Two years ago, after a ten-year period of Galactic dormancy, the Star Wars franchise hyperdrived into our lives with The Force Awakens, beginning a new trilogy of events in the galaxy far, far away. As fans were quick to recognize the rehashed elements from A New Hope in Episode VII, many fans feared whether The Last Jedi would have a similar rehashing from The Empire Strikes Back.
The very opening scroll leads us to believe exactly that! The similarity of situation the Resistance and The first Order were to the Rebellion and The Empire in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back as well as the similar past events leading up to them is unshakeable. The action begins with The First Order trying to take down the Resistance that happens in the form of an epic space battle. It becomes instantly clear that this will not be an Empire Strikes Back 2.0 but something different altogether. The Resistance escapes the onslaught thanks to the courageous sacrifices made by some fighter pilots along with Poe Dameron’s fast instincts and witty capabilities.
One of the central focuses of this film is Luke Skywalker. Why did he go into hiding? What was he doing all these years? Our protagonist, Rey, travels to planet Ahch-to to get all the answers and hopes to bring him back into foray of the Galactic War. The moment Rey hands him his old lightsaber (which she got from Maz Kanata in Episode 7), Luke throws it behind him in disregard. (As if to point out Rey’s naivety.) The entire galaxy’s hope thrown away! Soon the reason behind Luke’s hideout is revealed to us. Or so we think it is revealed. However, we are thrown off again. What we learn from Luke differs from what Kylo says in the later part of the movie. We, as audiences, are kept in confusion as to believe which version is true. Is Luke lying? Has he turned to the dark side? Or is Kylo lying to manipulate Rey into believing that Luke has gone rogue? None of these speculations stand correct as the truth is later revealed, all the while keeping us in suspense. Both Luke and Kylo are saying the truth while there’s a racket of misunderstanding. However, at the same time, it is clear that Luke indeed had feared Kylo’s potential for darkness and his corruption by Snoke.
The scenes in Ahch-to are brilliant, vibrant, majestic, and pure but at the same time there’s contrasting incorporation of dark, Dionysian elements. The initial light and beauty of the island is topsy-turvied into dark, cloudy, thundering, smoky haze with a Dark Side connoted atmosphere, best exemplified in Rey’s quest for knowing who her parents are in the tightly gripping self-discovery scene beneath the island.
One of the new force-related activities introduced in the film is the transposition of the self from one place to the other, observed in the scenes between Rey and Kylo’s interactions as well the very unexpected, controversially divisive and highlighting scene at the end of the film involving Luke (Force-projecting himself beyond stars). The Kylo-Rey interactive scenes are some of the most enagaging scenes in the film, so deftly handled and perfectly synchronized into the narrative, that it does more for both of their character-development than what the entire previous Episode had tried doing but failed to. Both are vulnerable, but correspondingly, there’s the lurking shadow of dupes, suspicions and mistrust especially relating to Kylo’s true intentions.
Indeed this Episode develops each character’s arc. Even the smaller characters introduced for the first time are exploited and are not only given their own individual expression, but also have multiple layers of interpretations throughout the movie. Admiral Holdo’s unmoving and seemingly unsympathising attitude as well as Poe’s own impression of her hints at her false loyalty. (The fact that the First Order can track them, is someone from the Resistance letting out a trail for them?) All this makes us suspicious of where her true loyalties lie. Rose Tico is another newly introduced character who is given enough screen time and one detour in the action exposes her gruesome past. This detour on Canto Bight is relatively boring and lengthy, (some might argue that the whole subplot adds no substance to the greater narrative) though it establishes the Rose-Finn bond.
The space battles are epic and new. The shot of the Resistance ship tearing apart the First Order’s main ship at light speed is a never-seen-before spectacle. It is grand, bright and heavy with valiant fervour as Admiral Holdo sacrifices herself for survival of the Resistance. This was a perfect opportunity for Leia’s honorable exit from the saga had she been in her place. Audiences were befooled into thinking so as once again their expectations were subverted. (Actress Carrie Fisher’s untimely death this year made some of us expect her cinematic death to occur during the course of the film.) General Leia survives twice in the course of this Episode defying all apprehensions. The first time being blasted into space as she were seemingly floating dead in space before breath-defyingly force-travels back into the ship all but unconscious. This was another force-ability which took fans by utter astonishment. (And perturbed some fans.)
The ingenuity and boldness of the plot is tremendous. The movie harkens back to iconic moments from the Original Trilogy throughout only to throw us off with what’s to happen next. As Rey and Kylo head to Snoke’s chamber, it brings immediate parallels to the Return of the Jedi scene with Vader, Luke and Palpatine. Audiences are kept guessing as the entire set places in shimmering doubt and pulsating suspense. Will Snoke’s identity be finally revealed? Will Rey turn to the dark side? Will Kylo turn to the light? It is revealed here that it was Snoke who made the connection between Rey and Kylo in hopes to lean her towards the dark. Rey believes there is light in Kylo (as she has seen his future when she touched his hand) As Kylo is put to test by Snoke to kill Rey after she resists to turn to the dark side, he slashes Snoke into half instead. We immediately think Kylo has indeed turned to the light but hence again we are wrong as Kylo utters his desire to rule the galaxy while requesting Rey to join him (very similar in tone and dialogue to Anakin’s desire to rule the galaxy with his wife at the end of Revenge of the Sith.) It is here that Kylo reveals to Rey that she has no privileged parentage. She is just a scavenger whose parents left her alone and soon died after. She doesn’t mean anything and is of no importance and is all alone (desperately trying to find her father in Han and, now, Luke.) Kylo tantalizes her by trying to lure her by saying she can be someone if she joins him. It could be that Kylo was simply lying about Rey’s parentage as ploy to get her off balance and lean her in. Although that’s just pure speculation. This revelation scene is akin to the revelation scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke learns from Vader that he is his father. In the 1980 film, Luke discovers that he has a family while here Rey discovers that she actually has no family. This is unique and opens the path for Rey’s own equally meaningful individual journey to create her own stand and not peel off a heritage bloodline. Both these revealing moments franchise comes as a shock to most fans. After years of analysing and scrutiny, only to find that Rey is a not related to a Skywalker nor a Kenobi. It rips up the central theme of the “Chosen One” and the notion that the Force should belong to certain heritage/category of people. This is not met with the warmest welcome from fans (just as The Empire Strikes Back wasn’t particularly loved initially.) Rey is not turned to the Dark Side as they both force-power to get hold of Anakin’s lightsaber only to devastate it into two pieces directly alluding to the line “Let the past die”. (That lightsaber had symbolised the franchise’s narrative continuity as it was passed from generation to generation. It was a relic and a witness to the past. Its cleaving into two is a visual representation of what this movie is thematically about.) Indeed Kylo seemingly becomes the new Supreme Leader replacing Snoke (whose identify remains in the dark much to the dismay of hardcore fans) This turn of events throws light upon George Lucas’ initial thought of making Luke kill Vader and become the galaxy’s new bad leader at the end of Return of the Jedi. (This was never to be) Of course, Snoke’s killing feels anti-climactic as he is the great Supreme Leader with tremendous build up only to be sliced into two halves.
Finally, the climactic scene is an exhibition of classic exhilarating Star Wars action on the gorgeous “bleeding” planet Crait. The last surviving Resistance are trapped in a cul-de-sac with the First Order in attack-ready mode, there is a showcase of defining brevity in the beaten s Luke appears in his hood as he shares a tiny but heavy emotional reunion, sending us, fans, into nostalgia waters. At this point the theatre bursts into applause completely ignoring the weak dialogue in utterance here. Luke heads out in a mighty fashion to once again take down the bad guys all by himself. However, appearances can be deceptive, and hopes and expectations are twisted again as it shapes up to be one of the most sad/iconic/defining moments creamed by John Williams’ eternally soulful score, paving way for new paths in the future of this expansive saga.
The Last Jedi ends on a very optimistic and progressive note, as it sends off the main characters from the Original Trilogy, while keeping the last installment on the Force of the new trio (Rey, Finn and Poe). It apparently leaves behind a clean slate behind, along with unanswered questions raised in The Force Awakens such as Snoke’s identity, Rey’s vision and Maz Kanata’s backstory, to name a few. Whether these will be dealt with in Episode IX or be scraped completely is remained to be seen. Meanwhile, fans are dismayed with Luke’s treatment. The hero of the Original Trilogy, who once held back from slaying both the evil Emperor and Darth Vader (in hopes of redeeming him) because it would be wrong to do so, not to mention, it would be against the Jedi code; turns into a fearful self-pitying wretch nearly stomping to the Dark Side, accepting his failure as a Jedi Master to Kylo. Some hardcore members of the Star Wars pop cult are of the opinion that the producers are twisting the Skywalker legacy in order to establish a new phase of Star Wars films. Indeed, this may be the most divisive Star Wars Episode ever – Luke’s change from being a compassionate Christ-figure to a self-hating old man, destroys the two-fold morality of Original Trilogy’s Dark Side/Light Side narrative, and progresses the notions originally created by George Lucas. Luke brightly enunciates that he will not be the last Jedi implying that Rey will succeed and “grow beyond” him. (As did Yoda say). The fate of the galaxy is not dependent on one “legend” or saviour but on everyone willing to follow the light. At the very end, a boy (wearing a Resistance ring) from Canto Bight picks up a broom using the Force while looking up into the heavens, thus indicating a new generation of rebels, fighters and force-sensitive beings.
The Last Jedi is bold and daring in its approach, artistic in its visuals, breathtaking in its worlds, impulsive in its plot-shifts, heavy in nostalgia, and delivers what Star Wars succeeds at delivering best – the grand and the unexpected.
NOTE :- I have watched The Last Jedi once thus far. Re-watching will further add credibility and substance to this initial review. For now I rate this movie a glorious 9/10.