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Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. The Best Post-Disney Star Wars Film

I love The Last Jedi. I don’t think there has been a Star Wars movie in quite some time that brought something new, something fresh to the table.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

4.5 / 5
4 / 5

I love The Last Jedi. I don’t think there has been a Star Wars movie in quite some time that brought something new, something fresh to the table. It still has hints of rehash and nostalgia to it, but doesn’t reek of it like The Force Awakens or Rogue One. George Lucas once said that Star Wars is more about rhyming than repeating. I think The Last Jedi is a perfect deliverance of that idea. This movie came out and was almost immediately bombed by trolls claiming it was “SJW propaganda” or “killed Star Wars” or that odd argument that “Disney is only in it for the money.” Well yeah, as I said before, Star Wars is the most merchandised out the wazoo franchise I’ve ever seen, this movie isn’t “SJW propaganda” so much as basic representation, and it didn’t kill Star Wars, it elevated it. Thankfully those people are a loud minority of the Star Wars fan base, as I’ve had nice conversations with many people who both liked or disliked the film, but we always found common ground. Figured I’d just address the bantha in the room before proceeding.

Rian Johnson is an excellent director. I think if this movie had been a spinoff like Rogue One or Solo, fewer people would be upset. But…I really don’t care. I think this is by far the best film in the Sequel Trilogy, and the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back. I love Return of the Jedi, it’s a decent movie with fantastic moments. But, The Last Jedi is a great movie with spellbinding moments. The Last Jedi isn’t perfect, but nothing in this film feels inexplicable or inconsistent.

Star wars ewok
Porgs are in The Last Jedi to give a fun explanation to the puffins seen on screen while the crew was filming.

Johnson brings a unique style and narrative focus that The Force Awakens simply lacked. It’s very different in all directions from its predecessor because it built off of something solid (which I understand) and began to explore the Star Wars mythos and these characters more in-depth. This is reminiscent of another sequel to a basic movie, The Empire Strikes Back. Remember in that movie, when Luke could “suddenly” talk to Leia and Vader telepathically with The Force? Or the grumpy old Jedi master who was a hermit after failure? Or the big battle with the AT-ATs on Hoth? And who could forget that massive revelation with no build-up to it previously?

A lot of that is The Last Jedi. But in this film, very infrequently does it ever feel like repetition so much as rhyming. There is purpose to this movie’s use of familiar imagery. There is meaning to these characters. There is a reason for everything, even the casino subplot, which yes, is the weakest aspect of the film. The Last Jedi is a movie that deals with failure. That is the key component, the thesis of the film. There’s a director here, there’s focus, not just a gaggle of producers pressuring their director to churn out nostalgia bait.

The Last Jedi takes off immediately off the heels of The Force Awakens. The Resistance is fleeing the powerful First Order with dwindling supplies and allies. Rey has just met up with the reclusive Luke Skywalker, giving him his lightsaber. It’s seriously that soon after its predecessor.

Spoilers from here on out…jump to the very last paragraph (under the Incluvie score) for my final take.

Luke skywalker
This movie is the most interesting Luke Skywalker has ever been in the entire Star Wars franchise.

So, Rey sees Luke. What does he do? He grabs his old lightsaber, takes a glance, spitefully throws it over his back, and walks off. Yes, our blue-eyed optimistic Luke has chucked his legacy over his shoulders, scornfully ignoring the call to adventure, the first step of the hero’s journey. The first step in A New Hope. And it works. Luke has aged several decades. Life can wear you down. And Luke had to deal with the dark descent of his own nephew, Kylo Ren, and the collapse of everything he worked so hard for. Later in the film, it’s revealed it is essentially Luke’s fault that Kylo Ren fell to the Dark Side in the first place. Naturally, he cut himself off in a bout of depression; wanting to be left alone. Obi-Wan and Yoda both also did the same. He’s following his mentor’s footsteps, which he never understood in his youth, but after having suffered a massive failure, not living up to the legend of “hero of the galaxy,” he crumbled. Luke is human, after all. And it’s in character as well.

Yes, Luke was always optimistic; but he was also impulsive. That is why he lost a hand in Empire Strikes Back. Or why he tried to kill The Emperor on the spot and nearly killed Darth Vader in a rage in Return of the Jedi. He’s always leaned uncomfortably close toward the Dark Side, and the Original Trilogy always toyed with that idea after A New Hope. It’s natural that for a brief instant, he’d light up his lightsaber and think of a utilitarian solution to training another potential mass murderer. Luke Skywalker isn’t just acting in character, he’s the most interesting and complex his character has ever been presented up to this point. Whereas Han Solo just sort of popped up in Force Awakens as a means to show how evil Kylo Ren was for killing his own father, Han didn’t undergo a character arc or accomplish anything. Luke in The Last Jedi is integral to the plot, to Rey’s arc, and has his own story as well. And it’s perhaps the best part of the movie.

Kylo ren luke skywalker
Kylo Ren vs. the “legendary” idealized version of Luke Skywalker is one of the best showdowns in Star Wars.

When Luke Skywalker decides to embrace the impossible legend he built for himself as the greatest Jedi of all time and sacrifice himself to Kylo Ren using the new discovery of Force projection, it’s beautiful. Luke has gone back to his roots of answering the call for showman heroics, without actually technically having done so. He projects himself across the galaxy to look the part of what everyone else thinks he appears as. He acts like a flawless lightsaber fighter, untouchable. He has overcome his failure and inspires people in the Skywalker legend through his buying of time for the Resistance. It works practically and symbolically, is shot gorgeously, and is one of the best scenes in Star Wars history, up there with Yoda lifting the X-Wing in Empire Strikes Back. That scene alone and the build-up to it was so breathtaking.

Rey and kylo ren exploration
Rey’s and Kylo Ren’s exploration of the Force and erasing the line between good and bad is a core theme in this film, and ideally, this trilogy.

But of course, that’s not all, folks. The Last Jedi also molds the three leads from the last film, Rey, Finn, and Poe, and gives them more depth and purpose. Rey’s lineage doesn’t define her, and being force-sensitive doesn’t make her ready to win a war herself. Finn is dealing with the trauma of being an ex-stormtrooper and doesn’t feel like a hero, and wants to run, as it worked when he left The First Order. Poe isn’t just diet Han Solo, he’s a bit of a hothead and always somewhat was, but when something doesn’t go his way, he’s got to learn how to lead and not blindly charge. It might be easier to discuss my thoughts on their three journeys here.

  1. Rey.
    1. As I said before, Rey’s storyline is inherently tied to Luke in this film, but it is also tied to Kylo Ren. As its title suggests, The Force Awakens was introducing two inexplicably tied powerful new Force users. But just as the Original Trilogy began to toy with the idea of Luke turning to the Dark Side one day, The Last Jedi toys with Rey doing so as well, but also teases that Kylo Ren could return to the Light side. But more importantly, it asks: Is there a Light/Dark side to the Force in the first place? This is the beauty of mythos building in Star Wars. Asking questions, never fully answering them, and leaving them open to interpretation, to feeling them. What is the Force? No more binary definitions of the Force. Can it even be defined? But seriously, that is the idea. Grey it up. No more black and white. There is a beautiful moment when Rey and Kylo Ren reach out to each other with Force projection to see if they can touch, simply both admiring and exploring the nature of the Force, with no other motive. Star Wars has always had a strong focus on hands. Darth Vader’s calling card is strangling people, Luke looks towards his robot hand when he realizes he is turning Dark, even the prequels put emphasis on what Anakin’s hands are doing. And this film’s scene with Kylo Ren and Rey reaching towards each other, emotionally, physically, through the Force, is one of the most overlooked and most beautiful scenes in the movie. This is the core component of the Sequel Trilogy: the relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey, and more importantly, what it means.
  2. Poe.
    1. The film’s opening is Poe distracting the First Order with a ‘yo momma joke’. Solid, I love it. He plays with these ridiculously over-the-top fascists and owns ’em. He disables the weapons on a Dreadnought threatening the Resistance fleet. Then he takes it a step further and decides to completely eliminate the Dreadnought…Leia tells him not to. He defies orders, leads a suicide mission to attack it, and earns a Pyrrhic victory. He gets demeaned and demoted by a furious Leia and is lost as to why, as he had good intentions. When Leia is taken out of commission after an attack led by Kylo Ren and only saves herself using the Force, Poe immediately tries to wiggle his way back to the top to the new person in charge, Admiral Holdo. She immediately notes he was demoted and tells him to be patient. She doesn’t share the plan with him, as she essentially has no need to tell a hothead who just blew up their meager forces in an unwarranted attack. He’s out of the loop, and it only makes Poe more impulsive. He sends Finn on a secret side mission, begins to rave angrily, and starts a mutiny. It is only when Leia heals from her injuries that she is able to talk him down. His love for his friends, his drive and raw instinct to save lives, and his personal attachment to all situations are actually costing those lives rather than saving them. His emotions, though understandable, have to be kept in check, especially if he is to lead. And at the end of the film, after Finn has just pulled a similar stupid stunt needlessly, then proceeds to want to rush out to help Luke, Poe stops him and realizes Leia’s lesson, and takes command to leave their dire situation rather than proudly fight on bitterly to the end. It’s a solid arc.
  3. Finn.
    1. He was my favorite character in The Force Awakens, as I was always fascinated with stormtroopers as a child and wondered how they felt. Finn does have the weakest plot in the movie, but that being said…it’s still teaching him something new and his plot leads to another one of the saga’s best scenes. Finn is caught attempting to desert the Resistance by Rose, whose sister was killed in Poe’s daring attack on the Dreadnought. The two of them realize they might have a solution to the problem of being tracked, and ask Poe (desperate) to jump ship and find help to fix their problem. They go off, and they find Canto Bight, a gambling city on a nearby planet. Finn and Rose manage to find help from a code-breaker to stop the tracker, but he sells them out as soon as they are caught by The First Order. He’s essentially what Han Solo easily could have been, a scummy money-grubber in it for money and opportunity. The two manage to escape and meet up with Poe, but while they are in Canto Bight, they come across child laborers being abused by upper-class casino workers. Finn and Rose give a child a small ring with a Resistance insignia on it, wreak havoc for the abusers, and inspire hope. And that inspiration of hope is the heart of Star Wars. The last shot of The Last Jedi is that of the little boy looking to the stars, grabbing a broom with the Force with minimal effort. Not everyone in the Star Wars universe has to be a Skywalker nor a Jedi/Sith. A hero can come from anywhere. Temiri blagg

I don’t want to ever find out that this kid happens to be a Kenobi/Skywalker/Solo, WHATEVER. Broom Boy is just nobody. Good. No Broom Boy: A Star Wars Story. I’m begging you, Disney.My goodness, this film is just so good. The more I watch it, the more I love it. That scene of Yoda coming back to Luke is so heartwarming and hilarious. It actually feels like Yoda, something the Prequels never were able to do properly. His constant humor and kindness are back. It’s also so relieving to see him as a puppet again, not CGI. This movie is just so gorgeously shot, and scored so well (John Williams), so much passion is put into it. It takes risks, it changes the game, it still has familiar imagery, but most importantly, it has characters with purpose, with arcs, and it has a theme. It’s not just going through the motions of what Star Wars is on a surface level, it’s exploring the Star Wars iceberg.

Yoda visits luke
“We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”

Now then, let’s talk about inclusiveness and diversity. This is the ideal kind of simple inclusion. It’s not “SJW propaganda”, it’s just…normal. This is the world. People of different backgrounds pop up everywhere. I was pretty clear in my Rogue One review that I liked seeing all the different people because the galaxy just felt larger that way. I’m here for that Muppet representation, too. Rian Johnson always goes out of his way more than many modern directors to ensure his cast and crew are a nice mixture of different people and tends to intertwine that into his tales. Seeing as how this is Disney-controlled Star Wars and he can’t get too political, representation without too much emphasis is the bare minimum, and Johnson certainly did well, and even added a few more female roles and heck yes, a Latino, Benicio Del Toro. He even got a little director representation too; Rogue One director Gareth Edwards cameos as a Resistance fighter. Neat.

Overall, I don’t just think The Last Jedi is a great Star Wars movie, I think it’s one of the best. Honestly, it’s second only to The Empire Strikes Back for me, which is pretty much unbeatable. You have to appreciate that Johnson had a short time to get this film together, right after The Force Awakens introduced a thousand plot threads, and that the Star Wars fandom is ravenous. He also wrote and directed this on his own. And Johnson didn’t just deliver, he bestowed this movie with a mint and “thanks for being here” card. It’s actually so good, I wish it was the cap to the saga and not the middle film in the trilogy. Alas, we can’t always get what we want, but we’ll always have The Last Jedi. Here’s looking at you, youngling.

Rian johnson

PS: R.I.P. Admiral Ackbar. Gone, but never forgotten.

-Rafael A. Sarmiento