Yes, it’s been almost a year. That’s why this is going to be very. very. thorough.
Buckle up, kids, this one is going to be a doozy. I’ve been formulating parts of this in my mind for the better part of a year. It’s big enough that it comes in parts. So if you don’t want to wade through the entirety of my word vomit, here is the table of contents. Feel free to skip around and look for certain sections if something strikes your fancy.
Part 1: Confessions and Acknowledgements
Part 2: My Overarching Theory
Part 3: Not-So-Liveblog
Part 4: The Not-So-Good
Part 5: The Freaking Great
Part 6: The Defense
Part 7: The Summation
Part 1: Confessions and Acknowledgements
Confession/Acknowledgment 1: The closest that my boyfriend and I have ever come to an honest-to-god, raised voices fight, happened during our attempt to discuss this movie. We were having dinner at a steakhouse and went (almost without me noticing) from calmly discussing our opinions to raising our voices. I decided that we should stop talking about the movie for the sake of peace, and since then this film has been a touchy-to-nonexistent topic between us. We’ve found as much middle ground as we’re going to, which honestly is not a lot. For me, this is one of my favorite Star Wars films. For him, it is the absolute worst Star Wars film, and possibly the worst film ever made. At least part of my delay in addressing this film comes from not wanting to restart an old argument. But what am I, if not self-destructive?
Confession/Acknowledgment 2: I have spent the better part of a year reading thinkpieces, watching YouTube videos, and generally engrossing myself in discussions on this film. In my infinite wisdom, I made absolutely no attempts to bookmark or otherwise keep track of what I’ve read, and at this point the thought of trying to backtrack and rediscover most of that content makes me dizzy and feel like I suddenly need to do absolutely anything else. So for the sake of actually finishing this damn thing, this isn’t going to be as meticulously sourced as say my epically long response to Wonder Woman. I will probably commit the sins of coming up with an idea that someone else has already come up with, using the vague phrase “I read somewhere,” and possibly even using someone’s theory without attribution, all of which I apologize for in advance. I do know and remember that I read many excellent pieces by the writers of The Mary Sue¸ and was in very close agreement with this video from the Pop Culture Detective on YouTube.
Confession/Acknowledgement 3: I do understand that there are sustained and legitimate criticisms against The Last Jedi. I don’t think anyone is automatically a bad person just for disliking the movie. I don’t think that all criticisms of the film can be reduced to simply misogyny or racism. However, I think that a lot of the criticisms against it come down to misogyny or racism, and I think that it is important for those who have other criticisms of the film to look around at the company they are keeping. If two different people are saying the film “ruined their childhood,” it is pretty hard, if not impossible, to discern the difference between the person who is saying that because they have legitimate critiques of the film versus the person whose fragile sense of masculinity was destroyed. And I think it is important for even the people who have legitimate critiques to examine the sources of some of their feelings and determine whether any of their feelings stem from some of the same sources of toxic masculinity as some of the overt trolls.
(At this point I’ve probably successfully alienated most of my readers, including potentially my own partner. So, let’s get to it.)
Part 2: My Overarching Theory
I believe that I understand at least part of the fundamental reason that this film is so polarizing. (So polarizing, in fact, that Russian bots used it to sew dissent in much the same way they used Facebook pages about political groups..) In something that I think is both the work of a mad genius and a hatefuck towards the fandom, The Last Jedi is, in many ways, an attempt to modernize the series by not only refuting much of the memberberries-infused nostalgia of the JJ Abrams film, but also some of the elements of the original trilogy and the George Lucas-directed prequels. Many fans, especially male fans, were upset that this film did not resemble “their” Star Wars. And to a certain extent, they are right. This is not “their” Star Wars: It’s “mine.” This film deliberately de-privileges white, heteronormative, macho-influenced narratives that were the bread and butter of most of the main Star Wars films, as well as (to my understanding) a vast portion of the Expanded Universe/Legends/Whatever You Want to Call the Older Non-Movie Stuff. It’s entirely possible that large groups of people who have built a lot of their identities on the basis of the original style would suddenly not see themselves represented in this new film, and that can be pretty scary. It’s also one of the major reasons I love this film.
Part 3: Not-So-Liveblog
The format that most of my liveblog reviews are in is a stream-of-consciousness during my first viewing. My first viewing of this film was almost a year ago, so that ship has obviously sailed. But I’ve been deliberately waiting to re-watch the film until I could work on this post, so we get a not-so-live version of the liveblog that is still pretty fresh, in that it catches my reactions to my second-ever viewing.
- Hells yes more Billie Lourd.
- Domhnall Gleeson needs to get better sleep.
- I don’t entirely get the humor stuff at the beginning. I also don’t know why they didn’t open fire from the beginning. Like, aren’t these the merciless bad guys?
- Why are the cannons so bad at cannoning?
- Why didn’t they scramble fighters already?
- Okay, so hanging up on General Leia is like hanging up on Michelle Obama if she is also a five star general. YOU DO NOT DO THAT. That is insubordination. There are military crime words for that.
- Ooh, token inclusions of women and black fighter pilots. We have more diversity in the first five minutes of this film than most of the original Star Wars.
- Okay, so when my grandpa fought in World War II, his job was to be on bomber planes and literally kick bombs that got stuck so they would drop. Are you telling me that is still how you do it on spaceships?
- Why is there only one remote for “drop all the super important bombs.” Why isn’t that remote on a bungee or something?
- Okay there are only so many times that the scene of Paige dying is allowed to make me cry. So far that number of times is two.
- God this scene of everyone celebrating while Leia is looking at the death toll is so, so perfect. So much of Star Wars is about giant explosion and destruction sequences where no one really thinks about the human cost.
- Again, not getting the comic relief shit. Like, I know Snoke is mad at Hux. But is it really the best idea to make him look like a dumbass in front of all of his troops?
- I love that they basically put Finn in the storage room, and apparently have no one paying attention to the coma patient.
- I will admit that I laughed out loud the first time I saw Luke chuck the lightsaber. It’s a moment that looks like it is going to be infused with so much significance, and then nooooope.
- I know everyone hates on the Porgs, but after I saw the first movie I found out that the reason they exist is that there were already way too many puffins on the island and no one could make them go away, so they just CGI’d over them as Porgs, and that makes me so, so happy.
- Okay, so Luke should probably have had a better emotional reaction to learning about Han and seeing Chewie.
- This may just be the fanfiction talking, but I remain convinced that Hux and Kylo Ren want to hatefuck each other very, very badly.
- Snoke is so disappointing. Like, I didn’t expect him to actually be giant like he is in his hologram, but he looks like a wax figure of Hugh Hefner melted and then got put in a new smoking jacket. All of his guards look way cooler than him.
- Dude who are you calling a cur? Hux is evil and not good, but Kylo Ren throws LITERAL TEMPER TANTRUMS WHERE HE DESTROYS EQUIPMENT AND RUINS PLANS.
- Is Snoke just… negging everyone? Is that his plan?
- Okay I’m with Snoke on the mask thing.
- Did he repair his scar with like… snake skin? Or tire rubber?
- “What you think I’m gonna walk out with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order?” ….yep, that seems to have been exactly her thought.
- To be fair, if there is one thing I’ve learned from all of the movies and all of the video games, it’s that the Jedi Order totally shits the bed about once every 50 to 1000 years and is constantly on the brink of collapse. So Luke is probably right about the galaxy not needing the Jedi Order.
- ….this milking scene is entirely unnecessary and I don’t like it. I say that as someone who grew up on a ranch and literally has seen cows being milked.
- I can’t help but think that this version of Luke got at least a bit of the Mark Hamill Joker humor.
- “Get your head out of your cockpit” is my new favorite thing.
- “There are things you cannot solve by jumping in an X-wing and blowing something up.” Yaaas Leia tell him.
- “Dead heroes. No leaders.”
- Damnit I was just starting to like that token female pilot.
- Okay, on the one hand, I am A, really glad that Leia did not go out like a chump like this, B, glad to have proof of my longstanding belief that Leia is a badass Force user in her own right, and C, glad to see space being made for Force users that are not Jedi. But on the other hand, holy shit this is a stupid looking scene to have Leia Excelssior-ing back to the ship.
- RIP Admiral Ackbar
- Ooooh low blow R2. Well done.
- What are you straightening up for Dameron, you ain’t coming to leadership.
- God, 400. I forgot how few people there were left.
- I really love Admiral Holdo’s character design and I will throw down over this.
- “We are the spark that will light the fire that will restore the Republic.” How many sparks are there going to be, exactly?
- “That’s Admiral Holdo?” But she’s so… girl-shaped and mauve. Yeah I know what you’re doing Poe, I see you.
- “Very kind of you to make me aware.” Admiral Holdo is Every Woman Who Has Ever Been Mansplained to right now.
- “Not commander, right?” Holdo knows how to play boy brain ball.
- “Of course you do.”
- “You’re impulsive, dangerous, and the last thing we need right now.”
- So I will admit it isn’t super sensical for Holdo to just refuse to share her plan. But I also contend that people would be at least 60% more okay with it if she weren’t a woman with purple pink hair.
- I know that Finn gets a lot of flack for this move, but I think it is genuinely a good aspect of character continuity. He is a formerly nameless member of a cannon fodder class who was only a hero because there were specific people he was caring about who were in the fight. It absolutely makes sense for him to not want to fight more, and for him to find those specific friends again. He’s not just a random dude, he is a dude with a shit ton of PTSD.
- “Doing talking” I love you Rose. Rose is every awkward girl ever.
- Do not talk over Rose, Finn. That is rude.
- Okay Threepio, go tell on Poe. Right now. Do it.
- “Exactly one guy I trust.” Exactly. One. Guy.
- I am Not a Fan of the Kylo/Rey scenes. I am not a fan of the way that they are trying to get us to empathize with Kylo, full stop.
- I really need some frog nun backstory.
- “Impressive. Every word in that sentence was wrong.” Things I Wish I Could Have Said When I was Teaching.
- “That Force does not belong to the Jedi. To say that if the Jedi die, the light dies is vanity.” All of this
- Again, can admit why it’s weird that Luke would close himself off. But I also kinda think it makes sense.
- Okay but this raw Force scaring you is how we got in trouble in the first place. If you hadn’t gotten all scared and tried to KILL YOUR NEPHEW he possibly wouldn’t have snapped.
- I really love Rey’s honestly happy reaction to water. You have to remember how new all of this shit is to her. She’s been living in a totally dry desert planet for years and would probably have never seen vast quantities of water.
- See, Kylo is very self aware that he is a monster.
- “Filled with the worst people in the galaxy.” The 1%
- Parking Porssdhet is getting black folks in trouble for no real reason.
- Fucking love the worldbuilding in this scene. Also, how do they manage to make everyone dress in a color scheme? Does this casino have a dress code? Is it like Diddy’s White Party?
- Also kinda love the drunk gremlin trying to play slots on BB8.
- Cruelty towards animals and children, because quick pathos.
- “There’s only one business in the galaxy that will get you this rich.” “War.”
- Dreadful waste of Justin Theroux.
- “And then two busy parents sent their son to boarding school in his most virulent teenage period, and then we were all very, very surprised when he turned evil.”
- And this is why we can’t redeem Kylo too much, because he legit went all school shooter.
- WHY WOULD YOU TRUST THIS MAN? I know we aren’t supposed to judge books by their cover, but there is literally no reason to trust this man. If he could have let himself out at any time, why in God’s name didn’t he?
- With the exception of showing off the kids and how cool the Fathiers look, this scene is entirely unnecessary and just extra padding.
- Okay just saying, they are gonna recatch those fox horses in about five seconds.
- I do not find Kylo’s high rise pants as mockable as most of the internet does.
- I really like how they manage to do two very different POVs of the same scene.
- “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you’re meant to be.” Let’s put a pin in that for now.
- I admit that I do not totally understand the multiple Rey scene.
- I have mixed feelings about the hand touching scene. Putting a pin in that one, too
- Fucking love the Yoda scene.
- “I am gonna throw a tantrum!” “Bitch, please.”
- “Page turners, they were not.” I’m not the only one who’s tried to actually read multiple religious texts and given up.
- “That library contains nothing that the girl Rey does not already possess.” Ha
- “Failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is.”
- “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” LET THE PAST DIE, LUKE
- That tree is on purpose burning in the shape of the rebellion symbol, right?
- This scene on the ship is the only reason to have DJ in this movie.
- “Made his bank selling weapons to the bad guys. And the good.” MORALITY IS NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE FINN
- “Finn let me learn you something big. It is all a machine, partner.” DJ is smart sometimes.
- I would have paid large sums of money for him to say “Live free die hard.”
- Maybe don’t put the ship on speakerphone in front of the criminal you found in jail when people are discussing resistance plans.
- I will admit one of the few spots where I acknowledge that Rey has a touch of the Mary Sue is that she can understand both droid and Wookie.
- Okay, again Holdo is probably not doing something logical, but THIS IS STILL TREASON, POE.
- That’s right Leia you shoot that man.
- Okay DO NOT JUST TALK ABOUT WHAT A SCAMP HE IS, HE COMMITTED TREASON MEN NEED TO BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS.
- SEE POE THERE WAS A PLAN.
- I was so, so hoping that this was a chance for Phasma to finally be a badass. I was so, so disappointed.
- THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T TRUST RANDOM DUDES YOU MET IN PRISON
- Coolest fight seen. Possibly coolest scene in the movie.
- Okay I know that this is traumatic for Rey, but I really, really love that her parents were nobodies. Put a pin in this too, we’ll get back to this later.
- I love BB8 as much as the next girl, but even I can acknowledge this scene is kinda hella dumb.
- I want a crystal fox now
- THIS SCENE IS SO PRETTY
- Sure now Poe understands suicide runs. He also now knows how Leia feels all. The. Time.
- This romance between Rose and Finn came out of nowhere and I do not accept it. Finn+Poe 4Eva. Also possible Finn+Poe+Rey, because the way you solve potential love triangles is with a threesome
- “Not by fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.” Okay this is an objectively dumb statement.
- So he’s… gonna go out there with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order?
- Hux is like “the fuck kind of person I’m following?”
- The dust brushing off thing is an objectively boss move.
- Kylo has to indulge his man pain and ego.
- The ship driver is like “same shit, different day…”
- “Did you come back to say you forgive me? To save my soul?” “No.” (Put a pin in this, too.)
- Conveniently one (1) crystal fox left to show the way
- Okay so I know this ending for Luke is disappointing for some people but I love it and I will explain why later (remember to talk about the sun)
- Hux is like “I cannot believe that I have to listen to this useless egomaniac just cuz he can force choke me.”
- THERE SHE HUGGED HIM ARE YOU ALL HAPPY NOW?
- Yeah a threesome is happening
- Hahaha. Books.
- “It wasn’t sadness or pain. It was peace, or purpose.”
- Heck yeah Force kid with broom
Part 4: The Not-So-Good
So I think it is both important and fair to acknowledge the things that I think the film didn’t do well. When I’m defending it, I am in no way saying it is a perfect film. And there are some things that are important to call out.
Flaw One: I Have a Secret and I’m Not Telling
It is legitimately nonsensical that Holdo doesn’t tell anyone her plan. Like, straight-up. There have already been multiple attempts at desertion that were only stopped by a mechanic with a stun gun. As far as everyone knows, they’re literally just running until they run out of fuel and die. In-character, Holdo has no real reason to do what she does. As viewers, we know by the end of the film that she basically did this for plot necessity reasons. Poe had to learn his lesson and learn to trust Holdo/women. And that is a good lesson. But there had to be a better way to impart it than, “As far as you know we’re on the Titanic and I’m steering for the icebergs, don’t question me.” Now, granted, I still claim that Poe’s reaction (and audience reaction) would have been less severe if Holdo was a man. We have plenty of fictional and real life examples of male leaders going “This probably won’t kill us, hold my beer” and everyone around them going “Sir, yes sir!” But it’s genuinely a bad move and a disservice to Holdo’s character.
Flaw Two: Large Portions of the Canto Bight Scene
There are parts of the Canto Bight scene that I do love. The worldbuilding it shows, the way it makes Finn and the viewer consider the rot at the heart of glamor, the way it complicates an easy black and white narrative and symbolizes that complication with its color scheme—all good things. But they get in trouble for illegal parking, and some concerned citizen literally tracks them down? The entire damn escape on giant horse foxes that ends in nothing? Yeah, this scene could have been trimmed.
Flaw Three: The Odd Couple, Only With Violence
I genuinely don’t get parts of the dynamic between Kylo Ren, Hux, and Snoke. It was all obviously fraught in the last film, but now it’s almost slapstick, and to a point that doesn’t make sense. Darth Vader would force choke someone, but he would rarely/never slide a general like a Swiffer across a deck. The whole relationship between them seemed off.
Flaw Four: Snoke. Just… Snoke
I was pretty sure even in the last film that Snoke was probably not the giant that he appeared to be in his hologram. I just was not expecting… this. I think I’ve rarely been so disappointed in a villain. He’s just… straight up not scary. He legit looks like a wax figure of Hugh Hefner that melted and then got put in a shiny smoking jacket. We learn precisely 0 about his backstory—where he comes from, what he was doing during the Empire, how he got into Kylo’s head, how he is involved with the First Order… he’s just…there. All melty.
Flaw Five: Chewbacca
Look, why are you gonna make a poor guy dress up in the suit if this is all you’re going to do with him? We learned from Solo that Chewbacca can hold his own as a co-star. There should have been at least some better scenes between him and Luke, and not just him and… porgs.
Flaw Six: Poor Goddamn Phasma
When I first learned about the Captain Phasma character, I was so. Goddamn. Excited. The actress playing her is a badass, her character design is awesome, it would be great to have a compelling female villain…. And then the first movie totally failed her. So when I found out she was going to be in this film, I got excited again. Surely this director would see the shameful way Phasma was treated in the last film and rectify it, right? ….No. No they would not. They took one of the coolest character designs in ages, and totally wasted it.
Flaw Seven: The Assassination of the Character of Poe Dameron by the Coward Narrative Convenience
I really liked Poe in the first film. He was cocky and everything, sure. But he was also warmhearted, and humorous, and brave. And in this film we get to see about… 20% of those good characteristics.
Again, Poe Learning a Lesson is an important plot point in the film, and there are aspects of that plot that I really enjoy because of the way it tackles toxic masculinity (more on that later.) But I feel like Poe was an unfortunate victim of the need to tell that story, primarily because he was the prominent male pilot we had at hand. I like the story that is told with him, but not necessarily that it is told with him, if that makes any sense. And of course, there are some troubling implications in making a character of color suddenly turn into a machismo stereotype in order to tell a story that is much more applicable to the white male characters that normally inhabit the films.
Flaw Seven Subset A: Poe Learns a Lesson Without Really Learning a Lesson
So Poe Learns a Lesson is a big part of the film, but he kind also… doesn’t learn his lesson? He committed insubordination. He held a gun on a superior officer. He endangered the lives of dozens, and while their eventual deaths were not really his “fault” (they are the fault of the people who, you know, kill them) you could probably make an argument for accessory to manslaughter. He took over an entire ship. There are military crime words for this, like… treason. At the least he’d be kicked down to the brig or demoted again. At worst, depending on the military culture he is a part of, he would be fucking executed. And instead Holdo and Leia are like “Aw, he’s such a scamp. I like him.” You get the sense that the writers and director didn’t really know how to make Poe behave badly enough for him to do the Plot Necessary Things that need to happen for his big lesson arc without completely destroying his character or putting him in a position where he would be kept away from the action at the end of the film. So even though he is personally changed by what he went through, he doesn’t really have to face any true consequences of his actions.
Flaw Eight: The Genocidal Fuckhead Just Needs a Hug
Look, I have seen the internet. I understand the woobie status that many attractive male villains have obtained. (When it comes to Loki, I am probably complicit in that woobie-fication. I’m not perfect.) For the last decade or so, we’ve made a concerted effort to make our villains more complex, and even find redeemable or empathetic aspects of them. And that’s fine, even really good and compelling sometimes. But this film goes out of its way to make us want to cuddle all of Kylo Ren’s problems away, to a point that I find nearly dangerous. (I had a similar feeling about the recent season of Handmaid’s Tale and its redemption arc for Serena Joy.) Yes, Kylo Ren has had hard aspects of his life, and a fellow genocidal fuckhead in his brain. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to wake up to your uncle trying to kill you. But I also can’t imagine how the reasonable next step is “slaughter a lot of your classmates.” And I certainly can’t imagine how the logical response to that is “well he’s still uncertain, he could get better!” I’ll talk more about this aspect a little bit later, but it was certainly troubling.
Flaw Nine: The Romance Between Rose and Finn
I’m already somewhat troubled by the relationship between Rose and Finn, because in certain parts of the film, Rose is very firmly slotted into the “magic character arc motivator” slot for Finn, where her basic role is to exist and make him a better person. But she gets enough moments of agency and moments that focus on her that I can overlook that. But this romance comes out of… literally nowhere. The most she has shown for Finn is hero worship, and the most he has shown for her is wary acceptance that she is right. They have known each other for (I think) less than 24 hours. So the kiss at the end is just…weird.
(Plus, you know…. Poe+Finn+Rey 4Eva)
Part Five: The Freaking Great
Greatness 1: Ding Dong the Toxic Masculinity is Dead
Oh my God, you guys. Oh my God. I have never, in my life, seen a mainstream film from a major action genre that does more to kick toxic masculinity in the teeth. I love it so, so much. (Fair warning, the next section is a mishmash of my own thoughts and thoughts that I have yoinked from the Pop Culture Detective.)
It’s no surprise to fans of the film series that for being a space-faring science fiction universe, it sure looks a whooooole lot like a Western, for all the good and bad that comes along with that genre. And with that genre comes a whole heaping load of toxic masculinity, to a degree that has been largely unexamined in other films in the series.
Here we have The Older Hero Who Has Turned His Back on the World (Luke), The Cocky Hero (Poe), TheCoward Who Must Be Redeemed (Finn), The Belated Addition to the Gang Who Proves His Worth (DJ), The Troubled Baddie Who Was Formerly a Goodie (Kylo Ren) The Greedy Prospector (Hux), and The Evil Gang Leader (Snoke). For the ladies we have The Spunky Love Interest (Rose), The Spunky Girl Who Wants to Do Guy Things (Rey) The Mother Figure Who Doesn’t Want Her Son to Take His Guns to Town (Leia), and then Admiral Holdo is somewhat awkwardly slotted into the role of The Ineffective Government Official Who Can’t Stand Up to the Baddies.
And in most other Star Wars films, these roles would have been fully pulled off, as written, and all of the other tropes that go along with those roles would have happened. Luke would have hemmed and hawed, but would have pretty quickly rejoined Rey and the Resistance. Poe would be celebrated for his daring and courage, Finn would come to his senses on his own (Goodnight Robicheaux, anyone?) and the plan he and Poe cooked up would have totally worked, and DJ would have come through for them because meeting people in prison and adding them to your gang is never a bad plan in a Western. Kylo Ren would probably have been brought around to the good side again (or at least killed after sacrificing himself for the greater good, or just straight up killed as punishment for turning bad) and Snoke and Hux would have gotten their comeuppance. Rey would have done cool but ultimately ineffective things because she wouldn’t want to overshadow the guys, Rose would have hung on Finn’s every word and just followed him around, Leia would have realized that she can’t control the men in her life, and Holdo would have been pushed aside because she was in the hero’s way.
And that (for the most part) doesn’t happen. Luke is legit burned out, and doesn’t change his mind about rejoining the fight until the last minute, and even then not in the predictable gung-ho way. Poe’s cockiness, temper, and certainty in his own correctness turn out terribly, and he ultimately learns that risky heroics are not always the best answer. Finn is a PTSD-stricken former child soldier who truly does need Rose’s friendship to help him look beyond his own immediate desires. The plan he and Poe made doesn’t work. DJ betrays everyone because of course he does he is a random dude you met in prison. Kylo Ren gets plenty of chances to redeem himself and then is like, “nah, I’m pretty okay with being super evil.” Snoke gets murdered, but it’s made clear that he was not the be-all, end-all of badness. Hux gets humiliated, but he’s still definitely trucking along. Rose gets to be a moral center, and even save Finn from himself in her own super heroic move. Leia and Holdo are proven right, and their authority over their male insubordinates is reestablished (And Holdo gets to go out like a goddamn bamf in a self-sacrifice that actually works, as opposed to Finn’s attempt at self-sacrifice that would have definitely not worked.) And Rey gets to have the whole hero’s journey, show both compassion and conviction, and save everyone at the end.
At pretty much every point where another film (even another Star Wars film) would have established or re-established the primacy of the male heroism narrative or sidelined a female character, this film refused to do so or even did the opposite. It took really toxic ideas about masculinity and heroism and just refused to play that shit. And I love it for that.
Greatness 2: The Diversity
This film definitely has its own problems with tokenism, but at the same time it is making major strides for racial and gender diversity. For a film series where the first trilogy had about three named female characters and two named black characters in the entire goddamn galaxy, having Rey, Leia, Holdo, Phasma, Rose, Finn, and Poe is freaking incredible. And it’s not Rian Johnson’s fault that “English brunette” became the default decision for female inclusion in the other new films.
Greatness 3: Thinking About Human Costs
One thing that I’ve noticed in action films lately is that we’re slowly making the swing from “destruction without ever thinking about the human cost” to “destruction where we do think about the human cost.” I was honestly starting to get a little bit troubled by the former, because while I don’t have any scientific evidence to back this up, I think that the scale of destruction we’re seeing in media is actually helping de-sensitize us to human tragedies in real life. How many times do you have to see cities or even planets destroyed before you lose a sense of what that destruction actually means? How many waves of enemy soldiers have to be mowed down before you stop really thinking about the fact that all of those enemy soldiers are people? Now sometimes, that “thinking about the human cost” thing is either clumsily done (Batman v. Superman) or is something that the in-movie universe can’t really afford to think about without the internal logic breaking down (introducing the Sokovia Accords reminds us that in the real world we want guns registered, so we probably would want some kind of way to track or guide people who can shoot lasers out of their eyes. And then we have to think about how we would not be on Team Cap, which is simply unacceptable).
Star Wars was getting particularly egregious at the “destruction without ever thinking about the human cost” thing. The first film destroyed Alderaan, which was shocking in the moment and seemed to have real impact, but then later in the same movie the Princess who lost her home, family, and all of her people is consoling Luke because he just lost the father figure he really liked for the week that he had known him. Each Death Star destruction comes complete with lots and lots of pilot deaths that we basically never get a chance to mourn. In The Force Awakens, the Starkiller destroys five inhabited planets, one of which was the seat of the galactic government. And we barely care. We get one scene of a lady (who apparently originally had more screen time, but it had to be cut so that we could have more scenes of Kylo Ren brooding) facing the oncoming giant laser and looking scared, and Leia looks sad when they hear the news and…. That’s it. Okay, billions of people are dead, better get back to having crazy plans and popping one-liners.
The series actually started to course correct at least a little bit with Rogue One. The Beaches of Normandy-esque scene on Scarif showed a real human cost of gaining even inches of land in a battle, and we were made to care about the loss of even pretty minor fighters. And this film pushes that even further. The scene where everyone is celebrating Poe’s “victory” and Leia is looking at the display that shows all of the lost ships is so, so perfect. Our tension and our concern keeps ratcheting up as each Resistance ship is lost on the slow run from the First Order. We’re told how insanely small the survivor population is, and then we see even more of that small population getting taken out after DJ’s betrayal. We see how bare and worn down the survivors are once they are trapped in the cave. You actually get the sense that these really are diminished, desperate people, and the human cost of each loss feels real.
Greatness 4: The Pretty
Large portions of this film are just gorgeous. The island that Luke is on, the ham-fistedly-symbolic-but-also-really-pretty casino at Canto Bight, the incredibly dynamic throne room fight, that absolutely amazing fight on Crait… so pretty. I love it.
Greatness 5: Kill the Past
So this one is tricky, because I see it as one of the best parts of the film, and it’s pretty obvious that many other fans think of it as the biggest “fuck you” to them. And… well, we’re both right. We get a little bit of what I see as author insert in a line from Kylo Ren: “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you’re meant to be.” He’s specifically speaking to Rey about her past, about the Jedi order, etc. But in my view, he’s also speaking both to the audience and to the Star Wars films themselves.
I don’t think it’s a surprise that the new trilogy is basically a swan song for the remaining cast of the first trilogy. Force Awakens was Han Solo’s chance to be cool and then die off, Last Jedi was Luke’s chance to act cool and then die off, and, God willing, the filmmakers will have enough footage of Carrie Fisher to let the ninth movie be Leia’s chance to be cool and then die off. So on a very literal level, we are killing the past by killing off the original trilogies. But it is more than that, in that (as I discussed earlier with the toxic masculinity) the film is also killing off the old ways of doing a Star Wars film.
Rian Johnson had a few obstacles to overcome, because JJ Abrams really, really likes the old way of doing things, but with a new twist. I think if he hinted any harder that Rey’s parents were super cool, his ability to wink would have been permanently damaged. Everyone was aflutter with theories. Could she be the daughter of Luke? The for-some-reason-abandoned-and-not remembered daughter of Leia and Han? The daughter or granddaughter of Obi Wan? JJ Abrams set it up for some kind of cool, nostalgic twist. And then Johnson went naaaah, screw that noise. Do you know how happy I was to find out that Rey’s parents were nobodies? So, so happy. So happy. And to be fair to Johnson, he only killed the narrative tropes of most of the other films, not all of them. Do you remember how cool it was when Luke was this nobody from Tatooine? This guy who just managed to use the Force because he turned out to be pretty good at it, but Obi Wan also made it clear the Force was all around us, and pretty much anyone could use it? That started to be undone by the whole “I conveniently ran into my twin sister and the bad guy is my dad,” but we still had that first film, and we still had the idea that these narrative conveniences were the particular movements of the Force. But then we got the prequels. And we found out about midi-goddamn-chlorians. Hey kids! Forget all those ideas about how anyone could use the Force, and anyone could be special! Force sensitivity is determined by weird shit in your blood, and there is nothing you can do to determine your own fate. It’s like a space wizard eugenics program. And then we spend a lot of time, like a lot of time, figuring out how the personal drama of one family and their friends screwed over or saved the entire galaxy. Multiple times. I was made so amazingly weary by the idea that one family would basically control the fate of the universe for a third generation. It would be like if the Bush family controlled the galaxy instead of the country, and twenty years from now some long lost stepdaughter twice removed took over. But it seems like this film, and to a certain extent the previous film, are returning us to the egalitarian idea of the Force. Anyone can be a Jedi again! Finn can use a lightsaber, Rey is super powerful with absolutely no wonky, convenient genetics in her background explaining why, and even the little stable boy can use the Force. I love this.
And I think the message extends further, both in the narrative and outside of it. There were and are some really cool things in the Expanded Universe canon that got binned when Disney took over the Star Wars universe. And fans have a legitimate reason to be upset about those losses. But I think fans also have some rose colored glasses about the EU. Coincidentally, as I started writing this piece, Cracked did an article on some of the weirdest things to happen in the EU. In the EU, Greedo’s body is turned into a cocktail (not kidding) Wampas are sentient and the one that Luke maimed unites the Wampa tribes (still not kidding) and the monster in the trash compactor of the Death Star is named Omi and was enslaved to make the trash system work better, is possibly Force sensitive, and was trying to “baptize” Luke instead of eat him (cannot get across how little I am kidding). Pretty ridiculous stuff happens in even the more respectable versions of the Expanded Universe. Darth Maul is rescued by his brother Savage Opress (still refusing to be kidding) but his lower half is definitely a goner, so he’s given first a metal spider body, and then these metal… raptor… legs? And then eventually more normal legs. So. Yeah. I may be struck by Force lightning for this, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that it isn’t a bad thing for the universe to be given a clean slate.
Star Wars is learning a lesson from the comic universe—it is occasionally necessary to hit the retcon button. Star Wars is 50 years old, and instead of pressing the restart button at any point, it just delved deeper and deeper into its own mythos, to the point that we are getting stories about the bartender in the cantina and the WAMPA. Marvel and DC have gone through at least ten restarts and reimaginings apiece in that time, and while not all of them were winners, they were interesting, and they were necessary to help characters stay fresh and relevant. I will always love the old Star Wars, in the same way that I love older stories from DC and Marvel. But like comics, its necessary for Star Wars to let go of a lot of its past in order to fit in with what needs to happen these days—like, acknowledging that women and people of color exist. Hell, maybe if we’re really, really lucky, we’ll acknowledge some LGBTQ or xenophilic characters! Maybe if we wish really hard, Lando’s pansexuality can be acknowledged! Someone could bone an alien. Or whatever. But again, in order for Star Wars to become what it needs to be in the modern era, it has to kill some of its past.
Part 6: The Defense
So in this part, I’m going to do my best to address what I see as some of the biggest criticisms I hear from others about this film and try to mount some kind of defense. So we’ll see how that goes.
Critique 1: Luke is a Wuss/Luke Isn’t Cool Enough/You Murdered Luke and Thus my Childhood
So this is the big one. The doozy. The one that everyone, even my boyfriend, is upset about. They say that Luke is not nearly heroic enough. That he would never turn his back on Leia and the Resistance this way, that he would never close himself off from the Force like that, that he would never disavow the Jedi, that he would never just send his spirit self to pick a fight. And again, to a certain extent, I can understand. If you’ve had a heroic, blurry version of Luke Skywalker in your head for the last thirty years, and all the extra stuff he gets to do in the EU rattling around in your brain, this Luke could seem off. To which I reply… Look at the fucking text.
Luke in the films has a proven history of being heroic, then running away, then being heroic, then running away. It’s kinda his schtick. And it makes sense! He is a pretty normal farm boy whose masculine version of a Disney “I wish” song gets him plopped in the middle of a galactic war. Dude is dealing with shit. And the fact that everyone decided to shoehorn characters from the original trilogy into the new trilogy means that he has all kinds of extra shit to deal with, in a way that has to be pretty traumatic. In my own estimate (handily backed up by this little timeline) it has only been 30 years between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. And in those thirty years, Luke became the hero of the galaxy for destroying the Empire, the First Order somehow went from pulling together the scraps of the Empire to having giant rallies and a system-killing weapon, Leia went from helping to reform the galaxy to having to run a side hustle as a Resistance because the main government has (again) decided to pretend that evil things aren’t happening, Luke briefly attempted to murder his teenage nephew and then had his teenage nephew kill or steal all of his students… Jesus. The guy had a bad few decades. It’s honestly a shame in a lot of ways to have these films come so quickly on the in-universe heels of the original trilogy, because any joy you get from the end of the Empire gets deflated pretty quickly. Yay, we saved the galaxy from the Space Nazis! … what are all those Space Nu-Nazis doing over there?
And the Nazi/Nu-Nazi comparison is one of the things that helps me understand Luke in this film. In a weird way, so does the election of Trump. To a smaller scale, I’ve experienced some of what Luke is experiencing. The Obama years sandwiched between Bush Jr. and Cheeto Satan are my own miniature version of the defeat of the Empire going to a too-brief sense of hope before feeling even worse than before. I’m asking a lot of questions that I feel like in-universe Luke is probably asking: WHY ARE WE DEALING WITH NAZIS AGAIN? Why isn’t the government doing anything? Why aren’t enough people doing something? Why the hell am I so tired? I have been dealing with my feelings for Trump for only two years, and I am goddamn exhausted. If I had a cool Irish island to disappear to, I probably would. And I don’t have nearly the troubles that Luke has. Luke isn’t just a hero—he is a hero who saved the day, at great personal sacrifice, only to watch as the world… proceeded to make the same mistakes that led him to have to save the world in the first place. That has to be discouraging, and exhausting. I can totally buy him retreating from the world. I can totally buy him feeling betrayed by the Force and cutting himself off from it. I can totally see him getting tired of the Jedi Order (who are basically 0 for 1000 for stopping the giant uprisings of evil that happen with alarming frequency). I can see him feeling exhausted and like he has to distance himself from Leia, who has the courage and energy to keep fighting the good fight and who probably makes Luke feel bad for not having the same energy. (This is totally not a statement about me. Nope.)
And to be honest, I think his ending is perfect. He does briefly reunite with his sister. He does get the badass fight. He does get to FACE DOWN AN ARMY WITH A LASER SWORD. How is that not cool enough? You can maybe quibble with the whole disappearing into the ether thing, but again, I think it fits. Luke is trying to find true balance. He’s trying to find a true neutral. He has just expended a lot of psychic energy projecting himself onto another planet. And after succeeding in his mission and saving the remaining Resistance members, he finds peace/nothingness, and he goes out of the film series like he came in, staring at the sun. (Plus, his ship has been sitting at the bottom of an OCEAN for a decade. I know the Force is powerful, but can it reverse-disintegrate wiring? Because I don’t think it can. He was not making it to that fight in person.)
Critique 2: Kylo Ren is Too Lame/Whiny/Moody/Not Cool
One of the reasons that a lot of people were eager to find out more about Snoke was because they were really disappointed in Kylo Ren as a villain. How could we go from Darth Vader, the giant, swaggering, booming icon of evil with the best theme song music ever to this tantrum-throwing, crying, pouting, irrationally angry man-child? To which I say… Welcome to the post-2016 world. And welcome to our new villains.
Again, the Trump era can give us some answers. Kylo Ren and Hux are alt-right edgelords. Hux, at least, seems to be a true believer, so he’s an actually committed Nu-Nazi. He’s a Richard Spencer type. He really does want the pure space races to take over the galaxy and make everyone wear snazzy Space Nazi uniforms. Kylo Ren isn’t even that. Kylo Ren is an incel with anger issues. Kylo Ren is Elliot Rodgers. He is a young man who had some genuinely difficult things happen to him, but was still incredibly privileged. And despite that, he felt that he was entitled to many more things, and gets super pissed and violent when things don’t go his way. He’s a school shooter. He’s a domestic abuser. He is every mundane-yet-dangerous bundle of toxic masculinity that we are currently dealing with. Putin aside, we have very few modern villains in the mold of Darth Vader. Our villains are a lot more complex, and a lot more pathetic, than that. And Kylo Ren is the poster child for them. And like our modern villains, he didn’t have to end up this way. As Rey shows, he could make other choices. And it is tempting to try and do as Rey does, and redeem the villains and bring them back to the good side. But our modern villains, like Kylo Ren, continue to deliberately make the worse and more violent choice because the mental and emotional work of redemption is hard. And at a certain point, Luke realizes that they have to stop him, not write a sympathetic think piece about him. And even though he is pathetic, and broody, and pouting, and impulsive, he is still incredibly dangerous. Kylo is the villain that our current era both needs and deserves.
Critique 3: Okay We Hear You, But We Still Don’t Like the Representation
Okay. You’re entitled to your feelings. But also: welcome to the club. If you are a female geek, a geek of color, or a queer geek, you have been disappointed with representation in almost all the media you love forever. If I didn’t watch things where I was disappointed with some of the representation, I would no longer be able to watch things. There are properties where the representation is so bad that I refuse to engage with it at all, but I’m frequently disappointed in at least some representation in properties I like.
For example, one of my favorite Batman villains is Poison Ivy. She’s brilliant, she’s dangerous, and she’s an activist. While she is often fairly sexualized, it is usually not to the point that I find it super objectionable. This is how they decided to portray her in the Arkham series of video games:
Disney was falling all over itself to congratulate itself on including the first queer character in a live-action Disney film for the live-action Beauty and the Beast. The “queer” character is LeFou (literally meaning “the fool), and he gets about… three seconds of being even potentially queer. Are you ready for the big, daring moment of LGBTQ representation?
There, that was it. Us fans of LGBTQ representation sure must be satisfied after that absolutely incredible moment of romance.
This is Slipknot.
Slipknot is a character in Suicide Squad that is played by very excellent First Nations actor Adam Beach. He is the only member of the Suicide Squad who doesn’t get a full introduction. Guess how long Slipknot survives the movie? (Spoiler: It’s like, two minutes.)
You get the gist. Anyone who is not a white male has had to overcome a lot of disappointment regarding character representation. I’m not saying that we should start making white, straight, male characters as horribly as many female/queer/non-white characters have been made (besides, that already happened, it is called Most Jason Statham Films) but I’m saying that the fans who are disappointed in the characterization of Luke and Kylo despite all my best arguments are getting the merest taste of what it feels like to interact with disappointing media.
Critique 4: Diversity is Bad
You’re wrong. Next?
Critique 5: HOLDO IS THE WORST
So as I discussed earlier, Holdo not telling Poe or anyone the plan is admittedly a stupid move motivated by narrative necessity. You are not going to get any pushback from me regarding the idea that she should have just told everyone the plan. Even doing so could have still led to the conflict they wanted; Poe could have still decided that his and Finn’s plan was better, or that it was better to stay and fight, or whatever. The whole “I have a secret” thing was unnecessary and pointless.
However. Holy shit. Holdo gets so much hatred that just thinking that plot arc is stupid is not enough to explain the motivations. Her deliberately femme-presenting look and the fact that she repeatedly verbally destroys Poe probably does.
I cannot overstate how much I love Holdo’s design in this film. Like Poe, I was originally surprised by it, but then I thought, “why?” They’re on a ship. She’s not seeing field combat. She can dress however she damn well pleases. Is she less good of an Admiral because she has purple hair, or is wearing a dress? Of course not. We’re just conditioned to associate military service with military garb, and she upends our expectations, and becomes a giant, glaring symbol of “Your Masculinity Is Not Needed Here.”
Poe is the fan-insert character of this movie, and he gets the bejesus slapped out of him by Holdo, fate, and one time Leia literally. That makes male fans mad. How dare these lady people tell Poe what to do? He is the big, cool, pilot guy! And it’s even more insulting because of how Holdo dresses. Not only is he being told off by a woman, he is being told off by a femme-presenting woman, which apparently adds insult to injury.
Holdo is a calm, brave, calculating leader. She puts up with a lot of bullshit and is able to dish it right back, all while barely raising an eyebrow, let alone her voice. The silly decision aside, Holdo is an ideal leader for the Resistance, and while I totally admire her bamf exit, I am really sad to see her leave the series.
Critique 6: ROSE IS THE EVEN MORE WORST
Okay, almost all of the people making this argument are fucking monsters. I am an intense fan about a lot of things, but as far as I know, I never took part in any bullying that led someone to leave Instagram, let alone contemplate suicide. One of the reasons that I think Rian Johnson is trying to teach the Star Wars fandom the error of its ways and to let go of the past is that large parts of the Star Wars fandom are incredibly toxic. This image started making the rounds in the last few months, and it is freaking heartbreaking.
I actually loved Jar Jar when I was a kid and before I learned what things like “CGI blackface” could be, and even when I did, I didn’t blame Ahmed Best for the character. I thought that Anakin Skywalker was Mary Sue-ish, but I never would have wanted Jake Lloyd to stop acting. And the fact that John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Kelly Tran all quit social media because of hatred borne of the fact that they are a person of color, a woman, or both respectively is honestly infuriating.
The character of Rose had a couple problems, but most of those problems were in the service of Finn’s storyline being better. Her biggest “sins” in the eyes of the edgelords are that she tells a man what to do, and she keeps said man from committing suicide. Quelle horreur. We are working in a universe, may I remind you, THAT HAS GODDAMN ALIENS IN IT. Literal aliens. We can be totally okay with a race of squid people, but an Asian woman with a speaking role tops our “suspension of disbelief” meter?
The irony, to me, is that the Star Wars fans who engage in this trolling behavior are actually emulating an aspect of Star Wars—just not any of the good ones. As the meme points out, these “fans” are replicating the Empire or the First Order. They are intolerant. They are bigoted. They are close-minded. And they are hateful. And the world of Star Wars would be better off without them.
Part 7: The Summation
There’s a reason that Russian bots chose the discourse around The Last Jedi as an opportunity to sow discord. My own boyfriend will probably never read all of this review—even thinking about this movie makes him angry. The opinions on this movie are polarizing, to say the least. But I think that this film is polarizing for the same reason that our current political climate is polarized: the old guard is afraid of losing power. White, heterosexual, male fans have been the top of the Star Wars food chain, (and most if not all nerd food chains) for decades. Media has been created for them, specifically, for the same amount of time. And it is frightening and disconcerting when that is no longer the case.
Could Rian Johnson have made the transition smoother? Probably. But he had no guarantee that he’d have anything more than this movie to work with (and he was right) so he took his chance. In the same way that Johnson had to deal with insertions from Abrams, future directors are going to have to deal with the monumental changes Johnson introduced as they make their films. It’s not going to be impossible to undo the good changes that Johnson made (Trump came after Obama, after all) but it is moving the films, and the discourse around them, in the right direction.
I’m sad that this movie is polarizing. I’m sad that my boyfriend doesn’t like it. I’m sad that I don’t really know how to bridge the gap with the fandom in general if I can’t even bridge the gap with my own partner. But I am happy with The Last Jedi. The last few years at Comic Con, I’ve seen multiple little girls running around as female characters from these films. I’ve seen pictures online of little kids dressed up as Finn, and Jyn Erso. Thandie Newton wore a dress to the Solo premier that payed homage to and pointed out the scarcity of black characters in Star Wars. Change is happening. Critiques are being heard. And for the first time, a new generation of non-white, non-male Star Wars fans get to see themselves represented in a faraway galaxy in a long ago time. And that is priceless to me.
Signed: Feminist Fury