Here there be spoilers. Ahoy! Also I’m so sorry for how long this is, but I love this movie.
I have never been a major Star Wars fan. I’ve always liked the movies, and they were a part of my childhood, and I enjoy the extended universe. But after The Last Jedi? I AM A STAR WARS FAN.
Now I in no way think that The Last Jedi is a perfect movie. It makes some serious missteps that have been deconstructed in a lot of places (I so wish the Canto Bight scenes were done well because I have an immediate love for Rose and I adore the idea of actually paying attention to normal people in the Star Wars universe). But what The Last Jedi did for the Star Wars universe is immensely important to me: it took a story that resonated with people, that had built a world that drew people in, and added complexity, thematic resonance, and deep characterization. I think it’s a great movie.
The themes, use of character foils, callbacks to and subversions of the original trilogy, and use of imagery in this movie made it into something bigger than any of the previous movies could have hoped to be.
This piece will probably not explore anything that hasn’t already been said, because this movie has inspired a million think pieces. But I’m in love with Star Wars: The Last Jedi and I want to tell you why.
The Boys Learn Nothing and the Girls Take Over
Ok this is an oversimplification, but in my mind The Last Jedi is told in two parallel stories; there’s Rey and Kylo, and their interactions with their “masters”. In both of these instances, the young take control of the narrative. They see the problems with the past, and they make their own changes. They learn from the problems that their masters faced, and they do things differently.
In contrast, Poe spends most of the movie in conflict with Leia and Holdo, repeatedly failing to learn from their wisdom and age.
There are a few things I love about this.
One, it shows women doing a shit load of emotional labor and how much work it is. Poe commits serious fucking treason not once, but TWICE in this movie, and Leia and Holdo don’t fucking execute him (in contrast to Kylo and Snoke murdering everyone everywhere), instead they teach him. Luke is an old man who hasn’t processed his mistakes and trauma, instead running away from his emotions. Kylo is a young man who is doing the same thing (although he’s trying to murder his emotions). Rey spends the whole movie emotionally tending to these men, and when they don’t give her what she wants in return she says fuck it and peaces out. It shows both what happens when someone responds to emotional labor, and what you should do when they don’t.
But the other thing that I fuuuucking love about this is that we have quite a few instances of people responding to trauma, pain, and general life. We have Han, who pretended to stay exactly the same (in Force Awakens). We have Luke, who ran the fuck away. We have Snoke, who is essentially trying to recreate the past. And then we have Leia and Holdo. The reason that their storyline is about listening to authority is because these two have earned their authority and wisdom.
There’s this delicious tension between Rey and Kylo’s insistence on letting the past die, moving forward, finding a new way (which is generally seen as positive), and Poe’s repeated fuck ups in the face of older authorities (which are portrayed as self aggrandizing and pointless). What are you trying to say movie? Should we listen to the oldsters or find our own way?
But it all comes together when you recognize that each of the older characters is unique, and they each represent a different relationship with failure. We MUST learn from our failures, and if the past generation hasn’t done that, then the new generation needs to learn how on their own. But the best thing the elders can teach us is what they’ve learned from hard experience, over and over again.
I know it’s a little thing, but the fact that it’s women who teach us these lessons is important. It’s not just important because of representation. It’s important because these are emotional lessons. These are stories about how the only way to win a revolution is by processing trauma, and if that’s not a fucking relevant lesson I don’t know what is. It’s the most realistic that women are the ones teaching the lessons, because women have a fucking monopoly on emotional labor right now (please, take some from us). It is so meaningful to me that it is portrayed as important, transformative, and work.
The boys on the other hand, learn nothing on their own. The girls have to take the lead. I know it’s simplistic, but I love it.
Big thanks to Kayti Burk at Den of Geeks for articulating a lot of this.
Reylo is My Everything
This sexual chemistry. Ho. Lee. Shit.
So this whole subplot was basically written to get me going, because “emo boy whose parent figure is abusive and wants to be understood” plus “girl who thinks she sees something special and will save him” is basically all of my high school…and college…and every relationship I’ve been in except my husband. So yes, I am primed and ready to love the shit out of this.
But it’s done so well. Kylo comes across as a child throughout this whole movie, and while that’s part of what is so absolutely annoying about him, it also awakens a part of me that just wants to hug him and tell him it’s going to be ok. The parallels in how Kylo and Rey are both searching desperately for their role make them fit together so nicely, and giving them a secret world through the Force just heightens the “it’s us against everyone” feeling of it. And BOY HOWDY does it up the stakes of physical contact between the two of them. I think I’ve orgasmed from less sexual tension than the moment they touch hands.
All the tiny touches that push them together are wonderful. The way Rey starts calling him Ben once she hears his side of the story. The way Snoke effortlessly tells Kylo that he’ll never be good enough, leaving both of them feeling like nobodies. The way Rey’s experience in the dark place on Ahch-To looks like it’s not tempting her…but in a way it is, because it’s driving her closer to Ben by making her feel more alone. The way each of them has such a complicated relationship with family and wants to build their own.
Really it only would have been better if during the “join me” scene Kylo had taken his shirt off and been like “seriously, you know you want it.”
Of course I also love how the moment he starts to neg her, she dumps his fucking ass. I’ll spend forever wanting them to be together and knowing they shouldn’t be, and thanks Star Wars for giving me those feelings.
Rose Tico, Successful Themes, Poor Execution
Some people may not be into this, but I am so down for the idea of Star Wars being about all the people who get fucked over by the politicians. We’ve spent seven movies fighting a regime and we have no idea how most people live under that regime.
That’s why Rose is necessary.
I want to like Rose. I want to so much. I don’t think Rose was handled very well. Rose was meant to show us what we were fighting for rather than what we were fighting against. Unfortunately, she was written to actually literally say this out loud, give rather boring exposition about her backstory kind of randomly, and was given a side quest that didn’t end up having any impact whatsoever on the film (except for the part where Poe borks everything up).
In a movie that’s about creating your own place in the galaxy, about big, important roles becoming available to anyone and everyone (from rando Rey to mechanic Rose), she could have been a perfect way for the audience to see themselves in the film. She does some amazing things, like tazing her hero approximately 30 seconds after being so gaga she can barely talk because she knows her duty. She doesn’t hesitate a second when offered the chance to go on a suicide mission to save the fleet. She’s smart enough to figure out how to dismantle the tracking. She started off strong as someone who has been impacted by the fight through her loss of her sister, but that gets lost quickly as she turns into an abstract point.
I wish she had been written better. She could have been great.
With that I’m going to split this into two parts because it’s become apparent that I have a horrible problem and could literally write a novel about the themes in this movie. Second half should be up soon!