The Last Jedi and Me

Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi photoI was there. Oh yes, I was there. I was one of the original “virgins” who walked into a movie theatre in 1977 – in my case, between to life-size cardboard cutouts of white-armored Stormtroopers, I remember them well – and heard for the first time that iconic music, watched the scroll unfold across the stars, gasped as that starship came and kept coming and coming and coming.

I was there when Carrie Fisher first put up those unforgettable hair buns to frame a face still round with youth – she was 19, only a handful of years older than me – and turned into the princess who would change my life.

I was there when Luke Skywalker, God help his sweet naïve wet-behind-the-ears whiny teenage “but I was just going to go get the power converters!” ass, tried to become the action hero, only to be totally eclipsed when Han Solo first strutted onto the silver screen (and shot first). I was there. I was there.

I was there when they destroyed the first Death Star. I was there when they destroyed the second. I was there to laugh at Yoda’s first grammar-bollixed sentences, to watch him lift a drowned X-wing out of the swamp and tell the young Luke when he said that he “didn’t believe it” that this was the reason that he failed, to hear him utter “No! Try not! Do, or do not. There is no try.”

I was there when Luke (bless Hamill’s soul, he still managed to sound young and naïve, even when he was the young Jedi hope saving the galaxy (and his father) in the darkest hour…) began to turn into the legend. I was there when the Ewoks yub-yubbed their way into everyone’s world, love them or hate them. I was there for it all.

I was also there when they flubbed the next three movies – with a story like “how does a man become Darth Vader” it might have been hard to imagine how they could mess that up, but they did it, and how. I was there. Let’s not talk about that.

When “The Force Awakens” burst onto our screens a couple of years ago, I was there for that, too, and I was now the ageing grey-haired elder in the audience. I went there to see what happened to the characters who had once so comprehensively built themselves into the foundations of the world I had built for myself to live in.

And that movie delivered grief (it was a WRENCH to see Han Solo die) and it also delivered something that was beyond joy – a glory, because when Leia walked out of her spaceship in that movie I knew that she was *still my princess*. They had allowed her to live and love and lose and fail and grow up and grow older – just like me. She grew up alongside me. And she was still strong, and tough, and vulnerable, and snarky, and… and everything.

But “Force” was already elegiac. The torch was up there, mid-air, held up by the Force, perhaps, in the act of being passed to another generation. That was Rey’s movie, and Kylo’s, and Poe’s, and Finn’s. Star Wars TNG, as it were.

And then they left it there, where they did, with Luke reaching out to take his old light sabre from Rey’s hand. And I applauded, with the rest of them, and then sat back and waited. And waited.

Unlike most people I know I don’t fear spoilers – I seek them out, in fact. I walked into “Force” knowing who died, and how – and honestly, that saved my heart from breaking. I walked into “The Last Jedi” knowing much of what happened in it. But the thing, for me, is the journey, not the destination. I came to SEE it all. Even though I might have known what I was there to see.

So. If anyone is still skeeved by spoilers, this is as far as you get. Go away and come back in a year’s time, or whenever you consider the spoiler free period to have ended. The rest of you – if you’ve already seen it, or like me don’t care – follow me.

First of all, and let’s be completely shallow about this, “The Last Jedi” is visually stunning. The vistas (Luke’s island. Scarlet-and-white Crait. Crait’s innards in the iconic “this is too damn narrow for the Millenium Falcon to get through – oh wait they did – and everyone chasing them comes to grief instead” sequences.)

The critters (the crystal foxes are GORGEOUS, for instance. The horse creatures at the casino city and the chase through the night. And… but we’ll get back to that.) The sheer drama of Snoke’s throne room – and those scarlet-robed faceless Spanish Inquisition people who are SO much better at fighting than your common-or-garden Stormtroopers who are STILL lousy shots, and appear to excel only at standing still on the parade ground in their serried ranks. It’s beautiful, and beautifully filmed, and oh, the way they use light. But that’s just the trappings, folks. That’s what’s come to be known in these days of computertalk as the “skin”. But shucking the skin and looking underneath it all.

This story has heart. Pure and beautiful and beating heart.

And it isn’t just that it’s even more elegiac than “The Force Awakens” ever was – because in the end there’s two ghosts on this screen, Luke’s Force-ghost in what is that character’s finest hour and Mark Hamill’s redemption as Luke Skywalker and the luminous Leia who will never be with us again because the avatar who carried her in this our own world is herself gone. I stayed right until the end, when the “In loving memory” credit came on, and openly wept at it.

And let’s start there, shall we. When Leia and her successor, Admiral Holdo, have that final conversation at the transport’s door (“I can’t take any more losses.” – “Of course you can.”) – that might have started as movie dialogue but now, with things being as they are, those words are aimed straight at all of us. We can’t take this loss. We can’t. But then… of course we can. As Luke says later, “No-one is ever really gone.” Not while they are remembered. And I will never ever forget this girl who grew up with me and alongside me into the luminous farewell that is this movie.

Leia, my princess, my general, in your full strong, feminine, snarky, tough, vulnerable, brave, gentle, feisty glory, goodbye. And thank you. For everything. Because of you, I can cry in my heart and still hold my head up high – because I knew you. Because someone like you was put out there for someone like me to believe in.

And the man whose movie this became, who broke under the weight of the legend and could not forgive himself for it. And his last look into a sky with two suns, just like once he looked when he was young and callow into the two that graced Tattoine’s skies. The original Luke Skywalker was ALWAYS a little too much of a pretender for me – he wasn’t the action hero (that was Han) and he wasn’t quite up to being the all-powerful wise Jedi that he was supposed to have become at the end of “The Return of the Jedi”. I never quite bought that.

And perhaps it was the actor as well as the character who needed to grow up and grow into this part. But what Mark Hamill does here with Luke Skywalker is nothing short of amazing. This is the Luke who is a match to the Leia who was allowed to grow up with me – so was Luke, and he grew into both the legend that he was always supposed to have been and into the most human of human beings.

Luke Skywalker had *flaws*. And dear GOD, do they let us see them here. He’s frightened. He’s bewildered. He has regrets. He blames himself for a lot of things. He feels like he tried on a pair of boots way too big for him, and then feels guilty because they tripped him up when he tried to run in them. All of this, ALL of it, gives me a hero I can finally unashamedly love.

He transcended his beginnings. I forgive him the power converters. I forgive him EVERYTHING. He has bought his way into glory and the price was high, very high. But in the end he paid it, and knew peace. And gave us – once again – a new hope. Because he showed us that every flawed human can get there, in the end, if they learn from their failures. And failures, as Yoda points out in his glorious guest-starring appearance, are the best teachers.

Yoda. Ah, Yoda. This is the original Yoda, the wise old creature from Dagobah, not the ninja-Yoda of those lamentable prequels. The Yoda we all love. There was an audible ripple of loving laughter in the movie theatre when he turned up in all his wizened green glory. And there was a very real moment of “try not, do or do not” when Luke hesitates with a puny little torch and Yoda effortlessly summons up the lightning to do the necessary job. The sense of a very real pride in his old pupil even though the pupil himself can see nothing but failure. But Yoda knows. Yoda understands.

The young ‘uns. First, Rey and Kylo – the two young stars on whom this particular trilogy hinges. They both give astonishing performances here. Rey, the seeker, the vulnerable soul, the lonely one who is trying to find a place to belong.

Kylo, who has rejected the place he was supposed to belong and is bent on carving his own place. They both see a future for the other, when they touch – and it comes true, because they end up fighting together, side by side, or at least back to back, and it is possible to see how either could interpret that event as a sign that the other one had ‘turned’ and was now fighting on the ‘right’ side.

But Kylo wants a dark queen to rule by his side, and Rey hoped for no more than a turn into the white knight. When he does not oblige, she turns away. She, who desperately needs to be needed and loved, rejects the offer to ‘belong’ because she does not fit into the place where he would have put her. And yes, I knew that Kylo Ren killed Snoke – but oh, not how. I thought I’d see him attack with his own lightsaber, instead of noodging the one left carelessly too close to his quarry into a lethal awakening.

And while we’re on Snoke – one thing that people have against the movie is that we never learn ‘more’ about the supreme leader, who he was, where he came from, where his power came from – but in the end, that doesn’t really matter that much, does it? He’s a McGuffin, finally, is Snoke The Big Evil. He exists so that he can be dispatched so that he can leave an empty place which Kylo Ren can now fill – the supreme leader is dead, long live the supreme leader. Not only does Kylo not turn, he doubles down.

Poe, who learns the hard way that he isn’t always right – but who gets vindicated in the end (“What are you all looking at me for?” Leia asks. “He said to follow him!”).

Finn, who is a conflicted good guy with, um some questionable attributes – but who is always willing to do the Right Thing in the end.

Rose, the new one, who nestled into my heart when she releases the horsey thing from its saddle and lets it go – and then says quietly, “NOW it was worth it.” The girl who wears the medallion that is the last connection she has to her lost sister – but is nevertheless willing to tear herself from it and give it up so that a scoundrel who needs buying can be paid for. Atta girl, Rose. You’ve made your mark.

The old droid friends. BB-8, who shines in this movie. Artoo Deetoo, who singlehandedly drags Luke back from the edge of a precipice for one last stand (yes, it was a ‘cheap move’ to play the Leia hologram. But help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You are still our last hope…) The usual punctilious presence of Threepio (memorably snapped at by Leia at one point to “wipe that expression” off his face. And it makes perfect sense.) They’re like old friends, these guys. You still don’t understand a cheep or blurt or squeak or whistle of what Artoo and BB are uttering, but somehow you understand every ‘word’ of it anyway.

Other old friends, like Chewie. Beset by Porgs.

And oh, oh, oh, I’ve been Porged by those creatures. They’re glorious. I want a Porg. I want one now. Do I really have to go find Luke’s island to get one? (And the rest of the critters of the island. The hippopotanuns who are the Jedi artefact caretakers and whose expression are so beautifully obvious on those weird faces. The guy who insists on shoving coins into BB-8 at the casino because he thinks the droid is some sort of miniaturized rolling slot machine)

But underneath it all – the message of this story. The message that it isn’t fatal to fail. That it is possible to rise again (and again) from the ashes and the sacrifice, and rise better, and greater. That both sides of the war are paying good money for machines to murder each other with (and the third party, the arms dealer, is the one who’s reaping the benefits of that without ever being in direct harm’s way). The message that Rey doesn’t necessarily need to be a Skywalker or a Kenobi or a Palpatine (after all, where did Anakin Skywalker come from…?) and the Force belongs to everyone who can learn to touch it.

The original Star Wars was a cartoon compared to this. Simplistic. Thin.

“The Last Jedi” delivers ambiguity. And both the baldness of an empirical truth (or at least the idea that truth can be different if it is looked at through a different lens) and the richness of an emotional truth, and the idea that both are equally valid and necessary.

In the end, sitting in a wretched little ship with just a handful of survivors, in the knowledge that help was called for but no help came, in the aftermath of unspeakable sacrifices and losses, Rey looks down at the shattered remnants of the lost battle spread in her lap and whispers, “how can we build a resistance with this?”

And Leia, my beloved Leia, responds with her usual quiet powerful truth: “We have all we need.” She is right. “The Last Jedi” might have kicked off a visceral rejection by some hardcore ‘fans’ – because it isn’t the story THEY might have wished to have seen told.

But that doesn’t change the fact that this movie is a masterpiece.

It straddles the things that are being looked at in the rear view mirror with a smile of nostalgia and the things that are still coming, still too nebulous to see in the rosy mists of the future. This movie is the bridge between the old guard, those of us who were young when Luke and Leia and Han were young, and the cohort of new fans coming in dressed as Rey, and as Poe – those of us who understood Artoo, and those of us who understand BB-8.

I was there. And now I am here. It is hard to believe – to acknowledge – that forty years have passed since I was that fresh-faced 15-year-old who took a step from the world BSW (Before Star Wars) and into the world ASW (After). It is hard to believe that there was once a generation who did not immediately recognize that opening fanfare and the things it signifies. It is hard to believe that we have come so far. It is hard to accept that Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are dead, and that we will never see Leia’s smile again.

The old Star Wars died today, in that theater, as the credits for “The Last Jedi” were rolling. But the rebellion continues. Something new is being born. In these new movies – in the new generation – in the light of this new torch – well, it remains to be seen, in the end. But so far, Leia said it best. It is possible that we may have all we need to carry on.

And the Force is still with us all.

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