WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Last Jedi, so read with discretion.
Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is arguably one of the most divisive Star Wars films of recent times–and given the prequels, that’s saying something. Personally, I really liked the new Star Wars film, and since so many of the reviews by fans have been negative, I’m going to share several reasons I liked the new Star Wars film–balancing viewpoints is important, just like balancing the Force.
Continuation of classic Star Wars themes
The Star Wars films made by George Lucas had a number of themes that ran constant throughout. Episode VII didn’t have as many of these as I would have liked, but Episode VIII was rich in them. The whole Luke Skywalker/Kylo Ren back-story was a classic example of “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” (Obi-Wan Kenboi, ANH) or “You will find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view” (Obi-Wan Kenobi, ROTJ). Luke’s search for ancient Jedi knowledge and guilt over his failure is an excellent reminder to focus on the present moment, the here and now, rather than looking to the horizon (ie. Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan, TPM; Yoda/Luke, ESB). Rey’s struggle to find her way and develop her powers absent Luke’s guidance is an excellent reminder to believe that one can accomplish great things, something Luke struggled to do in ESB.
One of my big concerns going into The Last Jedi was that Lucasfilm would go too far towards the moral relativism route, which is a mistake I believe the old EU made. The old EU in the NJO series tried to expand the Force a bit, and introduced the idea that anger might not always be dark, and that the Force can be used offensively if the situation warrants. I feel that both of these are mistakes the old EU made, more because the authors didn’t want people repressing emotions, or feeling guilty over having emotions, than because it fit Star Wars lore. Truth is, I think Star Wars was bang-on when it said fear, anger, and aggression were of the dark side–that doesn’t mean that one should feel guilty for having those emotions but it does mean that one should resist their pull and look for another way to resolve problems.
TLJ fortunately stayed clear of this moral relativism. Though we received a partial explanation for Ben Solo’s turn to darkness, the film also made very clear that Kylo Ren is in the wrong.
Luke Skywalker’s Arc
I’ll confess it: Going into the film, I was really hoping to see Luke Skywalker tear through the Knights of Ren. Yet in retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t go this way. One of the things that made Luke Skywalker great was that while he could fight, he ultimately learned that violence was a last resort, and that the Jedi were maybe a bit too quick to use it. Ultimately, his final act being a massive use of the Force to deceive Kylo Ren and the First Order and give the Resistance a chance to escape is far more true to his character than a massive slaughter.
I also liked that by the end of the film, Luke Skywalker had realized the Jedi would keep going. Luke’s instruction by Yoda in ESB made pretty clear that being a Jedi was more a recognition of and belief in certain things about the Force than it was dazzling combat ability or levitating rocks. Luke even knew that when instructing Rey but he hadn’t made the connection that he didn’t need the ancient knowledge of the Jedi–all he needed was the Force and his friends.
Kylo Ren’s Arc
Kylo Ren was ultimately one of the most interesting characters of the film. His murder of Snoke was shocking and I admit even I allowed myself to hope that he had turned–the revelation that he had done it merely to make himself the leader of the First Order came like a blow and I felt my hopes dropping with Rey’s. It makes for a far more interesting story going into IX. I share the suspicions of many fans that Ren is probably not going to be as capable an administrator as Snoke and there will probably be a lot of First Order folks bailing ship on him in IX, but it opens up the possibility of Ren being this unstoppable force always breathing down the Resistance’s neck in IX–a film which I strongly suspect will return to Star Wars tradition and do a few years jump in chronology.
One of the my other big fears for the film was that Rey would turn. While Star Wars has never been shy about making clear that good people can easily turn evil, it seemed a shame that such a strong female character who so many had grown to love would turn. The fact that Rey held true and resisted Kylo Ren’s temptations, even forged her own path after disappointment from Luke Skywalker, is amazing, and I’m really hoping we get to see her kick some butt as a full-fledged Jedi in IX (maybe even receiving additional guidance from Luke’s Force Ghost just as Obi-Wan and Yoda have instructed Luke).
All in all, I think TLJ had plenty of good decisions, stayed true to the Star Wars spirit, and sets the stage for a unique tale in IX that will hopefully provide a resolution to the Skywalker saga even better than ROTJ did.