I know, I know….just the title itself sounds sacrilege or over hyped. But bear with me. For years, The Empire Strikes Back has been the staple. Most fans I’ve come in contact with would agree that Empire stands out head and shoulder above the rest. So trust me when I say that The Last Jedi is the best. I don’t say it lightly.
Ever since The Force Awakens, the fear has been that episode VIII would be a retelling of Empire. As good as The Force Awakens was, it was for all intense and purposes A New Hope all over again. It felt sort of fresh because the new characters truly did stand out, but it continued to feel like Episode IV and it brought many questions: Who is Rey? Where is she from? Who are her parents? Where’s Luke? Why is the Jedi Master in hiding when we need him to turn the tide? Droids wandering in the desert with an important message only to be found by a scavenger and said scavenger is thrust into this fight and helps the rebels (or in this case the resistance) strike a major blow to the dark enemy. Even in minor details, it was a direct parallel to Episode IV.
However, The Last Jedi seems to accomplish what Lucas tried to do with the prequels, what was completed with Rogue One, and what should have been done with The Force Awakens. It took risks and dared to change all we think we know, and frankly it is for the better.
Let’s dispell the fanboy complaints for a second. Where The Force Awakens was a direct parallel from beginning to the end of A New Hope, The Last Jedi is not a parallel to The Empire Strikes Back. A broad stroke approach would tell you: “New Jedi leaves to train with old master hiding away, and the Empire finds the rebel base and attacks.”
That is about as close as these two movies get.
While Luke was sent by Obi Wan to find Yoda and train so that he can fight Vader, Rey had no such mission. She didn’t seek out Luke to train; she seeks him out to bring him back. The resistance needed the legendary hero, only he wasn’t so legendary (more on that later). It was her mission. It wasn’t until the Force calls her to the library that Luke asks her what it was that she wanted. You see, in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke was seeking Yoda out so that he could learn how to stop Vader. Rey wasn’t looking to stop Kylo–she just wanted someone to help her understand what was going on with her. Think of it as a teen hitting puberty and trying to find out what is going on with the changes in their body, voice, hygiene, etc. Rey is going through a change, so even though she’s looking for Luke to save the resistance, she’s also wanting him to tell her what exactly has awakened in her. Both Luke and Rey, in their young selves, may have gone to see an old teacher, but they were for very different reasons. All movie franchises are built from the same foundation, but not all are parallel. They may interconnect in a way, but that doesn’t mean one is exactly like the other.
The other broad stroke myth is the idea of the Empire finding the rebel base and attacking it. I mean, we knew going into this film that the First Order knew where the resistance base was. This is something Empire slowly builds to. Instead, here we are thrown already into the action because it is where we left off. Yeah, the resistance destroyed the Starkiller Base, but they also knew they couldn’t stay. What takes place is what happens in most films of this type. Sometimes the enemy finds your hideout and you have to fight and flee. But this was different. The battle didn’t take place on the surface, but rather in space. And for some, the idea of a slow chase seems boring and lame, but boy did it bring about a real story and real character development. For those upset or those who wanted more action, go watch a Transformers movie that is nothing but explosions. It’s like biting into a burger with all the fixings and the meat is barely there. No, The Last Jedi took the aspect of battle and war and showed us that sometimes patience is key.
But enough about that. The question you have is (while you are screaming at me and calling out blasphemies) why I believe Episode VIII is the best to date.
Simply put, it’s because it let the past die.
The Last Jedi is the best film in the saga because it dared to show that heroes such as Luke, no matter how legendary, can fail. I’m sorry fanboys: that this isn’t the legendary hero you love. Luke is a failure and didn’t know how to deal with it. And that is totally logical and rational. Luke wasn’t in hiding because he was waiting for the next great Jedi to train. He was in hiding because he wanted to die alone and ashamed. He couldn’t confront his guilt or his failure. He allowed the ‘legendary’ title to lead him to his biggest failure. He (like fans) needed to let the past die. Luke had to find self redemption and, with that, we get another great moment in the Skywalker saga. When Luke arrives to the final battle–the last stand of resistance and what was left of it–we see what self sacrifice and leadership means. Fans are outraged that the legendary Luke didn’t go have an epic battle and go down in some great fashion. This misses the entire point. What Luke showed was much more powerful than simply wielding a lightsaber in some great fashion. He projected himself from lightyears away and with all his self will and the power of the Force, found forgiveness from his sister. He then outwitted Kylo by showing him that even when he felt he was winning, he was really losing. Luke gave a performance that should make us all cheer and accept the truth and change. The past needed to die so that the future could live. Hope was dying and the end of the resistance was at hand. It was either Hope or the past, and rightfully so, the past sacrificed itself so that Hope can live. His death was beautiful and symbolic.
We all call out for the films to be new and take risks, yet when they do, some people get mad. You can’t have both. The Last Jedi is great because it finally felt like a changing of the guard. It was all about the new characters and their ‘purpose in all this.’ Rian Johnson took risks with this film, which spans a period of probably 48-72 hours in their time. It was kept grounded (so to speak) in that with so little happening on the outside, it was what was happening on the inside that mattered. Heroes learned to be leaders, nobodies learned to be heroes, and nothing was as it seemed. The film allowed itself to be lighthearted at times, serious and dark in others, yet blended it well with story and enough action scenes that made it come together in a well put together package. Everyone was finding their purpose in all of it, and when hope seemed lost, the past gave us one last moment to believe again before fading into the sunset(s).
I will agree with some of the naysayers. Captain Phasma is a huge letdown through two films. But she’s no different than fan favorite Boba Fett, who really didn’t do much. It’s his history and background that is more intriguing than anything he did in the films. A great character that didn’t do much–that was Phasma . . . and I’m okay with that because it wasn’t needed.
With all that, here’s the real reason why I loved the big risk taken . . . because everything we expected and hoped and wanted did not happen. The film dared to make the Force so much different than what we knew. It isn’t something that is inherited from a strong bloodline. It is around us, in us, between us. It binds all. And when great darkness arises, the Force brings forth a great light, but it is the Force that chooses the person, but also provides the person a choice to accept the light or the dark. We all wanted Rey to be from a great bloodline of Jedi, but she isn’t. She’s a nobody who was cast off. Her parents were scavengers, just like her, who sold her to pay off debts. Yet, the Force chose her. It’s just like when God chose David, a shepherd boy, to be Israel’s next great king. It wasn’t about his bloodline or how great his father or mother was; it was all about what was inside him. The Force chose Rey because when confronted with the darkness, no matter how big the pull was, she chose the light. It showed us that you don’t need to be a Skywalker to be great.
The connection the force made between Kylo and Rey was a big risk filled with twists as well. Was Kylo’s conflict real or just manipulated? But what I liked about it is that Rey, without knowing much about him, still felt empowered to try to redeem him. I don’t view this as she fell in love with him, but it was the Force and the light she chose to accept. She didn’t just accept that Kylo was bad. To her, he had everything she ever wanted, and he gave it up. She needed to understand why. In the midst of it all, she became stronger within the Force (no thanks to Luke). I believe Kylo’s conflict was real, but he’s not strong enough to reject the pull of the Dark Side like Rey is. That is what makes her special. But to give the audience this dynamic between the dark and the light interacting and not just fighting, it changed the game on how the Force can work.
Then there is Snoke. Snoke, as powerful and menacing as he was, didn’t last. And I’m okay with that. To me, that was one of the most dramatic scenes ever in a Star Wars film. I was watching the scene, expecting Luke to drop in and save the day, but it was Kylo. You think that wow, she really did manage to reach him because he took Snoke out. He used Snoke’s manipulative move against him. And then seeing Rey and Kylo work together to fight the Praetorian Guards was nothing short of epic. But then we are given another great scene. Kylo has been driven in his dark ambition not to join Rey, but to try to reign. Let the past die; start a new chapter with him and her as the most powerful rulers of the galaxy. The tension, the splitting of the saber, her choice again to serve the light no matter her past, was a great moment. The film dared to take someone who we all found mysterious and large to be an after thought because in the end, he represented the past, and the past needed to die.
The Last Jedi is the greatest film in the Star Wars saga to date because it dared to be different. It dared to challenge us. It dared to change. We may have wanted Snoke to be greater than he was. We may have wanted Phasma to be more relevant. We may have wanted Luke to go out in a blaze of glory with an epic lightsaber battle between Kylo or Snoke. But all of that would have just given us everything we’ve seen before. Instead, The Last Jedi dared to tell us that the Force is more, the past needs to stay in the past, and that the future is bright. Because we have all that we need, right here.