The famous music hit. “Directed by Rian Johnson” appeared on the screen. It was over. I had just witnessed the newest Star Wars movie. For the first time watching a Star Wars film, I really did not know how to feel about it. I liked it enough, but it left me with an odd feeling that I could not describe for the rest of the day. A few hours after seeing the movie, the feeling dawned on me and I realized something about this movie. But first, let’s see what we’re working with here.
First, the nitpicks. My personal biggest letdown of the movie was Snoke. I was looking forward to seeing Snoke expanded after The Force Awakens did an incredible job of setting up this character. He was a puppet master in The Force Awakens and that film hinted at a larger role to play. Unfortunately, he was taken out easily and rather early in The Last Jedi. It diminished his perceived power and leaves the audience to wonder “Who was that guy,” and more importantly, “Why should I even care that he is dead?”
The fake-out death of Leia also did not work. Seeing her use the force like Superman regaining consciousness in outer space just did not sit well with me. I, like so many, am interested to see how Episode IX handles her with the untimely passing of Carrie Fisher.
What did work for me was the further development of the new characters. I think the core of Rey, Finn, and Poe are a solid trio and growing into fully formed characters. The new characters and locations where great and I loved the almost heist feel of this movie.
As I said though, this is more of a reaction rather than a review. So how did I feel about this movie? The Last Jedi is the most thematically complex of all the Star Wars movies. After the buildup to find Luke Skywalker in the previous film, we find him in TLJ a broken down man, asking questions of Rey what good did the Jedi play after all and what value is there in being a legend. That is one of the greatest strengths of this movie. It not only asks itself and thus the audience to look at the value of those we’ve placed on pedestals, but also looks back at the entire Star Wars saga and asks where do we go from here? That leads to something that I wonder if the film intended to do. The Last Jedi has managed to, as Kylo says, “let the past die.”
That is the feeling I was encountering after watching this movie. It was the feeling that the past of Star Wars, the Skywalker family drama, Empire vs. Rebellion, was over. But rather than ending in a good guys have prevailed way (Return of the Jedi), the rich universe this franchise has created is still open and will move forward. This is the film that looks back at our nostalgia of Star Wars and says, “You have played your part. Now is the time to bow out gracefully and let the changes sweep over the franchise.”
Maybe even more broadly speaking, Rian Johnson has managed to take the nostalgia craze of the last ten years and say it is time to move forward. The return of franchises in films for millennials and Gen X’ers, Transformers, Indiana Jones, etc… they all brought back the memories and feelings of the original material. The Last Jedi though takes it that to the next crucial step. It is time to move forward. Much as Luke asks Rey what it means to be a legend, perhaps we should ask what does it mean to hold on to our childhood heroes and franchises?
On a personal level, I don’t know if The Last Jedi will become my favorite Star Wars film, but at this point, I can honestly say it is the most important Star Wars film. The universe we’ve witnessed from the first film, from the time we were kids, now truly feels wide open. The fate of a galaxy no longer hangs on the actions of a single family, but now hope has been placed in anyone who is willing to fight for what is right. For a rebellion. I am beyond excited to see where the franchise goes from here.