This sequence begins with the dialogue preceding the action. Supreme Leader Snoke has our heroine Rey in hand, and he’s confident that padawan Kylo Ren will strike her down (which doesn’t usually have consequences, as I understand it). The villain chatters on about destiny while Kylo surreptitiously turns the lightsaber toward him, a tense scene culminating in the shock of Snoke’s assassination. Rey and Kylo barely have time to make eyes because now the Praetorian Guard have been activated. It’s sensational, when “Oh, shit” transitions directly into an action scene, this one which makes the best use of the Sequel Trilogy’s disappointingly more grounded approach to lightsaber combat.
Strangely, when Kylo Ren holds the lightsaber out close to his face, scanning his enemies, I’m reminded more of Jurassic Park than Star Wars, with the John Williams score evoking memories of raptor attacks. Where most Star Wars lightsaber battles between a Jedi and multiple opponents are effortless – hats off to the IG-100 MagnaGuards for getting Obi-Wan to at least pay attention – this one hews closer to a dangerous situation. Might as well be Dr. Alan Grant facing down the velociraptors. As a YouTube commenter points out, while Kylo is more careful, Ren is swinging wildly, missing often, leading to my favorite moment in the scene: her war cry. I think Daisy Ridley’s bellow is modified just slightly for an echo or reverberation, but in concert with the whoosh of the lightsaber, it’s a revelation of sound design.
Underscored by the uncertainty of these characters’ paths going forward, the fight is appropriately desperate, and I feel it. It’s in the performances and the choreography, and I appreciate that it isn’t in the camerawork and editing. We’re smooth and confident here, not erratic and unreadable. Like any good Star Wars, this allows a showcase of new toys, the Guards, who do look a bit more toyetic than I’d prefer. The design is interesting, though, recalling the samurai roots of the series, but updating the Imperial Royal Guard was always gonna be an uphill battle.
Then there’s the setting, Snoke’s throne room, which has a fighting game level of death traps. I hadn’t noticed on my own that the stark red background is eventually revealed as curtains which burn up and give way to the more traditional view of space. I’m not entirely sold on it, being inorganic, with an almost college poster vibe. Like, who in all the Star Wars would install those curtains and to what end? In practical terms, it’s a far cry from the space battle background of the opening duel in Revenge of the Sith, which felt like the apotheosis of Star Wars.
However, the upside is the anarchic destruction of the setting itself. My favorite moment in the recent K-drama Hellbound was when our thought-dead heroine tackles one of the fundamentalists through an office wall, which was so much catharsis after seeing fanatics beat many people to death with bats, including her mother. It isn’t just the violence against the bad guys, it’s like what Trinity says in The Matrix Reloaded: “I’ll bring that whole building down.” Nothing makes you feel better than smashing stuff. In the case of The Last Jedi, this works more on a thematic level, as I didn’t even notice that suddenly we were looking at space. And as the sequence culminates, we then transition into further thematic plodding, but for a shining moment, the Sequel Trilogy gave me something primal and affecting.