I haven’t “struggled” this much with a movie in I don’t know how long.
Not in terms of “did I like it or not.” It’s a messy movie that tries a lot of things and doesn’t always nail its ambitions, but it’s also the closest I think any of these Star Wars movies have gotten to that elusive “thing” that makes Star Wars click with me. It works for me on the same levels as the original trilogy did when I saw them as a kid when they first came out.
That’s what I’m struggling with. I almost feel like I’ve completed some sort of grail quest in seeing The Last Jedi. There was this concept that I thought was just that– some platonic ideal that could never be achieved because it didn’t really exist outside of its imagined state of perfection. I always imagined Star Wars as being something that “grew” with me as a person. I saw those original movies at the right time and the right place, being an impressionable nerdy kid whose dreams and imagination were bigger than what he could express and who found more to relate with in weird puppet aliens and scoundrels with blasters than other kids or family or whatever. I thought Star Wars would always be there, and that it’d somehow follow me in life. The original trilogy was perfect for elementary school me. When those Timothy Zahn novels came out in the early 90s, they were perfect for middle school me. Same goes with the West End RPG. Those were “my” Star Wars throughout middle and high school, during that period between movie series. Star Wars was there, and it was moving and changing alongside me.
Then came the prequels. I almost fell for Phantom Menace the first time, but seeing it a couple more times in theaters made me realize that this wasn’t “my” Star Wars. I didn’t quite have the level of sophistication as an early college dude to realize it was always a series of kids movies, so I was annoyed that these movies were made wholly for kids. I hated Jar Jar. I hated the kid playing Anakin. I especially hated that the kid made C-3PO. With the prequels and the growth of the “expanded universe” into what I considered an unrecognizable beast, Star Wars ceased to be “mine.” I let go after a while, stopped caring, and accepted that things didn’t always have to always be targeted at me. I grew and grew apart from Star Wars. It was fine. Force Awakens was a bit better, because it touched a nerve aesthetically and emotionally, but it wasn’t enough to change my feelings about Star Wars as a whole. We were separated and that was cool.
The Last Jedi ended up giving me exactly what I’ve always wanted from the series. The Force is no longer a force to be utilized by chosen ones wearing bathrobes and swinging around laser swords– it’s for everyone so long as you could pause and smell the space walrus milk. It isn’t magic. It isn’t min-maxing special powers. It’s more of a philosophy that allows one to perceive the outside world in a different way that also allows the inside personal world to develop and mature through thought and meditation. Before, The Force was akin to medieval Christian theology, and now it’s been redefined (or rather, returned to) an esoteric path with no rules or sides outside of its existence. Through Luke’s growth as a man (cynicism, death, and all) and the death of the last remaining mystical mystery figure in Snoke, all ties to The Force as systematic are dead. The lightsaber’s been tossed over the edge of the cliff, to be purified by Porg picking it clean of all the dead weight of the past.
I needed that. I needed that outright rejection of the mistakes of the past. Like Luke said, thinking The Force belongs to the Jedi or the Sith is vanity, and The Last Jedi throws away those notions. Yeah, ultimately Rey will become the beginning of a new line of Jedi, and there is no actual Last Jedi, but it’s a rebirth of something in desperate need of that sort of spiritual cleansing.
For the first time since originally seeing the Jabba’s Palace scene in Return of the Jedi during the summer before I started kindergarten, I felt like Star Wars was directly speaking to me. I felt the same way when Holdo rammed that cruiser into the First Order fleet, and the movie went silent as it paused in the electrical beauty of a ship colliding into others at light speed. I also felt it during the scene where Rey and Ben fought Snoke’s samurai guards on a bright red setting that felt more like something out of a theatrical performance than a movie. Those two moments were pure visceral moments the likes of which I’ve rarely felt in any movie, much less in a Star Wars. If seeing The Force portrayed in a new/old manner was seeing Star Wars “grow up” with me, this was seeing it through wholly new lenses.
I can even forgive the movie for that casino sequence that felt like something out of the prequels. Yeah, I get it thematically, but it was so garish and trite in many of the same ways as the diner scene in Attack of the Clones.
And that highlights why I’ve struggled with The Last Jedi. For as much as it was a revelatory experience, it also reminded me of the things that turned me away in the first place. All the highs and all the lows exist in the same movie, sometimes in the same scene. Yoda’s appearance was at first off-putting, since it felt a little tacked-on and unnecessary, especially after his character being dragged through the mud in the prequels. It almost felt like an apology at first, throwing him in there just to say “my bad” for almost ruining him before. But one he actually spoke and laughed off major dramatic beats while letting us know that all the mistakes of the past were learning moments to grow from, it all made sense. Even Yoda was a mistake, but that’s alright so long as we realize it’s OK for our successors to screw up and learn in the same ways we did.
The Last Jedi shone a light on my entire thought process as a “fan.” It was all things I’ve thought about and pondered over time– all things I’ve learned from and about along the way and how it’s OK to grow and screw up and be different from the old, nostalgia-riddled me– but it hit me over the head with it all in one deft blow.
The Last Jedi made me question my very essence as someone who takes in this sort of stuff and attempts to synthesize it into something of my own creation. Few movies make me sit back and struggle with the “why.” I enjoy that struggle.