I did not want to write a review for Star Wars: The Last Jedi until after I had a chance to see it for a second time. After my first viewing, I left the theater wondering what I had just seen. I left the theater generally liking what I had just seen. Really, I was in a state of shock and surprise. Nothing I had seen had really been what I was expecting to see. Like most other fans, I went in with an expectation of how things would go. What I hoped would happen. Likewise, what I hoped would not happen. In the end, I did not really get what I expected, but it’s nice to be surprised. Had I not personally known people that hated the movie, I would not have believed that those people were real. But, I wanted to give the movie a second watch, to see how it held up to a repeat viewing. Did the big moments give me the same emotional reaction? Would I find a deeper meaning, able to analyze more than just experiencing it? I found that, everything I experienced the first time around, I experienced the second time as well. I will try to keep this fairly spoiler free.
If you are going in wanting this to be a black and white, good versus evil experience, then this movie may not be for you. Main characters are going to make questionable decisions. Sometimes outright bad decisions. Side characters will sometimes not treat main characters as if they are the main character, and it’s going to feel weird. It is not something generally seen action movies. The character the audience knows and follows is generally immediately included in all decisions from the point that they are brought in, even though that’s not at all realistic. If they are not included, then usually something nefarious is going on behind the scenes. To not go by the book on that troupe feels weird to many, but it was refreshing to me. There is a lesson about trust in the middle of this. Yes, the superior could have just trusted the main character, but they had no real reason to. In a need to know basis, this main character did not need to know. Having just been reprimanded for making terrible decisions, they were in no position to question their superiors. But rather than learning from their previous mistake, they double down on their rashness, which leads to more loss of life. Hopefully, in the next movie, this character learns just how much they screwed up, and learns from it. Failure can be a great teacher.
Failure being a teacher is stated near the end of the movie. How we respond to failure defines who we are. Just because someone is your childhood hero doesn’t mean that they won’t respond poorly to failure. It is also impossible to say that something is out of character for them, when we have never seen them in this scenario. To think Luke wouldn’t go into isolation because of Kylo Ren based on the original trilogy ignores several factors. First, Luke isn’t the same person as he was 30 years ago. Everyone changes over time. No one has the same mindset now as they did 30 years ago. Secondly, we hadn’t seen Luke after a colossal failure. Sure, his hand was cut off by Vader in Empire, but he immediately gets a new hand and is fine. Here, he feels personally responsible for not only the turning of his nephew to the Dark Side, but also the death of many of his students. Students, we can probably assume, whose parents entrusted him with their lives. If you still want to argue that Luke’s reaction upon sensing the darkness in Kylo was out of character, I would argue that we don’t know how long he had sensed it and what he had done previously. Is that a failing of the creators? Not really. Sometimes, the audience needs to fill in the details, because expressing every minute detail that comes up can be very boring.
In a sense, the audience is Rey when she meets Luke Skywalker. She had heard the tales of what he had done for the Rebels many years ago, and was expecting to find that man. Only, that man doesn’t really exist. He’s just a legend of a time long ago. Rey’s disappointment and frustration may be ours as well, but direct it at a character that you want to do better, not at a filmmaker that had the gall to make Luke Skywalker something other than an unstoppable Jedi master. What were people expecting? The Force Awakens set up that Luke went into hiding. People don’t go into hiding if they want to be found and rejoin the fight. Getting a Luke that wants to be left alone should not have surprised anyone. Also, Jedi’s going into seclusion after a massive screw-up isn’t uncharted territory. Yoda went into exile after failing to stop Palpatine. When Luke came calling, did Yoda jump at the chance to rejoin the fight? Nope. He didn’t really want to train Luke. So, a Jedi screwing up and going into exile isn’t that big of a stretch. It should also be noticed that all the debate about characterizations really overshadows a spectacular performance by Mark Hamill. While his voice-acting has always been fantastic, this may be the best live action performance he has ever given.
Then there is the Finn and Rose side story, which isn’t the big waste of time that some would like to say it is. First, it plays directly into what is going on with Poe’s story. More importantly though, it provides growth for Finn. Up to now, Finn hasn’t been a Rebel. His actions in The Force Awakens were more about helping Rey, than about joining the Resistance. He has always wanted to get as far away from The First Order as possible, but something keeps pulling him back in. Well, it’s usually Rey being in danger. And by usually, it has happened once per movie. But that’s not the point. The point is that his motivation has been Rey’s well-being, not the success of the Resistance. This journey Finn has with the newly introduced Rose seeks to change that motivation. Getting Finn away from the ongoing conflict allows him to catch a glimpse of the outside world. Let’s not forget that his entire life has been dominated by The First Order. While he has no doubt that they are the bad guys, he’s not sold on joining The Resistance. Even with an outside voice pushing that there is not difference between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” Rose forces him to see who is being hurt in this conflict. That Finn should not have his actions be motivated by hate, but rather by compassion.
I will say that I did not like the way the movie opened. The Force Awakens ends with The Resistance blowing up Starkiller Base, just like A New Hope ends with the Death Star being destroyed. Empire starts off, months later, with an evacuation. Guess how this movie starts. That’s right, with an evacuation. The opening scroll mentions how The First Order is reigning. It was a bit jarring, as there shouldn’t be that much time between the two movies. With the Rey and Luke stuff, it’s shown that she has just gotten there, and is still handing him the lightsaber. So, The First Order had their massive base destroyed, but they’re able to quickly mount a counter-attack and are reigning? That doesn’t make much sense. Yes, they destroyed several planets previously, but I would expect the destruction of Starkiller base to have some impact on The First Order.
Those are pretty much my thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, without being too spoilery. At some point in the near future, there will be a spoiler filled discussion on Podicus Wrecks. I encourage you to go see the movie with an open mind. I enjoyed it, and look forward to where they go next with the series. I hope episode 9 does not return to a safer formula.