This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Themythking’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I get why this is decisive. It adds new philosophy in the face of a franchise that has had its fans define it for decades, it humanizes iconic heroes in light of their faults, and most of all it challenges the audience. For me those are all good things but for some that will look too different from the franchise they've come to love. I do think there are a lot of invalid complaints that just aren't fair and unrealistic to what any movie can be and I think anyone abandoning the franchise may be over exaggerating but it is more than fine to dislike this movie. I wanted to say this up top because a large portion of the discussion I've seen around this movie has been one of extremes (no real surprise to anyone), and while my rating is high and after a second, more critical viewing I have decided this is one of my favorite Star Wars films I don't want to ever fall into a camp of refusal of understanding. Now, on to my thoughts.
Star Wars The Last Jedi is a conversation between Star Wars as a franchise and its fans. The jump between the original trilogy and The Force Awakens or even between the prequels and The Force Awakens was a large one. The franchise no longer belonged to George Lucas legally or creatively but it really never did. Since May 25, 1977 Star Wars has belonged to the minds of its fans. Those fans grew up and showed Star Wars to their kids creating a new generation of fans and so the cycle continued. From those generations came creative minds to shape television, comics, books, and every other sort of media in the name of Star Wars. While barriers of cannon and human interest may have formally separated these stories, their existence along with the freedom to create your own characters while running around in your backyard with a plastic lightsaber showed that the force, the Jedi, the whole galaxy far far away was democratized. It was anyone's story. The Last Jedi proclaims this truth in a touching and natural way not breaking the bounds of cinema but playing into them with precision and care. Rey's parents are no one, a stormtrooper can become a resistance hero, an apprentice can overcome his master, and a small child on a casino world can wield the force. The Jedi don't own the force and they never have, the just choose to use it for the light.
Of course the question has always arisen whether the Jedi are good at all. The prequels show them as weak and ineffective but even in the originals Obi Wan lies to Luke and Yoda resists training him. We rarely see good and evil in our real world so we are apt to question it in our stories, but here we see the humanity of this narrative and the truth that good and evil are not solid states. One can be fallen and then redeemed not only from the dark side but from their own overconfidence in the light. We see that good actions can be done by bad people, no one would begrudge Ben for killing Snoke but his intentions are far from pure. Luke is not a Sith but he cut himself off from the force after he let his ego become too great and here we are able to see him learn the most important lesson of all, that while we fail our failures do not define us. Instead failure lets us and those after us grow. Yoda's scene is far from fan service as he teaches this lesson not only through words but by his own existence, he was part of the council that fell to Sidious and yet from him came Luke. Luke failed to train Ben and brought along a great evil and yet from him comes Rey. "Where there is great light there is great darkness." The two work in parallel. Rey and Ben are the obvious comparisons but Luke and Snoke show two mentors, elders in their studies, who both die. One, however, dies learning and growing while the other is betrayed because his arrogance blinded him. We believe in the light not because it is perfect but because from it we can learn and grow and become better, from it we have hope.
Hope is a word thrown about freely in Star Wars of any era, it is like "lightsaber" a dialectic hallmark of the series, but what does hope mean. I like many take a little umbrage with Canto Bite and its exebitionisim all leading to an overly drawn out and largely pointless quest, but the sentiment rather obviously stated there is carried throughout the film. Hope is not a moment, it is not a spectacle, it is the escape and survival. It is the small victories as well as the large ones. It is assurance that some one we know can become better or that the cause we love can live past us. In short its hope, to define it with words would be futile but to show it...that can be wildly effective. Hope arms us to face the truth that good will not always win, a resistance may loose its majority in the span of a day but the war is not over. Hope lets us stand one last time to be the legend we could never be by ourselves.
Legends, that brings us back to who owns Star Wars. Disney may have the rights, Rian Johnson may have the keys to create, and Lucas may have the creditability of the original author but we own Star Wars. Not the fan not the critic, no the owner of Star Wars is the individual. We leave what we want to at the door when we enter a Star Wars film, as we do that with any film, and we take along baggage. Star Wars has a simple enough appeal to last generations and to ignite strong opinions from even the most casual of viewers so possibly the most daring move this did was to retaliate against that. The legends we've created, stories we've crafted, theories we've told are not on display here. Rian Johnson may not own Star Wars but he owns this movie and he decides where it goes. That may mean killing off the big bad or simply throwing a lightsaber over a shoulder but he does it all with a personal but practical purpose. To walk into the cinema to see this or any other Star Wars movie is to allow ourselves to let go for just a while of our Star Wars and as the reception to this film shows us there is no telling how that will end. But this should never stop an artist from making something their own and Johnson does this. In doing so he is able to make The Last Jedi art, innovating in this franchise and creating a unique and intelligent story. This is a authorship that allows a franchise to stay alive, and while at the end of the day, when we leave the theater and throw out our popcorn kernels, Star Wars will still belong to us thank goodness others can help it become more than what it was before. "We are what they grow beyond." This gives me hope for Star Wars.