JUST IN CASE THE PREVIEW STILL SHOWS THIS SPOILERS ALSO
This is not going to be a comprehensive review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, though I have a lot of thoughts and a lot of emotions about the film. Rather this post is about a very specific feeling I got walking out of The Last Jedi that made me realize the film was perfect for this specific time and place in a way I have not seen in a major blockbuster since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There was no specific moment like in Revenge of the Sith where the current political situation was referenced so specifically (Anakin's "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy" echoing Bush's "You are with us or you are with the terrorists," for example) but its message is one that is decidedly political and timely.
The history of the Star Wars cinematic universe is one that has asked us to rely on singular hero figures, namely Skywalkers, whose actions determine the course and fate of the universe. If the prequels are to believed it was Anakin's turn to the dark side that caused the Empire to rise. If only he had chosen another path things would be different, he could have defeated the Emperor. If the original trilogy is to believed, it is Luke's destiny to defeat the Empire by destroying the Emperor and redeeming his father. The fate of the galaxy, then, rests on the shoulders of individuals. The Force Awakens doesn't shy away from this premise. We need to find this map so we can find Luke. We need Luke because without him we fail. Rey is a Jedi and she needs to train with Luke so that she can continue the legacy. Maybe Rey is his daughter or niece or Obi Wan's daughter who needs to continue the tradition of singular heroes saving the galaxy. We need to destroy this one thing, this Death Star, this Starkiller Base, so that we can save everyone.
The Last Jedi is fundamentally different in its premise and ideology. In many ways it shares more of its DNA with Rogue One, a story about an anonymous band of rebels who sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Their sacrifice did not destroy the Empire. They stole the plans for the first Death Star. That was all. Their sacrifice didn't magically upend the political order of the galaxy, it was simply one part in an ongoing war against Imperial aggression. Did their sacrifice matter? Of course it did. But given its context, the film forced us to see that even one action doesn't solve a greater problem. In Return of the Jedi Emperor Palpatine dies. Snoke apparently replaces him. Who is Snoke? Does it matter? He was the next guy. He was Pence. He was the one who came along. The truth is there will always be another to come along. Snoke dies and Kylo Ren replaces him. If Kylo Ren died, Hux would take over. The Empire and the First Order both are not dependent on the mythology of a singular leader. Theirs is a vision of domination and control and power. If you look at the indignant expression on Hux's face when Kylo takes control it is clear that were it not for Kylo's Force abilities he would be out of the First Order entirely, and that certainly doesn't mean that the First Order would be gone. In fact Ben Solo's pathological obsession with both Rey and his family's legacy is often the cause of the First Order's failures. He is a liability, not a strength. I'm sure Hux would have been happy if Luke dispatched him on the sands of Crait. And galactic domination would go on. The Last Jedi forces us to see that the world, the galaxy, does not care in the long run about the petty disputes of the Skywalker family.
The sojourn to Canto Bight, which some critics have said is unnecessary, I felt was an important reminder that the galaxy is comprised of a whole host of people who are neither wearing stormtrooper uniforms nor sitting behind the seat of an X-Wing. The Kochs of the world, the residents of Canto Bight, are just as culpable for the slaughter as the stormtroopers who carry the weapons they provide, and they will continue on as long as the system in place to give them power exists. That system didn't go away when Darth Vader killed his master and it certainly didn't go away when Kylo Ren killed his. Last Jedi makes us see that there is no singular hero that can fix all that is wrong with the galaxy, all that is wrong with the world. Belief in a mythical savior, from all sides of the political spectrum, leads individuals to do stupid things. Salvation will not come from one politician, one general, one soldier, one sword, one assassin. The galaxy, and our world too, is the way it is because of the choices and actions of many groups of people: people who are true believers, people only out for themselves, people who seek to profit, people who are apathetic, people who are oppressed, people who are oppressors. Even if one leader is destroyed, there will be others to take his place.
One thing that was so powerful to me in the film was the way in which it makes its main protagonists and antagonists alike confront the notion of heroism and villainy they have always been lead to believe. Poe, Finn, and Luke all learn that hubris can lead you to make stupid decisions and that sometimes being the hero means doing something other than what you assumed to be true. Kylo Ren learns that even if you save the girl you don't automatically win her affection and even if you follow in the actions and footsteps of the people who came before you, that doesn't make your power assured. It is beautiful that all four of these men learn these lessons from powerful women who have their own agency. In fact if anything is defeated in this film it is the male ego, which is why I think the film has gotten quite a bit of criticism from men. The women in the film, specifically Rose Tico, Admiral Holdo, General Leia and Rey, go on their own personal and emotional journeys as well. Rose realizes that the sacrifice she admired in her sister isn't the only way one can be a hero. Holdo realized the opposite: that sometimes even when you want to be practical and less reckless that self sacrifice is necessary for the better good. Leia realizes the lesson Luke was trying to teach her all those years ago on Endor, that this power was in her the whole time, that he would never be the only one that was needed to keep the Force in balance. Finally Rey learned that good and evil are more complicated things than you wish they would be, that it is the choices we make not a destiny, not an ancestry, that makes us who we are. Rey is not a Skywalker or a Kenobi or anybody but herself: a powerful wielder of the Force, a hero because she decides to be, because she wants to be.
As President Obama famously said, "We are the change we seek" and The Last Jedi, while not paraphrasing these words exactly, sets up a future of the Star Wars universe where change comes not from "chosen ones" but from individuals, from ordinary people making choices, learning lessons, failing, growing, helping each other. Real change to the galaxy will not come from Rey or the maybe 20 or so people who survived from the Resistance, it will come from people on all the worlds across the galaxy. Nobody is coming to save those enslaved children on Canto Bight, nobody is coming to rescue the other people on Jakku or Tattooine who are oppressed. Nobody is coming. It all comes down to you, to us, to the people, to rise up and defend their homeland, to take down their oppressors. The Force does not belong to one group of people and the power of the Force does not belong to Jedi alone. The Force exists and will exist regardless if people are there to use it to float rocks, and you don't need to be able to float rocks to take down systems of oppression. We are the Resistance, we are the change.