What The Last Jedi gets right and wrong about Star Wars
The most divisive entry to the Star Wars saga is neither perfect nor a failure. It's a well-made movie with a few flaws that prevented it from becoming a masterpiece — and that's entirely okay.
Three minutes and thirty seconds. That’s how long it took for me to know The Last Jedi wasn’t going to be my favorite Star Wars movie, that I wasn’t going to love it the same way I love Rogue One. It took me far longer — at least ten rewatches in a two-and-a-half year span — to come to love The Last Jedi, not like how I love Rogue One, but in an entirely different way. Eventually I came around. But my relationship with The Last Jedi remains complicated.
It’s been more than two years since The Last Jedi arrived, but I can still remember those first three minutes and thirty seconds. One year earlier, I’d watched Rogue One for the first of twelve times in theaters. The film reignited my love for Star Wars and movies in general. The Last Jedi was the first Star Wars movie to come out following Rogue One. Like all Disney-era Star Wars movies, the teaser and trailers rocked — after all, they introduced porgs to the world. Unlike Rogue One, The Last Jedi wasn’t plagued by production issues. By all accounts, the making of the film went swimmingly. Before it arrived, it collected rave reviews. It earned a 91 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, seven percentage points higher than Rogue One’s. Writing for The Ringer, K. Austin Collins called it “a big, glorious, heartfelt, satisfying piece of pop filmmaking, the kind of movie we haven’t seen from a major movie studio in way too long.” The Atlantic’s Christopher Orr called it “arguably the best the franchise has offered since Empire.” Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called it “simply stupendous, a volcano of creative ideas in full eruption.” Vulture’s David Edelstein called it “shockingly good. … a fusion of junkyard genre parts and passion.” To say I was excited would be a galaxy-sized understatement. I couldn’t wait to see another movie that had the potential to mean as much to me as Rogue One. After Rogue One, I thought every Stars Wars movie would mean the world to me.
The night of its release, we arrived at Grand Lake Theater an hour before showtime. We were worried we’d gotten there too early, but there was already a line curling around the block. We figured the people in line were waiting for an earlier showtime that was slated to begin in thirty or so minutes. We were wrong. They were waiting for our showing. We passed the time by making small talk with an older couple behind us, even though the entire time I was secretly stressed about finding decent seats. We wound up near the center, but in the second to last row. All around us were fans dressed up as Rey, Leia, you name it. I waited in line for popcorn behind a mom costumed as Leia and her young daughter as Rey. They were having a serious chat. The mom was worried that “bad stuff” could happen to Rey in the movie and she wanted her daughter to be emotionally prepared. The daughter vowed to close her eyes if things got too dark. She told her mom not to worry. Her mom was worried, but I was stoked beyond words. If the Sequel Trilogy was following the map laid out by the Original Trilogy, then The Last Jedi would be its version of The Empire Strikes Back — the darkest of the Original Trilogy films. Anyone who knows me, follows me on Twitter, or reads this newsletter already knows my stance on dark art. It’s extremely my jam.
So imagine my disappointment when three minutes and thirty seconds into the movie, Poe was making “your mom” jokes. It’s the moment I knew this wasn’t going to go the way I’d thought (I guess I should’ve listened to Luke in the trailer). It wasn’t going to be my kind of Star Wars movie. There’s a reason Rogue One and Empire are my two favorite installments. They’re both the darkest. Now, that’s not the only thing I remember from that night. I remember being floored by the Throne Room. I remember loving everything with Rey and Kylo, and Rey and Luke. I remember the Holdo Maneuver taking my breath away. I remember liking the movie. But compared to what came before, I was disappointed and, quite frankly, shocked that critics I respect were fawning over this movie — the Star Wars movie that opened with a “your mom” joke.
Three years later, I’ve come around. I now see its appeal. I think I love it. Out of all the Disney-era Star Wars movie, I rank it second behind only Rogue One. Out of every Star Wars movie ever made, I rank it fifth behind Rogue One and the Original Trilogy — which isn’t that far off from the praise that those aforementioned critics immediately awarded it. Over the years, with each and every rewatch, I’ve come to appreciate it more.
But I also have issues with it. I don’t think it’s perfect or a masterpiece. I think it’s a great, but flawed movie. As Disney navigates an uncertain future in the wake of a disappointing reaction to both Solo (which is supremely underrated) and The Rise of Skywalker (which I have more mixed feelings about), I think it’s important to look back on The Last Jedi as a way to consider how Star Wars can move forward.
Its strengths should be repeated. Its failures should be treated as lessons.
The Last Jedi might have the highest highs of any Star Wars movie ever. The Throne Room is quite possibly my favorite moment in Star Wars. The Holdo Maneuver, regardless of how you feel about its practicality, is a masterclass in how to use sound in filmmaking. Luke’s death is a poignant ending to his arc. Yoda’s appearance and the lesson he imparts is an example of how to bring back old characters not just for the sake of fan service, but as a way to move the story beyond them. It’s well acted, well written, well directed, well shot, well paced, and so on. John Williams, as great as all of his previous Star Wars scores are, composed the best Star Wars score to this point in a saga that has existed since 1977. It’s the one I return to the most.
The movie works as well as it does because writer-director Rian Johnson understood that the best part of the Sequel Trilogy was the relationship between Rey and Kylo. This might seem obvious considering they’re the two main characters, the Sequel Trilogy’s version of Luke and Vader, but consider that in The Force Awakens, Rey and Kylo only share one scene together where they talk without fighting — and even that comes in a situation where Rey is Kylo’s prisoner — and that it’s Finn, not Kylo, who is positioned as Rey’s love interest. Not to mention, getting Rey and Kylo together for a conversation was no easy task. Rey is aligned with the Resistance. Kylo is with the First Order. Rey is off on some remote island that nobody can find without the map that only Rey has. Kylo is chasing the Resistance through space. But Johnson found a way to get them together, just talking, without lightsabers and blasters. He invented ForceTime.
The ForceTime sessions between Rey and Kylo is some of the best stuff Star Wars has ever produced. On paper it shouldn’t work. It should be dumb and corny, two people in different corners of the galaxy talking into empty space, but still managing to see and hear each other. But it does work. Star Wars is known for lightsaber duels and dogfights in space, but it’s at its best when two nuanced characters with competing ideals are just talking and sorting through their thoughts and feelings — when it allows its characters to be human. The ForceTime sessions between Rey and Kylo allow hero and villain to forge a bond, the lines between hero and villain to be blurred, and Rey and Kylo to sift through their complicated emotions. The Last Jedi strengthened the relationship between Rey and Kylo to the point where every other storyline felt like wasted space. It also permitted Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver to do the best acting in arguably the entire saga. I could watch the two of them just talking about the Force and the pull from both the dark and light side for two hours if they ever made that version of a Star Wars movie.
I’m confident in saying Star Wars will never give us an actual sex scene, but the moment below, when Rey and Kylo touch hands through the Force, delivered the same emotions that sex scenes are supposed to provide: tension, intimacy, trust, and ultimately, connection.
Rey: “I thought I'd find answers here. I was wrong. I've never felt so alone.”
Kylo: “You're not alone.”
Rey: “Neither are you.”
“To me, one of my favorite shots of the movie is those two fingers touching,” Johnson said. “It's the closest thing we'll get to a sex scene in a Star Wars movie.”
Later in the film, after Kylo murders Snoke and teams up with Rey to kill his royal guards, Kylo, finally in the same room as Rey, tries to take her hand for real. He helps reveal the truth that she’s always known but locked away in a cave deep inside her — that her parents were nobody. He tears her down by telling her that she doesn’t matter to anyone else. He builds her up by telling her that she matters to him. He asks her to join him, to rule the galaxy together. He adds a desperate “please,” because without her, he’s as alone as she is. He offers her his hand. We know she wants to take it — she admits to this in The Rise of Skywalker. She wants to take it because she feels a deep connection with Kylo and a strong pull to the dark side. But she rebuffs him, even though rejecting him is as painful to her as it is to him.
They go back to being enemies — except this time, there’s far more emotional weight to their rivalry. Rey doesn’t just think Kylo is a “monster.” Kylo doesn’t think Rey is just some “scavenger.” Their ForceTime sessions brought them closer together, yet it drove them even further apart. They’re still enemies, but now they understand each other and sympathize with each other’s plight.
For as devastating as the big moments in The Last Jedi are, the small moments are equally powerful. It does small and intimate rather well. I’m not just referring to the ForceTime conversations, but also the details in the backdrop.
It’s never put it into words, but considering Rey’s past — she grew up on a desert planet and didn’t leave until The Force Awakens — she’s likely never seen or felt rain before. In The Force Awakens, when she sees a forest for the first time, she remarks that she “didn't know there was this much green in the whole galaxy.” The Last Jedi does something similar, but in a subtler way. We see Rey’s unbridled joy when it begins to rain on Ahch-To.
The best thing I can say about The Last Jedi is that it made me care about Rey more than I cared about characters in the Original Trilogy. She’s one of my favorite fictional characters in any story, ever. As much as I like the bombing sequence at the beginning, the movie doesn’t really begin for me until Finn wakes up and asks the question that I was screaming internally during the opening thirteen minutes: “Where the fuck is Rey?”
I added the bolded part.
On Ahch-To, the film finds its footing. It’s where Rey begins her ForceTime sessions with Kylo. It’s where she finds Luke, who reluctantly agrees to teach her about the Force and Jedi. Rey and Luke have even more chemistry than Luke did with his teachers, Obi-Wan and Yoda. I’m not a fan of most of the humor in The Last Jedi, but the bit with Rey reaching out for the Force and Luke tickling her hand with a branch is genuinely funny. Luke’s lessons are also effective. The first, about the Force and how it doesn’t belong to Jedi, includes one of my favorite visual sequences in the movie as Rey talks about life, death, warmth, cold, violence, and the balance between it all.
There’s also a lesson within the lesson. To get Rey to focus, Luke gives her simple advice that Star Wars should keep in mind as it begins to distance itself from the Skywalker Saga.
“Breathe,” he tells her. “Just breathe.”
It’s a problem that reared its head during The Rise of Skywalker, a movie so overstuffed with action that there’s barely any time for Rey and Kylo to take a moment to breathe. As I’ve written before, “it’s all zip and blast. There’s never any moments, at least until the very end, to stop and consider the impact of all that zipping and blasting.” To put it another way, if you oversaturate a movie with action, none of it feels meaningful. The reason the Throne Room feels like a nuclear bomb exploding is because there were ninety minutes of buildup leading to that moment, none of which featured any violence between the parties involved. The stakes kept getting raised until one effervescent explosion.
The second lesson — that the Jedi’s legacy is failure — is equally important, because it’s the first time Star Wars has acknowledged the Prequels and one of their many flaws. If you didn’t think the Sequel Trilogy was any good, go back and watch the Prequels. The Prequels might’ve been better planned than the Sequel Trilogy from an overarching story standpoint, but there’s something to be said about how well made the Sequel Trilogy is from a filmmaking and acting standpoint, especially compared to the Prequels. Luke finally brings up how dumb the Jedi were in the Prequels, something we’ve all been thinking since the early 2000s.
“At the height of their powers, they allowed Darth Sidious to rise, create the Empire, and wipe them out,” Luke tells Rey. “It was a Jedi Master who was responsible for the training and creation of Darth Vader.”
That’s important, because the Prequels have to be acknowledged as something that did, in fact, happen. They’re part of the story, warts and all.
They never get to the third and final lesson. But there’s a third lesson in the movie. It comes after Rey leaves the island to find Kylo and try to turn him to the light after Luke, once again, declines to help the Resistance. It’s the most powerful of the three lessons.
Yoda, appearing as Force Ghost, takes Luke’s lesson about failure and turns it around on him.
“Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also,” Yoda says. “Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”
I suppose now is the time to address Luke’s arc. I’ve never had a problem with it. Maybe that’s just because I never grew up as a Luke fanboy. I was always drawn more to Vader to the point where the first time I watched Return of the Jedi as a kid, I was actively upset when Luke defeated Vader. Among the good guys, Han and Leia were always my favorites. To me, Luke was more of just a vessel to drive the plot forward.
But my neutral feelings toward Luke aside, his arc in The Last Jedi makes complete and total sense. I, too, was surprised when he threw the lightsaber over his head at the beginning of the film. It wasn’t what I expected after a two-year wait between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but once I stepped back to think about it, I understood it. Why else did we think Luke hid on, as he termed it, “the most unfindable place in the galaxy"? He knew Snoke had turned Kylo to the dark side. He knew the First Order was growing more powerful. He knew Leia could’ve used his help in building the Resistance. But he chose to hide instead. There was no fight left in him. But by the end of the film, after his lesson with Yoda, Luke is willing to fight to the point where the effort kills him. He has a well-developed arc, all in the space of a single movie.
When The Rise of Skywalker came out, J.J. Abrams was criticized for undoing so much of what Johnson built in The Last Jedi. While that remains true regarding Rey’s overarching story, it’s not true when ForceGhost Luke tells Rey on Ahch-To that he was wrong about the Jedi needing to end. Johnson put the same message in The Last Jedi when Yoda told him how wrong he was. That’s why Luke decides to help the Resistance at the end. It wasn’t a case of Abrams taking a shot at Johnson. It was Abrams continuing Luke’s story that Johnson started.
I understand that fans of Luke wanted to see him defeat the First Order with a laser sword, but that wouldn’t have made for a compelling movie. We’ve already seen Luke win a war with a lightsaber. There’s three pretty great movies about that story. There’s not much of a point in doing it all over again. He’s no longer the hero of the story. He’s only there to mentor the hero. Similarly, Leia and Han aren’t in the Sequel Trilogy to win the war. They’re there to help turn Kylo and support the new heroes of the Resistance. The three of them already won a war. They don’t need to win another. If you want to see that, go watch Episodes IV-VI.
The fact remains that Johnson’s decision to make Luke a reluctant hero didn’t go over well with a portion of the fanbase that wanted to see the Luke of Return of the Jedi. The same can be said for Johnson’s decision to free Kylo from his Vader-esque mask.
I’ll admit that the first time I saw the film, I was disappointed. The mask looks cool — cooler than any human face. Vader has been my favorite Star Wars character for most of my life, dating back to the Christmas morning I got the VHS boxset and later that night, my dad let me watch half of A New Hope until I was forced to go to bed while the rest of my family finished it without me — I did not take the order well. Can you imagine if Vader didn’t have the helmet in the Original Trilogy and instead, it’d just been his human face? He wouldn’t have become the most iconic villain in fictional history. He would’ve been pathetic.
Freeing Kylo from his mask was risky, but it paid off. For one, it gave Driver the platform to demonstrate just how good of an actor he is. When he makes his pitch to Rey in the Throne Room, he does it without a helmet. The look on his face — the desperation in his eyes — when he adds a “please” to the end of his pitch, is heart wrenching. We wouldn’t have felt that same level of desperation if he’d been masked. We never got to see Vader’s emotions when he made his own pitch to Luke in Empire. We get to see it here and it’s well worth the price of Kylo looking less cool. Imagine how much weight this moment would’ve lost if Kylo had spoken the words behind a mask. Without a mask, Driver is able to match the emotions on Ridley’s face as she chokes back tears.
Two, it adds further distance between the Original Trilogy and the Sequel Trilogy by differentiating Vader and Kylo. That’s a good thing. Until Kylo took off his mask, he was just a wannabe Vader. As Snoke put it, “You’re no Vader. You’re just a child, in a mask.”
I get the appeal of wanting a Vader clone. Vader is the most iconic villain in movie history. He is Star Wars. But that doesn’t mean new Star Wars movies should be trying to recreate him. It’s not possible. There can only be one Vader. Everyone else comes across as Safeway-brand Vader.
But once the mask is stripped away, Kylo is a great villain in his own unique way. He’s nuanced, an evil person who feels a pull toward the light or a good person who has done evil things — it’s all a matter of perspective. He’s more complicated than most villains in super-sized blockbusters. He’s the perfect villain for this moment. As Sean Fennessey wrote for The Ringer at the time, “Kylo Ren was a real boyfriend, a lousy one, always grousing about work (ugh, General Hux) and his parents, falsely idolizing his angry dead grandfather, and never getting around to asking you about your day. We are drawn to him and yet he is pitiful. A perfect millennial man. A rebel-killer without a cause.”
Which, of course, stands in stark contrast with Vader. Which, again, is a good thing. Vader was a perfect villain for the Original Trilogy at the time, but he’s not the villain we need right now. As Fennessey wrote, “In 2017, our villains must be different. The real world is run by a menagerie of monsters, their misdeeds and grotesqueries made public with every passing hour. Who needs science fiction when we have C-SPAN.”
While Abrams tried to make an updated version of A New Hope with The Force Awakens, Johnson tried to do something entirely different. The Last Jedi plays all the hits required of Star Wars — space battles, lightsaber fights, droid jokes — but it differentiates itself from previous entries in meaningful ways. What’s important is that while The Last Jedi subverted expectations, it didn’t do so for the sake of generating shock. It did so because it’s necessary for Star Wars to move past the past and forge a new legacy.
“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to,” Kylo tells Rey. “It's the only way to become who you were meant to be.”
Kylo says the words, but the idea is best communicated through Rey. Her background introduced in The Force Awakens presented her as another Luke. She came from Jakku, basically a slightly different version of Tatooine. Lurking beneath the surface was a hint that her parentage was as important as Luke’s. Johnson decided, though, that it was far more compelling to have Rey come from nothing. Her parents weren’t important in the context of the galaxy. They sold her off for drinking money. They abandoned her. The message was simple, but powerful: You don’t have to be born into a prestigious bloodline to matter. Anyone can matter. You can write your own destiny.
It’s the very reason why we watch and read fantasy stories as kids. Most of us aren’t special. But we believe we could be. That’s what Rey represents in The Last Jedi (the message was altered by Abrams in The Rise of Skywalker, but that’s a story for another time). The highest compliment I can pay The Last Jedi is that it turned Rey into one of my favorite fictional characters of all time.
In that sense, Kylo was wrong. Rey isn’t nothing. She’s everything Star Wars should aspire to be, because she’s all of us.
The Last Jedi isn’t without flaws.
Chief among them is its tone. This is not to be confused with story. In terms of story, The Last Jedi is a dark movie, much like Empire. It’s about a dying Resistance that is on its final gallons of fuel as an unstoppable predator hunts them. When it sends out a cry for help, no one comes to its aid. When Rey asks Luke for help, he says no. He only agrees to teach her so that he can convince her that the Jedi should go extinct.
But the way it presents and deals with the dark aspects of the story are not at all dark. It’s flowery to the point where it undercuts the tension and stakes of the story.
It’s evident three minutes and thirty seconds into the film, when Poe is tasked with buying enough time for the Resistance to escape into hyperspace. The fate of the Resistance is at stake as the First Order is minutes away from blowing up the remaining survivors. To save the Resistance, Poe buys time by … calling General Hux “General Hugs” and making a “your mom” joke. The bit didn’t just take me out of the movie, it also diminished the magnitude of the moment.
Much later in the movie, after Kylo tries to kill Luke by blasting him to bits with the entire might of the First Order, the movie does it again, undercutting a serious moment by making a joke that removes the viewer from the movie. Luke emerges from remnants of an explosion and proceeds to do a celebration straight out of an NFL game; the only thing missing was an official to flag him for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Last Jedi has this constant need to interrupt serious moments with spasms of levity, as if the audience isn’t capable of handing serious, dark moments without humor.
Heading into the movie, Johnson didn’t hide the fact that he considered The Last Jedi to be funny. I don’t have a problem with Star Wars having humor. The Original Trilogy had countless funny moments. My favorite movie in the saga, Rogue One, has humor (“Are you kidding me? I am blind.”) But The Last Jedi’s humor felt more like parody.
At the very least, Johnson was aware of it.
“I’m sure there will be some folks who feel like there’s too much. I don’t,” Johnson told The Big Picture podcast. “I feel like if you can’t have fun in a Star Wars movie, what the hell are you in a Star Wars movie for? But I get it. Different people want different things from Star Wars movies.”
I didn’t like it, but it’s also hard for me to fault Johnson. As he said, that’s just what Stars Wars is to him.
“The world of it is me trying to capture what Star Wars felt like, what those movies felt like to me, and what they were to me when I was growing up,” Johnson said. “I guess, first of all, everyone is going to have a slightly different interpretation of that. That to me, tonally at least, defines what Star Wars always was for me. … It’s tricky, because every single fan has a different compass, because everyone grew up in a slightly different time.”
I’ve come to terms that our view of Star Wars won’t ever completely align. I’m with him and his vision in terms of story, themes, and character development. But he loses me with his style of humor. And that’s okay. Two different Star Wars fans can have two different and competing ideas about Star Wars. He’s not right or wrong, and neither am I. We just think about it in different ways.
I can’t get mad at him for making his version of Star Wars. I’d do the exact same if I were in his position. And he’d have the exact opposite complaints as mine. And here’s where it’s worth noting that I sincerely hope his own trilogy proceeds as originally planned.
“It’s a very personal thing. I know it’s different for every fan,” Johnson said. “But I had to make it personal. I had to make my version of what felt right.”
I guess the tone bothers me as much as it does because I’m with Johnson for the other 99 percent. It’s so close to being my perfect Star Wars movie. All it would’ve taken is one or two changes for it to be my favorite of the Skywalker Saga. It’s like a chocolate chip cookie that has two or three pieces of an onion sprinkled within it.
The jokes aren’t the only aspects that take me out of the film. Most notably, it happens in the early going when Leia is sucked into space, but uses the Force to pull herself back to safety inside the ship. I’m not against the idea of Leia surviving in space by calling on the Force. Considering Leia is one of my favorite fictional characters, I actually love the idea. It’s not the first time she’s used the Force. My qualm is with the execution. It looks silly, like something out of Mary Poppins. As Leia pulls herself to safety, she pulls me out of the movie entirely.
The Last Jedi also suffers from an issue that has plagued nearly every other Star Wars movie: The Death Star problem. A Death Star doesn’t make an appearance in The Last Jedi, but instead of embracing its absence and proceeding completely Death Star-free, The Last Jedi introduces the Dreadnought, a bigger version of a Star Destroyer that has a cannon similar to the weapon that powers the Death Star. Later, The Last Jedi introduces a portable cannon called a superlaser siege cannon, basically a portable Death Star cannon. Big weapons are always going to have a home in Star Wars, but in every addition to the saga, the Empire / First Order / Final Order shouldn’t have an ace in the hole as powerful as the Death Star that renders everything else insignificant.
About that superlaser siege cannon: It almost served a bigger purpose that made its inclusion worthwhile, but the film didn’t have the guts to follow through on it. Knowing that the cannon was on the verge of taking down the Resistance defenses, Finn decided to sacrifice himself kamikaze style, but the movie allowed Rose to miraculously save him at the last second. This isn’t a problem unique to The Last Jedi. The Rise of Skywalker did a similar thing with Chewie. It’s very much a Big Franchise problem. Killing off important characters is difficult when lunch boxes and action figures are at stake, and sequels could always be on the horizon.
But by the time The Last Jedi ends, Finn no longer feels like an important character. He’s given more of a central role in The Rise of Skywalker, but even then, he exists as a tagalong character on Rey’s quest. As I’ve written before, “he’s reduced to doing nothing more than a person who screams ‘REY!’ whenever he sees that she’s in harm’s way.” Letting him sacrifice himself for the Resistance would’ve been the best possible ending to his arc that was never entirely actualized.
Even then, if the movie never intended to kill him, it shouldn’t have placed him in that situation. Game of Thrones came under fire for their battle plan to defend Winterfell, when the Dothraki left the walls of Winterfell to charge the army of the dead. The battle plan to defend the base at Crait should face similar criticisms. The Resistance’s options were limited without allies or an escape route, but charging an armada with rinky dink surface vehicles is up there on the list of Bad Fictional Battle Plans. As was also the case with Game of Thrones, it felt like the only reason that plan existed is because it made for a cool visual — in both cases, the visuals were, at the very least, cool as hell.
Before the battle at Crait, Finn spends his time with Rose on Canto Bight, searching for a “master codebreaker” in a plot line that feels more like a side quest in a video game than a storyline in a movie. I don’t dislike what happens on Canto Bight, because I admire the issues that it at least tries to raise: the blurring of lines between good and evil, and the injustices that result from excessive wealth. My problem with it is that it’s glossed over during a 152-minute movie. It’s a compelling idea that deserves its own movie instead of being stuffed into an already full movie — which, by the way, applies to Finn’s entire character throughout the Sequel Trilogy. They could make a full movie or trilogy, even, about a Force-sensitive Stormtrooper who deserts the First Order instead of making him a side character in someone else’s story.
For as dark as The Last Jedi gets, it ends on a hopeful note. The movie concludes with the Resistance escaping and surviving. Rey asks Leia how they can build a rebellion from the little that they still have left over. Leia replies, “We have all that we need.”
It’s an inspiring message: A band of rebels so tiny that it can fit on the Millennium Falcon will be enough to defeat the second coming of the Empire. Unfortunately, it also rings hollow, largely because we have no idea how powerful the First Order has become. We have no sense of the scale of the First Order. With The Last Jedi picking up moments after The Force Awakens ends and lasting only a couple of days, it fails to expand the galaxy as a whole. This isn’t just a TLJ problem. It’s also a TFA problem. TFA never does a stellar job explaining how the First Order came into existence and how powerful they are in comparison to the Republic. TLJ declines to clarify. It doesn’t develop the rest of the galaxy. Heading into The Rise of Skywalker, we knew the Resistance was running on fumes, but we had no way of knowing just how powerful the First Order had become. That’s problematic for a story about the ragtag group of rebels trying to take down a superpower. We need to know how big and powerful the superpower has become to fully grasp the gravity of the situation.
Scale matters. It’s mostly absent in The Last Jedi.
Most movies are flawed. I don’t want The Last Jedi to come across as a movie I dislike, because I don’t. It’s my favorite Skywalker Saga film that’s come out since Return of the Jedi. If not for Rogue One, it’d be my favorite Star Wars movie since the Original Trilogy.
I don’t think a lot of the common criticisms leveled at The Last Jedi are valid. Luke’s arc was handled well. Killing Snoke that early on wasn’t a mistake, but a welcomed change that allowed Kylo, a well-developed character, to become the Big Bad. The theme of killing the past was entirely necessary to move Star Wars into the future. Rey’s origin story was different than Luke’s, but it provided a more powerful message.
But there are a few legitimate reasons to criticize the movie. It’s not beyond reproach. Again, that’s entirely okay. Most movies aren’t perfect. The Last Jedi is no exception. Its failures are lessons that Disney can use as it looks to navigate a dangerous future. As Yoda, himself, told Luke, “the greatest teacher, failure is.” I can only hope Star Wars takes the lesson as well as Luke did.