Halfway Through The Wood

 

I used to take a lot of walks.

I didn’t realize I was getting exercise, although I know now that it was actually doing wonders for me, because when I look back at pictures of myself I can see how in shape I was, despite thinking I was fat. The neighborhood where my family lived was built on this huge hill that was probably once part of a mountain or something, all of the houses lining the hill seemed simultaneously to be level and yet sliding down the hill. Our neighborhood was at the top of the hill and a little ways further around some turns. I would take my iPod out for a stroll so I could listen to whatever music I was exploring at the time. I remember walking during a cool, wet day and listening to Telepopmusik’s beautiful ambient electronic album Angel Milk, and feeling so… well, I wanted to say “at peace,” but that wouldn’t be right. I felt a lot of pain, and a lot of aching and longing, a lot of sadness, and mostly that I had so much I wanted to SAY. I wanted to write and play piano and scream and be heard, and I also desperately wanted sexual attention because I was in a stale relationship that had already lasted nearly two years longer than it should have.

When I think about me then and me now, the biggest difference is the depth of feeling. I felt so much then. Life was such a full experience, with rich textures and sounds. Most of the experience was sad, and in fact I was suffering deeply with my own mental illness, having panic attacks that were gradually driving me further and further indoors until eventually I was entirely agoraphobic and couldn’t leave my house, except to go to my boyfriend’s house, and the drive there was sometimes nightmarish. Once we got stopped by a slow-moving train and I was so visibly shaken and trying hard to breathe while I had a panic attack that my normally unattendant boyfriend rolled his eyes at me and told me the calm the hell down. He responded in this way to the majority of my suffering: a combination of annoyance and contempt. He would sometimes threaten to turn around and take me back home “if I was going to act like this.” I would look forward to seeing him all week and the first two minutes in the car with him would be wonderful, but we wouldn’t usually make it completely out of the neighborhood before he’d say something that crushed me, and all my hopes would be dashed, and I’d be deflated, and I’d settle in for a weekend of knowing I was miserable but refusing to admit it to myself because it just didn’t hurt enough yet.

But I digress.

I did a lot of walking aimlessly as an excuse to be doing something physical while listening to music. I loved experiencing the music and walking is a good way to do so, and I’d make a lot of music videos in my head, some of which I’d replayed so many times in my head that I’d added small details to until they were like their own little plays, with all the actors coming out to try out new things and add to the material. There were all these characters in my music videos, because I was always imagining myself as a musician, a real artist with real music videos and real fans who watched and discussed what I did. My music videos often featured various versions of myself interacting with each other.

I spent so much time back then fantasizing, creating, constantly creating in my mind.

When I look at who I am now versus who I was then, I guess the biggest difference is that now I feel so… drained. I mean, I was so naive and starry eyed when I was twenty-one, even though I was goddamn miserable at the time. I still had hope for this bright elaborate life that would take me to the places I dreamed of, for a future where I was far away from my family and on a tour bus playing shows or flying around the world and putting on elaborate stage shows. I don’t know where the desire to be a musician came from, because it wasn’t something I’d dreamed of as a kid, but now here it was. And it was mostly Tori Amos I was listening to at the time, because she was my newest musical interest and I was trying really hard to get into her catalog.

Eight years divide me from that time and that person, who he was. He spent so much time hoping and dreaming, there was so much still ahead of him. I guess the feelings that I’m having now, feeling a loss of that hope and even that innocence and wonder, is what you might call a quarter-life crisis, if such a thing really exists. But truly, that’s not really it.

It isn’t hard for me to pinpoint the real difference between me of the past and me of the present.

It’s the drugs, of course.

Not street drugs, not drugs like my cousins do and sell and go to prison for. Not illicit, scary drugs from a back alley. Good, safe, clean drugs that a nice respectable doctor prescribed me when I woke up one morning and found that the anxiety had gotten so bad that now the whole left side of my body, from the tingling on my scalp to the tenderness in my nipple to the weakness in the veins of my arm and on down into my feet, was numb. It’s weird because “numb” is the word I used at the time but now I think it was more “sensitive,” the whole left side of my body was really sensitive, it was easier to hurt me there, and there was this constant tingling running all up and down.

I was afraid I would have an early-in-life stroke or heart attack or seizure, afraid I might have some kind of brain tumor, and these symptoms were so strange and seemingly random. That’s when they finally gave me the medicine, and frankly I didn’t want to take it because I’d heard the word Klonopin before and never in a good context. I didn’t want to become addicted to a narcotic. But I took it, because my best friend told me the doctors know what they’re doing and I needed to take the medicine I was prescribed.

I remember where I was when I took it the first time, I was sitting at a barstool at the kitchen counter. I don’t know if I was on my computer or what, and I don’t know how long it took for it to affect me but it was very quick, and my dog was laying on the floor next to me, and I sat down next to her and petted her, and then laid down with her, and I felt so free, and I wasn’t sleepy but I knew I could fall into sleep perfectly at any moment.

In the early days they had that effect on me: my sheets were so cool, the air was so fresh, my eyes were heavy and sleeping and waking were so easy. I took them at the same time every day and I started to wake up with the sun and go to sleep with it too, and I felt so much more productive and healthy and mostly the biggest change was that I no longer had the panic attacks.

I could spend a very long time talking about my journey with antidepressants. I am not one of those people who thinks they’re evil and bad for you and that you should try something else. I tried everything else. I did the fucking breathing exercises and all they did was make me more scared. I tried meditating and doing yoga and doing reiki and projecting a fucking energy shield around myself with my mind during guided meditations and listening to Enya, I tried to be positive and to write positive and think positive, I tried not to focus on the fear, but that did not stop my body from going numb, it did not stop the panic attacks from coming, wave after wave, until living was impossible.

So I’m glad I took them, I truly am.

But.

The thing about antidepressants is that they start to sap color and sound and feeling from the world around you. The world is a bright and vibrant and terrifying place, and if you want the good stuff you have to take the bad stuff too, and the antidepressants will make the bad stuff go away but it also makes the good stuff go away too. It’s not so blatant that you realize that you don’t have depth of feeling anymore, but after a very long time, you look at who you used to be and you realize that even when you try to go for a walk and listen to music now…

…it just isn’t the same.

I am not the same.

I’m so very, very tired.

Drained, lethargic, weary. Weary is probably the best word. I’m just so over it all. I feel like I’ve seen it all and felt it all, which will probably seem silly to me if I read this back to myself in years to come. But mostly I feel like the old washed up could-have-been sitting at the table and smoking a cigarette and staring off into the distance, eyes filled with visions of what might have been.

It’s not just that none of my dreams have come true. It’s that there’s no hope of them coming true, nothing on the horizon, no real changes happening. I look at where I am and even though I still love people and have dreams and hopes and I try and I create, I don’t have that same fascination with life anymore.

I’m too weary.

It’s been a long day and I don’t want to go to sleep but it would be nice not to feel so fucking tired.

And I just can’t stop taking the medication because life would kill me. The colors and sounds and feelings would overhwlem me and I’d be unable to handle it. I live with my family, and that is not a safe place to be, and I have to have a shield projected around me at all times just to make it through the day when I’m near them. I want to leave them but then I’ll need to be reliant on myself and that’s even worse, because then I REALLY can’t afford to stop taking the medicine because I can’t afford to miss work because of a panic attack.

You see? There is no optimal solution short of hitting the lottery and having the ability to live in a comfortable house with someone I love who respects and supports me, and write and play piano all day and wonder at the fascinating minutia of life as I stare out into the rainstorm. Because right here, in real life, I’m on the ground, and I have to find a way to make it through a life that has and may still continue to consist of going to work in a job I hate and putting on a smile and pretending that I’m not miserable for hours and hours a day, coming home and eating and staring at a screen for fun, then going to sleep and either doing it again the next day or spending a day resting from how exhausting it is to do it.

I feel both envy and anger toward normal people. People who think it’s fun to go to a bar. People who make weekend plans. People who can just go anywhere and do anything without being in constant fear their own brain and body will kill them. How dare they walk around complaining about ANY problem when I can’t bare to step foot outside without enough drugs in me numbing my experience of life to the point that I can feel love but not much else. Sadness I feel, loneliness I feel, sometimes intensely. Maybe that’s why I love the feeling of loneliness, because it’s the only truly intense feeling I have left.

I got sick two weeks ago, and my sex drive disappeared. Which is ironic because I STOPPED taking the antidepressant that was lowering my sex drive. And yes, I know a lot of what I’m experiencing right now is probably due to stopping it. I’m taking a different one but still, the transition is always difficult.

I miss life before the drugs, though. I know that they’ve become so entwined with my system, like roots growing into a house that’s being built until the house is part of the tree. So I don’t know that I’ll ever have a chance to be whole. I’ve been walking on crutches so long that my legs have atrophied, and my emotions might have done the same thing and just given up. Sometimes life feels like a pale and grey facsimile of itself, and I am just a reflection, a shadow cast from the boy who walked around the block and listened to music and made music videos in his head.

I wish I could talk to him and give him a hug, tell him I love him, and that I admire him, and that I aspire to be who I remember I was when I was him.

I mostly drive now, instead of walking. I didn’t have a license then. I don’t know what driving would have been like for me. I wish I could take him for a drive.

I wish I could feel the way I did, I wish I could try it all again and do things differently, I wish I’d been born to a loving family where I’m welcome and encouraged and appreciated, I wish the cow was full of milk, I wish the house was full of gold, I wish a lot of things.

I wish I could end this with something happy. I wish I wasn’t such a miserable sod who probably depresses anyone who reads my writing. I wish that someone would love my writing and my music and help me grow and take me away into a happier world where I just know I can see all the things I’ve been waiting for.

I made it through the sickness, the black despair of lying in the hospital bed for ten hours, and the scar on my arm from the IV needle still hasn’t faded entirely. I reorganized my room today. I’m sitting in front of a television in my room in a chair that wasn’t here before. There’s a new book sitting on my bed. There are things to do tomorrow.

There’s a friend I love who I want to ask to be my boyfriend, because I’m saddened by the thought of meeting someone else. I don’t know if it’s a functional kind of love or just more dysfunction from me, because really, when have I ever understood how to treat anyone with decency, much less myself?

I feel so much shame for the person I have been and the things I’ve said and done to people and the thoughts I’ve thought at night alone and the wishes I’ve had. I feel so weary at how heavy everything is and wish I could just try again, start again from the boy who felt so much so fully. I wish I could be a good enough, sound enough, stable enough person to know what a relationship is and how to enjoy one or experience one or be a good boyfriend to someone else or a good friend or a good lover.

I believe I have so much potential, and I also believe that right now there is a foggy cloud of confusion and pain and numbness around my head that makes it hard to see anyone through the blur.

I believe I’m still worthy of love, and that I should still try anyway.

My ex-boyfriend, not the mean one I talked about at the beginning of this post, but another one from later, one who I really loved and respected but who just didn’t work out, we’ve stayed friends through the internet since we broke up three years ago. Three years together, three years apart. I made a new Facebook account and he didn’t accept my friend request. I checked Instagram and he removed me from his friends there. I sent him a message from my old account and he read but didn’t reply.

I don’t blame him and I’m not mad at him. But it hurts. It’s sad.

I’ve always wished I could just kiss him one more time, to say I’m sorry and try to fix it all, even if it can’t be fixed, but just to do it for the sake of doing it, and for the fun of it. I always hoped I would kiss him again someday.

Now I have to accept that that might not ever happen. What if I never hear his voice again for the rest of my life? When I was laying in the hospital bed, I thought only of two people: the person I love the most, and him. I made voice messages to them telling them how important they’ve been to me and how much I love them.

Does he know how much I still love him and how much I treasure every memory that touches anything related to him? That there’s never a time when I see something related to the Legend of Zelda and he doesn’t cross my mind? That I still think of him when I hear the line in Into the Woods, “Sometimes people leave you halfway through the wood.”

I love you, Nate.

I’m glad we gave it a try.

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My Thoughts On The Last Jedi (Part 2/2)

I have just returned from seeing Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

In part one of this lengthy expose, I talked about my feelings on Star Wars as a whole, and about the first six movies. I didn’t get into Episode VII very much and I probably won’t dive too deep into it here, because now I’m going to talk about what I really came here to talk about: The Last Jedi.

In short, I loved it.

I loved it so much that there were moments when I felt utterly captivated and I could understand, for a moment, why so many people have loved Star Wars for so long. I felt like maybe I just never quite found MY Star Wars film, the one that suited me and my generation and what I wanted to see. I suppose that since I’m a child of the nineties, the prequels would be considered my trilogy, but as I watched The Last Jedi I just couldn’t help but be impressed by every aspect of it.

It’s hard to know where to begin. First of all, this is certainly not an unbiased review, but I was biased AGAINST Star Wars going in, and expected absolutely nothing of it, not the least among the reasons being that it seems like most fans hate it (but then, as we discussed earlier, STAR WARS FANS ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE and will never be satisfied with anything), and Mark Hammill has made some… interesting comments about what he feels the writers did to Luke’s character.

I’m here to tell you, as a person who generally dislikes Star Wars, that I was well and truly impressed by this movie in every way. It felt like the movie allowed itself the space to tell a full story and utilized every moment they had perfectly, nothing was wasted. I’m not really going to do much of a plot synopsis here, but I’ll talk about the things that I find relevant. Also I guess it goes without saying but I may as well say that there will be SPOILERS for the film, and honestly if you haven’t seen it, I really think you should. And by the way, I went into the movie having had the whole thing pretty much spoiled for me on purpose. I specifically looked for The Last Jedi spoilers because I was vaguely interested in how the plot points and potential from Episode VII would be expounded upon in this movie. On paper, it would appear that the movie took all the potential from Episode VII, ripped it up, shit all over it and threw it out a window into space. None of the fan theories turned out to be right: Rey’s parents are (probably) not Skywalkers or Kenobis, Ben Solo didn’t turn good (well, not entirely anyway), Snoke is not revealed to be the long-lost Darth Plagueis (although I’m still kind of holding out hope that he might be), Poe and Finn are probably going to have a gay romance, and Luke… well, we’ll get to Luke.

It seemed to me like the change of director had been bad for the franchise.

I was wrong. As a matter of fact I think I’m really glad that J.J. Abrams left, because honestly I think his movies have the same run-of-the-mill, seen-it-all-before feel to them that I get from every goddamn superhero movie these days. But it does mean that the development of the film was tumultuous, going through several directors, and then of course there’s the very untimely death of Carrie Fisher, whose role as Leia is front-and-center in this film, and boy am I happy about that.

I’ve always felt Leia never really got the screen time she deserved, and was always a supporting character. In truth she still is a supporting character, but in a really appropriate way that I don’t think undermines her as a character at all. Carrie Fisher’s performance is wonderful, even though there are a few moments where her voice cracks pretty badly, but hey, Carrie Fisher has aged and so has Leia. The resistance members spend just about the entire movie locked in a space battle with the First Order’s flagship, maintaining a distance so that the First Order’s weapons can just reach their shields but not quite penetrate them yet, as the First Order slowly picks off all of their smaller ships and fighters. There is a moment when the bridge is blasted head on and every leader of the Resistance is sucked into space and killed at once, including Leia… but wait a minute!

Leia finally gets to have her Jedi moment and I think it’s executed absolutely perfectly. I call it her Jedi moment but really it’s her Force Power moment. We’ve always known that Leia is force-sensitive, but in the films she’s never really used the Force, apart from sensing the presence of loved ones. It might have felt silly and hammy to have Leia go on a badass rampage and start Force-pushing stormtroopers, or to whip out a lightsaber, so the way her Force ability is used feels completely organic and true to the character. When she’s sucked out into space, she’s seemingly knocked unconscious, but she begins to manipulate the particles around her and telekenetically pushes herself back toward the ship so she can be brought inside and rescued. It’s left vague whether she was consciously doing any of this or whether it was an instinctual act of self-preservation (I tend to think it’s the ladder), although her eyes do open if that counts for anything. Leia being bedridden, along with the loss of all the rebel leaders (including everyone’s favorite “It’s a trap!” trope namer, Admiral Ackbar) means that a hitherto unforseen character, vice-admiral Holdo, becomes the new de facto leader.

People seem to have a lot of opinions about Holdo, with some people feeling she’s the feminist icon Star Wars desperately needs, and others saying she is some kind of strange diversity-hire just put in to please the politically correct crowd. As always, people who think the latter are fucking stupid, because it couldn’t be father from the truth. Insert ANY character who happens to be a minority into a series, and it’s a guarantee that some fans will riot, saying that the producers just did it to appeal to “the PC crowd.” And by the way, what IS the PC crowd? Because it seems to me that if you insert a black character, the most you could be appealing to are black people, or people who don’t mind seeing a black person. So then, the only reason you’d be against seeing a black character is because… it’s because you’re racist, right? I don’t see any other alternative.

And it’s the same thing with Holdo. SOME PEOPLE (probably of the male variety, wearing fedoras and stroking their neckbeards while burping up some Mountain Dew) seem to think that she was shoehorned in so that the movie could say “Look at us, we have a female character in a position of power, HAND OVER YOUR MONEY, FEMINIST DROVES!” And also apparently some people are bothered by the fact that she has purple hair, a complaint so incredibly laughable in the context of fucking STAR WARS that I don’t even know how to go about adressing it. I mean, Yoda is a tiny wrinkly green muppet, there are green-skinned women with wet, mucus-covered tentacles poking out of their heads, one of the central characters is an eight foot tall Bigfoot that moans in a gargling whinny for speech, but yeah, it’s really the ONE LADY WITH PURPLE HAIR that strains credibility too far here.

At any rate, Holdo is the new commander of the fleet. Well, this trilogy’s Han Solo archetype, Poe, does not like that at all, and does like her methods. She wants to retreat and live to fight another day, ensuring the survival of the rebel alliance and sending a spark of hope to light a fire under the ass of the First Order. Poe would much rather be a swashbuckling hero, ride on in there and blow the shit out of their flagship (cause that worked so well when the previous heroes did that to the Death Star), and win the day for the Rebellion. They both have noble goals, and this is where we start to see what I feel is the central theme of this movie, the conflict between difficult decisions and choosing a path. Poe and Holdo both want what’s best for the rebellion, and while Leia agrees with Holdo’s philosophy, she does understand and secretly ALSO agree with Poe’s. But Leia is older now, and she’s not as willing to throw away innocent lives just to win a space battle, if that kind of thing can be avoided.

Meanwhile, back to the real meat of the story, we have Rey, who traveled across the galaxy to the homeworld of the Jedi to find Luke, who has secluded himself in shame after losing his apprentice to the dark side. We pick up right where the last movie left off, with Rey holding out Luke’s lightsaber to him. He takes it from her, and in a move that we probably all see coming, casually tosses it backwards over his shoulder. Don’t worry though, some Porgs find it, and in that moment they are ALMOST useful to the story and not clearly Disney’s attempt to merchandise a new adorable toy. Honestly I get why people hate the Porgs, they’re kind of cute in context but they do feel somewhat out of place and is it me or is their CGI kind of shabby? Oh well. That’s all I have to say about Porgs, really.

So, Luke. Mark Hammill has done several interviews now where he talks about he vehemently disagreed with the filmmakers’ writing of Luke Skywalker. Luke has become an island unto himself by sulking on a literal island in the middle of the ocean, ashamed and without hope at the loss of Ben to the Dark Side. He hates the Jedi, he hates what they became, he understands the turmoil they brought about during the time of the Old Republic, and he understands how meaningless legends can be. He knows that he’s a legend across the galaxy, but he also knows that a legend is not the real story. He’s done a lot of introspection, and in his despair he’s cut himself off from the Force. He’s isolated, scared, and ashamed. He’s in a dark and desperate place. Mark Hammill has said that this is completely out of character for Luke, it’s not something he would do. If Luke Skywalker saw that the galaxy was in trouble, he’d get off his ass and go out there and save it.

But you know, I have to disagree with Mark Hammill, and part of my disagreement is based on what a damn fantastic job he does portraying an angry and bitter Luke. The Luke we know was young, naive, and passionate. He didn’t have time to grow and learn, to be jaded by reality. Young Luke believed there was good in Darth Vader and was brave enough to go and face him to try and turn him to the Light. But old Luke is a veteran of the deadliest war in the galaxy, he’s seen so much despair and turmoil, and he had dreams of rebuilding the Jedi Order into something grand and beautiful. His hopes and dreams were dashed by Ben Solo. He’s lost everything he loves, and the galaxy that he fought so hard to protect is teetering on the brink of totalitarianism again, despite everything he did to try and save it, and he feels that it’s ALL HIS FAULT. He feels that he failed Ben, just as Obi-Wan failed Anakin.

And really, a LOT of what happens in this movie is a direct parallel to what happened in the original films. Obi-Wan and Yoda both went into hiding after losing Anakin to the Dark Side, and they both had to be approached by someone else asking for help (in Obi-Wan’s case, Leia) before they agreed to rejoin the fight. Obi-Wan wasn’t quite so depressed as Luke, but essentially they are in the same position. When Luke finally agrees to teach Rey about the Force, it’s a mirror of his time with Yoda, with him taking on the role of the grizzled old Jedi whose seen what happens when he fails to protect the galaxy from the Dark Side, and even though he has a lot of wisdom to pass on to Rey, they disagree on what should be done next, the same way Yoda and Luke disagreed on Dagobah.

I think that Mark Hammill missed the point of Luke’s sadness and isolation. The REASON that he’s acting so unlike himself is BECAUSE he’s in a rut, and he has to redeem himself. He’s only human, he’s allowed to fail, to make mistakes, to forget who he is, and then be forced to remember by a young idealist like Rey. It’s during Rey’s training with Luke that we also learn that Ben Solo actually had a legitimate reason for betraying Luke. It wasn’t because Snoke found him and seduced him into leaving the Light side, although that is a factor, it’s because Luke tried to murder him. Luke sneaked into Ben’s tent while he was sleeping, ignited his lightsaber, and stood over him, ready to murder him in his sleep. Luke later admits that this was true, although he had already changed his mind as soon as he’d ignited the lightsaber, but by then the damage was done, and Ben turned on him fully.

There’s also the interesting new development of Rey and Ben having a telepathic link that connects them at unforeseen moments and allows them to see and speak with one another. Rey begins to see Ben’s side of things, and Ben’s veneer of purpose and stoicism is breaking fast. He throws one of his usual tantrums in a lift when he breaks his helmet against the side of the wall, and spends a lot of time crying, but it’s clear that he’s on a path he doesn’t want to be on, but he’s confused and hurt, and doesn’t know where to go. He doesn’t WANT to follow Snoke’s path, but he also doesn’t want to return to Luke, who he rightfully feels had betrayed him. To her credit, Rey becomes infuriated when she learns that Luke tried to murder Ben, and the two of them have an impressing fight sequence, which Rey wins by calling Luke’s lightsaber to herself and igniting it.

The thing about Rey and Ben is that they represent balance and chaos. Rey has been our hero up to this point, but as Luke notices she has tendencies that could lead her to the Dark side. She continues to feel alone and abandoned because of her literal abandonment by her parents as a child, and she is particularly drawn to a cavern beneath the island which seems to contain some kind of deep, dark energy, although it’s never specified exactly what it is. It is somewhat reminiscent of Luke’s journey into the cavern on Dagobah when he had to face Darth Vader and found his own face inside Vader’s mask. In Rey’s cavern, she sees several versions of herself in a straight line, with her in the center, one side representing the past and the other being the future, each one moving right after the next. She attempts to learn the identities of her parents but she doesn’t.

And now both Rey and Ben have the potential to turn to the Light side or the Dark. I doubt that Rey will become the villain, but the important thing is that this whole movie emphasizes moral grey areas and the space between two extremes. The prequels were about the Dark Side, the originals were about the Light Side, and this trilogy is about the space between. When Rey and Ben finally meet in person again, each one thinks they can turn the other to their side. The confrontation with Snoke is fantastic, with him showing off his mastery of the Force and easily overpowering Rey, who begins fighting using Ben’s lightsaber when she can’t get to her own, which was formerly Luke’s. Snoke finally Force pushes her in front of Ben and gives him the opportunity to redeem himself in Snoke’s eyes and complete his journey to the Dark Side by snuffing out the only hope of the Light, but Ben finally stands up to Snoke and impales him by telekenitcally igniting Rey’s lightsaber and cutting him in half. There is this fantastic sequence rather afterward where Ben and Rey stand back to back, fighting off Snoke’s guards, finally on the same side. At the end of it, though, Ben does the same thing that Vader did with Luke, and holds out his hand in an offer for Rey to rule the galaxy alongside him. We see that Ben has the potential to overcome the Dark side, but he’s still unsure, still wavering.

It’s also around this point that Ben confronts Rey about her parents, saying that she’s known all along that they were never anyone important, just nobodies who sold their daughter for money and abandoned her, before leaving to go die a meaningless death and be buried in the desert. It’s unclear whether this is actually true, although Rey seems to agree, but there is a possibility it’s Ben attempting to turn her by extinguishing any hope that her parents might have been important or had a good reason for abandoning her.

I want to mention that I think Adam Driver does an amazing job of playing Ben, who’s such an emotionally volatile character. I also really like his fighting stance and movement, whereas previous Jedi’s have fought somewhat like samurai wielding katanas at one another, Ben is a berserker who stands with his feet apart, planeted on the ground, and moves slowly like a tank made of stone, barreling through enemies in his path. Rey is the opposite, swift and graceful, emphasizing once again how these two characters represent opposite extremes, and the grey areas between. There are several visual motifs that show this, and my favorite is when Rey and Ben are both attempting to pull a single lightsaber caught in the air between them, and their power is so evenly matched that the lightsaber breaks in half. Interestingly, this is also Luke’s lightsaber, and it’s one of the many times visual motifs represent the old guard of Star Wars passing the torch to the new characters. A lot of this movie is about Luke, Leia and the others handing over the galaxy and the Force to the newcomers, because it’s their time.

One final note about Adam Driver, I am really impressed and a little disturbed by how deep his voice is. I honestly can’t tell if it’s a vocal effect they used on him, but his incredibly low voice is unsettling. I couldn’t help imagining him saying “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me.”

HEY HOW DID THIS PICTURE GET HERE THIS ISN’T KYLO REN OH WELL LET’S JUST KEEP IT

But I digress.

The movie has a pretty long run time, which is fine with me, because everything seems to happen exactly as it should. And unlike other Star Wars movies, this one doesn’t have abrupt scene changes where the screen just wipes from one planet to the next, the characters hopping from place to place all over the galaxy, most of the action takes place within a few specific areas. There is a subplot involving Finn and a newcomer called Rose finding a master hacker who can get them into the First Order’s ship to disable their tracking mechanisms. It’s a perfectly good section of the film and the two of them do manage to liberate a herd of domesticated racehorses (or the Star Wars equivalent thereof), although there is a minor antagonist who I don’t think adds much to the story, but I guess we had to do something with Finn. Personally I don’t think this section of the movie is BAD, just that it’s a bit of a detour from the central action.

When Finn and Rose finally get on board the First Order flagship, it turns out that the sketchy rogue they hired turns on them at the last minute and hands them over to the First Order. It’s here that Captain Phasma makes her return, and I’d heard a lot of criticism saying that her fifteen minutes weren’t used very well. While it’s certainly true that she wasn’t on screen for a terribly long time, I thought she was perfectly effective and served as a good antagonist for Finn, who honestly didn’t exactly have the largest role in this movie.

Meanwhile, Holdo decides to evacuate the remnants of the Rebellion to a nearby planet with an old abandoned rebel base, and Poe stages a mutiny, taking over the bridge of the ship. He is stopped before too long by Leia herself, who walks in and blasts him with a stun bolt. Holdo elects to stay behind and pilot the ship while everyone else escapes, and while Leia knows this will involve Holdo sacrificing herself, she accepts her choice and wishes her luck. The two of them have a somewhat tearful parting in which they hold hands, implying that they’ve become very close friends during the time they’ve served together. Leia does seem heartbroken to lose someone else she cares about so soon after Han’s death.

Holdo does what I immediately suspected she would do, but admittedly I only saw it coming because Katherine Janeway did the exact same thing in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. She charges the ship up to lightspeed and then barrels right through the First Order flagship, cutting it in half. This results in Finn and crew being saved just in time by the destruction of the ship, and Finn having a final, but brief, confrontation with Phasma. Also they are at one point rescued by BB8 piloting a walker ship, which felt like a strain on credibility not QUITE equivalent to fish driving a truck in Finding Dory, but not ENTIRELY unlike it either. We do get to see Phasma’s eye through her helmet before she goes, so it was good to get to see her face.

As the ship falls apart, the half that’s still remaining operational fires on the escape pods, dwindling the entire Rebellion down to a handful of people, maybe a couple dozen, as they land on the planet’s surface beneath. This is where we enter the final act, and I have to say that there’s a visual element here that’s so brilliant that it saved the finale of this movie from possibly becoming a bit tedious. There’s a moment when the Rebels are in a trench and one of the captains walks out onto what appears to be a snowy landscape, only to leave what I genuinely thought was a trail of blood. I thought it was weird that this completely unnamed character would be bleeding, but one character puts his finger in it and then licks it and announces “it’s salt,” revealing that this planet is covered in salt that turns red when it’s touched – either that or it’s a red landscape covered in white salt, but either way the effect of this is startling good. During the ensuing battle between the last of the Rebels and the First Order, the Rebel ships skirt across the salt lands leaving a trail of red dust in their wake, making intricate patterns of red on a landscape of white, and blaster shots that hit the ground blow up puffs of red smoke, which gives this whole battle an excellent visual appeal, the kind of thing that was sorely missing from things like the original films’ battle on Hoth, which I find boring because it takes place on a bland snowy landscape.

There is a final moment on the Jedi homeworld where Luke is left alone, and he carries a flame to the tree holding the ancient Jedi texts, ready to burn the whole thing down. It’s now that Yoda appears to him as a Force ghost, looking and speaking like his older version from the originals (good choice on the part of the filmmakers), and when Luke hesitates to set the tree on fire, Yoda does it himself by calling down a bolt of lightning. Luke is flabbergasted at this, and Yoda cleverly quips “The ancient texts, page-turners they were not.” And he agrees with Luke that it’s time for the old Jedi order to die. It’s up to Rey and Ben to decide what happens to the Jedi now, and it’s time for the old masters to move on. Yoda gives Luke his usual dose of wisdom, pointing out that the burden of a master is to watch his pupil replace him and move forward into a new and different world.

Back on the salt-planet, the Rebels try their best but they can’t hold off the First Order who are fast approaching and blow a huge hole in the wall protecting them. Leia and the others wait for the end as the First Order begins approaching, and as the distress call to the remnants of the rebellion scattered across the galaxy goes out, they receive no response. Leia mourns that there is no hope left, and it’s at this moment that Luke appears in the doorway, wearing a black cloak. He kneels in front of Leia and they finally have a moment to reconcile, and he apologizes for failing Ben. Leia admits that she knows now that her son is lost, and there’s a beautiful moment where Luke kisses Leia on the head.

During most of the movie I was so interested in what was happening that I had almost forgotten Carrie Fisher died after filming in this movie and that this was her final film, coming full circle and ending her career playing Leia again. There are some really striking visual setpieces in this movie, one of them being Leia standing and looking out on the white saltlands with a veil covering the lower portion of her face, and another being Luke’s final goodbye to Leia as he kisses her on the head. I couldn’t help but notice that the love theme that played during Han and Leia’s scenes in the original movies makes a return for this moment and a couple of times in the movie during scenes concerning Leia, and it was an excellent touch. It really feels like this moment of Luke saying goodbye to Leia was also a moment of Mark Hammill, and all of us, saying goodbye to Carrie Fisher. She appears after this scene, but it’s a beautiful moment and I’m sure the filmmakers knew the kind of impact it would have on viewers after Carrie’s death.

Luke walks out alone against a fleet of First Order ships, and Ben has them unload all of their firepower into him, trying to ensure that he can’t survive. When Luke emerges completely unscathed, there is a moment where the viewer probably thinks “Oh COME ON, are we really overpowering the hero TO THIS DEGREE?” but it will make sense in a bit. Even I already knew the twist that was coming with Luke and was still startled by his appearing to survive being shot at by tons and tons of ammunition.

Ben emerges alone into the field to battle Luke. As I’ve mentioned before, the white-on-red terrain effect for this planet is brilliant, and provides a gorgeous set piece for the final act, and it really gives the impression of the land bleeding every time it’s touched. The blaster shots into the ground blowing up puffs of red smoke are like geysers of blood from the land itself, and Luke faces Ben in the bloody scar where the First Order just unloaded all their firepower. Within the rebel base, Leia and the others realize that Luke is drawing their attention to stall for time, and they notice that the local ice-foxes (a much better and more interesting creature than the Porgs, and actually relevant to the plot) have disappeared and have found a way out of the maze of tunnels. They follow them only to be blocked by a wall of rocks, and it’s now that Rey appears, obviously about to show off her force powers by lifting them out of the way. It’s a very good final deed for her character in this movie, because it’s something simple yet important, and also references Luke lifting rocks while training with Yoda, something he himself mentions earlier in the film when he says the Force is more than “just lifting rocks.”

Luke and Ben have a dramatic final battle, which ends with Ben dealing a killing blow to Luke, only to find that once again, he’s completely unphased. He presses his lightsaber against Luke’s chest only to find it goes straight through him, and Luke reveals he’s non-corporeal, as he’s been astral projecting himself this entire time. Interestingly, his astral projected form had a haircut and cool black battle robes. Presumably the lightsaber was real, though. A lot of people have been complaining about Luke astral projecting as it’s an ability that’s never before been shown in Star Wars. Well yeah, what’s that got to do with it? I mean, he’s the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy and he’s been living on the Jedi homeworld and reading their secret ancient texts, so it’s not surprising he would show off some new powers.

There is a beautiful moment where Luke shows that his hope is renewed, and that Ben is wrong to think that he’s finished the Jedi, as when Ben tells him that after he kills Luke the last Jedi will be dead, he tells Ben that he’s wrong, and he isn’t the last Jedi. I actually really like this because it implies that there is a last Jedi, but it’s not specificed who it is. We’ve seen the capacity for both Rey and Ben to be led to different sides of the Force, and that there aren’t really heroes and villains. This whole movie has the feel of reality, of bittersweet endings, of grey morality, of things not being so simple as there being a chosen one who fights off the forces of evil. It’s growth, and that’s something that Star Wars desperately needs. There’s also a nice reference to the battle between Obi-Wan and Vader (again, everything in this movie mirrors the previous films, with this fight being the equivalent of the battle between Vader and his older master, grown older and wiser over the years) where Luke tells Ben that “if you strike me down in anger, I’ll be with you forever, like your father,” as a callback to Obi-Wan’s line “strike me down now and I’ll become more powerful than you can ever imagine.”

Luke finally breaks off his astral projection and we see him flushed, exhausted, and completely spent. I don’t know if Mark Hammill really worked himself into exhaustion or if it’s just excellent makeup but he’s beat red and looks awful, it’s a very effective moment. Luke’s finale is a beautiful callback to his iconic sunset scene on Tatooine, with the same main theme playing as he looks out over the two setting suns of the Jedi homeworld, and meditates, floating into the air again, and leaving his physical body behind and dying to become one with the Force, in the same way Obi-Wan did when he died. At the same time, the remnants of the rebel alliance climb inside the Millenium Falcon and escape to safety, with Rey wondering how there can ever be hope for the Rebellion now.

The final scene is of a few slave kids seen earlier in the film, playing with dolls and talking about the adventures of Luke Skywalker. After being admonished by their owner, one of the boys walks outside and picks up a broom (is it me or did he Force-pull that broom to himself, just slightly), and looks up at the stars to see the Millenium Falcon jumping to hyperspace, giving the impression of a shooting star, and it’s revealed that earlier in the film, Rose gave her rebel alliance ring to him, and he stares at the sky with hope in his eyes. It’s a callback to Anakin’s time as a child slave, as well as a reminder about younger generations taking over as the older generation passes on, which is really what this whole film has been about.

So, I ended up expounding on the plot here a LOT more than I thought I would, but I’m glad I did. I was totally blown away by this movie, I daresay it may even have made a Star Wars fan out of me, for now at least. I was even tempted to go back and finish reading some of the earlier Star Wars expanded universe novels. But we’ll see how it all goes, I guess. Honestly I can’t recommend this movie enough, and if you’ve been brave enough to stick with me through both parts of this extremely lengthy essay, I thank you for it! I hope that if you’ve seen the movie you enjoyed it as much as I do.

On a personal note, part of my intentions in this new year are to do a lot more writing and posting to this blog as well as my Patreon where everything is cross-posted and earn my keep over there. If you like what I have to say and would like to hear more of it, feel free to come visit my Patreon page and lend your support.

May the Force be with us all in 2018.