Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

The only Star Wars films I have left to review after Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) are the prequels.  At least this will be the last one of the franchise that I will cover that I truly enjoyed.  And yes, I did mean “enjoyed.”  As I mentioned in my review of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), that one followed the plot of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) in an eerily similar way.  I did not hate the experience, but my gosh, you would think that J. J. Abrams insulted the mothers of every single Star Wars fan in existence.  In following the tradition laid down by the original trilogy, Abrams stepped aside to let another auteur direct The Last Jedi, as George Lucas did for Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980).  The result in 1980 was the most perfect of iteration of the science fiction/fantasy saga.  After a mixed review of The Force Awakens, I believe people were expecting Rian Johnson to pull of another masterpiece with The Last Jedi.  What we got is something that has made fans nerd rage for the past five years.  Again, I blame this on people wanting one thing, and getting mad when they are given something else.  As I would preach to anyone who is struggling with matching their desires with God’s, surrender.  You will be happier in the long run.

Again, I will approach my review of The Last Jedi thematically.  Also, like I did in talking about The Force Awakens, I will start with the criticisms.  The first of these, I feel, pertains to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).  Throughout The Force Awakens, the Jedi Master is referred to in hushed tones, in a manner usually reserved for legends.  Indeed, he is referred to as such at one point.  Those of us who know he is real waited the entire movie to see him on-screen, only to have him show up in the very last scene when Rey (Daisy Ridley) travels to the remote world on which he had been hiding for several years.  That is where The Last Jedi picks up, and I believe that people wanted Luke to take his old lightsaber that Rey offers him, light it up, and charge off to save the galaxy.  Instead, we see an embittered older man who feels like the Jedi way is more trouble than it is worth.  The interactions between Luke and Rey involve the younger, idealistic Rey attempting to convince the more experienced Luke to teach her as a Jedi since he is, er, the last one.  The reason for his obstinacy is because of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who had been Ben Solo when Luke trained the young man in the ways of the Force.  Luke is also Ben’s uncle, Ben being the offspring of Luke’s sister Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford).  When Luke failed to recognizes the growing attraction to the dark side of the Force in Ben, the path that would lead the apprentice to become Kylo Ren, Luke felt he failed.  In doing so, he put himself into a self-imposed exile, hoping that the teachings of the Jedi would die with him.  To me, this all makes sense, and it is something that I have seen in my Faith life.  When we witness others fail, particularly those to whom we are close, we can take the blame for these outcomes on ourselves.  In dealing with such adversity, we tend to forget God, believing that we are the ones responsible.  God desires individual relationships with us, and that should come first for everyone.  While we can influence others negatively, ultimately how we live our lives are up to us, just as Ben’s decision to become Kylo Ren was his own.  Because of this, Luke abandons the mission of the Jedi, to be a guardian of peace and justice.  Would I have liked to have seen Luke handle this differently?  Sure.  At the same time, I understand why they went in this direction.  It also gives him a nice little redemption when he finally sees the error of his ways, and that is always good for this Catholic.

There is another big sequence that people do not like in The Last Jedi.  At the beginning, the Resistance is escaping from their old base, attempting to slip past the First Order fleet blocking their path.  This occupies a great deal of the plot.  As the First Order gives chase, the bridge of the main Resistance ship is destroyed with General Leia Organa being blasted out into space.  This is a part of the movie even I cringe at because they could have easily let her character be killed off, and the rest of the movie would have made sense.  This would have helped from a logistical standpoint, too, given Carrie Fisher’s unfortunate passing before the release of the film.  Instead, they have her use her Force powers to make it back inside the ship, and she lives to help redeem her son in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019).  So, not a total loss I suppose.  For the time being, this leaves Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) in charge of the Resistance fleet.  Oh no, another character, what?  What got people in a lather is when she evacuates the capital ship and uses it to ram the First Order flagship, buying the necessary time the Resistance survivors need to make it to a former Rebel Alliance base.  I honestly do not understand why people rage against this scene.  The Resistance cruiser destroys its First Order equivalent, and a number of other enemy vessels.  It is all made up, science fiction stuff anyway, so why get mad over this detail?  This desperate maneuver is prompted after Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) fail in their mission to disable the device aboard the First Order flagship that is tracking the Resistance fleet.  It involves going to another planet, attempting to find a gambler with a code to get onto the enemy vessel, getting arrested in the process, but finding a shady code cracker named DJ (Benicio Del Toro) to replace the other.  Together, they make it all the way to their destination, only to be caught by the First Order at the last moment.  As it stands, others have pointed out that this portion of the plot amounts to a wild goose chase with nothing significant happening.  I feel this criticism, while somewhat fair, is a little harsh.  There is an old saying about how we plan and God laughs.  In this vein, I am sure all of you can think of a time when your carefully laid intentions have gone awry.  I will grant that in a film, we do not want to have our time wasted by such dead ends.  However, I think there are worse ways in which they could have gone with this part of the story.

I have gotten this far in talking about The Last Jedi with barely mentioning Rey.  It is in her character that I will, as before, give my full Catholic perspective.  Her storyline, too, follows pretty close to want happens to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi (1983).  In The Last Jedi, Luke plays the role of Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), who also makes an appearance, and the confrontation between Kylo Rey and Rey comes in a facsimile of Emperor Palpatine’s (Ian McDiarmid) throne room in The Return of the Jedi.  Of course, the difference in The Last Jedi is that we have Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis) pulling the strings.  In between, there are several moments when Kylo Ren and Rey begin to realize that they are connected in the Force, something they refer to as a dyad in the Force.  It allows them to interact with each other over the vast distances of the galaxy, even being able to physically touch one another.  This will be more important in the next film, and understanding how this work is not my main concern.  What intrigues me is how it allows them to see each other.  They each believe that, when the time comes, they will switch sides, Rey turning to the dark side, and Kylo Ren becoming Ben once more in returning to the light.  As a Catholic, what interests me most is Rey’s determination to reach Ben.  She seems to have let go of the anger she felt from him killing his father, Han Solo, in the last film, and instead senses the good in her would-be enemy.  That is so important to remember in every situation.  God does not create evil.  We are all built for good, even that person who cut you off today in traffic.  Unfortunately, while it appears for some time that Rey succeeds when Ben uses the Force to activate Rey’s lightsaber and kill Supreme Leader Snoke, in the end he chooses to take the fallen ruler’s place, and tries to get Rey to follow him.  To her credit, she refuses, staying on the light side.  That must have been a hard moment to face.  Then again, God did not say that life would always be easy.

I hope that I was able to give at least a different perspective on some of the aspects of The Last Jedi about which people complain the most.  There are plenty of Star Wars-y moments in it to satisfy, if you can just get past your expectations of what you wanted from it.  For me, I giggle every time Rey is piloting the Millennium Falcon through the caves in the final battle of the film, and I still get goosebumps when Luke projects himself there to confront Kylo Ren.  Would I have liked to have seen Luke live?  Of course.  At the same time, I have let go of these desires and am simply appreciative of more Star Wars stuff.

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