Doesn’t it feel like we’ve already seen him? The similarity of the simplicity of the recapitulated plots from movie to movie have become familiar over the decades (decades, guys). The Jedis have gone from ancient mystical knights (in the first trilogy) to really poor bureaucrats (in the prequel trilogy) to … what, now? Remnants of a defeated army, battle-scarred and vulnerable and very very touchy. The Empire has changed its marketing but kept all its old toys, the same old kings in shiny new clothes. Rather than the meticulous revivals of Rogue One (a film designed to pair with A New Hope like a socket to its plug), we have genuine attempts to move the story along, and to look at the costs of past mistakes. Regrets abound. What we know is that Leia and Han raised a child who was strong in the Force, but deeply conflicted and undecided about himself. And also excessively haunted by Vader’s legacy. Both parents continued to contribute to the endless Rebellion, but not on the same fronts of battle. Luke was lost, and Rey was a new stranger who stumbled into their lives as she had inherited the Falcon and maybe more, in some unspecified manner. The confrontation between she and Kylo, who seemed almost siblings in their connection to the Force, echoed the lost history of Luke and Leia, the estranged yet interconnected siblings from the previous generation. Rey has found Luke, and he begrudgingly begins to teach her what he knows of the force. Now the echo is of his abortive training with Yoda, and she proves to be just as bad a student as her new master, a wry irony for the aged sage. And yet, as the force of Mark Hamill’s performance shows, he is now that master as much as Yoda could have expected. Compared to how things turned out for Obi-Wan (with Anakin) and Luke (with Ben Solo), he’s really quite the success as far as Padawans go. He claims he’s retreated to the hardest island to find in the Universe, but it’s not (it’s just Ireland). Instead he’s retreated to the last and most sacred treasury of Force lore, and he guards it relentlessly. From adept to hero to hermit to monk, the typical male journey, especially in epic science fantasy terms. He’s made it so far by only losing one hand, which was easily replaced, not quite suffering the full blinding or maiming that can also be fated to martyrs and messiahs. And what he imparts to Rey is much more valuable than any light sabre skills (as he observes her training herself, noting she needs little of his help with combat skills built up by her hardscrabble childhood). Rather, what she needs to know about the Force is that it is more than a useful tool for fighting, and that there’s a reason she senses it so frequently and so strangely since her adolescence, now having (after exposure to Kylo Ren) increasingly powerful and inexplicable visions. Luke’s no-nonsense explanations make more sense than Yoda’s mysteries (because his syntax is more direct) and Qui-Gonn’s technobabble (because he doesn’t confuse science with faith, and has always accepted the Force as magic that exists alongside science; Luke is also good with tools and machines). It’s all just “lifting rocks” Rey complains at one point, but easily lifting rocks is a powerful ability, and another manifestation of the film’s obsessions with entrances and exits, openings and closings, barriers and boundaries. Masters of the Force exert control over their environments, a real advantage in violent times. This is a film where a fighter infiltrates a landing bay just to blow it up. Where the First Order pursuit of the rebel fleet is a slow-motion chase sequence so attenuated that it has one plot point after another to exhaust and blow through in succession. “They can track us through hyperspace?” “They can track us through hyperspace?” (repeated by newcomer Rose trying to wrap new data into her techy headspace) –But they’re too big to be fast enough to chase our runner! Until we run out of fuel. They’re picking off our slower ships. But now we’re escaping in transports too small to see! UH OH they found out about the transports! Try RAMMING SPEED! If only we can get to the hidden base with the giant Shield Door. Damn, if only they didn’t have the biggest cannon ever created? If only there was a back way out! If only there wasn’t a landslide in the way. Wait, don’t we know someone who can LIFT ROCKS?????? The weakness here is the formula, which isn’t taut so much as repetitive and maddening. It serves to push B-plots that would usually be major misdirections to the side, though they remain interesting as shenanigans on the way to a casino planet, fun character bits from Benicio Del Toro and Justin Theroux, sad stories of sacrifice surrounding hot heads who don’t follow orders, animals and children in cages, a briefly thrilling Holo-communique from Maz Canata, all colorful details that embellish the fabric of a Star Wars tale. Though the only color really allowed this time is red. The villain’s (he’s really little more than an even uglier Palpatine) Praetorian Guard are more interesting than he was, but the liveliness in the samurai-style battle scene is owed all to Kylo and Rey, who go from fascinating adversaries to even more compelling allies, however briefly. Back on the island retreat, Rey found her own journey to self-knowledge by falling down a dark wave-washed vaginal hole surrounded by vines. That entrance lead to a deep cavern and hidden pool. Whereas Luke’s journey to the swampy caves on Dagobah led to a haunting vision of masculine threat and violent temptation, Rey doesn’t find her mother inside the mountain. Instead, she confronts an infinite mirror of herself, a vision that leads nowhere but to her own long-proven self-reliance. It’s Harry Potter before the Mirror of Erised, and the message is the same. Now it is clearly Luke’s advice that is wrong, as Rey makes the decision to face her temptations if there’s any chance at all to save Ben. Heading back to the action to get her adult scars. She leaves Luke behind, or it seems like she does. Like Kylo, he wants to burn the past down. But his reasons are less rebirth than exhaustion. Though he’s driven (or maybe more accurately haunted), he’s still unsure, until a friendly visitor from the past answers his questions with welcome kindness and familiar decisiveness. It’s one of the best cameos in the film, because it echoes the visitation of Obi-Wan when Luke truncated his training, when we heard that there was another adept in the Force if Luke fell. Of course, they meant Leia, and that she finally unleashes her Force potential (previously only evinced by fleeting visions and premonitions) in a moment of dire need is one of the most majestic and unforgettable scenes in the film. She truly is Vader’s daughter, after all. But this is not the simple substitution of a female story for a male one. Poe and Finn have their journeys (and uses, and vendettas) as well, and Luke and Ben and even Hux are as key to this new chapter as Rey and Leia and Rose and Admiral Holdo. It’s just that the many worlds of Star Wars have all been through so many orbits since last we checked in. Though familiar patterns persist, there’s no way for them not to have started and continue diverging. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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