Controversy is no stranger to the Star Wars franchise, and since The Last Jedi’s release, debate has raged over the simple question of whether it was a good film or a bad one. There’s another debate, not as loud, but it has simmered in the background for years: is Star Wars a SciFi or Fantasy film? This latest instalment, with its focus on fantastic elements, had me enthralled. Call it SciFi, call it Fantasy, or call it a pork chop – I loved the fantastical vibe in The Last Jedi.
Ahch-To is a small watery outer-rim planet that keeps a number of secrets, prominent among them, Luke Skywalker. The failed Jedi Master has hidden himself away, much in the style of Ben Kenobi and Yoda once did. He lives as a hermit on a rocky isle upon which the first Jedi Temple was built. It is a most intriguing setting filled with fantasy appeal due to the various creatures who share Luke’s home, from the diligent caretakers who maintain the ancient buildings, to the porgs – arguably the cutest critters in any film ever. The jagged terrain of green tufts and windswept rocks add their own beauty to the magical setting.
Ahch-To – a magical setting
But it is the connection Ahch-To holds with the Force that most interests us. The importance of balance is a point laboured by Luke in his reluctant lessons with Rey, and the setting demonstrates that balance – of light and dark, good and evil – in a physical way. Above the rocky isle with its windswept beauty and limitless sky (with two suns) there is a strong sense of the light, but beneath it all coexists a darker side. A black hole leads under the rock to somewhere menacing, and it calls to Rey.
Mysterious ancient texts
It’s a well-worn and much loved trope in the fantasy genre – ancient tomes and the secrets they hold. In The Last Jedi, a tree of knowledge houses sacred Jedi texts – scriptures of lost wisdom and abilities. These are ostensibly destroyed when spirit Yoda makes a return and symbolically kills the past that weighs Luke down in order that he can ‘see what is in front of his nose’ and enter into the fray. Yoda summons lightning from swirling storm clouds, in a style Gandalf would be proud of, to destroy the tree before claiming Rey carries all the knowledge the tree protected. And indeed she does, for she stole the ancient scriptures and stowed them safely on the Falcon. No doubt, they will provide her with more of the knowledge she (and the viewer) craves in the next episode.
The Force remains both one of the most intriguing magical systems and one of the most mysterious. Its treatment in The Last Jedi seems to indulge us with more explanation than any other episode, without ruining its mystique. As already mentioned, the importance of balance is emphasised through Luke’s teaching of the Force as something that flows through and around us, and Rey’s visions of both sides of its nature, the nurturing and the violent – but always there is perfect balance. And so we come to that black hole in Ahch-To. Ray is called to its darkness and discovers an unwelcome truth about who she is and her family (later confirmed by Kylo Ren) – she is alone.
Rey sees the balance in the Force
The magic was such an intriguing part of this movie on more than one front. Many commentators have bemoaned the scene in which Leia herself accesses the Force to float back to safety after being catapulted into space. I liked it. Being a Skywalker, she has a natural propensity to access the Force, and this is the first time we see her use it in such an obvious way. It was a beautifully filmed scene replete with delicate ice crystals on her skin, and filled with hope – a leitmotif through the whole franchise. And it was a relief to watch Leia survive.
And what of Luke’s astral projection? It provided an excellent twist and satisfying ruse to stall Kylo Ren’s vengeance. In the end, it took everything Luke had and, like Obi Wan and Yoda, he became one with the Force.
The lure of evil and the fight against it
The seduction of the dark side is powerful
Evil is a powerful influence and its lure is difficult to resist. It has turned good Jedi’s into formidable leaders for the dark side, and Kylo Ren is its newest recruit. We glimpse the dark side’s lure through Rey and the pull she experiences to go to the mysterious black hole on Ahch-To. Rey, however, resists any affect the darkness attempts to claim on her – perhaps too easily. The battle between good and evil is a stalwart motif in Star Wars, not only in terms of the laser-fire action battles, but also in regard to the interior struggles we see in the likes of Darth Vader and Kylo Ren. Both began as good Jedis who were seduced by the darkness. The dark side is a test, well stated by Yoda himself, and falling prey to its seduction is a risk for any Jedi. For Rey to experience no temptation, no struggle, seems a touch unrealistic, and rather disappointing. She brushes off its seductive force both on Achc-To and when faced with Snoke and Kylo Ren, with barely a blink. Thus missing an opportunity to add depth to Rey’s character and explore more of the dark side’s pull.
The Last Jedi isn’t perfect, Rey’s lack of flaws is one issue, there are others, but overall, for me, it is most definitely a good film, and one that fantasy fans will get a real kick out of.