Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★★★

This is the best-looking Star Wars film.
Ergo, the 4K Blu-ray is God tier.
TLJ haters may wish to jump ship here.

*Spoilers within.*

Episode VIII
"Legacy and Rey"

"You have no place in my story."

J.J. Abrams clearly cherishes some of Star Wars. Definitely the Original Trilogy, not so much the Prequel Trilogy. That's obvious. Rian Johnson, though? He just loves Star Wars. The concept of it. The potential for cinematic greatness wrapped in mass market appeal. With The Last Jedi he perfectly distills that fanboy adoration, filtering cogent elements from each of the previous seven episodes through his own directorial prism. The result is visually spectacular, thoroughly compelling, intellectually stimulating, and endearingly idiosyncratic. A blockbusting behemoth with an auteurist heart. In that sense, Rian Johnson is the true heir apparent to George Lucas.

Both Sequel Trilogy directors bring their own skillsets. J.J. can certainly frame arresting compositions, craft fun set pieces, and block oners as efficiently as Spielberg. But as a macro storyteller, Rian has him beat. Technical competence notwithstanding, the emotional through line is much more consistent. Those characters Abrams inaugurated in The Force Awakens are massively fleshed out by Johnson in The Last Jedi: Poe's bravado takes a necessary beating, Finn learns the significance of rebellion, Kylo Ren solidifies his connection to the dark side, and BB-8 gets to save the day on at least three separate occasions. Yet I would argue that the biggest beneficiary is the protagonist of the Sequels - Rey.

Initially Rey was an enigma. The Force Awakens introduces a lone young woman, eking out a meagre existence by scavenging electronic components from crashed Star Destroyers. She lives in a downed Imperial Walker and daydreams while wearing an X-Wing pilot's helmet. We discover Rey is capable of leaving Jakku, but stays behind because she believes her family will return for her. The movie correctly implies this is a naive fantasy. Whoever her parents are, they're never coming back. As with Anakin and Luke, Rey is soon swept up into a larger adventure. One which will challenge every preconception she has about herself.

Rey is on a search for her own identity. Lineage means something to her, since she has none to speak of. Not even a surname. Kylo Ren seizes upon the importance of her parents. "You can't stop needing them. It's your greatest weakness. Looking for them everywhere, in Han Solo, and now in Skywalker." Indeed, the original trio all act as surrogates on Rey's journey: Han in The Force Awakens, Luke in The Last Jedi, and Leia in The Rise of Skywalker. Comparisons with Harry Potter seem strangely appropriate. An orphan being ushered into adulthood by their adoptive family. Finn and Poe essentially serve as devoted brothers, with BB-8 acting like a beloved pet dog. Before you ask, Chewbacca is the cool uncle in my analogy.

The entire Sequel Trilogy is centred on a new generation that has inherited a post-Empire galaxy. Hence those relics on Jakku from the last war. Because they're living after the events of the Original Trilogy, these individuals share our veneration for icons of the past. When Rey realises she's on the Millennium Falcon and speaking to Han Solo, she's as excited as any of us would be in that situation. And that is Rey's personality in a nutshell. The only escapism in her harsh upbringing has been stories of Jedi, Rebels, smugglers and princesses. She clings to the legacy players for the same reasons we do. Hope over despair, familiarity over uncertainty.

Kylo Ren challenges all aspects of Rey's worldview. She depends on old legends, he wants to "let the past die." Where one is righteous and moralistic, the other is conflicted and volatile. First they try to kill each other, then they try to turn each other. And so it goes. The pair cannot reconcile their differences, yet are continually drawn together. Their connection that emerges from The Last Jedi is perhaps the most fascinating relationship in the Star Wars Saga. The light side and the dark side in microcosm. A dyad in the Force. Some fans predicted that Episode IX would see Kylo become good and Rey become bad, creating some different kind of balance. They were only half right.

Which brings me to that infamous twist in The Rise of Skywalker. Rey Palpatine. Honestly? I was torn at first, but it actually makes a lot of narrative sense to me. Rey would love to be the daughter of Luke. Or the daughter of Han and Leia. Or the granddaughter of Obi-Wan. That would give her the belonging she so desperately desires. Instead, she's the descendant of the most grotesque being in the galaxy. By the time we get three films in, we know what a good person she is. The scene in The Rise of Skywalker where she interacts with the locals on Pasaana gives us a good indication of the kind of Jedi she will be, compassionate and forthcoming. And yet she's the offspring of Darth Sidious. Not exactly an easy notion to reconcile. By the end, she does. Calling herself Rey Skywalker isn't just a rejection of Palpatine, it's an affirmation of Luke and Leia's legacy. Another much lambasted decision where I totally understand the merits.

Going beyond the text, criticism has generally been lobbied at Rey, usually accusations involving the phrase "Mary Sue", defined as a type of female character who is depicted as unrealistically lacking in flaws. Don't get me wrong, Rey possesses many strengths and abilities. She can pilot spaceships, understands most languages, holds her own in melees, and is very strong with the Force. However, Rey also makes plenty of mistakes: she doesn't take the Skywalker lightsaber when given the chance; gets captured by Kylo Ren on Takodana; is briefly knocked out in the forest on Starkiller Base; enters the island cave against Luke's advice; hands herself over to Kylo and Snoke; almost kills Chewie with Force lightning; and attempts to maroon herself on Ahch-To. Hardly a perfect record.

And yet Rey is a perfect addition to this series. Like Leia and Padmé, Rey is a strong female presence. Unlike Leia and Padmé, she's also the main hero in a Star Wars trilogy. Not simply a female lead, but the actual lead. Someone who forges their own destiny rather than supporting someone else's. It warms my heart whenever I see girls or women cosplaying as Rey. They love Star Wars as much as I do, and see themselves represented on screen. Y'know, like the way I feel myself reflected in Luke Skywalker. She may be new, but Rey is a part of the Star Wars family now. And I'm glad she is.

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