Only two this time:
OH MY GOSH.
The end of 2017 is shaping up. It feels like Mueller is closing in on Trump. Christmas is coming. Soon, the days will grow longer instead of shorter and Lucasfilm produced an EXCELLENT MOVIE: THE LAST FREAKIN’ JEDI.
Okay, okay—my excitement is abated; I’m slowly transitioning into critical thinking 25-year-old Sam, not 4-year-old Sam.
(MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD)
In Part 1, Levi talked about the best narrative arc in the eight previous Star Wars movies. And while I love the Darth Vader turning evil story, I didn’t like the execution. The reason? Anakin turning evil felt like an angsty teenager acting spoiled. He never materialized as the awesome force of evil that Vader symbolized.
You know what’s crazy? That the best example of an angsty teenager acting spoiled and turning evil can be found in the STAR WARS universe. It’s Adam Driver—I mean Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. Which reminds me:
LAST JEDI: BEST NARRATIVE ARC
Ben Solo’s transformation:
Ben Solo, failed student of Luke who turned on his master, burned down the new Jedi temple, and stole a couple students away. What is there to be said of young Ben? The helmet, the new lightsaber, the tantrums! Oh the tantrums. In Force Awakens, we saw Kylo Ren wield powers of the force with ease. We also saw his failures and his self-immolation when he felt he wasn’t living up to old grampa Vader’s legacy.
In The Last Jedi, we see one last tantrum as he smashes his helmet and starts his path towards being his own man—and not baby Vader or Snoke’s puppet. We see conflict in Ben and so does Rey. We see Ben kill Snoke and take up arms against his former allies. And we see Ben actively choose the dark side and not merely allow himself to be dragged along it.
Of course, The Last Jedi is all about failure. How to use failure as a teaching mechanism, how to cope with failure, how to live with failure. At the end of the movie the screaming emo-version of Kylo Ren returns. Ben Solo fails to stay calm in the face of his old master.
Poe learning leadership:
At the beginning of the film, Poe ignores a direct order from General Leia Organa, an order which ends in the destruction of one major First Order Ship and most of the Rebel’s fighting ships. Leia immediately demotes Poe for being a hero instead of a leader.
As the movie progresses, Poe has to contend with another leader, Vice-Admiral Holdo. She keeps Poe in the dark as the last remnants of the resistance/rebellion stay just out of the range of the First Order. Poe launches his own plan, which fails, as per the theme of the film.
What’s beautiful about this arc is that we see Poe humbled time and time again. We see him fight against it and continue to push for the rash actions of a trigger-happy flyboy. But as he makes mistakes, he is corrected and finally sees the brilliance of a plan unlike his own. He finally starts to think like a leader.
(Seriously, major spoilers ahead, like even more than before).
As the force-projection of Luke steps out to face Kylo Ren, Finn, unaware that Luke is in no danger of death, calls to assist Luke. Poe, not Leia, is the voice of reason. He doesn’t immediately choose to blow things up or fight to the death. He sees the bigger picture. He is able to see Luke’s diversionary tactics and leads the thirty-some souls to escape, saving the embers of the rebellion.
There are flaws in this film. The trippy Rey Dark Side scene that tried to emulate Luke vs. Darth Vader Dagobah scene in Empire comes to mind. While fans around the world have torn the movie to shreds over these and other moments, The Last Jedi is certainly an exceptional film. I certainly hope it earns a nod for Best Picture. Though it seems Lady Bird will win that award.
Let's check off some not so great arcs.
Finn and Rose Las Vegas Trip
What’s good about this whole quest is that it fails, something we’ve never really seen in Star Wars. Sure we’ve seen failure along the way (i.e. Anakin and Padme get captured while trying to rescue Obi-Wan), but eventually Obi-Wan is saved. In this section of the movie, Finn and Rose never accomplish their objective. They don’t turn off the hyperspace tracking. But that’s okay. That’s a powerful moment in the movie, establishing just how desperate the situation is.
The problem with their venture to a casino is the overt political commentary, and focus on wealth as an evil. Director Rian Johnson did a wonderful job with subtle commentary and movement (more on that later), but in these scenes we have very Lucas-like dialogue. Rose talks overtly about how much she hates the sins of the galaxy in a mini-monologue. Finn has expositional dialogue about his love of tearing up the town. It’s not very masterfully accomplished.
Leia = Peter Pan
Having Leia survive an explosion not caused by Ben Solo, waking in space, and flying back to the bridge with a cheering Poe, Finn, and Rose to meet her (and somehow not fly into space) was a bit confusing and felt out of sorts with the rest of the movie.
Having Leia survive this and including Carrie Fisher’s scenes in the movie was a surprising and brave choice. It works, though part of the reason it works is because Leia’s story can’t help but be framed by Carrie Fisher’s death. It’s easy to just cut Leia out of the movie there. It’s harder to keep her in and make the story work. It does work and it’s incredible.
However, the execution of Leia surviving feels a bit more methodical, a bit more super-power than the ambiguity of the force Star Wars fans have known so far. The scene is out of tune with the rest of the movie and even with John Williams’ score for Leia’s Theme, it still feels more Harry Potter than Star Wars.
Also, this section of the movie did Admiral Ackbar dirty. He has the second most famous line of the franchise. They couldn’t spend a second more to give him a proper goodbye.
Luke Skywalker a Killer
I absolutely buy that Luke, terrified of creating a new Darth Vader, and constantly aware that his family has the potential for great good and great evil would, in a moment, contemplate the murder of his student. I think even Yoda would consider murdering someone for a second if he could see the death of millions of people.
What I disliked about this scene—and this may come just from a writing standpoint—was the decision to have Luke actually turn on his lightsaber. It felt melodramatic. It would have been more effective to have Luke take out his lightsaber, but not light it. Ben Solo would then see the blade, force-grab his own, and attack him.
LAST JEDI NARRATIVE ARC WINNER:
Rey and Ben Solo Relationship
The most interesting part of Force Awakens is the relationship that blossoms between Ben Solo and Rey at the end. The continuation of this, at it’s exceptionally deft level, was the biggest and greatest surprise of the movie.
Rian Johnson did something that was botched in the prequels and in the Force Awakens, he managed to subtly maneuver through force enabled plot points. In Force Awakens, Rey is interrogated by Ben Solo and we see a silent fight of the force, which is then deflated a bit by expositional dialogue. “You want a father out of Han.” “You’re afraid you’ll never be Vader.” Things the audience can already get without it being spoon fed to us.
In The Last Jedi we get silent moments of force communication that’s created through well-edited cuts from one person to another. Think the Leia and Ben Solo sensing each other moment, just before the bridge is blown up. Or the Luke and Leia force communication in the middle of the movie.
The best moments of the movie come in the unplanned conversations between Rey and Ben. Unknown to them, Snoke is pairing their minds together. They can see each other (as evidenced when Rey see’s Adam Driver’s excellent body half clothed). Daisy Ridley and Adam Drive have to deliver joint scenes in two different locations, acting as if they are in the presence of one another. They have to speak, move, look, hear, react, etc. in a way that makes us feel that they’re really having this conversation.
IT’S SO EASY TO GET THIS TYPE OF SCENE WRONG.
It’s so hard to get this type of scene right. Part of the problem with the prequels is the actors have to work with actors who aren’t there and sets that are complete CGI.
These conversations between Rey and Ben start as visceral hate meeting superior curiosity. It evolves into a mutual respect and an understanding of loneliness. It ends in a longing to be with each other, to help each other. These conversations do the heavy lifting for creating the complex villain in Ben Solo and setting up the conflict Rey will have when it comes down to facing Ben again.
The arc of Rey and Ben’s relationship starts at hatred and finishes with the two trying to help and then turn on each other. Yet, it gives us a taste for what may happen in the future and makes us care about what happens between the two of them, something The Force Awakens failed to do. It’s the best part of the movie. And this week's winner in Game of Narratives.