(Here be spoilers.)
I wasn’t sure I wanted to review The Last Jedi, but men on the Internet are being so silly, I felt like there needed to be a voice of reason.
I’ll never understand why middle-aged men think of this franchise as solely theirs – as though women and girls weren’t right there in the cinemas watching it from the beginning. But maybe they were watching different films to me, who knows?
They apparently didn’t see Leia using the Force to tell where Luke was when he was hanging, barely conscious from a metal spar beneath Cloud City. They didn’t hear Yoda say “There is another,” clearly meaning both another Skywalker and another potential Jedi. They heard Leia say “Somehow, I’ve always known,” when Luke tells her she’s his sister, and they’re so distracted by the fact that this implies she knew she was snogging her brother that they don’t see this as yet another example of Leia’s Force clairvoyance.
And I guess they missed in the last film that she knew that Han was dead.
Oh, they say, we’re not denying that Leia is Force sensitive, but for her to actually move physical objects with her mind, like a Jedi, is preposterous.
Sure, sure. What Yoda meant was, “There is another who is Force sensitive, but could not possibly have been trained as a Jedi.” And his statement that “There is another,” is just as significant if there are in fact many people who are Force sensitive and Leia is just one of those. That totally makes sense.
These are often, by the way, the same people who are eager to argue that Han is Force sensitive, based on little cues like him knowing Gredo was about to shoot and therefore shooting first, and the fact that no one actually could navigate an asteroid field the way Han does, given the odds of 3,720 to 1.
Personally, I’m delighted by the idea that many people are Force sensitive, and I think we see evidence of this across the old movies and the new, but you cannot have it both ways. There’s really no other reasonable interpretation of Yoda’s words. He meant Leia. And he either meant that Force sensitivity is so rare that anyone with it could become a Jedi, therefore Leia is another potential Jedi, or he meant that Leia is also significantly powerful such that she could be a Jedi were she to be trained. If she’s not significant – if she’s not special in very much the same way Luke is – he wouldn’t have been talking about her at all.
On this basis, every woman I know who loves Star Wars has been waiting on baited breath to see Leia use the fatherfucking Force for more than ‘just’ clairvoyance. Don’t get me wrong: Yoda’s training of Luke in Empire strongly suggests that clairvoyance is actually a very sophisticated skill – one he only trains Luke in after a considerable amount of running through the jungle and lifting things with his mind. More: using that skill responsibly is clearly a key aspect of being a Jedi – one Luke fails at spectacularly, dashing off to save his friends despite Yoda’s warning. Whereas we never see Leia be ruffled by her clairvoyance into emotionally irrational behaviour. Leia is a military leader the very first time we meet her, at 19. She’s tortured by Vader and gives up nothing. She has always had the mental discipline to be a Jedi. She just, quite frankly, had better things to do.
All this was blindingly obvious to us. It’s written into the original trilogy. Explicitly. Through the voice of Master Yoda. And we were disappointed to see Leia still exhibiting nothing but clairvoyance after all these years when The Force Awakens rolled around.
So we were cheering when Leia used the Force to do something Luke never did: she rescues herself (as she has always done) from the vacuum of space, using the Force to pull herself back into the spaceship.
Now, there is a legitimate question about why she didn’t die in the vacuum of space. Two things to say about that: firstly, a human being can remain conscious for about 15 seconds in a vacuum. We know because it has happened and the dude was revived. So Space Leia has some time to play with. You won’t last long, but your eyes won’t explode or anything gruesome. Secondly: we know the Force can be used to manipulate the physical world. It’s reasonable to suppose that Leia might use the Force to pull some atmosphere around herself to give her some literal breathing room. This is just an extension of Force telekinesis. We have seen forcefields in Star Wars seal in a hanger deck from the vacuum of space – why couldn’t someone strong in the force do the same?
Don’t get me wrong – the experience would still fuck Leia up, as it is seen to do. She spends most of the rest of the film unconscious. But that doesn’t make it silly or unreasonable.
Frankly, this moment was the culmination of 35 years of waiting for many female fans. And it felt like an apt tribute to the late and wonderful Carrie Fisher – Princess and General Leia, and goddamn awesome human being.
You want to take flying through space away from Carrie Fisher? Really? Really?
Carrie has written and spoken at length on the sexism she experienced in Hollywood – and indeed on the set of Star Wars. The toll it took on her mental health. She wanted her obituary to read that “I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”A woman who was told by George Lucas in A New Hope that they wouldn’t have bras in space, so she wasn’t allowed to wear one… and who was then forced to sit as a mute slave in a gold bikini in Return of the Jedi. A woman who received relentless abuse from the industry and so-called fans because illness and simply getting older meant that she didn’t stay looking the same way she had at 19.
I would not deny Carrie her obituary for anything, but I am so, so glad her iconic character, General Leia, did not drown in moonlight, but instead flew through space to save her own skin. Just as she had been saving herself and her would-be rescuers right from the beginning.
You will take flying Force Leia from my cold, dead hands.
So. Now we’ve got that issue out of the way, let’s discuss the rest of the film.
Following the events of The Force Awakens the rebellion are fuuuuuucked. The First Order has a way of tracking them, even through hyperspace, and they are almost out of fuel. It’s deliciously reminiscent of the Battlestar Galactica episode “33“, with the heroes a benighted flotilla, running out of resources, pursued by a superior force who are tracking them in an unknown manner.
Worse, Captain Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) disobeys Leia’s orders, expending precious resources to take out a Star Destroyer. The plan works, but at a cost they can ill afford, as they lose almost all their fighters. When Leia demotes him for his action, Poe protests that the people who followed him were heroes. “Dead heroes,” she replies, and we feel the impact of her words most acutely, for we followed one of those heroes very closely in her last moments as she gave her life so that Poe’s mission might succeed.
That hero’s sister, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), meets Finn (John Boyega) as he appears to be fleeing the ship. At first, she seems merely to be grieving, and when she recognises Finn it is with the fangirlish charm we have seen from Tran on the red carpet, where she has burst out crying, hugged fans dressed as her character, and generally expressed a genuineness that can’t help but bring joy to anyone who sees her. She then explains that she’s been doing her part to honour her sister’s memory by tasering deserters. Which she promptly does to Finn when she realises he is leaving.
The First Order strikes a blow to the rebellion’s flagship, taking out all the leaders save Leia (who saves herself, but is incapacitated). Vice Admiral Amylin Holdo (Laura Dern) takes charge (with her amazing purple hair) and seems, to Poe, to be insufficiently active. Despite being demoted, he demands the same access and knowledge from Holdo that he had from Leia. She puts him in his place and tells him to do what he’s told. He doesn’t like that, so he hatches a plan (well, adopts Rose’s plan) to find a code-breaker to disable the tracking device, so the fleet can escape through hyperspace. Rose and Finn leave to find the codebreaker. Poe stays behind… to be a pain in Holdo’s arse, I guess?
Meanwhile, Rey is with Luke, failing to persuade him to join the rebellion. For some reason she doesn’t lead with the fact that she wants to train as a Jedi, but eventually Luke figures that out and sets out to give her three lessons. The lessons, he says, will teach her why there should be no more Jedis. Luke thinks the order is broken, that the Force is in everyone and that the Jedis fell to their own hubris in thinking that they somehow were the sole keepers of the knowledge and power to maintain balance in the force.
Finn and Rose visit a rich-person’s casino resort in search of a code-breaking gambler. They fail, but find an insalubrious substitute who seems to be equipped to do the job, escaping on adorable and impressive rabbit-horse creatures.
Meanwhile, Rey has been having mental meetings with Kylo Renn, and becomes convinced she can turn him away from the Dark Side. Despite Luke’s warnings, she leaves to attempt just that.
Can Rey save Kylo? Can Finn and Rose get back to the fleet in time to disable the tracker? Exciting, fast-paced tension ensues!
Honestly, I loved this film.
Apparently there has been a ‘review bomb’ to skew its score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is part of the reason I decided to dust myself off and write my own review, but I’m delighted to see that Wikipedia is currently saying “some considered it the best film of the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back“, citing a wide range of sources.
For me? It had almost everything I wanted. There’s a joke in the opening sequence that fell a bit flat for me, but otherwise, it hit home with just about everything.
I thought I was going to hate the much-hyped porgs, but no, they are adorable, and hilarious. The decision to have them give Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo)a hard time was genius.
I also loved the aforementioned rabbit-horses, and the crystal critters, which are like arctic foxes created by Swarovski. Cute alien animals can go easily wrong and become cheesy, cringe-worthy figures of awkwardness (and I say this as someone who unashamedly loves ewoks), but these ones work.
Plotwise, the pacing was fast and gripping, and though there were many nods to the original films, The Last Jedi forges its own direction, which seems right to me. Empire, the second movie of the original trilogy, was famous for it’s anti-narrative, risk-taking ending, and it is in keeping for The Last Jedi to seek a similar stamp of originality. I loved the nostalgia of The Force Awakens, but I found I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen with The Last Jedi, and that kept me hooked.
I loved the diversity. We saw more people of colour in Rose and her sister and DJ (Benicio del Toro), the Latino, dodgy code-breaker, as well as many background characters and a visible presence of women pilots and fighters.
I do rather feel like they wasted Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), again, bringing her only late into the movie; although they did at least give her an epic fight with Finn. On the other hand, I was intensely relieved that Vice Admiral Holdo proved to be a genuine hero in the end, and not as cowardly and ineffectual as Poe assumed. Indeed, both Holdo and Leia calling Poe on his shit was glorious, and messages about listening to women in power and not ignoring the chain of command are important in an era where we are learning that decades of showing Bad Boys breaking the rules and succeeding has reinforced unhealthy attitudes in, for instance, policing in the US, where fatal shootings of civilians continues to rise, while data suggests police run much less of a rick of getting shot than they used to.
I was also a little disappointed that the fan-popular romance between Poe and Finn has not materialised, and Rose seems to be being positioned as a love interest for Finn. However, let’s remember that Leia kissed Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, and, well, we all know that was not meant to be. A friend knocked me for being shippy about this, but in all honesty, the possibility that Poe Dameron and Finn might be gay (or bi) is huge in terms of representation.
Another complaint on the net is that Luke Skywalker seemed different to how he did in the original films. My goodness, it’s almost like he aged 35 years.
I’ll admit, watching The Force Awakens I was struck by the differences in the characters of Han and Leia, but I swiftly adjusted my perspective on the basis that they are older. They aged. Like people do. Like the actual actors who play them have. The Last Jedi, in my opinion, is great precisely because it explores the issue of how people age and how experience changes a person. We see Rey having conversations with Kylo that are alike not just in subject matter, but in earnestness, to the conversations Luke had with Vader. Meanwhile Luke is begging her to see reason, that Kylo will not turn, and is furious with her for seeming to turn so easily to the Dark side.
Why? Because he has been precisely where Rey is now, and he has learnt lessons, hard lessons, about the impetuousness of youth.
Yet what struck me was that we need youth’s idealism to have these hard and challenging conversations. I remember having Rey’s passion and belief. Her ability to stand up to a mind like Kylo Ren’s and believe that she might change him. Just as Luke once spoke with unrelenting hope to Vader. As we age we learn that such conversations are all too often fruitless. We become discouraged, like Luke. We want to hide away. And we want to destroy the structures of pride we built, believing that we had all the answers.
What this film shows us is that both perspectives have validity. I am glad Luke has realised that the hubris of the Jedi order brought its downfall. I am glad he wants to bring down the systems that failed. I am glad that he recognises what I always felt: that if the Force is in everything, then it can be owned by anyone, not just a small elite. Equally, I am glad for Rey’s hope and her willingness to keep fighting. And I’m glad to see her inspire something in Luke – to make Luke believe in the power of hope again, and to be willing to use himself as a symbol to guide others and give them the strength to find belief in themselves.
The film honours the mythology of the original trilogy, while encouraging us to think that that world – that world that we love, that inspires something so powerful in so many of us – can change and evolve and be open to new thoughts. That was what Luke was in the original films, after all – a challenge to Yoda’s assumptions. And it is even what Obi-Wan was in the prequels. The impetuousness of youth, willing to believe and strive against an established order, is shown to have value, even if sometimes it fails, as Obi-Wan did with Anakin, but Luke did not with Vader.
So, thematically, I am well on board with this film.
But more than that, and more than the cute critters, I was blown away by the visuals and feel of the film.
Space felt like space again. In a way CGI space has never achieved for me before. I felt wonder. I felt inspiration. I felt the reality of another world in which individuals face titanic struggles. I felt the wide possibilities of alien environments opening before me with a stark beauty that took me out of my real existence. The mineral planet Crait is not Tatooine or Hoth, but it somehow captures the barren strangeness that led me to fall in love with both.
This is a film to see and to love and to find something to believe in again. Let it transport you to a galaxy far, far away…