(Hi – back from vacation and my blog has a new look. Hope you like it! If anyone knows how to change margins, lmk. I’m hopeless.)
I recently watched the documentary included with The Last Jedi DVD on Rian Johnson and his work on film. It was…standard. Interesting to see how it was made, but nothing I felt was groundbreaking. I still recommend it because it gives a deeper insight into the movie, but don’t expect to be blown away.
There was, however, one comment he made that has stayed with me long after watching it that, for me, helped the movie make a lot more sense – and possibly explain why I had some issues with it.
Johnson mentioned that he wanted to look at all the main characters and say, “What is their greatest challenge?” and confront that within this movie (or something like that).
In turn, I wanted to see what I believe each character’s challenge was at the end of The Force Awakens and see it lines up with what Rian was trying to portray.
(Feel free to skip to the end to read my issues on it)
- By the end of The Force Awakens: Rey needs to belong somewhere, which manifests itself with a need of knowing who her parents are. Throughout most of the movie, she wants to go back to Jakku because she’s waiting for them, or someone, to give her life a purpose. She believes she’ll find that purpose in her parents. The end of the movie shows her devastated by the loss of Han Solo and on a mission to find Luke Skywalker and figure out what has awakened within her, hoping that he will provide some guidance.
- What would be Rey’s challenge moving forward? I believe it is realizing that a) she will receive no help in training of the Force, and b) she has no parents as they are either dead or so irrelevant that it does not matter.
In this, I believe Rian succeeded. Rey met her biggest challenges in The Last Jedi.
- By the end of TFA: Finn is unconscious after his adventures of deserting the First Order, his best friend goes off on a solo mission, and we do not know how his story will play out.
- What would be Finn’s greatest challenge? Finn’s greatest challenge would be to have no sense of direction, to feel lost and without purpose. A challenge for him would be to finally commit to a side, as opposed to committing to someone who is on a side.
I do believe Rian had Finn face this challenge, but I believe it was also done half-heartedly. As soon as he wakes up in TLJ, he realizes Rey is gone and he loses his sense of purpose. He tries to desert, which I think makes sense for his character, but then gets pulled into an adventure with Rose. In some ways, I believe this adventure was a major distraction to his character as it seems like Finn cannot make up his mind about anything without having someone to convince him of it. Finn hates the First Order but doesn’t believe in the Resistance enough. I would have liked to see Finn become his own character with his own belief in the Resistance, without Rose or Rey.
- By the end of TFA: All we know about Poe is that he’s the best pilot in the Resistance who survived an un-survivable crash and goes onto destroy Starkiller Base. A hero for the Resistance!
- What would Poe’s greatest challenge be? Poe’s greatest challenge is obvious – take away his X-wing, keep him grounded, and put his ego in check.
Challenge faced and done well. We see that Poe without an x-wing is an impatient person who cannot trust in others to also do their job.
- By the end of TFA: We barely see Luke in TFA. It’s a fleeting glimpse and all we know about him is that he tried to create a new era of Jedi knights, one of his pupils turned to the dark side, he has gone into hiding, and the Resistance does not know where he is.
- What would Luke’s greatest challenge be? This was hard because the details we are given on Luke are few and far between. We know Luke from the OT but not this “new” Luke. I believe his challenge would be to want to go back to the Resistance. It can’t be a need, but a personal choice. Without knowing much about what he is like now – I do not think his challenge would be to train a new Jedi.
Did Rian succeed with Luke’s challenge? Yes and no. Reading the novelization of TLJ, made me realize that right before Luke walked in on Reylo holding hands, he had made the decision to come back with her to the Resistance (physically, not as a Force projection). He then changed his mind after seeing the communication between Rey and Kylo and pretty much drove her from the island.
When he does return to the Resistance, he does not return as his physical self, but as a projection. Because of this, I do not think that he met his challenge – though you could argue he did. It’s a fine line and completely subjective. Some people loved the Force projection, others did not. I prefer the idea of him physically returning with Rey but that didn’t work out, so perhaps a Force projection is the second best.
- By the end of TFA: The Leia we see in TFA is somewhat similar to the Leia we remember in the OT. She still leads the small band of struggling fighters against a larger military opposition and has a sharp tongue. The only real difference (and it’s a big one) is that she has a son, a son that turned to the dark side and murdered his father.
- What would Leia’s greatest challenge be? I believe her challenge would be to forgive her son and to keep the Resistance together. I think out of all the characters meeting challenges, Leia’s is the one that is the trickiest. Her Resistance is falling apart and their headcount gets smaller and smaller. Part of that is due to her son, who attacks the Resistance with a fury.
Rian had her meet one out of the two challenges – the loss of the fleet of the resistance. There’s something about when Leia puts her head in her hands while traveling through hyperspace in the beginning of the movie that really gets to me.
In the novel, it’s a moment when Leia is using the Force to sense other’s emotions and see if she can find Luke in the galaxy. To me, when I first saw it and hadn’t read the novelization, it’s a moment of pure exhaustion. It’s a brief moment of rest when everything is crumbling around you. The burden of leadership is hard. Leia wears it effortlessly most of the time, but in this image, I see someone momentarily defeated and drained of energy.
How can you forgive your son in a moment like this? I don’t think she did. We find out later that she forgives Luke, but not her son. Is this something we were meant to see later in IX? Will we never know now due to Fisher’s untimely death?
- By the end of TFA: Kylo has been bested by a girl who has just begun to realize her Force powers. He has also killed his father in order to become more entrenched in the dark side and to prove to Snoke that he can be as similar to Vader as he needs to be.
- What would Kylo Ren’s greatest challenge be? I think his challenge is to realize that he will never be as strong or as dark as Darth Vader. Kylo Ren needs to prove himself, it’s the driving force in him and why he is often filled with so much conflict. In his mind, in order to prove himself as strong as Vader, he needs to win. He needs to beat Rey and he needs to find Luke Skywalker and kill him. By doing this he will feel accomplished and proven.
Did he meet his challenge? Yes, but they’re not that simple for him. He lost, both against Rey (again) with the mind games and against a battle with Luke. But whether or not he realizes that his conflict is what makes him not as strong as Vader is up for debate. If anything, it seems like at the end of TLJ, he has less conflict than he did when the movie started so in a sense, that challenge was not met as he may think he is even more like Vader than ever before but the conflict is still there.
I could go into Hux and Phasma but I’ll spare everyone. Their storylines were secondary, but they too met their challenges in TLJ.
I reviewed all this and wrote about it to kind of prove a point – it’s a lot. It’s a lot of character development and a lot of storylines where you must meet a challenge for each character, plus introducing some new ones into the Star Wars universe.
And this is, I believe, my niggling problem with The Last Jedi. I don’t think there was a reason to have every single character meet a challenge. This is almost strange for me to accept. Don’t you want character development in a movie? Don’t you want the characters to grow and be able to relate to them? After all, as human beings, we’re not stagnant. Our lives constantly change and evolve where we have joyous and horrible times.
Having every character from The Force Awakens meet a challenge in The Last Jedi breaks the Star Wars mold, and I’m not sure it does it in a good way. Previously, it seemed like Lucas concentrated on one character (Luke or Anakin) as the focal point of the trilogy. From there, he had them meet great challenges and revolved the rest of the story around them. With TLJ, we still have Rey as the main character, but at times it’s an afterthought with the way it jumps around.
It seems like Rian thought about the challenges of the characters first and then created the plot. This is an interesting take to the movie, but it left me with feeling like the movie only started getting good and enjoyable after all the hurdles were jumped. For the first hour and a half, every character hit a brick wall and had to work their way around it. Once they cleared it, the movie sailed effortlessly and, at times, had me almost in tears.
There are movies and then there is Star Wars. When you’re dealing with a franchise that has a long, deeply rooted history, the movie should try to stay true to that and not try to make an “interesting” movie – for lack of a better word.
I am very interested in the new Star Wars trilogy for TV that Rian is creating. I’m interested because I think he’s the type of director that could do some appealing work in the Star Wars universe when he has more freedom. But with TLJ, I wish someone had noticed how obsessed he was becoming with the characters “challenges” and told him to step back and make it more cohesive to a plot.
Am I crazy? Do you agree with my assessment or no?