I’m just here to talk about ATOMIC LEVEL RED ALERT SPOILERS. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet, shoo. (Or don’t complain that I’ve spoiled you.)
Who becomes a hero?
I’m still reeling from The Last Jedi. Woke up thinking about it. Need to see it again. There’s so much good to this movie, and so much better than The Force Awakens, particularly for the time we’re in.
TLJ answers one of the most hyped-up mysteries from TFA with pitiless beauty. There’s been so much speculation about Rey’s parentage, how she somehow must be secretly a Skywalker or related to someone else important and powerful, and I’ve hated all of it to be honest. But TLJ answers with a definitive: Rey is a nobody. Her parents were nobody scum who abandoned her. And she’s still immensely important and powerful and special.
And I’m crying as I type that.
I’ve gotten really tired of the stranglehold the Skywalkers have on the Star Wars narrative. As much as I love Luke and Leia despite their relationship to Evil Space Jesus, it’s one of my least favorite fantasy tropes. It says that the only people who are important are those destined to be by their birth. Secret princes and princesses are fun in storytelling until the message becomes that you don’t count unless you’re a secret prince of some kind or in the orbit of one.
TLJ is such a repudiation of destiny and bloodline in narrative. Rey is a nobody, and she is the last Jedi, who had the strength to see herself as special when Kylo Ren was trying to manipulate her over it. Finn is a child soldier who has no origin he knows, and his entire arc in this movie is going from a terrified survivor to someone who has picked his side, knows it’s right, and keeps going even though he still is scared. Rose Tico and her sister were nobody children from a planet that got used and destroyed by the First Order. The only hero that’s got any kind of family background connection is Poe Dameron–both his parents were in the Rebel Alliance and fought in the war–and the only reason I even know that is because I’ve read all his tie-in fiction. (And his character arc in this movie is needing to pull his head out of his ass in a serious way.)
And the relative of Evil Space Jesus, Kylo Ren, is solidly the villain and stays that way because of his own twisted sense of entitlement.
Then there’s Vice Admiral Holdo, a middle-aged woman who is unabashedly feminine, who is firm and implacable and immensely brave in her own quiet way, and makes the most game-changing sacrifice in the whole film when she rams the Resistance’s last cruiser into Snoke’s ship in hyperspeed and cuts it to pieces in a moment of stunning silence.
This movie has opinions and beliefs, and doesn’t get cute about them. Anyone can be a hero. Anyone can fight to do what’s right. Anyone can resist the darkness. That’s why we end on a shot of a poor kid, abused and forced to work for the entertainment of the wealthy on Canto Bight, pretending his broom is a lightsaber and looking to the the stars, showing off the ring Rose gave him that hides a symbol of the Resistance.
But it goes beyond that, frankly. I noticed and remarked that there were female extras and minor character in TFA, more than I’d ever seen in any other Star Wars film. TLJ went above and beyond. There are so many women (white women and women of color) and men of color glimpsed as pilots, as techs, as ship captains. You can tell an effort was made in casting to actually try to get a cross-section of humanity. And then our young heroes: a white woman, a Vietnamese-American woman, a black man, a Latino. They all had flaws and strengths and got character arcs where they grew and learned and became better, stronger people. But Rose was so good in this movie, so determined and brave despite her own fears, and I think it’s justice that she delivers one of the most important lines of the film: we win not by fighting who we hate but by saving who we love.
I think TLJ tried to give everyone*** an opportunity to see themselves in Star Wars, however briefly.
Because we all have a place in the Resistance.
***Except Space Queers
Star Wars remains disappointingly heterosexual.
Sacrifice and Bravery
There’s so much about sacrifice and bravery in this movie. Luke’s sacrifice at the end that ultimately brings him peace. Vice Admiral Holdo’s sacrifice, first staying with her ship (and her goodbye to Leia, my god) and then ramming Snoke’s ship to destroy it and save the transports. Rose running her ship into Finn’s to keep him from making what would have been a useless gesture.
And while I wish Poe had been less of a shithead in this movie at times (he’s my favorite, I can’t help it), him being a massive “can I blow it up now?” hotdog was important for another point this movie made so firmly: bravery isn’t just standing and fighting. It’s doing the hard thing and knowing when to run so you can keep the hope alive. It’s hoping when there isn’t any hope. The important thing is knowing why you’re fighting, and for whom you’re fighting. We see this when Poe realizes that they can’t win and need to retreat at the end. We also see this when Finn is faced first with the ugly side of Canto Bight, then with the betrayal of moral relativist DJ, who keeps trying to tell Finn that all the sides are the same and in so doing makes him realize why he needs to pick a side and stand.
Finn stops running away in this movie, growing from the first time we see him trying to climb into an escape pod and needing to be stunned by Rose. He faces Phasma. He gets in a rickety little ship and charges at First Order forces. And thank goodness Rose is there to stop him from going right through bravery and into mortal recklessness by knocking him off course and stopping him from making an unnecessary sacrifice. Because that’s the thing in this movie: the sacrifices that happen–Admiral Holdo taking down Snoke’s ship, Luke using himself up to give the remaining Resistance time to escape–are necessary. Someone has to stay behind. Someone has to buy time. Someone has to give of themselves so that final spark of hope can survive.
Think of Poe’s turning point, when he repeats Admiral Holdo’s line: “We are the spark that will light the fire that will burn down the First Order.” He finally sees her wisdom and strength, and also acknowledges that they need to have a purpose beyond just throwing themselves at the enemy. They need to survive. They need to keep the Resistance alive.
Rogue One might have given us the line “Rebellions are built on hope” but The Last Jedi is the film that earns it.
I still have a lot of complicated feelings about them killing off Luke in this movie, and all I can say is he better not have been joking when he told Kylo Ren “see you around, kid.” I hope he haunts everyone, and I think it’s a valid hope considering we have Yoda show up to tell Luke to pull his head out of his ass after so many years. That discussion was amazing on so many levels, about what it means to be a teacher (your students are supposed to exceed you) and that failure isn’t something to fear and beat yourself up over: failure is the greatest teacher, and Luke needed to stop holding that back.
Really, Yoda was there to tell Luke to let go of the things that were holding him back: his obsession with his failures, him hiding behind his anger at the Jedi and cutting himself. And to be a canny little shit, since he blew up the ancient Jedi tree before Luke could go in and see Rey had already stolen the books. “Rey already has everything she needs” indeed. (And good for you, Rey, for taking what you could when Luke was being such an obstinate shithead.)
I’m kind of hoping this movie is moving us away from the absolutism of the Jedi… because that is something Luke talks about. How the Jedi’s own failures are what destroyed them, and Yoda made it pretty clear that failure is a tool for Rey to learn from. Luke spent so much time being afraid of the touch of the dark side, and yet Rey went down to the dark side place at the temple, faced it, and got no answers beyond a vision of herself in a dark mirror. Maybe there will finally be balance, because she’s faced the dark side in her own way already.
I finally like Kylo Ren, for certain values of “like”
This movie actually made me like Kylo Ren as a character more than the first. Not because I think he’s a good person, but because he’s very human, just in a dark and awful way. He’s a much better character in that regard than Vader; we all probably know someone who’s a bit Kylo Ren in our life. But honestly, I was cheering for him when he took out Snoke. His master’s manipulations were getting pretty clear… tell Ben he’s garbage and conflicted to get him to do what Snoke wants, then praise him and tell him he’s great for a while… until the cycle repeats and he tells Ben he’s weak again. I feel like Ben finally saw that clearly when Rey (in a really ill-considered move, but it worked out) showed up to try to turn him. And I’m a sucker for seeing enemies working together temporarily because they’re facing someone even worse. But I feel this is a pretty clear flag that Kylo Ren isn’t going to get redemption. He’s turned it down multiple times, even after striking down his master–unlike Vader. Him taking out Snoke was not the sort of moral decision Vader made. And he immediately made himself supreme leader in Snoke’s place, which I think will end up being a real blow to the First Order since he still has no impulse control.
(Which is why, really, the Resistance for story mechanics purposes had to be brought so low, because otherwise they’d be facing a major opportunity to hit the First Order while Kylo Ren is still flailing around.)
I love that Snoke turned out to not be the big bad he was set up to be. Instead it’s just Kylo Ren and his favorite force choke ragdoll, Hux. Kylo Ren is the big bad, and he’s much more knowable and real for it, because he’s not some figure on a throne that’s just pulling the strings. He’s got very concrete wants and anger issues that make him all the scarier when he’s in control of that much fire power and just wants to see the world burn.
A few technical bits
This fucking movie is so gorgeous and some of the visuals just stick in your brain and keep punching you in the solar plexus hours later. I just keep thinking about Admiral Holdo destroying Snoke’s ship, the silence of it, the light, and it hurts. And then the final world, with its underlying red salt, is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen Star Wars do.
I went in braced for a clunky transition from second to third act. The one in TFA was awful–suddenly we can see all of these planets getting blown up so that Finn can impart important information and we can head for the final battle! The one in Rogue One wasn’t any better–well, we still don’t know why we’re all sticking together but yeah let’s all decide to band up and get killed for those Death Star plans, woo! That didn’t happen in this movie, thank fuck. It’s so well put together; I haven’t found anything to really pick apart of the plot mechanics after the first viewing, and it felt like a smooth progression from act to act.
More of this, please. There was so much happening, but it all made sense, and there was still time for every character to have small moments. The special effects and set pieces didn’t crowd out the characters or story for once.
Our Princess, Our General
At the end, I’m left wondering how the third movie will be, without Carrie Fisher. At the beginning of TLJ when the bridge of Leia’s ship gets blown out and we see her get sucked into space, I lost it. It was too soon. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Leia. And then she saved herself, like she always has, and I felt my heart break all over again. Because this is it. Every scene with Leia was like that, precious and perhaps more emotional than it should have been. Her saying goodbye to Admiral Holdo had me in tears again. Her reunion with Luke, and Luke telling her that no one is ever really gone…
Well, you can’t help but feel Luke was talking to us, too. She’s gone, but she’s still with us.
But what happens in the next movie? They’ve killed off Han and Luke now. I suppose it would make sense it Leia was gone too in the next film, leaving the next generation to carry on her fire. It’s pretty obvious that a lot of Poe getting his head forcibly pulled out of his ass was him being the person on whom the military leadership mantel would fall. Leia casts a big shadow to stand in, though. And I can’t help thinking again, how I felt when we first lost Carrie Fisher. I don’t want Leia to go quietly into the night, off screen. Maybe her death in the third film is inevitable, but I want her to win. I need her to win. She’s been through so much, lost so much, and she has been the pillar of these first two films, lifting up the younger characters.
How to do that? I don’t know. I don’t really want to see a creepy uncanny valley Leia; I’d rather someone else entirely play her and we all acknowledge who we’ve lost when we see Leia’s legacy finished, though I know I’m in the minority here. And I don’t trust JJ Abrams to do it as much as I now trust Rian Johnson, to be honest.
But god it was good to see Carrie Fisher on screen this last time, even if it broke my heart. (And I promise, Carrie. I’ll make it into art.)