On New Year’s Eve, I went to a party and argued about Star Wars with a guy from my high school. We were standing in a big circle, he and I and a few of our other friends, talking about pretty much the only thing left for estranged classmates to bond over. I didn’t know him very well; he’d been a friend of a friend. But his take on The Last Jedi was as follows:
“I hated it. I don’t even think I’m going to see the next one.”
Things got heated fast; in a safe, we’re not about to ruin our mutual friend’s party by having a row about nerd movies way. But our opinions differed critically. I love The Last Jedi, and even more than that, I love to emphatically defend the things I love at parties. Unfortunately for me, he made a lot of good points, and since this is the most controversial Star Wars movie that’s come out during my lifetime, that debate at that party was neither the first nor the last heated conversation I’d have about The Last Jedi. But through it all, my opinions survived, so I think it’s about time I look at some key opposing arguments and put my two cents out there. [spoilers ahead]
“Admiral Holdo was an unnecessary character.” This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t have rather had Leia replace her for every scene, but Poe has such a deep respect for Leia, I doubt he would have so readily gone behind her back to make plot happen. So to address this, I think how you feel about Holdo depends on how you feel about Poe’s subplot in general. Personally, it wasn’t my favorite part of the movie, and I’m not entirely convinced her sacrifice is going to spur on any noteworthy changes to Poe’s ideals, but I think her involvement was a necessary catalyst for the plot.
“Holdo and Leia shouldn’t have discouraged Poe from being a hero if the Resistance was going to be saved by a heroic sacrifice in the end anyway.” It seemed as if it was meant to be a lesson learned for both sides; the Resistance may prefer living allies over dead heroes, but risks have to be taken to protect the Light. It did end up coming across as a little hypocritical, but I think there’s something important to be said about the give-and-take of these characters and their clashing ideals. Balance is what the Force is all about, and a balance of sacrifice and preservation is what is needed to protect the Resistance, especially at its weakest. So, while heroism often pays off in an epic like this, TLJ also makes sure we know what happens when a hero can’t cut their losses.
“Leia should have died in this movie, not Luke.” I actually agree with this one. If any of the original trio should have died, it should have been Leia, just so we wouldn’t have to CGI in the late, great Carrie Fisher’s performance in the next movie. To add to that, if Leia had stayed on that ship at the end instead of Holdo, it would have driven home the message of the subplot, and having Leia behind the wheel for such a dramatic moment would have made it all the more impactful. Leia has always been my favorite character of the original trilogy, so of course I didn’t want her to die any more than Han or Luke, but if it has to happen (and it looks that way), I want her to go out in a way as badass as what Carrie Fisher requested for her own obituary on the set of A New Hope in 1977: “I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.” But on a more positive note, if Kylo Ren really does turn, it’s possible he’ll have a living parent to reunite with at the end of Episode IX.
“They shouldn’t have killed off the main villain.” I can’t speak for everyone, but Supreme Leader Snoke has never risen above threat level Jar Jar in my book. My personal theory is that he was never designed to be a memorable villain (How could he be, with Ren and Hux’s dynamic so often in the spotlight?), so I think it was a great idea to kill him off as a turning point in Kylo Ren’s character arc rather than stretching out his reign and trying to make the audience care. When it comes to the First Order, he’s not the one moviegoers have their eyes on. However, there is a special sort of significance he achieves in the end. He paves the way for Kylo to make an important choice; either become the Supreme Leader in Snoke’s stead, or make way for Hux to take over and become the true villain of this story. (Hey, it’s a valid theory. He’s a long-suffering punching bag with a heart full of resentment and an army at his command. I’m sticking to my guns here.)
“There are times in film where you just have to suspend your disbelief and let a movie be art”
“Rey should have joined forces with Kylo.” I know a lot of people who think this. Rey may not have had a strong bond with the Resistance, but it still would have disappointed me if the Light didn’t have her on their side. Not to mention that, if she had, Hux probably would have wiped out all of the rebels trapped in the base on Crait. And on the flip side, if Kylo Ren had embraced the Light, his Heel-Face Turn would have come much too easily. That’s not to say I’m not hoping for Kylo to pull a Zuko in the end, though. We’ve seen his family, Rey, and his own internal pull towards the Light wearing away at his defenses in the last two movies, and (based on the reaction I witnessed in my theater during the throne room battle scene) we’re ready for the payoff.
“Rey’s parents should have been Jedi.” I spent the months leading up to the release of TLJ theorizing about Rey’s parents, but in the end, there was no satisfying answer. I realized that I’d actually be pretty disappointed if it turned out she had to be related to one of the original trilogy characters to be as powerful as she is. It would have been like watching someone’s fanfiction play out onscreen. The power of the Jedi isn’t exclusive to Skywalkers, Solos, and the like; if we collectively ignore the prequels, we can assume that the Force is in all of us. So yes, Rey comes from nothing. In that way, she reminds me of that boy with the broomstick from the end of TLJ, the kid who symbolized the future of the Resistance (a new hope, if you will…badum shh); a nobody, sure, but a nobody with the power to change the universe. There’s no better character than Rey to be the lens through which we see this world.
“The lightspeed ram was bad because…” There are times in film where you just have to suspend your disbelief and let a movie be art. I think this is one of them.
“It took a universe that is undeniably still the one we know and love, and showed us corners of it that we’d never seen before.”
“TLJ wasn’t at all like the originals.” My dad is a huge Star Wars fan; I grew up with the original trilogy, but I don’t really mind that the new ones aren’t the same. Star Wars is one of those special few franchises that can be eternal, but also ever-evolving. In The Last Jedi, the narrative begins to turn away from the original trilogy’s omnipresent themes of Good vs. Evil and explores the grey areas of the Force with characters (entire worlds, even) that aren’t necessarily Light or Dark, and a villain who feels the pull of the Light but is determined to diverge from his parents’ path. If these movies were truly meant to echo the original story, they wouldn’t kill off another member of the main trio with every episode! Rian Johnson, I believe, knows exactly the best way to steer this new trilogy: in the exact opposite direction of what we’re expecting. Luke tossed his lightsaber. Leia used the Force. Kylo turned on his leader.
The Force Awakens taught us to expect a plot that “rhymed” with that of the original trilogy. The Last Jedi argues for preserving the past, but moving away from the narrative of the epic that came before it. It took our preconceived ideas of what a Star Wars movie should be like and flipped them on their heads. It took a universe that is undeniably still the one we know and love, and showed us corners of it that we’d never seen before. And without ignoring its flaws, I’m still prepared to defend it.