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Star Wars - The Last Jedi


April 1, 2018: This Easter was spent at home, stuck on the work pager; which was fortunately very quiet. So, I was able to re-watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi, then watch it again with the director's commentary. The first time I saw it in the theater, a couple of months ago, I didn't know what to expect and I was surprised by the plot twists. Having been able to watch it at my leisure, knowing what was going to happen and being able to think about it, brought me to a conclusion: yes, this is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. It's the best for the same reason Empire is considered the best. It has an interesting and unexpected story, and most importantly it does what the second chapter in a series is supposed to do. It gives us real character development and drama. It has excellent acting from all of the cast, and it develops the new characters of Star Wars - The Force Awakens so they seem less like cartoon characters…or Marvel superheroes.

I had discussions with friends of the new Star Wars after The Force Awakens, and I remember commenting how I really enjoyed Rey's characters, because she wasn't a clone of Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. She was her own character, and I remember saying how I didn't want her to have a typical movie heroine romance. Rather, I hoped she would dedicate herself to The Force, much like a monk or chaste medieval knight. Why is it that movie heroines are expected to meet a movie hero and fall in love, but movie heroes don't have to meet a girl and fall in love every time? And in fact, that's what The Last Jedi does. In a similar vein, I remember commenting that I expected Kylo Ren to overthrow Supreme Leader Snoke – and do a terrible job trying to fill the role of Supreme Leader. And that's exactly what happens here, as well. I was pleased to see these characters evolve in these directions, but other than that I did not expect to see what actually happened in this movie. And that, in itself, is a good strong point, because I couldn't predict it from beginning to end.

This is probably best exemplified by the character of Poe Dameron, the hot headed flyboy. Frankly, I didn't like him in The Force Awakens, because he was indeed nothing more than a flashy flyboy who zoomed in to save the day. He gets his comeuppance in The Last Jedi, and it's because of his rash decisions that the Resistance almost vanishes forever. It takes most of the movie for Poe to grow up, but he eventually does so and is a better person for it. Consider this: what if Poe hadn't defied authority and sent Finn and Rose off on that mission to find the Master Codebreaker? Well, the Resistance would have been able to sneak off quietly and found their new base with better manpower and supplies; while Rey still would have confronted Kylo and been involved with the overthrow of Supreme Leader Snoke. So, Poe Dameron's plan was a mistake – not on the part of the movie, but on the part of Poe Dameron himself. He made a mistake and the heroes suffered the consequences. When else in Star Wars did this happen? None other than in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke made the wrong decision and ended up in a similarly disastrous defeat.

If any character is developed the most in this movie, it's probably that of Kylo Ren. This is a good move, as he definitely grows up and moves beyond the childish temper tantrum throwing boy of The Force Awakens. And for the record, I did enjoy him in The Force Awakens – he was indeed an immature brat in that movie, and now he's grown up. He's definitely more dangerous and more evil in this movie than in the last. He's become a greater and more powerful villain in this one, especially since we no longer have to put up with Supreme Leader Snoke.

My theory behind Snoke is that he was meant to be a plot device from the beginning, not any kind of a well developed character. If the Star Wars prequel movies did one thing right, they gave us a sinister, brilliant, manipulative and clever villain in Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious. Compared to that, Snoke was a hack and a pathetic attempt to be the new Sith Lord. And, I think, this was intentional; not bad writing on the part of the story tellers here. Consider this: in the thirty years since the death of Darth Sidious, the Sith scrambled to find a way to recover and rebuild their empire. They were stuck in the past – just as the Jedi were, as Luke Skywalker declares repeatedly in The Last Jedi – and all they could do is come up with yet another "evil Sith lord" to build up their empire yet again, like all the previous Sith lords before. And they ended up with Snoke, because they couldn't find anyone better. Snoke tried to create his own Darth Vader with Kylo Ren, and failed miserably there because he was also stuck in the past. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren grows up in ways no one can predict, and because of this he is easily able to overthrow the pathetic Snoke and become a much more powerful and dangerous leader. With Kylo Ren, the Sith are not going to have another Sith lord at their beck and call. Kylo is free to do whatever he wants now.

And then there’s Luke Skywalker. This has the legions of Star Wars fans in an uproar more than anything else, as they all insist, “Why would the mighty Luke Skywalker hide away on a remote island and not charge out to meet the evil First Order, brandishing his lightsaber and sweeping through the enemy forces?” Luke made a tragic mistake, which led to Ben Solo being seduced into the Dark Side of the Force. Because of this, he exiled himself to the edge of the galaxy and swore never to return. He spends his entire time in The Last Jedi explaining this. He’s wiser than the rash and impulsive Poe Dameron: he recognizes his mistake and owns up to it. In the end, he does come out of hiding to confront Kylo Ren, but in a manner that demonstrates he had still made the right decision by going into hiding. In fact, this is a key point of The Last Jedi, one that the fanboys have entirely missed – and it’s the central theme of the entire movie. It’s about making the right decision and owning up to your mistakes. In this movie everyone has to make a crucial choice, and we see the consequences of these actions. Finn makes his choice to join the Resistance. Rey is given the choice of joining Kylo Ren – and Kylo is also given the choice of joining Rey. Not all of these characters make the right choice, and in the end the consequences are disastrous for nearly everyone. In fact, the only clear “winner” at the end is none other than Luke Skywalker. This is another reason why the fanboys are so upset: up until this point, Star Wars has been the story of the Skywalker family. Now the family is gone, and their story is at an end. This chapter of the saga is finished, and it's time to move on.

What The Last Jedi does to Star Wars is this: it wipes the slate clean, and gives the story writers a fresh new canvas to start with. All of the baggage of the previous movies has been left behind, and the movies can now go in any direction they want. They're not required to slavishly follow George Lucas' original blueprint. All of the original characters are now gone – Luke, Han, Leia, Darth Vader, even C-3PO and R2-D2, and they've been succeeded by the new generation of Star Wars heroes and villains. And I think this movie handled this well, by giving us an exciting adventure that we enjoy watching from the first moment to the last.

I've avoided most of the fanboy whining and haven't been intimately involved in the furious arguments and hatred for what The Last Jedi does to Star Wars. As such, I'm accepting it for what it is. It's a new chapter, and it doesn't continuously recycle the past over and over. What the fans wanted was a new Jedi Order, a new army of Jedi Knights to battle the same old Galactic Empire. And because it doesn't give the fanboys what they want, they're up in arms over it. In that case, sign me up for the Dark Side, because I know that while the Jedi are now gone, there's a potential for something new to be introduced with the next Star Wars film – which, if it's any good, could be far greater than what the originals were.