What do you know about the Force? Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Review)
This article is part of our series called, “A Spitting Match,” where two of our writers go head to head. Read the rebuttal by Paul Oren here.
Directed by Rian Johnson, ‘The Last Jedi’ is the 8th installment of the Star Wars Saga. With ‘The Force Awakens,’ JJ Abrams had the job of playing it safe and reestablishing the beloved characters of the Star Wars films. Fans loved Abram’s ‘The Force Awakens,’ but many compared it to ‘A New Hope.’ So Rian had big shoes to fill. But Johnson had different plans and took ‘The Last Jedi’ in a very different direction then his predecessors. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best Stars Wars movies to date. Is it better than ‘The Empire Strikes Back?’ That’s debatable. Johnson’s expansion of the character’s connections to the force and his willingness to think outside of the Star Wars box succeeds by creating something fans had been clamoring for since the new trilogy was announced. In my opinion this is certainly the best film since ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ or ‘Return of the Jedi.’
Editor’s Note: In case you hadn’t guessed it yet, scrolling beyond the photo will result in SPOILERS
In Rian Johnson’s interpretation, the beloved original characters took a backseat as Rey and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo took centerstage. As Rey began to understand how to manipulate the Force, Luke saw her raw, untapped potential. This scared him and he couldn’t help but compare her to his nephew/protege Ben Solo. We all know Luke’s training of Ben was never completed, and thus cemented Kylo Ren’s turn to the Dark Side. Kylo Ren continued to be torn from the inside by the Dark and Light Side of the Force. This came to a tipping point in the scene where he brings Rey to The Supreme Leader Snoke. As Snoke bragged and pontificated about his ‘supreme powers’, Kylo Ren’s real ambitions became clear and he used the Force to fog Snoke’s mind and eventually kill him. Rey and Kylo Ren then teamed up in the movie’s best lightsaber battle to destroy Snoke’s guards. This was a pivotal moment in the development of Kylo Ren securing his path to finish what his grandfather Darth Vader started. Trying to turn Rey, he told her that her parents were nobodies, that SHE was a nobody, but “not to me.” Was it a Jedi mind trick? I hope not. This opened up the concept that Star Wars is not just about the Skywalker lineage but the universe as a whole.
While Kylo Ren and Rey were locked in a mental power struggle, the First Order waged war on the Resistance. The beginning of the movie saw the Resistance attempting to dismantle the cannons of The Dreadnought warship, only to end in the decimation of the Resistance’s fleet. Poe, previously seen in ‘The Force Awakens’ as being the best pilot in the galaxy and an infallible hero, made decision after decision that led the Resistance to death and destruction in ‘The Last Jedi.’ The First Order had developed new technology that could track enemy ships, even through lightspeed. In complete defiance of new leadership, Poe sent Finn and Rose (a new character) on a mission to find a codebreaker, based on the suggestion of a very distracted Maz Kanata. On their adventure, Finn and Rose traveled to the unknown planet Cantonica, including a kickass, swanky, upscale casino called Canto Bight. This was a mecca for the filthy rich, allowing an escape from the brutal doom and gloom of the First Order. While imprisoned there, Finn and Rey meet shady, opportunistic DJ, who sees the world as imbalanced and in favor of the affluent. DJ has clear indignation for both The First Order and the Resistance, seemingly choosing to stay neutral in the battle of good vs. evil. DJ ultimately turns on Finn and Rose, and their mission fails miserably. Poe does get the chance to later redeem himself, and his decisions ultimately bring humility to the character. Seems to be a suggestion that Poe could possibly lead the Resistance in the future.
The choice to keep Leia around for another movie was somewhat puzzling. In the middle of a battle with The First Order, Leia’s ship is directly hit and she is pulled into the cold vacuum of space. In a bizarre moment, a seemly unconscious Leia uses the Force to fly through space and back into safety. Director Rian Johnson said in a interview recently ‘”Leia’s a Skywalker. Luke gave her this speech in Jedi and told her basically, ‘You have this potential, too.’ It seemed to me it would be a really emotionally impactful thing to see her use it. I liked the idea it would be an instinctual thing. This would be more like stories you hear about parents of toddlers who get caught under cars and they get Hulk strength and lift the car up. It would be something in these final moments to show that she’s not done with the fight. And like a drowning person pulling herself back, that’s how it manifests itself for the first time in her.” As outlandish as the scene was, after hearing his explanation, it does make sense. Many think Admiral Holdo’s suicide mission should have been Leia’s story instead. To save the few remaining members of the Resistance, Admiral Holdo made the choice to make the jump to lightspeed straight into The First Order’s warship. That would’ve been a respectable ending for Leia, but I believe she has a more important role to play; as the mother and the only balance to the emerging badass (new) Supreme Leader Kylo Ren.
In the past, Jedi used the Force to make shit move, pulling mind tricks on dumbasses, and being able to telepathically communicate with other people who used the Force. ‘The Last Jedi’ shows the Force is much more powerful and expansive and is harnessable by anyone. During a pivotal scene where Rey and Kylo Ren were communicating telepathically, they were able to view each other as though they were in the same room, and also were able to make physical contact, despite being halfway across the galaxy. Supreme leader Snoke used the Force in many more powerful ways that were unknown to us. In the many years Luke was on an isolated island, he had completely removed himself from the Force. Only after Rey’s training and persistence, did he decide to reconnect with the Force. In a much later scene, Luke was able to manipulate the Force in a way not seen before, which ended in an epic battle scene with Kylo Ren. As I sat in the theater, I thought to myself ‘You can’t do that with the Force.’ The point was that the Force doesn’t need to be contained into one box. The Force surrounds and binds, it is ever growing, and one cannot completely understand how it works. Rian Johnson reformulated the Force and gave us just a glimpse into how dynamic and boundless these characters will prove to be.