I went to The Last Jedi opening night and I really liked it, but thought it was very weird, a little uneven in tone, and that it possibly had a little too many twists. But I knew Rian Johnson as a filmmaker, having been a huge fan ever since Brick came out (which you should see, it’s a goddamn masterpiece), so I expected that there’d be more too it. I went on the twitter and was overwhelmed with people who hated it. Some dickwad even yelled #RianRapedUs. An actual person. Possibly with a job and kids and the right to vote. A man felt like he was raped by a movie. Can you even imagine? I hope not, because if you can you’re probably gonna leave some nasty comment. Humans really suck, don’t they?
But as the day progressed I started finding more and more positive reactions. People who loved it, people who thought it was the best. I found some in depth articles really diving into the thematics of the thing, and as I thought about the movie more and more I started to peel away the layers, the Porg jokes (#teamporg btw) and the story as it is presented to the audience on the surface level of the movie, looking at what was underneath, and the thing just became better and better and better.
Quick sidebar here: Did you remember Shrek looking that bad? It’s like a cutscene from a video game version of Shrek. It’s insane. Anyway. Where was I? Oh yeah, The Last Jedi. SPOILERS from here on in.
The way I see it The Last Jedi is about unforeseeable consequences. That’s the theme of this particular chapter in the Star Wars saga. A sentence that is repeated during the film is about ‘the spark that will light the fire’. The butterfly effect (not the Ashton Kutcher joint, but the actual effect). Everything you do has a billion results. One of them might be what you were hoping to achieve, but it might just as well not be. Failure is a natural part of life. It’s how we grow and learn. That’s even stated pretty literally by Yoda in his great little scene. But there’s more to an action than what you hope to archieve. That’s the butterfly effect.
Whew, that was a weird movie.
Rey’s main objective in The Last Jedi is to defeat Kylo Ren, preferably by turning him back towards the light side of the force. This fails. She doesn’t beat him in a fight, she doesn’t turn him. But there’s a TON of unforeseeable consequence to her actions. She pulls Luke back into the force, she defeats supreme leader snoke, she becomes a Jedi and even ends up igniting a spark (Luke’s stand-off with the empire on Crait) that will light the fire (all the little boys and girls on every planet inspired by this heroic tale) that will burn the First Order down.
Finn tries to save Rey (‘Cuz they in love, and don’t even try to tell me otherwise) but the unforeseeable consequence of that failed little plan is that he meets up with Rose, together they try to find another way to save the entire Rebellion (not just Rey) by finding a codebreaker, the unforeseeable consequence of which is that they end up freeing a bunch of tortured dog-horses, ripping a bunch of rich assholes a new one by destroying a casino and show a bunch of slave kids that there is a different life out there, a life free from the whips of Snoke’s nazi-bitches. They end up igniting a spark (their daring adventures on Canto Bight) that will light the fire (those same kids who will become rebels when the chance is there) that will burn the First Order down.
As Luke descents further into his fear of the dark side, Yoda turns up in all his muppety greatness and tells him that failing is fine. In fact, most of the characters in this movie fail in what they were originally trying to do, except for maybe Benicio Del Toro and Rose’s sister on the bomber in the opening battle. But I doubt Benicio’s character even had a plan to fail, he just went with the flow of it, and Paige Tico might have destroyed the Dreadnought, but seeing as she died, it didn’t really go as she thought it would. All of this is, I think, where most of the hate towards the movie came from. Not one of the main characters succeeds in anything they try to do in this movie. This is quite possibly the most depressing blockbuster ever made if you look at it that way. The only real fun is derrived from the Porgs, who are also the only characters in the movie who never try to do anything. They are literally without goals of motivations. Which is why the can’t fail. I don’t think haters realise that this is what’s going on, that this is why they dislike it, but subconciously that’s why they’re unfulfilled, because they came to see the classic hero’s journey, the three acts and the triumph at the end. But, as Poe learns throughout the film: It’s not about what you tried to do at all, it’s about what your actions end up accomplishing. That’s what’s important. It’s not about flyboys. It’s about the future of a galaxy. The lesson to take away from all of this madness is to be mindful, not just of your goals, but of every unforeseeable consequence the pursuit of those goals might have. Even throwaway jokes like the rock Rey chops off crushing through the little wheelbarrow seems like it’s about nothing, but that too is unforeseeable consequence, and ends up being a small step in teaching Rey to be mindful as she should be. Is it time to dive into the Force now? I think it is.
The force is what connects everything, the force is what binds the universe together, and the force is the only way to understand those consequences, those unforeseeable reactions to every action. This is what Luke learns in the movie, and why he decides to stand up to Kylo Ren all on his own.
I’m gonna do a short Force sidebar here, because I feel like a lot of people maybe misinterpret the force. Anakin was prophecised to bring balance to the force, and a lot of people think that the balance means equal amounts of light side and dark side. And this is not wrong, but it is also not the entirety of it. In Rey’s meditation on Ahch-to she sees the peace that belongs to the light side of the force, and the chaos that belongs to the dark side, and the balance between it all. But for things to be in balance, shouldn’t they be in peace? Yes they should. There are two balances at work here. The balance between all things, the force itself, destruction, creation, light, dark, fear and love (Note to self: I need to watch Donnie Darko again). But there is another balance, which is the light side of the force. The light side is the balancing side, it represents peace, it constantly tries to balance everything out, to create a calm, an equilibrium. The dark side represents chaos, it is the un-balancing force. Life isn’t in perfect balance and peace all the time, it in a balance between balance and unbalance. I know I’m sounding like a late sixties George Harrison now, but stay with me. A lot of people ask “But how can Anakin bring balance if he destroys the Sith, shouldn’t he destroy all but two Jedi to bring balance? Then you have two sith and two Jedi. Ergo: Balance.” Some will even go as far as saying that’s exactly what he did do. He killed all the Jedi except for Obi and Yoda, so you have two Sith and two Jedi. But that’s not the balance that was prophecised. The balance that was prophecised was that of the light side. The balancing side. It was to bring an end to the power of the dark side which caused too much chaos, unbalancing the galaxy from its equilibrium between peace and chaos. And that doesn’t happen until the end of Return of the Jedi, when little Ani Hulk Hogans the shit out of Palpatine and throws him down a shaft before dying himself. That’s the end of the Sith, the end of the tumor that made the dark side grow larger than it should.
Now that there are no more Sith, the dark side and the light side are in balance again. But why don’t a bunch of Jedi make the light side too strong? Because that’s not what the light side does. The light side is a wall, the dark side a battering ram. If the battering ram is too strong, the wall falls. If the wall is too strong, nothing happens, the battering ram can keep on battering. That’s the balance of the force.
Now what Luke had learned during his exile was that the powers of the Jedi and the Sith weren’t the only forces at work. The Sith are just a random religion with a strong connection to the dark side and the Jedi are just a random religion with a strong connection to the light side. But these were just cults. That kid on Canto Bight wasn’t a Jedi. Maz Kanata wasn’t a Jedi. In fact, the Jedi kind of failed in what they were trying to do. They became too organised. A bureaucratic mess. They were so arrogant and wrapped up in themselves they couldn’t even see the sith cancer grow right in front of them. Luke is afraid when Rey drifts towards the dark when they’re meditating. Afraid that Rey will be tempted, lured in by the ways of the Sith. But the dark side is not the Sith, and even still, Rey has no interest in power, Rey has no fear of being left alone, she’s been left alone her whole life, if the whole galaxy falls apart and only she is left she’ll find a way to make it work, that’s how she’s always done it. The dark side cannot lure her in ’cause it holds nothing of interest for her. That’s why she’s our hero.
Wrapping everything up, Luke sacrifices his exile and chooses to become the hero he feels he isn’t (due to some small failures in his otherwise heroic life) just so he can become that spark the rebellion needs so much, Poe sacrifices his heroism to be able to fight another day in the fire that Luke’s spark has lit, Rey goes through the same thing as Luke and sacrifices her exile on Jakku, the possible return of her parents to become the centrepiece of that fire, and Finn sacrifices himself and his personal goals of not having to fight to become the rebel hero that will help that fire grow. They all sacrificed what they thought they had to be doing for the benefit of the entire galaxy, and those lessons could have only be learned from the unforeseeable consequences that came from their failed actions. Yoda says that failure is important for growth, and the unforeseeable consequences are unforeseeable, they could not have been known.
This is why The Last Jedi deserves a second look, this is why it defies all expectations. The Force Awakens was such an easy watch, like a soft rug that you could sit on to enjoy yourself and feel comfortable with all the characters. It is precisely that rug that The Last Jedi needed to be able to pull it out from under you. This is what a sequel should be. These two movies make each other better.
You know what the difference is between a person who is aware of the consequences of their actions and a person who isn’t? It’s the difference between an adult and a child. In the hands of Rian Johnson, the Star Wars franchise has literally grown up.