I Am ‘The Last Jedi’: A Film Review
Being a pop-culture geek, I have a pretty deep bench when it comes to heroes. There’s Mick Foley a.k.a. Mankind/Cactus Jack, the guy that taught me no matter how hard and far you fall, you get back up and finish the damn match. There’s Cannonball from The New Mutants, the awkward kid with the clumsy power that became the leader his friends needed. Then we have the big guns, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Nightwing, Stone Cold Steve Austin… like I said, the bench is deep. But, if I were to draft an all-personal hero team and I had the first pick overall, I would draft Luke Skywalker.
I was just age appropriate enough to see Return of the Jedi in theaters and my mom was just geeky enough herself to take me 20times (or so the legend goes). I wore a cape and had a homemade flashlight lightsaber. Luke in his black outfit was my favourite action figure. Not whiny farm boy Luke from A New Hope. Not cocky but brave Empire Strikes Back Luke. Return of the Jedi Luke. The wise, humble, powerful man that emerged from the farm boy. The guy that killed a frickin’ Rancor with his bare hands and hid a lightsaber inside R2-D2 and wanted to complete his training and turned down the evil Emperor and…. you get it.
With all that in my head, and I dare to say my heart, I went in to The Last Jedi ready to see my hero draw his lightsaber and turn the 38-year-old man sitting in my seat back into that little kid in a cape. But that didn’t happen.
**WARNING** The rest of this post contains thematic spoilers from Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The Luke Skywalker we come face to face with in The Last Jedi is not a bold hero ready to once again save the galaxy. Instead, he is a defeated man, cut off from the Force, prepared to live out his life alone on a far away planet. He isn’t the Yoda to Rey’s Luke; he doesn’t want to train her. He doesn’t see himself as a legend or a hero. He’s just a man. A man that failed and is doomed to live with that failure. His hurt, hurt me.
To leave Luke and Rey for a moment, it’s worth looking at the rest of The Last Jedi and how it both honoured the tradition of Empire Strikes Back by taking the series in a different direction, but also subverted all our expectations about a Star Wars movie and the tropes that go along with it.
We expect the hothead with the one in a million plan to succeed. We expect the hero to make a stand. We expect the villain to have clear, malicious intentions. Nope, not this time.
The characters of The Last Jedi are not clean; they don’t do what we expect.
Kylo Ren is not Darth Vader or Darth Maul. He doesn’t ooze that cool, dark villain vibe we want from our Star Wars bad guys. He’s conflicted, he’s emotional, he’s as much petulant child as he is saber-wielding badass.
Poe Dameron is a brave hothead with that one in a million chance plan to save the day, but he’s in the wrong. It’s General Haldo who saves the day, while Poe’s plan ultimately almost leads to total defeat.
The old rebel base with the rusty weapons seems like the place for a successful, heroic stand where somehow the good guys pull out a win. It’s not.
We all wanted big, complex answers to the unanswered questions of The Force Awakens: Who are Rey’s parents? Who is Snoke? Well, that wasn’t what this movie was for. It was to move the story of Rey and Kylo Ren forward to its next chapter. It was to show us that it was Leia who never gave up the fight, who never ran away, who was ready to make a stand at the very end. It was a story of defeat and the hope of redemption, not a clear-cut win for the good guys. Which I think made it hard for us, the lifelong fans, to swallow.
The Star Wars universe is massive in scope, with fictional branches that span books, comics, games and cartoons. Those of us that have taken a dive into the deep end of that universe can find a rich mythology and a galaxy of possibilities. The extended universe isn’t canon anymore? The books still exist. Not enough on the Jedi versus Sith dynamic? Read the Darth Bane trilogy or go play Knights of the Old Republic. Want to see Luke Skywalker battle against impossible odds and win? Open up your action figure case, set up your toys and play.
The Last Jedi isn’t here to validate our fan theories or give us what we want. It is here to be a movie about fictional characters in a fictional universe that we all feel we own or that owns us. It is here to make money, to sell toys and to fill stockings with porgs. Its also here to tell a Star Wars story as crafted by the people that made the film. There is literally no pleasing everybody.
With the end credits rolled, Luke Skywalker is still my hero. And he is my hero not just because of all his amazing victories, but also because in the end he wasn’t just a legend, he was a man, just like me. A man that got old, that hung up his lightsaber, that has had losses and defeats. But in the end, he was there when the people he loved needed him.
“This isn’t going to go the way you think.” Luke tells Rey. He’s right. The Last Jedi doesn’t go the way we think, and that’s a good thing. I can’t tell you that you should love The Last Jedi. It doesn’t punch you in the nostalgia like The Force Awakens. But, if you let it, it tells you an epic story and delivers stunning visuals and complex characters. And isn’t that what Star Wars is really about?
So from my passenger seat in the Milenium Falcon to yours, thanks for reading.