Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★★½

There are three Star Wars films so far that truly feel like nothing but the pure, honest vision of their directors, for "better" or "worse", in a way that nobody nor anything would have stopped: The Phantom Menace, The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi.

In the case of The Last Jedi: Rian Johnson took a familiar and effectively wide-open field from JJ Abrams, and centered his follow-up on an essentially opposite concept to Abrams's. Whereas Abrams chose an easy, fun, and right-at-home recipe for his entry in the Saga, Johnson took that gift as permission to do something difficult, emotional, and uncomfortable; for the characters, but also for the audience.

Rian set out on this mission by following a crucial rule for Star Wars: the Hero's Journey. In Joseph Cambell's "Hero With a Thousand Faces"—which became the basis for the entire Skywalker Story—the story of most every hero of every story all over the world is boiled down to its core pattern (it is argued). Taking cues from George Lucas' reverence for this epic cycle of human storytelling, as well as Lucas' original plans for the Sequel Trilogy, Johnson embraced the Monomyth in a new, intentionally challenging way for our protagonists; yes, necessarily "subverting" certain legendary expectations in the telling.

We find that, as someone once put it (I wish I could remember who): the hippies failed to bring about lasting "peace and love" in our world, as idealistic as they were and as disappointing as that reality is. That means, in analogy, that Luke Skywalker may be a legend, but he also bears the burden of failure. Even he, the story's "first" hero, the eternal optimist, becomes old, experiences loss, and deals with devastating failure. That's uncomfortable for characters and audiences who grew up being inspired by his legend, but it's also because the mirror is being held up to our own faces.

That's not to pretend that the true message of the film is indeed to "let the past die", nor that "it's time for the Jedi to end", as Rey, Luke, and we, learn by the end of the film, despite what their respective outer and inner demons want them to think. On the contrary, we accept that the work is never done; we reject seemingly overwhelming failure and defeat; we pick up hope again; and we continue the fight. Because we ultimately do recognize and embrace those legends—flawed as they, like all of us, may be—for their power to inspire good.

It's worth noting how similar The Last Jedi is to Logan in so many of these regards, despite the difference in their receptions (which I would correlate to issues within fan culture).

New, fresh, and unique in honesty, difficulty, and visual storytelling, the truth of the story is well conveyed, to the point where it may at times be a challenge for us to wrestle with. In that, The Last Jedi is both very much in Star Wars' historical form, and very different in its forward movement... told as only Rian Johnson could.

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