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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Sun January 07, 2018 8:13 pm 
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stip wrote:
Ill make it more obvious. I'm on page 36 of the revision, so hopefully finished in a few hours.



Great stuff.

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Sun January 07, 2018 8:31 pm 
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Shit, I apparently skipped a scene. I swore I wrote about it too. Now I wish I saved my drafts!

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Sun January 07, 2018 8:34 pm 
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Goddamnit, Stip.


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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Sun January 07, 2018 8:36 pm 
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To fail once does not make a failure. Or something.


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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Sun January 07, 2018 8:44 pm 
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I’ve come around on the crawl joey. It is a pretty good one. Feels more like a prequel crawl but has that cool Flash Gordon episode update thing going on really effectively. Very Star warsy

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Sun January 07, 2018 8:57 pm 
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dimejinky99 wrote:
I’ve come around on the crawl joey. It is a pretty good one. Feels more like a prequel crawl but has that cool Flash Gordon episode update thing going on really effectively. Very Star warsy

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 12:57 am 
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Stip. something I think you missed. Leia and Luke’s conversation is exactly the same conversation they have in ROTJ but an inverse of it. He’s going to kill kylo whereas he was convinced Vader could be redeemed. It’s almost the same exact thing but reversed.

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:06 am 
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Ohh, that's a nice pull. But I'm retiring this for now. If I dont' stop I never will (I just e-mailed it to you)

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:21 am 
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The next few posts will be the revised version of the walkthrough - significantly more readable (I think) but no less huge.

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:23 am 
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The Last Jedi: A Guided Tour

What this is: What follows is an extensive walkthrough and discussion of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. This essay goes through the movie scene by scene, and tracks the development and expansion of themes, character arcs, and mythology. My hope is that by the end of the essay a reader would have a fuller sense of the richness and complexity of the movie, and a greater appreciation for the amazing work done by Rian Johnson, his actors, and the rest of his production team.

This is also one viewers take on the movie. The ideas reflected here are one fan’s hopefully plausible interpretations of what Rian Johnson put on screen. I have no insider knowledge, and cannot definitively speak of the authors intent beyond what has been shared in interviews, etc. And as this is not a carefully researched essay, I won’t be referencing, citing, or linking those interviews. So please feel free to disagree. And speaking of what this is not…

What this is not: Although there is more written here about The Last Jedi than any sane person could ever hope to care about, this is not an organized discussion of any given character or theme. It explores what unfolds in eAhch scene as we make our way through The Last Jedi. There will certainly be redundancies, discussions will not be as tight as they might be, nor will any given topic be explored in as much systematic depth as it might as the subject of a stand alone essay. And while I will occasionally mention music cues, lighting, and the process of movie making, I have absolutely no expertise in that area, and lack the vocabulary and insight to say anything meaningful. This focus is almost entirely on the literary elements of The Last Jedi – the characters, the themes, and to a lesser extent the world building.

Disclaimer: As I have not read any of the new extended universe material my understanding of Star Wars history is limited to the 9 movies (the original trilogy, the prequels, The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi) and the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons (though I haven’t watched this season of Rebels yet). This essay is based on five viewings of the Last Jedi. And while I’ll make a few backhanded comments about ewoks in the pages that follow, I enjoy the ewoks and their use in Return of the Jedi.

Another Disclaimer: I’ll often refer to The Last Jedi as TLJ and The Force Awakens as TFA. Usage probably won’t be consistent. I will also refer to Kylo Ren/Ben Solo as Kylo, Ren, or Ben. Ben will be used most frequently when someone is addressing the conflict within him, but usage will also be inconsistent. Finally, the original trilogy will be referenced as OT.
Penultimate Disclaimer: While the vast majority of this essay goes scene by scene there are a handful of places where I deviate slightly from chronological order in the interest of not having to cut excessively between storylines and character arcs. You probably won’t notice or care.
Final Disclaimer: This is a very long piece. There will no doubt be mistakes, names misspelled, musical cues misclassified, missed connections, and any of the other errors that can happen in a 34,000 word essay written solely because I wanted the excuse to really think through the most intellectually rich and compelling Star Wars movie to date. Thank you in advance for your forbearance.

The Characters
Before we begin I want to spend a little time discussing the frame of mind of our major characters coming out of The Force Awakens. I’ll lead with Luke, as TLJ’s treatment of him has engendered some controversy, but I think everything that happens here is internally consistent with the Luke of the movies, and what is set up in TFA.

Luke Skywalker: Based on the groundwork laid in The Force Awakens we know a fair bit about what has happened to Luke in the last 30 years. He has become a legend – whether it is for turning Vader, defeating Vader, restoring the Jedi, killing the Emperor, or standing up to the Empire. Even on backwater planets like Jakku people have heard his legend, and he clearly has the attention of The First Order as even Finn knows who he is. We know that Snoke fears him, since he considered the death of Luke Skywalker a more essential step to First Order dominance than the obliteration of the Republic. Whether that is due to the power of Skywalker as an individual who could challenge him, or the idea of Luke Skywalker as a symbol of hope and resistance we don’t know. Probably both.

More importantly, we know that he tried to refound the order of Jedi, and that this effort failed when his student and nephew, (one with Skywalker blood and the dark side susceptibility that comes with it) slaughtered most of the students and destroyed the temple. As has been pointed out to me, although The Force Awakens never comes out and formally identifies Kylo Ren as the man who destroyed the temple, it is an inference the movie wants us to make.

We know from the prequels that Anakin Skywalker is ultimately turned, not out of a desire for power, but out of a desire to do whatever is necessary to protect the people he loves. It is worth reminding ourselves that Luke was tested by the dark side three times(four times, arguably, once we get into TLJ). He fails the test in the cave on Dagobah. Insofar as he rushes off before his training is complete, and the dark side is the home of rash, impetuous wish fulfillment he fails there as well. He gives in to his hate and duels Vader in the Emperor’s throne room, and it is pretty clear that the dark side is what powers that victory over Vader. It is only in the end, when he refuses to strike down his father, that he finally triumphs over that temptation, and even there it isn’t clear if he would have made that call if the Emperor hadn’t overplayed his hand (since Luke was never motivated by power, and the chance to rule the galaxy would not have been that compelling). This will be important later as it grounds Luke's response to Ben Solo's embrace of the dark side.

Something else that Luke's experiences tell us is that the dark side is not intrinsically evil. It is seductive, dangerous, and since it gives people what they want without restraint it is highly prone to abuse and likely to be sought after by people with evil intent, but it seems more a means to an end rather than an end itself.

We know that Luke failed in his mission to create a new order. We also know that he is at least partially responsible for the turning (or failing to prevent the turning) of his nephew to the dark side, after being entrusted with him by Leia and Han. So he runs away to a hidden part of the galaxy in search of the first Jedi temple. We don’t know why, but we do know he has been missing for a number of years and that he is staying out of the larger conflict in the galaxy.

Since Rian Johnson’s take on how Luke would respond to that situation is controversial with some, it’s worth unpacking some of what we know about Luke (this is drawing exclusively from the movies). For starters, Luke has never confronted real failure before, and his actions have never had long lasting negative consequences. Things always worked out for him. Even moments where he suffers setbacks in the short term (Empire) he lands on his feet. He is rescued from certain death. He gets a shiny new hand to replace his old one. He walks out on his training, and when he returns Yoda tells him he doesn’t need any more training anyway. He ultimately redeems his father. But the kids he was training are dead. His nephew is lost to the dark side, (and as we learn, Luke helped drive him there). His attempt to found a new order of Jedi is in ashes. Luke has never had to process this sort of failure before, and all his mentors are gone.

Similarly, Luke was never at a loss for next steps. He always looked to the future. As soon as his Aunt and Uncle are killed he immediately knows he wants to go rescue the princess, fight the Empire, and become a Jedi. He had mentors (Ben and Yoda) to affirm his next steps (get trained by Yoda, fight Vader to become a Jedi). He must go rescue his friends. He must turn his father. He must found the next Jedi order. It was this certainty, and his success, that fueled the legend of Luke Skywalker, both in the Star Wars universe and among the way fans remembered him. But what happens when, for the first time in your life you confront failure, your actions have tremendous negative consequences, you’ve profoundly let down the people you care the most about, and there is no clear step forward.

That’s the headspace Luke is in when we first see him again in The Last Jedi.

Leia Organa: The character work done for Leia prior to TLJ isn't great. We know that she couldn't let the rebellion go, which is why at the first rumblings of the Empire's return as The First Order she throws herself back into that role. This must have played some role in both her distance from her son (or his perception that she abandoned him), and possibly in her estrangement with Han. She is concerned with training the next generation of leadership, and has taken Poe on as a primary project. But she hasn't had nearly the same dynamic arc as Han in TFA or what we can anticipate from Luke going into TLJ. They had both fallen and had to recover their former greatness (and both do, in the end). If Leia had a similar arc it would have likely revolved around Kylo. We all know Episode IX was supposed to be the movie where she was highlighted (eAhch of the OT characters having one movie where they serve as the primary mentor figure) so it's a shame we'll never see how her story was supposed to end.

Poe Dameron: While Poe does not have the same depth as some of the other new principles he, in many ways, represent the strongest challenge to the traditional masculine, invincible, hard charging, suspicious of authority, always fight, always follow your instincts, take the million to one shot, the hero always wins archetype (not its technical name). We learn why in The Force Awakens. Poe’s working assumption is that every problem can be solved through his own competence, his own straight ahead approAhch. When you know you'll always win it is easy to equate fighting with heroism, and its avoidance with cowardice. When he is given the map to Skywalker and given the VERY sensible advice to run from The First Order, he gives the map to BB8 and sends him off into the desert, alone and with no way to get back to the resistance, so he can stay and fight the First Order. This is a phenomenally stupid decision to make, as his presence could not have turned the tide of the battle. He should have run with BB8 and followed the directions of the older, wiser, character.

He is captured and somehow manages to escape. He is shot down in the attempt and somehow manages to survive. He is unbeatable in the cockpit of an X-wing, single handedly turns the tide in the battle at Maz’s bar, and destroys StarKiller base. His droid even managed to get back to the Resistance. He is your typical male (these characters are almost always male) action hero. He hasn't had to learn a lesson because he's never failed (similar to Luke in the OT). Prior to TLJ he is easily the least interesting new character, and he is carried through that movie by the fact that Oscar Isaac is impossibly charming.

Finn: Finn is caught between two conflicting desires as he tries to create an identity for himself. As a First Order defector he is fearful of their strength and reach, and sick of conflict. They are an overpowering presence in his life, and the idea of them is something of a trigger - a reminder of a lost and stolen life, and horrible things done in its name. To that end, what he wants more than anything else is to escape. But Finn's desire to escape is caused in part by the awakening of his humanity, shocked out of its dormant state witnessing the massacre on Jakku. That humanity needs an identity, a family, and to a lesser extent a cause to give it shape and purpose. He is a void and he needs something to fill it. He is loyal to Poe (who freed and named him). He is fiercely loyal to Rey (who he is probably at least a bit in love with but more likely just feels a strong brotherly bond, confusing that with attraction). And it is that loyalty to a single person that has thus far animated all of his actions. Although he wants to escape with her he is willing to leave without her. Until he sees that she is in danger, at which point he risks everything (including the Resistance and his own life) to try and rescue her. He returns to the Starkiller Base, and he is even willing to face down Kylo Ren to protect Rey. But there’s nothing he is prepared to believe in yet, beyond the protection of his inner circle.

Rey: We know right away that Rey is special (which, in Star Wars, is shorthand for powerful in the force). She is a prodigy with mechanical things, speaks many languages, and is a talented pilot (like other powerful force users we have met - her skillset is basically Anakin's and, to a lesser extent, Luke's). She has an exceptionally strong moral center. We know that she is poor and hungry (look at how she gobbles down her meal in TFA, and how hard she has to work for it) but she refuses to sell a droid she just met in exchange for a wealth of food resources. She is certainly smart enough to get off of Jakku, but she is haunted by the fact that she was abandoned by her parents, and is desperate to be part of a family. Rey, like Finn, is looking for a place to belong. Unlike Finn, her awakened force sensitivity changes that trajectory as she has to navigate the way she fits into the fabric of the world itself (as a powerful force users do). Han is a way forward, at least in terms of finding a place to belong, which is why she took his death so hard. Finn is another way forward, and her reaction to his risking his life to come back for her is so powerful for that reason. And it is the hope that Luke can serve as a mentor/father figure that, as much as a desire to learn about the force, that motivates her to bring him the lightsaber. Rey wants to belong, to be welcomed and to be a part of a shared story. This is the need that drives her.

Kylo Ren/Ben Solo: Arguably the most complex of all of our new characters, we know that Kylo grapples with his unique legacy. He is the child to two of the great heroes of the rebellion, nephew of Luke Skywalker. Grandson of Darth Vader, one of the principle villains of the old Empire. Powerful in the force. Clearly great things are expected of him. But the Skywalker corruption is also present within him. He feels abandoned by his parents, who were busy running the galaxy and shipped him away. He is struggling to prove himself, to remove himself from under the shadow of his family, and of course the easiest way to do that is to embrace what they aren’t - especially given the other side of his legacy he can draw upon. Plus Vader, as an idea and a legend, rather than a flesh and blood person, is something of a safe space as he represents whatever Kylo wants and needs him to be without fear of contradiction. The idea of something can never let you down. And so more than any other Jedi character we’ve seen, Kylo is in a state of constant conflict. Wanting to rebel, and feeling betrayed by what he is rebelling against (his parents, the light side), without ever openly hating it. Like Rey and Luke he wants direction and purpose. Unlike Rey and Luke he isn’t quite sure what that purpose is. He is pulled in one direction by Snoke, and the dark side preys on confusion and indecision. The pull is evidently stronger than Luke's counter balance (though we don't yet know why). But he also knows that this direction isn’t fully, authentically him, which is a major reason he roleplays the part in his Darth Vader knock off mask. We are left with a character who is extraordinarily powerful, deeply insecure and uncertain of who he is and what is expected of him (very much like Anakin). This leaves him highly susceptible to the manipulations of Snoke, who understands precisely how to manipulate him. While Vader needed to be turned to be saved, Ren is in a place where it’s more likely that he needs to be reprogrammed, to have someone remind him that there are alternative ways to relate to the world around him, and places where he can fit in, belong, be a part of something.

Supreme Leader Snoke, General Hux, and Captain Phasma: Although named, these are secondary antagonists. They aren't intended to be fully fleshed out characters in their own right, but obstacles for our main characters to overcome. They don’t have arcs, and that isn’t their role in the story (and to try and give them arcs will further crowd and already crowded field). Like Boba Fett, Jaba, the Emperor, Tarkin, even Vader in the first film their motivations are straightforward - cause problems for the main characters. Phasma serves as an embodiment of the First Order for Finn, Hux as a rival for Snoke’s affections for the insecure Ren, Snoke as an external corrupting influence for Han/Luke/Leia, and an abusive parental figure for Ren. No doubt secondary literature will flesh out these characters, and make their on screen presence richer, but that will be an act of retroactive world building (as it was in both the OT and prequel trilogy).

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:25 am 
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The Last Jedi

Opening Crawl: The crawl serves to remind us that the First Order is much larger than Starkiller Base (which makes sense, as Snoke wasn’t there), that the Republic fleet and its governing structures were destroyed, and that the First Order is in ascendance. All that’s left of the Resistance (which was never large – they were basically a small private militia, not the military arm of the Republic) is fleeing the First Order. We have the introduction of one of our major themes – that it isn’t the job of the Resistance to defeat the First Order. Instead, their purpose is to be an idea, to be a symbol of hope that will inspire the galaxy to rise up against the First Order. That’s why they need Luke so badly. The Jedi give the Resistence a mythic framework and make the struggle about more than simply trying to get a few ships together and harass the First Order. As the crawl makes clear, it’s not that Luke will single handedly turn the tide of the war by destroying the First Order. The idea of Luke Skywalker, Skywalker as a living symbol of resistance to tyranny and triumph against impossible odds, is needed to galvanize the rest of the galaxy. Once that happens we can begin to discuss building a rebellion that can meet the First Order in the field.

There’s something subtle in the final paragraph in the crawl – the first sentence is “But the Resistance has been exposed.” I believe they are fleeing the base they occupied in TFA, so we know how the First Order found them. But the language also implies something a bit more nefarious – that they were betrayed, possibly by someone internal. Using the word exposed instead of discovered imparts an extra sense of weakness and vulnerability, and this is going to inform some of the secrecy we see in the Resistance leadership later in the film. So does the final adjective in the crawl, desperate...

Resistance Evacuation: In the middle of the aforementioned desperate escape the Resistance isn’t fighting to win. It is fighting to survive. The opening shot shows the Resistance fleeing, a series of transports fleeing to one medium sized cruiser (the Raddus, named after the Mon Cala admiral who fought the Empire at Scarif during the events of Rogue One). Our first exchange of dialogue is about abandoning supplies and focusing on the evacuation of the people (the idea that the power of the Resistance is found in the spirit of the people fighting it, rather than their military might, will be a recurring theme). We see the Star Destroyers (or whatever these new ships are called – I’m calling them Star Destroyers) come out of light speed and we know, immediately, that the resistance is hopelessly outgunned. And this is before the arrival of the truly massive Dreadnought (and the next time you watch this movie listen for the air raid sound design when it teleports in. Massive, foreboding, it sounds like a natural disaster in space, as if simply moving something that large through hyperspace is tearing apart the fabric of space itself).

Hux immediately begins pontificating – name dropping that his orders come from Snoke, talking about the historic importance of his actions. He is supremely confident, and utterly certain, but it is a certainty that comes from entitlement (which is why he is such a fun foil for Kylo Ren. Ren has real power and no confidence. Hux is a fraud (as we are consistently reminded throughout the movie) but he doesn’t know it, doesn’t care that his power is unearned, and revels in his privilege. In fact, his only tactical contribution to the battle is to tell the commander of the Dreadnought to do all the work. He is a real 1% villain. It’s also why he doesn’t seem to understand that Poe is ‘tooling’ with him. He simply can’t grasp that he would be treated with such disrespect by someone so clearly beneath him.

Poe is in full on action hero mode here. One man against impossible odds, facing down a Dreadnought. It’s an act so audacious the First Order isn’t even remotely prepared for it, and of course Poe succeeds, wisecracking all the way. That’s what heroes do.

This is also pretty familiar Star Wars visual language – the smaller ships engaging the larger siege craft that can’t fight back as effectively is how the first Death Star is destroyed. It’s how the Millennium Falcon survives its engagement with the Star Destroyers while fleeing Hoth. It is ramped up here as we have one ship attacking a fleet (several squads of fighters assaulted the Death Star and the Falcon was only trying to run), but it is important that the audience is reminded just how good Poe is, since his arc is about learning that there are problems you can’t fight your way out of. That’s a much harder (and more valuable) lesson to learn when you are as talented as Poe is.

I love that general on the Dreadnought. I wish we got more of him. He’s the sort of person who probably should be leading the First Order military, but as we later see from Snoke, he isn’t trusting of independent competence – people he cannot control and manipulate.

The Resistance is able to evacuate prior to the base being destroyed. Leia calls the mission a success. The people are safe. The Resistance can flee. The idea lives on. Poe refuses, hanging up on Leia in the middle of her order to evacuate. There is a fight to be had, and he can win it. Poe takes out the last cannon, the music swells, Poe cheers, and orders the bombers in. Cowards flee. Heroes fight on. This is exactly the kind of move we are hardwired to applaud, and as we discover, sometimes (and almost always in real life) we shouldn’t.

The massive cannons on the Dreadnought (which obliterate the base in several shots) are a striking reminder of just how vastly outgunned the Resistance is. They also show why Poe is so anxious to destroy one (he refers to them as fleet killers and it is easy to see why). Leia orders him back, knowing that the presence of one less Dreadnought is not, in itself, going to change the struggle against the First Order. The Resistance is just too outgunned at this moment. It is entirely possible the First Order has more Dreadnoughts than the Resistance has bombers (Poe refers to it as A Dreadnought, not THE Dreadnought). But Poe is only able to think in terms of short term engagements, and he wants the win. He just single handedly took out the small ship to ship defenses on a Dreadnought. He is high on his own success and pushes the bombers forward, against the order of his commander – the far more experienced Leia. Being an amazing pilot does not make you an effective tactician, or a great leader, and as we learn he makes the wrong call.

The bombing fleet is decimated by the Tie Fighters, though one does make it through. I love the design on these ships – the rows of bombs, the way they descend. The fact that they are something tactile rather than the energy bombs from the Y-Wings, the way they seem to rely on gravity – bombs pushing the other bombs down). The size of the payload is staggering compared to what we’ve seen, and it would need to be given the size of the target.

We have a few moments with various pilots. We need to see the Resistance as a character in itself, something we can believe and invest in, and we do that by spending these small moments with these dedicated soldiers (this is something Rogue One does very well in its third act) sacrificing their lives for a cause they believe in. And we see half of the necklace owned by the courageous bombardier that completes the mission, which becomes a minor plot/character point later in the film.

There is a subtle callback to the moment in Return of the Jedi when an out of control A-Wing destroys the shield on Vader’s Star Destroyer, enabling the rebel fleet to destroy it. In this case it is a destroyed Tie Fighter that crashes into one bomber and sets off the chain reaction that wipes out the entire bombing fleet, save the one ship that completes the mission before being destroyed.

We have the classic Star Wars moment where the Dreadnought is destroyed seconds before it is about to destroy the Resistance cruiser and end our story. Rogue One subverted this trope by having the Death Star fire and kill the good guys anyway (It’s a narrative choice they could make as none of these characters needed to survive. Their story was ended), and it’s a powerful moment. That doesn’t happen here, but what we still get the undermining of that trope. Rather than cheer, Leia looks over at her display and sees all the ships lost due to Poe going into business for himself, the lives lost that she was responsible for. She knows that if Poe had just ended his mission when Leia ordered him to they could have retreated prior to the autocannons threatening the cruiser, and everyone would have survived. Leia’s sober response is a nice juxtaposition to the shot we get of Poe in his cockpit, face lit by the exploding Dreadnought, in awe of what he just accomplished.

There is a lot of excellent use of silence in these scenes, as the music cuts out at some of the most dramatic moments. We just hear the remote control for the bombs clanging against the side of the ship. We hear the breathing. We don’t hear the order to fire on the Resistance cruiser but we see the Dreadnought captain yelling so hard he is about to give himself an aneurism.

Also BB8 is now half Chopper/half prequel R2. There are worse places to be.

Back on the Star Destroyer we see Snoke humiliate Hux (that humiliation is an important element of how he controls his chief subordinates, and why he uses commanders that are so insecure (in the case of Ren) or so prideful (in the case of Hux). We have our first nod to hyperspace tracking, the technology that drives one of our main plots. There is also a subtle nod to Snoke’s power, where we see him using force powers to abuse Hux across a larger distance than we have previously seen (I believe) Vader or the Emperor use them.

On the resistance cruiser Finn wakes in an understandable panic, and we have his reunion with Poe. It’s a small character moment for Poe, but an important one. Poe does feel deeply (his responses to being reunited with BB8 and Finn in both TFA and TLJ speaks to this) but he hasn’t made the leadership connection between his concern for people as individuals and the larger responsibility he has for the lives of the people in the Resistance.

Finn, whose last memory was falling to Kylo Ren on Starkiller Base and in is a state of mind somewhere between anger, panic, and concern, uses his first moment of dialogue to ask about Rey, which gives us our lovely transition back to the end of TFA…

Ahch To: We open with some beautiful aerial shots of the island. Its serenity speaks to the ‘zen master at peace with his surroundings vibe’ we are primed to expect. Luke may have wanted to be left alone, but that’s part of the familiar story. Master isolates himself. Worthy student undertakes the arduous pilgrimage to find him, and the master rewards the student by training them. Another trope the film inverts.

We linger on the shot of Luke being handed his lightsaber, and after 30 years expectations are incredibly high for this moment. It’s a chance to see Luke as the wise jedi master we always imagined he would be – his chance to welcome Rey the way Obi-Wan welcomed him, and indoctrinate her into the mysteries of the Force. Luke seems conflicted when she hands him the lightsaber – that weapon houses a lot of memories, not all of them good, but all playing a part in shaping the hero he became. An understandably powerful reunion. The camera holds on Rey for a moment, a faint anticipatory smile on her face. And then Luke scowls, chucks the lightsaber over his shoulder, and walks away.

It’s a stunning moment, a complete inversion of decades of expectations, and speaks powerfully to the state of Luke’s mind without him having to utter a single word. Rey, as the audience surrogate, is shocked. It takes her a few moments to process what just happened and her initial reaction is to assume this is some sort of misunderstanding. She chases after Luke, addressing him as Master Skywalker, imposing on him the title of Jedi, the role of mentor/teAhcher, and reminding him of all the baggage he left behind. She says she is from the Resistance. Leia sent her. They need help. Any one of these has been, and should be, enough of a trigger for Luke to rush out to save the day, to reengage. Of course no one asks the question ‘why is Luke in hiding in the first place? Why wasn’t he already a part of this struggle.’ It is striking that Luke’s first words after thirty years of silence are ‘go away.’ Something is very wrong

This is a really important moment in the film, as it’s our first major introduction into the dichotomy between the idea of a mythic hero (stalwart, certain, engaged, all knowing, transformative, comforting, inspirational), and the reality of that person’s life (messy, complicated, flawed, imperfect, scared – there are notes of fear in Luke’s evasion, and Hamil’s excellent performance). With both Han and Luke (Leia never got her chance) these movies are asking us to see these heroes as people who have to work hard, and sometimes fail, at living up to the mythic ideals we attribute to them. In Luke’s case he doesn’t want that burden anymore. Not after his spectacular failure.

There is also some foreshadowing here about how Luke has closed himself off from the Force. He should have sensed Chewie. He should have known that Leia needed his help. He should have sensed the destruction of the Hosnian system and the billions of lives lost. He shouldn’t need to be told any of these things. But again, because everyone is swept up in the myth of Luke Skywalker is no one is asking about the condition of Luke Skywalker the man.

Rey picks up the lightsaber which is itself a quiet but symbolic gesture, especially knowing that Luke never takes it back. This is the first moment where Rey can really claim it as her own. We have begun the process of passing the torch. This is followed by that shot of Luke’s X-wing under the waves, which is another great moment where the movie shows a lot without having to tell. We know that Luke has been here for a long time, with no plans to leave. It gives the audience an explanation for how Luke arrives at Crait, before we know the truth. We also all envision in our minds a scene where Luke uses the force to lift the X-wing out of the water a la Yoda in Empire – a sign that he has come into his own as a Jedi master capable, perhaps, of replacing Yoda. Of course that doesn’t happen, but this film is playing off of decades of anticipation, head canon, the deification of the character. And this makes what actually happened to Luke more difficult to swallow (and, in the long term, more powerful when it is resolved).

I love Chewie punching in the door and yelling at Luke to get his shit together. It’s a nice reminder of how Chewie is the silent, reliable backbone of our classic OT heroes. Luke has the creeping realization that something happened to Han (why would Chewie and the Falcon be here without him?). It’s Luke’s first visceral reminder of the price he’s paid for leaving the world behind (and with eAhch of these reminders his resolve and his confidence in his decision to exile himself starts to erode just a little bit)

We also meet the progs, who are adorable, and even though the rational part of me knows that the porg stepping on the lightsaber isn’t going to turn it on and cut himself in two, I was still kind of afraid for him. I am one of those people who actually likes the Ewoks, but in terms of Star Wars cuteness they’ve outdone themselves here

Snoke's Throne Room: We have our first shot of Kylo, back in his mask after his failure at Starkiller to defeat Rey (as well as his failure to resolve his conflicted feelings about his father). The mask is an important prop for Kylo. The mask is interposed between himself and the world around him. It projects an image he can hide behind, and enables him to embrace a character he doesn’t yet fully believe in. When the mask is off he is vulnerable, open, raw.

We receive so some more insight into Snoke’s style – the way he withholds and rewards his love and affection for his chief subordinates. He is an abusive father in all the ways Han wasn’t, which is one of the things that is keeping Kylo off balance. He feigns concern about Kylo’s wound (and if you watch Snoke’s face when he asks he looks genuinely concerned – you know he isn’t, but he plays the part well enough that Kylo (and Hux) will continue to hold out for the possibility of father's approval, if not affection.

The mind games start immediately. After asking about his wound he speaks about Ren’s potential, his power, the strength of the bloodline – both flattering Ren and playing into his idealized image of himself, while also reminding Ren of the external measure he is failing to live up to (the new Vader). And then he immediately withdraws that praise. Ren is lost, devastated. Voice practically cracking (the almost gentle quality of the way he delivers the lines, even with/because of the voice modulation is striking) he reminds/pleads with Snoke that he has given everything he has to Snoke and the dark side (and he has). Where is his reward? Where is his support? When will he cease to feel conflicted? What does he have to do?

Snoke instructs him to take the mask off, because he knows Ren is even weaker without it, and Snoke leads by exploiting weakness (something he literally tells Ren moments ago when speaking about Hux, but Ren either doesn't make the connection or, as is often the case in abusive relationships, is too trapped to act on that understanding). There is the reference to his father’s heart, and we are primed to assume he is talking about the Skywalker side of his blood, until Snoke mentions Solo (Young Solo instead of Young Skywalker). The adjective young is used here dismissively – implying that he is a boy, inexperienced, not yet a man. Ren whispers that he killed Han Solo, the boy killing his father as a rite of passage and, laying to rest the part of the past that prevents him from completing his journey into adulthood. Snoke responds by pointing out that the act has destroyed him, made him unbalanced, allowed him to lose his fight to Rey (this was all there in TFA but not spelled out explicitly). Ren rises in anger and is immediately struck down by Snoke, whose power is made immediately manifest, and is impressive in the casual way he wields it. He tells Kylo “Alas, you’re no Vader. You’re just a child in a mask.” And we have here the first seeds of Ren’s major arc in this film – the need to fully destroy the past to become your own person, his own man. Whereas for Rey the past is a legacy she hopes to discover and embrace (before learning she has everything she needs in the present), for Kylo it is something that has failed and needs to be not only abandoned, but murdered.

The angry destruction of the mask in the elevator ride down from Snoke’s audience chamber is Snoke’s second act of destroying his past (the first being Han’s death in TFA). A signal that he won’t be bound to the image of Vader. He is going to be his own person. The furious demand to prep his shuttle (so he can go out and destroy the last vestiges of the Resistance, including his mother) is yet another step.

There is an emphasis on action as an end in itself in the way Ren operates. He will conquer his inner turmoil, not by confronting it, or making peace with it (as Luke and Rey ultimately do), but by systematically murdering every connection to his own history. If he can cut enough ties the conflict will just disappear, as there will be nothing left to feel conflicted about.

I didn’t care for the hologram of Snoke in TFA but I am a fan of his design here. The ruined face speaks to a deeper history and shows without telling. The robes are pure ego. They remind me a bit of something Hugh Hefner might wear, and speak to a self-absorbed (but casual) ostentatious that the Emperor never had. They both were defined in part by their hubris, but Snoke revels in it in a way the Emperor doesn't (perhaps because his rise to power was accomplished by masking his power and intent, perhaps because he was more confident than Snoke in his power and position).

Snoke also reminds us, in this exchange, that the power of the Jedi is less in what they can bring to bear in terms of the war, and is instead found in the Jedi as a symbol, a mythic alternative, the embodiment of hope. We know from the prequels (and Luke knows from his own experience) that this isn’t what the Jedi always were in practice, but who the Jedi really were is largely irrelevant. This is myth making, and so what matters is what the galaxy (and the audience) thinks they are and expects them to be.

Adam Driver is magnificent in this role. In the prior film he murders his own father, one of the most beloved characters in movie history, and yet we leave this scene seeing him as a victim, hoping for his redemption. We exit this sequence with the linger shot of his shattered and smoldering mask on the floor of the elevator. He has left Darth Vader behind (and we will see a mirrored shot during the final Throne room confrontation).

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:27 am 
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Ahch To: The transition back to Ahch To is nicely done , as Rey’s dialogue (which is about how there is no light left in Ren) begins before the mask shot fades. Luke is pained to hear this, and the comment about Ren being lost is probably the least helpful thing she could have said. Rey continues to browbeat Luke, trying to bludgeon him into returning by pointing out how dire things are (again, misunderstanding that she’s dealing with Luke the wounded man, not Luke Skywalker the legendary Jedi Master), and how they need the Jedi Order to return. Not simply Luke, but the Order, the expectation being that Luke should get right to work training more Jedi, not understanding the impact the prior catastrophe had on Luke – a reminder of a profound failure he simply does not understand how to deal with.

She concludes her appeal with a demand (heartfelt but still a demand) that they need Luke Skywalker. She is talking about Luke Skywalker the myth, but Luke doesn’t believe in that myth anymore. Not after the failures she just reminded him of.

“You don’t need Luke Skywalker”
“Did you hear a word I just said?”
“You think what? I’m going to walk out with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order. What did you think was going to happen here. Do you think I came to the most unfindable place in the galaxy for no reason at all. Go away.”

Luke’s response makes perfect sense, since he’s responding as a man, not a legend. Noo longer believing in the legend he can’t imagine what good he can do, since one man can’t take down the whole First Order. The use of the laser sword language is calculated. It’s not a laugh line. It’s meant to demystify and dismiss the Jedi. And Rey is not in a place where she can effectively respond to this. Not knowing exactly what the Jedi are or aren’t,(and there haven’t been Jedi, other than Luke for two generations), she probably did assume that his Jedi powers would somehow turn the tide of the war, destroying the First Order through the force. But that’s not their strength (and probably never was. Even at the height of the Old Republic there would not have been enough Jedi to literally be the enforcers of peace and justice for an entire galaxy). Snoke understands the power of the Jedi as a symbol that is capable of tipping the balance of power. Leia probably understands. But since Luke doesn’t believe in himself (and can’t until he is able to reconcile his failure with his sense of self), and because he is that symbol, he cannot make that connection.

This is also a nice bit of foreshadowing since, for all his dismissive scorn right now, in the end Luke does face down the First Order with his laser sword, and in that act restore hope to the galaxy. That moment is far more powerful given the depths from which Luke had to climb to get there.

Rey refuses to leave. Luke could probably make her leave, but doesn’t. There’s some small part of him that is still holding on. He chooses instead to wait her out by deglamorizing the myth of Luke Skywalker, and in the process provides insight into how mundane his life is. We see how far he has fallen (Yoda had more dignity in his small swamp hut on Dagobah, Ben as a hermit in the desert). The milk scene speaks to a voluntary loss of self-respect. The fish spearing scene is dangerous (Rey fears for his life) but the mundanity of it (the conventional ways in which he spears his catch) also provides us some important insight into Luke’s state of mind. He could have caught his food in a far less dangerous way by using the force rather than cliff jumping and spear fishing from a wet, windy ledge. His grim satisfaction and pride in his catch tells us much about his refusal to use the force. It isn’t spelled out to the audience explicitly until later in the movie, but the seeds are there for a careful observer (and to be clear I missed all this on my first few viewings).

Rey senses the force tree for the first time, and Luke is intrigued. For the first time he is interested in who she is, the fact that she has seen this place in dreams (and there is an ethereal quality to Daisy Ridley’s performance in this scene that captures the mystic, otherworldly feel of this moment). The fact that Leia sent her is not lost on Luke. There were surely better messengers if you simply wanted to remind Luke of his past. Rey is a stranger, but perhaps one capable of rekindling something within Luke. And as Luke pushes Rey to give a real answer beyond the ‘The Resistance sent me’ name/rank/serial number reply we see him become somewhat responsive.

The old Luke is still in there. He is just trapped, crushed by his failure, by his inability to live up to his own mythic deification of his old masters (Obi Wan and Yoda failed more spectacularly than Luke ever did, but Obi Wan and Yoda are symbols for him, not imperfect people). Luke lovingly handles the Jedi texts. He refers to himself as a Jedi for the first time (like me, they’re the last of the Jedi religion). Rey tells Luke, plaintively
“Something inside me has always been there, but now its awake, and I’m afraid. I don’t know what it is, or what to do with it, but I need help.”
It’s a very vulnerable moment, and Luke simultaneously sympathizes with it and retreats back into his own failings. She needs a teacher, but Obi-wan is gone. Yoda is gone. Luke is a failure. There is no one left to bridge past, present, and future, and so the Jedi will end. Luke can’t save it.

“I will never train another generation of Jedi. I came to this island to die. It’s time for the Jedi to end.”
Those three lines, and this scene, capture the heart of Luke’s internal conflict. His failure as a teacher means there can’t be more Jedi, which means he has failed his order, failed his religion, failed the galaxy, and failed himself. What is left for him, measured against that?

And once again Rey responds to this moment in the wrong way – engaging Skywalker the myth rather than Skywalker the man. “Leia sent me here with hope. If she was wrong she deserves to know why. We all do.” More unasked for obligations. Luke is too fragile to owe anyone anything right now. He needs to heal himself before he can heal the galaxy. He wants to, but he doesn’t know how.

Resistance Cruiser/Space: We are back in hyperspace. Leia is at a table, pensive and broken up about both the deaths of her troops, and Poe’s failure. The next scene is her slapping Poe and demoting him. Poe is stunned, as this is not how these exchanges are supposed to go. He took down the Dreadnought. He won. You start an attack, you follow it through, he tells her. But there’s no medal ceremony, and Leia reminds him that some problems can’t be solved by jumping in an X-wing and blowing stuff up. “I need you to learn that!”

This scene is doubly challenging because not only is the hero being punished for doing traditional hero things, the stodgy commanding officer who is holding the hero back is, herself, one of the great heroes of Star Wars. This dynamic plays closer to our expectations when Holdo assumes Leia’s role later on. But Leia is someone whose judgement we are primed to trust. It is doubly striking because this exchange is filtered not through Leia’s anger (which is how these scenes usually go), but through her powerful disappointment.

“There were heroes on that mission”
“Dead heroes. No leaders”

Finn is on the bridge, and even though their lives are in danger his thoughts are again with Rey. How, in the middle of nowhere, will Rey find them. Leia reveals a tracking beacon with the phrase “to light her way home.” The Resistance is the home and family she was searching for, and she has almost fully embraced this (and will need to in order to take on the mythic role the galaxy has in store for her). But for Finn this is still something more personal. His home is the small circle of people in his life, not the cause.

We receive a brief description of the Resistance plot for the rest of the movie. Find a base and get a message to allies in the Outer Rim. Turn the Resistance into a Rebellion. Again, it is worth remembering that while TFA could have made this explicit, the Resistance was basically a splinter militia. The Republic had an armada, but after decades of war didn’t want to engage the First Order. They were holding out for peace and not appreciating the magnitude of the threat of the First Order (the World War II parallels should be obvious). Leia did, and that’s what the Resistance was - an attempt to stymie the First Order in the absence of a full commitment from the Republic. But the Republic is gone, and Leia is hoping that people sympathetic to what she was doing then are prepared to fully commit now. This moment isn’t about fighting the First Order. It is about laying the foundation for a future struggle. From Resistance to Rebellion.

The First Order appears from hyperspace and we learn that First Order can track them. Sadly, Admiral Ackbar’s peunultimate words are ‘Proximity Alert” rather than “It’s a trap”. The initial visual is striking in that we see just how vastly outgunned the Resistance is, especially with the arrival of Snoke’s command ship (featuring the same wonderful sound design as the earlier Dreadnought).

Poe immediately takes command and orders the jump to lightspeed, acting on instinct. It is again Leia who is the voice of reason, pointing out that they are somehow being tracked.

Finn, thinking the First Order is unbeatable, assumes they’ve lost. Poe on the other hand, figures that if he just gets into his X-wing he can somehow turn the tide of the fight. Note that he doesn’t have an actual plan, just a conviction that he can solve the problem himself. There is a fu comedic beat where he throws the ‘you can’t solve every problem by jumping into an X-wing and blowing something up’ line back at Leia.

They do scramble the fighters (the cruiser still needs to defend itself as they think of next steps. There is a time and a place for Poe's approach and this was that time and place). The shield bombardment sound effects begin, a hollow metallic thump that will punctuate the eventual destruction of the Resistance for the rest of the film.. There is also another ‘Resistance as character’ moment as we see some of the pilots (including Poe’s second from the earlier assault) acknowledge each other (one even winks) before going into combat. Likeable people you want to root for.

We see that Ren is in the lead tie fighter, and we would expect to see a dogfight between two ace pilots (Ren and Poe). But, in another move that subverts expectations, Ren is able to get to the Resistance hanger and destroy it before the X-wings scramble and Poe can get to his ship. The Resistance fighters are now totally gone. They have no way to actively engage the enemy. It’s a devastating blow to the Resistance, and one of the real low points for the good guys in Star Wars space battles (it reminds me of the moment the Death Star first fires at the Battle of Endor). This is a character defining moment for Poe. He is now fully steeped in crisis, and his go to method of resolution is no longer available to him. It’s a further emasculation of the character (being stripped of his weapon, being dressed down by a female superior – though that will be much worse with Holdo, as he respects Leia). This is followed by a moment where both Leia and Poe, at different points on the ship, give the same order to move away from the Star Destroyers, which is intended to show that they’re often in synch with each other in terms of tactics. It is the when it comes to strategic objectives that they differ.

The music cuts out and the sound dims as Leia and Kylo sense each other. Leia resigns herself to her fate, and this is the likely origin of her ‘I know there is no good left in him’ confession to Luke later in the movie. But she may be wrong. Kylo hesitates, sensing Leia. He is tense and tearful, trying unsuccessfully to steel himself to take the shot, bridge in his scope. It is actually one of his wingmen who fires the shot moments after he takes his finger off the trigger.

The missiles streak towards the bridge, the sound kicks back in, Leia briefly prepares herself before being sucked out into the vacuum. And this is a blink if you’ll miss it moment, but Ren appears to shoot down the tie fighter that destroyed the bridge, and with it the Resistance high command and his mother.

Hux, frustrated, asks what the point of the First Order’s fleet is if they can’t destroy some tiny cruiser, which manages to stay just ahead of the fleet, shields holding. Again his general unfitness for command (beyond Snoke’s ability to manipulate him) as well as his entitlement is on display, though he’s pleased when he realizes that their defeat is inevitable. He orders the First Order to keep shooting, even though it is ineffective, for the psychological impact it has will be devestating – the Resistance knowing their time is running out, listening to the steady impacts of the cannons that will eventually destroy them.

In keeping with Hux’s character, however, he seems to order this more to be a jerk than because he wants to keep them off balance. As we see later in the movie, Hux is blinded by his own sense of superiority and his desire to lash out at those he deems inferior.

We cut to Leia in space, surviving through the force and reaching out to drag herself back to the cruiser. As has been pointed out to me, she is still within the confines of the cruiser’s shield, and perhaps there is some residual oxygen/heat to lessen the strain. But then again, the force is magic and this is no less crazy an ability than the other things we’ve seen. Visually the scene doesn’t fit well with me, and I’m not convinced by this ability, but if I’m honest this is just an arbitrary preference and does speak to Leia’s power with the force. She hasn’t been idle these thirty years (and this may have been building to something in Episode IX). There’s another moment where there is silent dialogue among the cast (Poe yells something to Finn when he sees Leia),as Rian Johnson realizes the musical cue will be more powerful than any obvious thing a character has to say.

Leia is alive, but unconscious, and in her state she drops the tracker. Finn picks it up, and Rey’s safety is now his personal responsibility. To reinforce their bond we cut to Rey sleeping on Ahch To, clutching the other beacon in her hand.
At this point we have established the basic rules of engagement for the Resistance retreat part of the story:

1. First Order Fighters won’t harry the cruiser without Star Destroyer cover (to prevent them from taking return fire)
2. The Resistance ships are faster because they are lighter and slower
3. Their shields are sufficient, as long as there is power, to withstand the First Order bombardment at range.
4. The Resistance ships are dangerously low on fuel
5. They cannot jump to light speed to escape the First Order
6. The First Order can use siege tactics to defeat them (basically require them to waste resources until the run out, then easily pick them off)
7. There are no combat options available to The Resistance

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:29 am 
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Ahch To: The Porgs guilt Chewie into not eating them. It’s adorable. Porgs are the best. Chewie is pissed that he feels bad about eating his dinner. He would have eaten an Ewok.

Luke’s curiosity gets the better of him and he boards the Falcon, sneaking past Chewie. He is reaching out to his old life, but afraid to fully engage it. He has a moment of remembrance in the cockpit of the falcon, and takes Han’s dice (lucky dice, I guess?). He has his reunion with R2, who berates him for running out on his friends. He insists to R2 that he’s not coming back, and that nothing can change his mind, but you are left with the sense that at this point Luke is trying to convince himself as much as R2. R2 knows it, and plays him Leia’s message from a New Hope – the plea from Leia that ultimately created the legend of Luke Skywalker. And this gets through. Rey wakes to see Luke standing over her (a visual that will mirror his disastrous confrontation with his powerful nephew years ago), and he offers to start training her. It’s a begrudging offer (three lessons), steeped in his own frustration, and he justifies it by telling himself and Rey that he’s doing it to prove a point about how the galaxy has grown past Jedi. But the offer is made nonetheless. Luke will train another Jedi

Resistance Cruiser: We are briefed on the status of the Resistance. Leia is recovering. The rest of the leadership is gone. A discussion begins about the chain of command and who should take her place. Poe, Leia’s protégée, perks up, assuming this is his moment. He deflates as soon as he learns it isn’t him. That’s not how this story is supposed to go. Now is the time when the hero is asked to rise. Instead we are introduced to Holdo. Apparently Leia had another protégée as well, though we won’t learn the truth of that relationship until later. Right now the film expects us to treat her as a rival/obstacle.

Holdo gives a hard speech. The Resistance is down to 400 people on three ships. But like Leia, Holdo knows that the point of the Resistance is not to defeat the First Order, but to plant the seeds of rebellion that will in turn defeat them.
“We are the spark that will light the fire that will restore the Republic. That spark, this Resistance, must survive. That is our mission.”
These thoughts will be echoed by Poe at the end, albiet with a martial spin appropriate to the character. The troops are dismissed with a ‘may the force be with us’ speaking to the continued symbolic importance of the Jedi, especially within the Resistence/Rebellion.

Poe is pissed. He doesn’t know Holdo. He isn’t in her good graces. He doesn’t know her plan. He feels powerless grounded. There is literally nothing useful for him to do right now, and he can’t deal with it – especially as a warrior hero. And who is this Holdo to supplant him? He has a slightly dismissive moment towards her. She is apparently the hero of some great battle, but not what he expected (the implication here is at least in part that she is a soft spoken woman, rather than a hard charging masculine warrior). However, this is less about a gender bias in Poe (who is not a misogynist character) than it is the exploration of this particular hero archetype (which is itself steeped in certain gender conceptions).

Poe approaches Holdo, interrupting her work as she assumes command, states the obvious about their fuel situation (which she sarcastically thanks him for) and demands to be let in on her plan. And she doesn’t tell him anything. Again this is infuriating if you assume Poe is the central character in the story. He is, after all, the archetypal hero and should be taken into confidence. But from Holdo’s perspective:

1. She just met this person
2. Leia, who she trusts, just demoted him (which she reminds him of in a condescending manner, though not unjustifiably so, since they lost part of their fleet with nothing to show for it, at least in terms of their current situation and mission)
3. It is entirely possible there is a spy or some other way the First Order is tapped into their ship (they don’t know how the hyperspace tracking is happening yet, and as is stated earlier the Resistance doesn’t yet know this technology exists
4. As leader, she does have more important things to do than share plans with a mopey grounded pilot
5. Poe is coming across as entitled, demanding to know what is going on, privy to information the other 398 members of the Resistance haven’t yet received.
6. Command structures exist for a reason, and information is usually compartmentalized in this way for a reason.

She leaves Poe with a sneering remark, all the more infuriating for its gentle delivery.
“I’ve dealt with plenty of trigger happy flyboys like you. You’re impulsive. Dangerous. And the last thing we need right now. So stick to your post, and follow my orders,”
Poe, seething internally, is unceremoniously dismissed. As the audience is primed to sympathize with Poe with think that Holdo is either a withholding bitch, has no plan, or is possibly a traitor. In either case she is standing in the way of Poe saving the Resistance, because that’s what Poe’s job is. That’s what leaders do, Leia’s admonition be damned.

Holdo doesn’t have many scenes in this movie, but she never has a wasted line. All her moments are impactful. The primary purpose of the character is to advance Poe’s arc, but Laura Dern really gives her a life of her own. She is gone too soon.

Resistance Cruiser (again): We cut back to Finn, who at this point is terrified about what the Resistance's situation means for Rey (less so everyone else). He’s looking for a way to abandon the ship, with the tracker, so he can get somewhere safe and, in turn, keep Rey safe. This does mark a step forward for Finn. He is running once again, but he isn’t doing it out of a fear for his own life. He wants to protect Rey.

He walks past Rose, who is crying over the death of her sister (we see a necklace similar to the one held by the bombardier who died destroying Dreadnought). Rose, in turn, desperately needs to believe that her sister died for something. She is doubling down on the Resistance as a thing in itself – a cause made flesh.. She recognizes Finn as a Resistance hero (and Finn is, quite genuinely, tickled to be thought of that way), and this is a powerful moment for her given how emotionally fragile she is right now – especially since her sister thought highly of Finn. She sours when she realizes he is trying to escape. She won’t tolerate someone abandoning the cause after her sister gave her life for it. It’s all she has now. Not aware of his justification (or, for that matter, caring about it) she stuns him, preventing him from fleeing.

Finn wakes on a gurney, paralyzed. He lays bare his motivation – that the fleet is doomed and if the fleet is doomed Rey is doomed. He is truly trying to save himself to save her, a quasi heroic thing to do, but again his vision is somewhat limited by the fact that he is so terrified of the First Order, so overwhelmed by his prior experience. In the process of their conversation they figure out how to possibly stop the hyperspace tracking, and share an initial bond over their knowledge (Rose using her technical knowledge and Finn his First Order experiences).

Like we also saw at Starkiller in TFA, Finn is willing to risk his life to save Rey (the Resistance is secondary for Finn, but primary for Rose) by sneaking into a highly fortified imperial base (in this case a Star Destroyer). He isn’t yet a full fledged hero, but he’s inching ever closer.

Obviously they go to Poe, as he is Finn’s closest contact in the Resistance. Poe is eager to help, to do anything, and there is a nice beat when he assumes that the key to victory is simply blowing up the lead Star Destroyer, rather than infiltrating it and disabling the device long enough for the Resistance to escape. Poe is on board (a long shot plan, how could he not be?!), and 3PO points out that Holdo will never agree to their plan. That’s likely part of the charm for Poe – a way to get back at her. “It’s a need to know plan, and she doesn’t.” Again, as the audience we are primed to support Poe, to be grateful he is doing something, and assume that heroes like Finn and Poe, working outside the rules and taking action, will save the day.

This is a spectacularly disastrous decision in the long run, and one that would have been avoidable had Poe trusted Holdo.

There is that brief little interlude (cute enough) as the new trilogy continues to try and make Maz Kanata a thing, this time playing up her roguish side (likely how Solo knew her) rather than as a font of ancient wisdom. Still, she is one character too many for this film (no fault of the performance) and Maz simply needs more screen time to have an impact (especially as this film has more memorable mentors and more memorable rogues). She sends them to Canto Bight to find a hacker who can get them onto the lead Star Destroyer. It’s a reminder that she’s there, but in the interest of narrative tightness, Poe, or Rose (who is worldy enough) could have just known to look for a hacker on Canto Bight. It is one of the very few scenes in the movie where actions are removed from any character development. It just exists to remind everyone that Maz survived. I think I would enjoy this character if we got to spend sufficient time with her. But that isn't happening here.

Ahch To: Rey awakens for her first day of training, while Kylo is having his scar tissue (a legcy of his fight with Rey on Starkiller) repaired. Somehow they sense each other’s presence despite being on opposite sides of the galaxy. The music cuts out so we just hear their distorted breathing, making the moment disorienting and intimate. Rey, not certain what is going on, picks up her blaster and shoots. Kylo flinches in his chair, but all she’s done is blow a hole in her room. Both Rey and Kylo flee their spaces, searching for the other. They make more direct contact and Kylo immediately tries to take over her mind, ordering her to bring him Skywalker (which would restore his status with Snoke). They quickly realize that they’re connected somehow, but they aren’t sure what’s going on. Kylo points out that it can’t be her drawing this connection, as the effort would kill her (which is an important bit of foreshadowing for later).

Kylo is curious, intrigued, calm. It’s maybe our first introduction to Ben Solo in this film. He senses a kindred spirit (and did during their duel on Starkiller, offering to teach her then) Rey is seething, seeing only Kylo Ren, the monster who killed his father. Luke appears, inadvertently breaking the connection, though not before Kylo senses him. The dynamic will change over time, but a key to why Rey ultimately tries to save Ben is this initial reaction. He acts less like the monster she thinks he is, and more like someone who wants to understand the world around him. Rey, searching for answers, attracted to lost souls, is drawn to this.

Rather than tell Luke what happened she blames the destruction on a blaster malfunction. Clearly not the first impression she wants to make on training day one.

Luke takes her to a meditation point, created as part of the temple complex. We pass a mosaic (allegedly of a being who looks a lot like Snoke).

Rey (in one of the very few expository transitions in this movie) reminds Luke that the Jedi are needed to fight the First Order – that without them the Resistance doesn’t’ stand a chance. Based on her experiences earlier that morning, she couches the ask in terms of needing a counterbalance to Kylo Ren (again, probably the worst tactic she could take, but an understandable one given her recent experience). Luke asks her what she actually knows about the force, and, as it turns out, not much (“It’s a power that Jedi have that allows them to control people and make things float…” she finishes weakly). This again plays into the myth vs. reality theme running through TLJ. We don’t know what Jedi actually are or what they do. But we know they’re powerful, transformative, and that with the Jedi on your side you can accomplish the impossible.

Luke responses with an “Impressive. Every word in that sentence was wrong.” It’s a snotty dismissal now, but it’ll play powerfully we call back to it at the film’s climax. And we’ve all had those teachers.

We get a lot of valuable insight into Luke’s state of mind based on his lessons with Rey. The Force is not a power that the Jedi own. It is larger than them. It is a power that belongs to all thing that binds the world together (this will be called back in Rose’s final line at Crait – ‘that’s how we’ll win. Not by killing what we hate, but saving what we love’), and gives the desire to belong that is at the heart of Rey, Kylo, and Finn’s stories resonance within the fabric of the Force. They all, in their own way, seek balance. To claim that one group has dominion over this idea is vanity and hubris. The Jedi serve the Force, but the Force does not need the Jedi, and it is this realization that enables Luke to rationalize the end of the Jedi as a result of his failure.

There is a nice playful moment here, reminiscent of Yoda (who was mischievous), when he tickles Rey with the feather when she responds to Luke’s directions a bit too literally.

When she has her first real moment reaching out with the force we have our first extended discussion of what the force is (besides midichlorians) since Empire. The focus is on the concept of balance. Life/Death. Heat/Cold. Peace/Violence – the thought that all ideas require their opposite to give meaning, definition, purpose, substance. One cannot exist without the other. This also helps to reframe her perception of Kylo Ren. He’s less a monster and more someone out of balance – someone who needs helps. And Rey cannot resist reaching out to someone who needs help.

She also suffers the pull of the dark side. Luke is casually dismissive of the experience at first, shrugging his shoulders and noting that the presence of a powerful light necessitates the existence of a powerful darkness. But he fails to recall how seductive it is. Rey, who needs answers, who needs power, is drawn to it and, as we discover, there is no countervailing force of light to help her resist it. There is an imbalance on the island, but the imbalance comes from the fact that Luke has closed himself off to the Force (hinted at earlier). She reaches for him, to use him as a beacon, but he isn’t there.

Luke immediately changes the subject when confronted by Rey’s realization. Instead he focuses on his terror at her raw power and her susceptibility to the dark side – reminiscent as it is of Kylo Ren and a stark reminder of his failure there (and possibly the ease with which he had himself been tempted at critical points in his own life). Training someone to resist the dark side may just require a better teacher than Luke. Does he want to weaponized Rey under those circumstances? And when he says she and Kylo are the two most powerful force users he has ever sensed it is worth remembering that this is a man who knew Obi-Wan, Vader, Yoda, and the Emperor.

As an aside, I love that seaweed encrusted hole that is the access point to the Ahch To cave. It’s natural and organic and oddly terrifying.

Ahch To (again): Porgs have taken over the Falcon, the chocolate to its peanut butter. Rey is surprised Chewie can’t get in touch with the Resistance but asks him to keep trying, and find out how Finn is doing. Rey heads back out in the rain and seems almost happy, at peace. Despite her being drawn to the cave (perhaps not aware of/appreciating the risk) she is being trained by Luke, beginning to understand the Force, and through it her place in the world. It’s in this state that she and Kylo connect again.

Kylo again is curious, inquisitive, wondering why the Force is connecting them, Rey is angry, defensive. She taunts him that it is too late, and that she’s found Skywalker (still unaware that his primary power is as a symbol of hope, rather than as a weapon to be used). This is an opening Kylo exploits – anxious to be vindicated. He admits to destroying Luke’s temple, but taunts Rey with the promise of a deeper meaning – a hidden motivation that will justify his actions, and possibly help bridge the gap between them (something Kylo, if not Rey, is clearly looking to do at this point). She calls him a monster, and he owns it, but he was created. The connection breaks, and Rey is disturbed, but at least a little intrigued. Kylo wipes his face to discover that the rain on Ahch To has somehow carried across their link (again an important bit of foreshadowing for the final showdown on Crait)

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:32 am 
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Canto Bight: The conspiracy is launched, as a shuttle leaves the cruiser and one of Poe’s allies hides its departure.

Canto Bight is probably the weakest stretch of the movie (though not without its merits). It’s biggest weakness may be the lack of subtly compared to the rest of the film. We start delving into some political themes that a film like Rogue One was perhaps better positioned to explore, and the main points are fine (and a worthwhile thematic expansion), but we’re a bit too obvious, especially given how nuanced the rest of the movie is.

Here is the 1%, lavishly at play while the rest of the galaxy burns. The subtext is that the wealthy and powerful will always come out on top, and are divorced from the struggles of the rest of the galaxy. These are not the allies in the Outer Rim Leia was hoping for. This will not be the kindling the spark of the Resistance ignites.

This is likely Finn’s first exposure to anything outside the military (not counting his brief stints at Maz’s bar or Jakku). The whole sequence feels very prequel insofar as we have some exposure to a galaxy that does things other than fight each other. With the music and the horse racing there’s a 1920s Great Gatsby feel to this (along with an on the nose period musical cue when they find their hacker).

As Rose encourages Finn to look closer he discovers that their wealth comes from dealing arms, and he sees animals and kids being abused for the amusement of the wealthy patrons while Rose describes the way her people were victimized by the First Order. For the first time Finn is confronting the First Order not as a military threat, but as a symptom of something larger, something that rots society from underneath – the treating of people as things. For the first time in this story Finn is being asked to think in terms of principles that go beyond the safety of himself and his friends. This is one of the character beats that helps justify the existence of Canto Bight.

BB8 discovers their hacker, but before they can approach him they’re arrested thanks to an odd redneck sounding alien who was angered that they parked where they shouldn’ (another moment that feels decidedly prequelish, as those movies had an affection for broad accents and anachronistic humor). I think almost all the comedic beats in TLJ land, but this one doesn’t quite work for me. Having said that, I enjoy BB8’s Chopper moments here – getting fed quarters by a drunken patron (using them as weapons later) and the rolling sound he makes when he’s full of them. They’re light, fun antics.

Ahch To: Rey is training with her staff, and sees her lightsaber in her pack. She ignites it (the first lightsaber moment is 58 minutes in, which is kind of astounding and speaks to Rian Johnson’s restraint). Her theme plays, and she gets caught up in the elegance of the weapon and the moment. Luke comes to observe, and what is initially set up as a mentor/pass the torch sequence turns slightly sour when Rey cleaves off part of the rock, almost crushing the caretakers below her. Luke fears her power, and the reckless potential within it.

Luke lectures Rey in the meditation chamber, arguing that underneath the Jedi legend is a legacy of failure. It is no surprise that Luke is fixated on this legacy. He is its direct heir, and he understandably focuses on the rise of Emperor and the corruption of Anakin. And he’s not wrong, except that he is. The Jedi failed in the end. All things fail in the end (in fact the balance at the heart of the force discussed earlier speaks to this – a cycle of growth – death – decay - growth ). But prior to that the Jedi endured for a thousand generations (tens of thousands of years). This temple has endured that whole time. The legend of the Jedi grew from this strength, this endurance, this legacy. That in the end it faded does not negate what it had previously accomplished.

Luke can’t get past this conviction –that failure is an end – that once you fail you can never recover. That in the process of failure you undo all the previous good of a life well lived. Failure and success are not held in balance with each other. There’s no cycle here. They stand as stark opposites, diametrically opposed and incompatible. It’s not necessarily surprising Luke drew this conclusion despite it contradicting his earlier teachings about the force. Failure is a harsh lesson, and it is easier to learn from it when there is someone there to guide you, to believe in you, to help you understand that failure is a chance to grow and begin again. And when Luke finally did fail he didn’t have that mentor to help him learn that lesson. This is, in large measure, why he we find him in the state he’s in.

Rey understands the truth of failure in a way that Luke doesn’t, perhaps because, unlike Luke, she lived a life full of failure and disappointment. Yes it was a Jedi who created Darth Vader, but as Rey points out, it was a Jedi who saved him. And this conversation, whether Rey is aware of it or not, has her thinking about Ben Solo, another Skywalker in need of saving.

We’ll see where the series goes in Episode IX, but there is powerful thematic resonance here. Skywalkers, the alleged redeemers, are all themselves at one point or another in need of redemption. Luke saves Anakin. Rey and Yoda save Luke. Will someone save Kylo?

It is here that Luke opens up about what happened with Kylo. He sensed the power within Ben’s ‘mighty Skywalker blood’ (a backhanded midichlorians reference). He claims that training him was an act of hubris, that it disrupted the balance that existed previously. But again, what Luke is describing as balance here isn’t balance the way he described earlier. Balance is a cycle of renewal, growth, death, and decay. It is a dynamic process, not a static moment. It is peace, but not peace as an absence of conflict. It is peace that is derived from a system that exists in harmony with itself. To that end reducing our understanding of the force to a fight between light and dark sides where one must necessarily triumph over the other makes the force about the Jedi, a parochial worldview which, as Luke discussed earlier is itself hubris.

Luke tells the story of the training temple (Ben and a dozen students, at least initially), and it is important to note that the moment where he struggles the most is with the trust Leia put into him – the trust that she would watch over her son. Luke clearly feels that he violated that trust in a deep and personal way, and it isn’t surprising that he might run from Leia after so intimate a betrayal.

Luke continues, speaking of his confrontation with Ben, who, in Luke’s mind, turned on him, left with some of the students, and killed the others. Leia blamed Snoke, but as Luke admits “It was me. I failed. Because I was Luke Skywalker. Jedi Master. A legend.” It is clear that Luke believes being a legend in his own time gave him an exaggerated and unearned confidence that he could be a teacher, and it is clear why he runs away from that title now. He isn’t worthy of it, and the attempt has only brought disaster. That in the end Leia’s version of events was probably correct is irrelevant. Luke believes himself to be the villain of this story.

Rey grasps something important here, as she responds “The galaxy may need a legend.” She is starting to understand the value in the myth of Luke Skywalker and the Jedi Order even if the man himself is letting her down. A legend doesn’t have to be accurate to have meaning. An idea doesn’t have to be true to have power. It just needs to be believed.

She follows this realization with two more personal observations. “I need someone to show me my place in all this” a longing for answers and a place to belong that will shortly drive her towards the dark side cave, and towards a fixation on Ben’s redemption. She argues that Luke didn’t fail Kylo. Kylo failed him. This, as we’ll learn, is a half-truth. They failed each other, but that they failed doesn’t make them failures.

She ends with the promise not to fail Luke. It isn’t yet clear what that means. Fail him as a student? As a Jedi? As someone who can redeem Kylo and through that redeem Luke? Maybe all of it.

Resistance Cruiser: We see the medical frigate run out of power. Shields down and adrift the First Order makes short work of it – the inevitable fate of the other Resistance ships. The personnel evacuate to the main cruiser, but the loss hits Holdo hard, to say nothing of the rest of the Resistance. They are running out of time, and Poe is getting all the more anxious. Holdo has a brief moment of weakness, but when it is announced they have only 6 hours of fuel remaining she tamps it down, puts on a brave face, and urges them to maintain their course.

Godspeed Rebels was an odd final thing for the frigate captain to say before dying, since there’s never been any discussion of a god within the Star Wars universe, and we usually get may the force be with you. Maybe that’s just a hard thing to shout out with your dying breath.

Canto Bight: In the prison we get to meet DJ (unnamed), a mercenary in prison willing to help Rose and Finn for the right price. We are immediately primed not to trust him. He looks dirty, he is in prison, he is only willing to help for money (troubling for idealistic crusaders), but they’re drawn to his competence. Plus Star Wars has a history of filling its ranks with self-interested rogues who do the right thing in the end. Narrative convention tells us this will be okay.

They escape but are immediately separated. DJ meets BB8, who somehow managed to take out and bind the guards off frame. It’s fine. If I wouldn’t complain about Chopper doing it I can’t complain about BB8 doing it.

We get the extend chase scene as Finn and Rose flee Canto Bight on the back of some kind of giant horse (the species name escapes me). It’s overlong, and lacking the character focus present in the rest of the action, but there are a few key beats. We meet the slave kids who choose to help Rose and Finn escape once they see they are part of the Resistance (Rose gives one her ring). Finn takes satisfaction trashing the town (and freeing the animals, as Rose reminds him- she’s a bit more morally sophisticated than Finn) because it’s the right thing to do. We see Rose’s increasing impact on Finn – his gradually awakening to the idea that there are causes bigger than yourself and greater than your own survival. He still understands this negatively – he is motivated by anger and hate rather than love. A desire for revenge more than a desire to help – but he continues to move towards the living, not just surviving, requires investment in something beyond yourself.

We also get a reprise of Finn’s escape ships getting blown up in front of him. I’m sure we’ll get that beat again in Episode 9.

Fortunately, DJ and BB8 show up to save them at the last moment, so the mission is saved.

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi (revised version on p.6)
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:34 am 
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Ahch To: Luke journeys at night to the meditation rock, and opens himself up to the Force for the first time in years – reaching out to Leia, and it is this contact that awakens Leia from her coma.

Ben and Rey have their third connection (that we see. One is left with the impression that there may have been others) and there is an increasingly easy familiarity between them. Kindred spirits, if not friends – strong in the force, the same teacher, the same feeling of loss and loneliness (Rey may not have been as responsive if Finn was around). The growing realization that each is uniquely situated to understand the other in a way that few others could.

I quite like the comfort of the opening exchange:

“I’d rather not do this now”
“Yeah, me too”

This is followed by Rey asking a shirtless Ben to put on a cowl – which speaks to a growing tension which, if not quite sexual, at least speaks to intimacy.

Rey asks him why he hated his father – which has been the burning question she needs answered in order to start to understand him. He had a family that loved him and he threw it away. It is all she ever wanted. How could he do that?

The conversation shifts over to parents, framed in terms of inheritance, not legacy. Rey asks for an honest answer and doesn’t doubt his response when he says he didn’t hate Han. Ben turns this back on Rey – she had parents who abandoned her that she still longs for. That longing is reframed as weakness – holding onto the past in a way that prevents you from moving forward. Ben didn’t want to kill Han. He had to, in order to become whoever it is he is meant to be. A dark but necessary rite of passage, enjoying some corrupted parallels with Yoda’s final advice to Luke that “we are what they grow beyond." It’s a devastating and destructive answer, but given the constant series of parental betrayals that constitutes his life as he sees it (being shipped off with Luke, Luke failing him, the abusive relationship with Snoke, his complicated relationship with Vader) it isn’t a surprise that he has adopted this frame of reference. If anything it is even more applicable to Rey, who has literally wasted her life desperately needing the people who abandoned her – afraid to forge a place for herself that is independent of her past. Ben assumes the role of mentor to Rey, saving her from making the same mistakes he did as she reproduces this same dependency on parental figures with the same people who let Ben down (Han, Leia, and Luke)

“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. It’s the only way you can become who you were meant to be” It’s a powerful line, especially when connected back to Rey’s plaintive need for “someone to show me my place in all this.” It’s also a generational marker – written for younger audiences grappling with a world they didn’t make, full of problems they didn’t cause, full of struggles they didn’t ask for and promises that can’t be kept, that they will have to find a way to answer for. If you are a young person coming into your own in a world where the environment is collapsing, living is more expensive than ever while opportunity is scarcer, the intractable bigotries of past generations dominate politics, and no one but you can fix it this is a theme that will resonate. Younger audiences need to figure out how to confront the past they inherited (taking the path of Ben Solo or Rey). Older audiences, in turn, are invited to grapple with the failure of their own legacy. Harsher themes then we may be used to within Star Wars, but potent.

Ben drops the bombshell that Luke tried to kill him because he sensed and feared his power, as he does with Rey (and Luke has said as much) which will force a dramatic reframing of their relationship, and drives her closer to Ben. The way this scene is shot, from Ben’s memory, Luke looks terrifying - wild eyes, grim determination, lightsaber ready to strike. And Ben was just a teenager. It’s not just that this explains what drove Ben away. This eventually gives Rey the justification she needs to aggressively try and redeem him. He is out of balance, and it isn’t his fault. His life has been a product of other people’s choices. He was unmade, but with her help he can be remade.

Seeking answers, Rey undertakes a journey to the dark side cave. It’s a visually stunning sequence, but when she asks about her parents and receives her promised answer, she’s shown no one but herself. The message she will ultimately take away is that it doesn’t matter who her parents are – that her character, not her blood, shapes her destiny and that the future is hers to craft as she sees fit. But after having searched for that answer for so long she feels let down, exposed, vulnerable, lost, hurt, and alone. She feels abandoned, not emancipated, and it is Ben who tells her that she is not alone. They open up to each other, two lost souls searching for meaning, and for the first time Rey feels, in a powerful way, that Ben is someone who can be redeemed. She extends her hand and he reaches out to take it (a mirror of the scene we’ll see later). They touch, the force theme plays, and a powerful connection is forged between them – the seeds of redemption that will pay off in the throne room sequence.

Luke walks in on their spiritual intimacy and breaks the connection in a panic, assuming that Kylo is corrupting Rey, rather than Rey saving Ben. In anger, simultaneously hoping Ben lied about Luke (to save her image of Luke) and hoping that it is true (to save her image of Ben) she confronts Luke about what really happened the night Kylo destroyed the temple. Luke tells her to leave the island, banishing her, ending their training, rather than confront what happened – his greatest failure. She forces him to the ground to get an answer, and they have a brief duel with staves. It’s important to note that Luke uses his powers twice during this sequence (once to summon a staff and once to stop himself from falling – his force abilities have been dormant, but they’re still there, and they return to him on instinct. He came to this island to die, but his will for self-preservation is still strong. What happened with BEn is at the heart of Luke’s internal conflict, and as Luke processes it he will ultimately emerge from this extended sequence reborn).

Luke defeats her, until she summons his/her lightsaber and forces a confession. Luke vocalizes out loud, probably for the first time, his deepest failure. That for a brief moment, confronted with the darkness in Ben (as we later learn, likely amplified by Snoke), he briefly gave into the dark side impulse to kill him in his sleep. Easy enough to justify for the greater good, and a complete violation of everything he stands for. Luke had been here before – tempted to kill Vader but ultimately refusing the dark side impulse. He does so again here (the moment passes – a terrible test but one Luke passes. The shame he felt was appropriate, but something he should have learned from). Tragically Ben opens his eyes at the worst possible time, and in a moment of self-defense fully embraces the darkness within him – not out of a lust for power or dominance, but as a buffer against an intimate betrayal.

“And the last thing I saw were the eyes of a frightened by whose master had failed him”

Rey seizes this opening – it wasn’t Ben’s fault. The conflict within him stems from this moment (not what Luke said, but what she wants to believe). If confronted with an alternative he could be turned. When they touched hands she believes she saw a future where he can make a different choice. She connects this back to the larger story. Saving Ben is not just a good in itself. By saving him they can stop the First Order, change the balance of the war. “This could be how we win.” Given the fact that Snoke was manipulating this entire relationship I wonder how much of this is Snoke. Does Rey want to turn Kylo because he’s a powerful weapon (echoes of the Emperor, and Snoke), or because she wants to save a soul? The fact that both answers are plausible says something about both the complexity of Rey’s character and points out the flaws inherent in the light side/ dark side dichotomy. Could it be both?

There are echoes of The Empire Strikes back in this moment – the promising student rushing off to confront her rival, incomplete in her training, against the wishes of her master

Rey offers him back his lightsaber, but Luke turns away. She offers the intriguing departing line “he’s our last hope” with all the echoes of the OT. The galaxy needs a Skywalker. It needs a Jedi. She has no faith that Luke will rise to meet the obligation. The last hope is still a Skywalker, but this time it’s not the hero. It’s the villain, and the hope that the villain can be saved (which we are nicely primed for as an audience We’ve seen this in the OT. We know how it goes down).

Rey departs without receiving Luke’s promised third lesson, but she’ll receive it before the end, as Luke’s final teaching (to Rey and the galaxy) is how to model rising above failure. But Luke isn’t there yet. Rey is gone, and Luke has once again failed– another student killed or gone to the dark side. But, this is a new, raw, open wound, intertwined with the scars left by Ben. But this time he’s not hiding from his pain, having just spoken of his true failure, his true shame. And because it is exposed, it can be cured.

Ahch To: Luke watches her leave, and Luke seems to resolve some internal debate. The Force Theme plays, and he approaches the tree – lighting a torch, not a lightsaber. He is going to burn it down. Frustrated, lost, alone, confronted once again with failure, he has no idea what else to do and can see no other way out. It is a reaction born of panic and despair, not calculated intent.

Before he can ignite the torch he senses behind him his old teacher, and he turns to greet Master Yoda. He doesn’t look happy to see him. Almost annoyed – one more person to pile on him when he’s at his lowest – to hear about how he’s failed.

Yoda greets old man Luke as “young Skywalker”, which itself is telling. A reminder that Yoda has lived longer, seem more, survived worse – that perhaps Luke’s problems may not be as big as they seem.

Luke confesses that he is going to burn down the tree and text but, his resolve is fading. Perhaps it is the rashness of the action (as we saw earlier, there is a part of Luke that still wants to believe). Maybe he can’t imagine committing such an act of sacrilege in front of Yoda. He hesitates.

Yoda doesn’t. He focuses for a brief moment and calls down a bolt of lightning that sets the tree ablaze (and establishes new possibilities for force ghosts in the process – perhaps this will come up in IX). Luke is horrified that Yoda just followed through on the threat Luke just made (“Do or do not. There is no try”) Yoda laughs at Luke’s confusion in his playful, knowing way – understanding that Luke needs this sort of shock to the system . That no less than Kylo Ren he has to confront his past. Yoda visualizes this through the destruction of the tree (whose symbolic value is now largely negative, a reminder of past glory and past folly) but he is really talking about the way Luke is tangled up in his own past – his own failures.

Luke asks aloud if it is time for the Jedi to end. Yoda, more than anyone would be entitled to make this decision. Yoda’s speech patterns work well here, as we get the answer “Time it is” and a pause before he continues “for you to look past a pile of old books.” As Yoda understands (and as Luke understands rationally but cannot feel emotionally) being a Jedi is about your relationship with yourself, and balancing yourself within the universe (something he can explain to Rey but cannot model himself). Finding your place. The texts cannot do that for you. (Plus Rey took them before she left so what wisdom they had she can still access. Luke, interestingly enough, never learns this, so Yoda’s comment that the library contains nothing Rey does not already possess has a sly double meaning that no doubt amused him).

Luke is here at his most vulnerable. The tree is burned. He directly confronted his failure with Ben. He just failed Rey. But here, at this moment of absolute failure, he is finally again in the presence of a teacher – someone who can reframe that failure as something to learn from (which Yoda understands better than most, given his own biography). He reminds Luke that the past and future is less important than this present moment, and that his past failures negate neither the need or ability to act in that moment. It is not too late for him to learn from his own mistakes. To do what is needed. That he is still Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. “Lost Ben Solo, you did. Lose Rey, we must not.” The ‘we’ is important here. It reconnects Luke to a larger shared history and context. It reminds him that he is not alone, and that the past, properly understood, can be an ally as much as an enemy, since relationships are built on history. It makes the struggle Yoda’s as much as it is Luke’s. And it is not too late.

“Heeded my words not, did you. Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery, but weakness, folly, failure, also. Yes, failure, most of all. The greatest teacher failure is.

Luke, what we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”

This is an epiphany for Luke, as he sits beside Yoda (the part of his part that shaped him), watches the tree burn (the part that holds him back), and begins to heal.

It’s an amazing moment, an amazing scene, and the entire extended sequence from the first “I’d rather not do this right now” until the very end is as moving and insightful as Star Wars gets.
I think this is Yoda’s most powerful observation in all of Star Wars (probably the most powerful observation period). That what we pass on to those who come after us is the ability to be better than us, to pass on our strengths, and, by understanding our own mistakes, helping them to move past our own weakness. And it stands in stark contrast to the philosophy of Snoke, who revels in the weakness of the next generation as a way to hold onto his own strength. Snoke is defined by the refusal to allow those he would teach to grow.

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi (revised version on p.6)
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:34 am 
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Can this thread count towards my 50/50 challenge

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi (revised version on p.6)
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:35 am 
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Hyperspace: Finn, Rose, BB8, and DJ are heading back to the Resistance cruiser. There are a few important moments that occur on the ship. DJ plays up his mercenary credentials, demanding a deposit for his actions.

“Guys, I want to keep helping. But no something.. no doing”

He demands Rose’s necklace which the audience knows is something akin to a personal violation, given its emotional importance. Finn refuses but Rose, in tears and willing to sacrifice everything for the Resistance, gives him the necklace.

“Now, I can help.” What an asshole, we think. We can’t help but compare him to Han and Lando and see all the ways he fails to measure up.

Finn goes to confront DJ, to demand that he give Rose back the medallion (Finn is still willing to potentially sacrifice the larger mission for his friends. Loyalty to those he cares about above all else remains moral north star). There is the reveal that the ship is not DJ’s, which is itself not all that surprising. But it does allow DJ to demonstrate to Finn that the people he hated on Canto Bight are making their money selling weapons to both the First Order and the Resistance. It establishes that the universe is complicated, but given the direction Finn’s arc is trending this isn’t an insight that impacts him in a profound way. It does clarify DJ though, and DJ represents the road not taken for Finn – had he gotten on that freighter in Maz’s cantina and abandoned the struggle.

“Finn, let me learn you something big. It’s all a machine, partner. Live free, don’t join.” (hence DJ) This philosophy was what animated Finn until very recently and what, through the people he cares about and the experiences he has, he is starting to reject.

Resistance Cruiser: Snoke’s Dreadnought destroys the last of the support cruisers as we watch the escape pods make their way to the Raddus. It’s also worth pointing out that the final ship destroyed is the same style of ship we see fleeing the Empire during the opening sequence of A New Hope. But to clarify the raised stakes, the Empire was looking to capture that ship and take prisoners. This is a fight for survival. No prisoners, no survivors. It's a subtle way to lean into and take advantage of existing Star Wars symbolism and iconography without beating the audience over the head with it.

Poe is well aware of those stakes as we see him storm the bridge. The older female officer informs him he’s been banned from the bridge (again, it’s not an accident that these officers are all female as it feeds into the deconstruction of Poe’s masculine hero archetype).

“The admiral has banned you from the bridge. Let’s not have a scene.”
“No, lets”

Poe is understandably panicked (moreso than the other officers on the bridge who, while worried, seem to have faith in Holdo). Poe is feeling impotent. Grounded, in the dark, waiting for Finn and Rose to execute his plan and unable to help. He’s a bystander, not controlling the central narrative of the story, and he cannot handle this.

Poe storms into the room and is greeted in a dismissive fashion by Holdo. He gives his big impassioned speech , beseeching Holdo to remind them all that there is hope – though this is as much about Poe reasserting himself as the hero (speaking up for the crew who all seem less beleaguered and distraught than he is) as it is Poe looking for reassurance.

Laura Dern is wonderful in this scene, exuding a long suffering, frustrated but ultimately patient calm. Although Poe is getting in the way, she does understand where he is coming from, and, as we learn later, she does like and respect him. She just understands that he can't provide the leadership the Resistance needs in this moment. Reinforcing the hope theme, and reminding Poe of the fact that she, too, had Leia’s trust she responds with:

“When I served under Leia she would say “hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it you’ll never make it through the night.”

And it is telling that Poe finishes that sentence. It’s a reminder of Leia’s central importance to the Resistance, the fact that Holdo and Poe shared the same mentor, and speaks to the calming, reassuring presence of Leia (or better, the idea of Leia) – even in her absence.

For a moment Poe is satisfied until he sees that the transports are fueling. From Poe’s hero perspective this is craven. It is running from a fight, and he calls out Holdo as a coward and a traitor in front of her crew. As an audience we are still primed to side with Poe. We take this as, at best, the last desperate act of a woman who has no ideas, no right to be in command (especially with more capable men like Poe around). At worst, part of us suspects that Holdo might be in league with the First Order. In either case, the way this scene frames our expectations is clear. It is up to heroes like Poe and Finn to save the day with the traditional Star Wars million to one shot that always works out. Holdo is clearly the obstacle that our heroes have to overcome.

On a careful rewatch there are, of course, subtle clues that our expectations will be subverted (I certainly did not pick up on them on the first viewing, where I was wholly swept up in the traditional narrative). When Poe is throwing his (literal) tantrum, disrespecting his senior officer and tossing furniture security moves to intervene and Holdo holds them back. In the end Holdo simply banishes Poe from the bridge so she can do her work. If she was truly occupying the place in the narrative we expected Poe would have been arrested, especially after calling her a traitor. We know there is a working stockade on the cruiser because Rose alludes to it earlier in the film.

Hyperspace: Poe is over the intercom warning Finn that they are running out of time. But while Poe is speaking is focused on DJ (with a calculating expression), not Finn. At first we think nothing of this., but it establishes that DJ is aware of the Resistance plan. Finn assures Poe they have a codebreaker and they can pull this off – they just need more time.

Poe is resolved. He knows what he needs to do to buy time. He’s not happy about it, but there’s no internal doubt In his expression. Poe didn’t get this far by second guessing himself. Their plan may not succeed, but he knows Holdo has no legitimacy, and following her doom them all. It is time for Poe, the hero, to save the Resistance.

Cut to Rey in the Falcon, prepping an escape pod (the first time we’ve seen one on the Falcon) to go to board Snoke’s ship. She is determined to save Ben – motivated by both her conviction that he can be saved and that she is the one to do it (certain of a bond between them – and she’s not wrong that it exists, though its shape and substance is still forming) as well as her disappointment in Luke. Having given up on him, she fully believes that turning Ben is the only hope of the Resistance (and the galaxy).

Note that Rey, like the rest of the galaxy, is still invested in the Skywalker mythos. Some Skywalker needs to save them all. Even though Yoda identified Rey as the galaxy’s best hope, Rey still sees herself as a supporting player in this story. It’s her job to bring the real heroes into the fold (the Skywalkers), not take her place among them. How could she? As she told Luke, she is a no one from nowhere.

Although it hasn’t had any primacy in the narrative we know Rey has conflicted feelings towards Finn, and rather than resolve them in this scene (which would have been a distraction) we have a nice moment where Rey is grasping for what to say, Chewie completes the thought in wookie, and Rey can leave knowing that Chewie knows exactly what to tell him if she doesn’t make it back. When no one can understand what a character says, they can be wiser than the most insightful screenwriter.

Rey’s exact line is “If you see Finn before I do...” She’s nervous, but it is the nervous energy of one about to undertake a huge and difficult project. She truly doesn’t think she is heading off to die (and doesn’t say goodbye to Chewie). The viewer is left with the impression that Rey, a caretaker, is concerned with making sure that Finn is told something reassuring, to make sure he is okay, rather than closing out their relationship. This is going to work. She’s seen the future and doesn’t know enough of the force to be suspicious of those visions. Luke’s warning that ‘this is not going to go the way you think’ can be safely ignored, the ramblings of a broken man. She is still learning her powers, and making the mistakes all people do when they are first gifted with the power to do new and great things (relative to what they could do before) and lack the wisdom that comes from time and experience – learning the limits of those powers (see college freshman, or any graduate student teaching their first class, for instance).

The Falcon briefly drops from hyperspace, deposits Rey (who is immediately picked up by the tractor beam in Snoke’s Dreadnought and pulled in). She waits in her coffin, anxious for her first face to face glimpse of Ben since their confrontation on Starkiller – since her new insight into who he is, and her understanding of his inner conflict. There is an energy between them, a tension that is almost sexual, and you can see that a part of her is as excited as she is nervous. She sees Ben and the look on her face is full of surprise, anticipation, and nerves. It doesn’t turn to resolve (and maybe fear) until Ben, trying to look stonefaced but clearly conflicted, walks away and she is left to be cuffed by the Stormtroopers. In a way this sequence is being framed as a grand romantic gesture, the consequences of which neither party involved can fully understand, but are nevertheless fully committed to.

Finn, Rose, BB8, and DJ drop out of hyperspace, and we get another demonstration of DJ’s easy confidence as he quickly and casually cloaks their ship and slices a hole in the Dreadnought’s shield so they can board. DJ’s loyalties are in doubt. His abilities are not.

Resistance Cruiser: Poe is trying one last time to work within the confines of Resistance hierarchy, as he tries to convince Holdo of the need to delay their evacuation. Poe has the barely contained calm of someone who is tired of talking to idiots, and Holdo is incredulous, both with the plan and with the fact that, while she is trying to save the Resistance she has to deal with this nonsense.

“So a Stormtrooper and a who now are doing what?!”

And again, while the audience is prepared to side with Finn, on a rewatch it is clear that Holdo is in the right here. Poe’s plan is ridiculous. Delay the cloaked evacuation of the entire surviving Resistance to a safe and secure facility so a turncoat Stormtrooper, a mechanic, and an unknown and unpaid mercenary can sneak aboard a Star Destroyer, hack into its systems, and disable a tracking beacon (which, as a reminder, the existence of which and the process through which it works is entirely conjecture) so the fleet has a six minute window to jump to hyperspace (upon the conclusion of which they will run out of fuel and be stranded). We know this is the kind of million to one plan that always works in movies, and it is being advanced by our main characters, but Holdo is right to think this is ridiculous. It is.

Holdo, furious “You have bet the survival of the Resistance on bad odds and put us all at risk!” It’s another inversion of a Star Wars trope, a reminder of every single C3PO pessimism/never tell me the odds in the OT and TFA. Recognizing the increased danger Holdo accelerates the evacuation (implying that, with a bit more time, there may have even been a safer launch point or some advantage to waiting). Poe, with the easy confidence that comes from never knowing doubt, takes this as a cue to lead a mutiny.

Holdo surrenders, with the warning “I hope you understand what you’re doing.” Note the language here. She doesn’t say “I hope you know what you’re doing” which implies that Poe, could potentially be in control of a winnable situation if he executes appropriately. Instead the message is clear (especially with foresight). You’ve made a terrible mistake, and you’re going to need to live with it.

Just to ensure that Poe can’t possibly be construed as villain here, he gives the order to stun, rather than shoot, the officers if they resist.

There is some excellent flat smugness from Poe in this exchange.

Dreadnought: In a fun transition we see a shuttle craft landing in a cloud of smoke and steam until we see that it is an automated laundry room. Finn, Rose, and DJ walk out in stolen uniforms, and BB8 is disguised with a trash can. He makes mouse droid noises to compliment the illusion, but crashes into and almost trips a storm trooper. Whether this is due to the garbage can throwing him off balance, or just an act of mischief we don’t know, but it does make a First Order BB unit suspicious of the presence. Finn shows a determination that stands in marked contrast to his nerves during his last time on a First Order starship, escaping with Rey. They walk past an elevator, which contains Rey and Ben on their way to see Snoke.

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi (revised version on p.6)
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:36 am 
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theplatypus wrote:
Can this thread count towards my 50/50 challenge


I'm a dense writer, so it should count for at least two points.

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi (revised version on p.6)
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:37 am 
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Throne Room: In the close confines of the elevator we see Rey in handcuffs, Ben looking deeply conflicted. Rey nervously (but not panicked) reminding Ben that he doesn’t have to do this. She brings up his internal conflict, refers to him as Ben (and he is responsive to this, looking at her with an utterly lost look but abandoning the role of captor) and assures him that when they touched hands (which is intended both as a reminder to Ben of their intimacy – when was the last time Ben was touched in an affectionate way – and as a way to further establish in universe that you can physically interact, in a fashion, through these force projections) she saw a future in which Ben does not bow before Snoke. He will turn. Rey (and the audience) assume this means he will turn away from the dark side (because that’s what happened last time).. She leans in, whispering that she’ll help him. It’s a very intimate moment, and with the look she is giving him you half expect them to kiss. But the intimacy should be understood as more spiritual (and perhaps more profound as a result) than sexual – a closeness that is possible only because of the ways they have touched each other’s souls, and one that can only be experienced by two people strong in the force.

Ben is more conflicted than Rey, and he is weary, tired of being torn in two. He lacks her certainty. There is only one way this story can go for Rey. But Ben has long been in lacking agency, and Rey has forced him to finally make a choice. Is he loyal to Snoke and the dark side of the Skywalker line, or loyal to Rey and the light side of the Skywalker line? But, as we’ll see shortly, there is another option that neither Rey nor the audience anticipates. Ben whispers back, speaking of what he’s seen of her future, knowing that in the end Rey will be the one to turn, that she’ll stand with him. As we come to find out, they’re both right and they’re both wrong.

The elevator ride ends with Ben telling Rey she saw who her parents were (accessing a memory buried deep in her subconscious). It’s an incredibly manipulative thing to say, knowing that he can’t reveal any more at this time as they are about to arrive. Nor, would Rey, about to confront Snoke, have time to process. It is dangled as bait, an incentive to support him in case the emotional bond isn’t strong enough on its own. But it is exactly the move Ben would make because manipulation is all he knows. He doesn’t act as Snoke acts, as someone who manipulates to seize power and control people. Ben manipulates out of need, coming from an emotionally stunted place. It’s a defense mechanism. He needs Rey and from his experience every relationship he has had in his adult life has been based withholding, based on manipulation, deceit, control. It’s all he knows, and despite his desire to let the past die he is hopelessly bound to it. Ben can best be understood as a child of abuse who inadvertently perpetuates it because he doesn’t know any other way to relate to people.

The segue to the Throne Room is meant to parallel Luke and Vader’s elevator ride up to the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, and this entire extended sequence needs to be understood as taking place entirely in conversation with, and in reaction to, the throne room climax of Jedi. We’ve seen this scene play out before, and subconsciously we know how we expect it to go. Rian Johnson plays masterfully with those expectations throughout, practically weaponizing them but in a way that is always true to the characters and the narrative. It’s never arbitrary, which is why the way this scene ends (with the one option Return of the Jedi never explore) is so surprising and satisfying.

Throne Room: The elevator stops, and Rey’s expression is one of grim, almost angry determination. Whether this is because she recognizes how manipulative Ben just was, out of hatred towards Snoke, or feeling slightly betrayed that Ben actually turned her over it is hard to say. We enter the Throne Room, and see Snoke sitting upon his throne.

Snoke’s design and posture is intentional. Where the Emperor coils in on himself, Snoke, in his yellow robes, sits casually on his throne, half slumped and waiting to be entertained. He would have put his feet up if he could. He is half playboy, half predator, welcoming two children into his den and preparing for some delicious entertainment.

Snoke begins by praising Kylo “Well done, my good and faithful apprentice. My faith in you is restored”, and while it is praise, it is backhanded in Snoke’s way, clearly reminding Kylo of his place in the hierarchy, not quite infantalizing him, but coming close. He is speaking to him as one speaks to a child who pleases you. But it also carries with it a threat – a reminder that this approval could be withdrawn at any moment if he ceases to please him. There is a disrespect shown to Kylo that the Emperor never really shows to Vader. While they had a hierarchical relationship, and one was clearly the master, it was an adult relationship through and through.

Snoke welcomes Rey, practically tenting his fingers, smiling wickedly. He is ready to play a game. Rey looks stonefaced – clearly nervous, but strong and defiant. She knows she is overmatched but she believes that Ben will side with her in the end, and her moral center, her certainty, gives her strength.

Dreadnought/Cruiser: Finn finds the tracker, and DJ goes to work. He wets the medallion he took from Rose as payment, and uses it to short out a system. He just needed a good conductor. Smiling, he returns it to a stunned Rose and Finn, who are forced to reassess him. DJ rewards our faith in the smuggler with the heart of gold. Like Han, and like Lando, we know they will come around in the end. He gets to work as Poe makes contact, looking for an update. Finn tells Poe to prep the cruiser for light speed, which he was on his way to do anyway. Poe’s mutineers clear the bridge, escorting the officers (presumably loyal to Holdo) down to the hanger. 3PO informs Poe that Holdo was looking for her, to which Poe glibly responds “I know, we spoke.” Although the scene breezes right past this line, it begs the question ‘what did Holdo have to say to him?’ The most likely answer is that she was prepared to tell Poe about the escape plan, and was probably about to do so in their confrontation before Poe changed the subject to buying more time for Rose and Finn. 3PO was about to ask what Poe was doing, and Poe makes it clear he doesn’t want to speak with him. We don’t know if 3PO knew of the plan or not (he was on the bridge, and the other officers know, so it is probable) but had Poe engaged him it may have been another opportunity to avert the forthcoming disaster.

Poe shuts down the fueling to the escape pods. As this jeopardizes the Resistance Holdo springs into action, stunning the guards and retaking control of the ship. The scene (the entire sequence) plays out from Poe’s perspective, and the audience is primed for a climactic confrontation between Poe the hero and the obstacle (Holdo) that is preventing him from acting on those heroic instincts. The way this is all reframed later we see that we are instead being shown Holdo’s competence (recall she is also a war hero famous for actions taken during some major battle) and are reminded that Poe should have trusted in Leia’s judgement, Holdo’s rank, and the Resistance. The Resistance is not a massive military organization. It is basically Leia’s private army. Holdo is in charge for a reason (unlike, say the First Order, where you have incompetent leadership like Hux because Snoke sees talent he can't control as a threat).

Poe sees the mutiny fails, has the door sealed by that Resistance officer (Carrie Fisher’s daughter. I'm sure the character has a name) who is loyal to him, and prepares himself for a firefight. We know how these stories go, and we just need him to hold out long enough for Finn and Rose to succeed.

So of course we segue to Rose saying “we’re running out of time”.

The door is about to be breached, and Poe prepares to open fire. He lets Finn know they need to act immediately. Finn tells DJ “It’s now or never” and, in classic million to one shot style, DJ says “now”, and opens the door. They did it – the tracker is right in front of us. Rose heads in. Finn, Rose, and DJ run across a red ramp (like a red carpet welcoming our VIP heroes to their destination) when they’re stopped by that First Order BB unit, a squad of storm troopers. Poe, hears that they failed, BB8 hides in his trash can disguise, and we have the return of Captain Phasma

“FN 2187 – So good to have you back”

It is critical that Phasma be here for this moment, as Finn’s old tormentor, and that she refer to him by his old storm trooper number, ensuring that his defeat is total. This is Finn’s low point, the loss of his freedom, independence, and identity. The First Order has triumphed over the Resistance, and over his own personal act of rebellion.

Although this was alluded to in the introduction, I want to comment again on the use of Phasma and her use in this movie. She receives no backstory and has no arc, but she doesn’t need them because she is not a primary character. Phasma is only used in both movies to serve as an obstacle for Finn. She is a personification of the First Order. Sleek, imposing, indestructible (as we learn, her armor is blaster proof), unconquerable. There may be a compelling history underneath her helmet, but for the purposes of these films, we don’t need to know it, and time spent on it would be a distraction. It is the right decision for the movie, and characters like her pop up in all action movies. She is a mini-boss, just one played by a moderately famous actress.

If you are noticing a parallel between the initial attempt to disarm the tracker and the initial attempt to disarm the shield, prior to capture and rescue by the ewoks in Jedi, you’re right to do so. But we get something much better than an ewok rescue this time.

Back on the cruiser Poe, in a moment of stunned desolation, mutters to himself “they didn’t make it”. This is utterly inconceivable to Poe, as that is not the way these sorts of stories are supposed to work. He picks up his blaster as the door is breached (his instinct is always to fight, never to surrender, even when he’s lost). The doorway is breached, and we are meant to recall Vader’s entrance in A New Hope. But this time it is Leia enters, dressed in white (recalling her appearance in a New Hope). Her theme plays, and Poe is beside himself with relief – the return of Leia always means the return of hope. And then, out of nowhere (from the audience’s perspective) Leia stuns him, knocking out our hero and establishing that he (and his brand of heroism) is not needed to save the day.

Cruiser Hanger: We see Leia reunited with Holdo in a scene which entirely reframes one of our major storylines. The Resistance is escaping. Poe is unconscious, and Holdo leans over him, making sure he is okay. With affection she tells Leia

“That one’s a trouble maker. I like him”

Now that she is no longer burdened with command she can act as herself, rather than her role, and as she makes clear to Leia she admires Poe’s spirit (perhaps this was a young Holdo prior to Leia’s tutelage)

Leia tells Holdo to board her transport, and Holdo informs Leia of her intention to stay behind and steer the cruiser, maintaining the fiction that the Resistance is still on the cruiser and providing what cover and support she can. The implications are stark and clear. She is sacrificing her own life to safeguard the Resistance’s escape. When Leia was incapacitated Holdo took on the responsibility of saving the Resistance, and she means to carry it through to the end. It is one of the most quietly heroic moments in all of Star Wars (eclipsing even the infiltration of Scariff in Rogue One) since it is the first time we’ve seen a character engage in a mission they KNOW will end in their death (the Rogue One crew knew their mission was dangerous, and that there was a high probability of death, but not certainty). She undertakes a mission in which there is no hope, to gift that hope to others (a maternal sacrifice again intended to stand in contrast to the masculine archetype)

The dynamic between Leia and Holdo is wonderful (and it’s rare that you get moments like this between female characters in these sorts of movies). Holdo broaches the conversation with a smile, like she’s asking a parent or teacher to do something that they know they aren’t allowed to do, hoping that their charm will carry them through the ask. What follows is one of my very favorite exchanges in all of Star Wars (rivaled in this movie only by Luke’s final conversations with Yoda and Kylo).

Leia: “Too many loses. I can’t take anymore”
Holdo, with affection: “ Sure you can. You taught me how.”

It’s a great line in its own right. Framed both by Carrie Fisher’s death, and the historical importance of Leia’s character for the girls who grew up with her as a role model, it’s incredibly powerful, and one of those moments I tear up for every time I watch it. Leia’s story goes on for the rest of the movie (to her goodbye with Luke and passing of the torch to Poe), but in terms of an encapsulation of what defined her character I can’t imagine doing it better than this.

They trip over each other saying “May the Force be with you, always”, and Leia lets Holdo have the final word (the last time, I believe, that the line is uttered in the movie). And the line, delivered to Leia and knowing that this is Carrie Fisher’s final performance, makes it an incredibly impactful moment, followed by a beautifully shot clasping of hands – two strong female heroes saying goodbye.

The ships leave the hanger, we are informed over an intercom that cloaking devices are active, and the other older Resistance officer (the woman with the larger nose) whispers “lets hope this works.” It’s the line you would have expected Han, or Poe, to say, but this is not about flashy actions and individual risks and masculine heroes. This is about the community of the Resistance doing their part, and about faith in the (female) leadership of the Resistance taking the steps necessary not to win, but to ensure the survival of the community

The shuttles leave, and Leia stares pensively out the window as Holdo stands tall and stoic, secure in the cost and meaning of her sacrifice.


Although there is one final spectacular moment, this is the end of Holdo's story. Her death is inevitable, we just await its form. And Holdo, maybe more than any other character, really opened up for me in a major way in subsequent viewings. I was not particularly impressed the first time through, swept up in the narrative conventions that had me thinking she was a rival to the real hero. I loved her exchange with Leia from the gate, and of course she has an amazing death, but it wasn't until I was able to watch the performance knowing the destination that I could appreciate it. Laura Dern is really excellent in this role, giving a nuanced and subtle performance that cannot be fully appreciated in the moment. She plays both her expected character and the real character who exists underneath it at the same time, but the latter is only visible once you know to look for it.

And since it is looking like Poe will likely be one of the leaders of the rebellion in IX, I hope he has a moment where he acknowledges the centrality of Holdo to his own development as a leader.

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 Post subject: Re: A Guided Tour of The Last Jedi (revised version on p.6)
PostPosted: Mon January 08, 2018 2:38 am 
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Throne Room: Like the Emperor before him, Snoke, supremely confident in his own abilities, removes Rey’s restraints. But their motives are different. The Emperor is attempting to turn Luke, to goad him into embracing the dark side and, once he does, opening himself up to the Emperor’s manipulations. But Snoke has no designs on Rey. He only intends to kill her. But he is so confident in his own powers, and his dominance over Kylo, that he is perfectly willing to let her stand before him free and unfettered. It’ll be more fun this way.

Luke informs the Emperor that his arrogance will be his undoing in Jedi. But that’s not exactly right. What undoes the Emperor was his underestimation of the lingering humanity in Vader – his blindness to the conflict (perhaps it was arrogance that prevented him from seeing it). The arrogance is front and center with Snoke, with the way he ruthlessly toys with Rey and debases Kylo.

Snokes bids Rey “Come closer, child.” Rey refuses, stoic, determined, even strangely confident (Rey is conveying a lot without speaking throughout this scene).

“So much strength – Darkness rises, and light to meet it.” This is an insight into the force, one that perhaps Snoke doesn’t fully grasp – that you cannot have a light side without a dark side, or vice versa. Light and darkness, control and passion, peace and anger – each of these qualities is given shape and defines itself through the presence of the other. Snoke reveals that he, like the audience, assumed that Skywalker would be that light, chuckling to himself and casually pulling Rey’s lightsaber from Ben’s conflicted hands (he isn’t Kylo here, and he is not enjoying Rey’s humiliation, perhaps seeing echoes of how he is treated within it). And if Luke is not the great threat to the dark side that we all anticipated, then clearly it must be Rey, echoing Yoda's judgement and Luke’s final speech.

The casual nature in which Snoke ultimately causes his own destruction, flippantly grabbing and casually discarding the weapon that will kill him should be noted. The Emperor loses track of Vader in his destructive fury, but that was a surrender to dark side impulses. He always treated Luke as a possible threat (which is why he wanted to control him), even as he toys with him at the end. But Snoke envisions himself as utterly beyond the people standing before him. This is pure arrogance.

Snoke drops his voice to a whisper, full of confidence, malice, and the sort of threatening inflections you use when you know that your power is undisputed. “Closer, I say” and uses the force to pull him towards her. Again, note the way Snoke infantilizes the young adults in his care – children who need to be told what to do, and forced to do it. The Emperor treats Luke with far more respect. It is impossible to read Snoke as anything other than an abusive father/child predator – he takes his cues much more from the Palpetine we get in the prequels than the Emperor we see in Jedi.

Rey begins to understand that she is overmatched by Snoke as she cannot resist, and can barely move. She starts to show fear, and worry, but not panic. Her faith in Ben sustains her. As she approaches there is a sinister, dirty leer on Snoke’s face.

Nervously but still defiantly filling the silence as she is pulled towards Snoke Rey (who never backs down) responds “You underestimate Skywalker, and Ben Solo, and me (added, deliberately, as a slight afterthought. Rey does not yet fully grasp her own power and importance). It will be your downfall.” Snoke immediately begins mugging for Rey (and inadvertently Ben – Snoke, so confident in his mastery, doesn’t understand that, independent of whatever feelings he has towards Rey, in her humiliation Ben sees his own reflected back at him). In a mockery of fear, Snoke worries that Rey has somehow sensed conflict in Ben that can be used to bring down Snoke (and Rey is thrown off balance by his reaction – not sure if it is genuine, not sure if Snoke’s awareness of it compromises her hopes), before revealing (insufferably pleased with himself), that the conflict in Ben was stoked, amplified by Snoke. Whereas the Emperor set a trap for the rebellion on Endor, Snoke set a trap for Skywalker/Rey within Ben’s own mind. And while there was a known base of conflict within Ben (Snoke did not create this out of nowhere) he is utterly dismissive towards it. Again, it is his arrogance and confidence - his belief that his faithful children are so beaten down that they could not dare lift a finger against him. The Emperor, in his passions, is temporarily blind to Vader’s conflict (he knows it is there and alludes to it in earlier conversations in Jedi, taking it seriously). But here it is below Snoke’s notice because Ben Solo is largely beneath his notice – a tool to be manipulated, incapable of action beyond the boundaries Snoke establishes.
It is when Snoke admits that he both “bridged their minds” that Ben looks up, angry, and with a resolve we’ve yet to see since Rey reentered his life. This is not only more naked manipulation, but it compromises the only authentic emotional connection he has made in how many years. It also begs the question of how much of the darkness in Ben was organic, and how much placed there by Snoke. Snoke reveals that he “stoked Ren’s conflicted soul. I knew he was not strong enough to hide it from you, and you were not wise enough to resist the bait.” Again, Ben is reminded that his opening up of his heart was simply ‘bait’. Plus no one likes being told they are weak in front of someone they have feelings for.

Snoke leans in, menacing and hateful, gripping Rey by the head and promising that she will give up her most intimate secrets (intimations of a psychic rape) before killing her in some horrible way by this disgusting predator, and Rey begins to resist. She is breathing heavily, and in distress, but she fights. She is flung through the air, forcibly held in place, back arched under the strain, and violated by Snoke. His power is simply beyond her. As Ben watches, she begins to scream .

Resistance Shuttles: Poe awakes from his stunning in a panic, running to the window, terrified that he failed, that the Resistance is doomed, that Holdo won. Leia gets his attention, and gestures for him to join her. As always she is a calming presence (Leia’s presence indicates hope). She gestures to Crait, and explains the plan – that this was not a fight they could win, but they could hide, and they could get help, and live to fight another day if they can make it to a heavily armored previously undiscovered rebel base. Once there they can send distress calls to their allies in areas beyond the control of the First Order.

You can see hope return to Poe (he is in the presence of Leia, after all) as he runs through the plan in his mind. He begins to understand that he was in the wrong about Holdo and Leia - sensing that with proper guidance Poe is unbalanced enough to be open to a real internal change – brings the lesson home.

“She was more interested in protecting the light than she was seeming like a hero”

Poe is transformed, and thinking over the implications of Leia’s words Poe gazes out the window, listening to the dull drumbeat thumping of the cannon fire pounding into the Resistance cruiser, knowing that Holdo is there, listening to the sound of her imminent death, protecting the light.

We have a brief cut to Holdo watching the ships escape, at peace with her decision, as she whispers ‘Godspeed, Rebels’, understanding that the Resistance is in the process of transforming into something altogether different as we see the Resistance making its way to Crait. This is going to work...

Just as Luke needed to learn that failing doesn’t make you a failure, provided you have the wisdom and courage to learn from weakness, Poe needs to learn that you win when you protect the things that matter rather than destroying the things that threaten them (his failure with the Dreadnought bombing run, and the problem with his general approach). Rose will get the great encapsulation of this point at the end of the movie.


As a reminder about the state of the galaxy, Leia was running a private militia since the primary galactic government didn’t want another war. But someone was financing her so clearly she had supporters. Plus, in the wake of the Republic’s collapse and the rise of the first order there will certainly be elements of the galaxy that want to resist. This is doubly the case here as, unlike the Empire, which was built out of the Old Republic, the First Order is an outside invader, utterly lacking in legitimacy. The Resistance was never a rebellion. Now it must become one.

Dreadnought: We cut back to Finn and Rose, captured by the First Order. They failed, but right now the failure of Poe, Finn, and Rose’s plan is a personal failure. They may die, but the Resistance is going to survive (while Finn and Rose don’t know that, at least the audience does). But Finn no longer looks scared. Instead he’s angry – having discovered who he is and what he believes in he knows that as long as he holds to that he can deny the First Order of a victory over himself. His anger is a shield. We open up into a larger hanger bay and an interior reminder of how hopelessly outclasses the Resistance is. In terms of technological might, military might, troops, hardware, all of it. To give a sense of the vastness of the chamber (I believe they are on Snoke’s Dreadnought, but it’s possible this is just a Star Destroyer) we see conveyer belts moving racks of AT walkers and Tie fighters buzzing around within the room.

Hux is waiting for them, never one to pass up a chance to gloat, especially given how Finn had previously humiliated him. He slaps Finn, but in a way that only serves to take away from his own dignity, especially as Finn refuses to react beyond the look of utter contempt and hatred he has for Hux. Hux is attempting to play Snoke in this scene, to humiliate his prey in the same way, but Finn is too strong, and Hux too weak.

DJ’s betrayal is revealed (ship and payment). Rose, understandably, responds emotionally (this is still within 24 hours of her sister’s death, and this failure means her sister died for nothing). Finn, more thoughtfully, wonders what DJ, caught with the rest of them, had to do to win his freedom. “We got caught. I cut a deal”. And we have a third reversal of DJ, although one true to who he always claimed to be. He’s not a good guy. He’s not a hero. He didn’t have a change of heart. He is a mercenary through and through, and when the chips were down he cut a deal. This is Han taking the money and running, or Lando not feeling regret. Turns out he wasn’t the archetype of the rogue we were primed to expect.. He is, instead, a man totally devoid of principle – what Finn may well have become had he walked about in TFA when he had the chance.

This is the moment where we realize just how badly Poe’s refusal to trust Holdo cost the Resistance. Poe’s worst fears are about to come true – the Resistance is on a small fleet of shuttles, no weapons, no shields, no defenses, target practice for the First Order. And it’s Poe’s fault. That DJ was in a position to know this information, and incentivized to share it with the First Order, is entirely because of the million to one shot plan that should not have, and didn’t, work.

This is where Finn’s facade cracks. He starts to plead (No, no, no you can’t…) before catching himself. Finn isn’t concerned about his own life. He understands that dying with dignity is a victory against the First Order. But the threat to the Resistance (both his friends and the cause) hits him hard, a reflection of his commitment to an ideal beyond his personal survival – that it isn’t enough simply to survive the First Order. One must fight it, and what they stand for. And that fight is almost over.

We have the exterior shots of the cannon fire beginning to assault the powerless Resistance fleet, and panic sets in. They’re compromised, exposed, and powerless. As Holdo reminds them, they can’t turn back – they can only make a run for the planet, knowing full well they are too far out to make it. It echoes the moment where the Death Star is revealed to be operationally at the Battle of Endor - that the rebels are trapped. But the Rebels could have always escaped. They remain because Lando has faith in Han. Here there are no other options.

Throne Room: Snoke takes what he wants from Rey and releases her, unceremoniously dropping her to the floor. As an indication of Snoke’s power, she was able to resist Kylo but is helpless here. Snoke simply outclasses both of them, whether that is due to raw power, skill, or focus we don’t know.

Snoke laughs, mocking Rey’s memory of another Skywalker who is utterly defeated (no longer true, but Rey doesn’t know that). Note that Ben perks up at the mention of Skywalker – still harboring angry, possibly conflicted feelings about him, but the look on his face does not match the look he gives him when they meet on Crait. Note that the discussions about Luke he had with Rey on Ahch To reflected a profound disappointment, but not hatred. There was some distance and detachment there. He was less a hated figure and more a mistake he didn’t want Rey to make.

Snoke threatens Skywalker, and the Resistance and this taunting angers Rey, helping her recover. As we’ve seen Rey (like Luke) flirts with the dark side – instinctively drawing upon it in times of need, and she is clearly reacting from a place of anger, rather than balance or peace. She stands, calls for her lightsaber, and unlike Vader with Luke, Ben does not rise to meet her in defense of his master. But Snoke is nonplussed and in a wonderful, humiliating moment simply takes control of the lightsabers flight and calls it back to him, smacking Rey on the head along the way. It is a complete inversion of the triumphant scene in TFA when she calls and ignites Luke’s lightsaber, embracing her destiny for the first time.

Snoke casually restores it to his side, and one half expects him to start shooting her with force lighting, playing with her the same way the Emperor played with Luke. But Snoke seems to prefer mental torture and humiliation. He casually acknowledges her spunk (with the childlike implications attached to that word) and drags her to the window, where, like Luke, she can watch the final demise of the Resistance, powerless to act. But whereas the Emperor was goading Luke to act, Snoke is just reveling in his ability to cause pain. He intends to kill her

As she watches the destruction of the Resistance fleet you start to see the first true moments of fear set into Rey, as she begins to understand that they’re going to lose. He taunts her again, in the sing-songy voice he uses throughout this entire Throne Room sequence (Andy Serkis does excellent voice acting here) and again, acting out of anger and a desire for revenge, she calls a lightsaber to her. This time it is Ren’s, and she ignites the red, ragged saber in anger, preparing to strike, refusing to give up. Snoke’s guards draw their weapons, ready to engage, but Snoke calls them off. She charges him, and he casually flicks her away, disarming her in the process. He applauds her spirit, but makes it clear that it amounts to nothing in the face of his strength.

Knowing how the force usually works this may have saved Rey. If she was able to strike Snoke down in that moment of terrible anger, with Ren’s lightsaber (a visual manifestation of the dark side) who knows what path this starts her down (although the implications of an act like that are less clear the way the force is understood in TLJ).

The lightsaber lands in front of Ben, and there is a brief flicker in his eyes, as if resolving an internal debate.

Snoke forces Rey up, spins her around, and lands her on her knees (a position of powerlessness) in front of Ben, who, as Snoke rightfully senses, is no longer conflicted. Snoke uses this moment to give Ben what he has been withholding - willing to bestow upon him the legacy of Vader he knows he craves if he simply strikes down Rey. A final initiation for the pupil who, earlier in film, confessed to having sacrificed everything on behalf of the dark side.

“My worthy apprentice, Son of Darkness, Heir apparent to Lord Vadar, where there was conflict I now sense resolve (note that at this moment Ben’s eyes flicker to Rey). Where there was weakness, strength. Complete your training and fulfill your destiny.”

Ben reaches down and picks up his iconic lightsaber, backlit against the red glow of the room, recalling the earlier moment of the ruins of his iconic smoking helmet, the resolve juxtaposed against the confusion.

(Before we move into the end of this showdown I admit the conflict did not play out the way I thought. This is part II of a trilogy and, with the parallels to the Emperor I expected Snoke to live to see part III. The struggle between Rey and Snoke for Ben’s soul should be the climax of the entire trilogy. If Ben is going to turn it was too soon. And given the earlier admonition by Yoda for Luke to not lose Rey I half expected him to crash the throne room and engage Snoke, giving Rey the chance to escape and giving Luke his final light saber battle. It’s what our expectation are primed for. It’s how this story is supposed to work. But what we got is much much better, which is why no one asks me to write movies.)

Rey stares at Ben, full of doubt, who softens when he looks at her. I know what I have to do, he tells her (his words to Han Solo before he kills him). She pleads and Snoke laughs, reveling in his perceived control over Kylo Ren, blind to the threat before him (it is Ben Solo, not Kylo Ren, who picked up the saber). As Snoke reveals she cannot turn him because he can see his mind, and knows what he is going to do, reveling in his mastery. But Ben also knows this, and in a brilliant case of misdirection allows Snoke to narrate his own destruction, describing Ben turning his lightsaber on his true enemy and striking him down , never realizing that Snoke, an abuser and a symbol of the past Ben is so desperate to leave behind, is his true enemy, the man who was the architect of the destruction of his former life and (from Kylo’s perspective) the guiding force behind every horrible decision he ever made. Snoke is more powerful, but in this moment, Ben is more cunning.

“I cannot be betrayed”
“I cannot be beaten”
“I see his mind”
“I see his every intent”
“Yes, I see him turning the lightsaber to strike true” (it is at this moment that we get the shot of the lightsaber twitching, and the first few times I saw this movie you could hear gasps in the theater.)
“And now, foolish child, he ignites it, and kills his true enemy.

We cut briefly to Rey, stoically resigned to her fate, no longer pleading, and back to Snoke,. We hear the hum of a lightsaber, see a blue glow illuminate Snoke, and a gasp that is half pain and half surprise. Rey is released, and we pull back to see that Kylo Ren has destroyed one of the few remaining links to his past and ended this cycle of abuse. Only Skywalker remains.

This moment earned cheers from the audience in my first few viewings. Kylo Ren/Ben Solo isa deeply flawed character, and has done unspeakably evil things but did so almost instinctively, lashing out in hurt and confusion. He has suffered, and we want to believe, with Rey, that he can be redeemed. Rey rolls over, stunned, and sees Snoke struck down. Ben calls the ignited lightsaber to her and Rey holds a hand up, catching it as the music swells (replaying the same moment from TFA, this time as allies). She stands up, stares at Ben, both of them struggling to process what happened. He ignites his lightsaber, as they turn away from each other in slow motion to fight together against Snoke’s elite guards, the scene we all someday wanted but didn’t yet expect, the redemptive ending that should have come a movie later. They barely communicate throughout this exchange, the assumption being that they don’t need to, their bond intimate to a point that they don’t really need words. By fighting alongside each other they cement it, back to back and unwilling to allow these forces to tear them apart now that they've finally come together - fulfilling their respective visions of the future. When the time came they stood together.

_________________
So many tournaments, so little time


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