“Rebellions are built on hope.”
This quote from Rogue One, the last Star Wars film, is relevant now more than ever in the wake of The Last Jedi (hereby referred to as TLJ), which picks up from where The Force Awakens ended and guides the series into uncharted territory. The idea of ‘hope’ being the most valuable asset in the battle against the dark forces has been central to the entire Star Wars saga, its inception in the very first film, naturally titled A New Hope. And through the years the idea has been faithfully kept alive, through the narrative, the characters and the uplifting opening main theme of the saga.
In TLJ hope carries forward the last remains of the Resistance (led by General Leia Organa) trying to escape the clutches of the First Order (led by Supreme Leader Snoke and commanded by his apprentice Kylo Ren). It is ‘hope’ that pushes them to reach for their first victory, as Poe leads a near-suicidal assault on an enemy Dreadnought. It is hope, on Leia’s part, that drives Rey to go find the self-exiled Luke Skywalker and try to convince him to (re)join their cause and later, to submit herself to Kylo Ren in hopes of turning him. It is ‘hope’ that sends Finn and Rose to a risky self-conceived mission that attempts to facilitate an escape route. And it is nothing but hope that impels Vice-Admiral Holdo to undertake an unforgettably radical course of action, one that provides for the film’s most spectacular shot and a true visual treat. Even as towards the end, cornered by the First Order, Leia despairs “The galaxy has lost all hope”, they find strength through an old ally and inside them, a new hope. To survive, to fight and to resist darkness.
“You must have a thousand questions.”
TLJ is more of a character-driven film than its predecessors. Opposing the traditional style of characters being guided by the plot, in TLJ more often than not the plot progression serves to build up character moments; such as Rey’s self-discovery, Kylo questioning his own allegiance, Poe becoming a mature leader knowing when to back-off and be smart instead of going full-bore offensive all the time et cetera. Adam Driver shows his talent in a few critical sequences despite being a bit too wooden for the most part, which doesn’t always pay off; while Daisy Ridley too seems to have very few expressions to choose from mostly, except for her scenes with Driver where they both live up to their fullest potential.
And it is again the veterans who probably deliver the best, despite having lesser screentime, as both Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill dish up phenomenal performances which are quite possibly their personal bests in the entire series. Benicio Del Toro, bursting with personality, does a rather good job in a role that’s too thinly written for a talent like him. Rounded off by an excellent score from John Williams, the film’s technical pros overshadow its cons by a mile. And even though the mineral planet Crait, with its rich red soil, feels like a fabricated addition to obtain incredibly beautiful cinematography of a ‘bleeding battlefield’, it just works out all too well for anybody to complain.
“What are you looking at me for? Follow him!”
– Leia telling others to follow Poe’s orders
On a symbolic level, the film’s primary theme has been one of change, from the old to the new. Especially during the film’s climax which also turns out to be a head-on battle between the Old vs the New. And we find the Old calmly embracing the end, making way for the New. As Rey remarks, it was a death with peace and purpose. The same theme plays elsewhere as we see a changing of the guard for the Resistance; as Poe evolves from a danger-seeking volatile hero to a level-headed leader and Rey returns with newer insights about the war and the Force. It is evident that in the next film it is these characters that will be taking charge of the Resistance, along with loyal companions like Finn and Rose.
“Hope is like the Sun. If we only believe in it when we see it, we’ll never make it through the night.”
– Vice-Admiral Holdo (quoting Leia)
The director Rian Johnson is known for directing episodes of the television giant Breaking Bad, among them being Ozymandias and The Fly. The former hailed as the finest episode in the series(and one of the very best in TV history) and the latter the most controversial one, with critics lauding the offbeat experimental journey yet audiences worldwide rejecting it outright, unable to fully comprehend the episode’s genius and its place in the show.
And it is a similar trend that we see with TLJ, with most critics praising its unique take on the mythos of the saga and a style of direction that subverts traditional Star Wars space opera tropes while reinventing others, while audiences mostly negatively receiving the stylistic departure from their old favourite films. The allusion-driven narrative, scenes like the multiple Reys at the island, frequent adept uses of self-deprecating humour and strict refusal to leave clues about the sequel have made Johnson a rebel in the eyes of both the audience and critics alike. But if you were to ask me, maybe all we need to do is to welcome change and find some hope, for this rebellion in space opera filmmaking to build on.
“How do we rebuild the Rebellion from this?” Rey asks Leia.
“We have everything we need”
she answers holding Rey’s hand in hers.
The film ends with a little slave boy on Canto Bight looking up to the stars, hoping that someday his heroes shall save him from his miserable life on this planet. Thus as Leia assures Rey, she knows that despite their dwindling numbers, they still have hope.
Hope in the form of dedicated future leaders like Rey and Poe.
Hope in fearless soldiers like Finn and Rose.
Hope in the light, the good side of the Force and all those who strive towards it.
After all, rebellions are built on hope.