*Ridiculous amounts of spoilers about everything Star Wars, but especially The Last Jedi.*
When we first lost the original Star Wars expanded universe (now called Legends), I was furious. How dared they destroy the old, established canon and attempt to create something completely new and different? All that faded once I saw The Force Awakens. Then, Rogue One helped me see Star Wars in a completely new light; one that had more shades and nuances. It was visceral, it was realistic. And now, with The Last Jedi the transformation is complete. Now, we’re in uncharted territories, but I don’t think we have anything to fear.
In my experience, The Last Jedi is a slowburner. After the first time you see the movie, you are clearly shaken. Things you thought you knew about Star Wars have been thrown out the window. Slowly, however, as you start thinking about the movie, you start realizing new, different things. What originally seemed off, starts to make sense. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars is subversive – it plays on the audience’s expectations of a Star Wars movie, only to smash them completely, while delivering some breathtaking moments.
(And some awful ones, but that’s a discussion for another time probably.)
All in all, however, The Last Jedi is the apex of the new Star Wars canon – it’s what they have been building ever since the old canon was annulled. Johnson has brought consistency, clarity, and unity to his new empire. (And may the Force be with his new trilogy.)
The Last Jedi finally brings out the full spectrum that exists between the Light and the Dark Sides of the Force. The idea of Balance was slowly introduced in Rebels, but The Last Jedi takes it to a next level. For the first time ever, someone who is not a Sith Lord admits that the Jedi had grown arrogant at the peak of their reign.
The importance of Luke’s mea culpa on behalf of the Jedi Order cannot be overstated. The idea that without the Jedi, Light will die is pure vanity. Not only that, but the Jedi’s obsession with asceticism makes it easier for the Dark Side to lure passionate individual’s into its ranks. After all, it was Luke’s fear of the Dark Side that drove Ben Solo into the clutches of Snoke.
All this nuance within the Force also allows us to have an amazing villain in Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. With the notable exception of Darth Vader, all villains in Star Wars have so far been “pure evil.” In fact, even Vader only becomes redeemable in Return of the Jedi. Here, however, we see a villain that’s even more split and fragmented than his grandfather.
The Force Skype scenes between Ren and Rey (Daisy Ridley) are by far the best parts of The Last Jedi. We see these two conflicted young people trying to talk their problems out. Neither of them know what they want. Neither of them know what their place is in the galaxy. The difference is that Ren at least has had a bit more guidance than Rey. But even then, he is conflicted. He is the Anakin Skywalker we never got.
We were led to believe that Ren had become fully submerged in the Dark Side after he killed his father. But if that was the case, then why couldn’t he kill his mother? See, the traditional good/evil dichotomy in Star Wars is being destroyed in favor of a more gray approach.
And if you ask me, Ren killing Snoke just by turning on a lightsaber is the greatest metaphor for this change. The great “pure evil” villain is snuffed out in an instance. He and his kind don’t matter anymore. The future is nuanced.
But this change is not just in the Force. Other things in the Star Wars universe are becoming more visceral too. Take for instance the very beginning of the movie, where Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leads a desperate bombing run to destroy a First Order Dreadnought. It’s an utter disaster and so many people die.
Such tragedies are not uncommon in Star Wars, but we rarely see the true aftermath. In A New Hope, after the Death Star is blown up, only three fighters survive the fight – yet we do not see anyone mourning them. Likewise, in Return of the Jedi. (Heck they actually mourn Darth Vader more than they mourn the dead Rebels!)
In The Last Jedi, however, the first thing we see after the Dreadnought is destroyed is General Leia’s (Carrie Fisher <3) dashboard showing how most of the fighters have been destroyed. And Leia looks devastated. I daresay she was even more emotional than she was when Alderaan was destroyed.
The Last Jedi is able to be the most visceral and emotionally intense Star Wars story to date, because Rogue One showed that such a Star Wars story could succeed. It then took that beautiful, sentimental, visceral element and made it its own – that’s how we got the sacrifice of Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).
The point is, it’s time for fans to let go off what they think Star Wars is. And believe me, I know what it feels like being frustrated about weird decisions Disney makes about Star Wars. But they are not doing anything bad to it. If anything, they are helping Star Wars mature. We are getting real characters, who are not mere caricatures based on a Manichean depiction of good and evil. Instead, we’re getting profound characters who have unique passions and motivations.
In the words of Kylo Ren, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” That’s precisely what Johnson has done. It has killed off the last remnants of old Star Wars and replaced it with new, more exciting things. It’s time to let go of nostalgia and embrace the future.