Note: This article is loaded to the gills with spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film, you shouldn’t be reading this. In fact, we’d appreciate it if you’d just kindly turn away right now. Thanks!
There’s a glorious, quintessential scene in Rian Johnson’s $200 million epic, The Last Jedi, that — as someone who grew up watching the original films dozens of times before I could even understand them — hit me like a ton of bricks.
No, it wasn’t the shocking moment Vice Admiral Holdo takes out an entire battalion with a kamikaze jump to lightspeed. It also wasn’t when Snoke is stunningly disposed of by Kylo Ren’s masterful lightsaber Force push. It wasn’t even Luke’s defiant relishing of freshly squeezed, green alien milk in front of Rey, a scene which seems to have affected so many Star Wars geeks so strongly. (Most of whom, by the way, will happily choke down cow’s milk — have they ever even seen a cow?!)
Accepting a new destiny
For me, the most important moment of the entire, groundbreaking film came with the return of a crotchety, spectral, little green puppet. Yoda appears at a point when many of us, including Luke, are feeling just a little bit lost. Like Luke, we’re vulnerable, we’re scared, and maybe a little angry that the Star Wars we’ve loved is taking us on this rocky new road.
It’s clear from the “controversial” reaction online that Johnson has asked a lot from his audience.
Just as Luke is about to fry the sacred Jedi texts, and god knows what else, while freaking out alone on his (not) Scottish island, Yoda appears and agrees with Luke’s task. He even does the job for him with a not-so-subtle bolt of lightning. The shocking destruction of the library is an awesome show of Force from beyond the grave, and a metaphor about the importance of moving forward even when we want to hang onto the past. It’s clear, if only from the “controversial” reaction online in recent days, that Johnson has asked a lot from his audience by this point in the film. That’s why he uses Star Wars’ most respected ambassador to show us it’s OK.
As I watched this moment in the theater on opening night, master and pupil meeting again after all this time, I was starkly aware that I had two choices. I could keep my distance and be analytical, or give in to this unabashed manipulation of my emotions, this call to the utmost depths of my Star Wars nostalgia at the foundations of my very being, steeped in the potent flavors of my childhood memories. I chose the latter. And I never looked back.
Yoda’s actions on Skywalker Island (aka, Ahch-To) are, as it turns out, a grand prank — not only on Luke, but also the entire audience. Rey had already stolen the books, assuring the Jedi ways and words will indeed live on. Yoda hints at this in a double entendre, saying that the library didn’t contain anything Rey “does not already possess.”
Whether Yoda had burned the texts or not, though, his message would have remained as poignant. Yoda is telling all of us to leave the past behind. To stop taking it so seriously. This is a new journey, he tells us, a new path forward. It’s a message that is constant throughout The Last Jedi; cast aside these preconceived notions, and come along with us on one more strange and exotic ride through the wilds of Star Wars lore. Be that kid watching Return of the Jedi in the theater again. That is what makes Johnson’s film truer to the original trilogy than anything we’ve seen in Disney’s sterling new Star Wars universe yet.
Not every unanswered question is a mystery
Yes, I understand there are questions, concerns, and even outright problems with the new film. Yet they are few and minor in comparison to the grander themes, the richer flavors, and the gorgeous moments of Star Wars glee Johnson presents. Sure, Poe and Holdo’s back-and-forth is a little trying. Yes, Phasma remains as cold and lifeless as her awesome suit of armor. And yes, some of the hammed-up comedy feels slightly out of rhythm.
Star Wars has always been rooted in the weird, and Johnson’s film takes up that mantle.
But the central issues many an outspoken viewer has fretted over, such as Snoke’s backstory, are frivolous in the grander scheme. Who was Snoke? Who cares?
Before the prequels mired us in the minutiae of the galactic senate, The Emperor was just as blank as Snoke — an ugly, evil Sith with zero backstory. He earned just a few minutes of screen time before he attempted to destroy the rebel armada, fried Luke with blue lightning, and was thrown by Darth Vader into one of those cool, lit-up space tubes. That’s all he received, because that’s all we needed. As Dr. Evil once said, “The details of my life are quite inconsequential.”
Maybe we’ll learn more of Snoke in the next film, but like the Emperor, he never really mattered. He was a device. A big baddie stuffed with evil who had only a bit role to play. Just as Luke and Anakin were the true titans of the Force in the original films, Snoke’s death revealed the true titans in our new trilogy to be (surprise!) Rey and Ren. The revelations are beautifully mirrored between trilogies, only this time the Emperor dies a film early, and Vader doesn’t turn from the Dark side after killing his master.
Remembering its roots
Those who remember the original Star Wars trilogy will find many other mirrored moments in The Last Jedi, most of it anchored in the truly bizarre. Is there any sci-fi scene as wonderfully weird as the first time we see the Mos Eisley cantina in A New Hope? Surely an elephant-lipped lounge singer isn’t any less odd than a flabby, multi-teeted cow-thingy shooting out green milk. Star Wars has always been rooted in the weird, and Johnson’s new film takes up that mantle with more innovation, insightfulness, and brazen Star Wars revelry than anything we’ve seen yet.
Of course, questions like whether you prefer CG Yoda (wrong) or Muppet Yoda (obviously), or how much comedic levity is warranted depend upon what Star Wars means to you — including, I’d wager, which trilogy you saw first in theaters. But that’s the point, isn’t it? How we view Star Wars is, of course, a very personal thing, and just what constitutes a great Star Wars movie isn’t typed in scrolling yellow words in space. A movie like this one, which draws lines in the sand — however properly or improperly in Star Wars lore each of us may believe they’re placed — is bound to cause controversy.
In the end, much of how The Last Jedi will be remembered depends on Abrams’ final movie in the trilogy, Episode IX, which will have the unenviable task of sewing all three films together (cinematically and tonally), tying up this new story, and creating satisfying conclusions for these beloved new characters.
I still need to see the The Last Jedi again to truly judge its place in the canon. But I know I loved it, and I was struck by more Star Wars feels than I’ve had since I was a kid.
So when someone says The Last Jedi isn’t a good or proper Star Wars film — or starts a freaking online petition to have it stricken from the canon (Luke was human, get over it) — the Star Wars worshipping, petulant child inside me wants so badly to ask: Did you even see the original trilogy?