The Last Jedi was a film designed to cup your heart in its hands and then crush it repeatedly at intermittent intervals. I counted no less than twelve moments that destroyed me. There are probably more. But let’s start with those. (How about you?)
Note: If it’s not obvious, this article and its comments will be full of spoilers for The Last Jedi. Last chance to turn back!
Paige Tico’s Death
The Last Jedi hits us straight out of the gate with a ton of losses. A good portion of the Resistance dies trying to get rid of a First Order dreadnought in an ill-considered attack by Poe Dameron. While the vessel is destroyed, it takes the majority of the Resistance’s fighters and bombers with it. The only reason that they win that minor battle itself is because of Paige Tico, Rose’s sister. Piloting one of the Resistance bombers, Paige is forced to evacuate the pilot’s chair when her bomb technician is knocked out. She struggles to drop the payload onto the dreadnought, knowing that succeeding will mean her death. With the detonator out of reach, Paige kicks at the ladder it is perched on, dropping the remote into her hands, pressing the button and going down with her ship.
We don’t know this woman. We have no idea what her stake is in the Resistance. Yet in that moment, she is everything about this war focused into a micro setting and her bravery is a sight to behold. When we finally meet her sister Rose, it is no surprise that she cannot stop crying. After knowing Paige Tico for thirty seconds, we’re all mourning her too.
There’s so much left unspoken in this film. Perhaps a little too much. But it makes the places where things are spoken that much more painful. When Rey first pleads with Luke to come back to the Resistance because his sister has asked for him, he is immovable and unmoved. But Rey is persistent. She insists that he needs to get on the Falcon and return with them, and when Luke suddenly sees Chewie there alone, he utters two brutal words, “Where’s Han?”
Two words and Luke realizes that he’s lost a family member and a dear friend, and he hadn’t known, he didn’t feel it. Two words and it’s clear just how important Han Solo was to him, how much Luke counted on his continued presence in the universe as a reliable constant. Two words and Han Solo dies all over again, and there’s still no bringing him back.
Leia Drags Herself Back Into the Rebel Cruiser Using the Force
General Leia Organa is a Skywalker. She has the Force. We’ve known this basically since The Empire Strikes Back. But because Leia is already importantly positioned as a political and military leader, we never really get to see her use of that power. She’s plenty powerful as is, the fact that she also has access to the wellspring of the Force just seems unfair to the rest of the galaxy. Leave some for the rest of them, Leia. You are too incredible for this universe.
There’s a brief moment where it seems that we may have lost our general after the bridge of the Resistance’s main cruiser gets blown out. But Leia opens her eyes in the middle of the cold black of space, and uses the Force to speed herself back into the ship. (And before anyone says “That’s not how the Force works!” I would like to point out that there is canonical precedent for this; Kanan Jarrus uses this trick at one point in Star Wars: Rebels—though he doesn’t make it look anywhere near so cool.) It’s a dearly important reminder of just how powerful Leia is. It’s also an important reminder that no one gets to tell the General when her journey ends. She will do that when she’s good and ready.
Luke Talks to R2-D2
When Rey meets Luke, she soon discovers that he wants nothing to do with her. There is a gruffness to the Jedi Master that has consumed him in years of exile. He’s become cagey and difficult and downright cynical. In fact, he behaves a lot like Yoda did when they first met. It’s hard to see glimmers of the Luke that we knew all those years ago in this jaded, broken man. But then he decides to board the Millennium Falcon for the first time in years. He finds his friend’s old cockpit dice and pockets them. Then he sits down in that same spot where he sat after Ben Kenobi died, and R2-D2 wakes up not twenty feet from him. And the moment R2’s name passes his lips, suddenly he’s former farmboy Luke Skywalker all over again. Time falls away and you can hear that sweet young man in his voice, and see that old brightness in his eyes.
The fact that R2 tells him off for being gone, that he guilts Luke with a reminder of the very first time his sister ever requested his aid (by virtue of her message to Ben Kenobi), cements this as the moment where Luke comes back to us, even just a little. He is reminded of being a boy who wanted to do something meaningful with his life, and all the trappings that came with it; old friends, his call to action, the first spaceship that ever took him away from home. It proves that he and Rey are not so different. It sets him on a path home.
When his weirdly shiny CGI Force ghost showed up, I was deeply worried that Yoda’s appearance was going to ruin the whole film. Then he turned around in puppet form and Frank Oz’s comforting tenor came through the theater speakers, and Master Yoda essentially saved this movie from its own dour schema. In Luke’s fear and petulance, he makes a bid to wipe out all the old Jedi knowledge, and their very first temple with it. And Yoda shrugs his shoulders. When Luke cannot go through with it, Yoda summons enough power from beyond the grave to strike the damn place with lightning and set it ablaze. So what, he says. Were those books really all that great? I’d rather catch up with you.
Yoda, in his now truly infinite wisdom, agrees that the Jedi as they functioned before didn’t really work. He also acknowledges that teaching isn’t about showing your students the right way to do things—it’s also about exposing them to your own failures so that they don’t have to replicate your errors. After all, Luke didn’t make the same mistakes that Yoda and Obi-Wan did; he saw their failures and chose to make entirely different ones. And on and on it goes because that is the nature of the Force: it doesn’t have a correct answer. It is not a single state or idea or thought.
But Yoda’s sudden landing in Luke’s backyard is another signal; it’s a welcome mat in front of the door. Luke’s former master is there to tell him: it’s almost time. We’ve saved you a seat. There are so many people waiting to talk to you. It’s time to let this all go.
Amilyn Holdo Saves the Resistance
We don’t get nearly enough of this graceful, poised, fierce lady. We don’t get enough of her friendship with Leia, which is a beautiful thing to behold in the brief moments we are allowed to witness it. And while losing her before getting to know her feels like such a cheat, she does go out in the most ferocious manner possible; she goes into lightspeed through Supreme Leader Snoke’s ship, cutting the thing in half. She is the hero this Resistance deserves, though she deserved much better.
Rey and Kylo Ren Fighting Side By Side
Kylo Ren actually got some decent character development in this film, including the gleeful scene where Snoke trashes him for being an entitled brat in a mask. And while the constant tug-o-war for his soul unsurprisingly leads to bad choices on his part, we do get a fantastic glimpse of what it would look like if Rey and Kylo truly pooled their power. The story mimics everything that we recall from Return of the Jedi; a salivating over-confident monster who taunts the new kid in front of his “loyal” apprentice, then shows the good child her fleet of friends dying in a maelstrom of technological might. But instead of the apprentice crossing blades with the new recruit to teach them a lesson, Kylo Ren slaughters the old fool and has to team up with Rey to disperse Snoke’s guards.
The fight choreography of that scene is something glorious to behold and the two of them are a flurry of might, seamlessly integrating their knowledge and combined strengths to stop a team of highly trained combatants. It’s like having a wish answered that you never voiced out loud—what would it have looked like if Vader and combined forces with his son to dispatch the Emperor and his guards? Now we know. And it’s incredible, even if it doesn’t last.
“Your parents are nobody.”
A smart decision that hopefully the final film will not go back on. I have been rooting for Rey not to be related to anyone of note in this universe from the very beginning. It’s important, both as a way of bringing the Skywalker legacy to a close and as a point about the Force itself, which has no reason to simply favor a single bloodline when it’s meant to be a part of everything. When Kylo Ren insists that Rey admit her parentage, and she tells him that she knows they’re no one, that they sold her and left her on Jakku, it reframes the entire narrative of this current trilogy. Effectively, Kylo is saying that if Rey refuses to align herself with him—with the Skywalker bloodline—that she cannot be important to this story. That she cannot hope to defeat him or do anything of import with her life.
By rejecting him and using her powers to protect others, by heading down a path to become her own kind of Jedi (or Force-wielder) free of any Skywalker nagging, Rey makes it clear: the Force is for and a part of everyone. Not a dynasty, not the Jedi Order, not megalomaniacs who think the universe should be theirs. It is for everyone. The poor and the destitute. The lost and the unknown. Even a child whose parents didn’t want her. The Force is hers. The story is hers.
Because she decided it would be.
Poe Scritches BB-8 Like a Puppy
Poe Dameron gets taken down several notches in this film, and it’s probably more entertaining than it has any right to be. (Watching Leia, you get the impression that she puts up with him because she probably thought that this was the kid she and Han were more likely to have.) But for all his flaws and all that he learns, Poe has all the heart and the best of intentions. He also has a little rolly droid that he adores, and when Rose and Finn deliver BB-8 back to Poe he literally scratches the droid’s belly like he’s a puppy. I would like a calendar that just features pictures of this, please. I will never recover.
Rose Saves Finn
Finn didn’t get as much to do in this story as I would have preferred, but his lessons were incredibly important and far more universal—as in, what Finn learns, the audience is also meant to learn. Having spent his entire life under the brainwashing of the First Order, Finn is terrified of being caught in their web again, while he wants nothing more than to bring them down for all the pain they cause. Enter Rose, a woman uniquely positioned to understand how the First Order causes harm far beyond their ability to blow up ships and planets. First, Finn learns a lesson on Canto Bight, that people with all the wealth and sparkly surroundings are seldom people who do anything but help themselves and thrive on their ability to use and abuse others. But after being captured and nearly killed again on Supreme Leader Snoke’s ship, Finn channels all of that knowledge into rage, and nearly gets himself killed trying to destroy the First Order’s battering ram canon.
But Rose saves him, a point she makes very clear when he tries to berate her for “stopping” him. And she tells Finn that the Resistance won’t win by fighting the things they hate—they will win by saving what they love. Even if I’m not 100% for a romance here (that happened real fast, even by movie standards), Rose was instantly made the standard bearer for their fight. She lost the most precious person in the galaxy to her, and she still found room in her heart to continue to push back against evil for what she loves. What an absolute star of a human being.
For powerful siblings connected through the Force, we sure don’t get to see Luke and Leia interact much. This continues to be the case despite the fact that they are family and clearly love each other very dearly. It’s one of my biggest peeves about Star Wars that has spanned the ages; it was largely true of the Expanded Universe novels, it has been true in the new novels so far, and it’s true of the films. Luke and Leia just don’t get any time to be brother and sister, and given all the garbage the universe has piled on them, it’s a state that seems cosmically unfair. Add to that Luke’s guilt over failing Leia when her son turns to the Dark Side, and the whole thing is more depressing than ever. Their sudden reconnection once Luke reopens himself to the Force is not enough to bridge this terrible chasm.
But then Luke makes his way across the galaxy in a feat of Force-driven astral projection that is devastating to behold. Before we realize that is the case, all we know is that he has arrived on Crait, and the first thing he wants to do is talk to his sister. John Williams’s “Luke and Leia” leitmotif plays in the background as Leia teases him and he apologizes, and for a moment, it’s just them. Luke and Leia, decades older and still in desperate need of family, of someone who knows them this instinctively. And when Leia tells Luke that she knows her son is gone, Luke tells her, with the wisdom he’s earned since pulling their father out of an abyss and losing his nephew to that same darkness: “No one’s ever really gone.” Then he gives her Han’s dice (as the theme fades over to Han and Leia’s music), and he walks out to face Ben and give his sister a fighting chance to live. Because they were born into destinies that neither of them got to choose and they both deserved to have this instead. To just be Luke and Leia, not Jedi Master Luke Skywalker and General Princess Leia Organa.
Luke Skywalker’s Final Moments
As with Han Solo, I figured it was coming, in this film or the next. And I knew there was no way to prepare myself for it. There are so many fictional heroes out there to connect to, but it seems to me that there’s always one in particular, for everyone. One who means the world to you.
Luke Skywalker is that hero for me.
I pretended to be him on the playground as a child. I learned to recite the Jedi Code in place of the pledge at school. I searched for every book I could find with him between the pages. He was a constant and comforting figure that I relied upon, like a weird guardian angel I could call up with a the right novel or film. And I knew that I was going to have to give him up.
And while his final confrontation with Ben Solo was a miraculous sight to behold, a worthy feat of one of the greatest Jedi the galaxy has ever know, it really was nothing in the scheme of things. No, the most traumatic yet dazzling moment of the entire film is Luke Skywalker, exhausted from the hardest trial of his life, tracking the horizon and finding absolute peace. The boy from Tatooine ends his journey precisely where began it—staring off into binary suns and wishing for something greater.
It was a beautiful death, if such a thing can be said to exist.
It was also emotionally shattering and I am not okay. And that’s probably all I’ll be able to say about it for some time.