Initial Thoughts on The Last Jedi (SPOILERS!)

Monday, 18 December 2017

Okay, I am a massive Star Wars nerd – probably only a few pegs down from ‘walls of unopened Star Wars action figures in their original packaging’-level nerd – so I’ve obviously been extremely excited this year to see The Last Jedi.

I went into The Force Awakens with hope but scepticism – I’d never been disappointed by Star Wars before (yes, I do enjoy the prequel trilogy) but I’ve seen so many reboots and remakes and sequels go wrong, and Star Wars is my thing. The thing that has stayed with me my entire life, that I still adore to this day, that I literally have tattooed on my body. Much to my delight, I ended up being blown away by the combination of nostalgia, new direction and some of the best representation we’ve seen in a fictional movie world so far. Similarly, I went into The Last Jedi ultimately hopeful, but still not knowing what to expect, and knowing that there were so many unanswered questions that I may not end up liking the chosen answers to.

Unexpectedly, I wasn’t really sure what I thought when I left the cinema. “This isn’t going to go the way you think” was an understatement Luke, and as it turned out massively foreshadowed a number of different elements of the film. I walked away invigorated but confused by my own feelings; it didn’t end with me wanting to jump out of my seat with thunderous applause like I had with The Force Awakens. It wasn’t until I had time to reflect on it that I realised just how much I enjoyed and genuinely appreciated it.  I’ve heard others say it and I wholeheartedly agree: it may not have been what we wanted or expected, but it was what we needed.

I thought I’d include some of my early thoughts here, but be warned: there will be spoilers. Stop reading now if you haven’t already seen The Last Jedi!

You have been warned!

The Force

The Force is, obviously, integral to Star Wars and something that features heavily in canon and Expanded Universe lore, but it’s something that many of us have felt we already knew the limits of. We knew what to expect – Force push, maybe some mind tricks, lightning if you’re into that, all that good stuff. The Last Jedi shattered these expectations and used Luke and Leia in particular, but also Snoke, Rey and Kylo Ren to dip its toes into a wider world of what the Force really is.

We finally got to see Leia actually use the Force – not as a trained Jedi, not wielding a weapon, but as a seemingly dormant survival instinct that kicked in just as she was about to die. In true Carrie Fisher style, it was almost as if Leia simply wasn’t finished yet and was unwilling to check out until she was ready.

Luke’s use of the Force has apparently been a controversial one, but it was absolutely the display of Jedi power that we needed to see and I didn’t fully pick up on it until we saw him back on the island at all. We got a glimpse of the immense power that those of us who are familiar with the EU know Luke Skywalker wields – not in the form of an epic lightsaber battle but in the form of a grand but pacifist and elegant trick that brazenly exploited Kylo Ren’s weaknesses and that, to me, was 100% fit for a Jedi Master.  Mark Hamill in this movie was also utterly incredible, but I plan to go into this in another post.

The connection between Rey and Kylo Ren engineered by Snoke was another hint at elements of the Force that haven’t been explored before – we know that people can have connections and sense feelings through the Force, but having a ‘physical’ presence in the way we’ve experienced with these two (and Luke) in The Last Jedi is new and unfamiliar territory. Regardless of whether or not it was Snoke’s doing, it was a clever way to bring the two of them together without having to somehow get them to end up in the same physical location, and created a vulnerable intimacy that I found really compelling. And for the record, that’s even as someone who hates Reylo as a concept, but I’ll get to that another time because I disagree that the film suggests it’s even a thing moving forward.

The Theme of Identity

The cast and crew thought that Rey’s backstory and lineage were done and dusted with The Force Awakens, but with the massive amount of interest from fans evidently needed to address it and put it to rest once and for all. Assuming that Kylo Ren isn’t lying or manipulating Rey in some way, she (and we) now know that her parents simply weren’t important. I find this a huge relief, not just because I didn’t personally want to see any other Skywalkers or Kenobis or what have you, but because it’s integral to the theme of identity that runs through the film.

Kylo Ren and Rey are two sides of the same coin; in addition to being representative of dark and light, they’re both trying to navigate who they are and find their places in the universe. Rey is the nobody thrust into a world of adventure and heroes and expectations, who constantly looks to her past to try to find meaning and her place and purpose in the circumstances she’s found herself in. Kylo Ren is the reverse of this; he’s consumed by his family’s history and, unlike Rey, burdened by his lineage and the expectations placed upon him because of it.

Their stories and their desires to solidify who they are run parallel, and ultimately end with Rey realising that Maz Kanata was right all along (“the belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead”) and choosing the Light, while Kylo Ren casts off Snoke’s shackles and finally refuses to be a tool endlessly compared to his grandfather, but unfortunately makes the decision to choose the Dark and create his own ‘empire’ as he wishes it to be without being under the thumb of another. Both find themselves by abandoning their pasts, but they choose to embrace dramatically different futures as a result.

It isn’t just the younger characters that struggle with identity though; Luke experiences his fair share too and unlike Rey and Kylo Ren who look to their family for answers, he’s burdened by the weight of his own legacy. He maintains that he isn’t a legend, that he isn’t a master, that he has nothing to teach Rey. With the help of a couple of blasts from the past, he finally comes to term with his mistakes and lets go of his own history and failings, embracing the legend of Luke Skywalker one final time to give the galaxy not the version of him that he believed in, but the version of him that it needed.

Our Perceptions

Tying in somewhat to the idea of identity in The Last Jedi was the running theme of perception. It’s a huge element of Kylo Ren’s turn to the Dark Side – we see two different versions of that night in Ben Solo’s room before we finally see what really happened – and is touched upon by DJ when he brings up who funds the excess and oppression of the Canto Bight rich, as well as played with for individual characters like Rey, Admiral Holdo and Luke himself.

In Return of the Jedi, Obi-wan said to Luke: “…you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” and this is called upon again and again in The Last Jedi. Our point of view determines whether or not Luke was attacked by an already dark Kylo Ren, if he attempted to murder his nephew, or if he contemplated it and ultimately decided it was wrong. Our point of view determines whether or not Canto Bight is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, people just making a living or a simple necessity in the reality in which we actually live.

The concept of our point of view can also extend to Luke’s final showdown; I didn’t catch it until I read about it and listened to podcasts later, but there were numerous hints to suggest that he wasn’t really there. Yoda mentions in The Empire Strikes Back that Luke always looked to the future, never where he was and what he was doing – it seems that he jogged Luke’s memory with this too, and it ended up being what Luke was able to use to buy the Resistance time to flee. Kylo Ren lacks the same focus on the here and now, and missed all of the same tells that gave Luke away that I did. Kylo Ren perceived Luke to be there, and looked no deeper than that.

Political Statements

The Star Wars films have always been a statement about war, about good vs evil and have even explored some elements of politics in the prequel trilogy, but I’ve never seen mainstream Star Wars make as many overt, political statements as The Last Jedi did. I didn’t love the scenes on Canto Bight in and of themselves, but I loved the messages that they tried to convey and the purpose that they served in the end.

Rose hates the city of beauty and wealth and wishes she could tear the whole thing down, and Finn doesn’t see why until he sees the disparity and oppression when he looks at things a little more closely. They’re both then forced to grapple with the reality that it isn’t just the First Order who are buying weapons from these obscenely rich arms dealers, but the Resistance, too.  It suddenly isn’t as black and white as ‘good against evil’ anymore, although they maintain the need to pick the right side.

I didn’t take to the scenes with the children right away, but when I sat back for a moment I really embraced the imagery and the story The Last Jedi tells with the kids in the Fathier stables and the Broom Boy at the end of the movie. When it comes to the bigger picture, I took away that anyone, from anywhere, has the potential to change the universe; the boy looking up at the stars and dreaming of the legends of Luke Skywalker and the Resistance fighters he met harks back to Luke first staring off into the twin sunset, hoping to one day be a part of that change himself. On the smaller scale, it feels to me like a nod to the new generation of Star Wars fans, the ones who are looking up at the stars and embracing the future – the fans that these new movies are really for – instead of those dwelling on the nostalgia of the past.

Combined with the other elements of the movie, whether it be the idea that change is possible and worth fighting for, that heroes can come from anywhere or that there’s always a place for you (in the world in general, or in Star Wars as we can now come to know it), these scenes ended up being really emotional, heartwarming and hopeful for me.

Oh, and being vegan I couldn’t let the apparent, subtle plant-based leanings slip through the net. Luke’s drinking the milk (on top of being a wonderful way for him to show Rey ‘hey look I’m not that great look at me I’m a gross weird old hermit man, leave me alone’) and Rey’s obvious discomfort with what just happened, coupled with Chewie caving into porg-pressure and the use of the Fathier racing to illustrate the injustice and cruelty of the upper classes of Canto Bight were a very unexpected accidentally (I assume…) vegan message!

I loved The Last Jedi. It may not have been what I had expected or had hoped for, but it nevertheless exceeded all of my expectations and has been a movie that has grown on me the longer I take to think about it. I may not have loved everything about it, but it’s left a stronger impression than I thought it would, and both is and represents everything I hope Star Wars continues to be from now on.

Expect some more musings as time goes on! What were your first impressions of The Last Jedi?

Review / Joik Soy Wax Scented Candles

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

When the temperature starts to drop and the evenings get darker, most of us gravitate towards things that make us feel warm, cosy and comforted. Autumn and winter can be a dark and dreary time of year and, depending on where you live and what your daily routine is like, you may struggle to get a good look at the sun for days or even weeks at a time. I know back when I was working earlier hours this time last year, I’d leave the house before the sun rose and be back after it set, with no time left to actually enjoy the daylight and soak in the fleeting rays of winter sunshine.

I know plenty of other people who enjoy all things hygge and love a good candle at any time of year, but the thought to light one doesn’t usually cross my mind until the seasons start to shift. Most of my favourite scents are spiced, cold weather fragrances, and I tend to find candles more enjoyable when you get to see the soft, flickering candlelight dancing in the darkness of a chilly winter’s evening.

I’m not much a connoisseur of scented candles, but I’d heard about Estonian brand Joik’s candles before and had been on the hunt for some more natural alternatives to more commonly found paraffin candles. They fit the bill pretty nicely – they’re made of soy wax, and promise high quality and a lasting, true fragrance that can be difficult to find in many natural candle brands. They come in a range of delightful scents, and of course the ones that called out to me were Cinnamon Bun* and Gingerbread*.

I could smell these candles as soon as I opened the package they arrived in, and long before I decided to burn them they added a spicy, cinnamon sweetness to the room I’d left them in. Although both carry a festive spice to them, Cinnamon Bun has a much sweeter scent than Gingerbread, and smells nearly identical to a freshly baked cinnamon bun smothered in sticky, vanilla icing. It isn’t overbearingly sickly in the slightest (in fact, it smells delicious and as if I’d been baking without any of the effort) but it may not be suited to those who don’t enjoy food-based, sweet scented candles. Gingerbread is also delectable, but is a slightly more ‘mature’ smell with notes of cardamom, clove, ginger and the like, and is perfect for the holiday season.  I’ve been burning this throughout December so far, and it was a wonderful addition to the evening we put up our Christmas tree.

Both candles fill my home with fragrance when lit, and can be noticed as soon as you open the front door. Even when left to rest for days on end, they still give the room a subtle but welcoming sweet, spicy smell. These are advertised to burn for around 30 hours when used as recommended, and so far even after regular use the wick hasn’t burned down particularly far in mine. Each candle is £13.50 from, which is comparable to mainstream brands like Yankee Candle and cheaper than many other natural, soy wax-based brands. Even if that does seem like a high price tag, these make perfect luxury gifts and come in a variety of different fragrances for all occasion. Spiced smells may not be your cup of tea, but they also have many different floral, fruity, sensual, fresh and other smells from hot chocolate to strawberries and wine to ones inspired and named after cities and moments.

What are your favourite kinds of candle to burn at this time of year?

* This review is not sponsored and has not been paid for, however the product was sent to me free of charge. All views and opinions expressed are my own.

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