MASSIVE SPOILERS FOLLOW. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.
Or, you know, you don’t care about spoilers.
Not going to make a mystery of it: I loved The Last Jedi. Possibly it will end up as my favorite of all the Star Wars films. Sure, it has some flaws (newsflash: EVERY Star Wars film has flaws) but overall, it’s a big yes from me.
I loved new characters Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). Young (and young-ish) cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Tran, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, and Domhnall Gleason, are winning and pump a lot freshness into the story. Carrie Fisher is magnificent and oh, God, I miss her so much and can’t accept that this is her last appearance in a Star Wars film. Writer/Director Rian Johnson does a stellar job with the action scenes, especially the Battle of Crait, with his incredible use of the color red. I’m SUPER-glad that the previews that teased a Rey/Kylo romance were misleading. (Sorry, I know there are a lot of “Reylo” shippers out there, but no, no, no, I don’t want to see him redeemed with a romance.) Yes, I even loved the porgs.
But what I loved about it the most is what seems to have annoyed some long-time fans the most.
When A New Hope was released (before it was even known as A New Hope) I was seventeen years old. That made me about the same age as Luke Skywalker at the time (and, of course, Leia).
I’m going to tell you a secret I’ve held inside me for forty years: I never really cared for Luke that much. To me, he was a whiny little twerp who happened to have one great gift and, it turns out later, an impressive pedigree. I loved Leia and Han and the Star Wars universe as a whole, but Luke was kind of meh to me. Which I assumed was on purpose, since he resides within a specific type of protagonists: the mediocre-except-for-one-thing fellow who is the Only One Who Can Save Everybody. (Harry Potter neatly fits into that group, too.) An everyboy whose skin young viewers can inhabit and see themselves as the Only One Who Can Save Everybody.
Consequently, I’m not that surprised at the pushback by some fans against the film. There’s something comforting about the idea that there is one special person out there who can save us from ourselves. The Chosen One trope not only inhabits storytelling, it exists in real life, where some people become enthralled by demagogues, and others wait for another Chosen One to save us from the demagogues.
With The Last Jedi, Johnson pretty much upends the idea that Luke—or anyone else—is a Chosen One who will save the world, or in this case, the galaxy.
I can’t begin to tell you how this version of Luke Skywalker affected me. I almost stood up in the theater and declared, “Oh, my GOD, I’m Luke Skywalker!” Because I GET this incarnation of Luke in a way I never got Original Trilogy Luke. Disillusioned, tired, disappointed, questioning life choices, and just plain PISSED OFF that battles won long ago have to be fought all over again. (All of this comes through in part because Mark Hamill gives the performance of his career.)
The same could be said about Leia and Han in The Force Awakens. It did hurt to see that bright, brave pair with so much potential ahead of them turned into an estranged couple who had failed as parents. But Leia and Han were realists from the get-go in a way Luke was not, so their disillusionment was not that shocking.
I’ve felt for a while now that Star Wars has always shown both sides of the Chosen One trope, and as I’ve mentioned before (in my tribute to Leia after Carrie Fisher’s death) I see Leia as an eloquent argument against it. This is even more the case in The Last Jedi, where we witness a moment when Leia uses the Force is a remarkable feat of self-preservation. Beyond feeling changes in the Force, up to that point she has chosen not to use her Force sensitivity. Seeing how incredibly powerful she could have become is almost disconcerting (and wonderful). If Carrie Fisher had not passed away, we may have learned in the final chapter of this trilogy that she never used it out of fear of becoming like her father—or her son.
The Last Jedi, contrary to some declarations, is still very much rooted in monomyth. Where do people think mentor and antagonistic characters come from in the first place? The best and most memorable are usually heroes who went on a hero’s journey in the past. Stark examples exist in the Star Wars universe already: Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. Or how about Obi-Wan, who blamed himself for his former Padawan Anakin turning to the dark side? Perhaps because we didn’t see the young Anakin and Obi-Won until the prequels, their older selves were not as shocking as Luke’s.
The original film was called A New Hope, not The Only Hope. In fact, when it seemed Luke might not measure up, Yoda and Obi-Wan knew they had Leia as a back-up plan.
Each trilogy has been about mentors grooming students to become the new leaders, but maybe because we saw Luke as a student, it’s hard to adjust to him in the role as teacher. The same could be said for the way Leia is so hard on HER student, Poe, who she harshly rebukes for his recklessness.
Another reason I love the film is because, FINALLY, someone acknowledged everything that is problematic about the Jedi. (Which I wrote about in my post about Darth Vader.) Not the religion, especially (I think it’s important that the texts survive at the end of the film), but how the Jedi had become legends in their own minds—which is why they kept failing, and one reason the Empire rose in the first place.
And yet, and yet…Rey tells Luke that perhaps what they need right at that moment is a legend. The final scene of the children on Canto Bight brings this home beautifully. One is telling the story of Luke Skywalker to the other children.
The new hope at the end of The Last Jedi isn’t one person—it’s the many who will be inspired by Luke and the Jedi.
This may not have been the Star Wars movie some people wanted, but I’m convinced it’s the one we need right now.