Two Cents Saves What We Love About STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.


The Pick

James Mangold recently commented on Twitter that making a new movie in a popular franchise was less like storytelling and more like adding a new Gospel to the Bible, such is the intense scrutiny and exhaustive/exhausting cycles of excitement and outrage that go into the anticipation and reception of each new film.

And since there’s perhaps no fanbase on earth as evangelical as Star Wars die-hards, The Last Jedi was primed to make something of a splash.

But no one could have predicted just how much Rian Johnson would break from Star Wars norms with his chapter, nor how virulent the response from some corners of fandom would prove. Continuing the story set-up by JJ Abrams in The Force Awakens, Jedi finds the shattered remnants of the Resistance scramble to escape the clutches of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) clashes with General Leia (Carrie Fisher, in her final film performance) and Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), while reformed stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) undertake their own desperate plan. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally tracks down reclusive Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) but discovers that the legendary Luke has become a bitter hermit, determined to let the Jedi order end with himself. As Rey begs Luke for his help, she discovers great truths about herself, as well as a connection with the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) that will reshape their fates, and the fate of the galaxy.

The Last Jedi proved intensely divisive among fans and filmgoers, with some appreciating the way Johnson broke from, and expanded upon, the established canon and style of the other films, while others felt he strayed too far from the core ideas and ideals of Star Wars (there’s also a sub-category of sub-intellectual mouthbreathing fuckwits who hate the film for the way it deconstructs traditional masculine heroism and brings women, people of color, and women of color to the forefront). Months later, debate over the film still rages. With The Last Jedi now streaming on Netflix Instant, it seemed like a good time to take the film’s temperature and see how the latest, and most contested, episode in the saga is settling in.

Austin readers: Catch both The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens playing free at Community Cinema! TFA screens tonight (July 6), and TLJ next Friday!

Next Week’s Pick

We move from The Last Jedi to The Last Movie Star! Written and directed by Adam Rifkin specifically for Burt Reynolds, the film reflects on the victories and failures of a fictional aging Hollywood legend, incorporating Burt’s own charisma, life experiences, and iconic status to craft a uniquely engaging character piece.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

Jaime Burchardt:

The Last Jedi is a master class. I never really thought of it as such after my first viewing eight months ago. After rewatching it, I realized a few things. First off, it’s not perfect. I won’t kid or convince myself that it’s absolutely flawless. Secondly, thank God it’s not. Rian Johnson has given us a Star Wars film that I feel should’ve been delivered to us a long time ago. It’s not betraying the old, nor is it saying the new should follow traditions. Jedi finds that center…that balance. It gives its heart to what we’ve come to love while fusing it with ideas that are inspiring. As for the future, well the franchise isn’t bogged down anymore. It’s not black and white. Is that why fanboys are so scared of this movie? Don’t get me wrong, I loved The Force Awakens and it was the proper boot-up, but The Last Jedi is the chapter that breathes in new life. As long as the characters are written with passion, love and conflict (that makes sense, which it does here) and the rest of the stories are told with just as much intensity, it doesn’t matter who’s related to who or how everything needs to connect. On top of that, The Last Jedi sports another John Williams classic, breathtaking cinematography, wonderful performances and a script that simply isn’t afraid. When I said this was a masterclass, I meant this. Anybody aspiring to be a filmmaker should watch this and take away from what it what you will. What to do, what not to do. Like I said earlier, it’s flawed, but it’s something that can be learned from. It’s a movie that’s willing to give you all of itself so that you can just think. Think and feel. So thank you Mr. Johnson, for making my favorite Star Wars movie. Thank you.

P.S. — It goes without saying that all the people who have given the word “fandom” its toxicity, harassed Kelly Marie Tran and Daisy Ridley, the “fans” who want to remake this, and anyone spewing hate because this movie didn’t sit right with them… are completely unconscionable. (@jaimeburchardt)

Trey Lawson:

I’m still not sure if The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie, but it is definitely my favorite sequel/prequel/interquel/whatever in the series. It is a film where characters do the wrong things with the best of intentions. They suffer dire consequences, but learn not to be defined or consumed by their mistakes. It is a film about progress — which does not require burning down the past as Kylo Ren suggests but instead learning from it, both celebrating the good and not repeating the bad. The toxicity of blind nostalgia is a thread that runs throughout the film (and, to a degree, The Force Awakens before it), revealed primarily through the Imperial cosplay of the First Order. But the other side of that is the inspirational power of myths and storytelling, and the ability of a few to be the spark that lights the fire of rebellion.

When The Last Jedi first came out, I remember lots of comparisons to Empire Strikes Back which superficially makes sense. But in a lot of ways this movie is an anti-ESB. Structurally it moves in reverse, and while both end on notes of uncertainty The Last Jedi tempers that with far more optimism for the future. Star Wars has been in the pop culture lexicon for over 40 years now. Nothing can stay popular for that long without evolving and adapting to new audiences. That can be upsetting for some, but I think that it embodies the very virtues that the series has always espoused. The Force is with us all. (@T_Lawson)

Brendan Agnew (The Norman Nerd):

“You think — what — I’m gonna walk out with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order? What did you think was gonna happen here?”

Good movies will call their shots. Great ones will make you think about why you want them called in the first place.

I’m not gonna waste much time on arguing if The Last Jedi is great (for the record: it is great, Holdo rocks, Rey rocks, Rose rocks, Snoke’s death rocks, Space Leia rocks, everything about Luke rocks, and Canto Bight is the thematic fulcrum of the film), but let’s talk about this moment of both subverting expectations while also directly playing into them. As soon as Rey holds out the lightsaber to Luke, we the viewers want exactly this. As an audience, we absolutely want Space Arthur to use Excalibur once more for a righteous cause and use his power to bring his enemies low.

But… SHOULD we want that from a Jedi?

The three protagonists of Rian Johnson’s film want essentially this outcome for various flawed reasons. Rey wants this to happen in an almost performative manner, because it’s what is “supposed to happen, it’s how this story goes.” Finn wants this for reasons driven by selfish desire to protect what he cares for, regardless of who else he puts in danger. Poe wants this because he only sees the short-term fight, not the longterm consequences of his actions. Each hero does their own version of this and fails — learning (through what the wisest character in Star Wars calls “the greatest teacher”) to reorient themselves. Each finds acceptance and success in a less destructive version of this action — Poe in calling off the final assault, Finn going from a suicide run to dragging Rose from the battlefield, and Rey in… moving rocks.

And then Luke fulfills his own prophecy in a way totally befitting a Jedi. He *does* walk out with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order, but using his powers for knowledge and defense. He refuses to even take a swing at the boy who thought his teacher would cut him down, and not only cements the legend of Luke Skywalker, but does so as an icon of bad-ass pacifism. Johnson walks the line between giving the viewer precisely the “Hell yeah, Luke!” moment they’ve wanted for years while also presenting the choice behind that in a thematically rich way.

While still doing the awesome thing where the hero brushes non-existent dust from their shoulder AND COME ON, HOW IS THERE ANY DEBATE THAT THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME? (@BLCAgnew)

Travis Warren:

I did not grow up with Star Wars. I did not see the original trilogy until after I graduated high school. When I first saw them, I have to say that I was not blown away by them after all the hype. I like them just fine, but I’m not crazy about them. I thought The Force Awakens was pretty much on the same level as the original trilogy. So, leading up to The Last Jedi, I found myself more excited for it as a Rian Johnson film than as a Star Wars film. I had seen all three of Johnson’s previous films and become a fan. However, nothing prepared me for the actual film. Johnson built off of the foundation of The Force Awakens to make a film about letting go of nostalgia and paving a new way forward. The writing, the visuals and the acting are inspired. I never expected to ever love a Star Wars film like this. It is a masterpiece.

The Team

Brendan Foley:

For me, it all comes down to the kid with the broom. There are plenty of other reasons why The Last Jedi is probably my favorite Star Wars film, starting with the fact that I’ve never been much of a Star Wars fan. The old films are buried beneath the stank of the Special Editions and are largely unavailable in their classic form, while the prequels are a nexus of suck that not even compelling thematic material can bring to life. Part of why the prequels soured me on Star Wars in general was the way they shrunk the universe down so that it seemed like only five people were responsible for literally everything that happened in a galaxy over the course of like 40 years, while every person’s relative importance being contingent entirely on how closely they are linked to the Skywalker brood. Given that A New Hope contains maybe the single greatest visual depiction of the youthful dream of adventure and escape, that subsequent chapters cordoned off that adventure unless you have the correct magic blood.

That’s why the final shot of the film is so critical. It’s not just that Johnson calls back the beginning of Luke Skywalker’s journey moments after he concluded it. By ending the film not with a cliffhanger, not with any of our established characters and conflicts, but with a child who occupies the lowest possible rung of space society, yet who shares in the Force and dreams of adventure, Johnson restores the aspirational wonder of that first film. The Force, and Star Wars, belongs to all of us, and thanks to Rian Johnson, its future is wide open. (@theTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

As divisive as The Last Jedi is, we had kind of assumed some critical reviews would be submitted. As it turns out, the feedback has been entirely positive overall.

That said, I do sympathize with some of the more reasonable criticisms levied against the movie. It would’ve been great to see Luke, Leia, and Han together again and there’s a missed opportunity there (though that’s more of a TFA criticism, no?). And grim though it may be, the scene in which Leia gets blown out of her ship did make for a sensible exit for the late Carrie Fisher. We’ll just have to wait and see how this is handled in the next film, though there’s no doubt it’ll be done with respect and love. The film’s biggest problem may not be specific to any scene or character, but simply that the series lacks a singular vision. If the filmmakers are to believed, each entry is a new entity with its own direction, with no overall construct to the trilogy and each film is doing its own things without moving toward a specific destination. (I find this all rather incredulous, and assume that Rian Johnson is just being generous in describing the creative freedom he was given).

But when it comes down to it, I just dig the heck out of this movie. For all its flaws, real or received, The Last Jedi is great. The biggest kick I got out of it was that it wasn’t really like anything I expected, which I think is the biggest “problem” of criticizers. The big throne room “finale”, surely earmarked for the trilogy closer? It’s the midway battle now, and unfolds in a completely unexpected (and awesome) fashion. Kylo Ren, the weakest and lamest character in The Force Awakens? He’s both put in his place and finally made into a formidable foe. And Yoda’s return? Absolutely perfect. (@VforVashaw)

Watch it on Netflix:

Next week’s pick:

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