When I was a young nerdlinger playing with Star Wars toys in the backyard (OK, indoors, let’s be honest) I had a very specific fantasy. Not just having Chewbacca as a best friend … in the movie in my mind, Jedi Knights would defeat their foes by taking their at-rest lightsabers, pressing the hilt against someone’s head and then activating its emitter. Man, wouldn’t that be a savage way to take out some Mos Eisley scum and villainy? But surely I’d never get a chance to see something that awesome in a Star Wars movie, right?
Well, with The Last Jedi I finally got to see my dreams come true. More importantly, in ways far cooler (complete with tension and dramatic purpose and story advancement) than I ever could imagine. Rian Johnson, writer and director of this film, took my Star Wars reveries and served them back to me with vast improvements.
While there are some solid nuggets of deep-cut easter eggs for hardcore fans, what is so extraordinary about The Last Jedi is that this is the first post-Lucas Star Wars film that feels free to dance to its own beat. It is thrilling that this franchise, which looked like it was lumbering after some behind-the-scenes woe , is evolving in its prime storyline. The callbacks, reappearances of old friends and in-jokes surely gave me what physicians of the day now diagnose as “the feels,” but they were not my favorite part of the movie. Instead I was more thrilled that this isn’t just a trace-over job; The Last Jedi, truly, is its own movie.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
But still, what were the best fan-service moments? Well, the biggie was R2-D2 trying to convince Luke Skywalker to get out of his gloomy place and help Rey (and Chewbacca) return to General Leia’s Rebel Base and help defeat the First Order. Luke has been living like the Man of Aran in Ahch-To, home to the first Jedi Temple, a pretty spartan place with a very limited library. When Luke rejects Rey’s plea, Artoo turns the Dejarik tables on him by replaying Princess Leia’s original hologram: “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”
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It’s a broad beat meant to pull on everyone’s heartstrings. (Indeed, everything featuring Leia has some extra gravitas, knowing that Carrie Fisher died so soon after filming.) Moments earlier, however, seasoned fans had their minds scrambled by Luke’s glib comment about running into battle with a “laser sword.”
A laser sword is, of course, something only a dunce would call a lightsaber, which is why it is particularly galling that George Lucas, the man who lives to aggravate Star Wars fans, says this in interviews from time to time. The term, originally written as “lazerswords,” originates from early drafts of Lucas’s first scripts, but it got a canonical mention from (hold your nose, everyone) young Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. Now Rian Johnson has stolen it back!
Ahch-To is home to the adorable puffin-like pups called the Porgs, and also some enormous sea-bird Nessie-like hybrid creatures that, if you squeeze their nipples offer up milk. (No, I’m not joking.) Part of Luke’s morning routine is fetching himself a bottle and, yes, I’m proud to report that the milk has a tinge of blue. Not quite as blue as bantha milk, but the color is definitely noticeable.
Another important color in the film is red, and Supreme Leader Snoke’s lair is straight out of Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha. Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress is a known influence on Lucas’ original, so I suspect that these scenes (which eventually go full samurai) are, in a way, a homage to the homage. George Lucas was an executive producer on the 1980 Japanese film.
While we’re talking about Rian Johnson the cinephile, there’s also a modified quote from Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron turns to his posse during a tense moment and says “if they move, stun ‘em,” which is definitely the more family friendly version of that uttered in the 1969 western.
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There’s an interesting motif in The Last Jedi that involves little totems. Two involve a new character, the engineer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) who has a crescent-shaped medallion and a ring that flashes the rebel symbol. The medallion (similar to one her sister carried) ends up having an unexpected and humorous in-story use, and the the ring becomes a leave-behind for a next generation of the Resistance. Then there are some gold, hanging dice taken from the Millennium Falcon that, I have to admit, I never noticed before.
This is The Last Jedi at its peak. It finds something that already existed in the mythos, gives it new significance and, along the way, likely inspires a kid in the audience who 30 years from now (as there will never be star peace) to reintroduce it to awestruck audiences when we cheer for Episode XXIII.