Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

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Major spoilers ahead

The Force Awakens set forth the task of actually advancing the SW universe for the first time in almost 4 decades. This task is very important because Force Awakens was clearly a remake of Star Wars. That was the right and necessary thing to do at the time. As excellent as the original Star Wars is it simply doesn’t speak to the youth of today in the same way. They needed their own Star Wars, and long time fans needed some fan service. And that’s exactly what we got. It was a fun reboot to the franchise.

Moving Forward

1. Han Solo was supposed to tragically die as a lovable rogue not the tamed boyfriend of a princess

2. Luke was supposed to go into exile having lost faith due to his encounter with the dark side

3. The franchise was supposed to be unresolved because SW is a movie serial, it should never be resolved but go from cliff hanger to cliff hanger

Lucas removed these 3 elements from Return of the Jedi in order to essentially end the franchise on a happy note. Their re inclusion gave new life to a franchise in desperate need. And for that reason I will always defend The Force Awakens against her critics. But aside from those story elements not much else was accomplished.

The Last Jedi takes up this renewed story and goes into hyperspace with it. When the credits role the audience knows they have truly entered a new era for Star Wars. The rules have changed, the roads are gone, there are no more remakes here. The franchise is free to move and breathe again for the first time since 1980.

The Story Problem

So to clearly restate, before The Last Jedi came out, the Star Wars series included 4 prequels, 3 versions of the same film, and one true sequel. This is one of the main reasons that The Empire Strikes Back occupies such sacred space for so many. The franchise desperately needed to gain new territory and it did with The Last Jedi. This is the first true step forward into a truly larger world. Despite what some people feared would happen The Last Jedi only has a few similarities to The Empire Strikes Back and they are mostly superficial. But their differences are very striking. For Last Jedi is a deeply hopeful story, despite whittling the Resistance down to a force that fits into the Millennium Falcon. This film is just not that dark. Almost Everything in it speaks to purification rather than failure. This is highlighted most poignantly by Yoda’s brief spectral appearance where he actually tells Luke that failure itself is a good thing because it is our strongest teacher.

Luke is the Film

So The Force Awakens created a fever pitch of anticipation over what Luke was going to do next because Abrams cleverly built his “puzzle box” around Luke as a macguffin. This is a term for the device that drives a film’s plot. The greatest examples being the letters of transit in Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon in of course The Maltese Falcon. The term was popularized by Hitchcock. It is usually whatever everyone is after. And when Rey finally finds the exiled Luke and then her macguffin is completely silent the anticipatory stage was perfectly set. Johnson and Hamill ably carried that massive baton across their epic finish line. For the first time in the entire series Hamill really gets to show his total dynamic range as an actor. His scenery chewing is delicious. But more than that Johnson wrote the perfect arc for Luke’s final reckoning. And when his binary sunset finally arrived during the second viewing my eyes were not dry. It was the perfect way for him to embrace his destiny. The awkward farm boy had become Buddha.

New Vision for the Force

There is quite a bit of art and Life imitating each other here. Because George Lucas had become like the Jedi Order in the prequels. He had lost the ability to listen to and trust the mythic power of story that is so clear in the original Star Wars. The dark side was clouding his judgement and he increasingly made the Wars about him instead of the mono myth that gives shape and life to all the other myths. And that is why Star Wars was and will always be such a powerful and enduring franchise. It is a myth woven from the threads of all the other myths. It is the Hero’s journey. It is the longing of every small town boy watching the sunset wondering if this is really all there is to life. It is good and evil. And it never really belonged to George. He was the conduit through which our universal human muse sang, and in the beginning the song was so beautiful. But over time he tried to own it and a myth as big as Star Wars could never belong to anyone in particular. And so the symphony became a din. A din with some wonderful moments to be sure. Episodes 2 and 3 do some pretty awesome stuff. But they lack the soul of Star Wars. They lack the fun.

Why We Love Star Wars

Educator, podcaster, & writer

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