Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★★½

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an incredibly divisive film. Critics love it, but fan and audience reactions range from mixed to vehement hatred. So what do I think? When I first saw this film, I did not know what to expect. I saw it a week after it released and somehow avoided any discussion of it. I had one of the most wild moviegoing experiences of my life. By the end, I was exhausted in the best possible way. I love this film, I love it a lot. This movie speaks to me, I feel a real connection with it and it’s themes resonate with me deeply. But only now, after two years and meticulously rewatching all the films before it, I feel I can finally articulate why. That being said, this movie is not perfect, it’s got a lot of minor problems that add up and I think solid criticisms can be levied at it so I’ll tackle that first. But I think the most popular “problems” with TLJ that people like to point out show a clear misreading of the film and the ones that came before it, so I’m gonna ignore those. TLJ has a bit of an editing problem, there are several sections of the film, specifically Canto Bight, that can be streamlined while still keeping the point and themes they introduce but as is bog down the clearly deliberate type of pacing that’s trying to be achieved here. While Leia using the Force is awesome and I’m glad I finally got to see it, the way it’s done requires an invulnerable suspension of disbelief to not take you out of the film. Leia simply would not survive floating in space that long. Finn has a really good arc across TFA and TLJ, but the deleted scene between him and Phasma should have stayed in and Rose preventing him from fulfilling his self-sacrifice leaves him with really nowhere to go for The Rise of Skywalker. Holdo is introduced literally out of nowhere, and should have either been established in TFA or much earlier on in the film. Snoke does not need a backstory for his purpose in the story, but a little bit more of an explanation as to how or why he decided to fill the Empire’s power vacuum would have been appreciated. That’s all the big issues I have, now I’ll say why I love this film. Every time I watch The Last Jedi, I think I am finally going to see why people hate it, but by the end I am still inspired by its story. TLJ is a film about many themes and ideas, but I can only cover the big ones or I’ll be here forever. Like Empire, TLJ is about failure, but this time that theme is much more at the forefront. The central characters all fail in a way to help inform their character arcs. Poe’s recklessness and overzealous sacrifices cause him to learn how to be a proper leader, Finn is a coward who learns something to believe in, Rey fails by initially misunderstanding the Force and thinking Ben Solo can be turned so easily just because Luke did it with Vader, and Kylo Ren’s failure is literally refusing to learn the lesson Luke does in this film. TLJ has a certain meta-narrative, seen mostly in Kylo, Rey, and Luke. Kylo Ren and Rey are clearly analogs for for two types of Star Wars fans. Kylo is the fanboy, Rey is the fangirl. They both valorize the mythology of the past they’ve grown up on, neither really understood the true meaning of it. But the theme of the movie is not to “kill the past.” It’s to understand it, learn from it, and evolve. That’s why Rey has the sacred Jedi texts at the end. In the prequels, the Jedi stifle earthly attachment and emotion. Anakin’s fall portrays this as a bad thing. Kylo Ren parallels this, as his emotional volatility is a product of not having a proper, nurturing teacher. This brings us to Luke. TLJ understands Luke both as who he’s always been as well as the icon he’s viewed as by every child who grows up on Star Wars. As I said in a previous review, Luke is kind and compassionate, but he can be prone to impulse and temptation. In TLJ, Luke’s disillusionment comes from having to live up to the legend that Rey, the Resistance, and the fans believe him to be. But that’s never who he was. Furthermore, trying to bring back the Jedi Order as the prequels defined them is a mistake. One that manifests when Luke almost gives into temptation to prevent Ben’s turn to the Dark Side, and Ben’s emotions were never properly nurtured because Luke tried to be the wise, detached mentor that the Jedi of the prequels were. Luke never actually was going to kill Ben, but he was tempted to, just like he was tempted to kill Vader, but this time he suffers the consequences and sees his failure as a condemnation of the Jedi. Through interacting with Rey and Yoda, he learns to accept his mistakes, his humanity, confront Kylo Ren, and die by living up to the legend everyone believed him to be. To me, that’s really good stuff. Anyway, let’s wrap up this ridiculously long review. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an incredibly dense film. It sometimes buckles under its own weight, but I find it’s ideas and messages to be exhilarating and touching. It’s not the best Star Wars film, but it is my favorite. You don’t have to agree, if you don’t like this film that’s okay, but I wish you saw what I see in it.

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