sense. As does his momentary lapse, the brief thought that he must end this now, before the Sith can rise again. It fits with the character. Luke was always emotional and prone to make hasty decisions, as was his father. Such a strong characteristic wouldn’t completely disappear, despite the passing of a few decades. And the thought that all he’d fought for could be undone, that the Sith could rise again and it could all be down to his failure to act… Yeah, I can see how that would cause him to act as he does in the flashback in TLJ.
For me, the vocal minority that are wailing over Luke’s arc have a rose-tinted view of the character. He’s no superhuman. He’s not even a fully trained Jedi until the end of Return of The Jedi. He’s a flawed, normal person under incredible pressure. If that’s not reason enough to make the odd mistake (and, let’s face it, the Jedi make plenty of those), I’m not sure what is.
As you can probably tell, in general I think the cast it superb. The new characters are interesting and, for the most part, add something vital to the saga. Of course, one of the key things they add is some much needed diversity. More women in key roles and better representation of people from all corners of the globe. This is a fine thing, and something that should be applauded. It’s sad it’s taken so long for Star Wars (and Hollywood in general) to catch up, but it seems to finally be getting there. And not a moment too soon.
STEALERS OF SCENES THEY ARE
There are a couple of minor cast members that deserve a good old shout-out too. Yoda manages to completely steal the scene he shares with Luke, being back to his rambunctious self from Empire. Poking and prodding Luke, giving him a right old telling off without actually telling him off. Props to Johnson for using a physical puppet not a CGI recreation too – it has so much more character than the Yoda of Episodes I-III.
Maz Kanata pops up again, this time for a brief hologram cameo, and gets one of the film’s best lines. I’m hoping we see a bit more of here in Episode IX. She’s a great character and I really do want to know how the heck she got hold of Luke’s lightsabre (more on which later).
When it comes to the supporting cast mostly it’s the machines that win. The Falcon (my favourite character, and probably the one I’ll mourn the most if they kill it) gets a couple of excellent scenes and a great line (Finn: “Ah they hate that ship!”). R2-D2 is back too, sharing a surprisingly emotional scene with Luke in the Falcon, including a typically ‘Artoo’ low-blow that not only raises a smile, but makes the heart ache too.
And then we have BB-8. I was a little unsure before TFA about BB-8. I had the sneaking suspicion they were simply trying to create a new Artoo. But that really isn’t the case. He’s got a distinct personality all of his own and gets many of the best moments in TLJ. Using gold coins as ammo, tearing around a Star Destroyer docking bay in a hijacked AT-ST and the “Finn, naked, leaking badly” line are particular highlights. He’s a much more acrobatic and involved character than any other droid in the saga and, I’ll be honest, I love the little guy.
In fact, for me, BB-8 and the Falcon represent everything I love about Star Wars.
Don’t you dare kill either off, JJ.
WHAT’S FUNNIER THAN A ROASTED PORG?
A key element of any Star Wars film is the humour. Episodes IV and V were excellent in this regard, the sarcasm, slightly silly moments (Artoo getting spat out by a giant alien crocodile thing on Dagobah, for instance) and banter between characters lightening and moderating the tone. The films really need that too, some dark stuff happens in this saga and, without the humour, it could all be a bit depressing and bleak.
Unfortunately, Episodes I, II and VI went a bit too far, playing the silly card too much (poo gags in Star Wars – REALLY GEORGE?) and generally getting the tone completely wrong.
Thank goodness that TFA and TLJ get the balance right again. Again, the humour is needed – there’s some really dark themes bubbling around here – but just like JJ before him, Johnson gets it right.
Before seeing TLJ, I was deeply concerned that we had another Ewok moment on our hands with the Porgs. But it’s actually really well handled. They’re by turns sweet and amusing, but never in-your-face. In fact, one of the few proper laugh out loud moments I had was when Chewie banks the Falcon hard during the battle of Crait and an unsuspecting Porg ends up pinned against the window, like one of those stick-on Garfield plushies people put in their cars in the early 90s.
And I know it’s extremely divisive, but I loved both Luke’s ‘tossing the sabre’ moment and THAT scene with the green/blue milk. It fitted the character of a troubled, cranky old hermit perfectly and neatly subverted fan expectations. After all, with age and wisdom comes the ability to laugh at pretty much anything…
Honorable mentions go to: Chewie roasting Porg for dinner, BB-8 using his head as a conductor and Luke’s shoulder flick after facing a full-on assault from a legion of AT-ATs.
Now, I have seen some complain that there’s too much humour and not enough action. To which I can only reply: WHAT. Were you not watching the same film as I was? It opens with one of the best space battles we’ve seen in a Star Wars film, which then develops into a movie-long chase across space. Then we have the Canto Bight sequence (okay, not great, but not exactly a slow, existential treatise on the nature of man), the Star Destroyer infiltration and escape (including Phasma’s demise), the battle in Snoke’s throne room (probably the best lightsabre battle since Anakin faced Obi-Wan) and finally the battle of Crait.
That’s five big action scenes, each good enough to be the climax of a lesser movie, in a couple of hours. If that isn’t enough for you, then you’ve missed the point of Star Wars. It’s character led, not about pure action. Okay, so the prequel trilogy diluted this somewhat, but at its heart Star Wars has always been about the story-telling. The action was a by-product of the story, not the focus of it. Empire had one major action scene (Hoth) and a couple of more minor scenes (Luke against Vader, the asteroid field). I don’t recall anyone whinging about it being slow or boring.
Maybe this is a by-product of the modern age in cinema, where people are spoon-fed sound-bites, punchlines and snippets of exposition between ever-longer chunks of flying/exploding/punching CGI gubbins. Whatever the case, it’s a grossly unfair charge to lay at the door of TLJ. Yes this is a character-led, story-driven film, but it’s also packed to the gunwales with action.
I MAY OR MAY NOT BE YOUR FATHER/BROTHER/COUSIN/WHATEVER
Amongst the incoherent howls of interweb rage, there are a couple of salient points that TLJ’s detractors are making that, at first glance, may seem to hold water.
First and foremost is the issue of Rey’s parentage. Crikey, this one got the internet up in arms. The thought that her parents were “nobodies”, just junkers that sold her for booze. Well, it seems that’s too much to handle for some.
Yet it does fit. Traditionally, the second act of a story puts the heroes through the mill, emotionally and physically. They have to contend with something huge, devastating. And what could be more devastating for Rey, when she’s at her most vulnerable, physically weakened and caught between the light and the dark, than to be told she is a nobody? That she had abusive parents who effectively threw her away? I can’t think of many things more devastating to hear than that.
Did Kylo lie? Well, he is basically a Sith Lord now, so… Yeah, probably. Maybe. Perhaps. But then again, listen to the scene in Snoke’s throne-room carefully. Although Kylo taunts Rey that she “already knows the truth”, Rey herself says that her parents were “nobody”. Throughout TFA, it’s Rey that drives the issue of her parentage. It’s Rey that tells BB-8 it’s “a big secret”. It’s Rey that keeps insisting on returning to Jakku because her parents will be returning for her.
Could it be that, all along, she knew the truth? That she convinced herself she had a “secret” past to help her cope with the traumatic reality that, actually, she was sold like a piece of meat?
“But TFA made out she was from an important bloodline” I hear some cry. Well, no actually, it didn’t. It hinted that she could be. Maybe. Well, films hint at all kinds of things before revealing that, actually, no THIS is the case. And the clues are there, even in TFA, that Rey may not belong to any legacy bloodlines. After Rey interacts with Luke’s lightsabre for the first time, Maz Kanata says: “Whomever you are waiting for, they are never coming back”, quite the statement there. Then she adds: “The belonging you seek is not behind you, but ahead”. Hefty clues for the audience that maybe, just maybe, this girl isn’t a Solo, Skywalker or Kenobi.
One of the problems with this for many of the hardcore fans is that it quickly subverts and punctures two years of speculation, discussion and argument. They feel they were sold a lie. But isn’t that the point? Maybe Rey herself had come to believe the lie. Remember Obi-Wan’s words: “a great many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view”. Perhaps it was time for Rey’s point of view to change.
The key point that many seem to be missing is that this works for the character and the story. It fits and actually adds emotional weight, instead of making TLJ a mere echo of TESB.
Maybe it’s time for our point of view, as fans, to change too. Think of the possibilities. If Rey has no bloodline link to established characters in the saga, that means that anyone, from any background could have the potential to unlock the Force. It stamps on Lucas’ ridiculous notion of “Midichlorians” and stops Force powers from becoming the preserve only of the entitled few. A mystical aristocracy, if you will. This potential is alluded to in the final shot of the film, and I for one welcome it heartily.
Naturally, JJ could do a complete about-face on this and reveal in Episode IX that, guess what, the stroppy young Sith was lying all along! It was just another attempt to get Rey to join him on the dark side! If so, fine.
Whatever the case, we’ll find out in Episode IX. JJ Abrams is a more traditional storyteller than Rian Johnson, very much in the vein of Steven Spielberg. So I expect he’ll try to resolve the remaining major storylines and questions in what will be the final entry in the Skywalker saga.
HE HAD TO SPLIT
The second big whinge I keep hearing is that TLJ didn’t answer the question of where Supreme Leader Snoke came from. Well, for the record, I don’t care. And neither should anyone else that claims to love the original trilogy. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, it doesn’t matter. Knowing his origin or how he rose to dominate the First Order during the 30+ years since the fall of the Empire adds nothing to this story. This is the Skywalker saga, and as such quite rightly focuses on that family and those they’ve trained.
Secondly, we never found out the origins of the Emperor in the original trilogy, and I never heard anyone complain about that. He was just there. A malevolent force that had corrupted Anakin. Yes, Lucas tried to back-fill the story in Episodes I-III, but we all know that was a miserable failure. If you didn’t mind the treatment of the Emperor in the original trilogy, you’ve no right to complain about a lack of origin story for Snoke.
If you did mind the lack of an origin story for the Emperor in the original trilogy, then you’re a broken human being and your opinion is invalid anyway. Please go away and rethink your life. *Waves hand*
WAIT A MINUTE. DIDN’T THAT FALL INTO A GAS GIANT?
This one I have more than a little sympathy for. Just how the heck did Maz get Luke’s sabre? Granted, this is more of a TFA question than a TLJ question, but the fact that Johnson hasn’t addressed it does make me wonder if JJ had no idea and just thought it was cool. Then Johnson had no idea how to tie that loose end up.
Personally, it would have made more sense if some random lightsabre had come to be in Maz’s possession. After all, there must have been heaps of the things floating about the galaxy after Order 66. Rey, being Force-sensitive may have been able to sense the Kyber crystal in any lightsabre and so been drawn to it.
I simply cannot imagine how the heck anyone retrieved a lightsabre from Bespin (which is a gas giant, and therefore hasn’t got a surface, just thousands of miles of poisonous atmosphere around a molten core). Especially when only Vader and Luke were aware of where it had fallen.
Whatever. Maybe there’s some big reveal waiting in Episode IX. It’s not a massive issue, but it does smack a little bit of “hey, this is a cool idea” and not “how does this add to the narrative”. I kind of hope they don’t address it, as I can’t think of an explanation that would make any sense.
COOL HAND LUKE
The final issue I’ll address is this: Is the face off between Luke and Kylo the cop-out that so many seem to think it is? Oh, my word, I am so sick of people whining about this one.
In case you’ve (somehow) forgotten, Luke Force-projects a physically solid hologram of himself to Crait, where he consoles Leia, winds up Kylo something rotten and generally acts like a complete boss, buying the time needed for the remnant of the Resistance to escape. Once he knows they’ve escaped he disappears with the words “See you around kid”. What a chap. Cue applause and a standing ovation as he fades into the sunset… And, scene.
Not everyone feels this way. Some have said that Luke should have gone with Rey on the Falcon, joined up with the Resistance on Crait and thrown those heavy assault walkers about like they were fluffy toys in a tornado. There are a couple of problems with that though: 1. it wouldn’t fit for the character to suddenly change his mind after so many years in exile and, 2. nothing we’ve seen in the whole saga would suggest that any Jedi has ever had the power to face down a Sith Lord and a bunch of heavily armoured walkers single-handed. Even Yoda. And don’t quote the Extended Universe comics/books, because they’re no longer canonical.
Others have said he should have changed his mind and turned up in person, not as some kind of Force hologram. But how would he accomplish that, exactly? Think about it: how would Luke get from Ahch-To to Crait without a ship? We clearly saw his X-Wing was submerged (probably scuttled due to Luke’s desire to disappear) and the Falcon was gone. His refusal to join back up with the Resistance made complete sense for the character at that point in his life but left him stranded on Ahch-To. It was only Yoda’s counsel that made him change his mind. Of course, by then he had no way to physically reach Crait. Instead, he did what needed to be done to save the Resistance, his sister, Poe, Finn, Rose and everyone else in the process.
There have been some complaining that the Force-powers he displayed have never been seen before. Again, this argument doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. After all, in Episode VI when the Emperor started firing lightning from his fingertips at poor old Luke, we didn’t all leap up from our seats and yell “Hold on now guys, I’ll buy the whole ‘mythical force’ thing, moving stuff with your mind and the rest of it, but this is too far”. No. We went: “Wowsers, I’ve never seen that before!” and went home happy.
Then again, there’s hasn’t been a point in the saga when anyone has needed to do what Luke did. So how do we know it’s not a long-standing power? How do we know it wasn’t something Luke learned from the Jedi texts that Rey nicked? We don’t. This is, mostly, people whinging because it wasn’t what they expected or wanted.
Some have tried to take the scientific route and say it wasn’t possible for Luke to Force-project himself. Well to that I say this: YOU’RE WATCHING A FILM ABOUT A MYSTICAL FORCE BEING CONTROLLED BY PEOPLE WHO NEVER EXISTED MILLIONS OF LIGHT YEARS AWAY, THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO. Just to be clear: it’s fiction.
(Although, technically, if the Force is an energy field that penetrates everything in the galaxy and the Jedi can control and manipulate that energy, then Einstein’s theory of relativity makes pretty much anything possible as energy and matter are one and the same. Hence the Jedi ability to transform into a being of pure energy when their physical form diminishes also makes complete sense. Just saying.)
Ironically, by choosing to intervene as he does, Luke actually becomes the thing he baulked at – mythical, a figure of legend for hope, and possibly a new Jedi order, to kindle around.
Which is precisely what so many of the haters say they wanted – legendary Luke, the awesome Jedi Master. There’s just no pleasing some people.
LET’S BLOW THIS THING AND GO HOME
You won’t find me arguing that TLJ is flawless. Of course it isn’t. It’s made by people, people aren’t perfect and therefore nothing they make can ever be perfect. Some of its flaws irk, sure. But it entertains, bringing joy, excitement and intrigue in large quantities. And it allows us to escape to that galaxy far, far away for a few more hours. Surely no real fan could object to that?
The statements some people are making (“this film ruined Star Wars and/or my childhood”, “it should be remade”, “LucasFilm should strike it from the canon” etc.) are not just hyperbolic, but more than a little bit sad. Now, I’m a massive Star Wars fan. My office is rammed with original Kenner toys and Star Wars Lego. I’ve watched the films more times than I can count. I’ve read the novels and comics, played the videogames and generally loved every moment of immersing myself in this universe. However, it’s a film series. That’s all it is. If you like the latest instalment, then great! If you don’t like it, well maybe you’ll like the next one. You still have the rest of the saga and extended universe to enjoy. Wind back the negativity, allow others to enjoy it and just enjoy what you do love about the franchise.
Personally, I think that the reaction from the more rabid sections of the fan-base to TLJ (both positive and negative) exemplifies a significant problem that the rise of the internet and über-fan culture has caused for major franchises.
Back in TTBTI (The Time Before The Internet), we still discussed these things. What would happen in the next film? How did we think ‘X’ character or ‘X’ storyline would be resolved? But it wasn’t the thing our lives revolved around, and we really only got stoked up for a new film a month or two before release.
Now, these franchises are juggernauts. With fanbases numbering in the tens of millions and billions of dollars in ticket sales and associated merchandising every year. This means that the marketing never stops. Fans are whipped into a frenzy, encouraged to join discussion forums, to endlessly debate the tiniest details, to release theory and review videos on YouTube that are almost as long as the films themselves. It’s insane.
It simply isn’t possible for anything to live up to that kind of hype. The preponderance of fan theories on relatively unimportant issues months or even years before a film’s release means that significant portions of the fanbase will always end up disappointed. How can they not? They’ve built up a picture in their head over the last 2-3 years of precisely what they’ll see, almost down to scene specifics in some cases. Then when what they imagine inevitably doesn’t happen, they take to their keyboards and cameras, tearing apart in minutes what people have spent years putting together. This is an unsustainable situation.
The sheer hypocrisy of some in the fanbase is shown in the current attitudes to TFA. I remember when TFA was released and it was pilloried by the hardcore for being “too similar” to ANH. They mocked it for dealing in echoes and tropes from the original trilogy, and criticised its handling of legacy characters. Over the last couple of years, the fanbase have revised their opinion of TFA. Many now adore it, some claiming it’s their favourite Star Wars movie.
Some of the same people are now grousing that TLJ is too different from the rest of the saga. That it doesn’t treat the legacy characters and traditions of the series with enough reverence. All I can say is: for goodness sake, make your minds up. You either want LucaFilm to retread the same old story time and again with different characters, or you want something new, exciting and fresh. You cannot have both.
Have we forgotten how different TESB was after ANH? How dark it was by comparison? How it took things in unexpected directions and left us all thinking “oh my word, I have no idea where this is going”? How we went into ROTJ basically having no idea what was going to happen or who would survive? How we had almost no backstory to any of the characters or situations, how almost everything was new and surprising?
Yet TESB is now widely regarded, and quite rightly so, as the best entry in the saga. Why? Because it was daring, took risks and pushed the characters to places we never expected them to go. If you love TESB, to criticise TLJ for pulling the same trick is short-sighted at best and wildly hypocritical at worst.
This is why I love what Rian Johnson has done with TLJ. By subverting so many fan expectations, he’s diluted the internet’s ability to go into Episode IX thinking “we know what’s going to happen here”. He’s caught the fanboys on the back foot and they don’t like it. For the rest of us, this is brilliant. We’ll go into Episode IX having no idea where it’s headed, knowing anything could happen.
The Last Jedi is not perfect. But it is clever, nuanced, poignant, funny, exciting and joyous. This is a hill I’m willing to die on. Rian Johnson has made it clear that the fan service ends here. And rightly so. After all, the original trilogy wasn’t overly concerned with serving the fanbase, and that worked out okay.
This is Star Wars looking ahead to a bright future. To a new generation of fans, from all corners of the globe and from every background.
Star Wars is dead. Long live Star Wars.