Steven graduated Cum Laude from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communications, focusing on film studies, journalism and theatre arts. Dubbed a "prolific" writer by Hollywood icon Kenneth Johnson (The Incredible Hulk, V, The Bionic Woman, Alien Nation), Steven has been honored by the Arkansas College Media Association for his story writing prowess. He has also received recognition for his dramatic writing from the Eerie, Shriekfest and Screamfest horror film festivals. Publications include: Carroll County News, Saline Courier, Forum, Echo and Moroch.
“Luke, when gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be…”
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is flat out lying when he says, “This is not going to go the way you think,” at least where the plot of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) is concerned. Is it a better film than The Force Awakens? Yes. It has a unique story overall, but the shadows of ANew Hope, Empire and Return of the Jedi are ever present like a deep stain you just can't get out no matter how many times you run your clothes through the washing machine.
Is Last Jedi the same caliber as The Empire Strikes Back (1980)? Answer: no way in hell. But not many sequels in film history are as iconic as Empire. All that said, The Last Jedi is a fantastic film. You won’t walk out of the picture thinking, “God, that was worse than the prequels.” However, the filmmaker Rian Johnson didn’t have to end the movie THAT way. And by that way, I mean killing Luke Skywalker.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW! You have been warned.
Picking up after the events of The Force Awakens, the First Order pursues the Resistance in an epic opening sequence. There is a hilarious bit of banter between Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), which sets the comedic tone we saw glimpses of from Poe in The Force Awakens. Thankfully, this humor is sprinkled throughout the picture. It’s nice in small doses, and really makes this the funniest Star Wars movie.
After the first of many self-sacrifices, the modern-day adaptation of the Rebel Alliance led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher) manages to escape via hyperspace. But the baddie battalion ruled by Snoke (Andy Serkis), Hux and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) manage to track the Resistance even at light speed. And the fleet of Resistance ships are apparently running low on gas. This and the tracking device the First Order possesses are the main obstacles the Rebels are facing throughout the course of the movie. Thank God this isn't the whole movie and only one thread. No one wants to watch Smokey and the Bandit (1977) in space, except for possibly Sterling Archer.
Fortunately, that is only one of two intertwining primary story threads. The aforementioned narrative gets a bit convoluted with minor story arcs to satisfy time spent away from the crux of the film which is the Skywalker-Ren-Rey triangle. Dameron is on screen quite a bit more than he was in The Force Awakens, and is much more of a rebellious character.
Also, there's just enough of BB-8 to go around. In one scene in particular, someone mistakes him for a slot machine and BB later uses the coins to whip some a%$. However, if BB-8 wanted more screen time, he probably should have teamed with Rey. While Dameron is busy doing his thing as a badass pilot, Finn (John Boyega) has finally recovered from his hellish wounds at the hands of Kylo Ren. Finn and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) journey to the new Casino Planet. During this third or fourth story arc depending on how good you are at math - "carry the 4" - Finn and Rose stumble upon the stuttering, Lando Calrissian-like scoundrel DJ (Benicio Del Toro). And just like Lando in Empire, of course, DJ betrays our heroes.
Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker is approached by Rey (Daisy Ridley) on the secluded island of Ahch-To. Rey gives the Master Jedi his lightsaber back, but Luke promptly tosses it over his shoulder. Skywalker has no desire to engage Rey let alone train her as a Jedi Knight. Rey finds the saber and the remains of Luke’s old X-Wing. Rey persistently follows Luke around the island, but Skywalker continues to ignore the youngster.
But it is the old rust bucket R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee) who finally reaches the old Luke buried deep within the now skeptical sage. R2 shows Skywalker the hologram message of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from A New Hope. This finally convinces Luke to open up to Rey.
Rey is also communicating with Kylo Ren during the film, as she shares a strong Jedi link with the evil Ben Solo. Later it is revealed that Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) created the mental bond between Kylo and Rey. This Force-induced telepathy is very reminiscent of Darth Vader communicating with Luke after their Bespin battle in Empire. Rey feels the light in Kylo, and becomes convinced she can turn him from the dark side of the Force.
Luke is unconvinced. After a brief, albeit gnarly altercation with Skywalker, Rey decides to leave the island. Luke returns to the Force Tree and it is there that the Jedi is reunited with the Force ghost of Master Yoda (Frank Oz). And Yoda is still a badass, as he summons lightning to burn down the Force Tree.
Kylo and Rey reunite against Skywalker's better judgenment. Kylo takes her before Snoke and the Supreme Leader uses the Force to torture the young girl. Snoke then orders his apprentice to kill the would-be Jedi. Conflicted, Kylo turns on his master and cuts him in half with Anakin and Luke’s old lightsaber. Kylo and Rey then fight together to take out the guards in what can only be described as the epic team-up moment of the Star Wars franchise. Their brief alliance felt like a better version of Jedi Knights fighting together in tandem than any comparable duel presented in George Lucas' Prequel Trilogy. These two would have annihilated Darth Maul (Ray Park) and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) given the chance.
Kylo tries to convince Rey to join him afterward, as Vader did with Luke, but she isn’t having it. The two then engage in an epic-powered battle with Luke’s lightsaber once again on the line. Both reach for the iconic saber with the Force, but it explodes and quells the duel. Hux finds Kylo after the battle, but while Ren was unconscious Rey made her escape in a pod.
Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) sacrifices herself in one of the most enthralling special effects of the saga. Holdo jumps to hyperspace and cuts through the First Order like a wrecking ball tearing down a building. It's fantastic! But the battle continues, as Gorilla Walkers are released onto the salt planet known as Crait.
As the First Order closes in for the kill, the Resistance gets a very big assist from one powerful freakin’ Jedi – Luke Skywalker. Luke and Leia are reunited; he kisses his sister on the forehead. Skywalker walks out onto the field of battle, which is a Hoth-looking world. In a barrage of fire, the enormous First Order Walkers seemingly blast Luke to bits. Skywalker emerges from the salvo without a scratch on him! Kylo Ren realizes it’s up to him to defeat his old master and uncle. The two warriors come face to face in the epic setting. Kylo tries to engage Luke, but Skywalker easily avoids every attack. And it’s during this battle that the Resistance is able to make their escape.
In an homage to A New Hope, Luke basically repeats Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (Alec Guinness) dialogue back to Kylo Ren: “If you strike me down…” Kylo goes in for the kill but his lightsaber blade passes harmlessly through Skywalker. Back on the island, Skywalker levitates and Force projects himself to the battle. The Resistance is now safe, but it comes at a huge cost. Holdo is dead and Skywalker has used all of his life force to aid the rebels’ escape. Peacefully, Skywalker succumbs to death and vanishes into the Force as Master Yoda did in Return of the Jedi (1983).
A glimmer of hope for the Jedi comes in the final moments, as a child exhibits Force powers while cleaning up a mess with a broom. Perhaps there will no longer be Sith and Jedi. Perhaps Force Users or Grey Jedi will come under the tutelage of Rey or the reign of the new Supreme Leader: Kylo Ren. In any case, The Last Jedi ends with more hope and less of a cliffhanger.
Luke Skywalker’s death was unnecessary, but the fact that he joins with the Force means that Mark Hamill will most likely return for the sequel trilogy’s conclusion in Episode IX. There’s a moment during his battle with Kylo Ren that made this writer think way outside the box: “Holy, sh*&! Was Luke dead and a Force ghost the whole film?” But it’s then revealed that Luke is projecting himself to the battle from the island.
Leia uses the Force when her ship is fired upon. The trailer showed audiences Kylo Ren wrestling with whether or not to kill his mother. He doesn’t, but other First Order fighters do unload on Leia’s ship. Admiral Ackbar (Tim Rose) is killed during the attack, while Leia is sucked out into space. But Leia shows off her Force powers as she escapes the icy cold vacuum. She is in a chilly coma for a while after, but Holdo takes over in her absence.
Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) might very well be the most over-hyped and underused Star Wars character of all time. Touted by many as this trilogy’s Boba Fett, Phasma falls to her death while battling Finn. It is a tragically lame fate, but there is a cool shot of Phasma's cracked helmet and her eye.
Rey doesn’t reunite with Finn until the final moments of the film. After battling Kylo Ren, Rey escapes, somehow gets on the Millennium Falcon and swoops in to save the day, as the gunner. Rey uses the Force to clear the debris from Finn, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and the other Resistance members' path to help them escape. Rey meets Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) for the first time.
Rey’s parentage is never truly disclosed other than they were not special. In a maze of endless mirror images of Rey, the young Jedi asks who her parents were. The answer: only a reflection of herself. Kylo Ren confronts her with the fact that she knows her parents were nothing: parents who abandoned their child and apparently sold her for booze. Will Episode IX expand upon this? Who knows. But for now, there’s still no definitive answer. And it appears there is no Skywalker blood in her veins despite the 2015 video game that clearly stated Kylo and Rey were cousins. The way this film treated their relationship, Kylo and Rey might be kissing cousins. It's hilarious when Luke walks in on Rey and Kylo during one of their Force discussions. There's something between the youngsters, as they try and touch one another.
Supreme Leader Snoke is a nobody. At least Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) was a super-powerful badass. Snoke looks cool, and has some interesting dialogue in The Last Jedi. But he doesn’t see Kylo Ren’s betrayal? Luke couldn’t see all of Rey and Kylo’s telepathic link, so I suppose that plays into Kylo striking down the Supreme Leader. And now Kylo is the BIG baddie. This is hilarious because of what Snoke said to Kylo earlier in the film (paraphrasing): You’re no Vader. You are a child wearing a mask.
On the topic of underused characters: Maz Kanata (a hologram cameo), R2-D2, Chewbacca, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), DJ (Benicio Del Toro), Phasma, Hux, Snoke…the list is endless. This film is about Luke Skywalker (thank God), Rey and Kylo Ren. And Vice Admiral Holdo has some nice moments. However, Del Toro and Dern’s characters weren’t what the rumors made them out to be: a Sith warrior and Rey’s mother/Luke’s lover respectively.
Yoda still has the touch. The Force Tree hidden on the island was the perfect setting for the old Jedi Master to commune with Luke Skywalker. Yoda does admonish Skywalker during their short conversation, but Yoda also brings down the lightning that destroys the remains of the Jedi Order's Force Tree. Paraphrasing (about the books): "Page turners, they were not," Yoda says. There's a beautiful moment between the two old friends watching the Force Tree burn that will even give the most hardened Star Wars fans chills. It's a great moment that typifies their close relationship.
Like father like son? It seems Luke is questioning whether the Jedi were a force – pun intended – for good as his father Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) once did. The phrase Grey Jedi is never uttered on screen, but the idea that all Force users are one group (Jedi and Sith) is echoed in the film’s narrative.
The Flashbacks: There are POV versions of the events leading up to the Jedi Temple Massacre, which appeared briefly in Rey's vision during The Force Awakens. It is interesting, because Luke senses the dark side in Ben Solo, but doesn't kill him. From Ben's point-of-view, he awakes and finds Luke standing over him with a green lightsaber. So, Solo defends himself. From Luke's point-of-view, Skywalker struggles with whether or not to kill his nephew and Ben wakes up to see his uncle looming over him with a weapon.
The Porgs are not as bad as Jar Jar Binks. They’re more reminiscent of Star Trek’s Tribbles, and they do have some fun interactions with Chewie. In one scene, Chewbacca nearly eats a Porg which absolutely horrifies the other Porgs. That was hilarious. In another scene, the Porgs play with Luke's lightsaber. But Porgs aren’t central to the plot nor do they pop up enough to annoy moviegoers. Will they make excellent Christmas gifts? You bet. Do I care if they show up in another Star Wars film. Uh, no.
In conclusion, The Last Jedi is a worthy entry in the Star Wars saga. However, like The Force Awakens, it relies far too heavily on the template of the original trilogy films. There is no “I am your father” moment, because Rey’s parentage remains somewhat of a mystery, but these new Star Wars movies seem content to rest on the laurels of George Lucas’ classic episodes.
The movie is epic and enthralling right up until the point that Luke Skywalker dies which is thankfully at the very end of Act III. A lot of critics will say it is a satisfying death. I suppose that's true if your definition of "satisfying" is the feeling you get in grade school when the bully punches you in the face and takes your lunch money. It was utterly ridiculous to let Skywalker die, but I suppose Episode IX would only be five minutes long if Luke were still alive. After all, even though the movie didn’t really show off all of his powers, Luke Skywalker was The Last Jedi.