“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” drives a lightsaber through the same old cliches


by Emily Reed, Co-editor-in-chief


Once the familiar opening crawl and grandiose Star Wars theme played, everyone clapped and cheered! We were prepared for another solid installment of the new Star Wars trilogy and ready to watch the comfortably predictable plot unfold.

Five minutes into the film, the plot picked up right where it left off in The Force Awakens. Our beloved heroes, Luke Skywalker and Rey, were once again on a destructive, isolated island with Rey’s outstretched hand offering Luke a lightsaber.

We held our breath and anticipated Luke taking the lightsaber, teaching Rey the ways of The Force and agreeing to lead the Resistance. Luke takes the lightsaber, looks at it for a second, and throws the sacred relic representing the Jedi order behind him off of the island. He rudely walks away from Rey.

We sat in stunned silence. We were thinking, “Did that really just happen?”

This shocking scene set the tone for the entirety of the movie. Rian Johnson as director of Episode VIII sets out to crush typical Star Wars cliches and destroy the repetitive framework that J.J. Abrams set up with The Force Awakens. Johnson ushers in a new era of Star Wars films that still have the same galactic feeling of the originals but with a more complex and compelling plot, creating twists we haven’t seen before.

Once Johnson signed on as director, he requested to scrap Lawerence Kasdan’s script for Episode VIII and write his own script from scratch. The producers allowed this… but I’m not sure they could even imagine the changes Johnson would make.

Even Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker, told Rian Johnson, “I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character [Luke Skywalker]. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.”

Personally, I loved Luke’s transition into a grumpy, old hermit who is embittered by his own failure to raise Kylo Ren to fight as a Jedi. It shows that Luke, the star of the Chosen One trope in Episodes 4-6, isn’t indestructible. It’s more realistic that Luke, someone who has lived alone on a deserted island for YEARS, wouldn’t be warm and receptive of visitors. It’ll take time and lots of convincing for Luke to want to train Rey, let alone help the Resistance. Johnson shows us a raw, unflinching glimpse of reality with Luke, which makes him the most complicated character and my favorite of the film.

Another element of realism that Johnson introduces is that each character has a unique sense of humor to match their personality. Luke Skywalker was highly sarcastic to match his disgruntled persona and, oppositely, Po Dameron enjoyed slapstick and unsophisticated humor to match his attitude of being the best, most cocky, and immature pilot of the Resistance.

Poe Dameron’s character arc takes shape from the practically nonexistent foundation built in The Force Awakens and he evolves into one of the most genuine, likeable, and cohesive characters in the film. He begins as an overconfident pilot who knows he’s the best but then becomes a true leader, caring about the survival of the team, not just making himself a hero.

Poe’s best friend Finn has also come into his own since playing the part of Rey’s love interest in The Force Awakens. Finn already has a compelling story as ex-stormtrooper FN2187, and now he has the opportunity to spearhead a mission of his own to grow as a Resistance fighter. Throughout the movie, he journeys with newcomer Rose Tico to break the First Order’s shield, disable their light speed tracking unit, and allow enough time for the Resistance to escape the First Order’s eager clutches.

Rose is an admirer of Finn’s work with the Resistance and is in shock when she meets Finn for the first time as he is doing the uncharacteristically cowardly act of escaping. He convinces the by-the-book Rose to not arrest him, which is not an easy feat. Together, they create and execute a secret plan to save the Resistance. Their undercover mission fails spectacularly, but what they gain from it is a greater sense of purpose and a strong friendship that develops into more.

This romance makes much more logical sense than Finn and Rey’s previous relationship because Finn and Rose have a connection and aren’t pushed together convenience. Finn and Rose are gentle, caring souls whereas Rey is a spitfire, a natural leader and lone wolf.  Viewers will be satisfied with this plot development.

Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is spot on. She is a strong female character who doesn’t need a man to protect her. This goes for off the set, too. Ridley, according to stunt coordinator Liang Yang, perfected lightsaber movements in half the time another actress would needed.

By far, the most intriguing character is Rey’s “nemesis,” Kylo Ren. Ren makes it abundantly clear that he’s tired of living as Emperor’s Snoke servant and being compared to Darth Vader. He smashes the mask he wore in The Force Awakens and, in this movie, we discover who Ren truly is without hiding his scar (representing weakness) on his face.

A technique Rian Johnson utilizes is at least twice is recreating memorable scenes from previous movies and adding a twist to them. One of his uses is when Kylo Ren killed Emperor Snoke in his chamber just like Darth Vader killed Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi, Episode 6.

When the crowd at the theater saw this scene, we all cheered! Ren is coming to the good side, just like Darth Vader! But it couldn’t be THAT easy. Instead, Ren wants to make a new first order and never have to be subservient to anyone again.

Ren flexes his military might during the last battle of the movie where Johnson shows off his prowess with cinematic and special effects. The scene is shot on an ice planet with underground salt mines. When pressure is applied to the ground, it sparks up red dust.

This shower of red dust on both sides of the attack makes watching the Resistance defend their new base oddly stunning. During this scene, Johnson enhances the emotion with the dynamics of the music.  At critical moments, the music ceases altogether.

With a soundtrack by John Williams that’s so iconic, this cutting out of the music draws attention to the moment and distinguishes it as special.

For most gripers, Johnson’s decision to include Williams as the soundtrack composer was the only right decision he made.

This movie has already alienated the public. The people who didn’t enjoy the movie want to see a version of The Force Awakens Part 2 and the reincarnation of the original three movies. They want another nostalgia trip, and that’s luckily not what this movie is. These fans don’t want to change with the franchise, and, if they want to see the original trilogy again but with better graphics, they should just buy the box set on Blu-ray.

For the Star Wars purists, it should be comforting to know that Star Wars royalty, Carrie Fisher, helped write the script.

This film is the longest in the saga with a run time of 152 minutes, and, personally, I enjoyed every minute of it. Because of its dense symbolism and a multitude of allusions, this is one of those films I wish I could watch again right away. Episode 9 directed by Johnson will be very interesting to watch considering he doesn’t have anything to disprove or change this time around. Now that he’s in the right galaxy, it’ll be interesting to see where his creativity takes the Resistance fighters, the First Order, and the next generation of Jedi.