Is The Last Jedi strong in the Force? It’s hard to say, but whether you love or hate the film, it’s a game changer.
Not everything works in Episode 8. The film is too long and sags during the Canto Bight scenes. Del Toro’s character DJ felt pedestrian and didn’t leave a strong impression. The feeling is that Finn’s talents could have been better used elsewhere.
Leia’s spacewalk was ridiculous and on par with the prequel’s more ludicrous moments. Although a great general and warrior, her powers always felt intuitive and emotional rather than physical. There was never a suggestion in the movies that she was Force-trained. To suddenly have Leia do something so extreme and physical (Force-wise) felt out of place. Surely there was another more subtle yet powerful way to illustrate Leia’s connection to the Force?
The First Order’s pursuit of the Resistance was, arguably, lifted from the Battlestar Galactica playbook. The introduction of Vice Admiral Holdo (another new character who comes to a quick end) wasn’t needed as other players deserved more screen time. A conflict between Leia and Poe, hinted at with that slap, would have given these scenes a tougher edge.
Killing new(ish) characters brings us to Supreme Leader Snoke. The jury is still out on this one as his presence, plotting and manipulative nature felt visceral and genuinely sinister. In the film’s defence, his death allowed Ben Solo (Kylo Ren) to ascend to power. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the final chapter as Ben is now the undisputed antagonist of the sequels.
Bad Boy, Ben
Speaking of Ben, how far does one have to go before being considered a bad seed? Killing his dad probably sealed the deal, right? Don’t forget that he also ordered the murder of the villagers in the opening scenes of The Force Awakens. Ben had the chance to atone for his crimes after killing Snoke, and despite Rey’s pleas, decided to continue his pursuit of power. Considering her goodness and kindness, would Ben power-share with Rey in the future, and what path would he lead her down? There appears to be nothing democratic or pluralistic about Ben – he is the opposite of his parents and his rule will undoubtedly be absolute, authoritative and bloody. As a consequence, we saw Rey literally close the door on him… despite her vision of his possible future.
Peace and Purpose
It was heartbreaking to watch Luke slip his mortal coil and become one with the Force. Luke was the hero and beating heart of the original films. His radical change of character, his cynicism and the sense of defeat he now carries, flies in the face of everything we know about him. We saw him grow from a callow and impatient young man to daring rebel leader and then wise and noble Jedi Knight. It was Luke’s compassion and love for his father that saved them both from damnation. It makes no sense why he would want to kill the young Solo, without first, at least trying to reach out to him and make him see the light.
Remember, though, Luke’s decision to kill Ben was supported by Leia. For a mother to decide that her child should die is momentous. If they could agree that Ben should perish, then shouldn’t we accept that these two noble characters with their connection to the Force know and understand more than we do? Although not well written, this brings a new perspective to Luke’s decision and sheds a little light on his decision. It’s possible Luke believed without doubt that Ben is inherently evil and needed to die, especially now he has consolidated his power over The First Order.
A world without Luke Skywalker is a bitter pill to swallow. The only crumb of comfort fans can take, and this is debatable for many; is that Luke’s sacrifice saved the last embers of The Resistance and, more importantly, Rey. Most significantly, his death reinforces his legend and will inspire future generations in the struggle against evil.
Luke’s passing, in the long run, will save the franchise from predictability and drive the films into new territory. Don’t shoot first, but shouldn’t director Rian Johnson, from a certain point of view, deserve credit for what he tried to do with The Last Jedi? Luke’s warning that “this is not going to go the way you think” was our first clue that the film would turn recurring Star Wars narrative tropes on their heads.
Whatever JJ Abrams decides to do with the final chapter the hope is he will not redeem Ben Solo, if his soul is saved and he is granted atonement for his sins, then Star Wars risks becoming clichéd. We’ve already seen a member of the Skywalker family (Anakin) succumb to the Dark Side only to be saved. If he is redeemed it would be a case of ‘haven’t we’ve seen this before?’ It would also undermine Luke’s view that Ben is, despite his conflict; truly evil. Fans should see him pay for his crimes and die unredeemed. It would send a strong message that wickedness and the pursuit of power comes at a cost to one’s soul and destroys the people who love you. His demise would also strengthen Luke’s legend as the only Skywalker to confront and reject the Dark Side.
Despite George Lucas’ suggestion that the films (or stanzas) should rhyme like poetry, Star Wars needs to break free from these variations of the same themes and motifs and reach out to explore new ideas. The Last Jedi, triggered by Luke’s death, feels like the start of this process. Although not a perfect film, hopefully Abrams can build on Johnson’s efforts and propel the saga into a wider universe – a future which belongs to Rey, Finn, Poe and others. As Luke drew his last breath and looked to the horizon at the double suns (beautifully bookending his heroes journey) perhaps he was already seeing and contemplating these new, uncharted waters. Only time, and the Force, will tell.