The Unbound Writers are fans of Star Wars films and books from childhood; it's one thing we all admire. Our opinions about The Last Jedi, the latest episode of the Star Wars universe, vary as widely as those of loyal viewers everywhere. Our post, like many others in the blogsphere, is chock full of spoilers, so don't read it if you want to see this episode with no preconceptions.
Amanda Baldeneaux — Subverting Our Expectations
The Last Jedi is a film that set out to purposefully subvert our expectations and succeeded. Whereas The Force Awakens paid tribute to the original (and as far as I’m concerned, only) Star Wars trilogy, The Last Jedi humbles us as fans, purists, and hero worshipers through its focus on failure. The film succeeds when it fails to deliver a clear-cut connection between Rey and the Skywalkers, harkening back to (ug) Anakin, an enslaved child from “nothing,” when it’s revealed that Rey comes from “nothing,” without connection to anyone we suspected (unless Kylo lied—it’s a trap!). The film succeeds when Luke realizes he failed Ben Solo not as a teacher, but as a caregiver. It succeeds further when Luke realizes that Rey won’t be lost to him because the dark side tempts her, but that she’ll succeed because she’s fallible; fallibility makes us human, and humanity makes us compassionate. The dark side strips characters of their humanity, demanding absolute perfection, success, and uniformity. This is everything the rebels fight against. It also creates the film’s most poignant moments: Leia’s enduring love for her son despite his terrible choices. Whereas an Emperor or Supreme Leader would reject Kylo Ren for failure or disloyalty, Leia (and Han, too, in The Force Awakens), loves him unconditionally. Seduced by the dark side, though, Kylo Ren can’t give his parents (or uncle) the same unconditional love: they failed him, and therefore he rejects them. I hurt for Leia anytime I recall her imploring Han to bring home their son. By The Last Jedi, Leia, albeit reluctantly, accepts that there is no bringing Ben home; he is too far gone. But still. Leia, parent-warrior-rebel, loves her son in all his failings. And for that, I love her more than I thought possible. To those who dislike the film for straying too far from the traditional Star Wars plots and ideals, I’ll remind you of the one line I’ll keep from the prequels: only a Sith deals in absolutes.
Lisa Mahoney — Down with the Old Generation, up with Youth
While I like Amanda's parents-failing-children angle, there’s also a kind of Vietnam War fatigue 1960s older generation betraying and using/abusing the younger generation undercurrent stirring in this movie. When Kylo asks Rey to come with him, to join him in erasing the old order, I was with him right then. Why the hell not? Maybe the two of them could have built a new and better universe. At that point in the movie, Rey still sensed that Kylo had light side potential, but both of them channel both sides, as Luke makes clear. So why did the older generation insist Jedi can be only one way or the other? Even Yoda, arguably the smartest Jedi around, sees that burning down the old Jedi Order (the tree and dusty books) is the right way forward. Luke agrees, too, after a bit of thought. So enlist me on Kylo’s side! Out with the blind old extremists who have warred for so long and sacrificed so many young fighters. Leia shakes her head, but Carrie Fisher doesn’t convince me she’s very sorry about the youth falling outside while she’s safe inside her cave or command ship. The rebels are down to a few hundred, and are reduced to issuing SOS calls and spreading Jedi-hero-glorifying propaganda and logos meant to delude and recruit defenseless kids, like the enslaved stable sweeper, to their doomed and dying cause, and urging them to throw their lives away like millions of others before them when the older generations (on both sides) seem utterly incapable of learning from history. Down with obstinate oldsters and their eternal dualistic warring, and up with the younger generation’s revolutionary idea of using the power of both sides of the Force! Where will this take them? I'll be watching.
Theodore McCombs — Not Going the Way We Think
“This is not going to go the way you think!” Luke Skywalker growls to Rey halfway through The Last Jedi, and he’s right. Episode VIII breaks wildly from the aesthetic of Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which repurposed familiar Star Wars tropes and grafted them on to a next generation of heroes and villains. The Force Awakens was, depending on your mood, a hack remake of A New Hope, entertaining but greasy fan-service, or a brilliant postmodern Star Wars pastiche. In my TFA post in 2016, I gave it the benefit of the doubt, supposing that, just as Lucas shamelessly stole from Kurosawa, Campbell, and Flash Gordon to make A New Hope, Abrams had shamelessly stolen from A New Hope to give us “Star Wars … but different.” Rian Johnson, in The Last Jedi, knows that you know Star Wars. He knows that you know that The Force Awakens borrows heavily from A New Hope, and he wants you to wonder coming into The Last Jedi whether he’ll be serving up The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. He’s depending on the audience’s anxiety of influence, because then he can pull the rug out from under us and say something profound about myth-making.
Andy Kahn at Slate has written a long and much better essay on this. I’ll just take one specific example. As soon as we find out Kylo Ren is Han and Leia’s son gone to the dark side, we’re waiting for him to turn back to the light like his grandfather Vader. That’s Rey’s belief—she knows the story, and so do we. That should come in Episode IX, right? But it comes in this movie, and it’s not even the climax. It doesn’t go the way we think, to put it mildly. We mark all the paces of Return of the Jedi (Snoke’s throne room even uses the same chromatic theme as the Emperor’s throne room) and then we have an hour of movie still to go! It’s destabilizing, and thrilling. The movie keeps building, and I’ve exhausted my metaknowledge. I don’t think I’ve ever been tense in a Star Wars movie in this way. And it works thematically, too. Kylo, more than anyone, is trapped in Star Wars mythology, so that we understand—maybe even cheer him on—when he urges Rey to let the past die and build something new. That scene could be an allegory of the fan struggle over this new trilogy, the anxiety over how to do Star Wars, by adhering to or breaking from the pre-established tropes. Rian Johnson’s middle movie takes a middle way: it uses one to do the other.
CS Peterson — Enjoys Subverted Monomyth Expectations
I do enjoy a good Star Wars tale, and this was a fun, exciting film. It was satisfying to have expectations subverted, as Ted says. For me that made the film feel fresh and there was still a lot of sword fighting in space. The aspect of this story that is sticking with me is the treatment of the concept of the Force and how it has been changing over time. Way back in the original trilogy, the Force was mystical and egalitarian. In A New Hope, Obi-wan Kenobi described it as “an energy field created by all living things,” and offered to train Han Solo, as he was doing for Luke. Later, with the release of the prequel trilogy, the Force lost its mysticism and became associated with a special bloodline and a martial discipline with a monk-like asceticism. Egalitarianism gave way to a Chosen One mythology in which special heroes—Anakin Skywalker and his son Luke—moved through Joseph Campbell's monomyth step by step. Now, in The Last Jedi, the mysticism has returned. Luke calls out the hubris of one family or one group claiming exclusive understanding of the Force that binds all things together. So what changed in our social myths about magic and power between 1977 and now? Harry Potter, for one thing. I think it is interesting that the most influential magical world introduced at the turn of the century also called out the dark and ridiculous hubris of “pure bloodlines.” Harry is also a Joseph Campbell-style hero, but the ideas of the Chosen One, raw talent, the best schools, etc., were wearing thin in our house by the movies of the 2010s. Now we have returned to the original idea that the Force is really everywhere and available to anyone. With the doors again thrown wide, it will be interesting to see what happens with Temiri Blagg, the little stableboy on Canto Bight who uses the Force on his broom, and his legends who have their feet stuck solidly in the clay.
Danyelle Overbo — Horribly Disappointing
I hated this movie so very much. Please, hear me out. I’m fairly certain that, over time, most people will come to agree with me. The film felt more like a vanity project than a serious entry into the Star Wars saga. It created more questions than it answered, it squandered precious running time on empty sidelines, and it did no justice to the established characters or lore (Luke died a pointless death after living a coward's life—WTF?!). The director and Disney have talked at length about taking Star Wars in new directions. They used this film to scrub the slate clean. They didn’t want to do anything special with it, they just wanted to clear the board.
I have too many issues with The Last Jedi to cover them all in this post, but first, some things I didn’t mind. I didn’t Leia using her Force powers to save herself in space. I liked that a lot. It was a good moment. There were many good moments. Luke admitting the Jedi were terrible was a beautiful moment. It wasn't a new conversation, people have been pointing out the arrogance and backwardness of the Jedi since Episode II. But, by the end of the movie, they had done nothing with the conversation. Rey is going to be a Jedi; the enslaved stableboy might be one too. The conclusion took the nuance of Luke's conversation with Rey and just smashed it in service to a contrived "spark of hope" ending.
One of my (many) complaints: Nothing was consistent between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, including and especially the “revelation” of Rey’s parentage. (If you can even trust that Kylo Ren is telling truth!) First of all, no one but us (the audience) was asking who her parents were. Watch the first movie. Rey isn’t wondering who her parents were. She was wondering where they are and when will they come back for her. Is that something someone wonders if they’ve been sold into slavery? Maybe. Is someone sold into slavery going to sit and carve marks into a wall waiting/expecting her parents to return for her? No. Would she be super anxious to return to that planet if she knew that her parents abandoned her? No. Her entire attitude in the first movie was indicative of a child who was left behind by parents who promised to return one day. She had a vision of her parents flying away in a ship. A ship. What loser selling off their daughter is going to fly away with this new money in a ship (and then die on the same planet, having gone nowhere)? Why was she connected to Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber (enough to have visions of Luke and his past when she picked it up)? Also, and this I cannot scream loudly enough, Rey was not a slave. Name me a slave who can refuse to sell a very important/valuable piece of equipment simply because they didn’t feel like it? Name me a slave who lives on their own, makes their own decisions, goes where they want to go, etc. etc. etc.!
That's just one thing. I disagree wholeheartedly with the premise of the movie being that the Republic's entire fleet was all destroyed in the last movie. There are numerous reasons why that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. You also have Snoke doing in one movie what it took Darth Vader and the Emporer decades to do before. Then there's Luke. I can't even get started on how unbelievable I find his character arc. Then, there's the narrative of this whole film being about what is essentially a pointless, slow-motion chase. As an original trilogy fan, I can't begin to describe how disappointed I was. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments!