SPOILER WARNING!!!!!! This is a discussion about the Star Wars saga and it’s mythology, and thus I spoil every movie in the series sans Rogue One. You’ve been warned.
To start off this post, an aside; I’ve been rewatching my favourite show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in lieu of its 20th anniversary. It’s been an absolutely rewarding experience, as it usually is, but when I’m in the middle of the rewatch my thoughts fly back to the comic book continuation with Dark Horse. I was 16 when Season Eight started, and it immediately lost me after the third issue because they changed something that I did not like and ruined a moment in the series for me.
It’s been nearing 11 years since the continuation began, and I’ve never really been that interested in picking them up, though I kind of dip in and out to see what direction they went in. I’m kind of passed my initial ire at the series for this change (though, from what I heard, it’s not the only…questionable decision the books made), and kind of come to the realisation that I personally don’t feel that the show should have continued in any capacity. As bad as the final season was, I think the note it ends on is fine, and they were clearly running out of steam by that point anyway. Stories have their endings, and Buffy’s was done.
Why I’m writing all of this is to say, if you wish to drop something and move passed it, I completely understand. At the same time, if you enjoy the Buffy comics, more power to ya. I would never want to invalidate your enjoyment of a property simply because it doesn’t reach my vision of how it should play out.
With all this said, and to reel it back to the point of my article’s title, if you are done with Star Wars because of The Last Jedi, great. It does not fit your vision of Star Wars, you have the expanded material, you’re happy to let people enjoy things. No issues here. Let’s talk about the people who are really irate with TLJ and the direction it (may have) took the franchise, and are definitely holding onto that anger and want the movie completely invalidated, because to be honest I get the rage.
In a previous article, I wrote that part of Star War’s general oeuvre is laying tribute to movements in the science fiction genre of yore (amongst other things), and whilst Lucas was inspired by adventure serials or politically-motivated science fiction of his past, the current vanguard were influenced by, well, Star Wars. I also stated that they’d have to do something interesting with Episode 8 and beyond to stop this from being repetitive and stale. I’d argue they did with The Last Jedi! It deconstructs Star Wars lore in the same vain that The Force Awakens embellishes it. I think that’s great! At the same time, though, I can see where people’s anger towards these changes are stemming from.
I find it interesting in what kind of way this movie seemed to bother people, because it seems to be more about fundamental differences in how the story was handled and what it says about the Star Wars mythos than the actual quality. Hell, a lot of people that dislike TLJ will at least admit they are technically competent. The story structure is a bit of a mess, and some moments are either kind of dumb or look weird, but overall this seems to be an objection to the philosophy of what The Last Jedi is saying. And that is fascinating to me, because not only do I really dig what it’s striving towards, but it’s almost as if what they’re doing is intentional. Like they wanted Star Wars fans to be pissed off over this movie.
The movie focuses heavily on the theme of failure, which echoes heavily throughout Rian Johnson’s work. They fail, however, in a specific way-that is living up to the legacies of those left behind. Poe Dameron fails to be a brash but competent soldier taking charge to win the day like the Rebellion fighters before him. Kylo Ren fails to live up to the legend of his grandfather by being impetuous, insecure and conflicted in a way that Vader never was. Rey fails by following the binary teachings of the Jedi and redeem Kylo much like Luke redeemed his father. Finn just fails to be in this fight entirely-it’s why the Canto Bight stuff is way more important than people make it out to be. He is the one that learns the lesson that he is failing by not living up to what’s come before. Then there is Luke.
Luke’s journey is the most interesting because he’s not trying to live up to the legacy of others and failing; he failed to live up to his own. That’s why I dug his moment of madness with Ben so much-he trusts the Force, but moreso he trusts his own name. After all, he is Luke Skywalker, and cannot train a Sith Lord. I love the Roshomon-style retelling of the encounter; it adds to this idea about how stories are twisted to suit a preferred narrative. That’s what we do with stories-hell, in a lot of ways, that’s what we did to these stories! We put Star Wars in such a comfortable box that, not only do the writers expect it to live by its own legacy, we do too.
The Jedi are cool. Can we all agree with that? They’re bad-ass quasi-monks with awesome powers to lift shit, manipulate minds and cut you the fuck down with their awesome laser swords. They have laser swords! And yet the series doesn’t seem to really love the Jedi? And not just this movie is guilty of it. Obi-Won and Yoda are in hiding at the beginning of the Original Trilogy. While Obi-Won at least is protecting Luke, Yoda doesn’t seem all that interested in doing anything to make a difference. They both lie to Luke about Vader being his father, seemingly with the intent that they wish for him to kill his father to win the war. It’s Luke going against that plan that saves the day. The Jedi in the Prequels get easily manipulated by Palpatine and used to take over the Republic to form the Galctic Senate.
I’m not saying they have to be perfect-in fact they’re boring if they are. But they are constantly showed to be either failing or flawed. This is best exemplified in Anakin Skywalker, who’s constantly failed by the Jedi and their inability to reach out to him. Yet they are revered, made the stuff of legend. In universe and out. Rey learns the pretty difficult lesson that a figure she idolised is flawed. Broken, defeated and completely rejecting his Jedi teaching, even going so far as to cut himself off from the Force. Here’s the thing though; it’s still black and white. Still an absolutist view. I think, in a way, Luke knows that. Look at the reverent way he speaks about the Force, look at how he greets Yoda or the fact that he hasn’t burnt the Jedi texts. If there’s one thing this film hates, it’s absolutist views. After all, who deals in absolutes, again?
The Last Jedi deals with legacy, and how failure tends to be written into that. After all, the greatest achievements in our own legends had to have happened by human failing, why else would things go wrong in the first place? The ostensible ‘good guys’ in a series about war cannot always be stalwart and true. That’s what I love about the Canto Bight stuff-it shows Finn and us the true cost of this war. Systemic inequality and greed from a class completely unaffected and detached from the true consequences of the battles they are arming, completely due to an institutional oversight and desperation to defeat the enemy. And the ‘good guys’, the Resistance in this case, absolutely add to the war profiteering. Part of accepting what our legends mean is understanding where they inevitably fail.
Let’s look at Poe, who is kind of a microcosm of this theme. He’s a born-to-die soldier and charges into battle with one operative; to weaken the enemy by any means necessary. That’s likely the legends he grew up with-something we all can relate to. We grew up with tales of the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to push one more step towards victory. And yet he’s portrayed as being pigheaded and foolhardy because of this. Leia, the seasoned and battle hard army general who has lost a lot in her 30+ years of fighting, demotes him because his actions cost them soldiers, even if it destroyed a powerful enemy ship.
Now, as underwritten as Holdo can be in places, her function for the story is clear; we are not meant to like her initially. She’s authoritative and cold to Poe, expecting him to follow orders without question or letting him in on the plan. But the entire point is that she is doing something seen as ignoble-she is fleeing in order to save their fleeting army. Just like Leia, the difference is if this had been Leia we would have trusted she was doing the right thing and not been on Poe’s side. Fact of the matter is Holdo has no reason to trust Poe, especially considering they don’t know how the First Order are tracking them in lightspeed yet (something our gang neglects to inform them). While he certainly showed his valor by blowing up an important enemy ship, he did so deliberately disobeying a direct order and you can’t really take much chances after your entire admiral fleet had been wiped out and the only survivor is in a coma. The funny thing is Poe finding out did cause Holdo’s plan to fail, but this was even an oversight by her because ironically if she had trusted him with the full plan he likely would have kept it to himself.
This is the legacy of the valued soldier turned on its head and questioned whether it’s always the right decision to go out guns a-blazing. You lose valued soldiers and you complete affect morale. Poe learns this after realising Holdo’s plan and witnessing her sacrifice-a sacrifice just to give them time to escape. Same with what Obi-Wan did in A New Hope, same what Luke does at the end of this flick. We see his growth as a leader and soldier dedicated to his cause rather than winning by showing him pulling away from the battering cannon rather than lose any more people. As Rose said, they’re going to win by saving what they love, because what’s the point in defeating what you hate if all you have left is death and destruction?
That’s why Finn’s arc is so important, moving back to him. He realises that the legacy this war is leaving is just dead soldiers and rich aristocracy, and he’s more devoted than ever to change that. Free those slaved children if he can, by defeating the First Order as a united front rather than lone soldiers. He goes from a man devoted to one person, to seeing the poisonous legacy of war, to Rebel Scum, to a willing sacrifice in the grand scheme of things, to being more connected than ever to winning this war for Rey, for Poe, for Rose, for BB-8, for all he has found in this new weird little family he has created. Fitting, given The First Order made him an orphan. Truly committing to the Resistance puts him in a better legacy; one that promotes connection and hope over self-interest and a thirst for power.
Let’s look at Rey and Kylo, whose arcs are completely wrapped up in the destiny of the Jedi and Sith. Both grew up devoted to these stories for different reasons; Rey’s was essentially survivalism, and Kylo’s was a thirst for power and purpose. It’s why the reveal of Rey’s parents is so great-it strengthens her character as somebody who bought into a lie to believe that they loved her and abandoned her for a reason. Kylo can see through this because he had parents who did love him, and shows complete animosity to them. What they learn from these experiences differ significantly, and it’s where The Last Jedi gets a lot of its strengths.
Kylo, from the start, begins to reject this destiny path the past and his own ambition have made for him. This is symbolised with him smashing his mask, which he created to imitate his idol Darth Vader. With his bond with Rey making him realise the errors of his being manipulated by Snoke and that culminating with him murdering his mentor, he concludes that the past is full of failure and it should be burned. He sees the legacy of the Star Wars saga and rejects it for his own. Here’s the thing, though, and despite the way they pretty much talk down to Star Wars reverence, the film doesn’t take his side. I mean, even ignoring the fact that he’s the villain, they have a more nuanced take on how we incorporate our legacies..
Rey learns that her heroes will let her down, the legends she looked up to were whitewashed, in the grand scheme of things she really means nothing to this story. And none of this matters, what matters is what it means to her. Accept the flaws, accept the flawed interpretations, but use what you have learned from this and grow from the experience. Because it’s not about putting these legends of old on a pedestal, it’s about taking what they did and applying them to your own life. Forge your own path, use the legacy to inspire but not to lead. That was the trap Luke got into, living up to his own legend and that of the Jedi, and what he realised that he is not the last Jedi. He is not some special figure to be admired, because all of this is bigger than him, than whatever pompous lessons these old dudes in robes passed down. It’s bigger than Rey, and why it’s her time to shine. Obi-Wan realised this when he sacrificed his life to help Luke escape, and Luke realises it and does the same for Rey and the Resistance.
That is the legacy of Star Wars. Or at least that’s what it should be. That’s why Luke dies at the end of this film instead of the next one (Carrie Fisher’s unfortunate and unexpected passing has put a dampener on this, but nobody was prepared for that). That’s the point of the final shot-to move it to more metatextual imagery, we didn’t play with our Star Wars figures following the story and lore to a tee (I mean, you may have…). We made our own adventures. And this world is too expansive and fun not to embrace that.
And I get it. I totally get why this may have rubbed people the wrong way. These stories are important to people .And it’s also entirely possible that this isn’t why people didn’t like TLJ-it’s not without its issues. But I’ve seen people say it completely tarnishes a held up belief and legacy of Star Wars, and frankly I think it needs to do that. Whether you agree with Disney’s direction the franchise is taken or not, it shouldn’t be held up to the standards of your childhood attachment to these stories or supplementary material you may prefer. As is your right-just like it’s my right to not consider the Buffy comics worth reading. But I won’t try to remove the status of those books in the eyes of fans who liked them, just like I don’t think it’s fair to hold Star Wars to such a high regard that people feel like the series is just dead because of their personal taste in a film. It’s bigger than that.
I’ll admit that some people are taking their defensiveness of their liking of this a little too far. The one time I will ever agree with horsehoe theory is when it’s applied to fandoms. I think it’s important to gain some perspective on how we shouldn’t let our personal feelings get in the way of other people’s assessments of films. Maybe the most important lesson The Last Jedi can leave behind, be it in narrative or from the general reaction to its supposed failings, is that sometimes the things we love are no longer made to where we’d like them to go. And that’s okay, we either embrace the new or leave it behind for others to enjoy. I got exactly what I wanted from this film, but that may not be where you wanted it to go. And that’s cool. May the Force be with you.
Can we at least all band together and agree that Shirtless Kylo Ren is a treasure?