We’ve seen it before. “Punch it Chewie,” “No! We’re not interested in the hyperdrive on the Millenium Falcon, it’s fixed!,” the need for a hyperspace generator from Watto. Hyperspace. Lightspeed. It’s essential in nature, a basic concept allowing (or failing to allow) our travelers in a galaxy far, far, away to reach, depart, and journey to new destinations and worlds of wonder.
In the The Last Jedi, lightspeed is a moment of silence. A moment of fracture where dark and light lines flicker across a high definition screen, a breaking. Every time I watched Vice Admiral Holdo pull the lever, I held my breath, moved by the visual, the spectacle, and the tragedy. It is hyperspace like we’ve never seen it before.
Hyperspace is real. My first experience. Wow. pic.twitter.com/POilRi5ePX
— Ron Howard (@RealRonHoward) July 19, 2017
The latest installment in the Star Wars saga made me profoundly uncomfortable, but not for the obvious reasons.
I readily admit that there are potential plot holes in The Last Jedi wide enough to fly a Star Destroyer through, and moments where I wanted more (more Luke vs. Kylo Ren, more Chewbacca, just more.) I know that for some, the overall arc felt unreal and without stakes. It tried, but didn’t always meet, the tension of watching Battlestar Galactica’s 33.
But. But. On the scale of did I like, love, or hate this movie, these flaws were outweighed by the things that fascinated, moved, and made me cry. After three viewings I’m a big fan: of expansion, rule breaking, and the search for hope amidst loss.
This movie made me uncomfortable because of the risk. We know Star Wars. We feel Star Wars, some of us even sleep dreaming of Star Wars. But Rian Johnson and his team sought to change Star Wars to make it, to quote Yoda, “grow beyond.”
Here is why I have hope.
The Women, The Men, and the Future
When you strip The Last Jedi down to it’s bones it is at heart a character study. Every beat, every moment is designed to cultivate and push forward Poe, Finn, and Rey in their story arcs. However, when we weren’t focused in on our leads, this story was about the broader resistance. From Rose to Commander D’Arcy (the woman who introduced Vice Admiral Holdo after Leia was injured) we got a glimpse of every level of the resistance beyond those who lead.
I could write pages on how magnificent Laura Dern was as Vice Admiral Holdo (and even more so after reading Claudia Gray’s Leia: Princess of Alderaan).
Rose was a breath of fresh air, “We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.” A mantra for 2018 if I ever heard one.
Of course I haven’t forgotten Kylo Ren and General Hux. In their own way they stand for a version of order and truth. I’m glad, as I mentioned before, that Snoke is gone. However Kylo Ren has a long way to go before he incites fear. Both him and General Hux feel unmoored, unbalanced, without clarity as to what the First Order’s real motivations are beyond being tyrannical and mighty.
Generally, though I was moved by the unexpected. By Poe whose inability to follow a chain of command led, inadvertently to the decimation of the Resistance. Hard lessons filled with dead heroes, leading to growth in the long run.
The moment where Finn has an epiphany that the world he now lives in is far more complicated than the black and white of the First Order, and that the good of the many, sometimes outweighs personal needs.
And Rey who finds not a teacher to guide through success, but a mentor who unwittingly teaches her the ways of the Force through failure. Which brings me to…
Luke and Leia
I carry a chip on my shoulder called the Expanded Universe/Legends (yes, still). For me the story of Han, Luke, and Leia in the new movies feels like an alternate universe. One I struggle, still, to fully acknowledge or realize.
However, in The Last Jedi we see the road not traveled, despite some familiar notes. Here is a Luke Skywalker whose mantle as the last Jedi weighs heavy. A Luke who in a moment of human frailty, acts against his instincts and loses his faith. He has become a Luke some perceive as weak.
Leia, on the other hand, is steadfast. She is the one who flies the banner of hope, not just from her lips but from those she leads. As quoted by Vice Admiral Holdo, “When I served under Leia, she would say, ‘hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it.’” Or as Commander D’Acy states after Leia is the sole survivor from the bridge attack (RIP Adimral Ackbar!) “If [Leia] were here, she’s say, save your sorrow for after that fight.” General Leia Organa sees the long game. Because she knows, with the loss of her home planet, and now Han fresh on her mind, that new leaders for freedom must be cultivated and born.
I think that’s why I can brush off the chip. Luke’s story was always going to be hard. Leia’s always tough. As children of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala the fight for freedom, justice, and truth runs naturally through their blood. But so does reactions to failure. Where Anakin embraced the darkside, I can see Luke, imbued with his past, stepping away instead of pushing forward as an acknowledgement that everything he has ever known to be true is wrong. That the only way for the Jedi to grow is to “unlearn what he has learned.”
Even if that means destroying them. Or, as his final words indicate, remaking them through Rey.
And when our ever hopeful, earnest Luke recognizes that Kylo is irredeemable and chooses to Force project himself to save what little remains of the resistance as a distraction, I was surprised and uncomfortable once again. And after, my heart cried as he lifted himself up onto the meditation stone and sees a mirage, an homage, to the twin suns of Tatooine.
When we first met this farmboy on the edge of adventure, on the edge of greatness, he yearned for a way to leave his desert planet. Now, at the end of his life on this mortal coil, he returned home.
Luke and Leia. Together the twin suns. The twin progeny of the Skywalker family are nearing the end of their story. I don’t know how they are going to do Episode IX without Carrie Fisher, but I take solace knowing (hoping) that we will see Luke Skywalker again before the end. It may not have been the ending I expected, it may not have been the ending I wanted, but it’s an ending that made sense to me.
Fracture, Connections, and Re-Imagining the Force
Finally, The Last Jedi is about a fracturing galaxy. If you look closely when Kylo Ren slams his helmet against he walls of the elevator you see the metal walls break apart —light to dark before the helmet falls to the ground — a smoking ruin.
We see it in Vice Admiral Holdo’s last stand, in the breaking of the red screens in Snoke’s throne room, in the clear blue eye of Captain Phasma (she deserved better) as her helmet shatters after fighting Finn.
Each of these visualizations reveal even bigger moments of fracture — the rippling water on Luke’s hidden island, the cascading mirror images of herself when Rey descends into the underbelly of Ahch-To, and even mutiny within the resistance as Poe and Vice Admiral Holdo butt heads over monumental decisions about survival.
We even see it in a fracture regarding how we’ve always understood the Force when Rey and Kylo Ren are connected mentally — the dark rises, and light to meet it — whether a manipulation by Snoke or not.
All of these moments underscore Luke’s words to Rey as he asks her to feel the Force. That it is in between these objects in motion that the Force exists. Not as a light side, not as a dark side, but as an energy that binds all living things together.
An echo, a basic reminder, of the first words we heard from Obi-Wan Kenobi on a desert planet far, far, away. He said: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”
But as Luke calls for the Jedi to die, and move beyond what we have always known, is the assertion that “To say if the Jedi die the light dies is vanity, don’t you see that?”
This is a reminder that as Kylo Ren seeks to fracture himself from the history and ties of his past in order to rid himself entirely of the light inside himself, that he will never (though beyond redemption), be truly free.
This lie of Kylo Ren’s, is underscored in Rey’s final acts of the movie when she illustrates, in the most practical sense, that breaking apart rocks doesn’t mean that you are tearing something apart. Rather in fracture you can also bring people together.
In failure, you grow – and with understanding you grow stronger.
Having said all that it all comes down to my personal litmus test for a Star Wars movie. 1. Did I enjoy myself? 2. Did it broaden the narrative in a way that I can live with?
While there a lot of elements about The Last Jedi that I did not touch on in this review, I will say that in not knowing what is to come (and even not liking everything we saw on the screen), The Last Jedi has pushed my ideas of the Star Wars universe to a new level.
So I leave you with this (whether you agree with me or not)
May the Force be With You, Always.