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Tuesday, August 03, 2021
The film tears down the expectations built up for a sequel, but what it builds on instead is original and insightful.

The film tears down the expectations built up for a sequel, but what it builds on instead is original and insightful.

?A last look at ‘The Last Jedi,’ the 'Star Wars' film everyone needed

Spoiler Alert: This article contains major plot details and spoilers for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

If there is anything certain about fans, it’s that they can be touchy. Whether it’s a “thronie” for “Game of Thrones” or a “little monster” for Lady Gaga, fans of art are passionate and dedicated. However, just as art can lift fans up — like Lady Gaga’s endless positivity — it can also bring them down — like every other episode of “Game of Thrones.”

A couple weeks ago was the home media release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but three months after its theatrical release, sharp backlash against numerous aspects of the film still linger. These criticisms, while they are unwarranted in this author’s opinion, are not without good context: many aspects of “The Last Jedi” are unpredictable and radical. Once again, for those that haven’t yet seen the film, be warned that spoilers will follow. Through both intense reinvention and necessary addition, “The Last Jedi” greatly contributes to the rich lore of the “Star Wars” saga while also articulating valuable insights and a powerful story.

The film kicks off with a bang as the Resistance is tracked through hyperspace by the First Order, and their ship is low on fuel. This tracking was criticized, but “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” confirmed its legitimacy, which was already corroborated enough simply by being written. Problems with ships have been a recurring issue in numerous film plots: both “The Phantom Menace” and the much-loved “Empire Strikes Back” use broken hyperdrives as central plot devices. By adding a new level to this motif, “TLJ” doesn’t tastelessly repeat past stories and, consequently, creates a relentless narrative device in a race against time.

This beginning battle also sets up the themes of faith and failure. Poe Dameron’s costly battle for the Dreadnought kills Rose’s sister and so many others.It is a warning that if he continues being reckless, there will be even greater consequences — yet he does.

At the same time, General Leia Organa’s force pull is a fitting send-off for the late Carrie Fisher. Why criticize her usage of the force that Leia has clearly had experience with before, such as sensing Han Solo’s death in “The Force Awakens”? Eleventh-hour abilities, such as this and Luke’s force projection, are trademarks to the franchise. Force lightning, Yoda’s lightsaber skills and Luke’s shot to destroy the Death Star are only a few examples.

With Leia incapacitated, Finn and Poe are joined by Rose Tico to save the Resistance on their terms. Some viewers were disgruntled with Rose, but she is a perfect foil to Finn. Rose has a real heart and real experiences growing up under the First Order’s shadow, fueling her desire to defeat them even more after Paige dies. Meanwhile, the no-nonsense Finn is still inexperienced with his new life outside of the First Order and has only one bond that he holds above all else: Rey. Rose, driven and compassionate, helps plant the seeds in the next generation as shown by the force-sensitive child on Canto Bight.

Canto Bight adds a creative planet to the saga’s legacy as a fully-formed and complex place rather than the one-off set pieces like Hoth or Jakku. For those who cried hearsay to Canto Bight’s political edge, politics and economics have been interwoven throughout all of “Star Wars.” Han Solo was constantly in debt to people, Luke bought R2-D2 and C-3PO for labor, the entire prequel series was started by a trade dispute and the Empire and First Order are fascist governments led by harsh dictators. As George Lucas himself told the Chicago Tribune in 2005, “A New Hope” resulted after the Vietnam War got Lucas “thinking historically about how do democracies get turned into dictatorships […] Because the democracies aren't overthrown; they're given away.”

At the same time, Canto Bight continues to play the themes of faith and failure. Finn, Rose and Poe go behind superiors’ backs, completely diverge from the original plan and screw the Resistance further when DJ sells them all out. While they are trying to be heroic and assertive, their recklessness and lack of faith in Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo is nearly the Resistance’s downfall. Those that felt the trio’s journey was too long seem to be too dependent on seeing what Rey and Luke were up to.

Rey and Luke’s training on Anch-To, however, was also subject to disapproval, even as the duo continue to play out the themes of faith and failure. Luke represents the failure that allowed the First Order to rise, and by giving up he is reduced to an old, disillusioned defeat decaying with age. He isn’t a pleasant portrayal of failure, but rather a true one, one that makes sense with the narrative set up by “TFA.” This lack of niceness has turned many away, but Luke shows that in order to stay a hero, a hero must push forward. He’s torn apart over Kylo Ren and pulls back, retreating into himself and giving up faith. He sharply juxtaposes Rey, the hero whose persistence saves the Resistance.

Rey represents the heroism that fuels “Star Wars,” and the insightful idea that heroes are special because of what they do rather than who they are. Rey is just as distraught as viewers when she accepts her insignificant heritage, but she doesn’t let herself fall into despair and pain like Kylo Ren and Luke. Luke may have been Anakin Skywalker’s son, but he was no Chosen One. Anakin was the Chosen One and he only fulfilled his role by killing the Emperor because Luke believed he could bring his father back to the light side of the force. This dramatic reveal of Rey’s parents articulates faith and heroism — by having faith in herself, rather than her circumstances, she helps the Resistance escape and continues the Jedi legacy.

This plethora of growth and withering guides the characters through their flaws and their journeys in “TLJ,” but there is one character whose lack of flaws makes his departure necessary. Supreme Leader Snoke, in all his mysteriousness and power, has no original qualities to the franchise and keeping him in the films would have been derivative and boring. Kylo Ren delves further into his villainy by killing him and by stripping Snoke of a backstory, the focus is driven toward moving the plot forward rather than living in the past. The only character dwelling in the past is Luke, and that didn’t go well for him.

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This adventure to a galaxy far, far away is not for the fans who want the same characters playing the same games. These characters are flawed and inconsistent, unlike the heroes and villains of their past lives and eras; gone is the programmed evil of “The Terminator” and the unabashed goodness of “Rocky Balboa.” Instead, what we have now is something richer and more human without taking away from the amazing spectacle and action we crave.

“The Last Jedi” is a bold departure, and it may have alienated some fans with its newfound its courage. It pays homage to “Empire Strikes Back,” but refuses to imitate it. It tears down the expectations built up for a sequel, but what it builds on instead is original and insightful. “The Last Jedi” is a breath of fresh air, a brave step forward and most importantly — powerful cinema.

Final Grade: A

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