Every Last Jedi

This is a spoiler-filled first set of reactions to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The ultimate courage of what Rian Johnson has done here, is that he fully embraced what it is to be a director who obviously grew up as true fan of Star Wars, and retconned the whole universe into a new understanding of The Force. It’s the kind of revolutionary rethinking of the most successful pop culture franchise of all time that I would have thought would not be possible by anyone but George Lucas, and certainly not under the auspices of Disney. But here we are.

Though it’s well-grounded in the first definitions of The Force that we were introduced to in the original trilogy, The Last Jedi presents a radically inclusive new view of the Force that is bigger and broader than the Jedi religion which has thus-far colored our view of the entire Star Wars universe. (This is also why lost-cause diehards will likely always hate this film.)

On a personal level, it really makes me smile to know that in Carrie Fisher’s last film, in her most famous role, she’d get to know that the vision of what the franchise was about would be broadened to include everyone. Now, every kid who ever picked up a broomstick and pretended to be Luke Skywalker with a lightsaber is canonically one with the Force. It’s a wonderful summation of what Star Wars, at its best, represents in culture.

It’s also a brave film for its willingness to subvert the expectations of the most hardcore fans. In many ways, The Last Jedi is anti-fan service. Tonally, it’s totally different than the other films in the series. Flashbacks and editing sequences like when Rey first sees the Force feature a wildly different direction style than Lucas ever would have tried. Jokes like the initial Poe-Hux call are completely out of character for the voice of the other films (especially the prequels). And the Jedi are no longer an infallible inherited priesthood, but a religion of self-absorbed, usually short-sighted monks who neglect the beauty of the Force in favor of exploiting it for their own power. Any one of these would antagonize those who were overly invested in the old order; all of them together is rank heresy.

But for an open-minded viewer, there are wonderful touches throughout. Rey gets to be a whole person, who grounds the film and is brave and grows, without ever being reduced to a love interest or damsel in distress. Similarly, Rose gets to be not just the first Asian American woman to be featured in Star Wars, but the avatar of the theme of the entire film. The porgs porg it up. Lots of stuff is red. The sound design uses silence more effectively than any blockbuster film since Attack of the Clones. There’s not much Threepio. It’s all pretty great.

Most of all, it sets us up for a third film where, for the first time in 37 years, we don’t know what’s going to happen next with Star Wars. Restoring our sense of wonder or mystery or surprise about the most culturally dominant franchise of all time is one of the toughest challenges any mainstream director could pull off. Succeeding in that challenge makes The Last Jedi a wonderful gift to every kid who ever swung a broomstick lightsaber.