:toc: macro :toc-name: GO RIGHT TO THE THING :icons: font :imagesdir: https://mikesgoodstuff.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/ It appears I wasn't the only one conflicted by my first viewing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Those who read my https://mikesgoodstuff.com/spoiler-free-last-jedi-initial-review/[spoiler free review] might have found comfort in the fact that I, an avid Star Wars fan, found myself disappointed and even a little angry. Despite getting a 93% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, fans (or haters, shall we say) have managed to bring it's audience rating down to 55%. Well, I'm sorry to say that I am no longer in that camp. I have seen the movie a 2nd time, and that was all it took for me to realize how wrong my initial reaction was. Certainly, this is a different movie from what we've experienced before, but that's okay. I, as a fan, don't want Star Wars to become dull and predicable. If it is to have a future, it needs to evolve and change. But, because Rian Johnson is challenging us more than we've ever been challenged after 7+ movies, it's going to take some time for us to truly digest The Last Jedi. Heck even Mark Hamill was iffy at first, but eventually came around to Johnson's point of view. And even after only two viewings, I'm confident that this movie deserves a place near Empire. Over the coming weeks, I'm going to try to explore a lot of the themes, story elements, character developments, and subversions that caused me to change my mind. Due to holidays, family stuff, and work deadlines, they'll be coming in one article after another. But I wanted to start off with a bang. So this first article is talking about a theory I haven't seen anyone else talk about: The true theme running through The Last Jedi is one of balance. WARNING: The following sections contain *significant* spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. If you haven't seen the movie yet, and would like to keep plot away from your face, please take your face away from this website. Thank you! toc:: == What is the Balance? image:Image-1.jpg[alt="Balance Ying Yang", link="https://www.reddit.com/r/Art/comments/2gxppc/star_wars_ying_yang_or_death_of_a_star_birth_of_a/", align="center"] Balance is a concept that's been around in Star Wars since, realistically, the prequels. While Obi-Wan seemed to imply some sort of balance in his own descriptions of The Force, the prequels really introduced us to the idea that there could be a "balance" in The Force. Anakin was supposed to be "the chosen one," somehow prophesized to bring "balance" to The Force. And because the Jedi Order was quite in love with themselves, they assumed that "balance," meant that Anakin was going to destroy all the Sith and make The Force better for all the Light users of the galaxy. Obviously, we know didn't happen. For decades, fans have been speculating about whether the prophecy was wrong, or whether their interpretation was wrong, or whether George just decided to abandon the whole concept after The Phantom Menace. Yoda claims the prophecy might have been misread. I've always thought there was some truth to that. Maybe Anakin _did_ balance The Force. The prequels did a fantastic job of showing that the old Jedi Order was wrong. Their ridiculous dogma created the conflict that turned Anakin into Darth Vader, afterall. Despite having a thousand times the numbers of the Sith, Sidious managed to infiltrate the senate, blind the Jedi, create and program a clone army, and then exterminate them under their own noses. The only reason Sidious was successful was because the Jedi were so sure of their success that they never considered a legit threat to their empire. By all rights, The Force was unbalanced towards the Light. And so it "manifested" Anakin, the most powerful Force user of his day, as a counter-balancing Dark to the immense amount of Light in the galaxy. By the end, we had a weakened Anakin, a victorious Sidious, and both Yoda and the Skywalkers (and maybe others?) to balance them. Well, Rian Johnson finally gave some proof to solidify that interpretation. Many believed it, others disputed it, but now we know The Force is not Light, it is not Dark, it is somewhere in the middle, a neutral party amongst the politics. Between dark and light, between life and death, between order and chaos. It is part of the process, but it does not choose sides. It strives not to serve the Jedi or the Sith, but to keep them both in balance, forever. Sure, there are a lot of people who may be a little disappointed in this. People who want the world to be as black and white as to earn some universal truth to "good" and "evil." But to be honest, I'm kind of tired of that bullshit. It's not how the world works and to claim otherwise is just bad storytelling. We need stories to show us how to deal with the world _as it is_. Not stories to tell us how we wish the world could be. Star Wars is a type of mythology that should transcend such petty fantasy. And here, Rian Johnson is finally moving the genre in that direction. == Balancing Tension image:Image-3.jpg[width="1280" alt="Balance...", link="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_(geology)", align="center"] This movie has a lot of crazy and tense moments. And while the point of view centers us on the Resistance and their heroes, to consider balance, we also have to consider The First Order as well. And heck, there's a lot of tense moments for them too. And yet, with every tense moment, we're given _something_ that breaks up that tension. Something that helps us to get through it, whether it be a glorious scene (Luke, the Holdo maneuver, or Leia space walk), something super funny (Poe and Hux's banter), or an incredible reversal (Kylo turns on his master or Rey even turning on her master). And this may be something that people are revolting against, but are unable to articulate. The movie frustratingly refuses to let you experience emotional extremes. Sure, there are scenes that will make you laugh like crazy, scenes that will make you cry, scenes that will make you jump for joy. But not for too long. Every one of those scenes is inevitably followed up by a balancing factor that keeps you level-headed and moving through the movie. This is one aspect where I agree that the movie works against itself. Doing this is a wonderful attempt at some sort of artful intent, but this is not how Hollywood makes movies. Disney, especially, deals in pushing people up into the clouds, letting them linger until they get a little light headed, and pulling them down slowly. After the second viewing, I appreciated the balance of emotions presented by this movie, it also limits how much people who are _not thinking_ about the movie can actually love the movie. Because most of us, Americans anyway, are so addicted to dopamine that we need harsher and harsher hits just to prevent us from diving deeper into a depression. In other words, I applaud Rian for the attempt, but it's too late for us. We can't appreciate a balance of emotions. == Balancing Action with Patience (Poe and Holdo) image:Image-2.jpg[width="1280" alt="Poe v. Holdo", link="http://ew.com/movies/2017/12/12/star-wars-the-last-jedi-review/", align="center"] Vice Admiral Holdo was one of the most divisive characters of this movie, rightfully so. On our first viewing, we look at Poe as the glorious hero that he thinks he is. So when Leia demotes him, and then Holdo rubs her rank in his face, we feel just as insulted and annoyed as he does. I don't know about you, but I certainly wondered whether Holdo was being portrayed as some sort of double-agent. I hoped she wouldn't, because I read Bloodlines, but I still thought it nonetheless. After my second viewing, I found myself seeing the wisdom of Holdo's actions. She assumed Poe, as a loyal Resistance fighter, would follow orders and rank. Unfortunately, she didn't know him very well. And that's where the balancing act lies. Poe is a great pilot because he's quick on his feet and has no problem making bold and gutsy moves. Holdo is a great leader because she's intelligent, patient, and maintain faith in the chain of command. And as a Vice Admiral, she didn't feel the need to explain herself to a Captain. They clash on this throughout the movie, often to dramatic effect. Holdo is actually shocked (read: surprised) that he went behind her back. Inevitably, they do find balance in interesting ways. Poe learns how to be a leader and when to back off of the prize for the greater good. But Holdo finds balance as well, by doing something crazy and impulsive. By lightspeeding right into the First Order fleet. At that moment, we see Poe recognize her action and even give an approving smile. == Balancing Heroism with Reality (Finn and Rose) image:Image-4.jpg[width="1280" alt="Finn and Rose", link="http://books.disney.com/book/last-jedi-rose-finns-mission/", align="center"] At the beginning of the movie, Finn is still grappling with his fear of the First Order, and attempts to run away from the fleet. Rose sees him, is enraptured by hero worship, but inevitably disappointed to see him in an act of cowardice. Throughout the movie, we see Finn embracing the entire spectrum of selflessness and responsibility. He starts by shirking all of it, then takes on the challenge of fighting for the rights of those he doesn't know (Canto Bight), and eventually takes the entire Resistance on his shoulders and tries to sacrifice his life on the salt planet. Rose inevitably rejects his extremism, instead moderating his responsibility to only fighting to save those that he knows and loves. Which, funny enough, is the same type of ideals that made him a hero in the first place. In TFA, he becomes a hero precisely because he is fighting to save Rey, someone he seems to hold some sort of love for. Rose is even an agent of balance. She personally moves from loss, to hero worship in no time flat. And then is immediately balanced by the reality of the situation. In a similar fashion, she also sees Finn go from "oh great Canto Bight sucks" to "OMG THIS PLACE IS AMAZING." She ends up balancing his excitement with the reality of her own family situation and the nature of the business that made these people so rich. Finn tries to seek balance by asking her to acknowledge the place is at least beautiful. Eventually, they do find beauty on Canto Bight, through the horse llama things and the kids they inspire. == Balancing Canto Bight image:Image-5.jpg[width="1280" alt="Decadance", link="https://screenrant.com/star-wars-8-canto-bight-casino-mark-hamill/", align="center"] I'll be writing a separate article about why this scene and sequence is so important to the movie (which is apparently controversial), but I wanted to mention a major point of balance that Finn and Rose bring to Canto Bight. When you watch this movie thinking about "balance," it's clear that Canto Bight is the epitome of imbalance. You've got the greatest extremes of luxury we've ever seen in Star Wars up above. Then you have great poverty, suffering, and sadness down below. I mean, it's so incredibly obvious that I'm surprised nobody's caught on to this theme yet. You see, the Force doesn't just work through Jedi or Sith. The Force works through ordinary people too. And if The Force is the balance between all things, including the rich and the impoverished, it makes sense that The Force would draw Finn and Rose there to cause a little bit of chaos to balance Canto Bight's imbalanced order. And that's exactly what happens when the outside world of poverty literally crashes into the inside world of luxury and riches. And inevitably, Finn and Rose act to inspire the little kids towards their own rebellion. And perhaps, we're seeing The Force work slowly, to bring inevitable balance to Canto Bight. Maybe this is the story that Rian Johnson wants to tell. == Balancing Idealism with Reality (DJ) image:Image-6.jpg[width="1280" alt="Swarthy", link="http://www.businessinsider.com/star-wars-the-last-jedi-who-is-rey-2017-12", align="center"] We've already talked about Finn, Rose, and Canto Bight, but the most obvious point of balance comes from DJ, the improvised code-breaker. We've never actually seen anyone like him in Star Wars before. And perhaps someone _this grey_ can be a bit frustrating for first time viewers. But while I don't like him _as a person_, I do like that he is in Star Wars. Because he's freaking right. In a universe that has been filled with war for decades, the people that benefit most are the weapons dealers. The people behind the scenes that double-cross both sides. And how refreshing was it that the First Order actually paid him and didn't try to screw him over like the Empire would. It may not be the story we want to hear, but it's the story that makes the most sense. It gives us real life lessons while entertaining. Sometimes idealism only gets you killed. And I think there's something to be said about seeing that point of view portrayed in Star Wars. And of course, let's not forget that both Finn and Rose are idealists. Of course "The Force," acting through the movie, brings them together with this moral grey character so that they can find balance in the evidence he puts forth. == Balancing Hope and Regret (Rey and Luke) image:Image-7.jpg[width="1280" alt="True Story", link="http://www.collegehumor.com/post/7036610/luke-rey-got-a-star-wars-photoshop-treatment-its-great", align="center"] Of course I haven't talked about the two most important characters in this whole story. Rey and Luke Skywalker. Oh how we've speculated about their first meeting. How would he train her? What kind of guy is Luke? Whew, we did not expect what we got, did we? Luke Skywalker, a broken man, paralyzed by fear and the regret of his past mistakes. Ashamed that he, a supposed legend and self-proclaimed Jedi Master, managed to create the new Darth Vader. In this way, Rey symbolizes us, hopeful that he would be a great and powerful Jedi, that he would train her, that he would rise and take on the forces of darkness. In a sense, our own emotions and reactions followed that of Rey's. And perhaps that's why we felt so disappointed during our first viewing. Because so did she. And yet, on my second viewing, I realized that Rey had actually caused him to find balance at last. Her communications with Kylo, and his violent reaction to it, caused her to finally confront him with the very question that he'd been grappling with for years. "Did you create Kylo Ren?" She gives him one last chance to leave, and when he doesn't, she rejects him and his legend at last. When she does so, she evokes Obi-Wan's line "That boy's our only hope," but says Kylo instead, implying that Luke is no longer the legend he thinks he is. Something he has needed to hear for a very long time. (I would imagine some reference to "there is another" was cut, due to Carrie Fisher's passing) This puts him in a fit of anger, rising his temper to action for the first time in years, and he goes to burn those damned Jedi books. He's had enough with Jedi and Sith and The Force and all that crap. Yoda trolls him, of course, but the burning tree allows him to finally let go of the burden on his shoulders, and hold hope in his heart once again, much as Rey did when she first arrived. == Balancing Point of View (Rey and Kylo) image:Image-8.jpg[width="1280" alt="Whoa...trippy", link="https://geeky.com.ar/nuevos-detalles-la-relacion-kylo-ren-rey/", align="center"] Rey and Kylo share a very special part of this movie that makes this balance theme all the more obvious. Through a connection between a Light side user and a Dark side user, the two of them grow closer in knowledge and understanding. He brings her a bit of darkness and she brings him a bit of Light side hope. Snoke is actually the point of imbalance between them, despite being the one to bring them together. He is almost like a blinded Jedi Order, confident, powerful, and yet blind to the truth before him. He is more powerful than both of them combined, and as is always the case, The Force finds a way to bring balance. The connection that brought them together is the same connection that brings Kylo to believe that he has an ally in Rey, someone he can rule the galaxy with. Yet, they are not truly connected other than in a surface-level way. They both believe they know each other's feelings and concerns and beliefs, but they don't. Both of them have their own narratives in their heads for how the post-Snoke sequence will go. Thus, the conflict of point of view. They fight together when they believe their point of view is balanced. Yet, if we thought that Kylo was going to turn, it's only because we were not wise enough to see Kylo's point of view. Why would he abandon being the Surpreme Leader of a galaxy-wide powerhouse to go join a silly rebellion? Why would she abandon her friends to join a guy she barely knew? These questions should have come up in our heads, but they didn't, because our POV was so focused on Rey. Once they both realize each other's true point of view, that is when they find true balance. They split off to their respective "sides of the force," and become Dark and Light in perfect balance once again. We even have the two powerhouses of each side, Luke and Snoke, die in the same movie. Sure, there's Leia and the kids, but there's always some element of change right? == My Final Thoughts It's almost as if The Force is a metaphor for the tension that makes good drama happen. As if this mystical power is another form of a muse that makes good stories happen. With that in mind, I can really appreciate what Rian Johnson is doing in refining what The Force actually is. After my second viewing, I started to realize that through this movie, Rian Johnson is evoking the will of The Force. The Force seeks balance in all things, and in all things, this movie attains balance. Every character is challenged by their opposite, and both parties find balance by the end of the movie. To this end, Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi is a love letter Star Wars, that simultaneously challenges it, improves it, redefines it, and pushes it forward into bigger and better territories. Granted, I am often given to flights of esoteric thinking, perhaps more than most people. It comes with being a writer. But I think I'm on to something here. There's certainly enough evidence to say that at least some of it is intentional. Even if I'm wrong, even if Rian didn't mean any of this, keeping this theory in mind enriches the movie and gives it much greater purpose than a surface-level reading. And believing in a great theory, and loving a movie because of it, is a much happier existence than hating a movie because you refuse to give it chance.