Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Some Thoughts on The Last Jedi

This isn't my typical Play Like a Pirate blog post, but I've had enough people ask me, and I've thought about it long enough now that I guess I'll write something here.

This isn't quite a review of The Last Jedi, but some thoughts about some of the characters and situations in the movie. 






...if you're planning on seeing it sometime, I'd say don't read this now. But come back and read it sometime. There are some education-related elements here, so it's not completely out of the Play Like a Pirate wheelhouse, plus, my user name on everything is "JediKermit," so doyyyy. I can write about Star Wars anytime I want. 









First off, I've gotta say that I've only seen the movie once so far. That will change over the coming days and weeks as I have more time over winter break, and as some of the pressure of preparing for the holidays passes. As the closing credits rolled, I was kind of in shock. Not just the events and tone of the movie, which are vastly different from The Force Awakens, but...there were so many unexpected twists and turns. Part of the appeal of Star Wars for many people is they kind of know what they're going to get. A popcorn movie, a safe movie where they know the end from the beginning before even sitting down to watch it. That wasn't this movie. It didn't start like I expected it to, it didn't middle like I expected it to, it didn't end like I expected it to. And while that threw me for a loop last Saturday, the more I think about it, the more I love it. That doesn't mean it was perfect for me, but wow. It got so much right.

In no particular order, some thoughts:

I love Rey. I loved her in The Force Awakens, I love her here. One of the big mysteries about her from The Force Awakens was her parentage. There were a million fan theories, most often that she was a Skywalker somehow--through either Han-and-Leia or Luke-and-Mystery-Woman-But-Not -Leia-They-Just-Kissed-a-Few-Times. I also read that she may be a Kenobi (somehow?) a Palpatine (no please) or a Jabba. None of those were the answer I wanted. I wanted, I almost needed, Rey to be...a nobody. She calls herself a nobody in The Force Awakens, and that seems to be the answer that she got in The Last Jedi. In the "mirror cave" on Ahch-To, she's granted her great desire--to see who her parents are, and only sees herself. Later on, Kylo Ren tries to break her spirit by telling her the truth--that her parents were junk dealers on Jakku who sold her for a few credits. That truth is meant to destroy her; instead it lets her let go of her past and move forward. There is a possibility that Kylo Ren is lying to her, simply to be cruel...but I hope that this story about her parents is the truth. Not because she wasn't loved, but because it opens the door to all of us. Even though I don't have the blood of a Skywalker in me, I can still be a Jedi. I can access the Force. So can you. So can a little stable boy on Canto Bight. The Jedi (and Sith) don't have a monopoly on the greatness, the ability to touch the divine nature of the universe--to paraphrase Luke in both Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens trailer--we have that power too. And I love that. I need that.

I really like the character of Finn. I like his backstory of a Stormtrooper Gone Good, he's funny, he's got enough courage that he gets the job done, but is scared enough of the situations that he gets into that I relate to him. Because I am a coward when it comes to blowing stuff up. I want to see more of what makes him tick. After two movies, he still feels like an unfinished character. I enjoyed him here, but would have liked to have seen him teamed up with Rey for more than a few seconds. Their friendship is one of my favorite things about these new films, and we didn't see that here. Which brings us to 

She's a new character for this movie, and...I can't think of any new character that I love more. I love that she's an engineer working down in the bowels of the Resistance Cruiser, she (like Rey?) thinks of herself as a nobody. She's not a Hero of the Resistance. But rebounding from her sister's death, she first stops Finn from escaping, and then helps him on a mission that ends up giving the heroes a chance to escape. She has courage, she's funny, she ends up summing up the point of the movie (and possibly all of Star Wars) towards the end when she says "That's how we're going to win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love." ...or something like that. I've only seen it once. In a movie that crushes the Resistance into powder, that line gave us hope. 

In the opening scene, we see Poe Dameron as the badass pilot that he's rumored to be, and although that run was implausible, hey. We've seen pilots do implausible things in Star Wars before. From that point on, Poe is frustrated that he doesn't get to fight. Doesn't get to do what he was built to do. He butts heads with General Leia Organa, and then Admiral Holdo. I like Poe. He's charismatic, he rubs BB-8's tummy like a dog when they're reunited, he's willing to sacrifice all for the Resistance. I dig him.

Ohhhhhh this is rough. I love Leia so much. And with Carrie Fisher gone...there were parts of this that were heartbreaking. You have to wonder where they would have gone with her character in Episode IX...we saw her overtly (but possibly unconsciously) using Jedi powers for the first time ever, in a scene that some people didn't like, and I would have handled differently, but ultimately liked...because if Rian Johnson had killed her off like that (like Admiral Ackbar, now Frozen Fish Sticks for the Cosmos)(it wasn't even a trap, just a FWOOSH), I would have completely lost it. As it is, she and her leadership got showcased here, even under the most bleak of circumstances. I will never not love Princess-General Leia Organa. And never not be sad about losing Carrie Fisher the way we did. I loved her in The Last Jedi, and thought this was a beautiful ending to her story.

Maz Kanata
There was simply not enough of her. One of my favorite small (ha!) characters in The Force Awakens, just getting to talk to her via holo-Skype for a few minutes was not nearly enough. Rocketpack though, so hey.

Kylo Ren
...I'm still thinking about this one. I liked him so much more here than in The Force Awakens, he got to be more complex, got to move past being a Vader wannabe, and the conflict that we see tearing him apart in the first movie just got deeper in this one. His connection with Rey was fascinating, his relationship with Snoke terrifying, and the rivalry with Hux still made me laugh. But I'm still thinking about the many ways that Kylo Ren and his actions could be interpreted from this movie. I may revisit this paragraph after seeing the movie again.

Also I want him to make hisself a new helmet for Episode IX. I know it probably won't happen, and I liked his reasons for destroying his old one...but man. I like cool helmets okay?

I love seeing my old friends again. They were probably in this movie enough, but I always feel like I want more of them. Chewbacca roasting a Porg, and then unable to eat it while the other Porgs look on? That's my favorite thing. My. Favorite. Thing.

I love him. An even more adorabler version of R2-D2, and packed with more gadgets, and can evidently be used like a slot machine. Any time something implausible happened with him, I'd think "okay, would I accept R2-D2 doing that?" and the answer was always yes. So it works. And as said before, when he's reunited with Poe and gets his tummy (technically I guess he's ALL tummy) scratched, I love it. Cuz dogs.

I was impressed with the animation, I was impressed with Andy Serkis' performance, I was impressed with the pure sadism and malice in his character. I liked his gold robes, I liked his sweet throne room, I liked his sleek and sexy Praetorian Guard. Also, I liked-and-was-shocked that they just sliced him half and he toppled to the floor. Holy crap. If they were going for a Palpatine/Vader relationship with Snoke/Kylo....they just ended that. And I love that. His entire world burned down around his corpse, and while it may be the most violent scene in Star Wars history (not counting the billions of lives snuffed out by various superweapons), wow it was pretty. Speaking of pretty, check out those eyebrows. It's like he and I are twins. Snoke was deliciously evil. And I hope we never find out who he was beyond that. I'm satisfied. 

With as plugged in as I am to both Star Wars and Muppets...I'm surprised I didn't hear about his appearance beforehand. So when he did appear...I was overwhelmed. I mean, I do everything I can to avoid spoilers for any more, but double down on that with Star Wars movies. So he was a complete surprise, and I was completely delighted. He was the funny Yoda. He was kind of a jerk to Luke. But he also loved and kept teaching Luke. I liked that he's spent 30-something years in a Jedi afterlife continuing to reflect on his life and realizing the ways that he (and the Jedi) had gone wrong. I loved that it was Puppet Yoda, not CGI, and it was still Frank Oz, and I still heard Grover and Miss Piggy and Fozzie in the mix. As a teacher, I've always thought about Yoda when teaching...and Yoda's final lesson, "The greatest teacher, failure is"...is something that resonates with me. I believe in Yoda.

Luke Frigging Skywalker
With The Force Awakens ending with a sweeping shot of Rey handing Luke his long lost lightsaber, and with that movie being all about finding Luke...I'd been speculating about his life on Ahch-To more than maybe anything else. Would he be training Rey the way he was trained on Dagobah? Would he climb in a li'l backpack and Rey would carry him around? The answer, as with many other things in The Last Jedi, is more complicated. Luke has been punishing himself since Ben Solo turned to the Dark Side and became Kylo Ren. We see the events that led up to that from both Kylo Ren's and Luke's perspectives, which I thought was interesting...as with many things in Star Wars, it brought to mind ancient stories--this time of Abraham and Isaac, with the father prepared to sacrifice the son, then turning away. This had more disastrous consequences. His guilt about his nephew, his anger at himself...I can relate to all of that. As a teacher, as a son, as a brother, as a father. How many things would I do differently if I could do them again? But we can't. We need to move forward, not look back. I loved Luke's explanation of the Force to Rey, opening the door that the Jedi didn't have the monopoly on the Force (see above), and with the realization that what he had done wasn't the only way. His final confrontation with Kylo Ren, his final reunion with Leia, his relationship with Rey...they were all completely unexpected takes on the character, and wow. I loved every note. If this is Mark Hamill's last performance as Luke Skywalker, it was perfect. 

The planet Luke and Rey were on (also Chewbacca, R2-D2, and Porgs and Caretakers and Whatever-the-hell-Luke-milked-to-get-that-green-milk) was completely beautiful and charming and the kind of place that sets my imagination spinning. I want to go to there. I love that it was filmed on location (until disrupting the native puffin population, when they moved to built sets, but hey I can't tell the difference), and is a green, earthy setting but completely different from Star Wars worlds we've seen before. It seems like it would be rich with the Force...and smell better than Dagobah. I'm in. The mysterious things like that Force Tree and the Dark Side Pit and Cave of Mirrors...yes. All of that, yes. 

The final scenes of The Last Jedi take place on the mineral world of Crait. White salt flats with red minerals underneath. It's visually breathtaking, and as with Ahch-To, it fires up my imagination. I loved the vulptex (crystal fox things) and appreciate that they were built puppets, not just CGI creations (at least for the close-ups). I love that they filmed parts of that on actual salt flats in Bolivia, and while the final confrontation between the First Order and the Resistance didn't end in triumph...it was impressive. 

A few things that Did Not Work For Me

I love Captain Phasma. I love Gwendolyn Christie. I love the mystery of Captain Phasma. I'm fine with her only being in a few minutes of both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. But I want her to be more badass. She's capable of it. When she got shot by a blaster and it just ricocheted off that chrome armor? Yeaaaaahhhh!!! But then she got beaten too fast. I loved that we just saw the perfect blue of her eye as her helmet cracked...and then she fell into the flames of...hell, basically. Still. I would like to see her come back. Terminator-style, as this unkillable force of nature. We thought she died in a trash compactor two years ago...maybe she's still around. 

Resistance Cruiser Plot Device
Throughout the movie, the Resistance Cruiser is limping along toward Crait. It's running out of fuel, it can't jump to hyperspace because the First Order has a hyperspace tracker on it. The First Order Dreadnought is picking off the support ships one by one, and the shields of the Cruiser are holding. All of this works as a plot device, but it's so...it doesn't work for me. Why wouldn't the First Order launch all of their TIE Fighters, which can catch up with the Cruiser and start attacking it there? Why not hyperjump to right in front of the Cruiser and start beating the heck out of it? Why not go to Crait ahead of them and ambush them there? The slow burn of the pursuit builds tension the way submarine movies do...but it left me scratching my head. For these particular characters and these particular events...it doesn't make sense. I'll just keep my head down and enjoy the movie. I can do that. And I like that a hell of a lot more than (another) superweapon ala the Death Star. 

That's all of my thoughts. 

Trust me, it's better to read them than have a conversation with me about them. Because if you thought that was long...

You can see my other blog posts on Star Wars and how to use it with students here:

William Shakespeare's Star Wars

The Force Awakens

Using Star Wars to Teach Biomes and Ecosystems

Teach Me, You Did

Yoda was Wrong

For other ways to use Star Wars in the Classroom, as always, check out my friends at...Star Wars in the Classroom. They've got incredible resources, and they're always looking for new and exciting ways to teach using Star Wars and other pop culture.

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