From the Archives - Musings on The Last Jedi
From The Archives posts are posts which I’ve carried over from my old blogs and sites I wrote for that are now offline so that I can keep a record of some of my better and more important work that would otherwise be lost. They come from the entire length of my time in games writing, so you’ll probably notice a big jump in quality between the really old stuff and the more recent content.
This was an opinion piece I posted on Medium on December 15th 2017; the day after I saw The Last Jedi. It was a phenomenal film that shattered my expectations in so many ways and I just could not stop thinking about it. I don't write about films often but I knew I had to put my thoughts on this one to paper. Or to text editor.
The Last Jedi is a fascinating and bizarre follow-up to The Force Awakens because the answer it gives to The Force Awakens’ unabashed fun and celebration is one that is cynical, bordering on nihilistic. Characters make so many mistakes and things don’t pay off the way you’d expect. Poe destroys a massive First Order ship in what would regularly be a huge moment of celebration, but instead is chastised by Leia for the number of lives that needed to be sacrificed in order to do so. Finn and Rose fail to find the codebreaker they need to save the day. But it’s ok, they find another one — who betrays them and is the reason that the Resistance is almost killed off in the final act. Luke gives into his fear and sets off the completion of Ben Solo’s turn to the dark side. Rey reaches out to Ben and helps him defeat Snoke and his guards, but instead of turning he becomes the big bad of the trilogy.
It treats what came before it in some weird ways as well. The biggest example of this is obviously Luke’s role. After years of waiting to see how the conversation between him and Rey plays out, Luke takes his father’s lightsaber and throws it away before just walking off. The first thing he says to her is “Go away!” Luke is a broken mess in The Last Jedi who holds the Jedi in utter contempt, and tears down the romanticised notion of the old days of the Jedi religion. We were all expecting (or at least hoping) to see Luke be pulled back into the fray, showing what a Jedi Master can do, but the movie calls this thought process out and deconstructs it. Luke points out that he’s one person, no amount of Force powers and lightsaber skills can suddenly turn the tides against an entire army. But what really surprised me was the complete disregard for plot threads lingering from The Force Awakens. Who’s Snoke? Doesn’t matter, he’s dead and we’re even going to use his corpse for a quick visual gag. Rey’s parents? Nobody, they don’t even get names. Fans had been speculating and speculating about these points for so long, and the real answer to them was “It doesn’t matter”. It was a bold direction to head in.
It’s all really bleak and at first will no doubt come off to a lot of people as being disrespectful to the legacy of the franchise, but what made the experience for me was the way it unravels all this. While the majority of the movie asks “Why care about Star Wars?”, its finale provides a confident answer. It brings a message of hope, of rising against whatever adversity is put in our path. The turnaround happens after the failure of the Resistance’s call for allies; another moment of the film that defied expectations. Usually the good guys will need to hold on just long enough for help to arrive, and all their allies or the people they’ve inspired will come just in the nick of time will save the day. But in The Last Jedi nobody comes. The odds were so stacked against the Resistance, the galaxy was so overcome with fear, that nobody answers the call.
But it’s here where Luke decides to rejoin the conflict and realises what it is he can actually offer. The world doesn’t need Luke Skywalker, the man — they need Luke Skywalker, the legend. He doesn’t win the battle by going John Wick on the First Order with his lightsaber — that would be impossible. He instead sets the Resistance on their path to win the war by becoming a symbol, something larger than life. He sacrifices himself so that the Resistance has the spark that ignites the rebellion that they needed. Like Luke says to Kylo during their confrontation, if he gets struck down then he’ll be with Kylo forever. Not only will he likely be physically (spiritually?) there alongside Kylo in Episode IX trying once again to save his soul, but he will also be with Kylo forever as a reminder of his guilt for taking the lives of his loved ones and a symbol for the rest of the galaxy that the First Order has weaknesses and can be beaten. One of the most beautiful moments in the film, and what brought everything all together for me, was the ending scene. The young slaves that Finn and Rose encounter at Canto Bight are gathered around, listening to a story about Luke Skywalker’s feats on Crait. One of them looks wistfully to the stars as the camera cuts to the ring he’s wearing with the symbol of the Resistance on it. Despite all the awful things that happen in the movie, all the defeats that are endured, hope prevails. It wasn’t all for nothing because there will always be people rising to fight evil where it arises.
And that’s why the film resonated with me — because it wasn’t a series of cynical shocks for the sake of having them, it was building up to this beautiful climax and also using each moment to develop the new cast. Finn finds his place in the rebellion and chooses to not run away. Poe learns the realities of what being a leader requires. Snoke was nothing more than a means to an end for Kylo to develop into a deeper and more threatening big bad. Kylo was a boy who was never given a chance to be his own person and was set down a dark path, and now he’s had the chance to move past his ambitions of being the new Darth Vader and become a terrifying villain in his own right with a more rich motivation. Rey doesn’t have any sort of interesting lineage, but that’s fantastic. She doesn’t have to be Obi-Wan’s granddaughter or Han and Leia’s daughter, she can just be Rey. She shows that talent and power isn’t something you’re entitled to because of your circumstances — she’s some random person who’s going to kick the ass of the guy who’s Darth Vader’s grandson and the son of two fan-favourite protagonists from the original film. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t get to see Jedi Master Luke Skywalker involved in some exciting fights on-screen, but I think I’ll come to terms with that.