Monday, December 18, 2017

The Last Jedi - Spoiler Filled Thoughts




I already wrote a review of The Last Jedi, but I came away disappointed with my own words, or lack thereof. See, this is a film that is very challenging to articulate exactly why I loved it without delving into spoiler territory, so that's exactly where I am going to go now. The following is going to be filled with spoilers, so you have been warned. I'm going to type the word spoilers again right now, and again, spoilers, so that I don't get yelled at by anyone who reads this without yet seeing the film.




There is always a chosen one. In the Star Wars universe alone, I grew up watching the original trilogy on repeat, the story of Luke Skywalker, the chosen one, the Jedi warrior that would bring balance to the force. Before him it was Anakin Skywalker, the chosen one. The man who would bring peace to the galaxy, and that ever elusive balance to the force. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and announced a brand new trilogy of Star Wars films, a continuation of the so called Skywalker saga, the immediate question was what kind of story would they go with? Luke defeated his father, Palpatine is dead, the Empire crumbling into ruins, and the Rebellion threw a god damn rager of a party on Endor with the Ewoks. It was over. The chosen one served his purpose, stronger than his father before him, able to resist the temptation of the power of the dark side and bring forth the light. So was the story simply going to be a new evil is born, the resurgence of the Empire under new leadership, and it would be up to a much older Luke to vanquish them again? After all, he is the chosen one.

In The Force Awakens we meet our new hero, the young, resilient Rey, much like Anakin and Luke living each day on a desert planet only instead of Tatooine she is left scraping together enough parts to sell for food on Jakku. Our assumption of Luke being the chosen one was wrong, as clearly his ability to turn his father and destroy evil wasn't enough to keep it locked away for good. A new foe called the First Order has risen from the ashes and it will be up to young Rey to save the galaxy. She is the chosen one, or at least that's what J.J. Abrams lead us to believe in The Force Awakens, the defining moment that would announce her arrival as the one being that epic shot of her with the lightsaber after striking Kylo Ren to the ground in the snowy forest on the Starkiller Base. The incredible power, the ability to channel it with essentially no training. Rey is the chosen one, and clearly her parents are Luke Skywalker and the daughter of Ben Kenobi because that's the only possible combination of characters in this vast, mostly unexplored universe that could create such a bad ass.




Two years of fan theories about who Rey is, who her parents are, why she is so force sensitive, and here comes writer/director Rian Johnson with his new film, the 8th installment of the saga The Last Jedi, and he completely turns his back on any of that stuff and it was the single most brilliant thing that he could have done. Anakin was not the chosen one. Luke was not the chosen one. Rey is not the chosen one. There is no chosen one. This film is out to tell the world that the force isn't inside a few select characters that make up a family lineage, the force flows through everyone, around everything, and it can be all of ours. When Kylo Ren reveals the identity of Rey's parents, that they were pathetic deadbeats who literally sold their daughter for drinking money, it caught so many people off guard who are now online demanding that this nine film saga be perfectly tied up together, that Rey must connect to Anakin or Luke or Leia or Obi-Wan somehow, but the franchise is so much better off because of this revelation and its implications, that a revolution doesn't hang on the fate of a Skywalker or a Solo or a Kenobi but rather a girl left to rot away on a remote planet, a girl that happens to be force sensitive and strong enough to search for her place in the universe and determined enough to do what she must to save it all.

The most stunning scene in The Last Jedi, both visually and narratively, takes place in the throne room of Supreme Leader Snoke. Rey has flown straight to them by choice, believing that she has seen the good inside Kylo and can turn him, and having his power on their side would be the turning point in this war. Luke, both referring to what will happen to Rey if she follows through with this plan and also foreshadowing what was to come for the audience and their expectations, says "This is not going to end the way you think!". Some predicted that Rey and Kylo would end up working and fighting together, and during that brief incredible sequence they likely thought they could brag about being correct, but in actuality Kylo Ren has never been more evil. He kills Snoke, a character that also spawned numerous theories about who he is and how he fits into the grand scheme of the universe and as of right now appears to simply be a deformed force sensitive piece of shit who preys on the vulnerable to turn them dark on his quest of evil domination (which is pretty much exactly the grand total of what we knew about the Emperor by the end of the first trilogy too), but Kylo turns the lightsaber on his master not to save the Republic but rather to burn everything down. He does this because Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo but now completely turned away from his previous identity, doesn't care about the First Order or the Resistance, Sith or Jedi. He cares only about his own power, his own place in all of this, his own story. Kylo Ren killed Snoke because he doesn't want to answer to anyone, doesn't want to be manipulated by someone, doesn't want to have to bend the knee and vow his allegiance to the Supreme Leader. Kylo Ren is the only big bad guy heading into the final film of this saga, and that's the way it should be.




The most common response I have been seeing when someone compliments the direction Johnson took Luke in this film is the fact that it is known that Mark Hamill personally didn't care for the way his character was handled, and therefore it most have been a poor screenplay because no one would know Luke better than Luke. Hamill of course is currently saying all the right things, clarifying that while he took issue with it when he first read the script, talking it through with Rian and then actually seeing it through allowed him to see why this vision made sense, I am curious what a really candid and honest Hamill would say now that he has seen the whole thing. Perhaps I am being a pessimist by not taking him at his word, perhaps he isn't merely saying the right things but rather his honest feelings at this moment. I hope so. I hope the man who plays the character sees what I see, because not only was this Hamill's finest performance of the saga and probably the single greatest performance by anyone throughout the now 9 Star Wars movies, but it just feels right. I can appreciate what Johnson conceived here, the idea of a legend broken by his failures, choosing to shut himself off from the force and the resistance and the belief that Jedi are good and necessary because it is accurate to point out that past Jedi moves had only lead to more darkness. It feels right that for a fleeting moment he would stand over his nephew with his lightsaber ready to strike because it feels like an honest piece of storytelling. Drop your deeply held beliefs that Luke isn't capable of such a thing for a second simply because he rose above it 30 some years ago and consider what it would be like to live in a world of peace and harmony after so much death and destruction, so much galactic turmoil, only to see it happening again inside the mind of someone with so much power and potential. Think of how scary that would be. Ultimately, after only a brief moment of being overcome by the fear of a renewed resurgence of evil, Luke realizes that this is the wrong path, that striking him down in his sleep is not who he is, and the scene when he lays out this truth is filled with such authentic pain and deep regret. The look of fear in Ben's eyes when he awakens to see his master standing over him ready to strike haunts Luke to that day. It's the moment that shaped who Kylo Ren is now, a man capable of killing his Jedi master and his Supreme Leader because his trust in others is broken. This is why I don't think Kylo ever intended to kill Snoke when he entered that throne room. It wasn't some master plan. I think something snapped inside him when Snoke admitted to playing both he and Rey into setting up that moment. Kylo Ren was done being tricked by elders, done bowing down to legends. It was time to kill the past.

Ultimately I think time will be kind to The Last Jedi. I think years from now, hopefully aided by a terrific conclusion with the 9th film, the vast majority will see the decisions made by Johnson were beneficial to both this outstanding film and also for the future of Star Wars. The subtle and very quick moment at the end when the young oppressed boy working in the stables in Canto Bight is telling the story of Luke Skywalker standing up to the First Order to the other children only to be ordered to get back to work, and he uses the force casually to grab his broom from the wall, succeeds and resonates because of the revelation of Rey's ancestry. The next hero, the next "chosen one" doesn't have to be from the stories we have already been told which while wonderful and original were undoubtedly narrow in scope when you consider just how little exploration of character and setting were done through the first six films. It could be anyone, from the daughter of drunks left for dead to a slave boy abused in a stable, surrounded by a city filled with nothing but selfish greed. As long as that spark of hope created by the resistance survives somewhere in the galaxy, the next hero will rise.




Now just please, for the love of god, someone stop J.J. from writing a gotcha twist into the 9th film that her parents are actually Luke and Maz Kanata and Kylo was just lying to her and manipulating her mind, and don't let the film include the First Order building a new Starkiller Base. Rian Johnson managed to push the Star Wars universe forward in such an exciting way. Don't ever go back. Kill the past.


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