Friday, August 3, 2018

Last Jedi: The Closer

Throughout the entirety of this series I've been excited and terrified to get to this point. When I first started writing this series I specifically wrote it so I could get to this point. The Last Jedi is, by far and away, the best Skywalker Saga movie, and it was this Closer that clinched that status for me. Every last second of this part of The Last Jedi is on point, mixing and matching the most important moments of Star Wars with a wild abandon that betrays a deep and abiding joy in and love for the whole Saga.

First off:

Visually this is a remix of The Battles of Geonosis and Hoth. A true Rebellion is about to begin and the First Order is trying to make sure that it doesn't happen, like with the Republic trying to stop the escape of the Separatists on Geonosis, which happened on a red planet, which is the underlying reason for this fight. More obviously, however, this is about the good guys trying to get away to fight another day, which is Hoth through and through. But the fact that this is not snow, but salt, is a huge change in the symbolism of what we're looking at. Wikipedia sums it up best:

Salting the earth, or sowing with salt, is the ritual of spreading salt on conquered cities to symbolize a curse on their re-inhabitation. It originated as a symbolic practice in the ancient Near East and became a well-established folkloric motif in the Middle Ages.
By layering these two images (red earth and what looks like snow) and then revealing that it's salt Johnson is telling us that the previous generations of war have completely and utterly worn the galaxy out. Everything you thought you knew does not apply to this battle, because the earth (what you relied upon to understand Star Wars) has been salted. Whatever you'd expect, throw it out, because everything from before is dead.

Yup, the First Order is on the left in both images, with the Resistance on the right! So we're picking up where we had left off previously. This set up references A New Hope, telling us that the attack on the First Order is suicide. None of the Resistance's plans are going to work, trying to kamikaze down the gullet of the Death Star Ram won't do a blessed thing.  No one is going to come and save them, because nobody cares.


First, let's get something obvious out of the way: Finn would not have accomplished anything by trying to kamikaze the Ram. It was not going to work, and Poe said as much. So Rose is not dooming the Resistance by saving Finn. The only person who would have died in that assault was Finn, plain and simple. So her line, while it's corny and possibly a bit naive, is directed right at Finn's central issue: reacting. Finn, at the beginning of VII, was running away from The First Order and then running to get Rey, and now he was running to save Rey. Rose is not reacting, she is choosing her actions, which is not really something  that could be said of Finn.

Second off:

Rose's kiss is a subversion of Finn's original scene with the unnamed friend and finally jolts Finn out of the perma-freak-out he's been in ever since the original incident happened. One of the criticisms of Finn has been his passivity to events. There's not a lot of time where Finn is behind the wheel of his own decisions, he's always having to react. But for these two movies that was the point. Finn is in shock, in mourning, and trying to figure out what to do next. He doesn't have a direction because that direction was taken from him. Rose gives him an opportunity to make a new direction. The fact that it's coming from the right means it's ill-fated, somehow, and I have a hunch as to why that is: the look of longing on Rey's face at the end of this movie. By doing what she did Rose has effectively edged Rey out of Finn's life.  When Finn saved Rey and she hugged him he was coming from the right. At the end of the movie, he drags Rose in from the left and then sits by her side, from the left, with Rey watching, wistful, from the right. Rey is now alone.

Rey herself does very little in the ending section of this movie. She makes sure that the Resistance is safe long enough for Luke to show up. But two very important things happen to Rey in this part: she closes the link between her and Ben and she realizes that her family is right here, with Leia. It doesn't sound like a lot, but keep in mind that, up until this point, Rey has been trying to understand two things: what the Force is, and where she fits. Both of these things are answered in the last act, although the second one is imperfect. Rey feels Luke passing on into Force. For the first time in the whole trilogy Rey finally feels the Force for what it can be for those that are attuned to it: peace. Up until this point the Force was a confusing thing for Rey, something that she didn't understand but somehow had a deep connection with, a connection that frightened her. Luke's passing is the only bit of relational good Rey has ever felt in connection to the Force, although it may be the most important. This knowledge allows Rey to cut the connection with Ben, although she does it from the right, so something about that decision isn't going to work out. What is it? Well, as she finds with Finn, she's not connected to him anymore like she was. Rey lost her friend. She may have gained a Rebel Alliance and a friendship with Leia , but she lost Finn, and that's not a small thing. At the end of this movie Rey very well may be completely alone, exactly where she didn't want to end up. It's not a very hopeful note, as far as I'm concerned.

Every last part of this series has been to set up Luke's triumph in this part. When people first asked me what I thought about The Last Jedi, I found that I couldn't answer without telling everyone what I thought of the entirety of the Skywalker Saga because, to me, The Last Jedi is Star Wars, distilled into one movie. Let's start with the first call-back of Luke's return: the conversation between Anakin and Padme, Luke and Leia.

It's hard to watch this scene without the meta knowledge that Carrie is gone, but even without that knowledge this scene is incredibly powerful, because it's the resolution of the subverter trilogy's trope of The Truth That Changes Everything. There's always a conversation in the subverter part that utterly alters the series, for better or worse. These conversations are always a matter of life and death: it's the final hours of the Resistance and Luke knows that he is going to have to die to save them. These conversations introduce a good deal of darkness: Ben Solo may not be gone (no one ever is) but Luke is not the one to do it and Rey may not be either! But this conversation is different than the others, because it directly leads to triumph. Luke wins against Ben and empowers Rey. There is no doubt in my mind that, had Luke actually been there, that the entire First Order would have been pulled out of orbit within seconds and the whole conflict would have been over. But Luke couldn't bring himself to do this in time, and this is ultimately a lot more satisfying. Everything we needed to end Luke's arc is here. Luke's arc was his powerlessness to stop bad things from happening to those he loved. No matter what happened Luke could not prevent anything in the OT, no matter how hard he tried. This conversation with Leia is him finally breaking that cycle: Luke admits he is powerless to stop the real problem and that there really is only so much he can do, but what he can do, he will, no matter what. Luke's closure begins with the admittance that he is powerless.

The first two moments are two elders trying to bring their wayward sons home. Luke wants none of that. Yoda and Vader are trying to establish control in a relationship that they had clearly screwed up decades ago, which is ultimately why they fail at establishing the relationship that they want: it never existed to begin with. Luke realizes that the failures of Ben are his failures as much as they are Ben's. Luke owns his failures as a mentor and makes no attempt to explain them away. This is the only time when a mentor actually realizes his failures (no, I don't think Kenobi ever figured it out) and actually is able to apologize to his student. The fact that Ben doesn't accept the apology is besides the point for Luke, he merely needs to acknowledge that he did wrong for it to be a progression from the other two episodes. What's interesting is that Ben is justified in hating the image that Luke projects, because he attacks it from the left. Ben is so stuck that his attempts to overpower Snoke's brainwashing, no matter how messed up they are, are good! But once Ben realizes that Luke is not real it all goes sour. Realizing that Luke is not real and that he's been acting out a power fantasy Ben clings to it. But that's not Luke's job, he's at peace with that, and he passes on.

Sunrise (Switfly flow the years!)
And here is where Luke finally completely lets go. His body is broken by the act of making the Force Projection, and he accepts it. Looking out, over the twin suns of Ach-To, Luke finally is at peace with who he is. Many people have this idea that somehow The Chosen One was meant to found a new Order of Jedi, destroy the Sith, or do any number of external things. And it's hard not to see why they think it, because even Lucas has said that Anakin is the Chosen One at times. But balance is not just an external thing. If one does not have balance interiorly they cannot achieve balance exteriorly either. And interior balance is acceptance, inner and outer. Luke, after years of not being able to do it, finally returns to balance, accepting what he can and cannot do, and thus passes on.

The beautiful thing about peace is that it's contagious. If you're near a person who is genuinely at peace it spreads to you and makes you happier just by being around them. To be one with yourself, totally accepting of yourself, helps others near you to be at peace. To help yourself, ultimately, is to help others. And Luke's peace, the acceptance of who he is in relation to himself and the world, spreads out from himself to Rey and to the rest of the galaxy. Hope is rekindled, not by hairbrained schemes and laser swords and space wizards, but by having hope, yourself. Peace is not found by making the exterior world better, but by making peace with yourself. Doing this will make ripples across the people you know who, intoxicated by the peace you have found, will find peace themselves, who will spread it further and further out, until the whole world has been affected by one person accepting themselves. We might think the best thing to do is to attack our problems, but those problems are only symptoms of something far harder: acceptance of self.  Every time you achieve a little more peace the world around you will as well. You may not see it. You may not be around it. You may not even live to see how far it goes. But each act of peace is the calming of the ripple in a vast ocean, calming a roiling sea of horrors, one bit at a time. Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there.

And that always has been and always will be the message of Star Wars. You do not know your own importance. You never will. Find peace and others will, who will helps others find it. Stop swinging, unclench your fists, and you will be surprised at what happens.

How many broom boys will you affect?
EDIT: I had written this post months in advance, and was thus blind-sided by the announcement that Leia will indeed be in Episode IX. While I'm disappointed with that decision (and find it to be creatively lazy) I think most of my commentary on Rey's emotional state will be correct. Each of the Star Wars protagonists in their trilogies become more and more isolated as their trilogy progresses. I've no reason to believe that, even if Leia could fill the hole of parental figure for Rey, that Rey will be able to process that change. I think she'll go crawling back to Ben, scared to change. I could very well be wrong. But, at least in my opinion, that is the most dramatic situation available at the moment.We'll see.

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