What on Earth did we just watch?
Full disclosure, I enjoyed The Last Jedi, but it took me an entire day to process; that’s how vastly different and thought provoking this film is.
There are numerous points of contention. Huge character decisions and plot turns that leave the audience wide eyed and open mouthed, either in shock or disgust. Visually breathtaking scenes that remind you how truly awesome cinema can be are placed adjacent to scenes that have you scratching your head in confusion.
The film is not perfect. (What film is?) But it has already established itself as a decisive moment in Star Wars film history. It’s explicitly stated in the trailer by Luke Skywalker himself – it’s not going to go the way you think.
So what did I think going into this film? Like a lot of fans, I had spent the better part of two years since the Force Awakens came out imagining what was going to be revealed next. Much of the speculation and theories revolved around Supreme Leader Snoke, the mysterious yet seemingly all powerful leader of the First Order. Rey’s lineage was also a big topic of discussion amongst many. Related to Kylo and by extension, the daughter of either Han or Luke, or was she a Kenobi? Hell, maybe even a descendant of Palpatine, just look at how she fought Kylo at the climax of Force Awakens! Lastly, the burning thought at the forefront of my mind was how Luke would be portrayed. Self imposed exile would no doubt see him as somewhat of a recluse, but I believed we would be seeing new ground with what the Force can do.
In a way, I was right.
Ironically, however, the first “that’s not how the Force works” moment didn’t come from Luke, but rather his sister, Leia. If you’ve seen the film (which you should have, this is a spoiler filled look at the film, after all), then you know already what I’m about to say. Superwoman Leia. Flying so casually through space to save herself after being blown out of the bridge. Jaw dropping, eye popping WTF moment number one. I had a real issue with this, mainly because of the time difference between getting sucked into space and floating back to the safety of the ship. Surely, she would have died. Secondly, we haven’t seen anything from Leia in terms of Force ability apart from being able to communicate with Luke across vast distances and also feeling Han’s death when it happened. Bit of a leap to then get what we saw. A brave and bold choice by director Rian Johnson, who had no qualms in taking what we thought we knew and flipping everything on it’s axis.
Following on, Rian had another twist up his sleeve. Moreover, we come to my biggest disappointment in Supreme Leader Snoke. Or as I believed for a long while, Darth Plagueis. (It could still be true, you never know…) His introduction into this film sets him up again as a being of great power. He’s able to drag Hux onto the ground and embarrass him in front of his entire crew through the hologram projection and then when we see him in the flesh, boy does he give Kylo a dressing down. Making Kylo “take that ridiculous thing off” as well as summon a crack of Force Lightning to firmly put him back in his place, we see how vast the chasm of power between the two is, figuratively and literally. So we’re definitely going to see big things from Snoke, surely? No, he gets cut in half by his apprentice mid-way through the film and that’s the end of that. I mean, what? Really? That’s it? All the build up, the teasing and mystery led to that? In my eyes this was the biggest waste of a villain since Darth Maul died. Yes, I know he came back in other media such as novels, comics and two TV shows, but to the average viewer who only partakes in watching the films; Maul was killed in The Phantom Menace.
I understand however, why Snoke was killed. He served his purpose in the story. He was there to have us believing we had the next Palpatine that Kylo would eventually overthrow in order to join the light, however, as is the recurring theme, this was blown away and instead we get Kylo killing Snoke to further his own ambitions to become even more cemented in the Dark Side.
As I said however, it took me a while to get past my vision in my head of Snoke and accept the plot point laid before me. This is something I think a lot are struggling with currently.
Back to the good however and for me, the opening space battle was one of the best we’ve seen in the franchise. Again, it has a spin on the usual narrative. We’re accustomed to seeing the Rebels have their backs against the wall but rallying to victory in the end, yet this time, we got complete destruction of the majority of their force and the hot-head pilot leading the assault rightly chastised. I really bought in to this, as it reflects a realistic outlook on the grim prospect of fighting a war against a large machine such as the First Order; there’s going to be bloodshed on both sides.
Sticking with the Resistance (or Rebels, both interchangeable names can be used) we got one of the most striking scenes in any Star Wars film to date. You know what I’m talking about, jaw dropping, eye popping WTF moment number two (more positively this time, however).
Engaging hyperspace. Through. The. Fleet. Wow. Just absolutely phenomenal and something that I didn’t know I wanted. The self sacrifice by newly introduced Admiral Holdo is a redeeming moment for her otherwise bolshie character (she goes against our boy Poe, I mean that’s not cool) but what a way to go out with a statement. Unbelievably well shot and another defining moment in the saga.
Finally, the last big piece to talk about is Luke’s untimely demise. When he faded into the distance after yet another new interpretation of the Force was shown (essentially made himself into a hologram to “fight” Kylo) I was stunned and not happy. This is Luke Skywalker. Likely the most powerful Jedi ever, or so he should be and yet, what did he do, really? Blew a wall up, stopped himself from falling over and fake-fight Kylo. I wanted to see him wreck the Knights of Ren (conspicuous by their prolonged absence) or take on Snoke in a raging battle of Good vs Evil in Episode 9, but instead he goes out without much noise. Now, the other side of this is that the scene itself was amazingly shot, beautiful in it’s execution and evoked strong feelings of nostalgia, hope and yes, sadness. But even still, my expectations were not met. So again, another disappointment for me, but once more, a strong choice from Rian Johnson.
You can see a pattern emerging here. For every imagined theory or expectation, there was the unseen and unconsidered conclusion. Surprising, provocative and unpredictable, we certainly got something else with this film. More questions and analysis remain and be sure to check back soon for further in depth looks at other characters and aspects of this brave new direction for Star Wars.