WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the following:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Star Wars is no stranger to controversy but as someone who’s only a very casual fan of the series, I’ve never witnessed anything like it until the release of The Last Jedi. Opinions seem to be split right down the middle – either you love it for what it brought to the table and the risks it took or you hate it for those very same reasons.
Where do I stand in all this? Well, overall I liked it. It’s not without its problems but I enjoyed it for what it was (especially the second half of it). So, with the film due out on DVD and Blu-ray soon, I’ve decided to briefly revisit this film and jot down the things I personally liked about it and show how it’s not the irredeemable garbage fire some people make it out to be.
1. The Fights
Not much I can really say here; I just enjoyed all the action set-pieces throughout the film, especially the physical combat scenes. My personal favourite is probably when Rey and Kylo teamed up to battle Snoke’s guards shortly after Snoke’s death. The choreography was stunning, the action itself enjoyably brutal and it was really cool watching these two fighting back-to-back. The scene demonstrated both their individual skills and how well they actually work together. Considering the last time the two were on screen was when they were fighting each other and neither of them were at their best, there’s something very satisfying seeing them go all out against a bunch of mooks.
That being said, I’m glad the Praetorian Guard put up an actual fight and weren’t just effortlessly mowed down. They managed to get some good hits in and keep the tension up, even if they did all get their asses handed to them.
Finn’s one-on-one duel with Phasma was also immensely satisfying to watch. You could feel Finn’s and Phasma’s animosity towards each other with every swing of their weapons and having it take place in the middle of Snoke’s exploding ship made for some stunning visuals. The one real downside is that it’s criminally short, like it was over before it even really started.
And, of course, I’ve got to mention the brief battle between Luke and Kylo. Even though it’s not really a fight and Luke is simply distracting Kylo and on the defensive, you still get a glimpse at Luke’s full potential and it’s somehow enough to let you know how powerful he’s become. Part of me is a bit annoyed that we never saw Luke at his peak but, at the same time, what little we got still managed to hype me up, though the real highlight of that fight is the reveal of Luke not actually being there and he essentially trolled his unsuspecting nephew and denied him the victory he so desperately wanted.
Man, just writing about these scenes makes me want to watch them again, but we’ve still got some more points to cover.
2. Finn’s Character Arc
I remember on my first viewing finding the plot-line of Finn and Rose heading to Canto Bight to find their codebreaker a bit dull and uninteresting for some reason. Granted, I find most of the first half of the film a tiny bit boring but I distinctly remember that feeling being at its strongest during this section of the story. But, after a second watch and reading/hearing other peoples’ thoughts on it, I’ve realised that it was actually pretty necessary. Aside from the obvious political commentary, it was this scene that marked Finn’s first step into permanently siding with the Resistance.
It’s easy to forget (I certainly did) but while Finn may be a good guy, he was never on board with the Resistance. The only reason he even helped them in The Force Awakens was because Rey had been captured and he wanted to save her. All he ever really wanted was to escape the First Order and find a place to lay low and just live, and he wanted Rey to be a part of that since she was the first real friend he ever had. That’s why he was so quick to try and desert the Resistance once he woke up from his coma – his only priority is keeping himself and Rey safe. Much like Rose and other characters, we (the audience) mistakenly believe him to be the next big hero just because he infiltrated the Starkiller base, helped blow it up and went toe-to-toe with Kylo Ren. His actions were heroic but they were born from a selfish (yet understandable) motivation.
So when he travels to Canto Bight, he finally witnesses the effect the First Order have had on the galaxy. Sure, at first he’s enamoured with the casino and its atmosphere because he’s never seen this kind of glitz and glamour before (something I think we’ve all done ourselves) but then he learns why Rose hates the place so much and sees the darker underbelly beneath it all. Small children are forced to work as slave labour and are denied the kind of innocent childhood they should have had, much like Finn himself. The laughing, happy, successful masses are able to enjoy their luxuries by supporting the First Order; they deliberately and knowingly aid this openly ruthless dictatorship that is responsible for the destruction of several planets.
Even though he never directly states it, I think it’s reasonable to believe that Finn begins to reconsider his intentions around this point. But then his new worldview is challenged by the criminal/back-up codebreaker DJ, who reveals that many (if not all) of Canto Bight’s residents aren’t solely supporting the First Order; they’re also helping the Resistance too. Whether he’s simply explaining himself or trying to convince Finn, DJ makes it clear that being neutral, in his opinion, is the best way to go. You can’t fail if you never pick a side and you can profit and make your own life more comfortable by playing both sides. Help the Resistance one day and then make a deal with the First Order the next; whichever is more personally convenient.
And DJ is true to his word since, the second the heroes’ plan fails, he immediately sells Finn, Rose and the whole Resistance out to save his own skin. And this seems to be what pushes Finn over the edge since he seems genuinely hurt that he betrayed them, or at least by how easily he did it. DJ cares so little that when Finn outright calls his beliefs wrong, he just says “Maybe.”
This entire arc was to show Finn that he can’t keep running away. If he really wants to live his life and keep Rey safe, he needs to get involved. Hell, it might not even be just that anymore. He could now be doing this for everyone and not just those closest to him. It would explain why he was so willing to fly into that big old cannon and get himself killed. As long as it would save everybody else, it’d have been worth it.
It’s because of this that I’m especially excited to see where Finn goes next in Episode IX. He was already one of my favourite characters and now that he’s officially a Resistance member, it’s more than likely that he’ll end up elevating to a leadership position and maybe even become a new icon for them, much like how Luke did. Who knows, but I most definitely want to be there when it happens.
3. Mark Hamill as Luke
I think it’s safe to say we were all excited to see Luke finally make his return in The Last Jedi. I mean, we lost our minds over his small appearance at the end of The Force Awakens and he was on screen for like a minute and didn’t even say anything. We were ready to see him step into the mentor role, reveal his secret plans and pave the way for Rey to be the next hero…
Except he doesn’t. The first thing he does upon meeting Rey and getting his old lightsaber back is chuck it off a cliff and leave without a word. Between his dishevelled appearance and his anti-social attitude towards Rey, he’s a far-cry from both the young, idealistic farm-boy he used to be and the legendary bad-ass we expected. Hell, he straight up explains that the reason he hid wasn’t part of some big gambit to defeat Snoke; it’s a self-imposed exile and he’s just waiting to die.
I know a lot of people weren’t fond of this direction for the character, including Hamill himself, but I personally found it incredibly engaging. I love being surprised so seeing Luke like this was weirdly appealing (though it helps that I don’t have a lot of nostalgia for the original films). Obviously something isn’t good simply because it’s different, but Hamill really sells it with his performance. For someone who didn’t agree with Rian Johnson’s direction, he gave it his all to show a bitter, damaged former hero who’s still haunted by his past mistakes.
I think it helps that Luke isn’t necessarily angsty the whole time and has moments of levity, like his reunion with R2-D2. He’s genuinely ecstatic to see him and the two immediately banter with each other. There are still signs of the old Luke there, like his scene with Yoda which shows that while he may be wiser, there’re still things he has yet to learn (it was honestly a pretty sweet scene, all things considered), and we also get glimpses of what he was like as a teacher during his interactions with Rey. One of my favourite scenes of the two is their first training session and his quiet exasperation at Rey’s misunderstandings of the Force (kind of wish there were more moments like it).
And his bitterness is kind of justified once we find out how Ben Solo became Kylo Ren in the first place. In a moment of weakness, Luke considered killing his own nephew so history wouldn’t repeat himself and all it took was that fleeting second to push Ben down the path to darkness. I can imagine this rubbed a lot of people the wrong way but I actually kind of liked it. It demonstrated how fallible Luke still is and made him feel a bit more human in a way. After all the shit he went through in the original trilogy, he would be desperate to prevent anything remotely resembling the Empire from happening again. We’ve all had those strangely dark thoughts that come and go in an instant; the ones we don’t allow to fester because we know how wrong they are. That’s what happened with Luke and it makes sense why he would banish himself afterwards.
The absolute highlight, though, is his confrontation with Kylo at the end of the film. I’ll never get over that scene of all of the enemy forces opening fire on him, only for the dust to clear to show he’s unharmed and he casually brushes his shoulder like it was nothing. I remember watching the film in America and the whole cinema cheered; it was THAT awesome. That, and the fact he sent a projection of himself across the galaxy only to distract Kylo. Not only was it an impressive display of power, it was great to see Luke finally come round and take action to help the Resistance.
And while his death was tragic, there was still this sense of satisfaction. Maybe it’s because of how it was done. No dialogue, just him looking into the distance with that familiar tune playing before he vanishes, much like how Obi-Wan did. It’s peaceful. Plus, he’s not truly gone, is he? His legacy will live on and his sacrifice is what will allow the Resistance to flourish in the next movie (plus, I’m betting on him coming back as a Force ghost).
4. Kylo Ren’s STILL Evil
Ever since The Force Awakens, there seemed to be a bit of a debate over whether Kylo Ren would end up redeeming himself similarly to how Darth Vader did. It’d make sense considering the intentional parallels between the two but I was (and still am) against the very idea of it, especially considering his actions. Yeah, Vader did some horrible shit too and still ended up killing the Emperor to save his son but Kylo was so much more unhinged.
To me, Vader continued down the path of darkness because he felt like he had no choice; he had already fallen so far in pursuit of his goals that there was no turning back. Not to mention the reason he became Vader in the first place was to try and save his wife. Kylo, on the other hand, is not driven by love but by hate and outright rejects redemption, which is perfectly represented with his murder of Han Solo, his own father. And this made him so much more interesting and why I’m really put off by certain fans that feel he’s some poor, tragic soul that’s lost his way and needs saving. And I won’t lie, The Last Jedi does a very good job in making you feel like that’s the direction it’s going in.
He arguably shows some slight resentment towards Snoke, he hesitates and is ultimately unable to kill his mother, Leia, and he and Rey even manage to bond somewhat via their Force link. Once Rey learns the truth of how Kylo eventually fell to the Dark Side, she believes that she can save him and put him on the right path again (which I honestly have my own issues with but that’s not important right now). It seemed like all the pieces were in place for a heel-face turn and once Kylo killed Snoke and teamed up with Rey, I assumed that was it and was left feeling both disappointed and underwhelmed. BUT BOY WAS I WRONG!
Because as soon as the guards are defeated, Kylo makes his intentions to Rey clear. He didn’t kill Snoke to atone. He killed him because that’s what a Sith does, and we know how desperately Kylo wants to be a Sith. He then proceeds to take charge of the First Order, with the intent of taking over the galaxy himself so that he can kill the old world that let both him and Rey down. He despises the past and wants anything connected to his old life as Ben Solo burnt to the ground.
This was the moment I realised the debate was over. Ben Solo is dead and only Kylo Ren remains; a twisted young man who has allowed himself to succumb to his own hate and anger and has no qualms with destroying everything around with that anger, as long as it gets the results he wants. This is the direction I was hoping they’d take with him because it’s so much more fascinating and terrifying than just another pasty-faced old guy who sits in a chair all day, partly because Kylo’s the kind of person we sadly see a lot of in real life. Vader was scary because he was unrecognisable; Kylo is scary because of the exact opposite.
I have no idea what’s in store for Kylo in the future, but there are a lot of great avenues to pursue now that he’s stepped into the main villain role. Morally grey antagonists are great and all but Kylo manages to be 100% evil whilst still retaining his complexity and I look forward to his eventual ass-kicking.
5. The Heroes’ Plan Fails
Out of all the things I enjoyed about this movie, this one is probably the weirdest but, again, I think it’s because it surprised me and was very effective. So, Finn and Rose figure out how the First Order is tracking them through hyperspace and they need to sneak on Snoke’s flagship in order to disable the tracking device. To do that, they need to get a master codebreaker from Canto Bight but, since Vice Admiral Holdo is unlikely to agree with the plan (or so Poe assumes though he’s probably right), they disobey orders and sneak off to pull off the plan.
And while things don’t go perfectly and they have to deal with multiple hurdles (getting captured, needing a back-up codebreaker in the form of DJ), Finn and Rose manage to overcome the odds, sneak onto the ship, gain access to the tracking device… and are immediately caught, then sold out by DJ, who also reveals the Resistance’s escape plan, allowing the First Order to destroy several of the evacuating Resistance ships.
Despite trying so hard and managing to overcome all the adversities that they were faced with, the heroes still failed, and this is why I liked it. It wasn’t down to bad decisions or characters acting like idiots; it was the result of a lot of bad circumstances. Seeing the heroes lose because of situations like this is a lot more tragic as a result.
And it even continues to the battle on Crait. The Resistance is outmatched and outnumbered but it doesn’t matter because they’ve got the moxie and their the good guys and they’ll succeed. But, again, they don’t. Though they try their damnedest, they’re eventually overwhelmed by the enemy and forced to leave. To make it worse, you’re expecting their allies to come swooping in at the last second once they receive their distress signal but nobody shows up. And it’s even clarified that it’s not because the signal got intercepted or was unable to reach them. All of the Resistance’s allies heard their cry for help… and ignored them, because they didn’t believe it was worth it. Ouch.
However, it’s these dark moments of failure that make Luke’s eventual arrival and Rey saving them so much sweeter. Even though they’ve been crippled by the First Order, seeing the remaining members together, comforting each other, on board the Millennium Falcon makes you think that things will be alright; that they’ll be able to recover from this.
You also have the very last scene of one of the children on Canto Bight, subtly demonstrating that they have the Force, wearing Rose’s Resistance ring and looking up at the night sky with a look of hope in his eyes. This scene makes it feel like, despite the failures, everything our heroes did have meaning. As long as they can instil that sense of hope in other people and hold onto that feeling themselves, they can recover and ultimately triumph. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday. And I, for one, am very hopeful as to what the future holds for these characters.