Star Wars: The Last Jedi, or, Oh Don’t You Worry I’ve Got a Hot Take Right Here

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Has anyone mentioned Luke Skywalker saying “This is not going to go the way you think” in their hot take yet? Asking for a friend.

“I don’t know” and “conflicted.”

Those were the bells tolling through conversations, phone calls and text messages amongst my fellow Star Wars acolytes and I in the hours following the release of The Last Jedi.

Real talk: I’ve never walked out of a Star Wars movie without a smile on my face before. I was twelve when Attack of the Clones came out and damnit I loved it. But The Last Jedi had me at odds with myself. Over the course of the movie I began to feel as though something was amiss, but gradually I fell in love with it and was all in at the conclusion of the film’s first massive climax. However, in a final act filled with bold decisions The Last Jedi lost me and I left the theater in a cloud of uncertainty. The kind of uncertainty that makes you stop and think to yourself “oh shit, these are just movies, aren’t they?”

And then, somewhere in the twelve hours between my initial and second viewings, the film hooked me. Hard. And I fell in love.

The Force Awakens was a film that went straight to my heart. Though it certainly rewarded later consideration, it resonated in me with an emotional immediacy that required no thought.

The Last Jedi is not The Force Awakens. It made its way to my heart through my brain. In the wake of The Force Awakens I found myself immediately reminiscing about moment after moment, reliving the emotional highs and lows while I daydreamed between viewings. Days after The Last Jedi, and three viewings in, I don’t find myself reminiscing about moments from the film so much as I find myself actively engaged with it, sifting through every scrap I can recall, configuring and reconfiguring them to examine the proceedings from every angle.

The Force Awakens had to usher in a new era of a beloved franchise. It was no easy task to be sure, but it was a matter of emotional authenticity. The Last Jedi finds itself in the more tactically nuanced position of needing to pivot from resuscitating the heart of Star Wars to ushering that heart forward into a future in which there is no longer an end in sight, in which Star Wars is expanded and extrapolated on annually. The Last Jedi is the Star Wars movie that has to grapple with what it means to be a Star Wars movie in the oncoming endless deluge of Star Wars movies. It does so by examining some important facets of the franchise that haven’t necessarily gotten to linger in the spotlight previously, but were otherwise poised to weigh heavier and heavier on the franchise with each installment.

By the time the events of The Last Jedi roll around the galaxy has basically been fighting the same damn war for, like, half a century. It’s a conflict that is exciting movie to movie, but the prospect of war without end gets fatiguing and begins to feel futile when you look at the saga as a whole. What does any one victory on either side matter when this is where our heroes and villains find themselves again and again? While The Last Jedi certainly never promises anything resembling an end to the titular Star War, it grapples with the prospect of warfare without end in ways no previous entry in the franchise has. How does a war like this keep going? How is it fueled emotionally? Mentally? Economically? What does it mean to you if you don’t have a lightsaber or an X-Wing or a TIE Fighter?

Most grandly, however, The Last Jedi also takes on the power of myth and its limits in reality. It juxtaposes the Original Trilogy’s Jedi of legend with the Prequel Trilogy’s Jedi of flesh. Indeed when we meet Luke Skywalker and spend real time with him for the first time since Return of the Jedi, he too has essentially seen and had to contend with the Star Wars prequels. Just as the Jedi of yore fall short of both his expectations and ours, Luke now finds himself in a position in which he is being held up to that same legendary, and therefore impossible, standard.

At the end of The Force Awakens Rey looks to Luke with an uncertain hope for the future, she looks at a grizzled old man whose name is larger than life in much the same way myself and countless other fans look at the renewed future of this film franchise that has somehow become “more than just movies,” yearning for something at once unexpected and yet highly specific. Luke’s reaction to Rey’s extended lightsaber is a brusque reality check for all concerned.

Luke, like the franchise he embodies and more specifically the movie he embodies (this one!), finds himself tasked with being all things to all people. He sees Rey looking at him with those Original Trilogy nostalgia goggles and knows that, like the Prequel Trilogy he’s now internalized, he is bound to let her down because just as The Last Jedi is ultimately just a movie he is just a man. The Luke Skywalker Rey is looking for does not exist. He never did. He is a legend. The legend Luke Skywalker destroyed the Empire singlehandedly. The man Luke Skywalker refused to kill his dad then got tortured until said dad bailed him out.

Luke Skywalker’s narrative in The Last Jedi is what initially broke the film for me. It’s bold and at first came off brash and out of left field. But upon a second viewing Luke’s storyline is choreographed with great care, the variables are all put into place so that the grandiose mathematics of it all ultimately add up. This isn’t the Luke Skywalker story I wanted and, for me, that ultimately makes the Luke Skywalker story I got all the more affecting.

If The Last Jedi is the film you expected it to be then I guess you’re a filthy liar.

The Last Jedi isn’t the Star Wars film I expected. It’s not the film that anyone I know expected. It is a film that realizes that filmmaking toward expectations is at its worst an exercise in utter futility and at its best a complete waste of time for all involved. But it doesn’t defy expectations heedlessly.

Writer-director Rian Johnson has given Star Wars fans a gift in The Last Jedi. Love it or hate it, more than any other Star Wars film it is a film made to be discussed. In fact, it’s in discussing it with my friends that I really began to fall in love with it. Whether it is or isn’t your idea of Star Wars, I won’t hear the argument that this is a bad movie (postscript, December 20th: yeah, okay that’s a bit brash). The decisions Johnson makes are done with thought and care, there effects are not haphazard accident, they are not flimsy means to flashy ends. Whether those decisions were cool or god awful will fuel some excellent discussion among fans for the entirety of the franchise and its fandom’s future.

For my money, they were, after some deliberation, dope AF.

Ugh. Postscript, December 22: Hot take #2

In Line for Last Jedi, or, The Force Awakens Revisited

Forgive any formatting sins. I’m uploading from my phone in the theater.

Two years after its release, as its successor The Last Jedi prepares to debut, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has had enough time to begin the transition from the pop culture phenomenon of 2015, to, ya know, just another chapter in the ongoing Star Wars saga. It’s had time to cool off from its meteoric arrival and settle into its place as an entry in the decades old film series, slowly melding into the whole.

But at two years old, where does it fit in amongst its numerous siblings?

If you were to stitch Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens and make one 5 hour mega film, the pivot point would be a freeze frame at the very end of Jedi, followed by a ripping record scratch. While the events of VII don’t upend 100% of what the Rebellion achieves in the original trilogy, it does appear to even the playing field between good and bad in the galaxy, in spite of the desolation of evil Return of the Jedi had presumably depicted.

In the context of the larger Star Wars narrative, the function of VII becomes twofold: to reveal how truly daunting a prospect the goals of the rebellion actually are, and to insist that those goals are still achievable.

The Force Awakens gives us a far more complicated, arguably indiscernible status quo for the galaxy that the original Star Wars. We know who the good guys and bad guys are, but wherein Star Wars it was pretty clear the bad guys were in charge, the exact dynamics of the sequel-era galaxy are a little murkier. While we don’t get an abundance of information as to how the good, bad and indifferent relate to each other, we do get a pretty simple new way to tell them apart.

The good guys are nice to each other. The bad guys? Not so much.

The world would be a better place if there were a lengthy and readily available compilation of John Boyega reuniting with people. Finn, Rey and Poe treat one another with a relentless kindness, free of cynicism or sarcasm. These near strangers exhibit care for one another that still brings a smile to my face, a dozen plus viewings later, the sort of unshackled, earnest concern and empathy that even the likes of Han, Luke and Leia never exactly overflowed with.

If The Force Awakens is the film that signals just how difficult ending conflict and instilling peace in a franchise called Star Wars actually is, then it is also a chapter that reiterates no matter where the seemingly ceaseless swinging of the pendulum is between good and bad, subjugation and freedom, CGI and matte paintings, there will always be a well of everyday bravery and small kindnesses to draw from.

Until The Last Jedi retcons everything. I’ll let you know in two and a half hours.

I Know You Didn’t Think Disney and I Buried the Hatchet Just ’cause BB-8, or, Star Wars: Rebels Season Two

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[Insert PM5K’s “When Worlds Collide” Here]

Though I may not speak of it often and openly it’s important you understand that I haven’t simply abandoned the blood feud between Disney and myself that began with the unceremonious cancellation of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Years from now my descendants and the Disneys will probably be hiring bounty hunters to drag each other over state lines to stand trial for their various crimes against one another. That’s just their lot in life.

But between their deft handling of The Force Awakens, two spiffy Civil War trailers and Disney’s outspoken protest of proposed discriminatory legislation in Georgia my spite toward Walt’s lineage has cooled. As if sensing my softening sentiments Disney went in for the killing blow with last week’s conclusion to Season Two of Star Wars: Rebels with a finale that may not have apologized for Disney’s transgressions, but did effectively look me in the eye and shake my hand.

The worst part about the abrupt, unplanned ending of The Clone Wars was the dangling story threads of characters who were either introduced in or heightened by the series but were ultimately left without resolutions. It was something of a bitch slap to fans who’d become deeply invested in characters that, on paper, should have been little more than footnotes in some Star Wars encyclopedia in the bargain bin of Barnes and Noble, but over the course of five excellent seasons had become something much more.

Despite the undeniable quality and fun of Star Wars: Rebels, that slap still stung.

But the Star Wars M.O. of late is one of honoring the past. Much like The Force Awakens displays a reverence for the original Star Wars films and the new Rogue One trailer showcases a reverence for Fallout 3, Season Two of Star Wars: Rebels extends a true reverence to Clone Wars and, by extension, that series’ fan base.

In Tolkien terms The Clone Wars didn’t end before Return of the King even started, but based on what has been said in interviews with the cast and crew about what had been planned for the series, it definitely ended before the Battle of the Black Gate. And it doesn’t seem like we’ll ever get to see that battle outside of some tie-in book or comic. But Season Two of Rebels serves as, still in Tolkien terms, something of the Appendices to Clone Wars.

Old characters appear, unseen past events are eluded to and a few lingering story threads are picked up in earnest. It’s exciting watching characters from The Clone Wars interact with the cast of Rebels. There was a time when the characters organic to the animated Star Wars universe were so easily overshadowed by even the briefest promise of an appearance of a minor “real” character from the films, but now those same characters that had to fight for sunlight underneath the shadows of Anakin Skywalker or Yoda cast imposing shadows of their own when they show up in Rebels. It’s a testament to just how much of an impression The Clone Wars left on the Star Wars universe. Between the prequels and The Force Awakens, The Clone Wars carried the torch for the Star Wars franchise and the flame wound up brighter for it. This past season of Star Wars: Rebels put a concerted effort into acknowledging that.

So while I’ll never forgive Disney for canceling The Clone Wars, their posthumous treatment of their untimely victim has at the very least turned our blood feud into more of a scab feud. At this rate, maybe one day my descendants and Disney’s descendants might even institute a “no-kill” rule in their post-apocalyptic, gladiatorial honor-bouts.