Back Row Reflections – The Last Jedi

The following article contains spoilers for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
You have been warned.
Besides it’s been out for over a month now. You’ve had time, damn it.

Well then, this has been a long time coming. I first saw The Last Jedi back in December, four days after it came out. Then proceeded to see it again three separate times in January. Partially because I gave The Force Awakens three showings, so decided since I like The Last Jedi more it had earned a fourth one. Though also because I could afford it.

Now, I could honestly go on forever about what I like, what I love, what I think is a little questionable and what gripes people have I can concede to, but if I did that all in this one piece I’d be here all day, and these things take me long enough to write as is. So instead I’ve decided to split my thoughts into one or two (three if I can justify it) entries, with this one being more of a “general scope” piece, and any additional stuff I write on the movie being a lot more specific to certain aspects of the movie that I can write about for long enough to justify it. That all being said I think I’ve exposited enough, let’s get into the meat of this thing.

Simply put, The Last Jedi is arguably the best Star Wars movie ever made. And it’s also, arguably, the single most polarising film in Star Wars history. And that’s saying a lot after the mixed reaction The Force Awakens received. Hell, my own opinion of The Force Awakens went from “what the hell is this?” to “Okay I like it now” to “Okay this movie is trying way too hard”.

But when I saw The Last Jedi for the first time? I loved it. I almost cried, because this was the Star Wars sequel I wanted. The Force Awakens was trying too hard to piggyback off the nostalgia train and ultimately doesn’t hold up upon further viewing (for me anyway) for the most part. Having seen The Last Jedi FOUR times in the cinemas now, I can tell you it absolutely holds up for me.

I honestly went into Last Jedi with very low expectations, given my waning interest in Force Awakens. I just couldn’t find myself getting hyped up for it at all. How could Rian Johnson do any better than JJ “Mystery Box” Abrams? Well, at least in my opinion, Rian Johnson did astronomically better by taking a lot of what bugged me about The Force Awakens and either handling it better, or going against the expectations everyone had for what may happen next.

To go into a bit more detail about that, since I may as well, let’s go for the low hanging fruit first. It’s often joked that The Force Awakens is basically “A New Hope 2”, which is hard to dispute given how many blatant similarities the movies have. All the way down to them feeling the need to hype how superior their “planet destroying space station” is compared to the previous one, in a moment that reads like a rejected Paul Hogan sketch.


“That’s not a Death Star. THAT’S a Death Star”

On the other hand, you have The Last Jedi. While Last Jedi does take elements from both Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, it does something interesting with them, as opposed to purely playing them out virtually unchanged for the sake of nostalgia. As a friend of mine once said, “This is not The Empire Strikes Back”. Yes, the scenes that were inspired by Empire & Return are quite obvious, but they also actually do something different aside from execution.

The most glaring difference being exactly how Kylo Ren betrays Snoke, and the fallout of these actions. Unlike Vader before him, Kylo isn’t saving Rey from a torturous death, as she’d already been tortured for information. On top of that, Vader’s act of defiance in killing The Emperor solidified his turn back to the light before his death. We’re led to believe at first that Kylo has possibly turned back to the light, but it’s made apparent in short order that Kylo has no intentions of turning back. He’s too far gone at this point to even consider it an option.

And my God, Kylo Ren, now there’s a turnaround worth talking about. If there’s one thing this movie did right, it was the character progression for Kylo Ren. In The Force Awakens he’s a bit of a whiny emo living in the shadow of his grandfather, Darth Vader. Over the course of Last Jedi, that angst turns into a focused rage. Sure, he can’t bring himself to kill his mother (I’ll get to that later), but at least at that point he’s still unbalanced, so it made sense that he wouldn’t have it in him to do it. Plus, he’d never expressed hatred for his mother. So again, the hesitation makes sense.

Another interesting evolution Kylo has undergone is the gradual journey from someone who wants to be Darth Vader, to wanting to be his own man. As he himself says “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become who you were meant to be”. It’s in this one revelation alone that we could possibly have foreseen Kylo’s eventual betrayal against Snoke and ascension to Supreme Leader of the First Order.

And then there’s Rey. Rey…doesn’t ultimately change too much in the grand scheme. I mean, sure, she’s had to hear some hard truths from Luke, but ultimately her undying optimism (which you could argue becomes Jedi arrogance) is almost her undoing. I would like to point out, however, I’m not saying the fact she doesn’t change much is necessarily a bad thing. If anything, I feel her character was generally handled a lot better in Last Jedi than in Force Awakens. You could argue it’s odd that she holds her own against those guards in the battle after Snoke’s death, but I was honestly okay with it.

Rey does okay, yes, but it’s clear she’s struggling a lot more than Kylo is, which makes perfect sense. It’s more so quick thinking on her part that saves her at one point more than skill. I mean, hell, at least now she’s had a tiny bit of training. It’s better than Force Awakens, where apparently all it took for her to beat Kylo was to remember the force exists and concentrate really hard. Sorry if it seems I’m being too harsh on Force Awakens by the way, but that’s kind of what happens when my only point of reference right now in modern Star Wars is Force Awakens (No, Rogue One doesn’t count).

I think that will do it for now on that subject, so since this is already longer than I expected, I’m going to move on to the elephant in the room. Leia’s “Superman” scene. I honestly didn’t mind it. I can kind of understand why people think it’s stupid or silly, but, this is the daughter of Darth Vader we’re talking about here. If Luke can force-project across the galaxy, and Vader can do half the crap some of the expanded universe has allowed him to do? I think we can let Leia saving herself from the vacuum of space, only to go right into a coma a bit of leniency. Don’t you think? By the way that most of why I give it a pass. It’s not like she’s totally fine after the fact. She’s in a coma for several hours in-universe, and needs a cane to get around after she wakes up.

As far as the last major talking point I have goes, I have an idea for something else I’m going to write that doesn’t allow me to talk about Luke’s portrayal much here. However, I will say I loved how they portrayed him. And to anyone who thinks his reasons for going into exile are “weak”, just remember he almost killed his own damn nephew out of fear and was the catalyst for Ben Solo to become Kylo Ren. If you can’t believe the depression that would bring on would be enough for Luke to want to hide away from the world? I don’t know what to tell you.

That being said, I also loved the force-projection stuff. Especially the attention to detail. At first the whole thing confused the hell out of me, personally. “Why does he look like he did the flashbacks? How did he get there so quick? (I know, light speed travel, but still) Why hasn’t he got his green lightsaber?”. Once it became obvious I almost had to applaud them. Especially upon further viewings, and noticing that while Kylo disturbs the ground every time he moves his feet, Luke’s projection never does.

Moving on from that I think I’ll round this out by finally mentioning my favourite talking point. The fact Rey is NOT a Skywalker. So many people seem confused or angered by this, and I don’t see why. Sure, her seemingly natural ability with the force would probably be a lot easier to hand wave away, but I prefer the notion that she’s a nobody. It actually makes her more interesting in my opinion. Besides, we already have a third-generation Skywalker in the mix with Kylo Ren, so they’ve checked that box already.

Wow. This really did end up being a lot longer than I thought it’d be. Apologies for that, but I’d rather get everything out there than regret leaving something out later. There were some things I didn’t mention, but they were fairly minor by comparison so I don’t mind leaving them out. So, what do you guys think? Agree with my thoughts? Disagree? Think I should rot in hell for not liking The Force Awakens? Let me know.

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