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Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Review and Thoughts Pt 2/2 (w/ Spoilers)

star wars movie poster
(continues from Part I)

Case #2: Authority Figure vs The Maverick

Midway through the movie you’re presented with the conundrum driving forward the second and third acts: the last few Rebel ships are being chased by the Imperial fleet while running out of fuel and unable to jump away, because they’ll still be tracked by the Imperials even if they do so. All the Rebels can do is simply continue flying, keeping their distance to the chasing Imperial ships, and during that stalemate, while they have fuel left, devise some kind of plan to save themselves.

During this period Poe clashes with the main figure of authority, Vice Admiral Holdo, now in charge of the Rebel fleet following Leia’s injuries. Introduced by the movie with an attitude of apparent inability to react and pessimistic resignation to their fate, Holdo appears fearful, willing to let their time run out without taking any measures at all. This creates tension with Poe and what he represents as a character: initiative, resolve, courage, and risk-taking, no matter the odds. When Poe fails to get to Holdo, Poe, Finn and Rose, without knowledge or consent of their superiors, devise another longshot-style, highly risky plan to disable the Hyperspace tracking device on the main Imperial ship, in theory giving the Rebels a window of opportunity to safely jump away.

Regarding the tension between Holdo and Poe, by all accounts the movie has you believe Holdo is the bad person of the two, assuming a stance of total inaction and passivity, more concerned about keeping with appearances rather than risking taking action, and being willing to let their fuel run out and wait for the Rebels to meet their doom. In turn, Poe is the revolted but fair-hearted maverick, who’ll need to take things into his own hands and be the one to save the day, with yet another risky plan. Historically Star Wars had presented us with figures of authority – even on the good side – sometimes more as a clueless or apathetic blockages to the resolution of problems, rather than breathing and thinking deciders with stakes to match, often functioning as plot excuses to give the more courageous minnows reason to intervene and save the day.

Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo

Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo

So while Finn and Rose are away seeking a “code breaker” who’d allow them to sneak into the Imperial ship and disable the tracking device, the tension between Poe and Holdo aboard the Rebel main ship is escalating. As time goes on and desperation grows, Holdo’s insistence in not listening to Poe prompts him to eventually rise up and create a mutiny, where he challenges Holdo and those loyal to her with a few like-minded people at his side. This moment initially feels like a success, with Poe finally breaking through the resistance of the inane leader. It looks like the maverick will once again rise to save the day.

As events unfold Poe seals himself in the ship’s bridge, while those still loyal to Holdo outside the door trying to break in. Poe is holding out, hoping to buy Finn and Rose time to fulfill their mission and prove to be successful at the last minute. The loyalists break down the door… with a healed Leia, friend and supportive of Poe, standing on the other side. At this instant the movie is still following “due” course: it seems Poe held out for long enough, and his intentions are now going to be vindicated by Leia. Then, she fires her gun to stun and disable him.

The movie reveals that the leadership, Leia and Holdo, had a plan all along. They wanted to use their remaining fuel to reach a getaway planet used by the Rebels, planet Crait, and evacuate there without being detected by the Empire, a plan Leia had authorized. And Leia and Holdo had intentionally kept the plan secret, in part and precisely, because Poe had a history of being insubordinate and could jeopardize it had he known of it. Ultimately this doesn’t go entirely to plan, as the escaping Rebel craft trying to evacuate are detected and start being shot down by the Empire during the evacuation (how difficult it would be for the Empire to detect smaller craft evacuating the rebel bigger ships? How did DJ knew about the evacuation plans if not even Finn and Rose knew about them?).

Still, this is a very significant reversal of the typical trope of the rebel maverick saving the say. In fact, it is the opposite. The maverick, despite having good intentions, ends up as being depicted as less of a Hero and more as being just that: a maverick, who instigated a mutiny and worked against the designations of his superiors, who had all along a carefully devised plan, with the best intentions and well being of their subordinates in mind. This time, the movie stands in the corner of the figures of leadership, giving them depth, logic, a benevolent and caring nature, and a will of their own, rather than using them according to what the plot commands. Holdo’s last act in the movie is sacrificing herself by flying the Rebel’s capital ship on her own at light-speed onto the Empire’s fleet, ramming the Empire’s flagship and destroying its own ship in the process, thus finalizing the portrayal of the character as genuinely selfless and heroic.

Admiral Holdo's hyperspace collision

Admiral Holdo’s hyperspace collision

Some Criticism:

In an universe with highly intelligent robots edging on full-blown sentience, and where we’ve already established droids are fully capable of flying ships, I find it jarring and difficult to buy into the necessity of having to have a living person – let alone a member of the leadership – be left behind onboard the ship to fly it. This comes across as a plot device meant only to have Holdo sacrifice herself and complete the subversion.

An extra word about the concept of hyperspacing into others. While perfectly logical, groundbreaking, and cool-looking, this is nonetheless a risky proposition to add to the universe, because now anyone piloting a ship of considerable size could, in theory, take out much bigger enemy ships for a fraction of the cost. And if they can but choose not to, you’re going to have trouble justifying it now that you’ve added it as a possibility.

This being said, beautiful scene.

Case #3: Sneaking into an Enemy Base/Ship

Let us now go over the Poe, Finn and Rose’s plan to save the day.

This plan consisted in, first, detaching from the main Rebel fleet and jump to hyperspace in a smaller vessel to a place called Canto Blight, where they were told by Maz Kanata – herself in the middle of a fight fairly light in tone – to find a “master codebreaker”, who they could recognize by a symbol he would be wearing on his clothes. Then, they would need to return with this person to the “main scene” if you were, infiltrate the New Order’s capital ship chasing the Rebel fleet, and break onto the Tracker disabling it, which would allow the Rebel fleet to jump away to safety.

This subversion relies on the large number of variables and imponderables taking this plan from the realms of risky onto those of implausibility. Many things had to align for this to work, such as for example: relying on the code breaker not feeling sick or unwell on that day, or, not happen to decide to spent his day, and at that hour of the day, somewhere else besides the casino; him wearing his symbol clearly and openly, not having a random piece of clothing covering it, or forgetting about it in his bedroom; Finn and Rose being able to convince him to help them out (which they couldn’t as they were arrested by parking their ship in a beach, a mini-subversion there), then randomly (by the Force?) finding someone just as adept at code-breaking in the jail they were in; then, being able to sneak into an Imperial capital ship undetected without a previously worked out plan; then, disguising themselves as Empire soldiers seamlessly, find the tracking device in a huge capital ship, and deactivate it.

In a military setting, how viable would it be to sneak into a high tech enemy base the size of a city or larger, without much prior training or intel, pose as an enemy soldier or officer without anyone noticing, and reliably base the success of your mission on that expectation? Realistically speaking, this would likely incur in a blatant, massive risk of being captured, and being forced to reveal critical intel to the enemy, among worse possibilities. Doing this stunt under these circumstances once would have already been exceedingly risky; but doing it over and over, and expecting the audience to buy into it at face value, is unrealistic and does nothing but portray the villains as idiots. You can track a spaceship through hyperspace; you can blast planets out of space; but you can’t use scan systems on doors, bio-checks, or ID cards with pictures on them, aboard your stations and ships, to at least try to detect or deter infiltrations like this.

Nothing fishy about this.

Nothing fishy about this.

This is the discrepancy explored by this subversion, which is essentially another way of shifting the movie’s tone to a more realistic one. The plan seems to almost succeed as they’re about to reach the device, however, at that point, the movie suddenly follows the path of least resistance, and makes what’s most likely to happen, actually happen: the Rebels are recognized and captured. Not because someone tipped the Imperials; not because they’re wearing uniforms with flip-flops; simply because they were recognized as not belonging there (by a droid). With this part, the movie directly and purposely subverts the enemy-ship-infiltration trope, and ventures into a more realistic take on the situation, with the characters going into the third and final act facing execution, and betrayed by a character they’ve just met and had no real motivation to support them. This time, magic luck is less of a factor, and instead, the things that could go wrong, actually go wrong.

Criticism:

Regarding the stalemate between the Imperial and Rebel fleets, many things here do make sense. In space, ships have to spend fuel to accelerate or decelerate, but not to maintain a constant speed. So it is not only conceivable but quite realistic to have one set of ships pushing after another, and a situation such as this arise if the ships being chased are trying to get away, but are short on fuel and can’t jump to safety.

Rebel ships being destroyed

Rebel spaceships get destroyed by the Empire as they’re running out of fuel

However, what the setup as a whole did feel at first glance, was a bit contrived. In other words, put into place to give a sense of tension, time ticking down, while still allowing the heroes to go through certain experiences and propel the story forward. What probably ended up reinforcing this perception, was the choice of having Finn and Rose, from this set of circumstances, take a smaller ship and spend any significant amount of time somewhere else in the Galaxy. It felt like the phone booth in Dr. Who: something you’d logically expect to be small on the outside, but is way bigger when you go into it. Its pace and length transmitted less urgency that the situation it came from, and so it didn’t mesh very well with it. It could also inadvertently loosen the perception of depth regarding distances traveled in the Galaxy. Did Cantonica happen to be close to where the chasing was taking place? If not, can hyperspace travel take you anywhere on the Galaxy and back in such a short span of time? If traveling around is indeed that straightforward, the premise of Luke Skywalker being hidden in a remote part of the Galaxy becomes less understandable.

This is a bit like Game of Thrones breaking all bird flight records by having a supersonic raven fly the entire length of the continent in one day. That’s not to say the timelines are outright impossible, or that there’s no reason for things happening how they’re shown. Maybe the stalemate between the ships lasted for many days; maybe Canto Blight was just around the corner; maybe the raven took more time, with just the sped-up storytelling making it look like a day. But what matters most, is probably not if things could happen, but how the audience is able to understand what you’re saying.

Raven with turbine engines in wings

Game of Throne’s supersonic raven. Not available in Star Wars

Case #4: Odds Matter

A final addition on the topic of this subversion.

Star Wars tended to have you root for lost causes, with the Rebels almost always fighting outnumbered, out-teched, and out-resourced. The movie first subverts this in its first big battle, having Poe’s maverick attitude result in heavy losses to the Rebels for next to no gain, for the first time supporting the idea it’s not always wise to push forward with the odds stacked against you. But when this is truly hammered home is in the movie’s third act, in the land battle at Crait, when a handful of old, badly maintained (i.e. falling apart) lighter speeders are launched against a wall of advancing imperial AT walkers, a vision somewhat reminiscent of the battle of Hoth in Episode V.

Here, however, despite the habitual courageous attitude of the Rebels and their willingness to throw themselves at the enemy, the reality of the odds is reflected in what takes place: the tiny speeders stand no chance against the bigger craft, who proceed to obliterate them with ease.

Some Criticism:

As the Rebel speeders are about to be finished off, Finn comes close to sacrificing himself by pondering driving his speeder into the primary target and danger to the Rebels, a cannon able to shoot down the doors of their base, the only reliable way for the Imperials to break down the door of the base. While I’m not advocating for either saving or sacrificing Finn, I do feel that if he had succeeded in doing so, that would at least provide some form of meaning to the Rebels’ Hail Mary speeder charge. However, before he’s able to do so, Rose bumps into him, thereby saving him, and they both have a moment on the salt plains as the Imperials advance on the base, where they kiss and Rose says to Finn they’re “not going to win by fighting what they hate, but by saving what they love”.

Finn and Rose in Crait's Salt Plains

Finn and Rose in Crait’s Salt Plains

This message may or may not relate to the shift in perspective the movie is trying to perform. In that sense it could mean something along the lines of, “let’s not throw our lives away, each life matters, let’s instead try to act intelligently and meaningfully”. If that’s the case, then the scene was perhaps meant as a sort of a moral summary for the movie, or at least one of them. However, there were a number of problems that completely undermined its purpose.

First and foremost, there’s little emotional affinity between Rose and Finn throughout the movie that’s able to support the moment and the kiss as being believable or justifiable, no matter how you try to look at it – loving, romantic, friendly, kind, cute, sweet, etc. So the scene lost nearly all of its meaning on that one aspect alone. Secondly, Rose’s message simply can’t be easily connected with the rest of the movie. Was there any setup to this subject matter, and if so, where? Is this about avoiding confrontation if the odds are against you? The message was obscure and didn’t connect.

Finally, if Finn had successfully driven his vehicle onto the cannon and destroyed it, then at least the last-ditch valiant effort of the Rebels, with lives and equipment lost, wouldn’t have been for nothing. As it stands, however, it becomes the opposite: Rose saving Finn makes the Rebels’ sacrifice completely pointless. Because of this, her choice and moral input not only come across as vague and ungrounded, but as hypocritical. She saves Finn because his life is important to her, but does that mean the lives of all the others were thrown away for nothing? What inadvertently comes across in this moment is, ironically, the precise inverse of Rose’s intended message.

Rose’s saving grace, often and easily forgotten here, is the loss of her sister in the movie’s first space fight, now motivating her to save someone who’s dear to her, her hero Finn, instead of allowing yet another potentially unnecessary sacrifice. This is a perfectly logic and legitimate motivation. What, in my opinion, is undermining this scene from working and succeeding at getting its message across, is, ultimately, the lack of connection between Rose and Finn.

Subversion #3 – The Projected Image of the Hero

The final battle of the movie culminates in a 1-on-1, much-anticipated fight between Luke and Kylo. Later in this fight we realize Luke isn’t really there: he’s using the Force to project what’s essentially a hologram of himself, in order to ultimately buy time for the remaining Rebels to flee aboard the Millennium Falcon. The image Luke projects happens to be how Kylo likely remembered Luke when he trained him: better groomed, younger-looking, and generally standing proud and determined, a memory of Luke “in his prime” if you will – a time when he believed and cared for the Jedi cause, when he was committed and willing to put in the effort, before he decided to retreat into isolation. This same image is also how the audience would expect Luke to appear in that situation.

Luke Skywalker on Crait

Luke Skywalker on Crait

What the movie is playing with is not just about deceiving Kylo, but through Kylo’s character with the audience’s expectations of Luke. This is achieved by the movie in a cleverly thought out and elaborate manner.

The audience is expecting Luke to make a Hero’s appearance at the end, rejuvenated and ready to fight the big bad. That’s what they see when Luke’s back in his former glory as he appears. And for a while, the movie doesn’t let you know Luke isn’t really there, only revealing it to the viewer at the same time Kylo realizes it as well. Small hints and details do foreshadow this, if you pay close attention and you’re a massive Star Wars geek (also inviting you to go back and see it again if you missed it, like a mini “6th Sense moment”). For example, Luke’s using his original lightsaber, however, this same lightsaber was broken by Kylo and Rey in their battle a little while before. Luke also doesn’t make footsteps on the salt ground (which when stirred reveal a red-ish mark on the otherwise white surface), he only steps over already existing footsteps so as to not reveal his projection.

The audience expects Luke to come back to the fore, to the Force, and save the day. But the harsh truth, the reality, is different: Luke is disheartened beyond “repair”. He fought, he’s given all he had, and he lost. Luke no longer has the energy, and the time left, to retrace his steps and make amends, literally and figuratively, much like he can no longer physically reach the Rebels in time, only project there to give them a chance. He’s only able to muster enough of a compassionate willingness to help, in one last hurrah, perhaps not so much to save the Rebel Resistance, or to save the Jedi, or to defeat the Empire, but essentially to rescue his loved ones and friends from a very dark place, and give them a fighting chance. In the end, reality hits home: Luke had used all his strength left to execute the projection, and when the process is over he dies, fading away into the Force. He receives a Hero’s farewell.

Luke Skywalker against a sunset

Luke Skywalker’s final moment.

The subversion is about breaking through the mold of what the audience expects the idealized, projected image of a movie Hero to be. The movie had already performed that subversion with Finn and Rose, with the latter initially idolyzing the former as a hero, then realizing he was trying to escape their ship and stunning him. With Luke, the movie achieves this with a literal projection.

The movie Hero, and the Star Wars Hero, used to be someone perfectly strong, perfectly hopeful, perfectly eternal, and perfectly able to connect with the right answer when needed. He might have had flaws of some sort, but these flaws were, at most, flavor, and/or steps towards the path of atonement. In the end, the Hero would be able to love, be able to care, be able to see the Light, and come to the rescue no matter what.

Here, Luke is not that. Luke is just a normal person, who is now hopeless. He’s disappointed and disillusioned. It could be argued his whole life was more of a failure than anything. If nothing else, that’s how he feels. He kept fighting, he gave his best, but the Empire and the Dark Side just kept gaining ground, in a way he couldn’t fight against. In the end, he ended up physically isolated and unsupported, which is also how he felt emotionally. The audience is first presented with Luke’s deep lifelong struggle, then the movie continually teases his return, his rejuvenation, his rehabilitation, with us resting our own hope in Luke’s shoulders, himself representing hope: hope he will return to the Light once more, in all his glory, to save the day.

In the end this does happen – but not as we expected. The Luke of old was back, but only for the briefest moment. He gave his friends, his foes, and us the audience, the memory we expected of him and rested our hopes upon, just enough for us to carry the saga forward. But that memory was just that: a memory. The image was just that: an image. Like movie magic, it was a manufactured illusion projected with a purpose, but one that didn’t match the actual reality, both external and internal. The truth was that Luke had irrevocably lost hope in the system, and in the Force, that as a mythical Hero and leader he was expected to have – but he couldn’t show that, neither to his friends nor to his foes. Hence the external projection of what others expected to see. Not because of the hope he felt, but for the sake of those he loved. Not because of what he truly believed in, but from what he knew he represented to others. In my mind this was brilliantly executed, and the highlight of the movie.

In the end, Luke was a Hero that wasn’t perfect. He was more of a regular person, with regular struggles, and carrying a huge burden on his shoulders. But he was nonetheless capable of being the Hero who was needed at that moment.

Subversion #4: What Star Wars Characters Entail

In a way this is a continuation of #3.

The movie uses various moments to pierce through the veil of traditional views on main characters in Star Wars, both Heroes and Villains. One of the earliest is a rejection of the notion of the big bad wearing a scary helmet. This came none other than from Snoke himself, as he says to Kylo Ren “take that ridiculous thing off”. This specific line was a bit of a validation to me, as I’m probably the only person left on this planet that thinks Darth Vader’s helmet… looked a bit… silly… *whistles away*.

Kylo Ren looking at his helmet in The Last Jedi

Kylo Ren looking at his helmet.

Another one of those moments was, of course, Kylo addressing Rey’s parents.

The original Star Wars trilogy was a saga revolving around a group of people with connections to the Force but also connected with each other through familiar bonds, being some of the main points of the saga revealing to the characters those family ties. Plus, every character of sufficient relevance tended to be fairly well developed, with their backgrounds tying in with the rest of the story as a whole, in some way. The development of the Star Wars episodes largely went about portraying known characters at various points in time, or, deepening stories mentioned in another movie.

As such, it would be by now habitual to assume that when a character is of importance or has an affinity with the Force, then surely there must be some meaning to the person’s parents and background. The matter of Rey’s parents was, in fact, subject of much speculation prior to the movie, for those who take the time to dabble with these things. Perhaps to play around the speculation, perhaps simply to counter this expectation, the movie subverts this at two points. First, it has Rey venture into a Dark Side hole (was there any reason for danger?) to find out more about her parents, but discovering only reflections of herself – somewhat reminiscent of the scene of Luke fighting a Darth Vader figure revealing his own face behind the mask.

Rey meets her own reflection

Rey looking at her own reflection.

The second instance is the aforementioned moment where Kylo tells Rey he knows who her parents were (which more or less comes out of the blue, but alright), and that these were of no particular significance, just plain folk who sold her into slavery for drinking money (who therefore and obviously didn’t love her) and who are now dead. Rey’s expectations towards her parents reflect the audience’s own expectations about the same subject, and so does the character’s deflation as she hears this.

Now, it remains true that just because Kylo Ren says this, doesn’t by any means constitute proof of the validity of it. In fact, the movie presented no special reasoning behind Kylo knowing this information, other than perhaps the Force channel between him and Rey. What this means in practice, is that the screenwriters in the future can, or could, choose to go anywhere with this – or not. I think they felt free to throw this in without fear of overly committing to it as truth set in stone. Still, the intent for this remains to consistently challenge the audience’s expectations of what a Star Wars movie should be like.

Finally, in what to me was perhaps the big “here’s to your expectations” moment in terms of screenwriting for this movie, the big baddy behind it all, Supreme Leader Snoke, the character in this trilogy serving as the equivalent of Emperor Palpatine in the original, gets swiftly disposed by his trainee Kylo Ren, turning the corresponding climatic point in the film into a battle between Kyle plus Rey against Snoke’s guards, then a confrontation between Kyle and Rey.

Kylo and Rey fighting Snoke's guards in his throne room

Kylo and Rey fighting Snoke’s guards in his throne room.

Snoke’s character had started off reasonably close the Emperor of old, working almost as if behind the scenes, presented as ‘the evil behind it all’. In the first movie he’d been shown, via hologram, to be the Sith Lord training Kylo; and in this movie he’d been behind Kylo and Rey’s Force distance connection the whole time, his intention to bring Rey close to them, and either convert her into the Dark Side or eliminate her as Kylo’s fodder. The movie seemed to be going in the direction of showing Snoke as an all-powerful, all-seeing evil force with insurmountable power and resources, who will manipulate and trample over whoever he pleases. And just like that, without him being able to see through his trainee’s intentions, he’s cut in half by Kylo. He had barely seen screen time, and now he was gone. And in a certain sense, this was fitting. Snoke had been telling Kylo to “let the past die, kill it if you have to”. And so he (Kylo) did; and so they (the screenwriters) did.

Comments:

If any of these things took place in a regular standalone movie, you’d look at them and maybe ask “wait, why is this bit here? What was that character for?” But as stated, a Star Wars movie just cannot be taken on its own. You have to consider not just the previous stories, ethos, and universe created by other movies, but also the expectations of the audience as they’re watching it, and in a sense and without too much of an exaggeration, the expectations of the world when receiving a new Star Wars movie. And these plot choices, much like the rest of the subversions explored here, are a way to address, in some way, the expectations of the audience of what a Star Wars movie should look like.

Granted, some of these can come across as a bit on the nose. Fans may feel you’re taking things that are sacred for them just for sport. In a way I understand where that comes from because I could imagine a bit of a sassy, defying attitude to them. Now we don’t need an invincible big bad; now we don’t need a helmet; now we don’t need a maverick. We’ll now move forward, whether you like it or not. Is this good or bad? Regardless of how you see it, it’s definitely a thin and dangerous line to be walking on.

To me, these choices are risky but they do have worth. They feel considerably thought out, are definitely ballsy and courageous, and were made to address, meet, but play around with, your expectations. Which means the audience’s expectations were listened to and addressed rather than ignored, and in a manner that had considerate thought and dedication poured into it. The overall purpose of these choices was to try to detach the movies from what you expect from them, while at the same time staying true to the ethos of the saga, and also remaining interesting in their own right. But did the movie succeed at doing this?

Supreme Leader Snoke's moment of death

Supreme Leader Snoke’s moment of misfortune.

I’d like to think the saga is being directed with some degree of intention in the background, with a certain destination in mind. At least I hope. If not aimed at complete closure (probably bad for business…) at least some way to breach the endless light-vs-dark conflict and bring it into some new level, or a different way of understanding, instead of falling into a repetition of the same basic elements over and over. Otherwise, the saga’s just a constant loop of the same story, only scaling things up (i.e. Death Star, bigger Death Star, planet Death Star, ad eternum). So in that sense, taking old things out to vacate space for new things is, in principle, a good idea. Now, it’s up to the next movie, and future installments of the saga, to see if these changes were indeed worthwhile.

Subversion #5: Beyond the Wars in Star Wars

This is perhaps a minute detail in the movie. However, I felt it was actually quite essential and worthy of adding it here.

As Finn and Rose are traveling back with DJ to infiltrate the Imperial convoy chasing the Rebels, they find ship schematics stored in the computer of the ship they’re flying in. Apparently, this ship, which had been commandeered by DJ, belonged to a weapons dealer in Canto Blight. In the movie, Canto Blight was presented as a symbol for a wealthy, opulent and decadent living made at the expense of the suffering of others, slavery, inequality, mistreatment of animals, and so forth. According to DJ, Canto Blight is home to many war profiteers who profit from selling weapons and designs to both sides of the war.

In my mind, not only is this not an insignificant detail but might very well be an indicator the movies may be scouting their way ahead to breach beyond the endless loop. Star Wars movies in the past have only ever addressed the conflict as a black and white, deadly dispute between total good and total evil. And that’s not to say there are “positive aspects to the bad”, or that there are “fine people on both sides”. Don’t get me wrong. In Star Wars, good is good, and bad is bad. My point, instead, is the following.

Real life wars often have background interests that profit from the war in some way. These usually are, for the most part, third parties and companies manufacturing weapons, fuel, etc, and all those who profit from them and from their success, directly or indirectly. While most wars indeed have two sides with some type of conflict – moral, religious, monetary, land, natural resources, etc – what happens is that, in situations that already are delicate and touchy by nature, and would require a careful touch and wisdom to navigate, such hidden interests will exert pull and influence that in critical instances may just be enough to make the scale pend towards war. So if you allow these interests into the equation, chances are you’re going to have war even in situations where war could be avoided and the dispute could be resolved in a less violent manner instead. In other words, such interests can easily act as a catalyst for war taking place, i.e. they make war happen even if otherwise it didn’t have to. Those catalysts are malevolent, because they don’t particularly care which side wins, they’re mostly interested in the war itself being waged for the sake of their own profit, and regardless of the deeply negative consequence and suffering caused to others.

DJ with Finn and BB-8 showing TIE-Fighter schematics

DJ with Finn and BB-8 showing TIE-Fighter schematics

Someone looking at this detail could easily dismiss it as an attempt to push some generic moralist narrative about how war is evil, how wars are funded, etc. However, it’s a bit more important than that. When the movie reveals there are certain hidden interests profiting from the war between Rebels and Imperials, to my knowledge it is the first time the saga refers to the existence of third parties of influence not affiliated with either side, but still with an ongoing invested interest in the war. It’s the first time it’s shown how the people behind the designs of X-Wings are the same as those behind those of TIE Fighters. It’s the first time a Star Wars movie takes your awareness above the plane of good versus evil. The message is not as simple sounding as “some profiteers live in there and are rich”. The movie invests quite a lot of time in Canto Blight, depicting it as a symbol for wealth gained at the expense of the suffering of others. While not in a very explicit and committed manner, I’m hoping this could be a first attempt or setup in exploring beyond the need for the war itself, thus putting it into question. Usually, when you’re willing to confront and remove the hidden interests festering in the dark invested in financing wars, that’s when the war has a chance of coming to an end.

Or, it could just be nothing.

Final Thoughts

I think this movie is a solid addition to the Star Wars Universe. I see it as if coming from within an environment of hugely intense pressure, scrutiny, and expectations, and still come out being able to honor its legacy, break the mold of the expectations hovering over it in creative and innovative ways, and still have a solid identity, a distinctive story, and a message of its own. Considering all the weight over its shoulders, I’m left thinking just how much better it could have really been. The Last Jedi made me feel a lot of respect for those who invested their time to write and make it. The Force Awakens was a nod to the original trilogy and its general vibe. With it, their creators said, “don’t worry, we know what Star Wars is really like, and we’re returning to it”. With The Last Jedi, they said, “now we’ll need to take this in a new direction”. To do that, they knew they needed to touch on some very sensitive things, and they did so courageously.

I don’t think The Last Jedi managed to touch the same sense of pure magic, wonder, and fantasy of the original trilogy, which I think is what many people are trying to connect with in every new Star Wars film. But, I’d like to moderate that expectation, because I’m not sure if we’re meant to place on every film the expectation of being marveled by it as if being introduced to the universe for the first time. We already know it, we’ve already seen it, we’ve already traveled through it. Maybe now is the time to carry on with the story in a meaningful way, rather than unconsciously desiring to re-live the original trilogy again.

That being said, a word of appreciation for bringing puppet Yoda back, which I felt was something that was needed.

Yoda and Luke Skywalker

Yoda and Luke

The movie’s most fundamental aspect and the cornerstone beneath all of its story is, in reality, Luke Skywalker and what happens to him. Luke’s character carries the old soul of the trilogy, brought forward in time and in tone. And the movie handled this in a manner that was masterful. I really mean that. Luke is portrayed as having a very genuine and logical reaction considering his role in the story and what happened in his life. And while he did not react like a traditional Hero would be expected to, he was nevertheless capable of a proper, matching heroic response. The movie gave Luke Skywalker a proper and fitting send-off.

What makes the movie for me an 8 out of 10, rather than a 9 or 10, is the fact that because it had so many things going on and so much to do, many of its features had various degrees of success. Some were pulled off okay; some were meaningful and insightful, but transmitted in a way that felt convoluted and awkward; others failed to connect completely. Other choices still, were just plain bad – I’m looking at you, WWII bombers in space. Come on now. Seriously?

‘Bombers’ are B-Wings damnit.

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