Because I was in grading jail (thanks, KD, for bringing that delightful phrase to my attention!) when Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released, I had to wait until Christmas Day to see it with my spouse, two of my siblings, and my dad. I missed out on quite a few of the think pieces that flourished in the initial release and have had to catch up slowly. The consensus is neatly split into two camps: THIS MOVIE IS EXCELLENT; or THIS MOVIE IS NOT EXCELLENT. G, my third reader on my doctoral committee, argues that there is a cut of this movie that is an hour shorter and would thus be the best of all the films, and I am inclined to agree. I didn’t hate this movie, but I didn’t find it excellent, either. This was an enormous disappointment, because while I didn’t LOVE The Force Awakens, I did love Rey and Finn. Especially Rey.
This brings me to my own take on TLJ and why it disappointed me. I was getting ready this morning, and it finally hit me:
The Star Wars powers that be are still trying to make men happen. And yet The Force Awakens has shown that the universe/The Force has shifted in a way that makes replicating some of the cultural iconography of the original trilogy (we’re just going to pretend that the prequels never happened for the moment, mmmkay?) an impossibility and untrue to the direction the story now takes.
From here on out, there are SPOILERS. Come back if you want to be unspoiled going into the movie, which I highly recommend. I’ll be here when you get back.
Captain Phasma knows you have no one to blame but yourself if you continue further…
Okay, now we get to the SPOILER stuff.
With the title of The Last Jedi, I was really looking forward to Rey’s training and struggle with/against The Force. When I first saw The Force Awakens, I was firmly in the “this is just okay” camp until a very particular moment.
You know that moment.
I never knew how badly I wanted to see a woman Jedi until I saw her onscreen. I wanted to laugh and cry and cheer all.at.once. And so, I went into TLJ thinking we’d get more of this awesomeness.
I do not feel that Rey’s story got its fullest justice. I still remember the training sequences in The Empire Strikes Back (my personal favorite of all the films) as some of my favorites in the series. Luke was a bit whiny, and so I had hoped with Rey’s grit, we would get something even better. That whole part felt a little rushed and was heavily steeped in Luke’s personal baggage. There is an intense connection with Kylo Ren that gets a LOT of play, however, and if the third movie sets up their ultimate conflict, then okay. If not, however, we’ve wasted a LOT of time on Kylo Ren, who, let’s face it, is no Darth Vader.
And this brings me to Kylo Ren. I really felt like TPTB tried SO HARD to make Kylo Ren happen, and you do not make Darth Vader happen. He unfolds naturally over time, and the cult follows. And I am sorry, but Adam Driver is no James Earl Jones. Enough with the uncontrolled, angry white man. We have more than we can shake a stick at in the United States in 2018.
And speaking of men, we need to talk about the ridiculous Poe Dameron plot. Oscar Isaac, please forgive me. It pains me to speak ill of anything associated with you…
(we’ll always have the dancing gif)
…but why are we returning to the deep well of angsty men who have a problem with female authority? THAT STORY HAS BEEN TOLD SO MANY TIMES. Basically, Poe Dameron in TLJ is Harry Potter and Plutarch Heavensbee and Han Solo and Tom Sawyer and Matt Damon and DO I NEED TO KEEP GOING. It’s important to see how a male character evolves and changes, but the “send Finn and Rosie off to the casino and the ship” storyline just took way too long and had too little payoff, as far as developing Poe’s character within this particular film. If there is a particular story arc that makes sense in the third film, then I might be convinced to change my mind. And there had damn better not be a ridiculous love triangle where two women are fighting over a man in the third film, because I am done watching strong women fight over a dude, even if that dude is John Boyega.
(He looks like a young Denzel Washington here, and I mean that as an enormous compliment)
Ultimately, it comes down to expectations and preferences. There is a prevailing mythology that Han Solo is the hero of Star Wars and Darth Vader its well-deserving and iconic villain. I enjoy the camp and theater that comes with Darth Vader, but the hero of the series has always–for me–been one General Leia Organa.
Much fandom is dedicated to Han Solo and Chewbacca, and this is not unwarranted by any means. But let’s be real, while Han and Chewie were getting themselves out of tight situations and while Han was trying to talk himself out of the price on his head, Leia was keeping the rebellion alive and orchestrating plans without the same kind of ballyhoo or label of wunderkind that got placed on Luke. As a general, Leia is clearsighted about where the Rebellion needs to head next in order to survive the attacks of The First Order.
The Force Awakens shows the incredibly diverse power that women have in order to orchestrate change and resistance in oppressive societies. And instead of propelling us further into this exciting shift, The Last Jedi seems to be trying to remind us, “Hey, we’ve got a new Han Solo now! Look at the new Darth Vader!” and it’s jarring and a little dated. The Han Solos and Darth Vaders will always have their time and place, but it’s time to move on. Stop trying to make the nerfherders happen.
Instead, my hope is that the third and final film in this new sequence shows us what those of us who are women already know: The Force is Female.