After having seen Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi three times now, I can honestly say the following: I rather enjoyed it, though I did have a few issues with it as well. And that is my spoiler-free review of it.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
The Battle of D'Qar
The Last Jedi opens with the Resistance desperately trying to evacuate from their base on D'Qar, just as a fleet from the First Order arrives. The scene starts out shaky with bad physics (there's no sound in space), and General Hux has some weak opening lines: "I have my orders from Supreme Leader Snoke himself," he starts out pointlessly to Captain Edrison Peavey and us, the audience. It's obvious why the First Order is there - to wipe out the Resistance once and for all. However, the writing firms up from here.
Commander Poe Dameron and BB-8 fly not to Hux's command ship, the Star Destroyer Finalizer, but rather the Siege Dreadnought Fulminatrix, in a bid to buy the resistance some more time. To accomplish this, Poe does an elaborate "your mother" joke (I normally disapprove of such jokes, but this one is so well executed that I just had to laugh) to confound Hux before having BB-8 ignite a special booster rocket to propel their T-70 X-Wing at an extreme velocity and shoot down the Fulminatrix's guns without being shot down by their defense cannons. Captain Moden Canady is irritated that their TIE Fighters have not yet been launched, justifiably so in my opinion - the Resistance, and the Rebel Alliance before it, are known for using small 1- and 2-person fighters to great effect, and capital ship weapons are too large and too cumbersome to deal with them effectively.
The tactic is successful enough for the Resistance to complete their evacuation to their few ships, and our Space Mom, General Leia Organa, orders Poe to return to the MC85 Star Cruiser Raddus, as the mission is complete. Poe, being hot-headed, ignores his orders and orders the disastrous bombing run that wipes out all of their bombers, as well as most of their X-Wings and A-Wings for little return - yes, the Fulminatrix is a fleet-killer, but if there is no fleet to kill, there's not much to worry about. Poor tactics are used here, as the bombers are lined up so close together that debris from one can set off a chain-reaction, taking out other bombers. Also, apparently the knowledge of the "sweet spot" came from events in the video game Star Wars Battlefront II - which I haven't played.
Overall, a fun scene to watch.
Poe Dameron and Amilyn Holdo
Poe Dameron is a hot-headed cockpit jockey, looking to be a hero and not a leader. Because of his disobeying orders, the Resistance has lost all of its much-needed bombers and all of the lives of the people on board. And for his sins, he gets slapped by General Organa and demoted from Commander to Captain (in the Star Wars universe, the rank structure is Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Commander, Colonel, General/Admiral). His defense is that there were a lot of heroes out there, to which Leia responds: "Dead heroes; no leaders."
Poe is the representation of two things: fragile masculinity and growing into leadership. Now, I am not saying that Poe in himself is a fragile male - what I am saying is that it is what he is representing. After the Resistance Leadership is killed and Leia is hospitalized, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo takes command ("the chain of command is clear," Commander Larma D'Acy says, assuring us that even this eventuality was planned for), and Poe is surprised. “That’s Admiral Holdo?" He quipped to fellow pilot C'ai Threnalli. "Battle of Chyron Belt Admiral Holdo? Not what I was expecting." The audience is expecting what Poe is expecting - another hotshot war hero who is masculine and daring, much like the heroes of Star Wars past. But instead we see a middle-aged, tall woman with dyed hair who is high-femme - turning what we expect of war heroes on its head. And every interaction Poe has with Holdo is one where he is trying to exert his non-existent authority and she is putting him back in his place, to the point where he leads a mutiny against her. The fragile masculinity that he represents cannot handle being out of the loop, and he demands answers instead of respecting the chain of command (and respecting the chain of command should have been something covered at the New Republic Starfleet Academy) to the point of putting additional lives in danger by staging a mutiny.
I also said that he represents growing into leadership. After the attack on the Resistance Fleet, as the remainder of the Resistance is fleeing on transports to Crait, the First Order detects the small craft and opens fire on them, ignoring the Raddus. Holdo turns the Raddus around, and as she does, some of the junior officers on one of the shuttles thinks that she is fleeing, but Poe realizes what she is doing. And so do we, as she completes the maneuver and engages the hyperdrive, doing the last thing that she will ever do: strike a blow to the First Order. We are greeted with a moment of silence and amazing cinematography, as Snoke's flagship, the Supremacy, as well as a number of other Star Destroyers, are split by a blinding white light, cut in two by one Star Cruiser going to lightspeed right through them. We, the audience, along with Holdo, are given the juxtaposition of incredible light and incredible silence as we watch her final act - the act of a hero saving her people. And Poe is learning from her - she is more interested in saving the light, keeping the spark going, instead of being a hero. We see that during the Battle of Crait, as he and his new squadron of falling apart Ski Speeders are attempting to knock out the Battering Ram Cannon - he orders a retreat when the battle becomes hopeless, as there is no point in wasting more lives as their objective is already lost. And finally, he realizes that Luke Skywalker is giving them a chance to escape the First Order, that they are "the spark that will burn the First Order down" and that it is their duty to leave.
Attack on the Resistance Fleet
The First Order was able to track the remainder of the Resistance through hyperspace with a new technology - Hyperspace Tracking. This is supposed to be impossible - time and again, our heroes have been able to escape the villains by going to lightspeed. Unless a tracking device is on board (such as on the Millennium Falcon during the escape from the first Death Star), it is impossible to track anyone going FTL, until now. This is a callback to a scene in Rogue One, where Jyn Erso and Captain Cassian Andor are on Scarif attempting to steal the Death Star plans. This is a nice connection between the Star Wars Anthology Series and the mainline films.
The Attack on the Resistance Fleet sets up a number of things for us. Aside from the aforementioned Poe Dameron/Amilyn Holdo conflict, we also get to see the extent of Leia Organa's Force powers - she is able to sense Kylo Ren in a similar fashion to how Luke Skywalker was able to sense Darth Vader during The Empire Strikes Back, and then is able to survive the destruction of the Raddus's bridge and exposure to space. My personal hypothesis is that, a moment before being exposed to vacuum, she uses the Force to wrap herself in a small oxygen envelope, just enough to survive being in vacuum for extended periods so that she could fly back to the Raddus. To me, aside from creating the conflict needed within the Resistance, this also proves how powerful of a Force user Leia is, settling many debates.
Rose Tico and Finn
We are introduced to a new character, Rose Tico. Her introduction is her guarding the escape pods on the Raddus while crying, because her sister, Paige Tico, had died on board the bomber Cobalt Hammer during the disastrous attack on the Fulminatrix. She meets "The Finn," a Resistance Hero who knows "Right from Wrong" and is very awkward about it, not being used to "doing talking." She is the common person, the one who in the background, and she gets to stun Finn because he is trying to desert. Granted, he is trying to desert in order to keep Rey safe, but that causes Rose to find Finn to be a selfish traitor.
Rose looks like what she is throughout the movie: a mechanic on a starship. In my headcannon, she is holding the rank of Technician First Class; that happened because she works behind the pipes, she knows how to work systems, she is wearing dirty coveralls, and she has tools on her. And she comes from Hays Minor, a world that the First Order strip-mined before using for weapons tests. This gives her a certain perspective of rich people - that they are the worst people in the galaxy. We get to see that on Canto Bight, as Finn is loving all the glitz and glamour and is unable to understand why Rose hates this place. She tells him to look closer, and as he looks through binoculars, she explains that her world was one that was exploited by these people - people who are abusing the fathiers and the child labor caring for them for the use on the Canto Bight Racetrack.
Finn, on the other hand, continues being the one who wants to run away. His first goal is to keep his first friend (or second friend, depending on one's point of view), Rey, safe, and his second goal is to never be FN-2187 ever again. He's done his part in the fight for the Resistance: Starkiller Base has been destroyed, his skills have been put to use, and now it is time to go. He knows how ruthless the First Order is, and he fears them.
We get to see in Finn be startled at the unexpected, awed by new experiences, and learn to look beyond the surface. He is a wonderful character, but the writers have missed a wonderful opportunity with him - Finn is a former Stormtrooper, taken from his family at birth and given a designation instead of a name. Most of the First Order's Stormtrooper's are (an exception to this rule is Captain Phasma), never knowing who their families are or where they come from, and Finn seems to have no problem with killing other Stormtroopers. The missed opportunity here is having compassion for his former siblings-in-arms, the others who were also captured as infants and raised in captivity to be anonymous soldiers; and opportunity to free them and the next generation of Stormtroopers. Instead, he is a token - the perfect Stormtrooper who has escaped a life of evil to join the good guys. Flawed, yes - selfish, scared, but lacking that bit that would give his story arc more meaning.
Rose and Finn together are two of the three underclass heroes (the third person being Rey) in the movie, impoverished or owned by the government since birth, and are important to the survival of the Resistance. But though we're given a side-story about arms dealers and criticism of the rich, we're left hanging - Canto Bight gets trashed (which was fun to see), and we meet DJ and get a lesson about being gears in a machine: "They blow you up today, you blow them up tomorrow. It's just business," he says to Finn after it is discovered that the ship that they stole belongs to an arms dealer who sold to both the Resistance and First Order alike. We see the holograms of products sold by Sienar-Jaemus Fleet Systems and Incom-FreiTek, showing us that the arms dealers and the middlemen don't really care who they are selling to, as long as they can line their pockets with money. It would be nice for there to have been follow-through on that, have a conclusive statement about class divisions, economic schisms, or the besieged underclass. Just, something more.
Luke Skywalker and Snoke
Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master and hero to the galaxy, is in hiding. He went into self-imposed exile on Ahch-To, the location of the First Jedi Temple, after his training temple was destroyed by Kylo Ren. It was his plan to die in exile, as he believed that it was time for the Jedi to end. He came to believe that the Jedi Knights had wrongly become deified, as it was at the height of the Jedi's power that the Sith was able to rise, Darth Sidious was able to take over the Old Republic, and that it was a Jedi Master who trained Darth Vader. "I only know one truth," Luke says. "It’s time for the Jedi to end." The Force does not belong to the Jedi, but rather it belongs to everyone, and Luke intends to be the last of the Jedi Religion. No more Church of the Force, no more Guardians of the Whills, no more Jedi Order. And I have to agree with him.
The Jedi has been built up to be this great divine right, this aristocratic thing that is passed down family lines, trained from Master to Apprentice, kept to a single powerful group. The Skywalkers: Anakin, Luke, Leia, and Ben. Each one of them are strong in the Force, and they are the centers of the stories. And it is time for that to change - the Force belongs to everybody. The Light will not die if the Jedi are gone - it will still be there, and the Jedi are not the sole owners of the Force. The movie is attempting to move towards democratization - the Force belongs to all, the cast is diverse (the new lead Resistance characters are portrayed by a White English female, Black English male, a Vietnamese-American female, and a Guatemalan-American male) and the heroes are working-class. Luke's actions are those of shame and great loss, resolution and closure. And we're given a great end to Luke Skywalker - shortly after we're introduced to him in A New Hope, he is watching the binary sunset on Tatooine; after he is born and Obi-Wan Kenobi brings him to Owen and Beru Lars at the end of Revenge of the Sith, Owen and Beru watch the binary sunset on Tatooine; and at the end of The Last Jedi, when Luke becomes one with the Force, he is watching the binary sunset on Ahch-To.
Where Luke is our representation of a master of the light side of the Force, Supreme Leader Snoke is our representation of a master of the dark side of the Force. He is tall, gaunt, typically evil-looking, and has the powers that we have come to associate with the Sith - but neither he nor Kylo Ren are Sith Lords. Snoke is a very strong practitioner of the Force, and Kylo is the master of the Knights of Ren (and perhaps a Dark Jedi, depending on one's point of view and if the term becomes canon again). He is the mastermind that runs the First Order, a monster who is pulling the galactic strings with three goals in mind:
1. End the Jedi.
2: Kill Luke Skywalker.
3: Rule the galaxy.
And yet, Snoke was not the true villain of the piece - that distinction belongs to Kylo Ren.
Rey and Kylo Ren
In this movie, we discover that Rey is... nobody. She has no part in this story, except for the fact that the chain of events led her into becoming a part of the story. Her parents were junk traders who sold her for drinking money, and have since died and are in a pauper's grave somewhere on Jakku. She is not some destined hero, the heir in the line of royalty and Jedi, but rather a person who is yearning to know her parents and has learned to survive in a harsh environment as a nobody. It is that lack of bloodline that makes her character even more special - she is who she is because she chooses to be. Yes, she is strong in the force, but her actions are hers. She may stand with the heirs of the great bloodline (Luke and Leia), but she is doing it for herself.
She finds Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To, and attempts to get him to train her in the ways of the Force. During the course of events there, we meet the Caretakers, the female Lanai who considered it their sacred duty to maintain the upkeep of the Temple Island and the ancient Jedi Village. We get to see something that happens in real life - a white person needs to get their head straightened out, and they go off somewhere and bother the indigenous persons who are leading their lives, much to their frustration.
It is here on Ahch-To that Rey begins to learn more about herself - she begins to gain control of the Force, she questions Luke's role in turning Ben Solo into Kylo Ren, and she is on her own journey of discovery. She's not able to get Luke to rejoin the rest of the galaxy, and so she goes off to face Kylo alone and try to turn him back to the Light. Luke doesn't even want the famed Skywalker Lightsaber, and it is up to Rey to save the galaxy.
Kylo Ren, however, is the true villain in the movie, the counter to Rey. He chooses to embrace the dark side of the Force, decides to remain evil. He lets countless people die and decides to rule the galaxy with an iron fist.
After he kills Snoke and he and Rey fight the Elite Praetorian Guard, he pleads with Rey to join him and wipe away the old order. Let it all die and start anew, and rule the galaxy together (each trilogy now having one "join me and we can rule the galaxy" line). Kylo wants the Jedi, the Republic, the Resistance, and the First Order to all end and to start over with a clean slate.
Kylo is driven by emotion, susceptible to temper-tantrums - in The Force Awakens, his tantrums cause patrolling Stormtroopers to turn around and walk back (these two Stormtroopers now known as "Nope" and "Hard Pass") - and in The Last Jedi, he continues to act in a similar manner when he does not get his way. His wavering between the Light and the Dark and his anger with himself for feeling the draw to the Light turns into resolve, but even with resolve he still throws tantrums (and sometimes people, as during the Battle of Crait he throws Hux across the shuttle for pointing out that he is letting himself become distracted). He is what is dangerous: a privileged male who cannot take no for an answer.
The Battle of Crait
The Battle of Crait is where the movie comes to a conclusion. The remainder of the Resistance, which at this point is calling itself the Rebels, is holed up in Crait Outpost, trying to reach their allies in the Outer Rim. Rose and Finn escape the First Order, calls are made, First Order troops are landed, and we get to see two final battles. The first battle is the Resistance in their Ski Speeders trying to knockout the Battering Ram Cannon, which they fail at, despite Rey and Chewbacca arriving in the Falcon to draw off the TIE Fighters. Finn attempts to sacrifice himself to destroy the cannon, and we see his craft begin to disintegrate around him - personally, I don't think that it would have worked if he made it. In my mind, and forgive me for referencing Star Trek in a Star Wars post, but it would have been like when Commodore Matt Decker flew a Class-F Shuttlecraft into the maw of the Doomsday Machine - the speeder (or what was left of it) wasn't enough to do enough damage to stop the First Order from achieving their goal. Rose prevents Finn from sacrificing himself, and when he asks her why, she says, "I saved you, dummy. That’s how we’re going to win — not by fighting what we hate; by saving what we love." This is a wonderful view of how to fight hate - by saving love, protecting those whom we care about.
The second battle is Luke Skywalker versus Kylo Ren. Luke is Force-projecting himself from Ahch-To, though no one seems to realize this at first. Kylo orders all of the ground forces, the AT-ATs and the Super AT-ATs (actually the AT-M6, but they look like a super AT-AT), to unleash their full firepower at Luke, which does nothing. He then faces Luke alone, where Luke says that he has failed Ben, and that if Kylo strikes Luke down in hatred that he will always be with him, much like his father. This is Luke's ending, an ending of his choosing that he has prepared for. He dies on Ahch-To, while the Resistance escapes to keep the Light of the Rebellion alive. At the same time, as the Resistance is escaping through the tunnels, Rey uses the force to lift several rocks and boulders so that everyone can get out of the caves to freedom. And so we get to see the end of how we used to perceive the Jedi, and as an extension, the movies, and at the same time we see the beginning of what the Jedi, and the movies, will become.
Rose kisses Finn, possibly hinting at the start of romantic feelings. I'm hoping that it is meant to be a platonic love, because of everything that they've been through together - turn our expectations on its head once again. That would be fantastic.
At the beginning of the Battle of Crait, we see a grizzled veteran walk out while his soldiers are in the trench - to me, he looked like he should be the old Sergeant Major, who knows all and is brave for the youngsters, officer and enlisted alike, who are serving with him. Turns out he is actually a general: General Caluan Ematt. I liked what was in my head better, but that's how humans are, I guess.
It's good to know that Nien Nunb survives, especially after Admiral Ackbar died on board the Raddus. Apparently, Nien Numb holds the rank of Lieutenant Commander, which doesn't have a distinct rank insignia - I imagine that it must be the same as Major, but blue instead of red in color, despite what the source material says.
What happened to Home One?
The guy who sticks his finger on the ground and licks what he picks up during the prelude to the Battle of Crait invoked the image of a middle-aged Sergeant, knowledgeable and hardened, fearing nothing. Granted, licking alien sand is a stupid idea, even if it is salt - NaCl is essential to human life, Na2SO4 is non-toxic (but should be handled with care), and FCH2CO2Na is a metabolic poison that tastes like Na2SO4. Anyway, it turns out that this soldier has a name: Sergeant "Salty" Sharp.
Amilyn Holdo is introduced as being a Vice Admiral. When Commander D'Acy introduces her, right before we see her, I'm thinking, "how are they going to show an insignia for Vice Admiral? The Resistance rank structure does not allow for it." As I mentioned earlier, the Resistance rank structure goes straight from Colonel to General/Admiral - there is nothing for Vice Admiral. And then we see Admiral Holdo, resplendent in her dress and hair adornment, and we discover that the costume department took perhaps the best way out of this issue - they just completely ignored it. And it makes total sense, as Admiral Holdo is the senior-most officer on her ship, and now the leader of the Resistance while General Organa is recovering in sickbay.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on The Last Jedi. Please feel free to leave a comment!
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