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Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi Subverts the Star Wars Universe, Makes Me Use Two Colons in This Post Title

Spoilers ahoy!

A lot can happen in a fictional universe in two and half hours, and director Rian Johnson took the opportunity to subvert a lot of the established narrative rules of the Star Wars franchise. Monumental things happen in interpersonal relationships, while large-scale events are drawn out with explicit detail. Granted, this happened in previous Star Wars installments before—the three-way between Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine, while the Endor shield generator and Death Star II space battles raged on in Return of the Jedi comes to mind—The Last Jedi turned the idea into a best practice. Scenes where solemnity is expected, Johnson hands you flippancy; where you expect easy answers to questions raised by The Force Awakens, Johnson generates another question while mostly dodging the original. Whether this is a desirable turn of events is in the eye of the viewer, but it’s clear that Johnson steered the franchise’s narrative style in a different direction.

Cinematically, Johnson’s style and design vocabulary is top notch and his camera shots were impeccable, and he really shined at expressing the impact of large-scale scenes (the hyperspace destruction of the pursuing First Order fleet was an awe-striking tableau). In congruence with the meta-theme of subversion, there’s lots of unorthodox angular shots and upside-down or reverse-lateral perspectives—techniques not found easily in standard issue sci-fi/fantasy films. I found it a smidge more preferable to J.J. Abrams’ lens flares and trucks-and-pans. The action moves too fast for some of these techniques to be admired, so while Johnson’s aesthetic could be on the level of Denis Villeneuve’s, we’re not allotted much time to breathe it in.

Much could be said, and probably is being said, about the shoehorning of women leaders into the franchise. Johnson’s view of the role of women in power is rather narrow, and though it’s not nearly on the scale of George Lucas’ blatant sexism against men in using millions and millions of male clones specifically as obedient cannon fodder for the Clone Wars story arc, it’s still just as egregious. The two Resistance female protagonists in power, Princess/General Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo, both come off as annoyed mothers-in-law than effective leaders. Leia slaps Poe Dameron for disobeying orders, in front of the entire crew, instead of something less humiliating like a one-on-one chastisement in private. Granted, Dameron was open and unapologetic in his rebellion, but the impetus is on Leia, as his superior, to handle the situation properly. Holdo is so terrible as a substitute captain, both professionally and in her personality, that she inspires a successful mutiny against her and her commanding officers—though she more than redeems herself later on. Rose Tico, though just a mechanic and not a commanding officer, henpecks and finger-wags Finn, and is at the helm of a goody two-shoes, baffling “rich people are mean and hurt animals” narrative subplot that consumes about 20 minutes of screen time. The message is implied but rather clear: women, especially women in power, are tactless bitches*.

J.J. Abrams was listed as a producer in The Last Jedi‘s credits, and is slated to direct the next Star Wars episode, number 9. It remains to be seen how Abrams will tie together Johnson’s unraveling threads of the Star Wars franchise.

* Perhaps ironically, the best woman leader in the most recent two Star Wars films is Captain Phasma. Though she had to uphold some pretty nasty First Order protocols, she never did anything reckless or inappropriate to her position. Her dealing with Finn’s disobedience was more in line with effective leadership that what was seen in the Resistance leaders.

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Someone Give Me a Good Phrase For This

When a prequel is made with ultra-modern filmmaking technology—CGI and the like—the visual effects are “held back” when illustrating the in-universe technology to match its look and feel. This only seems to affect prequels, not sequels or reboots, since prequels necessarily take place in the in-universe’s past.

I tried Googling some things, but I’m coming up short. There may already be a term for this but the algorithm gods have it in for me.

One of the biggest example of this phenomenon (dilemma?) is the ending of Revenge of the Sith (unable to embed it). There’s three scenes in the closing montage that have sets shown in a A New Hope, which was filmed nearly 30 years prior: the all-white interior of the Tantive IV with Bail Organa and the droids (from 0:00 to 0:14), the interior of the Venator-class Destroyer with Vader and Palpatine (1:04 to 1:37), and, to a lesser extent, the moisture farm on Tatooine with Obi-Wan passing off baby Luke to Owen and Beru (2:25 to 3:21, the very end of which is one of the greatest visuals in the prequels, in my opinion).

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Star Wars Theory: Rey Will Bring Balance to the Force

I mentioned before that I thought Rey could be Luke Skywalker’s daughter, and there are theories that she could be Obi-Wan Kenobi’s granddaughter. There were hints of Obi-Wan being romantically/relationally attached to someone, in the prequels, and in the Expanded Universe (EU), Luke had children with Mara Jade. Since a lot of the EU isn’t canon anymore, anything could happen.

What I do predict is that Rey will bring the prophesied balance to the Force, the balance that Anakin failed to bring in the prequels. But, one possible path Abrams, et al, could take is a Hegelian balance: she will end up being not a Jedi or a Sith, but a synthesis of the two opposing sides.

There was a hint of this Hegelian resolution theory that Mace Windu, one of my favorite Jedis, was the chosen one, and Windu’s death scene in Revenge of the Sith can support this. At that point, Anakin was still a Jedi, and Palpatine was a Sith. Notice how Windu’s willingness to kill a defenseless (seeming) Palpatine would’ve been an action both the Jedi and the Sith would oppose. Windu embodied the balance of the Force by synthesizing both Jedi and Sith, while transcending them both. Windu, both literally and ideologically, was caught between the two, and Anankin’s choice to side against Windu tipped the scales over to the Sith.

Abrams can emphasize this by making Rey a child of a Jedi—a Skywalker or Kenobi—and a Sith. Since Rey looks fully human, the mother would have to be human, which lends a little more credence to the Mara Jade scenario, if Abrams decided to rewrite her as a Sith.

If Rae will be the balance, this brings in another question: the Jedi (Luke and anyone else), and the Sith (Kylo Ren, Snoke, and anyone else), will have to somehow relinquish their use of the Force. If neither side is willing to do that, would Rey need to defeat them both…which means, if Luke is her father, she’d have to defeat him. This would tie up the prophecy plot line from the prequels, as well as end the literal cycle of the Jedi vs. Sith power struggle.

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