The Last Jedi is the spark that lit the fire that fueled a whole lot of internet nerd rage. That nerd rage is why I was a little reluctant to write down my thoughts on the movie and put them someplace the entire internet can see them (Not that the entire internet reads this, but you know what I mean).
The Last Jedi is a controversial movie. Audiences either love it or hate it, seemingly without much in the way of middle ground. The great thing about controversy in film is it allows you to form your own opinions. If a movie is crazy popular, you are expected to see it and like it by default. Love it or hate it movies generate more discussion because they bring out passionate reactions. Viewers will talk more about them because they either want to understand the opposite point of view or covert the other party to their way of seeing things.
Most people who hate The Last Jedi seem to focus primarily on the way Luke Skywalker 'Acts out of Character'. This is fueled in part by actor Mark Hamill expressing his concern over the way Luke was written. Fans are rallying to defend Luke's honor, and I kind of get that. But personally I thought his character evolution made a lot of sense? So, I don't see what the problem is?
I'll get into my thoughts on Luke's character arc a little more later on, but first here's a list of things I did and didn't like. Spoilers to follow.
Liked - - - Paige Tico and her relationship with her sister, Rose. The movie opens with a big space battle and a heroic sacrifice from a character we'd never met before. Paige is somebody we've known for only 5 minutes, but her death left a bigger impact for me than all of the deaths in 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' combined. I enjoyed Rogue One, by the way. Not hating on Rogue One. Just stating the facts as I see them. This death gives us clear cut motivation for newcomer Rose Tico, and was brilliant use of shorthand to make us like and care about her. Unless of course, you aren't some one who liked and cared about her. Seriously, why do so many people hate Rose Tico?
Liked - - - Poe Dameron's story arc. After I saw 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' I was like - 'Yeah! That was so cool! I loved all the new characters, like Rey, and Finn and...um, was there a third one? I'm not remembering anyone else...' Poe left zero impact on me in the previous installment. He's really given a chance to shine this time around. We have here a subplot about recklessness vs. responsibility, consequences for our actions, and how bucking authority so we can go do our own thing isn't always the best plan of action. I felt like this was a deconstruction of Luke and Han's carefree daring-do in the original trilogy - you know, the way they just sneak around the Deathstar and always come up with a plan of action on the spot, sending the message that 'Yeah, you can totally live your life flying by the seat of your pants. It'll all turn out okay in the end!' But it real life you can't always fly by the seat of your pants. And sometimes our actions have consequences.
Liked - - - C3PO. He didn't have a huge role, but he had more than a cameo appearance this time around. This is the first Star Wars movie in a long time where C3PO shows up on screen and I wasn't going 'Why is he even here?' In Rogue One - and again, I like Rogue One, C3PO have the worlds most pointless, most in your face cameo that was basically 'Hey, remember these guys? Well, they're still here!' and that really really irked me. Either give the droids something to do, or cut them out entirely.
Liked - - - Rey and Kylo Ren's force head games. Rey and Kylo Ren spend large portions of this movie communicating long distance through the force. These were actually my favorite parts of the story. It felt like a psychological thriller, and how cool is a Star Wars psychological thriller? Rhetorical question, because it's all kinds of cool.
Didn't like - - - That casino planet. This didn't bother me as much as some people, but visually the casino on Canto Bite really looked like something out of the prequel trilogy. It felt out of place with the aesthetics of the rest of the film. Now you could say that this is Disney/Lucasfilm trying to put a band-aid on the prequels - throwing in the occasional visual callback to the trilogy as if to say, 'Yeah, that kind of visual COULD work in Star Wars. See? It's not such a glaring anachronism!' As the giant tentacle slug monsters Han Solo was smuggling in 'The Force Awakens' also look like something from the prequel trilogy this seems like a plausible theory.
Didn't like - - - So...BB8 has superpowers now...? There's a scene on Canto Bite where Finn and Rose are escaping from a prison cell, and they round a corner, and BB8 is there with a bunch of guards who have been knocked out and tied up. A wide eyed Finn asks, 'Did you do that?' Funny moment right? Right. The problem comes later where they take it a little too far - a little over the top. If you've seen the movie you know the part I'm talking about. It's the part where Finn and Rose are captured by the First Order when somebody driving an AT-ST walker comes to their rescue...and it is revealed that that somebody...is BB8. BB8 stole an AT-ST. That's really over the top and really really dumb.
As you can probably see, things I liked vastly the things I didn't so far. And the things I don't like are pretty minor. They might take me out of the story for a few moments, but they don't ruin my overall enjoyment of the movie. So, without further adieu, here's my read on the Luke Skywalker story arc.
Luke has seen a lot since 'Return of the Jedi'. In the original trilogy he was an Idealist, and now he is rather Cynical. Can a series of traumatic events completely change one's world view? Can idealism be crushed? Realistically speaking, I think it can. 'Return of the Jedi' ends with Darth Vader returning to the Light Side and the Rebel Alliance overcoming the forces of the Empire. But history has a nasty tendency to repeat itself. Between trilogies Luke attempts to restore the Jedi Order. His apprentice Ben Solo turns to the Dark Side and tears down everything Luke had built. The First Order rises, and from Luke's point of view everything he's fought for has been in vain. This, quite realistically in my opinion, leads to apathy and depression.
Luke does what Obi Wan and Yoda did before him - decide that the problems of the galaxy are too big for him to face on his own. He goes into a self imposed exile. When Rey finds him he's had a lot of time alone to think about just how fragile the Jedi Order is. How fragile it has always been. Interestingly the writers of this trilogy seem to have swapped Luke and Han Solo's views on the Force. In 'The Force Awakens' Han Solo has a little bit of Luke's Idealism: 'I thought it was a bunch of Mumbo Jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil - the Dark Side and the Light? Crazy thing is...It's true. The force, the Jedi...all of it. It's all true.' Han Solo has a new found faith in the Force, whereas Luke sees the Jedi order as something that does more harm than good that is always doomed to failure.
People make a big deal out of the flashback scenes where it's revealed why Ben Solo turned to the Dark Side - Luke foresaw that he would turn and tried to kill him first. Fans everywhere where upset that Luke would try to murder his apprentice. Except that's not what happens. If you were actually paying attention to the story you'll notice that Luke never tried to kill Ben. They explicitly spell out that in a moment of weakness the thought crossed Luke's mind, but he wouldn't have gone through with it. LUKE DIDN'T TRY TO KILL BEN SOLO PEOPLE. But Kylo Ren thought he did. And that's why he turned. It's like a Greek Tragedy where knowing the outcome of the future and trying to change that outcome causes the outcome.
And the other thing people complain about is the ending. They think Luke didn't get the wow moment he deserved. To which I have to ask - did we watch the same movie? Luke coming back when the rebellion needs him most to face off with Kylo Ren and the armed forces of the First Order - ALONE - so they could make their getaway. And to me at least it really doesn't matter that Luke was just a force projection. Let me spell out why.
Reason 1: This new Force Projection was really well set up. In those scenes with Rey and Kylo Ren we see them touch hands through the force. At one point Kylo Ren is sopping wet because it's raining were Rey is. And when she fires a blaster at him, he's knocked across the room. So whats going on in the environment where the Force User is projecting to has some effect on them. Meaning that all of those shots that were fired at Luke and that part where Kylo Ren stuck his Lightsabre through his chest? Yeah, Luke potentially felt every blow. Also the fact that Luke is a projection is foreshadowed really well. He doesn't leave footprints in the salt (Kylo Ren does) and he's using a Lightsabre that we saw get broken just a few scenes earlier.
Reason 2: The final battle really reminds me of the Spaghetti western film 'A Fistful of Dollars'. In this movie Clint Eastwood returns to town specifically to rescue a hostage. He overcomes the villains by using his wits. Earlier in the movie the main villain, Ramón, whilst showing off his skills with a gun boasts about always shooting a man through the heart when he kills. So Clint Eastwood's character stuffs a bulletproof metal plate up his poncho and taunts Ramón to aim for the heart. Our hero appears to be bulletproof and the unnerves the villains, throwing them off balance, long enough for Eastwood's character to overcome the odds of their superior numbers.
Luke basically does the same thing, outwitting the First Order, appearing unstoppable, and stalling them long enough for the Rebel forces to escape. What I see as a 'Fistful of Dollars' homage makes me especially happy because Star Wars has always been heavily influenced by westerns and Samurai films - 'Fistful of Dollars' is a western remake of an Akira Kurosawa Samurai film 'Yojimbo'.
Reason 3: How would fans expect and actual battle between Luke, Jedi Master, and Kylo Ren, Darksider who was Snoke's apprentice until about ten minutes ago? You expect Luke to defeat Kylo Ren, right? I know I would. But Luke couldn't have defeated Kylo Ren. Because they need a villain for the third movie in the trilogy. And I don't think Kylo Ren is strong enough to defeated Luke. So the only possible outcome of that hypothetical fight is a stalemate. Kind of like that fight between Yoda and Palpatine in 'Revenge of the Sith'. Fights that end in stalemates tend to be disappointing storytelling decisions. Having Luke not be physically there for the fight was a brilliant way to sidestep this problem in my opinion.
'So, why did Luke just die?' is something a lot of fans are asking. Some think he died from exertion from the force projection. A lot of fans resent this, saying that that's like dying because of a supernatural Skype call. I'd disagree with that statement because of the way they showed us how force projection works. If Luke felt the effect of every one of those hits - like Kylo Ren felt the effects of Rey's blaster - I think that would totally be enough to kill somebody.
Others think he died because he was a peace. He did what he had to do. He saw Leia one last time, he made up for just walking away from the rebellion by returning when they needed him most, and he made (albeit one sided) piece with Kylo Ren. He had said at the beginning of the movie that he came to the Jedi temple to die. He just had some things he had to do first. When those were done he gave himself up to the force, just like Yoda did in 'Return of the Jedi' because there was nothing more he could teach Luke. It's an ending that's open for interpretation. Personally I thought Luke fading away while looking off at the sunset as that theme from the original trilogy played (you know the one) was a beautiful moment.
I liked 'The Last Jedi.' Personally I liked it better than 'The Force Awakens'. If you're wondering about my current ranking of Star Wars movies it looks something like this:
1: Return of the Jedi
2: A New Hope
3: The Last Jedi
4: The Force Awakens
5: Empire Strikes Back
6: Rogue One
7: Attack of the Clones
8: Revenge of the Sith
9: The Phantom Menance