Second Viewing: The Last Jedi

We saw The Last Jedi again today, at the showing that was supposed to be our first. The Indiana State Museum IMAX is always my favorite cinematic experience. Reasonably priced tickets, drinks, and snacks; luxurious seating; and incredibly immersive visuals and crisp sound. Like with The Force Awakens before it, the ISM IMAX was one of the handful of locations in the nation where you could see the film projected in 70mm format. And with a single-screen theater, you really feel catered to (down to the museum staff member who introduced the film beforehand).

All the above factors made it predictable that I’d like this second viewing at least a little more than the first. The improved visuals and sound certainly helped, and the latter actually helped me catch some bits of dialogue that I’d missed before.

But I liked the film the second time quite a lot more, and more than just those factors discussed already would suggest. Knowing where the story was going, and being able to focus on details and individual moments with the background knowledge of the film’s overarching plot, I was able to get more out of every moment. Things made more sense. I was not just reacting but had the mental space to interpret.

Some moments had a stronger emotional kick. And I recognized plot clues that I’d completely missed on my first viewing. I want to talk about a few of these moments below, and I’d be happy to have a conversation about any of them–or any other moments, for that matter! But recognize that if you still haven’t seen the film, there will be spoilers below, and this is the only warning you get.

There were even more times where I at least teared up a little bit. The entire bomber sequence, but especially Paige Tico’s sacrifice and Leia’s reaction, is a real kick to the gut. That got me the first time, but knowing that Paige was sacrificing herself, and, in so doing, leaving her sister alone, all to try to take out a threat to the remaining Resistance fleet, is a powerful moment. Seeing A-Wing pilot Tallie’s little thumbs-up moments before her end got me a bit, too. Even when a minor character goes down, it feels significant. Every loss matters. Then Leia’s final scene with Holdo, and Leia’s final scene with Luke, are also incredibly emotional experiences that have not faded at all with the re-watch; in fact, knowing what Luke is about to do, that Leia/Luke scene is even more heartbreaking. And wow, “Godspeed, rebels,” is already a new favorite line of mine (I didn’t catch it the first time, but this line is first stated by the captain who’d served under Holdo when he stays behind to pilot the first ship that runs out of fuel, and that makes Holdo’s utterance of it later feel like a very personal, tribal, genuine sort of thing).

I wasn’t sure how I felt about Luke, but watching his journey through the film again, and knowing the decisions he was making and would make, ultimately have led me to decide that I’m very much in favor of what Rian Johnson did here, even if I would never have thought to map a course for Luke like this. Also, while the revelation of Luke’s astral projection was at first shocking and a bit confusing to me, I now recognize that the film heavily telegraphed this–Luke looks like his younger self, he entered the one-way base without being detected, and so on. Knowing that Luke made the choice to ensure the continuation of the rebellion and of the Jedi in a moment of heroic self-sacrifice (and of tremendous Force ability) gives those final scenes with him much deeper meaning, and his brief moment of seeing a twin sunset (or sunrise?) on the horizon is really touching and of course calls back to the original film. Also, I realized that this usage of the Force to astrally project was specifically set up early on in this film, when Kylo tries to figure out how Rey can see him and dismisses the idea that she was projecting herself to him on her own power because the effort would kill her–a nice bit of foreshadowing, in retrospect.

Not only were the emotional moments still powerful, but so were the comic moments. I love the humor in this, and except for a couple moments that defused tense scenes a little too early, I thought it all landed pretty solidly. I certainly have favorite lines here already (though for now I’ll have to paraphrase; my memory’s not perfect):

  • “I can’t wait forever. When General Hux is available, tell him Leia has an urgent message for him. About his mom.”
  • “Incredible. Every word in that sentence is wrong.”
  • “Where are you from, Rey? No one’s from no where.” “Jakku.” “Wow, you really are from nowhere.”
  • “He says I stole the ship. [beat] We stole the ship.”
  • “You were always scum.” “Rebel scum.”
  • “They really hate that ship!”

More generally, there were a lot of funny sight gags, and there were many moments of physical comedy. Domhnall Gleeson’s earnest-space-Nazi demeanor, his cowering and snivelling, his sheer pettiness as Hux is delightful and matched by how he’s treated like something between a ragdoll and an abused dog by Kylo and Snoke throughout the film, and he got a fair number of cute one-liners.

Benicio Del Toro’s hacker character, DJ, is funny too, with his stutter and his sleazy arrogance and his convenient moral relativism. It’s less any specific moment, and more how the character is portrayed. I love his delivery of, “Let me learn you something big, Finn.” It’s not funny on its face, and yet…

Shifting gears here, I’m still thinking about the film’s themes, and I think it’s interesting that The Last Jedi subverts the Jedi/Sith relationship with attachment. Historically, the Jedi viewed attachment as a path to the Dark Side. The Sith cultivated attachment, and it was attachment that drove a kindhearted person like Anakin to the Dark Side. But in The Last Jedi, Rey is attached to Han and Luke and Leia and Finn and hope; Rose and Leia show that we should work to save what we care for, rather than simply sacrificing all for a cause; and it is Kylo Ren who insists that we should “let the past die; kill it, if you have to” and becomes frustrated when Rey rejects his offer to join forces, angrily proclaiming that she is still not letting go. For that matter, Rey, despite being viewed as a model Jedi by the end by characters ranging from Snoke to Yoda, often fights with wild passion and fury; her motivation might be right, but she is definitely guided in the moment by emotion.

Another thing I’m thinking about: where does this film go now? It basically spun an alternate version of events in Return of the Jedi in its climactic mid-film scene. What if Luke had gone to Vader and asked him to return to the Light, Vader and Luke worked together to defeat Palpatine, and then Vader asked Luke to join him to rule together? Maybe something like what happens in The Last Jedi. “The Supreme Leader is dead…Long live the Supreme Leader!” Holy shit! Where do we go from here, indeed? That moment could have been a conclusion to this trilogy, and here we have it squarely in the middle act of the middle film. The status quo has been disrupted for virtually all of the characters by the end of the film. Luke is gone, Han is gone, Leia will probably have to be gone; on the opposite side, Snoke is gone, too. Poe has finally evolved into the leader Leia saw in him underneath his dangerous heroics. Finn is finally committed to the cause. Rey is a Jedi, even if she truly came from nothing, and Kylo Ren has achieved his wildest ambitions. Wow.

All that said, the abruptness of the ending was less dramatic to me. By the end of the film, we definitely had a conclusion. It was a well-told film, and we are not left with dangling threads after all. Maybe that’s what was weird to me. We had so much build-up, and so much resolution of what was developed, and then the film ends without a clear idea of where the next one could possibly go. I still maintain that the very final scene with the kids has some disturbing implications, though I did see this time that the kid uses the Force to pull the broomstick to him, and so could merely suggest that hope has been renewed in a future generation (and not necessarily that this generation will one day have to join yet another bloody conflict motivated by two feuding religious orders).

My opinion has gone up for The Last Jedi, and I’m at the stage where I’m gushing about it (obviously), and I think I need to see it maybe even a few more times before I’ve really processed it. It’s a good film, and hopefully indicates an exciting direction for Star Wars storytelling in the future.

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