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Learning to Love Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Rian Johnson, this is my extended apology to you

Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars The Last Jedi

I used to be one of those The Last Jedi haters.

Not because there were too many women, or because it wasn’t “my” Luke Skywalker. I disliked it because I thought it teased too dangerous of a relationship between Rey and Kylo, because it sidelined Finn, and because it gave Poe a bad arc. I thought it didn’t continue the plot of The Force Awakens well and boy was I frustrated with both the parentage reveal and the fact that the climax only involved Luke and Kylo rather than the other characters.

After watching it in December and listening to the discourse surrounding it, I opted to ignore the film’s existence for a while, burying myself in other Star Wars media that made me happier.

This piece began as a conversation with fellow TMS editor Princess Weekes. We started discussing The Last Jedi from the position of fan and not fan, and I said, “maybe I need to go back and rewatch The Force Awakens and this back to back, see if I like it better.” Then the news broke that Episode IX would be the last Skywalker Saga film. While writing up that news, something clicked for me about The Last Jedi, and I began my sequel trilogy rewatch that night.

First off, I remembered how much I adored The Force Awakens. I might be a Star Wars Rebels girl at heart who loves a good Rogue One/A New Hope double feature, but there’s something about JJ Abrams’s return to a galaxy far away that melts my heart. It probably has something to do with the gorgeous cinematography, the sheer joy of the film itself, and the characters of Rey and Finn.

Finn is my second favorite Star Wars character of all time. I love Imperial defectors, but something about Finn’s courage, humor, and spirit captured my heart when I first saw the film. John Boyega delivers a terrific performance, and I adore Finn’s arc. He’s my favorite sequel trilogy character and watching him not only be a wonderful hero but a kind friend to those around him makes me flail around in delight.

And then there’s Rey. Sweet Rey, who’s angry yet compassionate, brave without being defined by some sort of gendered trauma. When she catches the lightsaber, I start to cry; I didn’t grow up with Ahsoka, so Rey is the first female Jedi in a leading role I ever saw. I feel so seen by Rey that I’m Rebel Legion approved with one of her costumes (soon to be all of her costumes). She means the world to me.

I found that The Force Awakens, with the exception of one plot thread, seemed to move towards the plot of The Last Jedi far more smoothly than I remembered. Feeling rejuvenated by re-watching a film I loved so much, I opened Netflix and turned on The Last Jedi, feeling only a little bit anxious.

The first thought I had? Wow, the opening scene is one of Star Wars’s best. The heroism of Paige Tico in the face of insurmountable darkness tied into my favorite Star Wars, Rogue One. The music, performances … really, everything about the scene is perfect. I remembered watching it on the big screen and being blown away. Even on my much smaller screen, it was incredible. Leia in particular stood out to me, both because she’s Leia and will always stand out, and because I feel like I finally grasped the thesis of the film. But more on that particular thread later.

I found myself more engaged with the film as I viewed it through a new lens. I still had issues with Poe’s arc, and how a lot of comic relief seemed to be aimed at Finn getting hurt or being in pain. I still didn’t like the ship tease of Rey and Kylo, though with my newfound idea about the film I found it less egregious. I found Luke’s gruffness far less frustrating, though I would have liked to know more about the darkness Kylo displayed that led Luke to his fateful decision.

Mostly, I found myself examining the film through the lens of it being the second to last film in a trilogy that would close off the Skywalker Saga, and through that, I found meaning in a film I struggled to understand before. The film is about new heroes learning their place in the galaxy and finding the strength to step up and lead the fight, despite not coming from a famous and iconic bloodline.

Let’s start by analyzing the actions of Luke and Leia. Luke is grieving because the Skywalker line, and the Jedi, have once more brought pain to the galaxy. His final sacrifice is giving the Resistance the legend they need one more time before sacrificing himself so they can continue to save the galaxy … without him. Leia grieves for dead pilots and fighters because she knows they need leaders to carry on after she’s gone; this is a theme that’s touched on in an issue of the Poe Dameron comic where she talks with Poe about how one day, she’ll be “luminous” too. The Skywalker elders are facing their pasts and a future where the galaxy must continue without them, and by helping Rey, Finn, and Poe, they are building a future where their legacies will be secure.

Kylo too must face a choice, and he does in a way continue what his grandfather started. But as Rey learns, just as we cannot demand that Luke be the hero of the story again, Kylo is not the hope they need just because he’s Leia’s son. Kylo might be conflicted but he still makes the choice to turn to the dark again and again. He is now the Supreme Leader of the First Order, free from his master’s abuse in a way that Anakin only was in death; unlike his grandfather though, he’ll live to see the consequences of his choices.

Rey’s story then is about learning that only she can be the Jedi hope for the galaxy. She’s shaken, confused, and traumatized after her adventure, but she has her friends by her side. In a way, as established in The Force Awakens when Finn came to rescue her and became the first person to ever do so, they’ve given her all she’s ever wanted. Rey has everything she needs, just as Leia is right in saying they have everything they need to begin the rebellion again.

Rey’s compassion for Kylo was not, as I previously and wrongly assumed, a character flaw. She has heard the myths of the Skywalker family her entire life. Of course she’ll assume Luke will be the hero from myth, and of course in her vulnerability she’ll turn to Kylo and believe that, given his role in the family, she can save him and turn the tide of the battle. But she learns that even if she doesn’t come from a famous family, she is the new hero the galaxy needs. This is what matters.

This to me is crystallized in the scene where Kylo tells Rey she’s from nothing. Kylo views her worth in relation to him, judging her his equal despite her humble origins. Rey rejects that idea. She is his equal in the light because she matters, not because someone tells her she only matters to them. She has a place in this story as the next generation of heroic figures in the rebellion. She has a place, as does Finn. As does Poe and Rose. All these heroes from non-famous families will rise up to lead the Rebellion and pass on their stories.

Viewing the sequels as a story about new heroes becoming the powerhouses that the Skywalkers were adds a new depth to the film. There is a narrative richness to them that I missed when viewing them as just regular installments in the story. The Last Jedi is about learning to be the hero you need, rather than relying on others. It is, ultimately, a story about hope. Hope within oneself, hope that others will be there for you, hope for a better future. The last shot of a young child staring at the stars reminds us that the story will continue. Hope will always be found, even in the darkest of places. And what’s more Star Wars than that?

The Last Jedi works. Even if you take away my take on it — which could very well be wrong, because I’ve been wrong before and will be wrong again — it still works as a film, something that my fandom biases refused to let me see in the first place. Star Wars twitter and fandom was so polarized that I felt like I had to hate it to save face, even if with all my quibbles I felt neutral on it at most. Now, I’ve come to terms with the fact I let those biases change my opinion and have given the film a fair shot, and I’m much happier for it.

As Yoda says “we are what they grow beyond; that is the burden of all masters.” The Last Jedi is about the students — Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, and even Kylo — growing beyond their masters to become the protagonists and antagonist of their story by becoming more than their teachers (in Finn and Kylo’s case, that also becomes killing your abuser). Where their stories will end, we cannot say. I have my hopes for the end of the trilogy, as do we all, but for now, I’m happier to just watch the story unfold rather than be bitter over choices I once did not agree with.

Mr. Johnson, you have my full apology for being a hater before. Sorry it took me so long to understand your message.

(image: Disney/Lucasfilm)

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Kate (they/them) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions they have. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, they are now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for their favorite rare pairs.