…Especially with ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ in the rearview.
If The Rise of Skywalker tarnished The Force Awakens for me, it made me like The Last Jedi even more. It’s no secret that I hate TROS, mainly for how the film undermines much of what this movie–and, in turn, TFA–accomplished. If you believe in the spirit of a trilogy, you should want to see the story played out no matter what the cost. And no matter how you feel about any previous installments. In basketball we say, “A shot created is a shot that needs to be taken.” Apparently J.J. Abrams doesn’t play basketball.
I know the events in Star Wars aren’t real, but part of a moviegoing experience is believing that the movie is real while you’re watching it. However, making you conscious of changes made to the overall story’s natural trajectory, retconning everything you’ve already seen through two movies, takes you out of that immersive experience of living inside the films.
After watching The Rise of Skywalker, it made me stand for Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi much more–not only because the writer/director got unjustly spit on afterwards by casual fans, but because now those who loved TROS (who pretty much only consist of the people who disliked TLJ) see Abrams as a hero, “saving” this trilogy from what Johnson “did”. But look at the credits: J.J. Abrams was a producer on The Last Jedi! He oversaw and okayed this movie! It’s safe to assume he even liked the direction it was going in as well.
Even still, after watching The Last Jedi a second time, I’ve realized one thing: Rian Johnson understands Star Wars much better than J.J. Abrams.
In The Force Awakens (and only The Force Awakens), it’s clear that Abrams understands the entertainment aspect of Star Wars, but Rian Johnson seems to grasp Star Wars on its deeper levels. Its essence, so to speak. Whatever J.J.’s movie lacks in depth, The Last Jedi makes up for and then some.
In fact, The Last Jedi is perhaps the most realized Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back. It’s similar to Empire in a lot of ways–most of which I’m not going to pontificate about here because they should be pretty obvious for anyone familiar with the series. But for one, this film expands the lore of the Jedi. Johnson takes risks here, and delves deeper into the world of Star Wars, elaborating on its already-expansive universe. TLJ is about the force and how it impacts the characters and emotion behind them, becoming the driving “force” behind everything they do.
Johnson also fully embraces these themes of good versus evil. At one point, Benicio del Toro’s character tells Finn that “good guys” and “bad guys” are just made up words. And Finn’s journey here seems to bring him to that same place. del Toro is right to a certain degree. While there still is an ultimate good and an ultimate evil, pinning those labels on ourselves doesn’t leave room for us to make mistakes, which, as this film lets us know, are what’s important for our own growth–ultimately helping us achieve that ultimate good.
Good and bad are sides we choose–the umbrella, so to speak. But there are levels underneath those umbrellas. Finn escaped the bad to join the good, but he’s still operating under his own conscience, finding his own way. And questioning. So is Poe–also on the good side. And even more, so is Kylo Ren, on the bad. Is Luke more of a monster than Kylo Ren because he almost murdered him? No, because he ultimately chose not to. He chose the good over the evil. Those quick decisions are what make us heroes or villains. It’s made from how we handle each situation. But those moments usually represent an overall picture. Johnson seems to have a VERY clear view of what he’s trying to do and say.
And don’t even begin to talk about disliking this movie because of how it portrays Luke Skywalker. That’s a fallible argument and one you most likely got from a Mark Hamill interview stating his own displeasure with his character in this movie. Can you admit that it’s possible Hamill doesn’t understand Luke as well as, say, Lucas, or even Johnson?
On the surface, Johnson crafts a splendid Star Wars film as well. The locations are beautiful. Unlike The Rise of Skywalker, this movie spends time at each location and lets you live in them for awhile–something else Abrams doesn’t truly care as much about. In Star Wars, you should want to visit even the scummiest of places. In TROS, most of the sets seem unappealing.
Johnson never compromises his goal for the cheap reward from casual fans. He makes The Last Jedi a movie for true fanatics and Star Wars nerds. The film is simply for those of us who appreciate what Star Wars is really about at its core: the force. Casual fans (aka most fans) may moan and groan when the esoteric “force jargon” comes flying at them, but the real fans eat this stuff up. And don’t get it twisted, those true fanatics can appreciate the more action-oriented aspects of the franchise as well (which The Last Jedi does exceptionally well).
The Last Jedi is also a war movie (it’s in the title), and Johnson utilizes creative tactical strategies rather than just going through the motions, executing pivotal moments with mere cliches. We’ve seen with Johnson’s most recent movie, Knives Out, the filmmaker is a master at avoiding cliches. Similarly, TLJ ramps up in a big way and evokes a sense of true despair, akin to the feeling we get when Han goes down into the carbonite chamber–but this is on a somewhat bigger level for the world within the film. To execute a Star Wars movie properly, the filmmakers have to create that feeling of despair. Why? Because Star Wars is about hope. And how we can find hope amidst despair. Because when that hope ultimately does arrive, the feeling of relief is unmatched.
I stand my ground when claiming The Last Jedi is far superior to The Rise of Skywalker. Many will disagree. But then again, there are people who actually say the prequel trilogy is better than the original. I don’t give those people any credence. However, I urge any of you who don’t like The Last Jedi to go back and re-watch the original trilogy and then the sequel trilogy…and do it fairly close together. Pause. Rewind. Listen to large chunks of dialogue a couple times over. Absorb every detail it’s throwing at you until you can grasp everything it’s trying to say. If then, you still don’t love The Last Jedi, I must question whether you ever truly loved Star Wars to begin with.