Like a lot of people, I was left very unsure about The Last Jedi: and very conflicted.
I still am. But, even in my original review, I made it a point to highlight all the positives of that film and all the things I actually did like. For all the stuff I didn’t like, the stuff I did like I REALLY liked.
Having seen the movie a couple more times by now, I want to re-supply some balance by affirming what those things or moments are: and why Rian Johnson’s Star Wars film really does have some stunning or downright beautiful things in it. These are in no particular order.
Yoda. Like I said previously, I genuinely got a tear in my eye when I realised we were seeing Yoda’s Force-Ghost emerging. The way Rian Johnson craftily establishes Yoda’s presence with the glowing-blue ghost head suddenly appearing outside of Luke’s range of vision is genius.
The whole sequence has an off-kilter, awkward feel to it, particularly in the first few moments – the first time I saw it, I thought it was clunky execution; but, on repeated viewing, I suspect this slightly surreal/eerie vibe was deliberate.
I was surprised that any Force-Ghost appeared in this film at all: and I take my hat off to Rian Jonhson for being willing to bring Yoda back (even if Anakin’s ghost would’ve been especially potent). This is the most Star Wars moment in the entire movie; the dialogue between Luke and Yoda is also the best in the film, full of affection, playfulness, serious themes and subtexts and classic Luke-isms and Yoda-isms (“Ah, young Skywalker – missed you, have I”).
Artoo & the Leia Hologram. Another moment of genius in this story. The Luke/Artoo reunion was a big, emotional moment in itself, but having Artoo guilt-trip Luke by playing the Leia hologram from A New Hope is possibly the smartest writing nuance in the whole movie.
Given the real life context of Carrie’s passing, this scene acquired even more resonance – but, even without that, it would’ve been a perfect, sublime moment within a distinctly imperfect film.
Kylo’s Decision. The sequence of Kylo leading the attack on Leia’s ship is possibly the most tense moment of the film. While his Anakin/Vader manueuvers (see my theory here) are fun to watch, it’s the focus on his indecision that really makes this moment so dramatic.
The main strength of this entire film is the sense of suspense and uncertainty throughout – and it is exemplified perfectly in this moment, as Kylo struggles to decide whether to open fire on his mother’s ship or not.
On first viewing, you genuinely don’t know which way he’s going to go. As Johnson cuts us back and forth between Kylo’s and Leia’s faces (in an echo of Anakin/Padme in ROTS and Luke/Leia in ESB), we are made to feel all of Kylo’s tortured indecision and Leia’s uncertainty.
The fact that he doesn’t ultimately fire that shot tells us that there is still some love Ben Solo has for his mother that won’t allow him to be her executioner. I still have qualms with the how the story goes later on – specifically, Kylo going full Dark Side – but this sequence still holds up as one of the most tense moments in any Star Wars film.
Chewie and the Porgs. Genuinely one of the funniest, cutest moments in a Star Wars movie: a hungry Chewbacca roasting one of the cute little Ach-To creatures and then being made to feel guilty by a traumatised porg watching him. It’s silly, but it’s perfect. We know Chewie has a big apetite (“always thinking with your stomach”) and is suffering on this barren island. Apart from the Ewok Wicket trying to figure out what Artoo-Deetoo is in Return of the Jedi, this might be the cutest thing in the franchise.
The Twin Suns. I have not come to terms with Luke Skywalker’s ending in The Last Jedi. I still have problems with it. I still have doubts about it. But the one thing I will say for it is that this particular detail – Luke seeing the twin suns of Tatooine super-imposed over the Ach-To horizon as he passes from this life – was sublime: and was precisely what George Lucas would’ve done if he had been writing the end of Luke Skywalker.
It is visual/tone poetry of the best kind. In terms of visual presentation, cinematography, establishing shots and transitions, Rian Johnson’s work on The Last Jedi is stunning, on a par with some of Lucas’s very best Star Wars work – and this moment of Luke’s ending is the perfect expression of that.
It looks like an epic painting. It is also emotionally and thematically forms a perfect circle in the epic poem of Luke Skywalker’s saga. And it is full of mystery and mythology and immaculately in-tune with Star Wars lore.
Is Luke hallucinating the twin suns? Or is he actually somehow seeing all the way back to Tatooine (as a side-effect of his trans-location act that projected him to Crait)? It isn’t clear – but the element of mystery or uncertainty is a perfect note to end on. The Force, after all, is mysterious – and this entire ending is mysterious. As much as I struggle with the way Luke’s story is wrapped up, there’s something very, very potent and resonant about this final moment.
You notice too that the expression Mark Hamill imbues Luke’s face with is intended to very much match the young Luke’s wistful, longing expression in the original scene from A New Hope.
What is it Luke is feeling here? That too is a mystery.
The Luke/Leia Scene. I wish we had had more of Luke and Leia. This one, brief moment doesn’t feel like enough. But, though it is only one moment, it’s a moment that is done perfectly. Everything from the dialogue to Luke’s simple act of planting a kiss on his sister’s forehead is perfectly measured and is almost too emotional to bear.
The details resonate too. The familiar swell of the brother/sister theme from Return of the Jedi grounds us in the past, while Luke handing the dice to Leia also continues to imbue this story with the element of mystery and uncertainty. Does Leia know this is only a Force-Projection? Almost certainly.
You also notice that even the dialogue is written as an inversion of the Luke/Leia dialogue in the forest in Return of the Jedi: this time, instead of Luke telling Leia he’s going off to confront Vader because “there is still good in him” and he can be saved, he’s telling Leia there’s no good left in Kylo and he can’t be saved.
As a final Luke/Leia moment, this is arguably as good as it could’ve been (within the constraints of a flawed story). It hits every single note of resonance – and does so within an incredibly short amount of screen time.
What also imbues this sequence with an additional layer of potency is the sense that this isn’t just Luke kissing Leia goodbye, but Mark Hamill saying goodbye in a way to his friend Carrie.
Luke Showing Rey the Force. One of the most common complaints about this film is that we don’t really get to see Luke training Rey or offering any real instruction in the Force. However, the one moment where we do see Luke trying to teach her actually proves to be one of the best moments of the film.
The way the Living Force is depicted or explained in this scene is one of the best depictions of the Force we’ve ever had (certainly on-screen anyway), on a par with Yoda’s lecture on Dagobah. But this one is much more visual and tactile – we see Rey reaching out across the living environment and taking in all of the sensory details and underlying nuances and realities, and recognising the presence of the Living Force permeating all of it.
The way this sensation is expressed to us visually is also so effective and so involving that we too, as an audience, can almost feel what Rey is feeling and understand what she is understanding.
It’s a really, really strong moment, beautifully presented to us – and is the most basic, provisional-level entry into what the Force is. The fact that Johnson also peppers this moment with perfectly-placed humour and playfulness also shows his ability to do more than one thing with any given moment or scene. Luke’s sarcasm and playfulness (rolling his eyes at Rey’s naivety and then slapping her on the hand) is an echo of Yoda’s behaviour in Empire Strikes Back.
While we may wish we’d seen more of Luke as a master and a teacher, this one scene we do get is genuinely superb.
Luke’s Last Stand. I’ve had time to reflect on this much more, along with repeated viewings; and it has to be said that Luke Skywalker’s final stand on Crait is just sublime and mesmerising on every level – how it is staged dramatically, how it is framed visually, how it is scored musically, and how it plays out in story terms.
We can quibble all we like about how Luke is written in this film: but his finale here is epic. Beginning with his almost magical, surreal arrival, through this reunion with Leia, then to him walking out to face the entire First Order as Poe and other Resistance survivors look on in awe: it all builds to what is one of the greatest twists in cinematic history – the mind-blowing reveal that Luke isn’t physically there at all, but is Force projecting his likeness from across the galaxy.
In this great twist in the narrative, we see that Luke has stuck to his statement earlier in the film that he would not be leaving the island – and yet he simply finds a way to do it that allows him to stick to this refusal and “face down the entire First Order with a laser sword” at the same time. It’s genius storytelling. And it gives us one last act of epic Luke Skywalker heroism – albeit on his own terms. Luke is the saviour of the galaxy again – and the broken Jedi who had previously complained about his own “legend” has literally made himself a legend with his final act.
It’s poetry. It’s stunning. The cinematography here on Crait is also spellbinding: and for everything that’s wrong with or lacking in The Last Jedi, this apotheosis for the legend of Luke Skywalker is something really, really special. And, I’m sorry, but that one little wink he gives Threepio as the protocol droid greets him with uncharacteristic solemnity and awe… possibly the best half-a-second of the whole movie.
Kylo Kills Snoke. Again, I have problems with some of this. Not that Snoke is killed off too early necessarily, but that this whole back-and-forth about whether Kylo is going to turn to the light or not (which culminates in this sequence) falls flat by the end.
There are things wrong with this whole sequence (a microcosm of things that are wrong with the entire story), but the moment itself in which Kylo suddenly kills Snoke is – dramatically speaking – a stunning, superb moment. It’s just so instant and so brutal – and then the sense, when Kylo and Rey join forces to fight the elite guard, that Ben Solo might be back, is emotionally engrossing.
Seeing Rey and Kylo also work together to fight the guards is a great moment, a great subversion of expectation (as is having Rey wield Kylo’s Sith lightsaber).
What then plays out after this is problem-riddled and highly questionable – a strange, ill-conceived mixture of Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi that doesn’t necessarily work very well.
But if you take this sequence up to the point where Kylo and Rey fall out with each other again – so, Rey’s arrival, Snoke’s taunting of both Rey and Kylo, Kylo’s execution of Snoke, and then the Rey/Kylo team-up agains the guards – it is dramatically, visually and tonally superb.
The ‘Mary Poppins’ Scene. Yeah, I’m going for it. Sorry, but this is a really potent, really powerful moment in the annals of Star Wars. Seeing Leia use the Force in such a big way and for the first time on-screen is a massively powerful moment. The imagery and the uncertainty; and the slow build of that familiar John Williams ‘Leia Theme’ – it’s all sublime.
Yes, it looks silly at certain points. And yes, there are some logic issues (like how the hell everyone doesn’t get sucked out into space when the door is opened for her).
But on a purely visceral level, this is one of the great, primal Star Wars moments: made all the more powerful by the real-life passing of Carrie Fisher. Carrie may have departed our lives; but Leia sure as hell doesn’t – even floating out there in the coldness of space, she still comes back to us. And it is beautiful.
One of the most overwhelming moments in all Star Wars: and one of the very best uses of the Force we’ve ever seen on-screen. Rian Johnson was both brave and bold to give us a scene like this.
I’m sure, however, that this is the most disputable choice of these ten – and this is a particularly divisive scene that provokes great division and ill-feeling. I can see both sides of that argument: but, on the balance, I think the emotional and visceral kick of this sequence overpowers the bad execution and logic-lapses. I covered this scene at more length here in a post about Leia and The Last Jedi.
This article isn’t any attempt to white-wash The Last Jedi or revise my opinion of it. My opinion of it is precisely the same now as it was then: this film is a problematic mess.
But it has its treasures and it has its moments of resonance with the Star Wars saga – which makes it difficult to truly hate it or outright dismiss it. In fact, it would be much easier if it was a flat-out terrible movie – because then I could just throw it away and never worry about it again.
It’s worth comparing it, however, with something like Avengers: Infinity War – an almost universally loved blockbuster, which I happened to enjoy massively. But, for all its simple, comic-book joyousness and epic scale, there’s no way I could pull put ten moments from Infinity War that are anything like as emotional or resonant as the ten I’ve picked here from The Last Jedi.
It’s got to be incredibly rare that a film could be so bad and so powerful or poignant at the same time.
And there’s something to be said for that.
I said it last year and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, TLJ is a good film that challenges our notion of what is a Star Wars movie. I agree with your assessment of the great moments in the movie. I really hope you continue to warm to it. Of course, some things are still unforgivable, like that casino business.
There’s actually a fair bit that’s unforgivable. But there’s stuff in there also that you just can’t dismiss.