Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi Review
“This is not going to go the way you think.” “Let go of the past.”
These lines from Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren in the trailers leading up to the release of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi perfectly encompass the journey that fans of Star Wars will go through while watching this movie. Rian Johnson and the Lucasfilm story group not only managed to put together an incredible film, they were also able to skirt all sense of traditional knowledge or expected story turns with The Last Jedi.
If you still have not seen the film and wish to avoid spoilers until doing so, I would recommend waiting to read this review until you are back from the theatre.
I don’t want this review to be a scene by scene breakdown of the entire film, so what I will focus on is the relationships and important moments between all of our characters.
The movie opens with the Resistance fleeing their home base as the First Order is closing in for the kill. In this scene we get to see the relationship dynamic between Resistance Commander, soon to be Captain, Poe Dameron and General Leia. Leia has clearly been grooming Poe for a high command position within the Resistance for some time, but it is very clear that he still has a lot to learn. His refusal to follow Leia’s retreat order costs the Resistance not only majority of their fleet, but nearly all of it’s high command as well. General Leia is the sole survivor of a direct hit on the command ship’s bridge only because her Force abilities saved her life before she succumbed to the vacuum of space. This introduces the theme of Poe Dameron’s character as the stubborn, anti-authority figure.
During the First Order’s invasion of the Resistance retreat, we get to see our first interaction between Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke. Kylo is kneeling in front of Snoke in his chambers being lambasted him for his weakness and inability to fully commit himself to the dark side. Snoke cuts right at Kylo’s core by bringing up his defeat at the hands of Rey and his weakness brought on by the murder of his father. Kylo leave the chambers after his chat with Snoke, and on his way out, he smashes his helmet to pieces. This scene clearly illustrates that Snoke’s idea of training Kylo is more centered around bringing out his rage than honing his abilities. Kylo’s power is undeniable, but Snoke needs to focus it onto targets that he sees fit.
Kylo quickly makes his way to the battlefield to try to wipe up the remnants of the Resistance, but his fury is halted when he reaches his mother’s command ship. They can sense each other, and a short stand off ensues. Leia is preparing for a possible death at the hands of her son, and Kylo is preparing to delve even further into the dark side. After a few tense moments, Kylo removes his finger from the trigger, but it is too late, 2 First Order vessels streak past him and lay 2 torpedoes into the bridge, engulfing his mother, and all of Resistance high command, in flames. This clearly shows that there is still conflict in Kylo and that his mother could still hold a special place in his heart. As mentioned above, Leia does survive, but the work is done. The Resistance is in shambles, and under new leadership, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s leadership.
In my opinion, Holdo is one of the best characters in this movie. Even though she dresses in flowing purple robes and has a smile that could melt the surface of Hoth, she is a no nonsense leader with a ton of experience under her belt, but in Poe’s eyes she is nothing more than a weak willed coward who’s only plan is to let the resistance slowly die. Before Holdo can even settle into command, Poe is in her face demanding that she tell him her plan to save their skins. His anti-authority ways show again, but this time he is met with stiff opposition. Holdo shuts him down and dismisses him without any second thoughts, even going as far as to call him a Flyboy with an itchy trigger finger. Again, Poe is unable to see past what he thinks is the obvious answer. He is too focused on immediate action to see the big picture.
Our next ‘Resistance Hero’ that we get to see is Finn. During the madness of the escape, Finn wakes up to find himself separated from Rey and in a healing chamber. He gets up and stumbles his way through the ship until he runs into his old buddy Poe. Finn and Poe quickly catch up, and then Finn does the one thing that he has been trying to do for a while, make a break for it. We saw his attempted exit in The Force Awakens get derailed by Rey’s capture, and this time his escape is thwarted by Rose, a worker on the Resistance command ship who is tasked with guarding the escape pods. Rose is initially ecstatic to see a real life Hero of the Resistance. Getting to meet Finn temporarily distracts her from the fact that her sister, Paige, just died in the First Order attack, but that distraction disappears when she realizes that Finn is trying to escape. Rose is forced to stun Finn to prevent him from leaving. The sets up a very interesting dynamic between Rose and Finn. Finn, after failing to escape, now has the play the role of a false hero in Rose’s eyes until he can prove to her that he is better than an attempted escapee, and Rose now has to see another one of her heroes fall. She must come to grips with the fact that Finn may not be who he is in the stories. Finn has always been a reluctant hero who was thrust into the spotlight by circumstance, but now he is faced with his own failures and has to choose if he wants to fully commit to this fight or not.
Luckily for Finn, Rose does not turn him in to Vice Admiral Holdo. Instead, Finn convinces Rose that they may be able to save everyone if they can only find a way onto Snoke’s capital ship. Finn and Rose present their plan to Vice Admiral Holdo, who quickly shoots the idea down. Poe is not so easily put off though. He secretly sends the duo on a mission to Canto Bight, as suggested by Maz Kanata, to pick up a Codebreaker who can help them sneak onto the ship. To make things even more difficult for the new duo, their mission has a time limit. There is only 16 hours of fuel left for the Resistance fleet. If they do not return with the Codebreaker and disable the ship within that time, all is lost.
The first interaction between Luke and Rey goes much like many fans expected heading into The Last Jedi, although a bit funnier. It is very clear from moment one that the Luke Skywalker that everyone knows and loves from the original trilogy is gone. He has been replaced by a broken man who is unwilling to speak to Rey at all initially. Luke even states that he has come to Ach-to to die alone. This is definitely not something we would expect to hear from the bright eyed farm boy who was ready to take on the Empire and save his father in the original trilogy. This Luke Skywalker is haunted by his past failures and decisions which endangered not only himself, but the entire galaxy. As Rey hands him the Skywalker family lightsaber, he non-chalantly tosses it over his shoulder and walks away. Even Chewie kicking in his door is not enough to get him into a conversational mood.
Throughout all of this, Rey is very confused and frustrated with the galactic legend that is in front of her. She went there, at Leia’s request, so she could attempt to reunite the long lost Jedi Master with the Resistance, while also trying to work her way in as Luke’s new Padawan, but it is very clear that the man before her is not equipped to do anything of the sort. Rey is now forced to grapple with the ever worsening situation with the First Order and with a disillusioned savior who refuses to train her or leave his island. Luke only agrees to train Rey after she is beckoned to The Last Jedi’s Tree of Knowledge. The tree, shrouded in mist and shadow, holds all that remains of the original Jedi texts. Luke follows Rey into the tree, and after asking multiple times for her identity, to which Rey has no good answer, Luke reluctantly agrees to train her.
Although Luke did decide to train her, he did not decide to train her sufficiently. The training is centered around Rey feeling out her powers and Luke semi-mocking her. After a few short lessons, Luke discovers that Rey was drawn to the dark side during meditation and did not resist it. This causes him to completely abandon the training. As Luke stated in the trailer, he has been power like this before and he did not fear it. Now he does, and Rey is again left to her own devices.
During her time on the island, Rey discovers that she has a curious bond with her sinister counterpart, Kylo Ren. This bond is something like we have never seen in Star Wars films before. The pair can see each other across great distances and hold conversations with each other without the strain of maintaining a force connection. This bond leads to some funny moments, like when Kylo is caught without a shirt on, but mainly this bond is used to explore Kylo’s back story and discover what lead to his fall. If you are a fan of character background, you better savor it with Kylo, because this is pretty much all your are going to get out of this film.
During their conversations, it is revealed that Kylo did not destroy Luke’s Jedi academy unprovoked, which is very much counter to what Luke had told Rey. Kylo only attacked Luke and destroyed the Jedi order after Luke sensed the dark side within him and attempted to kill him in his sleep. Kylo awoke to find his Jedi Master, his uncle, Luke Skywalker standing above him with an ignited lightsaber. Kylo immediately moves to defend himself by grabbing his lightsaber and collapsing the room on top of Luke. Although it is later revealed by Luke that he did intend to kill Kylo at first, but quickly changed his mind, the damage was already done. The Jedi, and his family, had turned on him.
After conversing with Kylo through their bond, Rey is convinced that there is still good within him and that she can turn him back to the good. Their last long distance conversation is interrupted by a furious Luke who can not only see Kylo, but he can sense Rey’s intentions. The scene quickly devolves into skirmish between Luke and Rey. Rey, wielding her bow staff, charges Luke, but he deftly fends off the attack. Luke disarms Rey, but Rey is quick to pull the Skywalker family saber to her hand and ignite it. This send Luke careening to the ground, though he catches himself with the Force. This is where we get the fully played “This is not going to go the way you think” scene. Although it looked very bad for the Jedi Master in the trailer, the situation quickly comes down to a conversation between Luke and Rey. Rey tells Luke that she can save Kylo, but Luke knows that this will not be as easy as Rey thinks. No amount of pleading will stop Rey from leaving the island to confront Kylo. She grabs her gear, as well as some other mystery items, and heads off to Snoke’s capital ship on the Falcon.
Luke is now left alone on the island and decides that it is time to end all of this. The old Jedi texts must be destroyed, and the tree that held them for many years must burn to the ground. As Luke approaches the tree, he is visited by none other than Grand Master Yoda himself. Yoda stops Luke before he can burn down the tree, because it is time for a new lesson. All this time on Ach-To, Luke has been dwelling on his failures, unwilling to pass on his knowledge to anyone else out of fear. He could not allow himself to fail again and create another Kylo Ren, but Yoda reminds him that one of the best ways to learn is through failure. Luke should not have been hiding his failures, he should have been sharing them, so others would know how to avoid the pitfalls of power and the dangers of the dark side. This conversation with his old master reignites the flame of the old Luke Skywalker that laid dormant for so long.
As time dwindles down for the Resistance, Poe decides that enough is enough. Finn and Rose are still not back with their Codebreaker, Leia is still unconscious, and as far as he knows, Amilyn Holdo is just letting the Resistance sail to a slow death. They have already lost all ships other than the capital ship, and now Holdo is siphoning off the remaining fuel from the capital ship into smaller transports that have neither shields nor hyperspace capability. Poe bides his time and waits to carry out his mutiny. When he receives word from Finn that the Codebreaker is secured and they are only parsecs out from the capital ship, he strikes. Poe and his fellow mutineers walk up on Holdo with blasters drawn. Poe quickly moves to the bridge to await the word from Finn that the tracking device on Snoke’s ship has been disabled and he is clear to jump to lightspeed, but his time is limited. The door to the command deck is quickly being sliced open from the outside. Unfortunately for Poe, Finn’s mission fails. The Codebreaker who helped them break into the facility also quickly sold them out to the First Order. Finn and Rose are captured before they could disable the tracker. As Poe sits there in disbelief, the door to the command deck opens. There stand General Leia fresh out of the medical wing with a blaster in hand. She fires a stunning shot that nails him.
Poe’s lack of ability to see more than one step ahead causes the Resistance to go from a sticky situation in the beginning of the film to a catastrophic one at the end. His decisions directly lead to the deaths of Admiral Ackbar and all of Resistance high command, the severe injury of General Leia, the capture of Finn and Rose, and the destruction of the entire Resistance fleet. His arc shows that combat skills do not always translate to command skills. If Poe is going to move into a position of power within the Resistance, he needs to take a lesson from Vice Admiral Holdo and learn to think before acting.
As Poe sees his deeds lead to deaths, Rey is seeing her decision to try to save Kylo quickly turn against her. After arriving on Snoke’s capital ship, she is lead to Snoke’s throne room by Kylo. It is here that she experiences the full extent of Snoke’s power. Snoke reveals that he was the one that was toying with Kylo’s emotions through the force to make it seem like he could be redeemed. He also reveals that it only takes subtle moves from his mangled fingers to bring down a world of hurt onto Rey. Snoke throws her around the throne room and mangles her with the force. After he is done with her, he places her at Kylo’s feet to be killed. It is in this moment that Snoke’s fatal flaw is revealed. As he revels in his apparent victory over the light side, he fails to notice that his apprentice is subtly manipulating the Skywalker family saber that is sitting mere inches from Snoke. Kylo turns the lightsaber and ignites it. The blade burns straight through Snoke’s body and his torso tumbles to the ground. In this moment, Snoke’s fatal flaw was very similar to Poe’s long running flaw throughout the film. He was too caught up in what he thought would be a glorious moment to notice what was going on around him. His hubris and his belief that Kylo was nothing more than his pawn lead to his quick death.
Snoke’s Praetorian Guards quiclly jump on Kylo and Rey. An excellent battle in the throne room ensues, but when all is said and done, Rey and Kylo come out unscathed. Rey immediately moves to Kylo to try to complete his return to the light side of the force. In her mind, there is nothing left for him here, but Kylo has other plans. Much like Vader, Kylo proposes that he and Rey should rule the galaxy together. When Rey refuses, Kylo begins to paw at her emotions by bringing up her parents. Rey has been desperate to learn about her parents for a long time, and now she learns what they are.
“You know. You have known all along. They were nobodies. Junkers who sold you away for drink. You have no place in this story.” At this point, Rey knows that it is time to get out of here. She reaches out with the Force for the Skywalker family saber that is hanging at Kylo’s side, but before she can claim it, Kylo latches on to it with the Force as well. A struggle ensues and the lightsaber is broken in two as both parties fly backwards from the Force blast. Rey gets up first, gathers the pieces of the broken saber, and makes her way off the ship. Kylo comes to when General Hux enters the throne room and see Snoke’s body lying in two. Hux tries to assert his dominance over Kylo, but there is nobody left to hold Kylo back. Hux proclaims Kylo as the new Supreme Leader while being Force choked on his knees.
This scene is probably one of the most divisive in the film. Not only do we get a very anti-climactic reveal of Rey’s parentage, but we also get events that, in my opinion, lead to a very flat narrative moving forward. The death of Snoke and the ascension of Kylo to Supreme Leader sets up the the tried and true divisions that have been ever present in the Star Wars galaxy, clear good vs clear bad, light side vs dark side. While I do think that Kylo’s story and progression are the best that this particular film as to offer, I think that the quick death of Snoke leaves a very predictable path for the next movie to follow. If Snoke lives and Kylo’s attempt on his life fails, there are many avenues left open to all of the characters, but I will hold my judgement for the extending story for episode IX.
Rey’s journey through The Last Jedi was mainly focused on growth. She not only grew as a Force user, she grew as a person. She grew past the need for mentors and paragon figures due to her disappointment with both Luke Skywalker and her parentage. She realized that status and lineage isn’t what is important in life, and what you do and who you grow in to is all that really matters. I am excited to see what she does with all of this new knowledge and a complete lack of hand holding in episode IX.
As the battle in the throne room ends, the last ditch effort to save the Resistance is underway. Poe awakens to find all of the transport ships loaded with people and General Leia sitting next to him. It is here that it is revealed that Vice Admiral Holdo did have a plan all along. She knew that the first order was only tracking the large command ship that they are all on. She also knew that Crait, a planet with a deserted Rebel base on it was just within reach of the fleet if they could just hold out long enough. This is when Poe finally sees the error of his ways, and he also sees the heroism of Amilyn Holdo play out in front of his eyes. Both Leia and Amilyn know that someone has to stay behind on the command ship to ensure that the transports get away safely. Amilyn stays behind, and when she sees that the First Order is shooting down the transport ships, she makes the ultimate sacrifice. She turns the command ship to face Snoke’s capital ship and engages the hyperdrive. The command ship flies through Snoke’s ship splitting it completely in two. She sacrificed her life to ensure the survival of the Resistance.
In my opinion the death of Amilyn Holdo is tragic for two reasons. Since Carrie Fisher is no longer with us and General Leia’s story was not sufficiently wrapped up at the end of TLJ, there was a clear need for someone to take her place in episode IX. In my opinion, Laura Dern’s Holdo was the perfect character to do that. She could have been the balancing force that Poe needed to help him transition into a good commanding officer. In addition, Dern’s portrayal of this character was one of the best performances in this film. She took a character that many people would dismiss based off of aesthetics alone and built her into the quintessential leader. A leader that would not wilt at signs of adversity and would not kowtow to people who disagreed with her. It is a tragedy that she will not be present in episode IX.
The final sequence on the surface of Crait sets up redemption for two of the movies main players, Luke and Finn. During the ground battle, Finn finds himself in a position to be able to save the Resistance from what seems to be a sure death by sacrificing himself to destroy the First Order’s giant battering ram. This was Finn’s moment to finally prove to himself, Rose, and everyone else that he is the Hero of the Resistance that he has been built up to be. As Finn is making his final approach, Rose speeds in from the side and crashes both his and her speeder out of the way of harm. Finn gets out of his speeder and goes over to help Rose. Rose is clearly hurt, but is well enough to profess her love for Finn and make him realize that not all heroes have to die.
Finn’s journey through this movie was one of validation. He was thrust into this role as a hero of the Resistance, but he never really saw himself as that. He just wanted to protect his friend Rey from danger. Since he didn’t see himself as a hero, his actions didn’t reflect those of a hero. It wasn’t until he was faced with his new found fame that he realized that he needed to accept his new role and prove to everyone that he is a true hero.
All seems grim after the First Order’s battering ram cracks open the door to the Rebel base until a very youthful looking Luke Skywalker shows up to defend his sister and the Resistance. After a touching reunion with Leia, he defiantly steps out onto the battlefield to confront his fallen apprentice, his nephew, and the new Supreme Leader of the First Order. When Kylo catches sight of Luke standing alone in front of his army, he order everyone to open fire on the Jedi Master. After the dust settles, Luke stand there unscathed. Kylo descends to meet him in battle, and after some shared words, the fight begins. It is a powerful scene, but in the end Kylo sends his lightsaber screaming through Luke’s midsection, but for some reason Luke does not fall. Instead, he turns to face Kylo. Kylo then realizes that this whole time he has been fighting a Force projection of his uncle, and during this time the Resistance has found a back way out of the facility and escaped into the Millenium Falcon with Rey, who was able to move an avalanche of rocks aside with the Force to clear the way for the remaining Resistance fighters.
Kylo’s arc through The Last Jedi is definitely the most fleshed out story in the entire film. Filling in his backstory with a tragic tale made him a sympathetic figure to everyone watching, but when that is juxtaposed to his new role as Supreme Leader and his visceral hatred of the Resistance, and Luke, viewers are left in a truly confusing situation. I want to see Kylo redeemed because the situation around his fall is truly tragic, and I believe that there is still good in him, much like Vader. But, it is undeniable that there is seething hatred and evil fueling him at this point. I am very interested to see where his character goes in episode IX.
After the battle with Kylo is completed, we see Luke hovering over the rock on Ach-To where he discovered just how powerful Rey was. When his meditation ends, he falls to the ground gasping for air. He is able to pull himself up, but the sustaining the projection for that long was too much for the old Jedi Master to handle. We see Luke Skywalker dissolve into the Force as his cloak flies off into the wind.
Luke’s journey throughout this movie was pretty disappointing to me. It felt like we never really got to see a real redemption moment from him. Yes, his heroics at the end allowed the Resistance to escape, and yes, I know that he will surely be back in Force ghost form to guide Rey, and perhaps Kylo, along in episode IX. But, I still feel like we did not get to see a journey of redemption from Luke. There was no character growth, outside of one moment from Yoda where he is literally told how to grow, and it just felt weird to see one of the most beloved characters in Star Wars history in such a diminished state throughout almost the entire movie. Hopefully we get some great moments from Force ghost Luke in episode IX. I would feel very unsatisfied if Luke’s story ended this way.
Overall, The Last Jedi is a very enjoyable film to watch. I can’t say that it is my favorite Star Wars film, but there were some moments that will stay with me as a Star Wars fan forever. To me, it felt like Rian Johnson decided to make important messages the central theme of this movie, even though those might not have lead to the best narrative experience. The decision to make Rey a nobody is a powerful way to show that everyone can be strong, no matter their background. I also think that his decision to use Luke as a vehicle to show that legends aren’t always what they are built up to be was an unnecessary sacrifice, at least to the degree that he portrayed it. I could understand initially showing Luke as the scarred Master who is hesitant to move past his failures, but he kept Luke that way entirely too long and never truly brought him back to a place where fans could look at him and say ‘this is Luke Skywalker.’ While there are some issues with this movie in my opinion, I truly enjoyed it and will be back in the theaters to see it again very soon. I am also very excited to see where JJ takes us in 2019.
Matt and I will be back with all of our opinions and a full recap of TLJ on the Star Wars Time Show very soon!