J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best reunion any of us have been a part of. It’s a great little ball of memories filled with familiar faces and classic moments that felt like a greatest hits concert from your favorite band as a teenager. While the film is a trip down nostalgia lane, that initial reaction wore off, and quite quickly I might add, where fans everywhere called for something new, different and unique to the Star Wars universe. Enter Rian Johnson.
The filmmaker, who is known for his dark and dramatic storytelling, took the reigns from Abrams and ran as far as he possibly could with them. Not to say that he went off the rails, but he found a very exciting and unexpected story while journeying to an ending that left more than most of us speechless. While Abrams’ The Force Awakens has predictable moments we’ve seen from the franchise before, Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes every possibility and flips the expectation for the fans, creating one of the most unpredictable and thrilling adventures we’ve seen, and I said in a tweet as I left the theater, the most original Star Wars films since 1977.
The Last Jedi starts off in a bang, as we’re thrust into the middle of the Resistance’s evacuation from D’Qar following the events of The Force Awakens. While the Rebels destroyed the First Order’s massive Starkiller Base, their forces are decimated, leaving the door open for Supreme Leader Snoke’s and the Dreadnaught, the First Order’s massive warship. It’s a fantastic sequence, as we get our first true glimpse into the kind of film Johnson has in store for us. It’s not only full of beautiful action shots, but timely quips as well, and thanks to Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron. We know the kind of flyer Dameron is, with it on full display as he seizes the opportunity to attack and take out some guns on the way, even if that’s against the orders of one General Leia Organa.
There are so many incredible and pure nerdy moments, but this could be the most important. Johnson is known for his more serious work, but the tone in this specific scene lets the audience know that this isn’t the same old Rian Johnson film, rather a Rian Johnson Star Wars film. It’s actually a bit goofy if you think about it, but it’s also a risk. Never before have we seen a Star Wars film begin with such a light-hearted, almost smartass moment. It was this that gave us the clue that we were in for something completely different, meaning a movie that will take risks and break the mold of the galaxy far, far away.
That’s where I’d like to start. The internet has blown up with love and hate for this new take on Star Wars, but I for one appreciate the innovative approach Johnson brought to the film. That approach allows the themes of the story to be highlighted, with the lessons of learning from failure and heroism being the favorites.
Failure is the key to the film, as it’s fluid throughout the film for every one of our characters. John Boyega’s Finn and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose adventure to the casino planet of Canto Bight, where the fate of the Resistance lies in their hands. Rather than seeing a story of fearless heroes saving the day, these young soldiers fail, and fail until they learn from it. As this sequence is going on, Poe Dameron has started a mutiny on the final Resistance cruiser to try and save what’s left, where failure once again is the result of the act. While this lesson is featured throughout the film in many different characters, the most important failure of them all is the dynamic between Luke, Rey and Kylo Ren.
We are finally see that final moment of The Force Awakens play out on screen. Following traveling across the galaxy to find him, Daisy Ridley’s Rey faces Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker to hand him his long lost lightsaber. To keep with the theme of unpredictability, Johnson has Luke toss the lightsaber over a cliff and insist that there’s nothing the legendary Skywalker can do. We now know that this isn’t the Luke we once knew.
Despite his hesitancy to train Rey, he offers her a few lessons in the force so she can see its true nature. This, this is where we have the story’s biggest revelation. Rey’s connection to the force opens multiple doors, one revealing the past and the other revealing a possible future. One one hand, we learn that it wasn’t Snoke or Ben Solo that created Kylo Ren, but rather Luke himself, which was the result of a momentary lapse in judgement, leading to critical confrontation and a burnt Jedi academy. On the other hand, we are finally able to understand the connection of Rey and Kylo Ren, as this aspect is the biggest innovation Johnson brings to the film.
If there’s one thing The Last Jedi was able to do, it was expand on what we know in the force and the galaxy. He’s able to find completely new ways of integrate the force into his storytelling, so much so that it has divided fans on whether or not they like it. But the force connection between Rey and Kylo Ren binds the story in such a better way than we ever thought. They each believe it’s real and something special, which teases two things: a powerful and sexy Star Wars romance and for one of them to possibly switch sides toward the end of the film. Its fantastic, but it’s just where things are getting started.
“This is not going to go the way you think.” There’s never been a more true set of words in the Star Wars galaxy. As the story starts to unfold, it’s full of twist and turns that will have your jaw on the floor. Johnson is not only able to use dialogue to misdirect the audiences thoughts, but visuals as well. We all think we know where it’s headed, but the film stays true to itself and stays hidden until the perfect moment. The climax of the film is great, a first in the Star Wars universe, but it’s the sequence in Snoke’s throne room that will be talked about forever.
We’re given a sense of hope when Kylo Ren, who has been asked to end the threat of young Rey, turns against his master and ends Snoke’s life with a single stroke. It’s an emotional rollercoaster in the best way possible, one that’s followed by a phenomenal fight scene between Rey, Kylo Ren and the Praetorian Guards. This cinematic fight scene will go down as one of the greatest lightsaber sequences in the history of Star Wars, as it holds breathtaking visuals, tight choreography and performances by two young, powerful stars who are at their absolute best in this moment. But most of all, it’s the emotional punch that has the biggest impact, as it holds the key to the entire story that follows. It’s a twist, and a badass one at that, which ends in heartbreak as Kylo doesn’t turn to help the Resistance as Rey has hoped, but rather solidify himself as the darkest man in the galaxy. Following striking down his deformed master, his has now taken on the mantle of Supreme Leader, one who wants to kill the past and start a new world where no one but him is standing on top. This moment, it’s everything the new trilogy has led up to, as Kylo is shaping up to be one of the saga’s most fascinating villains.
There is, of course, a part of me that wanted to see Rey take Kylo’s hand. Together, they are a force we’ve never seen before, look at the way they fight together. Their connection is almost a too perfect blend of of light and dark, which pulls them to believe that to each other, they are the other person who they can truly be understood, and even belong. But that’s asking all too much of us. Could a man who murdered his father – one of the most loved characters in cinematic history – and a academy of young Jedi really be our new hero? No. It would also be asking Rey to forget everything about who she is. Thankfully, Johnson takes the story in the exact direction it should go, with these two young powers on opposite sides of the conflict, destined to go up against one another rather than join together.
One of the biggest buildups in cinematic history has been the question of who Rey’s parents are. Skywalker? Kenobi? Palpatine? We’ve been debating and speculating for two years now. Well, they’re no one. They’re junk traders. As Kylo tells her, people who traded their daughter for drinking money. So as we learn that her bloodline isn’t strong or that the Skywalker legacy will live through her, we also learn that that’s exactly what makes her a hero. She doesn’t have a destiny or family legacy that makes her a hero, rather her actions that do. She’s a hero because of her real sense of hope, her ability to choose to be a hero and refuse to be anything else. And that’s what makes her so powerful going forward.
One of the best elements of The Last Jedi is that it consistently sticks to its themes, even when the film slows down a bit in the second act. The films doesn’t care what you think, it has words of its own and wants to give you something far more than just your typical blockbuster or Star Wars film. It holds story misdirection and mythology obliteration, but most of all it’s worried about keeping the spark of hope alive. Kylo has been twisted into something darker, the remains of the Resistance are tucked away in the Millennium Falcon and Luke may be gone, but the inspiration of hope is clearly alive. As the final scene – after the initial credits – demonstrates, the final act of Luke Skywalker and a young Jedi named Rey will inspire a new generation of heroes, as we see a young boy, presumably a nobody, grab his broomstick with the force. As the Millennium Falcon hyper-speeds in the stars above, the boy looks to the Resistance ring given to him by Rose and shifts his broomstick down like a lightsaber, not only teasing a new hero in the making, but letting us all know that we don’t have to be anyone to be someone.