Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★★★

Watching this in the wake of The Rise of Skywalker hurts quite a bit. I love that Rey is positioned to be a true "nobody" in this film; the first hero not tied up in some prestigious lineage or fated greatness. There's something deeply inspiring and moving about that idea; that heroism is not exclusive to anyone. It *was* the identity of this specific trilogy, in my mind. The most important element that distinguishes it from the original trilogy and the prequels; the sole piece that truly felt unique to these characters and this story. It's not a knock on the prior films in any way; they were built around a prophecy and a central myth. But this felt like a progression of that myth; a further development in this franchise's concept of a hero and what it means to be good when it it's easier not to be. This idea of heroism and goodness being something of a universal choice we all make extends beautifully into the children on Canto Bight; and the brilliant final shot of that child looking into the stars. He believed in the goodness the Rebels represented and that his life could be better. That Johnson dedicated such a major moment in the film to a relative nobody within the expansive canon of Star Wars is a statement; one that was lost, discarded or forgotten in the newest installment.

There's such a potency too in how Rian Johnson redefines what the Rebellion is; sort of forcing the obvious heroes to do some introspection and soul-searching as to what it means to be "the good guys", and how distinctions need to be drawn in how they value life and survival in opposition to the sprawling and brutal First Order. That taking out a major flagship or laser canon is not as important as preserving hope. And Johnson doesn't stop with the Rebels, he extends this into the First Order as well. Del Toro's admittedly goofy character highlighting that war and violence are almost inherently evil acts feels important; it gives a layer of death to the traditional Nazis versus perpetually over-matched Rebels. There's also something compelling about how evil isn't just present within the ranks of "the bad guys", but also in the arms dealers in the casino, institutions of slavery and exploitation of the working class/vulnerable among us. It's something Star Wars hasn't really dealt with before. That all felt absent from the new film. The Rebellion was once again just a body of supporting players relegated to the margins; playing the voice in the ear of Rose, Finn and Poe as they hopped around the galaxy. That was disappointing; The Last Jedi zoomed out from the war and really observed the conflict in goodness and evil embodied within institutions and ideologies. Rise of Skywalker seems to only care about the central characters.

But more than these two specific strengths of The Last Jedi being absent from Rise of Skywalker; there's just such an abundance of poetry and wisdom in this. A recognizable effort from Rian Johnson to challenge and progress the Star Wars myth, explore the notions of fandom and redefine what this saga can mean for both a new generation and those who grew up with either of the prior two trilogies. Rose is a terrific example. An anonymous engineer (also an Asian female) elevated to hero because she is good, she is honest and she is brave. A character you just do not see in any other film from this saga (barring perhaps Rogue One). Yet another example of Johnson saying heroism is reserved for nobody. Or there's the exploration of Kylo's character to celebrate as well. You get the sense here that he truly is conflicted; existing psychologically somewhere within the margins of good and evil. That he truly believes he can redeem himself by killing Snoke, embracing Rey and taking charge of the First Order.

I haven't even mentioned Luke's story here, which meaningfully explores the legacy of the Jedi as an arrogant and corrupt institution. Or Johnson's assertion that even such a culturally infamous hero like Luke could fail as badly as he did with Kylo; that the sandy-haired boy who just wanted to be a hero could actually think to kill a conflicted child in his sleep out of fear and anger. That a hero could be fallible; that he could develop and change and grow. Or the parallel "birth" and death of Luke, in both instances staring into two suns on the horizon. Is there a better send-off for a hero than this? Is there a more meaningful use of nostalgia and presupposed characterization than what we get here? I can't think of one. This film is the single best piece of proof that resurfacing old stories can be important and meaningful; that utilizing nostalgia can force audiences to really wrestle with their relationship to their memories with this franchise and it's characters.

I adore this movie, and it pained me to see the vast majority of it forgotten, some of it crudely pushed to the margins, and most offensively to see Rose relegated to just over a minute of screentime in a pathetic bending of the knee to the criticisms of her character; much of them rooted in sexism and racism. There's so much to be grateful for here, though, and perhaps this can just function as the true finale to the Skywalker saga. Daisy Ridley as Rey here is probably the best major franchise protagonist we've gotten in the last fifteen or so years. Hamill gives his best performance here. Adam Driver delivers one of the most layered, compelling villains in recent memory. Kelly Marie Tran represents an entirely new type of character for this saga. Carrie Fisher is given the tribute that she deserves, here. Poe and Finn had meaningful arcs. The cinematography is stupid beautiful. The storytelling breathes, feels purposeful and completely character-driven. Every element of this new saga grows and progresses (except Snoke, who is ingeniously struck down without a thought). It's funny, beautiful and wildly meaningful. There's references to prior films that don't act as a crutch at all, but rather allow for some revisionist assessments of past events. It just feels like a different type of Star Wars that is still very much bound to and at-home in the myth that was started forty-three years ago when George Lucas began all of this. Total masterpiece.

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