For me, New Years Eve 2017 made for a welcomed cap on a downright absurdly horrific year. It was a Sunday of nothing extra specials, cold but not too chilly. My brother and I chose to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi at New Orleans’ last standing and operating single screen neighborhood movie theater, The Prytania. This would be our second watch, as the first — held at a metro multiplex — experienced sub-standard projection quality, where colors were dim/lacking and focus was askew. Here, in the city, care was taken with a clean digital showing and bombastic sound to match. Thankfully, it was a distraction-less event.
Distraction-less. That’s not the word I would use to describe the year as a whole. A whole. A-hole. It was a year of emboldened a-holes, encouraged and inspired by a massive one, sticking out the middle of “our” new President’s face — Like a certain William Burroughs gag run amok. More than ever, we needed movies to provide a specific kind of escapism. To make us escape into confrontation. To confront, to understand and to overcome.
To call The Last Jedi political is easy. All films are political, in one way or another. They aren’t just mirrors showing a reflection — They can be doors that, when opened, provide a world of context and conscience. Star Wars has always been about more than the fight between good and evil, being a lore defining what is good and what is evil. This is the conflict within. That is The Last Jedi, a movie that finally clarifies this concept of balance both in the cosmos and in our hearts.
And that was the final movie I watched in 2017. What a properly cinematic way of closing out the year and starting a new one.
Iwas surprised that it took me until my second rating on Letterboxd to realize that it was the character of Rose I most related to. Really, it should have been obvious: Her brash assertiveness and spunky confidence, her right makes might and righteous idealism, her attitude based in emotional content instead of anger (ala Bruce Lee) and her efforts in charity towards others. I’m not suggesting that I maintain these qualities, but I certainly wish that to be the case.
There is a pure genuineness to Kelly Marie Tran’s performance that could only come from 1) A young Star Wars fan and 2) Humility and being of good heart. When she expresses her fandom for Finn with a “THE Finn!”, there is nothing forced nor is there a tinge of irony or wink/nod type cadence — She really is excited to meet him. As a fan of the series, game recognizes game, so to speak. Kelly “gets” not just The Last Jedi, but what is needed from the franchise right now. And what is needed is inclusiveness and a grand fighting spirit. Being a Disney “property” puts a target on the back of its intentions, but giving creatives like writer/director Rian Johnson and uber souls like Kelly a shot at molding something fresh out of something so beloved, in and of itself is something to celebrate. And Rose is at the center.
Her arc, which really begins with the sacrifice her sister makes in the opening — a surprisingly captivating, tense and resonate sequence making music out of a movie — might be seen as kitsch to many and naive to most, but ties in to and pays off at the end ultimately. She concocts a plan with Finn and Poe that proves fruitless — one of many from The Resistance — but not without effort or meaning. Not without inspiration. The so called “broom boy” ending is perhaps loftier than people were hoping for, I understand, but what it represents is far more positive and powerful that what could’ve been.
In just one moment, Rose makes all the difference for the future of The Resistance and the galaxy. She takes the time to connect and bond with a slave child who, unbeknownst to her, is force sensitive. This scene, which at first merely helps two characters make a getaway, captures the true heart of the story and its continuity. It expresses how our actions and what we do to one another matter, affecting more than we can fathom.
Fruitless plans? Maybe what bears important is that we acted in the first place. That has to matter, right?
We’re just a few weeks into 2018, and the embarrassment and sorrow has already returned. Our heroes are villains and villains are in heroic roles. This is America at this time.
Those looking for an escape route through cinema will find bliss soon enough, but I’d recommend a mission more than a vacation. Escape into conflict and conscience. Find who you are and who you want to be this year.
Be a spark. Be a Rose.