Last week, like nearly everyone else in the world, Amy and I went to see The Last Jedi. It’s been a family tradition for the last three years now, starting, of course, with The Force Awakens. Sometimes my parents do this as a present for us, pre-Christmas. This year, my sister April did the honors. We’re a Star Wars family in that sense.
Like The Force Awakens and Rogue One, The Last Jedi was flawed, exciting, exhilarating, emotional, it ticked off all the boxes I wanted from a Star Wars movie. Plus, Rian Johnson, a director new to the franchise, added some touches that I thought were just brilliant, as true as they were painfully true. Sometimes you do have to let the old things die. I don’t necessarily agree with Douche Vader that you have to kill them, necessarily, but torches are made to be passed. This is as true for Star Wars as it is for anything.
There are many things in The Last Jedi that didn’t work for me. I agree that Finn’s and Rose’s side quest went on a bit too long. The Canto location didn’t bother me—it was a high class Mos Eisley, just the scum and villainy dressed better and had the ability to oppress this time around. But without it, we wouldn’t have met Benicio Del Toro’s “DJ” and we might have gone on believing that every scoundrel out there is a secretly altruistic Han Solo. I didn’t love Luke’s character arc and apparently neither did Hamill, but his needs for the character seemed to be more complicated than Ford’s needs for Solo.
Fans hate Luke’s downfall and isolation. Even Hamill said, “Jedi don’t give up.” Well, Mark, in this case, a Jedi did. So did the Jedi that found him. So did the Jedi that trained him. You’re part of a vicious circle of Jedi abandonment. Obi-Wan and Yoda both fucked off. So did Luke. You’re a product of your own environment. And a 25-year-old Luke, full of hubris, having just defeated the figurehead of the Empire, got greedy and wanted to create more Jedi. And he failed. And in failing, he ran away. Just like Obi-Wan. Just like Yoda. This is one of Lucas’ endless echoes, the ones that rippled all through the ill-advised “prequel” trilogy. It just feels…what? “Unearned” in the Abrams-era Star Wars?
I like Leia’s “Force walk” through space. I find it charming when Star Wars people remember that space is a vacuum, that you shouldn’t hear ships explode, or whine as they whizz by, banking on non-existent air. Leia’s tentative link with the Force, due to familial ties, has been hinted at forever. Why wouldn’t it manifest itself to save her life? Or was it the cliffhanger cheat—used throughout the previous 8 films—that enraged so many?
I loved the women in charge, as pilots, as grunts, and as admirals. My family is rife with strong women. As Amy said, “I grew up thinking I could be a princess. The Last Jedi showed me I could grow up to be Red Leader.” A new generation of little girls, my nieces included,are going to see those opening scenes in the film and grow up to be pilots, astronauts, engineers. It’s long since time they saw themselves represented. To the MRAs with their knickers in a twist over it: I have nothing to say to you. Scream and whine and light all the tiki torches you want. The Jews didn’t replace you, your womenfolk did. And you gave them the moral authority to succeed you.
I loved seeing Yoda return as a puppet. It was nice to see the squishy face that doesn’t look at all like E.G. Marshall. While the Editor part of me felt that maybe this scene could have gone away in favor of pacing, but the writer of me knew that it was absolutely necessary, to show that Yoda, even as a ghost, is still a gleeful little lunatic who understood that The Force, and mastering it, didn’t require any display of physicality. As for the sacred texts, “Page turners, they were not.”
The Sacred Texts. That “Expanded Universe” stuff with Skywalker twins and a Solo family filled with villains. (I actually don’t know a lot about it, beyond that the EU has legions of pissed off fans that the canon was jettisoned, hence a lot of pre-emptive anger towards The Force Awakens a full two years before it was released.) A lot of the complaints seem to be that every fan had a special fanfic adventure mapped out in their head, living there for twenty years, and not seeing it fulfilled in multimillion dollar Technorama made their hearts hurt.
Truth be told, for its faults, The Last Jedi is a very adult Star Wars film, and I think that trend, starting with Rogue One, is off-putting to many. DJ’s declaration that arms dealers get rich by selling weapons—to bad guys and good—was an uncomfortable truth few wanted to hear. We want Star Wars to be clear cut, good against evil. The Abrams’ era isn’t about that. “Villains” in white armor can have hearts of heroes. Vicious killers can be buffoons, but because they’re buffoons with power, they can be slapped around, but still be in power. Unstoppable figureheads can be betrayed just as well as they betray. Heroes aren’t always heroic—Luke says as much at least twice. Heroes can still wind up dead. Villains can be conflicted about their actions, particularly when they realize that they’ve been wrong all the time, but just can’t admit it.
What bogged down things down for me was the double-dip rehash of taking down yet another superweapon. Now the First Order has portable planet killers, and I have to ask: for what purpose. They already knocked out five or six star systems in The Force Awakens. At the rate they’re going, who will fall in line and bow to their superiority? Not even porgs like them.
What fans never seem to realize when arguing so viciously about movies like this, and especially this film in particular, is that the movies give you something to talk about. Whether you loved it, hated it, started an idiotic masturbatory petition to have it “stricken from canon”, whatever that is supposed to accomplish, you’re talking about it. And now, it seems, people are discussing important issues about fandom in general.
Why can’t there be people of color in the universe, beyond Lando and that one black cloud city pilot whose figure sat on remainder shelves until 1994? Why were Leia and Mon Mothma the only women within 12 parsecs? And why is asking those questions considered some hideous declaration of being an “SJW”? (A derogatory term whose derogatory nature I still don’t fully understand.)
I go into Star Wars films utterly biased. After the previous trilogy, I went into The Force Awakens with immense trepidation, but came out damp-eyed and smiling. The same with The Last Jedi but for vastly different reasons. I was always a Han guy in spirit, but at heart, I was always a Luke too chickenshit to strike out on my own. I was always looking at setting twin suns. So I go to Star Wars to recapture that. In the Abrams’ era, I’m getting that again. The wonder, the fantasy, the sometimes out-of-place humor that still gets me (the prequels contain nary a quotable line in the three).
But the ultimate take-away, the thing that almost brings me within slapping mode when confronting some people, is Rose’s last line: “This is how we win. We don’t fight what we hate; we save what we love.”
Right now, fans hate The Last Jedi, they hate each other, they hate dissenting opinions—and I get it. Every person on earth has a private relationship with the Star Wars series, even if it’s only to say “I don’t like Star Wars.” It’s become, over time, another religion. And the them of The Last Jedi is: it shouldn’t be.
Because Johnson’s script, and even what holes exist, treated Star Wars fans, for the first time, like maturing adults. Yes, we all wanted to feel like kids again, but we’re not kids. Not those screaming the loudest, ironically. We were supposed to grow with the series, and Johnson acknowledged that.
[Now, I’ll admit to a certain proprietary feeling over Johnson because he’s one of us. He’s an indie guy who clawed his way up, never gave up. The only difference between him and us is he knew Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And if you haven’t seen Brick yet, you have done yourself a great disservice. So suffice to say, I was backing Rian 100% well before the first frames of the film ran before my eyes.]
With this script, Johnson said, ‘Hey, yes, this is escapism, but there have always been some unavoidable truths in there. Usually it’s about friendship, loyalty, doing what’s right. But the ‘70s and ‘80s are over, the ‘90s and the emptiness we felt then: that’s gone. The current state of the world, things aren’t black and white any more. We’re fighting an unstoppable enemy and we’re doing so with a decimated army. They are probably going to roll over us, but there are still allies out there who will answer our call if we send it. In the meantime, sometimes we have to follow crystal cats out of the cavern if we ever want to see daylight again.”
In this labored metaphor, I don’t know what the crystal cats are in our reality. As far as I can see, we’re still trudging through the cave with the hope that there’s a light there. We’re hoping someone is on the other side (Rey or a Special Prosecutor) who can move those rocks before we are destroyed. And yeah, we might be beaten down, but we’re not done.
That’s what I wanted. I wanted emotion, I wanted almost intolerable suspense, but I also wanted a hint that good guys can still win. Fuck, I need to believe that. I think most of us do. Because in the world around us, one that Star Wars is increasingly mirroring, the bad guys win every day and the good guys seem relatively powerless. I’m looking all over the place for a crystal cat right now—something to shine the way.
Like everyone else right now, SW fans are allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good, which is ridiculous because not only is “perfect” subjective, it doesn’t exist. At all. Full stop. End of story.
Everything is flawed. Sometimes, the flaws we see in someone are what we love the most. Sometimes a flaw should be necessarily overlooked for the very reason that nothing is perfect. Everyone who believes something perfect will have their hopes dashed by the first person to come along and say it isn’t. We are a society still comprised of small tribes. Instead of spears and rocks, we hurl insults and invectives. We have to get over this. We have to let the past—grudges, feuds—die.
This is Star Wars for the foreseeable future. This is still Star Wars for us, but specifically for those who came after us. If you can’t accept it, then perhaps you have to let Star Wars die for yourself. It’s not like Abrams snuck into your house and removed all the previous releases, tie-ins, toys, ephemera that fill our homes all over the world. Those things still exist. Your childhood was not “raped.”
If you cannot accept a universe that echoes, but still evolves, then, yes, Kylo Ren is right. Otherwise you’ll never be satisfied.
Too many fans turn eagerly towards the Dark Side, ignoring the lessons of the past they are so eager to preserve. Fear leads to Anger leads to Hate leads to The Dark Side.
Which side do you want to be on? Your ten-year-old self already chose. Listen. Save what you love. And grow.