Hot Take: For this Star Wars fan, the GOAT of Star Wars films.
WARNING: Expect lots of spoilers here. This is likely to be the longest review I’ve ever written on this site. You’ve been warned.
“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” The words have Kylo Ren have stuck with me throughout my multiple viewings of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the 8th installment of the Star Wars saga. (That’s not counting Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which dropped last year.) It was one of those “F you!” moments which are littered throughout the superbly written and directed Rian Johnson entry. I remember watching The Force Awakens for the 3rd time and thinking about how much I loved the movie but realizing how inferior it was because it was such a blatant rip-off of Star Wars: A New Hope, the introduction which launched the phenomenon in 1977. My expectations for The Last Jedi were more of the same and the trailer did nothing to squelch those expectations. If anything, it stoked those flames of nostalgia. I wouldn’t have hated it but I’m so ecstatic it played out in a completely different direction. Yes, I loved Star Wars: The Last Jedi. More than Return of the Jedi, Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope, my 1a, 1b and 1c prior to this glorious turn in a completely unexpected direction from where we thought this story was going. Plenty of people hated it. The Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes currently sits at 51% and dropping. Let’s be fair, though. This is the same audience who had to be issued a disclaimer at AMC Theaters regarding one of the most spectacular scenes later in the movie because there was no sound… Really?
The Last Jedi opens immediately where The Force Awakens left off. The Resistance are evacuating their base when the First Order arrives. The tone is set early on as Poe (Oscar Isaac) toys with General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) before taking on a Dreadnought, described as a fleet killer by Poe when ordered to back off by General Leia (Carrie Fisher). Despite the order to back off, Poe continues his attack on the Dreadnought which leads to heavy casualties for the Resistance before a last ditch effort by one of the fleet’s bombers takes out the Dreadnought. This is one of the best space battles we’ve seen in Star Wars and one of the most layered. The opening jokes aside (the exchange between Poe and Hux brought audible laughter from audiences at all five showings I attended), the scene looks phenomenal. There’s a maneuver by Poe with an X-Wing Fighter that we’ve never seen before and the bombers are painstakingly slow but obviously pack a wallop when they connect. What’s also very unique about this scene is the amount of casualties taken by the Resistance. Poe’s defiance leads to the casualties and while, ultimately, the mission is successful, there’s losses here, too.
Despite seeing the film 5 times, I might have a little difficulty accurately describing the sequence of events as the story begins to bounce around and go in a number of different directions. Finn (John Boyega) wakes up on the vessel that also contains Leia and Poe and his first question is, “Where’s Rey?” which instantly takes us back to the final scene of The Force Awakens where Rey (Daisy Ridley) hands Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) his lightsaber. Here’s another “F you!” moment that many hardcore Star Wars fans have taken issue with as Luke tosses the lightsaber over his shoulder and walks away from Rey. Let’s consider that what we’re about to find out is that Luke feels responsible for the creation of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), he’s been in exile on the deserted sacred island on planet Ahch-To (unless you count the adorable Porgs, the odd looking island Caretakers or some of the other strange creatures we encounter) and he’s generally closed himself off from the Force which also now find out is a religion (and not something to do with your Midichlorian count, another concept that is told to F off) and this isn’t that far-fetched. He’s been on the island for at least 10 years. Isn’t that enough to drive anyone to be a little out of character? Rey has come to the island to ask Luke for guidance and training but he’s having no part of it. Even pleas by Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) who also drops the bombshell on Luke that Han is dead don’t seem to budge. It’s not until after Luke notices Rey’s connection to the Force (she’s drawn to the sacred texts of the Jedi) and Luke’s interaction with R2-D2 who shows Luke the original distress call from then Princess Leia that started the franchise in the first place that Luke begrudgingly agrees to give Rey three Jedi lessons to prove to her why the Jedi must die. The Luke/R2-D2 scene is one of the most impactful scenes of the film and one of the few times we experience something connecting us to past Star Wars events that doesn’t get the “F you!” treatment. We’ll get back to the Luke/Rey arc in a moment…
Somewhere during all of this, Snoke (Andy Serkis) is displeased with General Hux who assures him the Resistance will not get away because the First Order has discovered technology to track a ship through light speed. Minor quibble here as it seems hard to believe Snoke wouldn’t be aware of this new discovery. There’s also an interaction between Snoke and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo as Snoke belittles him for losing a lightsaber battle to a girl who has never picked up a lightsaber before and calls him not a new Vader but just a boy in a mask. Here’s another “F you!” moment and also an opportunity to get Driver out of the mask (Following his meeting with Snoke, he obliterates the mask into pieces) and create a new identity. At the time, it’s emphasized but we’re not sure why and it makes more sense later in the movie. The First Order fleet tracks the Resistance through light speed and Kylo/Ben jumps in TIE Fighter to lead an attack on the Resistance vessel. During the attack, Kylo/Ben targets the bridge but senses the presence of his mother and can’t pull the trigger. While he hesitates, his wing men don’t and the bridge of the ship is obliterated sending Leia into space along with the rest of the crew from the bridge. There’s two ways to look at what happens next. Cast out into space, Leia uses the Force to float back to the ship where she passes out immediately and is in a coma. The first observation is that we get to see Leia use the Force for the first time. It’s hard not to find at least some issue with how the moment looks as she floats back to the ship in a Mary Poppins-ish way. We’ve also never seen the Force used this way and it’s been 8 movies so it’s easy to see why this would be a point of contention. I guess I’m an easy mark because I’m buying it and even Johnson’s explanation that this is more survival instinct than concentration on her power similar to a woman who lifts a car to save her child who is trapped underneath works for me.
Back on the ship, an incapacitated Leia allows for the introduction of a new commander and a new character as Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) is put in charge of the ship in peril. Holdo and Poe don’t hit it off as Poe wants to know the plan and Holdo shuts him out based on his already cavalier approach that left them without bombers. The slow chase through space between the Resistance and the First Order has an O.J. Simpson White Bronco feel to it and it’s hard to make sense why the First Order wouldn’t have enough ships at their disposal to be able to cut them off. However, this creates a ticking clock so to speak (and some real continuity problems in the way the story is told) as the Resistance is running out of fuel and the First Order is ready to pounce as soon as the ship’s fuel supply is depleted. On the Resistance’s ship, another new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) is introduced. She discovers Finn entering an escape pod and attempting to flee the ship. At first, she’s overwhelmed by running into a true Resistance hero but once she discovers Finn’s plan, she lays him out with a powerful stun gun. More humor is attempted here (probably one of the flatter notes of the humorous tone) as an semi-incapacitated Rose tries to explain why he appeared to be running. During their discussion, Finn tells Rose that the First Order has figured out how to track the ship through light speed. Suddenly a brilliant technological wunderkind, as Rose describes how the Resistance is vulnerable, Rose and Finn finish each other’s sentences in describing a plan on how to get the Resistance vessel away from the First Order. What doesn’t make sense here is how knowledgable Finn would be regarding the functionality of the ships but maybe he was studying to be a technician. He also has intimate knowledge of the First Order’s ship which conveniently allows Rose and Finn to hatch a plan to save the ship which requires them to find a codebreaker, sneak on to the lead First Order ship and shut down the tracking system for 6 minutes which would give them enough time for the Resistance to escape. They tell the plan to Poe who decides to go rogue and not tell Holdo of his plan and after a silly interaction with Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o), another arc of the story is launched as Rose and Finn must go to Canto Bight to find the master codebreaker.
Meanwhile, back on the island, Rey begins her training. She’s also begun connecting with Kylo/Ben through the Force but neither is sure exactly how they are connecting. These interactions are some of the best in the film as Rey and Kylo/Ben have some great dialogue. Rey wants to understand why Kylo/Ben is such a bad guy and Kylo/Ben never makes excuses for his actions other than to give Rey some inclination that Luke had something to do with his turn to the Dark Side. The training moments between Luke and Rey are excellent as well. Luke fears her power as she doesn’t resist the Dark Side but instead goes right to it to find out why it’s calling her. She doesn’t turn but she’s fearless and unafraid to face anything throughout her time on Ahch-To. Luke reveals that the Force doesn’t belong to the Jedi and that thinking so is vanity. He also states that the real legacy of the Jedi is failure and hubris. Luke’s bitterness is obvious and as Rey continues her interactions with Kylo/Ben and she senses the potential for him to turn, she also begins to doubt Luke’s piousness. At one point, she goes to visit the dark side of the island where she asks for her parents to be revealed to her in this Harry Potter-ish mirrored room. It feels almost derivative of the Mirror of Erised which has been known to reveal your deepest desire and make a person go mad as they can’t move away from it. This isn’t exactly the same but Rey does ask to see her parents and the vision that steps through the smoke ends up just being her. This is where her and Kylo/Ben connect the most and Luke walks in on the two during their telepathic connection and (Since he’s now opened himself back up to the Force) can see the two sharing a close moment. He blows the roof off of her hut which leads to a fight between the two. During their confrontation, Rey demands Luke tell her what happened between him and Kylo/Ben. Luke reveals that for a brief moment, he thought of striking down Kylo/Ben in his sleep but decided against it. Unfortunately, Kylo/Ben had already seen Luke ignite the laser sword (I’ll get back to that joke, eventually) and in defense of himself brought down the Jedi Temple on Luke, slaughtered a few Jedi and took the remaining Jedi willing to turn with him. At least that’s how Luke described it. Personally, I feel like this little knowledge drop and the other Jedi will play a part in the next film but we’ll have to wait until December 2019 for that. Rey’s time on the island with Luke ends with her offering him his lightsaber again as she reveals her plan to return to attempt to turn Kylo/Ben back toward the Light Side of the Force since Luke refuses to fight. He once again refuses to take the lightsaber and Rey, Chewie, R2-D2, some Porgs and, unbeknownst to Luke, the sacred Jedi texts all head back toward the slow chase. Frustrated, Luke heads to the sacred tree with all intentions of burning it down. He hesitates which leads to the appearance of Master Yoda who strikes the tree with lightning and ignites it in flames. Luke and Yoda have another Master/Apprentice interaction as Yoda refers to the grizzled Luke as young Skywalker and schools him once more on the ways of the Force. While this film has many “F you!” moments, it also has great reverence for the past and the scenes that show that reverence are exquisitely done.
With the backing of Poe (and unbeknownst to Holdo), Rose and Finn head to Canto Bight to find the Master Codebreaker. Easily the most criticizable sequence in the film, Rose and Finn on Canto Bight could be a set up of things to come. As they land on Canto Bight, Rose doesn’t hide her displeasure with places such as this. When Finn asks, she says that Canto Bight is filled with the worst people in the world. The camera pans to rich people at the casino having drinks and a good time. The casino scene feels like something out of the prequels or special editions. As they look through the casino for the Master Codebreaker, BB-8 is filled with money by a drunk casino patron who thinks he’s a slot machine and music reminiscent of the Cantina scene plays as we see a number of strange looking characters. When Rose and Finn finally find the Master Codebreaker (after Rose’s “Look Closer” monologue about the casino and the planet and the awful people with money), they are jailed for parking on the beach. In casino jail, they loudly discuss their problems and needs and are overheard by another prisoner, DJ (Benicio Del Toro). He tells Rose and Finn that he is a thief and a codebreaker and could help them out. They decline. DJ gets up, picks the lock and allows them to walk free but they go their separate ways. Rose and Finn take the guards on a chase through the island on the back of the Star Wars version of thoroughbreds called Fathiers while DJ meets up with BB-8 who is trying to bust out Rose and Finn. This is all a commentary on the wider oppression in the galaxy and the callousness of the rich who appear to be neither First Order nor Resistance and just fat cats with lots of money with no obvious leaning one way or the other. Eventually, Rose and Finn free the Fathiers, provide some hope to some stable kids and are rescued by DJ and BB-8. On their way back to the “Slow Chase Through Space”, DJ further emphasizes the gray of it all by showing Finn that the ship he stole was owned by an arms dealer who sold to both the First Order and Resistance.
Things really start to come together at the “Slow Chase” as Poe leads a mutiny on Holdo who is planning an evacuation as their support ships are taken out one by one. Poe sees this as a suicide mission because once the escape ships are spotted, the First Order will blow them out of the sky. Hence, the mutiny to buy time for Rose and Finn. Luke now re-connected with the Force reaches out and connects with Leia which seems to wake her from her coma. Rey leaves the Falcon and joins Kylo/Ben on Snoke’s ship. This is Luke/Vader in Return of the Jedi right down to the surrender and elevator ride to meet Snoke (in ROTJ, it was to meet the Emperor). Watching back the scenes from ROTJ, it’s amazing the similarities of the two scenes. However, it’s also strikingly surprising how crisp the Snoke vs Rey sequence is compared to the Emperor vs Luke showdown.
This is where the film gets turned on its ear in one of the most glorious twists in Star Wars history. Poe’s mutiny fails, Rose and Finn’s mission falls short and their thief and codebreaker turns on them and while Rey tries to resist Snoke, she eventually caves and gives away Luke’s location. With no need for her and knowing she’s a threat, Snoke puts her in a position to be struck down by Kylo/Ben. An overconfident Snoke gloats to Rey only to be struck down by his own apprentice as Kylo/Ben slices Snoke in half with Rey’s lightsaber using the Force. Rey and Kylo/Ben then must fight side by side as Snoke’s elite guards surround them. It’s not Duel of the Fates from Phantom Menace but it’s one of the best showdowns we’ve seen (until a little later in the film, that is). Meanwhile, while this is happening, the evacuation commences and comes under attack because DJ has given the First Order the information that the Resistance was evacuating. As Rey and Kylo/Ben mow down the elite guards, they eventually must confront each other. Rey asks Kylo/Ben for his help to stop the First Order but Kylo/Ben has different plans. He wants it all to end. The First Order, the Resistance, the Sith, the Jedi… everything must end. He also tells Rey that her parents are nothing and she has no place in the story but does make it clear that she means something to him. A shaken Rey is devastated by the news that she didn’t really fully turn Kylo/Ben but just made him realize that Snoke was not the direction he should be going. Eventually, these two have a Force tug of war over Luke’s lightsaber. While this is happening, Rose and Finn face execution by Captain Phasma and some stormtroopers and the First Order’s evacuation is under heavy fire and taking on mass casualties. This leads to one of the most impressive scenes of any Star Wars film as Holdo’s desperation to save the Resistance has her turn the abandoned cruiser toward Snoke’s ship and ramming it at light speed. Visually, this scene is amazing and the creative decision to have the collision done with no sound is dazzling. It’s one of those jaw dropping moments that happens minutes following the jaw dropping moment when Kylo/Ben strikes down Snoke.
This could easily close the film. It’s a nearly perfect culmination of story arcs that somehow finds a way to balance all of the storylines with the right amount of weight to each arc. This is a nearly impossible task but the story never feels bogged down, there isn’t a second wasted and it all works. Even in my description of the events, I don’t know if I made it obvious that Leia was back on her feet and part of the evacuation or did I mention that Captain Phasma may have been taken out by Finn during their own showdown. After the light speed ramming, Kylo/Ben assumes control of the First Order despite General Hux’s initial disobedience, Rey escapes via Snoke’s escape ship, Rose, Finn and BB-8 steal a First Order ship and get off of Snoke’s ship and the scant remnants of the Resistance land on Crait, a nearby abandoned Rebel base on a mining planet.
On Crait, Rose and Finn join the remaining members of the Resistance in a fortified base and are cornered by the First Order. As the First Order closes in and prepares to use a miniaturized battering ram to get into the base. Poe, Finn and Rose lead a last ditch effort to counter the battering ram in some flimsy old speeders. This scene is visually dazzling as the speeders drive along the salt-covered red surface of Crait and face down fire from oncoming TIE Fighters. Eventually, the Falcon appears and Rey and Chewie provide cover for the speeders who are taking on casualties as they speed toward the battering ram. Another visually stunning scene as the speeders leave red lines throughout the planet and each explosion reveals the red surface under the white salt. As the speeders close in, the battering ram kicks in to gear. Poe realizes they will ultimately unsuccessful and has the remaining speeders pull off. The only one who continues is Finn. I actually thought Finn was going to die here the first time I watched the film. It felt like this was building to a game changing moment and taking out Finn here wouldn’t have surprised me. On subsequent viewings, the thought seemed a less plausible but that’s how in I was and how sold I was that anything could happen. Instead of Finn completing the suicide mission, Rose is able to knock him off the path and save him. When Finn confronts an obviously injured Rose and asks her why, she delivers a poignant message. “That’s how we’re going to win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” She kisses Finn and passes out in his arms.
Things look hopeless. The First Order blows through the base wall and the walkers close in on the base. Leia learns no one has answered the distress call. The Falcon has drawn off the TIE Fighters but doesn’t have enough fire power to face down the entire First Order troops. Then it happens. At the beginning of the film, Rey and Luke have an interaction where Rey says the Resistance needs Luke Skywalker and Luke responds with one of the most “F you!” lines of the film. “You think I’m going to walk out with a laser sword and take down the whole First Order.” That’s exactly what happens though. (Sort of.) We finally get Luke looking less grizzled than on Ahch-To and an interaction with his sister Leia. They have a brief, touching interaction (heightened by the passing of Fisher and knowing this will be the last time we see them together on screen). Luke then proceeds to walk toward the First Order, gives C-3PO a wink and marches out into the salt and toward the approaching First Order. Upon sight, Kylo/Ben is incensed and orders the entire army to fire on him and unleashes a barrage on Luke like we’ve never seen. Eventually, General Hux orders them to stop firing and snidely asks Kylo/Ben, “Do you think you got him?” As the salt… err dust… err salt settles, emerging from the smoke is an unscathed Luke who brushes off his shoulder and stands in front of the First Order. As Luke takes on the First Order, the remaining Resistance realizes this is their opportunity to escape and looks for a way out of the base. As the Resistance looks for a way to escape, a showdown between Kylo/Ben and Luke occurs. This is one of the best shot showdowns of the franchise. While there’s a chance during first viewing you don’t know Luke is Force projecting himself to Crait from Ahch-To (he never left the island and he never really stands down the entire First Order with a laser sword), Kylo/Ben vs. Luke is as satisfying as any showdown. Kylo/Ben can’t hit Luke and after he tells Luke he’s going to kill him and the Resistance is finished, Luke spells out why everything he said was wrong. Luke’s words are accompanied by images of Rey moving a pile of rocks to allow the Resistance to board the Falcon and escape. Even more angry, Kylo/Ben takes his lightsaber and slices through Luke… ‘s Force projection. He turns to see Luke unscathed, approaches and sticks his lightsaber through the image. At that point, Luke finishes the ultimate trolling session with a snide, “See you around, kid!” Luke disappears. On Ahch-To, Luke collapses on a rock in front of setting suns. He goes out the way he came in to the franchise, in front of two setting suns as Luke’s Jedi cloak blows into the wind. This is another incredible scene in a film full of incredible scenes.
The film closes with Rey and Kylo/Ben connecting one last time only to see Rey close the Falcon doors and fly from the planet. On the Falcon, Leia and Rey discuss the feeling they felt when Luke passed. We also see Rey and Poe meet for the first time and Rey look on as Finn takes care of Rose. Our time on the Falcon ends with Rey asking Leia how they will rebuild from this as she holds Luke’s broken lightsaber. Leia assures her they have everything they need.
The Last Jedi finishes back on Canto Bight. The same group of stable kids are sitting around telling the story of Luke Skywalker. An angry slave owner creature of some sort walks in and yells and the kids scatter. One of the kids goes outside and grabs a broom using the Force. Don’t blink, you might miss it. He looks at the Resistance ring he was given by Rose and looks toward the stars and sees a flash in the sky while holding his broom like a lightsaber.
Quotable, rewatchable and full of both reverence and challenges to the Star Wars universe, The Last Jedi is the most meta Star Wars film in the series. After The Force Awakens, I wondered if they would continue down the path of regurgitating the original trilogy and selling it as the new trilogy. It would have been the easy way out for the franchise and especially for writer/director Johnson who has now become the most polarizing figure of the Star Wars franchise. His choices to challenge and stretch the Star Wars universe were welcome and interesting. It provided some of the best moments in what easily has the most twists and turns of any Star Wars film.
We’re now left with having no idea where the story goes from here. As much fun as it was to ask the questions from The Force Awakens and as much as we expected most of them to linger until the third episode of the latest trilogy, The Last Jedi decided to possibly answer them. Who are Rey’s parents? Filthy junk traders. Maybe. (Kylo/Ben hasn’t been the most honest person in the Star Wars universe.) Who is Snoke? Who cares… he’s dead. What happened between Luke and Kylo? Luke tried to kill him, sort of. Can Kylo be redeemed? Eh… sort of… but probably not really. Will Luke train Rey? Kind of. To say the least, The Last Jedi closed a lot of storylines from The Force Awakens. Some with thunderous force. (No pun intended.) Now, we’re left with a more open ended tale with little to no clear direction for the story. To add complications to all of this, Carrie Fisher has died while her character is still alive in the Star Wars universe. There has been a definitive no from the creative group behind Episode IX that Leia will be returning so they have to deal with her death. While The Last Jedi occurs immediately after the end of The Force Awakens, there’s an expectation that Episode IX will be further in the future. Will Rey and Kylo/Ben still be connected by the Force? Will the Force ghost version of Luke return? How will the Resistance rebuild and how strong will the First Order be when it reloads? There’s still some really intriguing questions unanswered and there’s a lot to look forward to. With the way The Last Jedi played out, there’s no reason to believe that it will stop at Episode IX though as it sets up enough to provide more storyline possibilities. Personally, I can’t wait… too bad I have to wait until December 2019.