Why the Force is strong with ‘The Last Jedi’

The Last Jedi spoilers follow because, obviously

“I’m not willing to die on this hill. I can let this go.”

That’s a phrase I’ll toss around when I’m mired in a debate in which my heart just isn’t invested. But after seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I can toss that phrase to the wayside. Nay, I’ve planted my flag on this hill and will go down swinging if needs be, yelling the following:

I loved The Last Jedi — and I love General Leia being saved from the very depths of space by nothing other than the Force itself.

A lot of people, it turns out, took issue with Rian Johnson’s telling of Episode VIII for a slew of reasons (Humor? Bad! Grumpy Luke? Bad! Rey’s parents were nobodys? Baaaad!). Some of fans’ issues aren’t totally unfounded, but they’re not enough to make this even a less-than-great flick. A lot of the dislike, to me, comes from subverted expectation. (Joanna Robinson takes a thoughtful look at most of the particulars fans have latched onto to trash Last Jedi.)

I could (and probably will at some point) defend the vast majority of this movie, but what I’ll focus on now is how some haters are going after its portrayal of the Force. Many fans took issue with the nature of Luke’s projection of himself on Crait. More really took issue with Leia’s unprecedented flight through the void of space. Heck, I’ve heard gripes about Yoda appearing (!) and his destruction of the, uh, sacred Jedi treehouse.

To sum up their frustration, I’ll quote our favorite deceased smuggler: That’s not how the Force works!

To hear how Star Wars fans are taking issue with the Force’s portrayal in Last Jedi is disappointing, but not surprising. This fandom tends to be as fickle a bunch as any. In the case of this sequel trilogy, consensus so far has shown fans want something different from before (read: prequels) but not too new. Rock the ship, but do so gently.

Johnson rocks this ship as hard as a loose trio of rathars, nowhere more so than with the mysticism of the Force. Going into The Last Jedi, many fans (myself included) thought we knew almost everything about the Force: in a real nutshell, an energy force that is fueled by life itself and can allow certain individuals to sense events/manipulate others/move things.

With this confidence in our knowledge in mind, Johnson opted to shake things up and greatly expand the potential of the Force. Our first inkling of his intention occured after the bridge of the Resistance ship Raddus got blown to hell, sending Leia into the void of space toward certain death. Except … the Force wasn’t finished with her, yet.

Full disclaimer: The execution of this scene could have been better. As someone put it, Leia essentially looked like “Space Mary Poppins.” But appearance aside, this was a tremendous moment: Seemingly dead, Leia’s fingers start to twitch, her eyes open, and our galactic princess is moved through space back to the safety of her ship. It’s something never before seen in Star Wars.

Many have griped that since we’ve never seen anything like this, it shouldn’t be possible. Others have complained that despite being Force-sensitive, Leia shouldn’t have the ability to hurl herself through space without training, let alone without a spacesuit.

The complaints about Luke’s projection of himself onto Crait ring the same bell: This is something we have neither seen nor heard of before, so it shouldn’t be happening. To take this stance in these instances is, at the very least, narrow-minded.

While the mysticism of the Force is present in all Star Wars films, its breadth and power hasn’t been much explored since the original trilogy. The huge exception, interestingly, is in Star Wars animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels. While mostly targeting kids and teenagers, these shows (especially Clone Wars) take fascinatingly deep looks into the heart of the Force, relaying that it is an energy far more complex than we could even imagine.

With Last Jedi, Johnson has brought that spirit to the big screen. Viewers get a hard slap in the face to remind them that the Force is, well, a force of unimaginable potential, even for those in the movie. Rey is still learning, yes, but so is Luke. So is Leia. Hell, Yoda seems to still be learning. And so are we. The Light and Dark sides have wills of their own, and we get to see that in action.

That brings me right back to Leia. When she’s cast out into space, there’s no reasonable way she should’ve survived. But the Force decides that it’s not done with her yet. It takes a hold of her and draws her back to safety. Leia, who before had only exhibited sensitivity to the Force, is evidently of such importance to the battle for the Light that the Force itself takes command of the moment to revive and save her.

How cool is that? How FUN is that?! A simple sequence explodes the possibilities of the Force and what we could see in future Star Wars installments. It’s exciting!

Of the myriad articles I’ve read since Last Jedi reviews started being published, someone made a point I couldn’t agree with more: We shouldn’t go on thinking that we have a full grasp of the Force — it’s neither fun nor magical that way. I, for one, got my wakeup call thanks to Rian Johnson and The Last Jedi: I never want the Force to be easily understood ever again.

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