Opinion: Why ‘The Last Jedi’ is my favorite Star Wars movie

The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective to the same topic discussed in this week’s podcast – digging deeper into “The Last Jedi.” Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!

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For a long time, “The Empire Strikes Back” was both my favorite Star Wars movie, and my all-time favorite movie, period.

It’s a pretty safe answer to give when you’re hanging out with a group of fellow geeks and someone asks you what your favorite movie is. Nobody is going to give you much grief for saying “The Empire Strikes Back.”

However, in the summer of 2018, I finally had to admit that answer had changed. “The Last Jedi” had been out for a while on home video by then, and I could NOT stop watching it or talking about it. My husband eventually said, “You know what? I think ‘The Last Jedi’ is your favorite movie now.”

I wasn’t sure at first. I mean, “The Empire Strikes Back” had been my favorite movie for so long that I didn’t think it would ever change. But I watched ESB and TLJ one more time, and I had to admit the truth: “The Last Jedi” was my favorite Star Wars movie ⁠— and now, by default, my all-time favorite movie as well.

Needless to say, I’ve received some grief — both online and in person — due to my love for the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and “The Last Jedi” in particular. But no other Star Wars movie has captured my imagination or moved me as deeply as Rian Johnson’s bold, challenging, and beautiful film.

I’ve already written plenty of blogs regarding the technical reasons I love this film: the gorgeous cinematography and perfect blend of sets and special effects; the amazing acting performances (I’d argue that collectively, TLJ has the highest caliber acting of the franchise); and John Williams’ always iconic score.

Instead, I’d like to dig deeper into why this film means so much to me, on a personal level. If you weren’t a fan of “The Last Jedi,” maybe this post won’t change your mind, but I do hope it will inspire you to see the film in a new light.

‘The greatest teacher, failure is’

When we read a story or watch a movie, we know that the main character is going to face challenges and struggles. They will experience self-doubt, and maybe almost abandon their mission, but they find a way to win in the end.

However, it isn’t as often that we see every major character arc in a story end in failure, like what happens in “The Last Jedi.” In this film, pretty much everyone makes mistakes and watches their plans unravel.

Rey tries to get Luke Skywalker to train her, and to turn Kylo Ren/Ben Solo back to the light, but she fails. Kylo Ren tries to convince Rey to join him, but he fails. Luke Skywalker tries to restart the Jedi Order and save his nephew from the darkness, but he fails. Poe tries to be a hero, but he fails — and ends up getting a lot of people killed. Finn and Rose try to recruit the Master Codebreaker to help them on a top-secret mission, but they fail.

You get the idea.

It’s hard to see our favorite characters experience such crippling failure, and it reminds us of all the mistakes we’ve made in real life. I know I’ve watched some of my hopes and dreams crumble in front of me. I’ve failed publicly, and wanted to retreat to a secluded hideaway like Luke did.

Yet the ultimate message of “The Last Jedi” isn’t that failure is inevitable and that there’s no point in even trying. As Yoda so wisely tells Luke, “The greatest teacher, failure is.” We can’t stop ourselves from making mistakes, but that doesn’t need to be the end of the story. We can learn from our failures, and work towards becoming a better person in the future.

“The Last Jedi” affirms that there’s always, always hope.

The masks we wear

In the months after “The Last Jedi” came out, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the movie and its themes, and it surprised me how much I found myself relating to Kylo Ren.

To me, one of the most fascinating parts of Kylo’s character is the fact that he wears this very distinctive mask, even though he doesn’t have to. Darth Vader needed his iconic mask to stay alive, but Kylo can very easily survive without his. So, why does he choose to wear one anyway, and why is it so significant when he smashes the mask in “The Last Jedi” and leaves it behind?

Kylo uses his mask to keep people at a distance, to project this image of strength and power, while deep inside he’s feeling broken and lost. It’s easier to be “Kylo Ren” when he wears the mask; he doesn’t want to have to face the fears, regret, and guilt that come with being Ben Solo.

Sometimes I feel like I also wear a mask; I pretend to be happy and smiling, even when I’m not actually okay. It’s hard to let people in and allow them to see what I’m really feeling, because I’ve been hurt before and I don’t want to be vulnerable again.

But as Kylo Ren discovers, living behind a mask is a very empty existence. While the marketing for “The Rise of Skywalker” leads us to believe that the mask is back in Ep. IX, I believe it’s only temporary. (Note: The Skytalkers podcast has recorded an absolutely fantastic meta about how Kylo’s fractured mask relates to the Japanese art of Kintsugi and the concept of transformative repair.)

I tell myself that I feel safer behind the “mask” that I wear, but in reality all I’m doing is trapping myself. If I set the mask aside, maybe I will get hurt. But I’ll also be able to make more meaningful connections, like Kylo does when he takes off the mask for Rey.

That’s why Ben’s redemption arc in Episode IX would mean so much to me (and I really do believe we’re getting “Bendemption”). Watching Kylo find freedom from his pain would remind me that I can do the same.

Letting the past die

In “The Last Jedi,” Rey wants to hang onto the past, and Kylo wants to let it all burn.

In the end, TLJ shows us that neither perspective is right. We can’t let the past hold us back, but it is also foolish to pretend that history doesn’t matter. The Jedi must respect the past and learn from their prior failings (it’s that theme of failure again!), and then evolve as they move forward into the future.

I love “The Last Jedi” because it both deconstructs and reaffirms the Star Wars mythos. It makes us view the franchise in a new way but still feels very much like a Star Wars movie at its core.

TLJ honored what came before and now has cleared a path for “The Rise of Skywalker” to take the saga in an unexpected and daring direction.

‘You’re not alone’

While I’ve been a hardcore Star Wars fan since high school, it’s only been more recently that I’ve started getting really involved in the Star Wars fandom online.

After watching “The Last Jedi,” I was so excited about the film and the story it told that I wanted to go online and geek out with other fans.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t always a positive experience. I encountered a lot of anger and negativity on social media, and it really dragged me down.

Finally, I got so tired of the discourse that I was seeing that I went in search of more positive spaces. And I’m so glad I did.

I started listening to the Scavenger’s Hoard podcast, and it was so wonderful to hear two women talking about Star Wars with the same level of passion that I felt. I eventually found other great Star Wars podcasts like What the Force, Skytalkers, and Lipstick and Lightsabers. I also found a really fun, diverse Star Wars community on Twitter.

If it wasn’t for “The Last Jedi,” I might never have found these great fandom spaces, and it’s inspired me to be more outspoken as a voice of positivity.

Sometimes it’s still hard, especially when certain fans ⁠— even in public — treat me unkindly. There’s a fan who came up to me in an amusement park, saw I was wearing a Star Wars jacket, and then eventually started lecturing me on why I shouldn’t like “The Last Jedi.” Another time, when I went into a store to buy supplies for my Rey cosplay project, the employee who was helping me talked about how the new Star Wars movies were bad and then ignored me and kept talking when I tried to say that the new movies were my favorites.

It’s not fun when people try to drown out your voice, but I’m determined to not let others get me down. Talking about “The Last Jedi” has actually given me more confidence in regards to sharing my opinions and my perspective publicly.

In fact, I loved TLJ so much and was so hyped for Episode IX that earlier this year I went to Star Wars Celebration in Chicago all by myself. As someone who’s been plagued by anxiety for most of my life, doing things alone like getting on a plane, staying at a hotel, and going to a convention can be challenging. But I did it, and I had a great time, and I’ll always look back on that trip as a time of personal growth.

Overall, Star Wars means a lot to me (but you probably already guessed that). I’m not going to let the negativity that sometimes plagues this community win, and I’m trying to do my part to keep the Star Wars fandom a positive, diverse, and welcoming place.