With all the focus on whether Luke Skywalker got the send-off he deserved in The Last Jedi (and it is debatable), a lot of focus has neglected the question of whether that other ‘Legacy’ giant of Star Wars – Princess Leia – got the send off she deserved.
Because, from all that has been said, it is very unlikely Leia will appear in the next film – this was, for all intents and purposes, Leia’s swan song.
You can read my very long review of The Last Jedi here. But how well does it work as Princess Leia’s apotheosis?
I actually think it works about as well as we could’ve hoped.
Rian Johnson’s story and execution here does a great deal for Princess Leia’s legacy.
One of the problems with The Force Awakens was a very tame depiction of Leia, for various reasons. One might’ve expected more of the same for The Last Jedi.
But what we get instead is a Big Leia film.
The fact that she does survive right to the end credits is a somewhat beautiful thing, given the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher a year before the film’s release.
We were all expecting to see Leia die in this film: instead, and as if to hold up a giant middle-finger to the Grim Reaper himself, Johnson has Leia remain standing throughout the whole story. It’s as if it’s saying, you may have lost Carrie, but you’ll never have to see Leia go.
Of course, it’s almost certain that Leia will deceased by the next film: but somehow, in our minds or memories, a part of us will somehow think of Leia never having died.
And there’s something poignant about that.
Three Leia moments in The Last Jedi really stood out and worked beautifully for different reasons.
One, of course, is her final encounter with Luke towards the end. Carrie nailed that scene beautifully, and there was even a sense of both of them not only expressing the affection between Luke and Leia but the genuine affection between Carrie and Mark.
Another is a moment that Carrie didn’t have to perform for – specifically, the scene where Artoo plays Luke the Leia hologram from A New Hope. I don’t know whether this was added in after Carrie’s passing or whether it was there all along, but it was arguably the most perfect moment in the entire film.
The third – and I know some people will dispute this – is the infamous ‘Mary Poppins’ scene of Leia using the Force to save herself from the vacuum of space.
Now I know lots of people hate this scene or think it’s hilarious.
In terms of the execution of it, I have problems with it too (and with the logic of it – how does the crew open the door and not get sucked into space?).
But what I really react to is the spirit of it, the heart of it, and what it is trying to be.
On one level, it is trying give Leia a powerful Star Wars hero moment – the kind of moment you might expect of Luke.
And on another level, it is finding a surprising, unexpected moment and way to show us that Leia has latent Force abilities – and in fact has Force abilities far more powerful than we realised. It has always been hinted at that Leia is Force-sensitive.
And while we assume she hasn’t had any training, the idea that she may have some amount of training has always seemed likely, given that her brother is Luke Skywalker and there’s been thirty years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
This was a really novel and unexpected way to show us this – and not only at a moment we don’t expect it, but at the very moment where we actually think we are witnessing the end of Princess Leia.
It’s that fact – the fact that we’re fully expecting Leia’s death at this point – that really makes this sequence work on an emotional level. The way we see her face start to crystallise in the vacuum of space, and the way the familiar notes of Leia’s theme quietly kick in, and then the sudden surprise of seeing her awaken and then rescue herself – it is genuinely and viscerally a powerful moment.
In truth, some of this might be because all of this came to us in the wake of Carrie’s real-world passing – and that no doubt colours some of my response somewhat. But, even if that hadn’t happened, I might’ve liked this sequence.
Now the problem is that the execution of it is very awkward and that the logic of the sequence doesn’t hold up very well. When she flies back to the ship, it does look unintentionally comical. But I argue that at its core, at its heart, and the IDEA of it, it works very well. It would probably work better in the novelisation or in a comic-book than it does on the screen.
So I totally understand why it’s there. And, on the balance, I’m glad that we got to see Leia use the Force at least one time.
In fact, as Star Wars fans, we are actually accustomed to really powerful or important moments being somewhat undermined by clunky or uneven execution.
There are people even now who, for example, dislike the Yoda fight scene (against Dooku) from Attack of the Clones. At the time, that scene was a big moment – a big, dramatic reveal meant to do fan-service. We had never seen Yoda fight before. We didn’t know if he owned a lightsaber or even if he was the kind of Jedi who would physically fight anyone.
The Yoda scene in AOTC is in fact the perfect way to look at the Leia ‘Mary Poppins’ scene, because they’re doing the same thing in film terms. Just as we had wondered whether Yoda was a fighter, we have always wondered if Leia had Force abilities. And just as we never saw Yoda fight until that moment, we had never seen a display of Force powers from Leia until this moment.
And just as a lot of fans dislike that Yoda sequence, a lot of fans intensely dislike this Leia sequence.
For balance, a lot of fans actually do like the Yoda/Dooku fight – just as a lot of people like the Mary Poppins scene in The Last Jedi. I always liked it: but in both cases, you had a very awkward, difficult moment to try to get right and the filmmakers had to decide whether to risk the awkwardness for the sake of the potential power of the moment.
George Lucas even said at the time that he had been nervous about the Yoda/Dooku fight looking silly – but he knew it had to be there. Likewise, I’m sure Rian Johnson had similar concerns about the Leia ‘Mary Poppins’ scene.
But another good example is to think back to the birth of Darth Vader at the end of Revenge of the Sith. That whole scene was epically, beautifully sequence and rendered, beautifully juxtaposed with the death of Padme and the birth of Luke and Leia – and then Lucas almost destroyed the whole thing by having that badly executed “Noooooooo!” moment.
For some people, that killed the entire scene (heck, for some people that killed the entire film). For me, it didn’t – I loved the rest of it so much that I was just about able to forgive that really bad element.
Something similar has to said about the Mary Poppins scene in The Last Jedi. I think the execution of it is off and it undermines itself: but I get and I like the underlying idea and the reason it’s there, and I think it is a powerful moment.
And, coming back to the main point, The Last Jedi is arguably a very good swan song for Leia. In fact, I think that, as the years go on, we might look back and regard Leia’s swan song as the redeeming feature in this film.
I wouldn’t argue, of course, that The Last Jedi is a better ending for Leia than Return of the Jedi already was (and the same is even more true for Luke). But, given what Rian Johnson had to work with, I think it’s about as good as we could’ve got.
The one thing I keep thinking, when I try to untangle the confused, conflicted mess of The Last Jedi as an overall film, is that it is actually a very good Princess Leia movie.
And that certainly counts for something.