It is astonishingly difficult for me to discuss how much I love THE LAST JEDI. I stumbled from the cinema, face utterly aching from all the ridiculous expressions I had pulled and mind a haze of images, but I was a different person.
I say THE LAST JEDI is transformative because it transformed me.
And that is very, very hard to quantify. My years and years of critical and analytical training fall by the wayside, not because I am incapable of seeing its flaws (this isn’t “turn off your brain” entertainment), but that whatever else one says about its negative qualtities, I could but numbly point to myself as testimony to its power: For the first time, I felt seen, truly seen by another in the medium of fiction. I felt reborn. The voices of doubt that have haunted me for so long are muted. I felt braver than I have in years and more able. I felt more at peace. I felt balanced.
And I appreciate that all of that is very, very emphemeral if you aren’t me and in my head.
So here is me trying to explain myself and why I suddenly have a convert’s burning fervour.
STAR WARS AS A LANGUAGE
I’ve always described STAR WARS as a language of icons and symbols that I spoke with near native fluency, and this is all still true. They are so very much part of our popular mythology, especially in the quadrants of geekdom which I inhabit, that it is impossible not to have them mean things to me. Leia in her buns with a blaster, Yoda muttering wisely, Luke staring out under twin suns: all these images mean things to me. And of course, most of all, there is Carrie Fisher with her iconically sharp wit and her honesty when it comes to discussing her mental health problems over the years. So for all that I didn’t really care for (nor do I think I’ve seen all of) the original films, I spoke their language. I expressed myself in their paradigms and drew strength from the inspiration they provided.
But it wasn’t wholly my mythology.
THE LAST JEDI told me a story using that language I spoke, that I had learnt, that was almost mother tongue to me but not. It looked at me and told me that I was not a foreigner and embraced me as I am. It told me a story in that language but the difference was that this is a story that saw me and affirmed me.
And there’s a lot of power in that.
A STORY ABOUT STORIES AND THE SPARK TO INSPIRE A REVOLUTION
On a basic level, the Sequel Trilogy has become a story about itself, turning inwards to reflect how it has inspired a generation of fans. Luke, Leia and Han have become inhuman icons, legends even, as Luke so bitterly puts it. And the new generation of characters have an intense relationship with that legacy and legend, be it Kylo Ren who is crushed by his own ambition and expectations, or Rey who aspires and dreams and claims. Those are the stories they grew up on, the stories that give succor their souls.
THE LAST JEDI looks to those legends and seeks to make them human. Leia is frail, complex and a leader worn to bone, for all that she holds it desperately together. And Luke, he does not wear the mantle of Legend lightly. He has failed his own nephew and is hiding from the world, waiting to die. The beacon of hope is heavy thing to carry alone, but as THE LAST JEDI shows, it is not a thing that need be carried alone.
The last shot of the film is of an abused slaveboy of Canto Bight, pulling a broom into his hands with the Force and looking to the stars. For all that he and his friends are oppressed, that spark of revolution has ignited and they’re telling the story of Luke Skywalker, the man who has become again myth. His story inspires as the Resistance is reborn. It is impossible to not see in those children our own young selves and future generations of children, and to be inspired to fight as they will.
It is not easy, being a Legend, to preserve and inspire, but it is also necessary. In dark times much like that came before and will continue in the months ahead, it is stories like these that will keep us in hope. Do we not tell stories like these to each other, of each small victory.
The way to defeat the First Order with only a laser sword in hand is not through violence itself, but through inspiration. To keep that fiery spit of hope alive.
War is but the metaphor through which the story of the Resistance is told. It is not so much really about X-wings and star destroyers. The stakes are magnified, but the need for hope, for inspiration is the same. The fight against exploitative governance, against fascist rule, against opportunistic centrism, that all rings painfully true. It is the perfect, desperate story to close 2017 with.
And there is power in that.
A RESISTANCE OF WOMEN
For the first time, I saw a resistance movement brimming with women. And unlike, say, the Amazons of Wonder Woman, there was no contrivanced in universe reason for this beyond this *was* a resistance. This speaks a bone-deep truth that we very rarely see depicted, that women have always, always fought, that women are still today the backbone of the Resistance.
It was beautiful beyond words to see three women speak one after the other on military matters. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that; any other film would have “spaced them out” with male voices.
That women occupied both important and marginal roles in the Resistance meant the world to me. They hold up more than half the sky.
Tallie, Paige Tico, Vice Admiral Holdo, Lieutenant Connix, Commander D’Acy: the litany of their names can bring tears to my eyes.
I didn’t know I had been waiting all my life to see this. I didn’t know I needed it so much.
Furthermore, whilst there are a lot of stories of sisterhood and motherhood in the realms of women’s fiction, there are far fewer that deal simply with curt professional respect between women. And more than that, this isn’t a film about female resistance (like, say, SUFFRAGETTE) this is simply a film about resistance that acknowledges women’s impact.
And there is power in that.
BURNING THE OLD ORDER
Tearing down old, poisonous systems emerges as a core theme in THE LAST JEDI: Luke burns down the sacred tree of the Jedi religion, Rose talks of wanting to put her fist through the glittering world of Canto Bight, and of course Kylo Ren wants desperately to kill the past.
THE LAST JEDI holds both the Jedi and the Empire accountable for past sins, but doesn’t fall into the trap of suggesting that they are both equally bad. It has Luke look back and see his own failings, as well as Poe being taken to task for his “flyboy” bravado. But despite this ability to make human its heroes, it condemns half hearted centrism and the smug moral superiority of not choosing a side in the figure of DJ, the replacement Master Codebreaker. He makes the argument to Finn that there is no such thing as good guys and bad guys, and tries to pull him down into that grey sludge of a paradigm with him. This is the argument all too often mistaken for complexity and nuance, the idea that both extremes are somehow equivalent: they are not.
I have Rey’s nostalgia for the old world, her desire to carry on the torch and preserve ancient texts. I know that feeling all too well and I know I needed to hear that some things, however much it may hurt to do so, need to die. I know it even in my own writing where for years I’ve stalled at endings because I was unwilling to kill off a character or to topple the systems I’ve so carefully constructed.
And for all that there may be overly destructive ways to tear down the past, sometimes it does just need to die. THE LAST JEDI gave me courage to confront this both in fiction and in myself.
Canto Bight and its worldbuilding of the larger conflict in the galaxy shine an important light on the broken systems that exist around them, how the nature of the war itself needs to change. I am all too familiar with Rose’s desire to just break it all and the fathier herd’s gloriously destructive romp through the glittering ugliness of the place is immensely cathartic.
But Rose doesn’t lose sight of what matters: to save those you love. It is the sentiment she utters to Finn as she unsaddles the fathier that carried her all this way. She echoes it again in what may be the heart of the film to him again after saving his life. We need to do more than just destroy our enemies. We need to do more than hate.
It is a very simple sentiment, cloying even, but in a year like 2017, where rage and despair have become second nature to me, I had desperately needed to hear this. It reminded me what should ground me.
And there is power in that.
A PARABLE ABOUT FAILURE
Yoda utters one of the central statements of the film, that failure is the best teacher. And THE LAST JEDI is a film about failure. Perhaps it is just because it is the middle film of trilogy, but everyone fails in it, gloriously and ingloriously; victories are pyrrhic at best. All three times I watched it I was left emotionally drained, but it is also immensely cathartic.
Canto Bight forms the heart of this meditation on failure. The subplot has struck many as “pointless” because it ends in catastrophic failure, but is hugely important to me because it ends in failure. We are perhaps too used to the idea that narrative needs to like clockwork in how rigorously engineered it is, without loose ends. It is the same thinking that makes executive producers want to cut the No Man’s Land sequence in WONDER WOMAN because it doesn’t contribute to the larger plot of murdering Ares. Yet much like Canto Bight, that sequence forms the emotional and thematic core of the film when it comes to how the conflict between First Order and Resistance fits into the larger world, how those who not fight can be complicit, how the Resistance can and should inspire.
But more than that, Canto Bight is a subplot where the million-to-one chance doesn’t pay off. Where the mad heroic last stand ends catastrophically. Not all long shots work out.
And the failure isn’t softened by glory, by heroic beauty. This isn’t the tragedy of Bambi’s mother or the Iron Giant. This is raw and ugly. This is unexpected and difficult.
But at the same time, failures aren’t simply things to be expunged from your past. Not all that ends in failure is itself a mistake. The world isn’t a logic puzzle one can simply optimise and plot a perfect speedrun of. Which I know all sounds rather pompous, but it is also a critical lesson.
And there is power in that.
THE REFOCUSING OF STAR WARS
Rian Johnson’s work has long deconstructed toxic masculinity and a recurring theme is the destructive potential of scared little boys. LOOPER, in particular, comes to mind, as does BRICK. And these are themes that recur in popular culture as well. From FIGHT CLUB to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY vol.II, from BREAKING BAD to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, we are constantly talking about men and masculinity.
But THE LAST JEDI does something different than many if not most of these films: it refocuses on the characters who aren’t the tortured men. Film Critic Hulk writes very eloquently about this in THE FORCE BELONGS TO US (which has incidentally led me to the conclusion that the correct response to “May the Force be with you” is “The Force belongs to us all”.)
THE LAST JEDI doesn’t simply show the failings caused by toxic masculinity but it also shows with hope how we can heal. Especially in Kylo Ren, the film shows the dark path and unflinchingly shows the consequences of his choices, his inability to, well, as this article put it, “join the team”. There is a lot more to be said here that Sam says better than me, so I urge you to among all the other links, read his take on Kylo Ren: “THE LAST JEDI, TOXIC MASCULINITY AND SHOWING YOUR PLACE IN ALL THIS.”
And if it were just Rey and Leia and Holdo, the picture of female heroism in THE LAST JEDI would be problematically white, but there is also Rose.
And I know many are disappointed about her kiss with Finn, partly because they ship Stormpilot (and tbf, so do I) and partly because many felt it lacked “chemistry”.
But it is the first interracial kiss I can name on the big screen that doesn’t involve a white person. I know that sounds weirdly specific but it feeds into that refocusing of the narrative away from the assumed defaults of our popular culture. It felt momentous in a way I cannot describe.
And this all, there is power in this all.
REY AS AN IMPOSTER
I’ve left this point last, not because it is the least important to me but because it is the hardest to articulate and rather the most personal to me. And where above I feel like I’m echoing points that you will see elsewhere on the web, this is likely unique to me.
So please permit me a rather personal preamble: All my life, I’ve been laying claim to a literature and legacy that is not my own by blood and birth. I’m ethnically Chinese and I spent the early years of my life in the colony of Hong Kong. I went to boarding school and for better or for worse, I spent my childhood dreaming of King Arthur and Robin Hood, of the Bronte’s Yorkshire moors and the Lake District of Arthur Ransome.
And I wrote a novel bound up in that legacy of Northern England and British literature. It came out in 2017 and all year those feelings of being an interloper and imposter have been welling up. I had a lot of bravado in my youth, I would declare that I belonged, but now but a debut novel, I feel all the more vulnerable than before and my claim feels weaker than ever. The question that had been asked again and again of me in my youth: “Why do you care about this?” comes back to haunt me.
And this is what I see in Rey’s story. On some metaphorical level, her arc felt utterly about me. Like how the refrain of a good pop song can seem to perfectly fit you and your mood, but moreso. A thousand times moreso. I felt seen and understood.
Rey has that same bravado I recognise in myself, the assumption that she belongs. She feels it in her bones and she dreams of it at night. She claims the legacy of the Jedi as her own, asking Luke to teach her of the ways of the Force.
But beneath the island is the dark side and the dark side is a mirror. She has operated under the assumption that she must belong, that she has claim the details of which she simply doesn’t know yet. That there is a grand secret to her origins (one admittedly that I don’t have), one that will vindicate her. But all she needs and all she has is herself.
The fandom speculation in the years building up to this makes all these themes all the more acute. That feeling that these are stories that one must inherit, that this legacy cannot simply be claimed by those outside of it.
But this much THE LAST JEDI makes clear: Rey’s blood and her birth don’t matter. She belongs, she belongs, she belongs.
And that, to me, is everything.
 Kyle Kallgren has an amazing video of Star Wars without Star Wars, in which he recreates the first film (aka A NEW HOPE) with non-Star Wars clips, things that were either referencing Star Wars or were being referenced by Star Wars. It is breathtaking and there is, in my opinion, no better illustration of the impact Star Wars has on our popular narratives.
 Being also bipolar, her descriptions of her own struggles with mental health really strike a chord with me.
 Yes, I also dressed up as Princess Leia, white hooded dress and braided buns over my ears.
 Given Carrie Fisher’s tragic death, Leia’s struggle for life gives a dark hope, one that I cling to desperately. To see her eyes open when all hope seems lost and then glide one last time through space as though an angel of the Force is utterly beautiful. It breaks my heart and yet gives me strength. The she can have a legacy that lives on, that she can inspire still, and that they didn’t contrive to kill her to match reality. Much like Luke’s Ascention, it is a Legend and it has so very much power.
 Luke’s Ascention is also delightfully Buddhist in how he says goodbye to each of his remaining attachments and walks the path of non-violence to become a being of pure Legend. It is the erasure of the self. This contrasts starkly with the pit of the Dark Side in which endless mirrors depict only the self.
 A lot of men have complained that they found the number of women in the Resistance to be jarring and all I can say is: Does real life strain your suspension of disbelief too?
 This crops up time and again in speculative fiction, masquerading as being fair and balanced. You will also find it in things like Deus Ex and other 0451 games where you fight one ideology and then its opposite. You can see shades of it in the finale of the HUNGER GAMES trilogy where Katniss puts an arrow through the heart of the Resistance, Coin. And of course you can see it in the recent rhetoric condemning anti-fascists and real world resistances.
Jeannette Ng is originally from Hong Kong but now lives in Durham, UK. Her MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies fed into an interest in medieval and missionary theology. She runs live roleplay games and used to sell costumes for a living. Her debut novel, UNDER THE PENDULUM SUN, came out October 2017. You can find her on twitter.