In defense of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Today marks three years since that fateful day when the Star Wars fandom was ripped apart forever: the day Star Wars: The Last Jedi landed in theaters and became the most controversial film in franchise history.

The years since TLJ’s release have been defined by thinkpieces, arguments, hot takes and 20-minute-long YouTube videos explaining in detail why The Last Jedi is the worst/greatest movie of all time.

There seems to be no point in continuing to make arguments for or against the movie. After all, you’re only going to be met with backlash. It’s like talking to a brick wall – like setting yourself up for failure.

But, I don’t care about that. Welcome to my defense of The Last Jedi. It’s in my top three Star Wars movies of all time, behind The Empire Strikes Back and Rogue One, in that order.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

Disclaimer: We will be ignoring the events of The Rise of Skywalker, which was a corny attempt at offering fanservice that would silence the “The Last Jedi ruined my childhood” crowd, when discussing this film.

The Last Jedi questions everything we know about Star Wars.

I hate predictability. I believe there needs to be a balance in films when it comes to mastering the art of unpredictability. For example, killing off a character just for shock value is a cheap attempt at unpredictability. However, putting characters through trials and tests in a way that surprises audiences and causes them to question the status quo is a recipe for a brilliant storyline.

The Last Jedi went against the grain in every sense of the word and mastered the art of unpredictability. It threw every expected plotline and every fan theory out the window in favor of revelations that, while shocking, just made sense and gave the sequel trilogy a much needed fresh take on Star Wars.

The first of these moments comes right at the film’s beginning, when Rey hands Luke Skywalker his lightsaber as a plea to train her in the ways of the force. The expected move would have been for the legendary Jedi to train the young heroine. 

Instead, he chucks the lightsaber. Literally chucks it. Then he milks a giant creature. 

The Luke we see in The Last Jedi is vastly different from the golden boy portrayed in the original Star Wars trilogy. For all of his life, Luke has experienced firsthand the internal struggle between the light and the dark side. In his closest brush with the dark side, he experiences a moment of weakness that changes the course of his family’s future forever. TLJ Luke is old, vulnerable and disheartened by his mistakes – mistakes that contributed to a crushing impact on his own family. 

Many argued that Luke was wildly mischaracterized in TLJ, but I ask: when did having a raw, emotionally vulnerable response to a devastating event become a quality that a hero can’t possess? When did fear become something that a hero can’t experience?

It was refreshing to see Luke have a human response to being a factor in his nephew’s turn to the dark side. It was undoubtedly a bold move by director Rian Johnson, but it felt real. Luke running from the ways of the Jedi captured the heart of The Last Jedi’s main theme (to be discussed later).

The next of those moments came when Rey learned that her parents were “nobodies” (for the purposes of this piece, we will ignore the events of The Rise of Skywalker). For the entirety of the two years in between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, fans speculated about Rey’s origins. Was she a Skywalker? Was she a Kenobi? What Jedi did she have a connection to?

The Last Jedi answered that question with the most nuclear option of all: no one. She didn’t have a connection to any of them. She wasn’t a Kenobi. She wasn’t a Skywalker. She was just…Rey.

In a trilogy that drew from the nostalgia of its predecessors, but had a new set of faces at the forefront, giving Rey her own story separate from beloved characters was the right move. It was a move that symbolized the end of an era – that the future of Star Wars, though it would never forget its past, would be full of new faces with new stories to tell.

The third of those moments came when Kylo Ren killed Supreme Leader Snoke, who appeared to be the trilogy’s main villain. 

Snoke’s death, and the subsequent indication at the time that Kylo himself would be the main antagonist moving forward was crucial to what seemed to be the overarching theme (again, that will be discussed later) of the sequel trilogy. Maybe the trilogy’s villain wasn’t meant to be one big bad dark force. Maybe its antagonist was the fallout of choices made and wars fought by characters that came before those of the sequel trilogy.

Of course, the scene in Snoke’s throne room also gives us Kylo’s unforgettable “it’s time to let old things die” speech, which brings me to my next point…

It’s the best Star Wars movie thematically.

The overarching theme of The Last Jedi centers on questioning the status quo – a much different approach than its predecessor trilogies, which featured a clearer good versus evil, took. 

In The Last Jedi, the lines between good and bad, between success and failure, and between right and wrong, are often blurred and questioned. 

We see a passionate Poe Dameron questioning the leadership of General Leia Organa and making crucial mistakes because of it. However, we in turn see Leia’s faith in Poe as a Resistance leader grow because of his commitment to protecting the Resistance.

We see Luke question the authority of the Jedi and the ways of the force, and rightfully so, recognizing that the temptation to choose the dark side will always be a powerful force among those who follow the way of the Jedi.

We see Rey questioning the lines between good versus evil, believing that there must be good in Kylo despite his darkness.

We see Kylo suggesting that it’s time to let the Sith, the Jedi and every way of the past die to make way for a new, less black-and-white future. And while his methods and intentions are skewed, his point…somehow makes sense. 

Of course, this takes us to the infamous Canto Bight plotline with Finn and Rose Tico, which has been heavily criticized for not making sense in the context of the movie. In the larger scheme of the movie, though, Canto Bight hits the nail on the head when it comes to questioning the status quo.

Finn and Rose go to Canto Bight with a specific mission at hand, and though they fail at their mission, they experience firsthand a disconnect between the elite and powerful of the Star Wars universe and those below them. In the midst of the glamor and wealth of Canto Bight, Finn and Rose show kindness and compassion to those impacted by an unequal society. 

Their actions on Canto Bight reveal to an even further extent that the future of the universe, beyond the Empire and Jedi Council, rests in the hands of the everyday person seeking goodness, not power.

For a sci-fi movie set in a distant galaxy, TLJ somehow feels more human than other films in the Star Wars franchise. Its characters are far from perfect and far from being larger-than-life. Nothing is black and white; they’re faced with difficult choices, consequences of their actions and a chance to take charge of their own destinies instead of following those that came before them.

And finally…

Stop calling a movie “bad” because it wasn’t what you expected it to be.

Let me repeat that: Stop calling a movie “bad” because it wasn’t what you expected it to be.

This does not apply to all of them, but the majority of arguments I see in opposition to The Last Jedi tend to circle back to “that wasn’t Star Wars” or “it ruined my childhood” or a more subtle disappointment over the fact that the theory a person had for the film didn’t play out (I’m sorry Rey wasn’t a Kenobi or a Skywalker. I’m sorry she got to have her own identity. Actually, I’m not sorry at all.) 

No, it wasn’t the Star Wars we’ve seen previously. It wasn’t the Star Wars of your childhood. It’s a new, needed take on Star Wars.

The world changes as months and years and decades go by. Of course, the same sentiment would hold true in the Star Wars universe. The heroes of the past are going to change with time. A new generation is going to rise up that may look at things a little differently. That’s exactly the course that the new trilogy was on.

It had a chance to pay tribute to the Star Wars characters of the past while allowing its new characters to step up and become the faces of a new era of the franchise. In The Last Jedi, we saw Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo taking charge of their destiny and making their own choices, while still paying their respects to those that came before them. 

Rey allowed Luke to train her so that she could step into her own destiny. Poe allowed himself to question Leia, who he respected more than anyone, and that in turn only elevated the reality that Poe was committed enough to the heart of the Resistance to become its leader one day. Finn and Rose were willing to blindly go on a questionable mission in the name of a cause they believed in, and even when the mission failed, still fulfill an important purpose. Kylo, though obviously flawed, recognized that the ways of the past would never be enough to bring order to the galaxy.

The Last Jedi wasn’t always perfect, I’ll admit it, but neither was any movie that came before it. At its heart, it was putting Star Wars on a path that would have been full of possibility.

And then, The Rise of Skywalker happened. It threw everything The Last Jedi had put into motion out the window because people complained. I hope you’re happy, TLJ haters. You caused that mess of a movie, but I’ll save that take for another day.

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