Movie Review: The Last JediDec 16, 2017
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson (based on characters created by George Lucas)
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac
Domhnall Gleason, Benicio Del Toro
All photos courtesy of Walt Disney and LucasFilm
“This is not going to go as you think.”
It is a line of dialog Luke Skywalker speaks to Rey in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” a moment that’s over in a flash. But in retrospect, it was a warning to all of us who thought we knew where the Star Wars saga was heading. Writer/director Rian Johnson has steered the story on an exciting, new course with the latest visit to a galaxy far, far away.
It’s pretty much impossible to talk about the game-changing impact of Rian Johnson’s mighty “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” without spoilers, so DO NOT read any further if you haven’t seen the film and want to experience it in all of its surprising and revelatory glory.
Trust me. Stop reading and see the movie. Then come back.
Johnson (Looper) sets the tone for a massive change of direction when Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), after being handed his long-lost lightsaber from the original trilogy, casually tosses it over his shoulder and walks away. The moment stuns Rey (Daisy Ridley), the young heroine from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The force is strong in her and so is the expectation is that Luke will do for her what Yoda did from him in the original trilogy. Surely he will instruct her in the ways of the Force so that she can lead the Rebels against evil Supreme Leader Snopes (Andy Serkis), his protégé, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver) and the First Order which has risen in the place of the old Empire.
It’s easy to think that Luke’s disregard for his signature weapon is just a plot device meant to create tension in the story. How will Rey convince him to pick up the lightsaber, once again assume the mantle of Jedi master, and teach her the ways of the Force so that she can bring balance to the galaxy. Again. To be honest, that’s what I expected. A series of give-and-takes until Rey wins over Luke followed by an inspiring training sequence that quickly brings her up to Jedi-master status. Sort of a reheated “Empire Strikes Back” plot. Comforting and familiar.
“The Last Jedi” completely blows that concept up in a way that is unsettling to Star Wars fans (which would explain the mixed reaction from those who’ve seen the movie). What Johnson has done is paid proper respect to the “old Star Wars” story structure and then ripped it apart, laying the groundwork for not just an epic third installment (due in May 2019) but an expanded Star Wars universe that has very little to do with the Skywalkers.
The heart of the Star Wars saga has always been the Skywalker family. From the moment we met young Luke dreaming of adventure while staring at a double sunset, through the revelation that Leia was his twin sister, and then the horrific moment we realized they were both the offspring of Darth Vader/Anakin. Star Wars has always been about the Skywalkers. Even 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” seemed to bring us back to Luke as the last hope of the Rebellion as they fought against the evil First Order. There was this sense of epic renewal in the movie’s final scene as potential Padawan Rey (Daisy Ridley) tracked the aging Jedi master to a mysterious planet and placed Luke’s old lightsaber into his hand.
When Luke tells Rey, “This is not going to go the way you think.” he’s talking to generations of Star Wars fans as much as he’s talking to Rey.
George Lucas built the original Star Wars story structure on the concept of Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth,” which is also known as the “Hero’s Journey.” Lucas has talked about how he structured the hit movie after reconnecting with Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Essentially it’s the story of a young and inexperienced hero who takes off on an unexpected adventure, is instructed by a wise, old master, then screws up royally before finally triumphing in his quest.
When you set aside the Star Wars timeline and consider that it has been just over 40 years since Lucas first introduced to the Star Wars characters, it’s clear that the story needs a bit more of an update than only a fresh new hero to retrace Luke’s footsteps. The Skywalkers are everything, and Rey’s greatest hope is not just that she might learn the ways of the Jedi from Luke, but that she might also discover who her parents are. Fan speculation has been rampant on this thought with lots of speculation that she might even be Luke’s daughter or a hidden child of Han Solo and Leia.
Kylo Ren delivers the second saga-shattering line to Rey when he reveals that he knows who her parents are. They were just wandering junk traders who sold her.
“You are nothing. You are not important.”
It is a devastating moment…especially for those who were betting that Rey was Kylo’s secret twin sister or cousin. But it is also brilliant because it takes us all the way back to the very first moment of the original Star Wars in the most subtle of ways.
The Skywalker name has become legendary, something that Luke himself notes with great sarcasm as he talks about his failure to keep Kylo away from the Dark Side. To make Rey just the child of some distant, unimportant couple takes us all the way back to Anakin, who was the child of a slave.
It’s as simple as this: the Force doesn’t follow family lines. It’s as democratic as you could be. Anyone might have a particular affinity to the Force, and that’s a concept that we’ve lost over the 40-years since we first met the Skywalkers. As much as I love the saga of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewy, Yoda, Ben Kobi, and all the rest...I find this refreshing enough that I will say that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is now my favorite Star Wars movie. Not necessarily the best, but my favorite and it’s not even close.
Just please, in the name of the Force, leave the midichlorians out of it.