On Second Thought – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I am not a Star Wars fan. I knew about it peripherally, the way it’s infused into pop culture and stuff, but I’d never seen the movies and never cared to. But Sean has always carried a special spot in his heart for Star Wars, or for the original trilogy anyway. He was just born when the first one came out but as a little boy he was enamoured with the series, with the very concept of space cowboys, and swords made out of laser beams, and cool flying cars. And while I think he respected my stance on keeping Star Wars out of my life for the most part, he kinda sorta took advantage of me when I had massive back surgery two years ago. High on back pills, he screened all 6 movies for me, and I was ambivalent at best. I’m totally okay with these movies existing in the world and I’m  happy for anyone who takes joy from them, but they aren’t for me and never will be. But I still experienced vicarious excitement for Sean when The Force Awakens was announced. It felt like we waited forever to get our hands on that one, and it felt a little out of this world to sit in a theatre and watch that famous crawl go up the screen. Ultimately, though, Sean was disappointed by TFA. He felt it was a little too similar to a previous Star Wars film and couldn’t quite work up the same enthusiasm for this retread. But don’t think that didn’t mean our butts weren’t in the seats opening night for Rogue One. And again for The Last Jedi, of course, and this time, Sean was a little more enthusiastic.

Warning: spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, steer away. Maybe check out Sean’s spoiler-free review instead, or my own of the original trilogy.

I was not. Enthusiastic, I mean. I don’t mean to be a wet blanket on his boyhood nostalgia, and it wasn’t as if the film was without merits. I didn’t think it was bad, I just didn’t care all that much. And at two and a half hours, it was long and felt it, and I couldn’t help but sneer at the scenes that I thought of as bloated – that extended Finn/Rose casino adventure that never went anywhere in particular.

But later, thinking about this one scene between Luke and Rey, I reconsidered. “I failed him” he says of his nephew Kylo Ren’s defection to the Dark Side. No, she says, “He failed you.” And that’s when the movie really opened up to me and I started thinking of the film in terms of theme – that theme being failure. Triumphs are easy. Heroes are tested when things don’t go their way. Rose and Finn are not going to accomplish their mission but they never stop trying, they never stop believing, and that doggedness inspires hope in others. That mission was never as crucial as they believed. Vice Admiral Holdo had another plan in mind the whole time, and she orders the evacuation of her ship. But this plan fails too. The escape pods are picked off one by one and Holdo ends up sacrificing herself to save them. When she reveals to Leia that she’ll stay behind in what will amount to a suicide mission Leia says “I can’t take any more loss” to which Holdo responds “Yes you can.” Never mind that it feels like Laura Dern is speaking for us, the audience, who have so recently lost Carrie Fisher. It’s also a tiny admission by a formidable General that her job is hard, and weighing on her heavily.

Leia looks weary in this movie. The toll of each loss is written in the slope of her tumblr_oxl4isuDq51ruu897o5_540shoulders. But her unwavering belief in the cause encourages her to soldier on, as a Rebel and as a Leader – a figurehead who inspires others but also a teacher who is grooming the next generation. Poe seems to be a favourite of hers, though all agree he’s a bit of a hot head who prefers the shoot-em-up approach. Poe’s whole raison d’etre this film is to learn some hard lessons. He too must fail, and learn to put the Light first and foremost, ahead of even his own ego.

And perhaps it is Luke himself who needs most to learn how to continue on in the face of failure. Having failed his nephew Ben, who then serves under Snoke as the formidable Kylo Ren, Luke is so devastated and full of self-doubt he retreats. Not just physically, though he does completely disappear at a time when, arguably, the Rebellion needs him most. But he also retreats from the Force. He cuts himself off completely. And maybe it’s his fear that he’ll fail again that prevents him from giving Rey the help she needs.

In the film’s last epic battle, between the two men who seem to have failed each other, we must contemplate what, if anything, is Kylo Ren’s failure. Though The Last Jedi is a direct continuation from where we left off in The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren seems to have grown quite a bit. He’s more self-assured and he’s more powerful. But he’s still prey to his own temper, which betrays him. He should have been able to pick up on Luke’s misdirection if he hadn’t been letting his rage dictate their interaction. The truth is, temperamental as he may be, Kylo Ren is a contender now. We’ve been underestimating him, and we’re not the only ones. But does he have a fatal flaw? Certainly, Kylo Ren has failed the Light. He’s failed his parents, and his heritage. But is he also failing himself? And if the answer is yes – does he have the means to soldier on?

Now we wait for Episode IX.

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30 thoughts on “On Second Thought – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

  1. Jane Lurie

    Good review, Jay. We saw it today and really enjoyed it. I couldn’t help but make comparisons to the real life good and evil of today…the resistance…the strong female leaders. I loved Carrie Fisher in it…rather sad. (But hopeful!)

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  2. ninvoid99

    I really enjoyed the film and that theme about failing is something that I feel was a bold idea for the film and it worked. Even though I did finish my <a href="review of the film. I’m still processing it in my head. I also await for Episode IX although I’m now worried about what will happen next.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, there are going to be some inherent challenges to the structure of the next film. They clearly intended to have a member of the old guard left standing and now they don’t.

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  3. Lloyd Marken

    Great review Jay, I’ve seen similar thoughts about failure being a major theme. Roth Cornet at Screen Junkies pointed out Kylo is actually fighting nothing at the end which I think was strong. I really enjoyed your review.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Well that kid’s biggest obstacle has always been himself, and I think it’s interesting that he can defeat the supreme leader but still struggle so much with his own inner demons. There IS a struggle inside of him but he WANTS to hold on to the dark.

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  4. Brittani

    I also liked failure being the main theme, that’s different. For Kylo specifically, I think he has redemption to look towards in the next film. They way Hux was looking at him at the end, I expect them to try to overthrow him.

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  5. Carrie Rubin

    I feel much the same as you about the series, but I went to it with my men on Saturday. It was good, but I can still take it or leave it. Like you, though, I liked the thematic elements, and I certainly liked the well-developed female characters.

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  6. Katrina Morrison

    I was a teenager when I saw the Original “Star Wars” during its first run in theaters, in the mid 70s. My reaction: I was blown away 🌬👨‍🚀🤘
    The Arts always uses some form of the concept of Good v Evil. You highlighted the deeper meaning of these films: They include the lesson of the failure. As always, your insights are on target and that’s way I follow👍🏼 Happy Holidays😊

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, I think that so many movies explore good vs evil – from westerns to super heroes, but this one was really exploring that gray area, which is where things get interesting. Rey is obviously not afraid of the Dark. She seems to trust herself, whereas Luke is clearly terrified of it. But the dark and the light must mix.

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  7. J.

    I’ve yet to see it, so I’ll come back to this… I will watch this one with the same excitement and skepticism as Force Awakens (maybe more skepticism given my thoughts on that one).

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  8. badblokebob

    Yes to all this! I think too many of those criticising the film have missed the importance of failure (and also how we react to it) as a theme. I wonder if some of those people hating it right now will appreciate that side of it more after Episode IX comes out, when its place and function as the middle part of a trilogy might seem clearer.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Well, that’s a very important part too, placing it appropriately within this newest trilogy. The middle part must always serve as a bridge, but this one manages to do and be more.

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  9. Henry Chamberlain

    Kylo Ren is the best part and most interesting…edging out Rey by quite a bit. I wonder if all the best stuff in this latest Star Wars should just play itself out in a really special Netflix limited series.

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  10. Kariyanine

    I’ve been a lifelong Star Wars fan and have grown with the series nearly since its inception (born in ’78). Much of my love of film, science fiction, etc… comes from Star Wars. And it has had a deeper impact on me than even that. For as silly as it sounds, Star Wars has impacted me as a person. I’ve used it as an escape during my worst bouts of mental health struggles and it is inherently a part of me. That said, I don’t view the series as mine. It’s a place I go and visit and play in for sure but, it is not my world. Maybe this is why I’ve never felt the ferocious hate towards the prequels, the disappointment in TFA, or now the anger towards TLJ. I was happy with all of them because it gave me more of where I escape to.

    Speaking specifically of TLJ, failure was certainly a large aspect of it. And it makes sense to me that if Luke were to fail as spectacularly as he did with Ben that he would remove himself from everything. He’s not only disappointed in himself for failing Ben but also ashamed of facing his family with that failure. I don’t know… as someone whom always wanted to be Luke Skywalker as a kid, and saw a lot of himself in Luke, I can say that I would probably have reacted the same way. This anger over Luke’s character in the fan populace is weird to me.

    The other big theme that I took away from the film was letting the past go to move forward and it is very much a theme of this trilogy. This new series, at least to me, seems to be about tying up the past, Han with TFA, Luke with TLJ, and I assume Leia with EP. IX, while setting up the future, with Rey, Kylo, Poe, Finn, etc… For Star Wars to survive, it needs to let go of the past but Disney/Lucasfilm seem to know they can’t just wipe out the past and start fresh so we’re taking walk through the past as they set the foundation for the future. I liked TLJ, the Finn/Rose story could have been cut but aside from that it hit just the right notes for me.

    I don’t know… ultimately I’m just happy I’m getting more Star Wars.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I totally agree about letting go of the past – within the movie and about the movies. It definitely feels like a passing of the torch. But I think Luke’s arc in this movie is really interesting and well done, and it felt true to his character and very faithful to what was set up in the original movies.

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  11. In My Cluttered Attic

    Jay, this is a really nice review, especially when you take into consideration that you’re not a Star Wars fan. We found the film entertaining and at times a good reminder of what made the initials films so popular. There were plenty of great entertaining moments throughout: like the one with Luke teaching Rey to feel the force… lots of fun that, tender moments too (like when Luke told Leia that he failed Ren), and clever twist (like when Luke used Ren’s anger against him) in the final battle—”See around kid.”—loved that, and lots of action avoiding yet another Death Star battle. I think the sheer silence of that climactic battle was louder than anything in any previous battle scene, not excluding any Star Wars films—just brilliant! I admit the films have much to unravel going forward, but at least that will allow Star Wars to evolve which I feel they must if they are to continue to gather new interest.

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  12. Christy B

    I enjoyed the review – and the film! I’m not going to say I’m the biggest fan ever but I do have a soft spot for Star Wars and will continue to watch the films as they release in theater. It was sad seeing Carrie Fisher but so glad she was a part of the film xx

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, I was emotional watching that, especially in the scenes she shared with her daughter. And of course she shares some goodbyes in the film that are extra poignant with her passing.

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  13. Johnnie

    This movie sucked. It felt hokie pokie, thrown together, and confused. I think the script was shit which inevitably made the acting shit. The direction if this movie had no follow through wgmhich was fsilure in itself. You can’t have a movie where everything is a faiure. It’s like watchva louis ck episode where the world shits on him and nothing good happens. Give the direction back to JJ Abrhams.

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  14. Bill Chance

    Finally saw the movie this morning. I liked it more than I thought I would. There were plot holes and flaws – as there have been in all the Star Wars films (including the classic first three) but I was able to put them in the background against the action sequences. The look of the film was spectacular – loved the use of color. I understand the criticism, but all in all, this one was more enjoyable that any of the newer films, except Rogue One.

    Nice review, thanks for sharing.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, I really loved the red\salt look of the final battle – I’ve recently rewatched Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak and remembered why it struck me as familiar, and haunting.

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  15. afewtastymorsels

    A really great review for someone who is not a Star Wars fan. For someone who is not a fan yet have watched all the parts of Star War series. I love how all the part play around Hope. Kudos to the team who worked hard for this.

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  16. roughwighting

    Great review. I saw the movie this past weekend, not expecting much. But I sat there enthralled because of the themes, and the underlying messages. Failure – yes. As a ‘creative,’ a writer who spends most of her day writing, with no expectations of success, I related to the idea of carrying on even if you might fail. If it’s your passion, your belief, you keep going. And the scene where the ancient texts are burned, and Yodi (sp?) says they’re not needed, what is needed is within you. Another great theme.

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