Sequel Trilogy

The Murder of Lor San Tekka

We had only just met him in the opening moments of The Force Awakens before he is brutally murdered by Kylo Ren. Sitting in a small hut, Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) offered a valuable item to Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), an item which will be critical to the plot of the film. Their conversation also offers brief but important context as the movie opens, with the elder providing his thoughts on the state of the galaxy, the Jedi, the Force, and General Leia Organa. “To me, she’s royalty,” he points out when Dameron mentions the General, an obvious nod to Leia’s more familiar title of Princess (both in universe and among the audience).

The dialogue between Lor San Tekka and Poe Dameron is abruptly cut short when BB-8, the pilot’s droid, bursts through the door with a warning: the First Order is approaching. Seeing troop transports on the horizon, Dameron tells Lor San Tekka “You have to hide” to which the older man responds, “You need to leave.” At this urging, Dameron runs through the small village, a village teeming with commotion as it prepares to defend itself against the First Order incursion.

Only a short time later, the village will be overrun by stormtroopers, and a massive black shuttle will descend. Out of the shuttle will walk Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and he will head towards the center of the town where Lor San Tekka is being help with the remaining villagers. Now, Lor San Tekka will engage in another dialogue, this time with a man shrouded in darkness whose face is hidden by a terrifying mask. It is Ren who speaks first.

Lor San Tekka confronts Kylo Ren.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Kylo Ren: “Look how old you’ve become.”

Lor San Tekka: “Something far worse has happened to you.”

Kylo Ren: “You know what I’ve come for.”

Lor San Tekka: “I know where you come from, before you called yourself Kylo Ren.”

Kylo Ren: “The map to Skywalker, we know you found it. And now you are going to give it to the First Order.”

Lor San Tekka: “The First Order rose from the Dark Side. You did not.”

Kylo Ren: “I’ll show you the Dark Side.”

Lor San Tekka: “You may try. But you cannot deny the truth that is your family.”

Kylo Ren: “You’re so right.”

Finally agreeing with the elder, Kylo Ren springs into action. Igniting his lightsaber, he raises it above his head and attacks. San Tekka only has time to raise his arms in defense, covering his face, before he is cut down by the crackling red blade.

While I had mixed feelings about The Force Awakens the first time I saw it, the murder of Lor San Tekka was a moment that left me with no reservations. To be blunt, I thought it was brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of gratuitous violence for the sake of entertainment. I do, however, appreciate a death which is meaningful, where the loss of life, even in its obvious brutality, adds to the story in a worthwhile way. And this is how I see the death of Lor San Tekka. While he is a very minor character in The Force Awakens, his murder- tied to the dialogue immediately preceding it – adds terrifying and frightening depth to Kylo Ren, this new villain in the Star Wars sequel trilogy.

A Closer Look

From the very outset of their conversation we learn something rather stunning: Kylo Ren and Lor San Tekka already know each other, and their connection clearly goes back years. Kylo Ren mocks the man’s age and appearance, a clear indication that he can recall at time when this old man was younger. But this ageist mockery opens Kylo Ren to a piercing retort from Lor San Tekka: “something far worse [than growing old] has happened to you.” If Kylo Ren knew a younger Lor San Tekka, then Lor San Tekka remembers when the villain was NOT an agent of darkness.

Ren does not take the bait. Instead, he immediately turns the conversation to what he is seeking, stating “You know what I’ve come for.” Instead of addressing Ren’s object of desire (undoubtedly the object given to Poe Dameron) San Tekka takes Ren’s words and flips them by going deeper into the personal connection. “I know where you come from,” he says, “before you called yourself Kylo Ren.” It was Kylo Ren who opened this dialogue by making it personal when he mocked the man’s age, but now Lor San Tekka has flipped-the-script, calling the villain’s adopted name/title into question by citing his knowledge of Ren’s life before his turn to darkness.

Again, Kylo Ren does not respond directly to San Tekka’s comment. Instead, he stares at the man and declares what he wants: “the map to Skywalker.” “We know you found it,” Ren continues, clearly annoyed as he begins pacing, “and now you are going to give it to the First Order.”  To this, Lor San Tekka flips Ren’s words once more, directing the conversation once more into their personal connection. “The First Order rose from the Dark Side,” he remarks, “you did not.” It is not just that Lor San Tekka knows villain’s real name, but he also knows the man calling himself “Kylo Ren” was raised in the Light Side.

This hits a nerve. Now, Kylo Ren deliberately moves in front of San Tekka so the two are once again face-to-face. “I’ll show you the Dark Side,” the villain declares, a clear threat meant to intimidate. Unsurprisingly, the threat does not have the effect Ren anticipates and the old man maintains his composure. Instead, San Tekka responds by acknowledging that Ren “may try” showing him the Dark Side, but that Ren “cannot deny the truth that is your family.”  It is now that Kylo Ren has had enough. “You’re so right,” he calmly responds and then viscously cuts Lor San Tekka down with his cross-guard lightsaber.

What makes Ren’s attack even more disturbing is the camera angle and movement suggests we are looking at Ren from Lor San Tekka’s perspective.
Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

That Kylo Ren chooses this moment to kill Lor San Tekka, after the elder mentions Ren’s “family,” is telling. It is the most direct hint we are provided in the exchange regarding the identity of Kylo Ren, an identity which is revealed over the course of the film and reaches its climax in Act III. There is only one family Ren could possibly belong to, but it is also clear that Lor San Tekka and Kylo Ren have very different interpretations, differing “truths,” of that family’s story. And by murdering Lor San Tekka, Kylo Ren offers his interpretation, his truth.

Yet, this act is not only about Ren’s interpretation of family, it is also about his interpretation of self. With the ferocious stroke of his crackling red blade, Kylo Ren formally declares his identity as an unhinged monster who embraces the Dark Side of the Force. In the act of murder Kylo Ren proves that he is not the man Lor San Tekka once knew, and he wants nothing to do with who he was prior to his dark conversion. In this regard, the murder of Lor San Tekka is not just about a villain murdering a defenseless old man, an obvious act of evil which leaves little doubt about how this dark figure operates. No, it also symbolic, a way for the villain to kill his former self by-proxy. Through the murder of Lor San Tekka, Kylo Ren symbolically murders Ben Solo, and it should come as no surprise that as The Force Awakens progresses that Kylo Ren continuously seeks ways to destroy the man he once was, an obsession which ultimately culminates in another horrifying murder in the form of patricide.

The Sacrifice of Paige Tico

Caught in the open during the evacuation of their base on D’Qar, the Resistance confronts an existential moment of crisis as it stares down the barrel of two orbital autocannons, affixed to a First Order Dreadnaught, targeting their base and fleet. With only seconds to spare, the final Resistance transports flee the surface of D’Qar as the autocannons obliterate the now empty base. With personnel and equipment safely aboard the vessels of the Resistance fleet, General Leia Organa orders her forces to disengage but Poe Dameron has a different idea. Having taken out the surface cannons on the Dreadnought, Dameron ignores his commanding officer, switching off his communications, intent on scoring a victory against the First Order by taking out the “fleet-killer.”

One can easily criticize Dameron for his actions; and he is criticized, even demoted, when the Resistance makes its orbital exit from the D’Qar system following the battle. In this moment, though, the impetuous Commander gives the order to attack. Protected by X-Wings and A-Wings in the Resistance starfighter fleet, massive B/SF-17 heavy bombers “in tight formation” slowly move towards the Dreadnought preparing to unleash their payload of proton bombs to destroy the terrifying Man-of-war.

Although it’s surface cannons were knocked out by Dameron’s lone assault, the Dreadnought is not defenseless. TIE Fighter Squadrons throw themselves against the Resistance attackers, intent on destroying the bombers. A fierce dogfight commences. Starfighters on both sides are vaporized. A B/SF-17 is blasted apart by the green lasers of an attacking TIE. But the Resistance does not let up, and the Bombers close the distance with the imposing First Order capital ship which is now aiming its massive autocannons at the Resistance fleet. Bombardiers ready their payloads, opening bay doors and arming bombs as the vessels inch closer to “the sweet spot” where they will inflict maximum destruction.

Suddenly, a damaged TIE Fighter crashes into one of the Bombers, unleashing hell. Shredded from the inside, massive detonations hurtle debris into two other B/SF-17s which also erupt into flame. Watching from the ball turret at the base of her Bomber, a Resistance gunner witnesses the destruction. Removing her mask and breathing heavy, her wide-eyes reveal her shock and disbelief.

Paige Shocked
Paige Tico’s expression when she sees the other Resistance Bombers exploding.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Now, this gunner’s Bomber is the only one that remains. Suspended above the massive First Order ship, it is the last hope for the small Resistance fleet. The situation is perilous and the tension is amplified when Dameron frantically contacts the gunner:

“Paige, come in, we’re over the target. Why aren’t your bay doors open? You’re the only bomber left, it’s all down to you!”

This gunner, Paige, springs into action. Exiting the ball turret at the bottom of the weapons bay, she opens the bay doors and calls to the bombardier up above. 

“Nix!,” she yells, but there is no reply, only the distinct beeping of the weapons release on the grated floor far above.

“Paige, drop the payload, now!,” Dameron frantically exclaims. Determination on her face, she frantically climbs the ladder, past the armed bombs in their racks, emerging at the top to find the bombardier, Nix, dead on the floor. Paige reaches for the beeping, blinking weapons trigger laying nearby but as she does, a TIE Fighter blasts the cockpit of the Bomber, killing the pilot and sending fire and shock waves through the cabin. Losing her grip, Paige falls, landing heavy on the floor at the bottom of the weapons bay.

Momentarily unconscious, Tico opens her eyes. The trigger, still beeping, is far above, now dangling on the edge of the opening at the top of the ladder. Paige kicks the ladder but it does not fall to her. Again, she kicks, even harder, but it still does not fall. The Bomber continues forward, now moving over the “sweet spot” of the Dreadnought. The music laid over the scene adds to the tension, and we see Poe Dameron soundless but clearly screaming for the bombs to be dropped. Again, and again, Paige kicks the ladder but still the device does not fall to her.

Tico Kick
Determination on her face, Paige kicks the ladder a final time. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Autocannons glowing red as they prepare to fire, General Organa sensing the impending doom of her forces, now Tico closes her eyes and clutches a half-crescent medallion on her necklace. Opening her eyes once more, a clear sense of determination painted on her face, Paige kicks the ladder with all her strength. Finally, the trigger tips over the edge and falls. Everything goes silent, the lone exception the sound of the remote clanking against a bomb rack on its way down. Laying there in the silence, Tico exhales as she watches the still beeping, blinking device go by her.

The camera view is now on the falling remote. Suddenly, the music begins to build and a hand reaches out, grasping it from the air. Paige is now laying face down, the item in her left hand. She presses the blinking red button and the bombs begin to drop on the Dreadnought, unleashing incendiary death.

Still laying there, Tico puts her hand once more to her medallion, touching it with a few fingers. We see her face, looking down through the grated floor, fire spreading down towards her through the now empty bomb bay. Resigned to her fate, a stoic expression upon her face, Paige Tico closes her eyes and is bathed in the flames of her dying craft as it crashes into the inferno ripping through the Dreadnought.


To say that Paige Tico (Veronica Ngo) is a minor character in The Last Jedi is neither controversial nor surprising. Two minutes after meeting her as she watches the other Resistance Bombers perish, she too is gone, vaporized in a massive explosion. But while her screen time is brief, her actions are exceedingly important, not only saving the Resistance but also, we learn soon after, the life of her sister Rose.

I have never been shy with my thoughts about The Last Jedi, disliking a number of things about the movie. I highlight as much in my piece Reflections on the Last Jedi, but my intention here is not to dwell on the negative. Instead, I mention that post to note that while I find The Last Jedi lacking in some specific ways, there are scenes and characters that I really did enjoy and could appreciate in the film. And at the top of that list is Paige Tico.

The first time I saw The Last Jedi I was absolutely mesmerized by the two minutes this Resistance gunner, Paige, is in the movie. In general, I find the opening of the film quite good, hitting all of the right notes as the small Resistance, caught in the midst of their evacuation, confronts the First Order. But Paige truly stands out, the opening sequence reaching a tension-filled crescendo with her heroism and ultimate sacrifice.

Honestly, this is my favorite moment in the entire Sequel Trilogy. I very well might be the only one who feels this way, or perhaps I am one of just a few. It’s the truth, though. The entire sequence doesn’t just captivate me, it affects me at my core. Frankly, this is why I have never written about the sacrifice of Paige Tico, at least not until now. I have never been able to find the words to express just how much this scene, Tico’s actions/death, speaks to me. The fact is that it just done, plain and simple. But if I have to put it into words, expressing some reason that accounts for my feelings, I would say this: it is because Paige’s sacrifice is incredibly personal.

As an audience, we are the only ones who know what Paige Tico does to save the Resistance fleet, who actually witness her actions and her death. Later, when meet Rose Tico mourning her sister, her own crescent-shaped medallion in hand, Rose can only imagine what happened in the final moments of Paige’s life. We are burdened with knowledge that Rose can not and will never know. To me, this is what makes the two minutes we spend with Paige Tico so intimate, so personal, so damn powerful. 

We see Paige react to the destruction of the Bombers, shock and disbelief on her face.
We see Paige climb out of her ball turret, call to Nix, and climb the ladder.
We see Paige fall when the cockpit of her Bomber is destroyed.
We see Paige, on her back, desperately kicking the ladder to get the trigger to fall to her.
We see Paige close her eyes and grasp the medallion around her neck.
We see Paige kick the ladder one final time, knocking the trigger off the ledge above.
We see Paige grab the trigger out of the air as it falls past her, releasing the bombs.
We see Paige touch her medallion a final time, close her eyes and die.

We alone see the final two minutes of her life; we see the sacrifice of Paige Tico.

Paige Tico's Death
The Sacrifice of Paige Tico
Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

 

 

Reflections on The Last Jedi

I can say, with little remorse, that I have not yet purchased The Last Jedi. This isn’t to suggest I never will. The need – not a want, a need – to place the film next to the other Star Wars films on my shelf will eventually take over. For now, I can fight that urge, pushing back against the feeling that my shelf looks incomplete. But why am I fighting this feeling? Why not give in and just buy the most recent installment in the Star Wars franchise? I am a die-hard Star Wars fan after all, so why haven’t I gone out of my way to purchase and obsessively watch the film? Good questions.

I don’t review films on this site. I don’t review films on this site because I am not a professional reviewer, a critic trained to offer an appraisal of a piece of work. I am a fan of Star Wars, I have opinions, but those opinions do not give me the authority to offer any truly nuanced or unbiased “take.” I don’t review films on this site, but I am never-the-less, here and now, ready and willing to offer my thoughts and opinions on The Last Jedi, doing so with as little bias as possible. But again, this isn’t a formal review, and I don’t get paid to say these things.

A Smattering of Things I Liked

Paige Tico
Paige Tico
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi. The movie has some remarkable moments, and to me none is more remarkable than the moment Paige Tico sacrifices herself to save the small Resistance fleet. Tico, a character who never utters a word, a ball gunner in a Starfortress Bomber blasting away at First Order TIE Fighters. In a desperate moment, with everything on the line, Paige climbs out of her gunner’s chair and performs an act of sacrifice heroism, unleashing the bombs that destroy a First Order Dreadnaught. The action saves the fleet; the action takes her life.

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi, and I genuinely appreciate the acting of Kylo Ren actor Adam Driver. I was captivated by Driver’s portrayal of Kylo in The Force Awakens. I was swept away by his portrayal in The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren is not just a villain in The Last Jedi, he truly is the “monster” Rey calls him. The Dark Side isn’t just strong in him, it consumes him in a flame that burns hotter than Mustafar. He is ready and willing to destroy everything to prove himself, to be like his grandfather, to be his grandfather, to be greater than his grandfather. Darth Vader, Lord of Death. Kylo Ren, Supreme Lord of Darkness. Redemption isn’t even on this guys radar. Only death, only destruction, only darkness, only power.

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi, and there are smattering of moments and characters and events I really enjoyed. I loved the design of the Resistance Bombers, the First Order Dreadnaught, the AT-M6 Walkers, the Resistance capital ships. I liked the geography of Crait, and the fact that Caluan Ematt is a General leading the Resistance forces on the planet. Laura Dern is great as Vice Admiral Holdo, although I wish her sacrifice – which is visually incredible – had been saved for Episode IX since it overshadows the sacrifice of Paige Tico. Carrie Fisher’s final portrayal as Leia Organa is  very moving (sans the weird space floating moment) and her final interaction with Luke, even though he isn’t physically present, is quite touching.

KyloRey
Kylo and Rey fighting together is a pretty cool sequence. Watch closely and you’ll notice that Rey should have easily been killed.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I could list other things, other aspects of the film I genuinely liked. But I am not here to just list things, and I don’t think you want to read a list. The truth is, those aspects of the film I just listed – and a few others here and there – are all I can muster when it comes to this film. I can identify “things” about The Last Jedi I liked and that is all. I envy those who have been so moved by this film, who have elevated it into top place in their Star Wars rank lists. I wish I could do the same – it wouldn’t supplant The Empire Strikes Back in my list but #2 is a fluid spot – but sadly I cannot. I am a life-long Star Wars fan and this film just doesn’t move me, it just doesn’t feel right. There are a handful of profound moments but this movie just isn’t very profound.

Wading into the Shallows

I am well-aware that those who love The Last Jedi see incredible depth in it, that they believe this film has done something to Star Wars that is magnificent, breathtaking, groundbreaking. I understand what they are saying, I even understand how they are thinking. I just don’t agree. The common refrain I run into is that the writer/director Rian Johnson has “let the past die,” jettisoning aspects of the Star Wars saga – even aspects of The Force Awakens – to tell a unique and different type of Star Wars story. Perhaps nothing points to this more clearly than by Rian Johnson’s depiction of Luke Skywalker as a broken shell of a Jedi, a man determined to die in-exile.

Heading into the film I knew Luke Skywalker was going to be broken in some form and I was perfectly fine with that reality. “Luke Skywalker has vanished” the opening crawl to The Force Awakens tells the audience in the very first line and to its credit The Last Jedi shows us that the line is not solely about being geographically lost. Heck, the film could have been titled “The Lost Jedi” because Luke Skywalker has completely lost touch with who he was when we last saw him in Return of the Jedi. “I am a Jedi like my father before me,” young Skywalker once proudly declared to the Dark Lord Sidious in the single most important moment in the Original Trilogy. “I’m ending all of this. The tree, the texts, the Jedi. I’m going to burn it all down,” he now tells Master Yoda (who appears as a Force ghost). Damn, the Luke Skywalker we knew really has vanished!!! It’s no wonder so many older fans of the franchise have lamented that this isn’t the Luke they remember…

Is This REALLY Luke?

In a guest post on this site – An Ignoble End to the Skywalker Saga – my friend Nancy  succinctly notes that the Luke Skywalker we experience in The Last Jedi “…could not cope with the crushing disappointment of Kylo’s turn towards the dark side and the guilt he felt towards letting Leia and Han down.” To this we can add that he feels equally guilty for Ben Solo’s ultimate turn to the Dark Side. You know, that moment when he stood above his sleeping nephew, ignited his green lightsaber and contemplated, momentarily, ending the boy’s life. When he recalls the event, Luke initially lies to Rey about what happened. Or rather, he offers a “Kenobian” point-of-view to his new protégé. But I digress. Ben Solo, frightened as he wakes and looks up at his uncle holding the blade, defends himself. Who wouldn’t? But then the young Solo does more, tearing down the Jedi Academy that Skywalker had built, killing the students (with the help of other students who had dark feelings?) and fleeing to the warmth, love, and manipulation of Supreme Leader Snoke.

That Ben Solo-turned-Kylo Ren destroyed everything Luke had painstakingly built in the years after Return of the Jedi makes sense. It was the story I expected after watching The Force Awakens. The surprising bit is that Luke Skywalker took a completely non-Luke Skywalker action which was the catalyst for Ben’s final step into the Dark Side. With the momentary ignition of his green lightsaber as he stands above his sleeping nephew, the scene from Return of the Jedi where Luke cast aside the exact same blade, refusing to kill his father, is itself thrown aside.

“This is not going to go the way you think,” Skywalker declares to Rey at one point in the movie. “Let the past die, kill it if you have to.” Kylo Ren tells Rey at another point in the film. Over and over again, The Last Jedi champions what it is doing: tearing down the foundations of Star Wars with something new and radical. The movie spends a lot of time self-referencing with quotes and metaphors (a building literally crumbles, burying Luke, when Ben defends himself) to prove this is the case, to make us believe we are watching a radically new and fresh version of Star Wars. The thing is…

I don’t buy it. From my vantage point, the self-references and metaphors – and the shallow depth of the film – are just clever tricks distracting us from the obvious. Namely, that we have seen this story once before:

A teacher takes on a gifted, young student who has incredible power. The teacher trains the student, but the student has dark thoughts and feelings, and those thoughts and feelings grow like a virus in the mind. Eventually, the teacher must confront the student, and the student fights back. While the teacher chooses not to kill the student, the damage is already done. The teacher is left feeling guilty and flees into exile. The student puts on a mask that represents their dark turn. Years later, the two finally confront one another again. The teacher is aware of their own shortcomings, that they failed the student. The student believes they are the more powerful now, but little do they know that their teacher is truly more powerful than the student can possibly imagine. Their final battle ensues, and in a critical moment, the student slashes a red blade through their former teacher…only to be left stunned and confused by their former teacher’s final lesson.

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker?
Luke Skywalker and Ben Solo?
Rey and *insert the villain from Episodes X, XI, XII*

LukevsKylo
Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren face off on Crait.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi


We Need to Talk about Rey

Speaking of Rey, for being the heroine of this new trilogy, The Last Jedi goes to ridiculous lengths to build her up through Acts I & II only to have her be a non-factor in Act III. Her story is an interesting one and I genuinely like Rey, but for all of her training with Luke, her Force connection with Kylo Ren, and her (brash) decision to run off and try to save Ben from the monster within him, her story is effectively set aside in the Final Act. Why? Because this film isn’t about Rey. It is really about Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren. Don’t get me wrong, Rey has a lot of cool character development and some intriguing bits happen to her. Never-the-less, from my vantage point, Rey is ultimately set aside in what is supposed to be her own story. 

Of course, one could argue that Rey’s connection with Kylo Ren is the most fascinating aspect of the movie. In fairness, I wouldn’t entirely disagree. The relationship between Kylo Ren (Dark Side) and Rey (Light Side) is where a lot of the philosophical “depth” in The Last Jedi comes into play. This depth is certainly interesting, but it is a depth that is knee deep at best. For all of the Ontological-meets-Ethical Dualism which Rey and Kylo Ren represent, specifically as it relates to the “Balance of the Force” (whatever the hell that even means at this point), any opportunity to truly dive into the mysterious abyss of the Force never really happens. An opportunity certainly existed, one where Luke  could have helped Rey work through her connection to Kylo (and vice-versa with Snoke helping Kylo work through his relationship with Rey). This would have been a prime opportunity to highlight Luke (and Snoke) as mentors, while shedding light on this intriguing and new conception of the Force. Instead, the movie gives us only fleeting glimpses of these deeper philosophical undertones while simultaneously distracting us from them (i.e. – Kylo being shirtless; the two awkwardly touching hands; Rey running off to save Ben). Then again, I’m not sure the film even knows how to take things into the deep end of the pool. In fact, I would liken it to this: The Last Jedi (and Rian Johnson) give off the impression of a college freshman who took Introduction to Philosophy, read snippets from the I Ching, the Avesta, the Gathas, and The Jedi Path, and is now acting like a pretentious know-it-all who has minimal grasp on what they are saying. Which leads me to this…

“Getting” The Last Jedi

As Nancy and I were chatting recently about the film, she mentioned that “…there is this attitude that if you didn’t like Rian Johnson’s vision then you weren’t smart or deep enough to ‘get’ The Last Jedi.” In other words, it is as if one must possess a gnostic knowledge to truly “understand” the esoteric depth at the core of this movie. If only Nancy, or myself, or others who do not love and worship the film as a gift to Star Wars had the special knowledge to understand it, we would finally see just how profound The Last Jedi truly is. But like I said earlier, I really don’t think it is very profound.

For over two hours, I watched a film I had already seen before. Or rather, I watched a film that took thematic elements from a handful of films that I have already seen before. Don’t get me wrong, there ARE things in this film that are new, and things in this film that are intriguing. I mean, I have NEVER seen the aliens in the Canto Bight Casino before (but I have been confronted by never-before-seen aliens in a casino/cantina-esque setting before). Yet, for all the new stuff in this film, as a whole it just came off as an amalgamation of ALL the Star Wars films, pretending to be something radical and fresh while simultaneously offering philosophical possibilities that are never really teased out.

I envy those who have experienced The Last Jedi as this new and fresh dive into the Star Wars universe. Truly, I do. I wish I had the gnosis they possess and the connection tot he film that leads them to see it as philosophically deep and spiritually mystical. Then again, I don’t really believe there is any there “there,” or at least not enough to elevate The Last Jedi to the top of the Star Wars pantheon. Rather, The Last Jedi is just a film masquerading as something truly special, a “child in a mask” playing Star Wars dress up. Does it attempt some intriguing things, even getting away with a handful? Of course it does. But the thing is, if I want to really experience Star Wars, I will watch the Original six films. Hell, I’ll even watch The Force Awakens – which is also a derivative amalgamation but is at least AWARE it is – and I will definitely watch Rogue One – which woefully lacks women but is never-the-less a stellar homage to A New Hope. On the flip side, if I feel like watching something that is “technically” Star Wars but that thinks it is way smarter and self-important than it really is, I’ll watch The Last Jedi. Granted, I’ll need to buy it first, and right now I have better things to spend my money on.

Introduction to Star Wars

When George Lucas released the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, it created a bit of a conundrum: what viewing order should a Star Wars fan use when introducing the films to someone who has never watched Star Wars? On the one hand, the films could be shown to a newbie in “Release Order” with the Original Trilogy first and the Prequels second. On the other hand, the movies could be shown in “Chronological Order” beginning with Episode I (The Phantom Menace) and ending with Episode VI (Return of the Jedi)? Plus, while the “Release Order” and “Chronological Order” are the most obvious options, there are a number of other viewing orders that have been suggested (“Machete Order” being the most popular).

Ignoring, for the moment, that there now exists a Sequel Trilogy, stand-alone films, and television shows (not to mention novels, comics, games, and more), I have always felt that Star Wars should be introduced to a newcomer in “Release Order” and not “Chronological Order.” This belief is entirely predicated on my own interactions with Star Wars from youth to adulthood. I watched the Original Trilogy when I was a kid, and the Prequel Trilogy as a teen/young adult. But, that fact also makes me biased, and my suggestion to someone to start with A New Hope, while grounded in the fact that it was the first Star Wars film, is also grounded in my personal journey with Star Wars. Someone can have entirely different reasons for suggesting the “Release Order” or “Chronological Order” to a newcomer and that is perfectly fine by me. 

Actually, as a life-long Star Wars fan my only real responsibility is to offer suggestions, not to implement rules, and that goes far beyond the confines of the “Release Order” vs “Chronological Order” debate. Since A New Hope came out in 1977 (I was negative eight years old at the time), Star Wars has become a multi-headed beast, a hydra masquerading as an epic space fantasy. Which is to say this: Star Wars has so many stories across so many mediums that the whole “Release Order” or “Chronological Order” conundrum seems rather small. The films might be the natural starting point for most Star Wars fans – there are certainly those who have come to the franchise by another route – but the question of “where do I go from here?” is a far more difficult question I have been asked by a lot of people who are curious about exploring the depths of the Star Wars franchise after they have watched one or more of the films.

Thrawn Trilogy
“Heir to the Empire”, the first novel in The Thrawn Trilogy. Photo Credit – Bantam Spectra

Like the first world problem of cinematic watch order, I only have suggestions and no definitive answers for people who are eager to be introduced to Star Wars beyond the films. Naturally, I am predisposed to reduce my answer to the least common denominator – my own personal preferences. Shocking! Here is an example: I am a huge fan of The Thrawn Trilogy by author Timothy Zahn, and absolutely love the Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn who was introduced in the series. But just because I am a fan of Thrawn doesn’t mean anyone I encourage to read the trilogy will inevitably love it. Then again, perhaps they will enjoy it but for completely different reasons than I do. But isn’t that just the bare bones truth of Star Wars anyway, everyone loving certain aspects of the franchise motivated entirely by their personal tastes? Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question.

So, where do we go from here? Oish, I have no idea. Like I said with my neat “Star Wars is a hydra” metaphor, the franchise is just too big at this point to really offer one direction, one way of “doing” Star Wars. I am going to punt on offering some really profound “Introductory” approach to Star Wars. Instead, I will just offer this all-encompassing suggestion for people who are interested in exploring Star Wars:

Start with A New Hope – it was the first Star Wars film after all so it just feels right to start there – and then just make it up as you go. Actually, just treat Star Wars like a big and exciting choose your own adventure, and no matter what you choose, you are doing Star Wars right. And, if you get confused along the way, or want more personalized suggestions, feel free to message me (I have a contact page). I am happy to offer my thoughts. Just, ya know, don’t be surprised when I start talking about Thrawn.