Honestly, when I first walked out of the theater after seeing The Last Jedi I was disappointed. It wasn’t at all what I expected or what I thought I wanted. As I thought about it on the drive home and over the next day, my opinion really changed. I was shocked at first because the movie is so different from it predecessor. The Force Awakens was desperate to please and easy to like, with constant, reverent references to the original trilogy. While it’s plot wasn’t much more than a point for point remake of A New Hope, it also took the time to set up numerous mysteries. Instead of being focused on living up to expectations, The Last Jedi revels in subverting them. It can feel confounding at first, but once digested it makes for one of the most fulfilling Star Wars experiences I’ve had.
I don’t want to just spoil the movie in my review, though I assume nearly everyone who is going to see it has done so at this point, so I am not going to walk through each of Rey’s, Luke’s, Finn’s and Poe’s stories. They each share key thematic points, though the movie keeps most of the heroes apart. Details are shared across three stories pretty evenly, but I think the strongest example of what the movie is doing is Poe’s storyline. The hotshot pilot gets a moment to show off to start the film with a solo bit of heroics that morphs into a suicide run on the film’s bigger, more dangerous take on the Star Destroyer, the Dreadnought. In any other Star Wars movie, the assault on the Dreadnought would be a grand, heroic moment. That is the sort of moment the series is built on. Here it is a bit of folly that gets Poe demoted. Still, throughout the movie Poe tries to be the action hero like Luke and Han and even Obi-Wan were in previous movies. While I say that isn’t like other Star Wars movies, it isn’t really unlike Empire Strikes Back, which saw the rebellion only as they fought a delaying battle before running away from an Imperial Fleet. The Last Jedi spells it out as a battle to save what you love, not destroy what you hate, a message that fits in with other Star Wars movies even as this one makes distinctions.
It is also a movie about failure and how to deal with it. Each of our heroes must deal with failure in this movie, and how they learn from it is important. That is why people who dislike the Finn and Rose story are missing the point. That part is called a waste of time only because they eventually fail in their mission, but the whole point of the movie, the final lesson that Yoda has to teach Luke, is that failure is among the greatest of teachers.
The best part of the movie is how it backs away from the idea of the destined hero. That flaw is largely confined to the prequels, which started Anakin out as this mythological figure before we even got to know him. This pulls that back. The heroes of Star Wars maybe do heroic things, but they are just people in this world, like Luke and Han were. It is deliberately lessening the emphasis on legacy that The Force Awakens focused on. People spent a couple of years speculating about who Rey’s parents were because of who Luke’s dad turned out to be, but Rey’s story isn’t Luke’s story. The revelation that her parents aren’t anybody is the best possible way to solve that mystery.
At first, I didn’t like that The Last Jedi withheld the comforting conclusions that I was expecting. I wanted to see Luke in his full glory, I wanted to see Finn and Poe go on adventures. Watching the movie, I didn’t get anything that I wanted, other than the wholly excellent throne room scene. But judging the movie not based on my preconceived notions about what I thought it would be, but on what it is and what is accomplished convinced me that this is the best Star Wars movie since the original trilogy ended.
As I said, I didn’t really like the movie when it first finished, but by the time I went for my second viewing a fews days later I was even more excited than I was before my first viewing. The Last Jedi is a thematically rich movie that upends a lot of what people expect Star Wars to be, while not really changing anything. It makes the galaxy far, far away feel larger than it has since it was revealed that Leia was Luke’s sister. It is a big galaxy, and anybody can be the hero. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I don’t know what is coming next with Star Wars and I couldn’t be more excited.