Mark Hamill owns the screen and the story in “Last Jedi” with his performance as a jaded Jedi Master whose own shortcomings have turned him into a bitter and isolated individual. Rian Johnson’s script brings a depth to Luke Skywalker that the more innocent character didn’t possess in the original trilogy, and Hamill more than ably delivers, adding shades of humor, despair, and flickers of hope to his role. In fact, I hope this return to the big screen results in more acting gigs for Hamill who has clearly gotten even better with age.
Coming in a close second to him is Daisy Ridley as Rey. Her charisma and talent have made her the true standout among this new crop of characters. The scenes that Hamill and Ridley share are among the strongest in the film, capturing two lost souls struggling to find their place in the world.
There are other things to admire in “Last Jedi” as well, including a sense of humor and fun that was missing from the darker tale of “Rogue One.” In fact, I didn’t expect the film to open with something of a comedy sketch between Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux. Gleeson really gets to display some villainous wit throughout the story, which is welcome amidst some of the darker occurrences.
Carrie Fisher’s performance as a war-weary Leia Organa gained deeper poignancy with her real-life death last December. Her presence is a stabilizing force among the beleaguered Resistance, and it’s obvious she still had a role to play in the future of this story – a role that we’ll now never know.
There are other things to love about “Last Jedi” as well, but let me jump to two problems I had with it, the second of which is the one I refer to in the title of this post.
First is the reveal that Rey’s parents were nobodies. After “The Force Awakens,” there was much speculation that Rey was connected to one of the classic characters from Star Wars past: that she might be Luke’s daughter, or Leia and Han’s, or even Ben Kenobi’s granddaughter.
In “Last Jedi,” Kylo Ren (presumably telling the truth, but you never know) reveals that Rey’s parents were nobodies who sold her for drinking money.
Now, in one sense, this is a viable plot development. It shows that anybody, even the lowliest person, can become a Jedi. In a wider context, it means anyone can rise above the situation they were born into to develop greatness. That’s a good message to deliver. But in this case, it’s not really consistent with what came before.
“The Force Awakens” never stated, but surely implied that Rey belonged to one of the story’s primary families. Rian Johnson ignored that and went his own way with it. IGN stated, “We must also remember that a filmmaker like Rian Johnson is free to make the movie that he wants to make, and that he isn’t obligated to give you or me or anyone else the movie we think we want or that we’ve built up in our heads over the years.”
I would disagree with that to an extent. Johnson should be obligated to develop the story consistently to what has come before. And while he is free to tell his own story, he should have the fans in mind because we are the ones that buy the tickets that fund future Star Wars movies.
And that leads me to my bigger issue with “Last Jedi” – Killing Luke.
Up until the very end, I was all in on what Johnson had done to the character. There were moments of brilliance, including Luke’s final standoff with Kylo which is right up there with the best showdowns in any classic westerns. The scene in which Luke emerges from the walkers shooting at him and dismisses Ren’s efforts with a brush of his (Luke’s) shoulder is now one of my favorite images from any Star Wars film.
But being that Luke accomplished his goal through an astral projection via the Force, there was no real reason to kill the character off. The return of Yoda as a Force Ghost suggests that Luke can and will return in the same way, but it won’t be the same as having him there in person to help guide Rey and the Resistance through the difficult task of reclaiming the Republic. And considering that Hamill is young enough to keep playing Luke for a number of years, what’s the point of going this route? Is it to put the focus on the new characters? If so, that can be done without killing all the classic human characters that served as movie heroes for my generation.
Killing Han in “The Force Awakens” was sad, but it could be argued that something momentous needed to happen to move this new story forward and establish Ren as the villain. And considering that Harrison Ford wanted Han killed off in “Return of the Jedi,” this might have been a way to get him on-screen one more time and give him a strong send-off.
But considering the love for Luke that Hamill has expressed in interviews, I doubt he would have minded playing the character as long as he could. And granted, that’s something he can still do in the story’s context.
I do, however, wish that filmmakers JJ Abrams, Rian Johnson, and producer Kathleen Kennedy would keep the fans in mind before deciding to kill off so many beloved characters, especially when it’s unnecessary to the stories. After all, my generation turned Star Wars into the cultural touchstone it is, so bringing back the characters we grew up with, characters in whom we are emotionally invested, should be a serious consideration. It’s a strong part of what draws me to the theater to see these movies. Ironically now (and tragically), the only classic human character left alive is the only one who is deceased in real life.
I certainly hope that Mark Hamill returns for Episode IX for more than an extended cameo. Let him guide and train Rey and some likely new Jedi from the great beyond. Hamill’s and Ridley’s scenes together were the strongest in “Last Jedi” (along with Hamill and Carrie Fisher’s on-screen reunion), and it would be a shame to lose that dynamic.