There are two things I think are really interesting about Star Wars as a phenomenon. One is the extent to which people seem to forget that even the vaunted original trilogy was never actually that good, in a traditional sense. The editing is clunky more often than not, there are so many nonsensical or flat-out weird interludes, the characters aren’t organic, the plot is contrived and patchy at best—and none of this turns out to matter at all, because these movies are pure magic. Where there are plot holes, there are headcanons. We fall in love with these characters dropped in from nowhere, and make them into icons. The absurd throwaway moments become our favorites. The hokeyness feels like home. It’s STAR WARS, and it lights up our imaginations and our hearts.
Which brings me to the other thing I find really interesting: that these movies have this effect on such a wide variety of viewers. It seems possible for people with nearly any interests or philosophical viewpoints to find a reflection of what they love in these movies. Sometimes it’s clearly a case of different sorts of people focusing on different aspects, but other, more fascinating times, it seems people can look at the same thing and see something different. Is Han Solo the smooth, roguish epitome of cool, or the galaxy’s most haphazard dork? Is Star Wars a leftist, progressive allegory reacting critically to the Vietnam War, or an inherently retrograde, conservative work dreaming of returning to a better past through a religious system that clearly defines good and evil? Who knows! Actually a whole lot of people think they do, and Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi seems to have set them afire unlike any Star Wars movie that’s come before.
For that alone I would love TLJ, because anything that so highlights Star Wars’ Pop Culture Mirror of Erised quality is going to fascinate me just as an object. But it also so happens that Johnson must have seen in this franchise a lot of the things I like when I look into the mirror of space movies, so I end up part of the group that had an absolute ball with this one. (An Absolute Ball: Starring BB-8, coming soon if I made short films.)
What might be the easiest way to start explaining why I loved TLJ, is that I think it’s the best Star Trek movie Star Wars has ever produced. Yeah, I know, and I’m only going to get worse, get ready. Star Trek connects with me more than Star Wars. I didn’t watch either of them until I was in my 20s, so it’s not any sort of nostalgic fondness winning out, just what grown me happens to like. Grown me likes both of them, don’t get me wrong — space things can make me cry like none other, because to me the most beautiful part about all the fantastical alien worlds and sweeping journeys and dazzling technology, is that we, humans on our one little planet, dreamt up all of them. That’s so wondrous I can hardly handle it. So for my money the very best space things are infused with the sense of possibility that I feel in the artistic creation of these universes. And therefore: Star Trek, the show that believed things would get better, that imagined a brighter future, that acknowledged the flaws and pitfalls of our past actions and promised that if we always try to improve from that, not even the sky is the limit.
This is the grandest thing I love about Star Trek, and the grandest thing I love about The Last Jedi, which definitely feels like the first Star Wars movie to look forward in this way. I can’t speak much more specifically without giving things away, but actually the very fact that the moments I would mention were major ones tells you how central this ideology is to this movie. Some have found this movement away from the past to be disrespectful to canon. I feel like you only spend so much time and care trying to grow something if you love it.
And underneath all the big-picture stuff, there were the details, a whole slew of silly or sublime things that I terribly enjoyed. Daring dashing pilots, dramatic space hermits, #jokes, #bits, Kelly Marie Tran (we would all die for Kelly Marie Tran), puffin hamsters, Laura Dern with purple hair, a brain-rocking infinity mirror of Reys, scathing portrayals of negging emo fuckboys and apoplectic British imperialists, costume changes, crystalline foxes, a salt planet blood-red under its crust of white, [redacted], [redacted], [super redacted].
Hell I even enjoyed the odd mistimed editing, because every sudden scene change just took me to something else I enjoyed watching. And, as mentioned, Star Wars never was all that well-made. That’s never been why we love it, no matter what it actually is in it that matters to us.