This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Tim Burnham’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Watching the third time, the one thing that really holds me back from giving this its five stars, moreso than the Finn storyline, is something Leia says at the end.
This trilogy is effectively the battle for Ben Solo’s soul. The seeds of this start in the third act of TFA. In The Force Awakens, Leia asks Han to bring their son home. Han has a look over her head that says he knows this won’t go well because deep down he doesn’t know if he believes he can make the necessary difference to his son. He turns out to be half right. Ben kills him but at great emotional cost. Hoping to solidify his soul in the dark where Snoke brainwashed him to be, killing his father only made him more uncertain. He goes down to the forest to get Rey and what follows is the first clear sign that there may be hope for him. Snoke told him to bring Rey to him. His father said Snoke was just using him and that he needed to be careful. And the first thing Ben does is offer to train Rey as his own apprentice. On some level he believed his father. But on another level, Rey putting her faith in Han Solo is infuriating. In some private way he feels his father let him down and sees Rey only following down that same path.
Then, in The Last Jedi, we see that Ben is more torn up and uncertain than ever. His guilt is consuming him but he simply trusts in his master. And his masters lack of faith in him is wildly upsetting. He goes on a rage mission to kill off the Resistance but when realizing Leia is inside he cannot pull the trigger and is content to let her go. Again, the light wins out. There is hope for Ben Solo. Unfortunately his flanking troops take the shot and the bridge is decimated, killing everyone.....as far as he knows.
It occurred to me on this viewing that Ben thinks Leia died on the bridge. They never connect again after this and his uncertainty only pinwheels once he is connected to Rey. He is in a vulnerable place once Rey begins to show him compassion. The light and the dark wrestle and it culminates in one of all time greatest moments in all of Star Wars. Today, my audience cheered twice in TLJ, the first was when Ben ignited Luke’s lightsaber and killed Snoke.
Which is a testament to Adam Driver’s performance and Daisy Ridley’s performance in juxtaposition to him and then to Rian Johnson’s writing. Two years ago, the world had written off Ben as irredeemable after killing Han. Here, they cheer as he turns on his master to help Rey. And you could feel the heartbreak as Ben implores Rey to join him. A hell of a sequence and a hell of a performance. Adam, JJ, and Rian have created one of those rare and shocking things. A compelling, three dimensional, fully fleshed out, terrifying, empathetic villain. Already in TFA he established himself as the most complex character ever written in a Star Wars film and then here, when we realize that Snoke’s purpose as a character was to give way to the true villain of the piece, he comes into his own in a shocking and audacious way.
So, he implored Rey to join him in burning down the world. Not for one side or the other but to clear the room of sides. Scrap and start over. But Rey isn’t as broken and betrayed as Ben and it doesn’t work. So he goes to finish off the Resistance.
And that brings me to my ultimate issue with The Last Jedi. Leia just gives up on her son. The last interaction she had with him was when he pulled back from attacking her. When she saw she was right about the conflict in him. It was a Force connection so she knows he wasn’t the one to fire on her. And the next time he comes up in conversation she says “I know my son is gone”.
I understand Luke’s admission that he can’t bring Ben back but I thought he was going to follow that up with: “But you can.” And fulfill what she initially said to Han in TFA. But he doesn’t say that and she just gives up, resigned to let Luke kill her son if that’s what must happen.
It’s such a small moment and I’m sure it would have been addressed in IX. Leia was set to lead IX and she almost certainly would have had a moment face to face with her son where they reconcile. Where the strong, kind heart of Leia sees her son’s tortured soul and speaks to it. But regardless of that eventual growth we will unforgivably never see, it just didn’t ring true for Leia to give up on Ben in this moment. She held faith after he slaughtered the Padawans, she held faith after he killed Han, but she gave up after he couldn’t bring himself to kill her?
It’s a frustrating character flaw that I cannot reconcile no matter how much I love everything else. And that’s the truth. I was shell shocked when I walked out of TLJ the first time. I couldn’t quite comprehend it all in one viewing. But as I thought about it and revisited it, I knew I truly did love it. I love what it represents to the greater story by blowing up the protections of the franchise. I love what it’s saying about fighting back. And I love all the incredible character moments. It was just that one big one that I can’t let go of.
Side note, I also feel like everything Rose said to Finn at the end fit Poe’s character way better. His whole arc in the film led him to that place of realizing it’s not about being a hero and blowing up the bad guys. It’s about fighting for something bigger, that you believe in. AND he actually had chemistry with Finn, while Rose does not. But then, Poe has chemistry with everyone. His moment with Rey and Rey looking at Poe and Rose together also seemed pretty fucking loaded and intentional. Especially when Poe mirrors the “I know” line to her.
Also, part of my confusion in the first viewing came from things that had purpose but hadn’t been explained yet, and I wonder if some of the people who presented reviews without ratings might want to revisit the film now that they know where it’s headed.
When Leia is unceremoniously blown out of the airlock, I couldn't help but fear that that was that. All the logical functions in my brain went haywire and shut down and had to reboot.
During Luke and Ben’s duel, all I could focus on was the fact that I JUST SAW Luke’s lightsaber get torn in half and yet he’s using it here.
When Finn opens the drawer on the Falcon, the Jedi texts are there after a dramatic scene in which Yoda burns them.
And Yoda is for some reason a puppet again, for purely nostalgic purposes. It makes for a weird look with the blue light when we have to look at him for a full on scene. And it’s weird because he’s lost that expressiveness that the Prequel Yoda had gained. (One of the few advantages of the Prequels)
And plenty of other things. Not good or bad, just a lot to take in that made it difficult for me to properly process what I was seeing when I was already so attached to the idea of seeing a Star Wars film in theatres again. I'll stop there though. I have so much more I want to talk about but I want to leave something for next time.
I cannot overstate enough though. Breathtaking. Just amazing.