I walked into the theatre ready to like The Last Jedi if for no other reason than Carrie Fisher’s appearance in it.
I admit my bias and my sentimentality. For me, the latest installments in the Star Wars saga have been about women, about what I will always believe was the sexism and patriarchy of the 1970s keeping a fascinating character, Leia, in a supporting role, about a princess re-emerging as a General, about an orphaned girl fighting and holding her own against a trained Sith apprentice. Since this and the prominence of PoCs were what I wanted, The Last Jedi satisfied.
This installment continues the examination of inner conflict that The Force Awakens began. Rey is kneeling at the foot of a reluctant and reclusive Luke Skywalker. Patricidal Kylo Ren is rent in two by what should have been his definitive turn to the dark side. General Organa is continuing her lifelong mission of subverting oppressive regimes while wrestling with the idea that her son has turned. Finn is still a First Order deserter who has to battle his me-first-and-f*ck-all-y’all-I’m-saving-myself instinct. Luke is still out here battling the same demons he’s been battling since the first installment: himself and all of his big, huge feelings. Poe Dameron, too, is battling his impulses to achieve his goals.
What the movie does well is link each of these individual journeys to the larger over-arching narrative. The cogs fit well. By the end of the movie, most of these characters reach new personal milestones or realizations, some more satisfying than others. Inner conflict becomes a window to loss, hubris, and fear. The audience is asked to think about failure and what it means in the trajectory of a life, of a war, of a government.
It seemed, at times, particularly poignant to examine how we fight back against failure in the current shitshow that is our government. How does one rebel against all odds? What is the personal responsibility of each of us in response to the call? These are questions the franchise has been directly addressing at least since Padmé. This installment is unrelenting in that regard while, somehow, simultaneously retaining a dry humor that acts as a pressure valve.
This humor does not just come from the expected characters like Poe or Finn, though it does come from them. There is a scene in which Luke and Rey are talking about the nature of the Force. It may be the funniest few seconds in the entire franchise. There are small, beautiful moments scattered throughout the film like that. They reminded me that while the nerdom is serious business, as evidenced by the massive line and casual cosplay in the theatre, it is, at its heart, entertainment.
In the theatre I was in, we laughed, we clapped, we cheered, we awwwww-ed, and I heard more than one person admit to crying during the film. I didn’t, but I came close watching General Organa. We know Leia, though untrained, is sensitive to the Force. We also know that this was Carrie Fisher’s last reprisal of her iconic role. I don’t think the passing of the (strong woman) torch was meant to be this literal, but death rarely cares about our intentions so it was. Fisher, as Leia, got to see Rey pursue her training with Luke. This was not bloodline nepotism, but pure talent. I got to see a world where daughters do not understand that there was a time when all the Jedi were men, were white, were not them. And, yes, though I’d love a movie in which the Jedi are all #blackgirlmagic and light sabers, I cannot pretend that Leia, as a princess and as a general—especially where those Venn diagram circles overlap—was not inspiring to me as a child and as a woman.
I think the emotional weight of this legacy, and of others, was purposefully and deftly communicated through the use of silence. When the noise drops out of a theatre of hundreds, you feel it. If the Force is about balance, and all of the movies have been, on some level, about seeking that balance, then the decision to embrace both the state of the art sound system and the quiet is a wise choice.
There are things I did not like about the movie: a forced tension between characters, a moment when I questioned the internal logic of the universe we were in, and an overly didactic subplot. Even though these things are outweighed by what I enjoyed, they are worth mentioning.
There are two simultaneous, intertwined plots happening: white people exploring their own inner lives, and PoCs trying to solve real-world problems in real-world time. Yes, I’m oversimplifying, but this is, at its heart a space western and so I feel justified. John Boyega’s Finn and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose risk their lives trying to get the MacGuffin while Rey, in a number of ways, explores the Force on an island with Skywalker. Yes, they are still on the island even though stakes were high (looks at Roy Moore election results and deep sighs).
Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron explores much of the same territory that the franchise covered with Han Solo. Yes, he’s handsome. Yes, he’s a lovable rogue. Yes, he has a heart of gold and poor impulse control. No, he doesn’t respect female authority in any way whatever even in the face of evidence that he should simply fall back.
***The lightest of spoilers in the next paragraph***
I was also somewhat annoyed by the buddy-cop-turned-possible-romantic-tension between Finn and Rose. This is the Speed principle. As a young Sandra Bullock said in the classic 1994 film Speed, “relationships that start under intense circumstances, they never last.” And, no, Finn and Rose aren’t Facebook-official or anything, but the movie seeks to sow the seeds of attraction. Why? So Rey can be a monk? [deep sigh]. So we have to navigate the sexual politics and tension in the next installment? [deeper sigh]. So we can watch Rey and Finn repeat Anakin and Padmé’s clandestine relationship minus, of course, the pedophiliac grooming? [deepest of sighs].
***end of light spoilers***
Even given these things, it is overall, a good movie worth watching. And timely, as our own modern-day First Order takes roots.