Today I re-watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi with my brother and my father and I was delighted just how rewarding the second viewing is. The first time watching the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise was a strange experience and I left the cinema slightly confused, but after thinking about it for some time, it made more sense and after going to the theater a second time I realized that I had only gotten a brief glimpse at Rian Johnson’s brilliance the first time.
The first thing that struck me was how great Poe Dameron’s character arc actually is. It’s a clever subversion of the daredevil archetype. I popular mass media male daredevils are most often portrayed as the unambiguous heroes who might have a minor, but in the end insignificant, character flaw. Getting people killed, that is. In The Last Jedi, this role is played by Poe Dameron, but he is never rewarded for sacrificing the entire resistance fleet. Instead, he is punished by Leia, who fits perfectly into the role of Poe’s wise mentor, by degrading him and later by stopping his plan. Leia’s mentoring and the apparent failure of his plan to prevent the First Order from tracking the remaining ship make him realize just how misguided his idea of leadership is. The only thing that bothered me in his character arc was the fact that Vice Admiral Holdo’s only purpose is to serve his character arc and hence she doesn’t have an arc of her own which makes her sacrifice in the end almost meaningless to the audience.
Coincidentally, that’s also Rose’s fate. The movie attempts to give her an arc, but the brief episode in the casino on Canto Bight is barely worth mentioning beyond how much it lacks subtlety and how crammed into the movie it feels. Criticizing capitalism might be a noble thing to do, but in a movie that is about so many things at the same time, it just feels out of place.
She does a great job at serving Finn’s character arc, though. It might not be explicitly shown in The Last Jedi, but his arc from becoming selfless after being selfish throughout The Force Awakens. This is why I think Rian Johnson is brilliant. He got to continue the new trilogy from J J Abrams and did so with greatness. Not only did he come up with great story arcs for Poe and Luke, he successfully continued Finn’s and Rey’s story arc from the previous film and managed to conclude Finn’s without killing him off. And that’s where Rose comes in and makes up for her own bad arc by introducing a new, more subtle one for Finn because, and I might be reading too much into this, she gives him a deep relationship that goes far beyond the superficial crush he had for Rey in The Force Awakens.
I think Rey is the real protagonist of the new trilogy, although the movies spend a great deal of time with Finn and Poe, because her journey is the most multifaceted. Much like Luke in the original trilogy, she is searching for her place in the galaxy far, far away and has to deal with themes of destiny and her past. A comparison to Luke might even be a good way to look at Rey because Rian Johnson set her path up as a clever subversion of Luke’s. At the end of The Empire Strikes Back it is famously revealed (Spoiler warning) that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, which significantly changes his journey and makes it more personal. Re, on the other hand, turns out to be the child of some unimportant drunks who died without any legacy whatsoever. That makes her fight against the First Order less personal than Luke’s against the Empire but gives her character a lot more idealism and compassion for those who suffer, making her arc arguably more contemporary to the backdrop of the worldwide rise of fascism.
Another character that becomes even more interesting when compared to Luke (and therefore Rey) is Kylo Ren because in a sense Kylo aspires to be Rey. He is constantly reduced to his famous family and their bloodline. This led to his need of proving himself and trying to achieve greatness and simultaneously cutting himself off from his past by trying to literally kill it. This might be the only inconsistency of the new trilogy, because despite this being extremely interesting, it does not fit who he was in The Force Awakens, in which he was obsessed with Vader’s legacy. But this focus on becoming a blank slate, rejecting his past and the need to go down his own path by rejecting both the Jedi and the Sith, makes him aspire to be Rey, who is a blank slate without a famous bloodline, without her future being shaped by the past and without her achievements being compared to her ancestor’s. One thing that bugged me was that he never seemed to bother about still being in the First Order after he killed Snoke. He wants to cut his ties to everything from the past and somehow still doesn’t leave the First Order, an organization built by his master, another relic of the past he kills in his search for freedom and not an organization of his making at all. I hope that in the sequel he renounces the First Order without joining the Resistance.
But maybe the most interesting character in all of The Last Jedi is Luke, being his last major appearance in the franchise. Coming up with a new character arc for one of the most recognizable characters in modern history was probably the hardest thing to do for Rian Johnson and it appears as if he was not successful in satisfying a few very vocal fans of the franchise. But I can’t understand them because after viewing The Last Jedi a second time, I’m convinced that Rian Johnson is at least a half-god in storytelling. He could have gone the easy route and write the aged Luke as a cheap knock-off from Ben Kenobi in A New Hope, but he didn’t. Instead, he turned the protagonist who went through the textbook example of the heroes journey into a broken old man who failed and never recovered from his mistakes. Unable to forgive himself, he hides on a desert planet, hoping to die a lonely death, never to see the people he disappointed ever again. The story of his failure is told in flashbacks and because we know both characters involved we immediately get a sense of perspective on Luke and Kylo Ren. In the end, Luke doesn’t die a hero, but he tries to redeem himself after having failed to prevent Ben Solo from following the path to the dark side by holding him off and guaranteeing the revival of the Resistance. His path is the uplifting journey from a broken man, suffering from his past mistakes, to a man who is healed from the scars of the past and able to die in peace. I have no idea how some people can miss the beauty of that. On a side note, I also like how he dies in the tradition of his masters and passes away on his own terms and becoming more powerful than Kylo Ren could ever imagine.
What did you think of my The Last Jedi analysis? Would you add anything? Let me know in the comments and on Twitter.