The Last Jedi: A Force of Unprecedented Change

A Franchise Attempt at Unconventionality Aims High, Comes Up Short

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The Last Jedi: A Force of Unprecedented Change

Kylo Ren, once the apprentice of legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, forgoes an internal struggle with the light in

Kylo Ren, once the apprentice of legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, forgoes an internal struggle with the light in "The Last Jedi"

Jarel White

Kylo Ren, once the apprentice of legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, forgoes an internal struggle with the light in "The Last Jedi"

Jarel White

Jarel White

Kylo Ren, once the apprentice of legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, forgoes an internal struggle with the light in "The Last Jedi"

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“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” These words uttered by The Last Jedi’s primary antagonist, Kylo Ren, symbolize the film’s desire to differentiate itself from its predecessors. Yes, the opening sequence is taken straight from the Force Awakens’ resolution, but that’s all this unconventional film borrows from its antecedents. Between the previously unexplored philosophical themes subtly embedded into the film’s overarching narrative, the unprecedented characterization of its protagonists and antagonists, and a massive tonal shift from hopeful, to something more subdued, the movie certainly encapsulates this message.

When an established property makes considerable changes, backlash is bound to ensue. No matter the rationale, people tend to go into a frenzy when massive revisions to their favorite genres challenge their preexisting notions. Just look at the casting of Heath Ledger as Batman’s most iconic villain, the Joker, or Matt Reeve’s reboot of the culturally phenomenal Planet of the Ape series. The disparity between critical and fan reception, however, has never been more conspicuous in such a beloved and influential property.

It is worthwhile to examine the changes made to the saga, and explore a possible solution for how Lucasfilms could combat this growing divide.


Spoiler Warning: 

Episode I: Philosophical Undertones

Grey Area in the Good vs. Evil Dilemma 

Every film in the main saga has focused on the age-old philosophical question, what makes someone or something good or evil? According to these films, good is easily distinguishable, as too is evil. The evil characters tend to be overly malicious, and the good-natured characters tend to be exaggeratedly romanticized. Although riddled with flaws, George Lucas and JJ Abrams make sure to maintain the illusion that these good characters have no underlying malevolent motives.

The Last Jedi, however, continuously questions this notion by showcasing both sides through different lenses. In range of his mother’s location on the Resistance’s star cruiser, Kylo Ren has the opportunity to decimate one of its prominent figures. After killing his father, however, Kylo hesitates, demonstrating a remorseful side. Equally, the questionable decision to strike down his nephew eventually leaves Luke Skywalker in a state of perpetual regret.

The inescapable conclusion we are led to is that bad people are capable of doing good things, just as good people have the ability to do bad things. A person’s actions doesn’t define their nature, rather, it is the acceptance of these dual personas that can result in a balanced individual. At the end of the film, Ren accepts this notion, resulting in an individual who is neither light or dark.

As DJ says, “Good guys, bad guys, made-up words. Let’s see who formerly owned this gorgeous hunk-uh. Ah, this guy was an arms dealer. Made his bank selling weapons to the bad guys. Oh… And the good.”

Perception vs. Reality 

A person’s perception of events also plays an important part in The Last Jedi’s profound themes. In Ren’s eyes, Skywalker essentially betrayed him when he mercilessly stared down at him in his slumber, ready to strike his lightsaber. As Luke saw it, however, Ben betrayed him for attempting to end his life even after pleading for him to stop. The reality of the confrontation, however, sees Luke sensing Kylo’s inner darkness, and, in an effort to combat it before it leads to irreversible consequences, contemplates ending his life. His postulation, however, leads to his guilt, and before he can even disengage his lightsaber, Ren, completely unaware of the situation, ignites his, ensuring his path of destruction.

Rey’s perception of the legendary Luke Skywalker is also challenged when she finally experiences his uncompromising personality first-hand. Believing Luke to be infallible, Rey shortly discovers in her journey of self discovery that the respectable Resistance icon is nothing more than an empty, guilt-ridden individual. She observes the human aspects of his character, as opposed to the perceived legends encompassing him throughout the galaxy. Seeing as the film takes place 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the legend surrounding Luke Skywalker’s efforts against the malevolent Empire must be largely distorted and exaggerated. Rey’s perception of him, then, should be no different. Coming to the realization that these romanticized stories of a galactic icon aren’t the objective truth, both Rey and the audience are forced to accept that their perception doesn’t equate to reality.

Nostalgia vs. Originality

“It’s time to let old things die.” Kylo Ren once again comes to this consensus when attempting to convince Rey to join him in his pursuit to usher the galaxy into supreme rule. It’s as if he’s attempting to revoke this sentimentality in the audience, convincing them to let go of their established notion of what a Star Wars film should be and usher in an age of original movie watching prosperity.

The Force Awakens was tirelessly littered with conventional tropes previously explored by it’s predecessors. To that end, many complained that the series lacked originality.

The push to create something original while maintaining continuity was something The Last Jedi set out to achieve. It would build off what it’s predecessors set before it, but it would also propel the story in new directions. This desire to remain original had appeased fans wanting something dissimilar, but not the majority who wanted to maintain the status quo.

Nostalgia evokes emotions previously experienced by the audience member, but to create something truly original, new emotions can be garnered simply by elevating the expectations of these same audience members. In that sense, the movie constantly argues the need to promote innovative works.

As Kylo Ren says, “No, no, you’re still… holding on! Let go!” 

Episode II: Characterization

Luke Skywalker

When compared to the originals, the depiction of optimistic hero Luke Skywalker is so incredibly altered, he is practically unrecognizable. Once preaching the ideology that people are inherently good, he now resides on a secluded island, living the rest of his days in self-imposed exile. Because of his central role in the creation of menacing galactic icon Kylo Ren, the once revered Jedi master cuts himself off from the force, fully committing to his belief that the Jedi’s existence must cease.

Of course avid fans of the film saga were disheartened. Luke Skywalker, a symbol of hope, would never turn his back on the galaxy’s inhabitants, no matter the circumstance. If Luke was confronted with an impasse of conflicting emotions within his pupil, he would attempt to instill his light side, to ensure he’d remain on the proper course. It betrayed the audience’s perceived notions of the character, which led to understandable public outcry.

Kylo Ren (Ben Solo)

Upon The Force Awakens release, many complained that one of its various antagonist, Kylo Ren, didn’t fit the archetypes associated with a typical Star Wars villain. For some, he lacked the intimidating factor that made Darth Vader so compelling. His unconventionality in characterization turned off many audience members, so much so, that he still remains a major factor in the film’s criticism.

Instead of creating a one-dimensional enemy to our protagonists, writer/director Rian Johnson layered Skywalker’s former apprentice Ben Solo with human-like flaws, like his ties with the light and the dark aspects of the force. Bearing in mind his characterization from the previous film, Johnson delivers a satisfying conclusion to his internal struggle, by allowing him to come to terms with the fact that they are one in the same.

Attempting to live up to his grandfather’s intimidating legacy, Ben Solo (also known as Kylo Ren) struggles with the torment inflicted on him when he kills his father, as well as that inflicted by his master Supreme Leader Snoke.  Preying on his desire to become as fearsome as the mythical Darth Vader, Snoke constantly manipulates Ren into acting on his malevolent side, and even forcibly connects him to our protagonist, Rey, via the force.

Unexpectedly matched with Rey, Ren opens up about his internal schism, neither relating to the light nor the dark. He also tells her about the night he became Kylo Ren, after his former master, Luke Skywalker’s, betrayal. This leads Rey into believing that Ren can be redeemed,  soon learning that this action is unfeasible (at least, hopefully, until Episode 9).

Kylo’s emotional journey creates a interesting and original Star Wars villain. His insistence at the end of the film to balance the light and the dark inside establishes a intriguing concept full of endless possibilities. It’ll be interesting to see how JJ Abrams plans on incorporating this aspect into the trilogy’s final installment.

Episode III: Expectations and Tone

The Last Jedi subverts audiences’ expectations in favor of adhering to its quintessential message. The narrative, constructed by one of film’s innovative architects, Rian Johnson, essentially serves to appease the director’s burgeoning appetite for something unique and compelling. As a result, the film changes the very essence established by its predecessors, by establishing a darker tone.

Between tensions built up by the impending threat the First Order imposes on the Rebellion’s future, Luke Skywalker’s reluctance to live up to his legacy, and its overbearing emphasis on sacrifice; the movie retains its dark nature throughout. The movie shows the repercussions of its character’s actions, i.e. Rose and Finn trusting Benicio Del Toro’s code-breaking DJ, or Poe’s reckless behavior in a crisis situation, which ultimately accounts for  numerous casualties on both sides.

This darker tone has certainly been explored in the series’ other films, with Rogue One and Empire Strikes Back coming to mind, but never in this fashion. The negative light in which war is perceived has never been a focal point in the series, and so too haven’t the effects of a character’s actions.


Episode IV: My Review

The Last Jedi was an underwhelming compilation of interesting concepts.  At times, the movie extends beyond the pinnacle of grandiose film-making, with vibrant visuals and thought-provoking themes. But the constant bombardment of filler-like content and nonsensical plot points sadly propels this film downwards.  A truly middling film from a typically solid director.

The good: 

Kylo’s Ren’s arc (internal light and dark schism)

Rey and Kylo’s force-connection dynamic

Kylo and Rey vs. Imperial Guard’s action sequence (Beautiful visuals)

Visually striking (Demonstrates the boundless possibilities of film-shot scenes)

The bad:

It’s a bird… It’s a plane…  It’s a flying Leia sequence!

Entire Rose and Finn arc

Light-speed ship collision

Luke-force projection

Benicio Del Toro’s character (WHY?!!! He’s a legend!)

Dour Luke

Snoke’s death (What was his purpose, again?)

Explanation of Rey’s Lineage (all that build up for nothing)

Green Alien breast milk

Most importantly, the disappointing ending!!!

Episode V: Peer Review

George Haramis
Jarel White interviews avid Star Wars fan, Elim Utterback

George Haramis
Jacob Barton, a vocal detractor of the film, surmises that Lucas could have done a better job with the project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The film is littered with a variety of narrative inconsistencies. It was awful.”

-Peter Stauffer, 12th grader at LHS

“Disney ruined the property. Lucas needs to take his rightful throne at the series’ helm.”

-Jack Barrow, 12th grader at LHS

“It was kind of s***ty.”

-Elim Utterback, 12th grader at LHS

“If you thought the prequels were bad, just look at Johnson’s latest stinker. It doesn’t come close to the originals.” 

-Jacob Barton, 12th grader at LHS

“Prequels were better. 100%.”

Bryan Murphy, 12th grader at LHS

“Although I didn’t personally enjoy the film, The Last Jedi didn’t deserve the misogynistic and racial hate it received. The toxic internet culture, in particular, has been uncharacteristically hostile, likely due to unconventional paths the plot takes. The film had interesting concepts, but the execution of those concepts didn’t translate to audience approval.”

Daniel Downs, history teacher at LHS

“Look at the film’s visuals compared to the originals. They tell a pretty intriguing story. The twin suns rise as Luke dies, but in the originals, the sun falls before Luke’s voyage. Also, look at the fight between him and Ren. His posture is similar to Ben Kenobi’s in A New Hope.”

“In the movie, Luke believes himself to be a Jedi Master. It isn’t until Yoda once again has to slap him upside the head with knowledge that he realizes that he was never a master; that he just has to do the best that he can. That, in essence, makes him a better teacher.”

-George Roesch, science teacher at LHS


Episode VI: A New Hope in Episode IX

With the recent fan backlash these films have garnered, a change of course is necessary if Disney hopes to continue its upward financial trend.

With company executives deeming Episode 9 a course correction for the series, the last installment in the Skywalker saga will certainly determine the fate of Lucasfilm’s future projects.

It is that much more important for Abrams, then, to segment the divided factions by simultaneously embedding his work with nostalgic and original concepts. For the film to be universally loved, he must expand on the ideas set out by its predecessors in new and refreshing ways, whilst respecting the established continuity. He must piece together the loose plot points established by The Force Awakens, such as the Knights of Ren and Snoke’s identity, which were not addressed by its successors. Ultimately, Abrams mustn’t retcon any elements developed by the former, no matter the general disdain it may have garnered.

On the actual production side, Lucasfilm needs to give its content creators more flexibility. Firing Phil Lord and Chris Miller, two acclaimed directors, in favor of sticking to their original vision ultimately hurt the box office and critical reception of their second anthology film, Solo: A Star Wars Story. At the same time, Lucasfilm must demonstrate that they’re actively concerned with their fans’ opinions. If Kathleen Kennedy continues to incite issues with the fan-base due to consumer complaint, then she should be removed from her position as president. Finally, the company should take its time developing new projects in the series. Concluding the Clone Wars television series was a smart move, as it is well received by the majority, but two more trilogies extending beyond the Skywalker narrative is a bit too much. They should increase the gap that these films are released, as to allow for novelty.  Ultimately, these issues have primarily arisen within the company’s itself.

With the currently untitled movie finishing up principal production, its up to Abrams to deliver an experience that appeases both critics and fans. The fate of the series depends on it.


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