Why The Last Jedi is actually brilliant

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I had planned on writing a review after I saw The Last Jedi at the cinema. I thought it would be the review of the blockbuster that would kickstart my blogging again after far too many months (years) of absence.

Then I saw the film and to my horror I didn’t love it. In fact, I wasn’t sure I even liked it. Undeterred I did what I do best – I reflected on it and in the end I couldn’t decide one way or the other which would make for a pretty terrible review.

Plus I was genuinely shocked by the abuse Star Wars fans who loved the film were directing at those who didn’t – so much so it stopped me writing. Which is pretty terrible really. I’ve never been scared into silence before and I didn’t like it.

To all those people guilty of abusing their fellow fans, regardless of which camp you’re in – I remind you that fandom is subjective and we are all entitled to our preferences.

But moving on…

I felt so conflicted that I eventually went to see it again. This time with no expectations and able to focus on the story rather than the orgy of special effects and battles. Which are as splendid as one might think.

However, this isn’t a review. Those that care will have already seen it and they certainly would have bought the Blu-ray.

This instead is more about why The Last Jedi is the movie that ties all the various Star Wars elements together. It – weirdly – makes the prequels better and The Force Awakens, unfortunately, slightly worse.

To be clear, the movie isn’t perfect. A lot of people were rightly annoyed by the casual way in which much-loved characters were killed off.  They may have a point.

Personally I think there could have been a more elegant way of doing it but I suspect Rian Johnson was trying to make the point that even heroes can die lousy deaths.

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Dan Abnett does the same thing in many of his books. It’s a valid plot device but it doesn’t work as well in movies – usually because things move too quickly for the audience to process it. Or appreciate it.

Similarly the entire casino sequence tries to make an important point but it’s too obvious and exaggerated and rang a little too true to the naffer moments of the prequels. The daft thing was that the point Johnson was scrabbling around for was made just after the absurdity was over. But more on that later.

Breathe. Just breathe…

Star Wars has always been very much ‘of its time’. The original movies were made during a time when people were rebelling against the idea of ‘the man’ and big government.

The prequels were made at a time when governments were being corrupted by big business to allow them to do more or less what they please and – more significantly – profit from warfare. Thank goodness that isn’t a problem any more…

The Last Jedi was made at a point when – certainly in the UK and the US – there is a widening political divide, especially between the generations and something needs to change.

The vast majority of the Baby Boomers and Generation X are clinging bitterly to the I’m alright Jack, fatally flawed infinite growth model with a healthy dose of zero sum gain economics thrown in. Xennials, Millennials and Generation Y (presumably because they say why the fuck a lot) are sick of the corruption, the dodgy dealings and the post truth bullshit of a the Trumpian era we now find ourselves in.

We’re also tired of a system that gave the generations before us free university educations and salaries sufficient to become home owners. The generations after spend half their salaries on rent and are lucky to own a home before the age of 35.

Where lies are the norm and we regularly question the motives of our leaders and the mainstream media to keep us objectively informed, the system is broken.

This is not a brilliant situation by any measure.

[NB: If you disagree with my politics just stop reading. Our lives are too short for you to spend ages writing an angry comment only for me to waste a few seconds deleting it unread.]

Regardless of political leaning, the movie speaks to this need for a new beginning. The New Republic falls so easily in The Force Awakens because the lessons of the past weren’t learned. Complacency or just good old-fashioned bureaucracy blinded the Senate to the threat posed by The First Order.

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That face says it all.

Similarly The First Order – or the Empire 2.0 – is as hopelessly paranoid, inflexible and as arrogant as the Empire was, if not more so.

Neither system works. And when they collide it only goes one way. A cycle that has repeated in the Star Wars universe for thousands of years in one form or another and one that we see repeated in the real world too.

The Last Jedi challenges the audience with the idea that there needs to be a new way. It’s an uncomfortable thought for those who have grown up with the originals because they feel so just and true. Their motives so pure. More so for those who read the old books – willing the Rebellion ever onwards to turn into the New Republic.

Most of us aren’t politicians or powerful business types so it’s easy to identify with the Rebellion. It’s easy for us to see the Empire as evil because it’s immediately relatable to our world. The prequels were less relatable because the vast majority of people – until recently – were totally unaware just how toxically intertwined big business, special interest groups and politics have become.

Restoration of the Republic was always the ideal – the symbol of hope that drove the characters and the fans through the fighting.

The Last Jedi forces us to come to terms with the idea that we may have been wrong this entire time. And this is when the wheels come off the cart…

This is not going to go the way you think…

The prequels were heavily criticised for being over sanitised and kid friendly. I suspect – and admittedly I could be reading into things to prove my point – that this was deliberate.

In episode 1 the Republic was a shining beacon of democracy. The planets within its borders were shining utopias. Spaceships were new and shiny because it was a very prosperous place to be.

Although you stray outside of the Republic and everything becomes a lot darker. However the Republic leaves the Outer Rim to criminals and despots like the Hutts because it’s convenient to do so. Not so sanitised when you think about it.

But as the films move on and the Republic is not only torn apart by war but by bankruptcy too. By episode 3 we’re starting to get the ‘worn future’ look of the originals. The tone also darkens considerably. The mass execution of the Jedi and the mutilation of Anakin. Being the most obvious ones.

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Then there’s the millions upon millions of clone troopers who fought and died for absolutely no reason at all. If Star Wars was set in the 40k universe Khorne would be positively erect at that level of callous blood-letting.

For now we have to side step the debate surrounding the appalling acting by some of the cast and the equally dire dialogue (especially in Episode 2). As Harrison Ford once said to Lucas after a table read: You can read this shit George, but you can’t say it.

On that we can all agree.

But the Republic was a galaxy spanning organisation who were at their most powerful – and their most prideful. The Jedi Order served as peacekeepers to the Republic yet they were also an autonomous agency with near limitless resources and the ability to pursue their own agenda should the need arise.

Within the bounds of the Jedi code and Republic law of course.

For all of its assumptions of superiority, the Republic’s inner workings were snarled with infighting, territorial disputes, power grabs and jealousy exacerbated by special interests groups pushing their own agendas. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the Jedi Order – so supremely confident in their powers and the extent of their reach – completely failed to uncover a plot by a single Sith to not only defeat them with their own army but seize complete control of the galaxy in the process. I think Luke sums it up rather well:

‘…at the height of their power, the Jedi allowed a Sith Lord to take over the Republic and turn it into an Empire.  That’s their legacy.  Hubris.’

Their arrogance was their undoing. Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure that leads to the dark side?

The Jedi Order, at it’s most powerful were at their weakest and the reason is really quite obvious.

Why on Earth would Luke – or any other Jedi – want to recreate that order, using the same teachings, with the same totally binary view of the force – the light vs the dark.

And I’m pretty sure that only a Sith deals in absolutes. I mean, I’m just throwing it out there.

The greatest teacher, failure is…

When you stop and think – and not even that hard – The Last Jedi is about balance.

The extremes of the Republic and First Order leave an incredibly large grey area for profiteering weapons dealer types to make oh so very much hay out of both sides.

Engineering increasingly more destructive weapons of war (heavy AT AT walkers or the comically named battering ram cannon anyone?) causing escalation and more fighting.

Which is exactly what happened in the Clone Wars. The pattern is repeating only each time the level of destruction increases and balance disappears.

In the absence of balance does Chaos reign.

This has never been more true when the same thinking is applied to the Force. When Rey stretches is out with her feelings everything in nature is balanced.

Luke says as much himself – On Ahch-to, in line with the source of light there is a source of great darkness. Balance.

Significantly Rey is drawn to both.

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And here is in lies the big reveal – the galaxy doesn’t need Luke Skywalker. As painful that is to accept, it is true – whether you agree with the ending of the movie or not.

At first I resisted the idea that Luke was redundant. I wanted him to fight but this Obi-wan quote from Star Wars Rebels sums it up rather elegantly:

‘If you define yourself by the power to take life, the desire to dominate, to possess…then you have nothing.’

…then you have nothing.

The galaxy has as little need for Luke and the old ways of the Jedi as it does broken governments.

A single Jedi cannot halt the advance of a galactic power and to believe different is that hubris we spoke of earlier. The call back to later line later in the film is brilliant and emphasises how absurd we all are for naturally assuming Luke could single-handedly save the galaxy.

luke vs first order

The Jedi cannot be rebuilt as they were because an absolute good only gives rise to an absolute evil and they are compelled to destroy each other.

Even as peacekeepers Jedi were often punitive in their rulings because their definition of fairness didn’t come from a place of balance, it came from a place of righteousness that no other being could hope to meet.

In many ways fighting the Clone Wars revealed the Jedi for what they had become – a self-righteous instrument of judgement. They weren’t soldiers, nor did they have any experience in large-scale warfare and yet they led the armies because they believed they were the superior choice…than the soldiers genetically engineered for that exact role.

But on a deeper level they were the light clashing against the dark. Jedi history is littered with bloody conflicts be it against the Sith, the Mandalorians or anyone else. Their righteousness in the light side drives them to conflict just as the dark side does the Sith.

Instead the Jedi need to occupy a place of balance. That middle ground – neither light nor dark – but fair…balanced. Truly just and therefore truly just if they take action.

Equally the people they serve need to find a new path away from the Republic and the First Order. Neither system works because there is no balance.

Ironically both systems benefit a tiny minority just through different methods. Something to do with power and corruption. But when systems exist to consolidate power and eliminate balance the effect is always the same.

Again, this is being echoed in chambers of government around the world right now.

In the absence of balance, the people in charge become only concerned with staying in charge because their way is the right way.

And there’s those absolutes again.

We are what they grow beyond…

The Last Jedi is brilliant becomes it turns everything we have accepted about the Star Wars universe on its head and it’s incredibly uncomfortable. So much so that some consider it to be the worst Star Wars film of the bunch.

Until I gave it some thought I would have agreed. I actually think it’s one the best. And not because of all the torch passing bollocks that most critics have spouted on about – of course new characters are picking up where the old ones left off.

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There was a transition between Episode 3 and Episode 4 so why did we expect this trilogy to be any different? We’re only grumpy because we wanted more of the same. The reality is had Star Wars been made today, with today’s budgets and special effects, it would have been a TV show and it would have blown people’s minds.

The Last Jedi is brilliant because it really is a Star Wars movie for Star Wars fans. Not fans of specific bits of Star Wars. The Force Awakens by comparison is a busted, plot holed homage to the originals in an effort to apologise for the prequels. An apology that no one needed. Apart from Jar Jar.

I originally thought that Johnson was the fan boy making the movie he always wanted. Now I think it may have been the other way round.

The Last Jedi owns the sins of the Force Awakens – like why did Han and Luke both bugger off when Kylo goes bad. Until the Last Jedi that goes painfully unexplained.

It also brings everything together. It gives the three acts of the story cohesion made all the richer if you’ve watched The Clone Wars and Rebels programmes as well.

It also directly challenges the notion that every problem can be solved by ‘jumping in a cockpit and blowing something up’. Again it’s an uncomfortable thought because the word Wars is in the title and X-wings are awesome.

But the point is that although there will be battles, the war won’t end at the end of a gun.

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2 thoughts on “Why The Last Jedi is actually brilliant

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