Be warned: you’re about to read some spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the film, come back when you do. Or maybe read on and watch the film with extra things to look out for. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.
When I write film reviews, I try to be as objective as possible. That’s a given for any film writing piece, and it’s obviously something that I’ve been taught quite early as a journalist. It’s never changed when I created a publication of my own; I think that the new media should align with these rules of objectivity. As a critic, I try to separate my personal reception of a film to an extent, because nobody comes to my website to read my life story projected into the review. Also, your own perspective is as important to me, so my considerations are merely suggestions. Eventually, you’ll shape your own opinion as a member of the audience. Finally, if our tastes align, I might be more or less successful in recommending you things to watch.
Of course, there’s a sense of critical consensus when it comes to storytelling and the visual ways of expressing ideas. And there are concepts in film studies such as the spectatorship theory, widely used by feminist-driven critics to showcase the difference in gendered perspectives (male/female gaze). You might subscribe to it or reject it, but it’s definitely something to consider. But it also presents how important subjectivity and emotions are in our response to the film, and how creators utilise that. It explains the importance of perceptions shaped by our experiences and social attitudes, too. There’s a role for films we consume: they feed our social, cultural, private and desiring self. All of us watch them for different reasons, after all. We assess them for different things that matter to us, consciously or not.
Art, of course, always challenges our perceptions, and we should seek out to be surprised and engaged with it in different ways. Filmmakers draw us in using various devices; Tony McKibbin wrote an informative essay about it which I’ve read for my film classes before. But today, I want to step aside from this for a moment to write about one of many films which resonated with me personally.
This year has brought me a handful of fictional heroines who I loved with my entire heart. I adored Diana Prince of Wonder Woman: I related to her experience as an expat who experienced a transition from almost childish naivety to grown-up approach to the world when she left her birthplace (I wrote about it here). I cheered Patti from Patti Cake$ on when she tried to make it as an artist in difficult circumstances. Charlize Theron’s secret agent from Atomic Blonde made me want to grow up to be as decisive and strong as her – it’s one of the first convincing female spy characters that I really appreciated (and I love the genre). There’s Moonee from The Florida Project, whose cheerfulness in spite of her circumstances broke my heart repeatedly. See where I’m heading? Yes, I’m about to cry over how much I loved Rey in Star Wars. Strap yourself in, get on my Millenium Falcon, we’re taking off.
On Wednesday night, I watched The Last Jedi and I can’t stop thinking about it since. I love it from the perspective of a person who’s familiar with the previous Star Wars films for being a little more daring than the rest. With my critic hat on, I admire its execution: rich characterisation that drives the plot, new discoveries, little surprises that twist the story. The casting has also been phenomenal. All of the actors seem to have a lot of fun with their heroes, and the camera helps them to convey the emotions splendidly. But there’s that one thing I’ve been dying to discuss with fellow good souls out there.
Before the film, many fans were wondering where the film is going to go regarding Rey’s backstory. A quick recap: she’s a scavenger who discovers her powers and heads to Luke Skywalker to ask for mentorship. The Jedi Order has been destroyed again, and the beloved master is the only one who can pass his knowledge on. And referring to the saga traditions, many people were hoping for a “No Luke, I am your father” sort of twist, which could make Rey a long-lost daughter of Leia and Han Solo and Kylo Ren’s sister. Some expressed the wish to see her as Luke’s daughter. After all, Luke and the antagonist of the new trilogy had parents who were the source of their power. But this is where it gets interesting.
In a crucial fight scene, Kylo Ren tries to provoke Rey and tempt her to cross to the dark side, but in a different manner to the famous Darth Vader scene. He tells her that her parents were nobodies; he encourages her to rule the galaxy by his side. Luke seems to confirm that when he explains that Jedi aren’t only about throwing rocks and waving lightsabers: anyone can be a Jedi if they find the power within them. And although many people argue that it might be deliberately misleading, I think it’s so much more powerful the way it is.
Rey has more at a stake than the rest: the Resistance is obviously the priority, but the search for her identity drives her on a personal level. When she gets a confirmation that her parents weren’t powerful and influential, she doesn’t lose hope. Instead, she grows more powerful: she knows that controlling her power depends on her own abilities. She’s a girl from nowhere, a mechanic who provided for herself all along, then discovered that she’s able to do great things with the energy within her. Her actions, not her bloodline, define her.
This is where we unlearn everything we’ve ever picked up. The chosen one is a construct. The Jedi Order is merely a belief system, which crucially is a way of bettering yourself and making sure you don’t stray into the evil, that uses a set of rules to explain complexities to its followers. The powerful families are mostly non-existent, but the Force pours itself into new characters. The villain seems to acknowledge that the new world would have to function differently, so he wants to have control over it. Then, the quote from The Force Awakens comes to our minds immediately: the belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead.
Sorry, but I cried. Leave me in peace now so that I can process this.
*wipes the tears streaming down her face*
There’s also Rose Tico, a mechanic who lost her sister who sacrificed herself for the Resistance. We don’t know much about her, we’ve got no idea what her own path has been so far, but we seem to understand she isn’t of a noble line of knights either. Finn, a stormtrooper who turned back and decided to help the Resistance, has this in common with her. In the world of powerful families, they don’t have anybody to back them, and yet they find a way to turn their lives around.
Then, there comes that final scene. The children are telling stories of the fight between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker when they’re brazenly interrupted. A boy runs off and stands outside, fiddling with the Resistance ring on his finger. Stargazing and watching the spaceships in the distance, he grabs a broom – but he uses the Force to do it. Is he one of the nobodies too who can naturally interact with it? Quite possibly so.
The Star Wars saga was always speaking of bigger truths behind its story, and The Last Jedi definitely continues this tradition. The decision to talk about austerity and social injustice means a lot. It’s iconoclastic in many ways: not only the updated concept of the Force, but also toying around with the royals and leaders. Connecting the dots and looking at the past after this big reveal, we see that the beloved characters from powerful families did their best to fight for the light side, but they didn’t manage to eliminate the evil on their own. Moreover, everyone has their connection to the light or dark side, and they can be confused about their choices like Kylo Ren. All of this makes so much more sense than restricting it to the certain individuals only. Is it the time we understood something deeper and transcendental about the Force? Get ready, I’m about to get mushy to finish this treatise.
Firstly, everyone can be a hero. Choosing whether you belong to the good or the evil doesn’t depend on your inheritance, and Kylo Ren is a proof of this (in the same way Anakin Skywalker slash Darth Vader was). The Force is in everyone in this universe no matter the circumstances, and if you allow yourself to be introspective and listen, it might reveal itself to you in times of trouble. Then, we’ve got to remember that uprisings don’t always start on top of the social hierarchy. Sometimes they start with ourselves, with nobodies we think ourselves to be. We’re obsessing over our past, while the future can be shaped by our strength. It’s true for us as individuals, however; in the broader sense, understanding the past opens the door for change.
Well, this is the end. Goodnight, my young Padawans. I’m away to meditate and repeat the Jedi code before bed:
There is no emotion, there is peace. There is no ignorance, there is knowledge. There is no passion, there is serenity. There is no chaos, there is harmony. There is no death, there is the Force.
Let me add something to it, though.
There is no hopelessness, there’s a purpose.