WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
I was born in 1980 at the height of the Star Wars craze. While I never jumped all in, I had the requisite amount of love and appreciation that a young boy should have growing up (i.e. using a flashlight as a light saber, trying to lift the dog up with the Force – the usual).
In 1988, I watched “New Hope” and “Empire Strikes Back” back to back and experienced my first ever “What?!” shock moment when it was revealed that Darth Vader – the scariest “bad guy” I had seen to date – was Luke’s father.
That moment not only devastated my perception of good and evil, but it sparked my interest for story-telling.
Star Wars had undone what culture had grown accustomed to. The bad guy was supposed to be the bad guy. The good guy was supposed to the good guy. There was no such thing as internal conflict in mainstream entertainment and there could absolutely be no crossover.
Yet here we were, faced with the most conflicting and confusing relationship in the galaxy.
Since that moment, the bar was set for me for any and all Star Wars movies.
- Is there a grand macro-mission being executed whilst the hero conducts his or her own micro-mission / battle?
- Is there a cool light saber fight and a cool star…war?
- Is there complex internal conflict?
That’s it. That’s all I need and if those are the metrics for assessing whether “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is good then, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is good.
That said, in the days following the film’s release, a surprising backlash swept through the internet as large pockets of loud fans criticized Rian Johnson’s approach to the franchise. Among the things that were criticized: (I repeat. Spoiler Alert)
- Luke Skywalker being a crotchety old man and not fighting.
- A new definition for the Force and consequently a blatant misrepresentation of the Force
- Leia using the Force to fly through space
- Kylo Ren and Rey using the Force to basically Facetime with each other
- Punting on who Rey’s parents are / were
It would seem that any director of a film in the Star Wars canon, apparently must somehow meet the demands of 40 year fans as well as capture the hearts and imagination of the next generation of fans for the next 40 years.
Those could not be two more opposite goals.
On the one hand, Johnson must depict the classic characters as core to the plot while also giving himself flexibility from a film making standpoint to be able to pivot and allow for the franchise to be built on the shoulders of a new set of characters.
Choose a side, Rian Johnson and bear in mind that each generation views the other as the dark side. Hence the criticism.
Let’s do a deep dive into the backlash.
Luke being old and angry:
I believe older fans are upset by this depiction because it represents how they are viewed by the next generation. They have always identified with Luke and at this point, they are the same age as Luke. As such Luke is cynical, angry, reclusive, and convinced he has no more impact on the pandemic crisis of culture.
Conversely, younger fans who identify with Rey are upset with the depiction of Luke because it fuels that sentiment that they are being mistreated by the previous generation. Rey is hopeful, figuring out what she wants to be in life and here is Luke – this folk hero – stifling her development and evolution. Is Luke, “The Man?”
Everyone take a breath.
Here’s Luke’s therapy notes:
- He never knew his mother
- He found out that his father was the most murderous villain in all of history.
- He had his hand cut off by said father.
- He watched that father kill another father figure.
- He then watched his father die at the hands of his father’s father figure.
- He was exiled like 3 separate times.
- He started Jedi University only to have it destroyed by a student.
- He met Rey and realized that there was actually no need to pour his life into Jedi University, live off of weird animal urine/milk and fish for 30 years because apparently, the Force is just…around.
Maybe he’s just old and cranky?
The Incorrect Use of the Force:
In the earlier Star Wars films, the Force was essentially an internal gift that was exclusive to only a certain type of person with the requisite training, lineage, or experience. Such a gift gave that individual the capacity to overcome any and all circumstances if harnessed either with 100% moral intentions or 100% immoral intentions.
Does this sound at all similar to the older generation?
In “Last Jedi,” that gift has morphed into more of a sensibility – one that is essentially available to anyone and everyone. This sensibility, when tapped, rather than either being used entirely for good or entirely for evil can be used for anything so long as internally or externally, there was something or someone balancing it all out.
Does this sound at all like the next generation?
Now, consider the practical uses of the Force. In “New Hope,” Luke channels the Force to lift an X-Wing Fighter out of the swamp. He then uses the Force to essentially eliminate the distractions around him and fire his cannon at a tiny target that would ultimately destroy the Death Star.
In “Last Jedi,” Rey and Kylo Ren do employ the Force in the traditional ways, however, the majority of the movie has them using it to communicate with each other in a glorified screenshare.
Times have changed.
(Now the Leia-floating-through-space thing, ok, that’s taking things to another level, but isn’t that essentially the point? There are no limits. There are no rules).
The criticism surrounding the filmmakers decision to deem Rey’s parents as “no one,” appears to be less about closure and more about how “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” unceremoniously dispatched of Luke and Han without somehow linking Rey to them.
I believe it was the right move.
The early Star Wars characters carried a lot of baggage. Whatever issue it was that plagued any character in the earlier films, that issue had a direct correlation to some relative. To keep this pattern going and continue to pay homage to characters from 40 years ago, from a filmmaking standpoint, would be logistically untenable.
I don’t know the filmmakers intent, but it would seem that punting on Rey’s parents was a way of creating a new backdrop for Star Wars thus eliminating the need to have to rely on the cache of Luke, Leia, and Han to carry the franchise. Additionally, J.J. Abrams and Johnson both must have seen the limitations another ancestral loop centered on Rey would have created. Case and point – look at Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in Episodes 2 and 3. Their characters literally had nowhere to go because their characters’ arcs were already well defined. Unless George Lucas had chosen to include a romantic comedy between Episode 2 and 3 and call it Star Wars: Sleepless in Mos Eisley (Episode 2.5), Christensen’s and Portman’s performance were all about arriving at a character already established rather than building an entirely new one.
Instead, the franchise opted for new blood and struck gold with Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Davis, all of whom have the bankability and talent to become the next iconic characters, and withou being hamstrung by history.
The franchise is in good hands and the possibilities are endless, which in a franchise based in space, should be the case.
All in all, I enjoyed the movie and I’m excited about the future. I also happen to love the old movies as well and I’m nostalgic about the past, and you know what, I think that’s ok.