Why “The Last Jedi” is the Most Star Wars Movie to Date: A Defense

Okay, first, a content warning:

This write-up is 100% a direct response to the extreme outpouring of hate certain “fans” have had, and continue to have about Rian Johnson’s addition to the episodic story of Star Wars. There are numerous, caps-lock-taped-down, furious rants decrying the personal attack the movie was to their senses.

I think it’s important to note that I am all for having opinions about the media we consume. It’s kinda a big part of my gig and all that. But I cannot stand by while terrible logic and false entitlement are utilized to condemn. Even more so, I will not tolerate personal attacks against the artists behind the work because their interpretation did not follow your narrow vision.

Heck, TLJ isn’t even my favorite Star Wars. It’s up there, certainly, for full disclosure. But, it is the most Star Wars, in many, many ways.

In short, I don’t mind if you disagree with me. Really, I encourage it.

Just don’t bring a blaster to a lightsaber fight (for added effect, imagine the sound of me turning on a lightsaber right here. It’s Sam Jackson’s purple one from the prequels, because I’m already this far in to disagreeing with folks, right?).

Luke Skywalker got the Ending of a True Jedi

If there is one most-contentious thing from this film, it’s how Luke’s story is told, and concluded (Oh. Spoilers. But really, you’ve seen it at this point.). We see Luke go from being the strong, courageous hero of the Rebellion, to a curmudgeonly old hermit, absolutely bent on not rising to the call.

I think there’s a few reasons why some people don’t like this choice, but none of those reasons make it the wrong one (in fact, most of them actually affirm why they were made).

First off, Luke Skywalker is not, and never should be viewed as a Mary Sue. If you’re unfamiliar, a “Mary Sue” is a character meant to be a form of wish fulfillment, practically perfect in every way, and someone whom the audience can project on to because of their blank, universal interpretation.

I think a lot of (let’s face it) men are so offended by seeing Luke make cowardly, weak decisions because they have projected so much of themselves on to him, and have difficulty separating choices made for the character from a personal attack on their own character.

The problem is, Luke can’t be constrained to wish fulfillment. He is written as a three-dimensional person, with impossible circumstances put on him. His choice to remove himself, and prevent what he interprets as further harm is exactly the kind of decision a real person would make.

Then there’s the choice to have Luke Force-project himself to Crait, rather than to really come and face off with Kylo and the First Order. Why wouldn’t Luke do the right thing, and come face his death like a MAN (just in case it’s too subtle, sarcasm)?

Well, two reasons. For one, how? In case you missed it, Luke doesn’t have a working spaceship. His x-wing has been festering in the ocean for years, and even if he mind-deadlifted it out, it’s busted (a wing of it is literally the door to his hut). Second, y’all already trashed the expansion of Force powers (more on that later), do you want to add interstellar warp-speed Superman flight to that list?

More importantly, having Luke choose a passive, neutral method of helping his friends was one of the most beautiful, full-circle decisions they could have made for his story-arch. So much of him was wrapped up in forcing his way through things, which was ultimately his downfall. By submitting to the Force, he followed the true way of the Jedi. He made peace, and never struck anyone. Remember, Luke never beat Vader, or the Emperor. He begged for help, and submitted. In other words, he didn’t win by fighting what he hated, but by saving what he loved.

He died at peace, and became one with the Force, following in the footsteps of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and his redeemed father. That’s good storytelling.

“BUT!” the horrible cacophony of Internet voices all cry out at once, “MARK HAMILL HIMSELF SAID RIAN JOHNSON MADE BAD CHOICES FOR HIM!”

While it is true that the actor made at least some comment about the direction of the character early on in the process, he has since come back to defend the choices time and time again. Also (and I hope this doesn’t blow your mind), Mark Hamill is not actually Luke Skywalker (collective gasp). Yes, he plays the character, and yes, he has infused a lot of his own personality in to Luke, but that doesn’t mean he gets carte blanche over the decision-making process. He is an actor. A very good one, mind you. But an actor. His job is to interpret and present the concepts and words of brilliant writers and editors. Luke Skywalker is so much more than him, and I believe he knows that.

Vice-Admiral Holdo is an Amazing Hero

Man, there has been a lot of pearl-clutching over Laura Dern’s character. She did some absolutely unforgivable things, like “being a good leader,” and “rightfully assuming the shouting lunatic hotshot had no business knowing plans.”

Sure, I’m laying it on a bit thick here, but c’mon. Holdo is an amazing character with some insanely good choices, who’s being condemned by virtue of her not being either already familiar or a man (you’ll notice a running theme of machismo and masculinity being shot down, because I really think it’s a the core of a lot of people’s “arguments”).

The internet at large has been quick to point out certain assumed failings in her leadership, to which I, again, have two responses-

First, every action she took was completely reasonable, and within the best interest of the Resistance. If we were seeing Poe through her perspective, we would have kept him out of the loop too. He’s a jerk, insubordinate, and had just been drastically reprimanded by someone she respected before assuming leadership.

Second, who says she has to be a perfect leader? Are all people in authoritative positions over your own life batting a thousand? It is so much more interesting to see people reacting truthfully to situations than it is to see them always winning no matter what.

And as @seraph76 so eloquently put it on Twitter:

If you think Holdo’s hair or fashion sense disqualifies her from leadership in a universe with LITERAL SENTIENT FISH-PEOPLE UN-IRONICALLY CALLED MON CALAMARI, then you’ve got another thing coming, mister.

Last thing on Holdo- the crash in to the First Order fleet will go down as one of the strongest, most poignant decisions in filmmaking. That moment will be required learning in cinematography classes down the line, and you can quote me on that.

Leia Finally Gets the Respect She Deserves

All hail the General.

Leia Organa is one of the most important characters in cinema history, let alone in Star Wars. She’s been subverting gender expectations since the 70’s, and showing what a bold, empowered, devastatingly awesome woman was capable of. The late Carrie Fisher has been a wonderful, feisty ambassador for the character. Her passing is a tragic loss for both Leia, and the world.

Leia has always been in charge, but up until the recent films, that wasn’t often an assumed thing by the rest of the universe around them. She is the commanding officer and leader of the Resistance, and TLJ really highlights her for all the right reasons. Her decisions are law, her authority unquestioned, and her vivacity untainted by the passage of time. SHE is the role model we needed. She doesn’t have to be young/dainty/attractive/exposed/objectified to be worthy of prominence in the film.

Now let’s talk about the space walk.

Full disclosure, I wasn’t necessarily a fan of how that played out. But I get the logic and understand the choices, so I accept it as a part of the narrative.

Star Wars has been introducing the gravy-in-hat ridiculous to us since its inception. It’s not like folks went in to A New Hope with a full, canonical understanding of every aspect of the Force. Ideas like moving things with your mind, and jumping, like, super good weren’t even introduced until later films. It has always been an ever-changing narrative device, open to the conceptual interpretation of the creators behind the films. It is just magic by a different name, and we shouldn’t limit our expectations of magic based only on what we’ve already seen.

Objections to implementation aside, it is so, so good to see Leia getting a definitive acknowledgment of her abilities with the Force. She only really had gotten assumed winks up until that point, and it always related to having Luke-messed-up Spidey-senses. So no, Leia doesn’t just have the equivalent to the Force-vapors. Leia is STRONG with the Force. Pull-yourself-out-of-the-vacuum-of-space strong. Break-the-laws-of-physics strong. Slap-Poe-right-up-in-the-face strong.

Real talk? I bet you that Leia Force scene will age like wine. After a few years, it won’t matter how good the graphics were. The original Star Wars trilogy has some downright cringe-worthy special effects in retrospect, but it doesn’t matter. The story is what sticks, and it’s a good story choice.

Rose Tico Might Just be the Most Important Character in any Star Wars Film

Let’s start with the most important thing: Our behavior toward Kelly Marie Tran as a geek community has been abhorrent, and we should be ashamed. I know we weren’t all the problem, but we all need to be a part of the solution. Even if an actor’s portrayal of a character was the worst (her’s was very far from that), nothing, NOTHING gives us the right to attack them for it. Kelly, if you somehow see this, I’d like to apologize. We’ll do better, and you keep going. We need you.

Now, Rose. As much as I highlighted the potential negatives of too closely identifying with a character earlier, it is paramount that viewers of impactful films find something to identify with, and aspire to in a character. Rose’s greatest strength is being an extraordinary ordinary person. No Force abilities. No fancy weapons. No foretold destiny.

Rose Tico is the person I hope I have the courage to be.

She claws her way out of unfair circumstances, joins a cause she believes in, suffers immense personal loss, and immediately following that crippling tragedy still has the chutzpah to close-range taze a personal idol for stepping out of line, and make his stupid trooper-butt fall in love with her anyhow.

AND she’s still a good person, despite having every reason not to be.

I could go on for pages about the very valid reasons for needing gender and POC representation in these films (really, I could, and I’m sure I wouldn’t do it justice), but even if you set all that aside, Rose is the standard we should be putting up on a pedestal, regardless of race, identity, or creed.

When Rebellions are won, it’s because of people like Rose.

Maybe, Just Maybe, This Movie Isn’t for You

Now I could keep going and break down every new character introduced in the recent films, but rather than belabor the point, I think I can hit the big thing.

Characters like Rey, Poe, and Finn have upset people for not being “Star Wars-y” enough, which is a roundabout way of certain fans not having their own ridiculous, nostalgic, ultimately boring anticipations met.

But, what does it mean to “be Star Wars?” In my only-moderately-humble opinion, it is to tell the hero’s journey through the lens of the time which it is crafted. By virtue of this definition, Star Wars films will not, and can not be the same as what has come before them. We, societally, have altered (or better yet, refocused) what we define as heroic over the last few decades, ultimately for the better, and our media reflects that. Sure, some elements remain timeless- good often remains good. But think about the new lessons we can learn from The Last Jedi, as it holds a mirror up to us:

  • Being a hero doesn’t necessarily mean winning; it means trying.
  • If the world is changing, you can still find your place in it.
  • People will always be against you, but they won’t always be enemies.
  • One person can stop an army from far away, if their words are powerful and their presence tangible.
  • You don’t win by condemning the negative, but by reaffirming the positive. Again, by saving what we love.

Now, I think those are some good general truths, but they’re obviously not resonating with everyone.

So here’s the hard truth- This is still Star Wars, but maybe not YOUR Star Wars. And that’s okay.

There is an entire generation growing up with these new films, and having these truths spoken over them through these characters and stories. It is tailored to them, and will engrain in to their zeitgeist.

Go ahead and skim those lessons above again. Do you think it is a bad thing for a kid to learn those? More to the point, do you think it is more important for you to get that sweet kick-flipping Skywalker than for the next generation to see an old man at peace?

Important is the key word here. Star Wars is important. Yes, it’s entertainment, and yes, it’s fiction, but I practically knew how to make lightsaber sounds before I knew how to talk. It binds us, surrounds us.

This is our society’s lore, just like the parables and stories people have been telling for ages. They change as we change, get better as we get better.

So let’s get better.

And may the Force be with us all.

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