Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an unexpected meditation on human weakness
(with some liberal political correctness clumsily thrown in)
Let me state upfront that I really enjoyed this Star Wars film despite some awkward moments, plot holes, weak secondary character development, and a seemingly pointless side quest to a casino planet. However, this is not a film review. This is an analysis of some of the themes presented within the film, so Star Wars fans who accidentally stumble upon this post should probably vent their frustrations elsewhere.
While the critics love the film (93% on the rotten tomato meter) passionate Star Wars fans (early audiences) appear to be deeply divided (only 56% like it according to reviews on the same site, as of 12/18/17.) Most of the frustration, disappointment and anger seems to focus upon one particular element – the portrayal of original Star Wars hero Luke Skywalker (seemingly the strongest central characterization in the film).
NOTE: UNAVOIDABLE SPOILERS AHEAD
While critics are pleased with the character depth in Skywalker, the fan base perhaps feels like they’ve lost a childhood hero. What is different about this Star Wars film? Perhaps a realistic portrayal of human weakness in the saga’s central character. Luke Skywalker is portrayed as a reluctant, fearful, angry, and remorseful old man.
This human weakness is not reserved solely for the Lightside of the Force. The Darkside has its human weakness on display as well, in the deeply conflicted character of Kylo Ren (aka Ben Solo).
Nobody is left unscathed by the end of The Last Jedi, not the Lightside, nor the Darkside; not the Rebel Alliance, nor the First Order. Nobody. The damage is spread pretty evenly across the playing field, which is unusual for a Star Wars film (particularly a middle chapter).
It’s still not clear what Disney has in mind for the saga, other than to milk as much cash as they can before George Lucas’ untapped cash cow drys up (a metaphor straight out of the film, a very awkward and unnecessary scene involving Luke Skywalker milking an alien sea cow, yikes!)
Upon reflection, after seeing The Last Jedi there does appear to be a campaign to let the helium out of the last official holdout of pure idealism left in Hollywood – Star Wars, a franchise creator George Lucas admirably tried, but ultimately failed to protect from Hollywood appropriation.
Just as JJ Abrams transformed the Star Trek franchise, stripping everything that was noble, idealistic, and hopeful about Star Fleet, The Federation, and their Prime Directive. Star Trek’s cinematic transformation “Into darkness” was a red-hot mess, remaking Captain Kirk into an adolescent imbecile who complains about the boredom of a five-year mission. Similarly Rian Johnson has stripped the idealism, optimism, strength and nobility from Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi Knights.
In the case of The Last Jedi, however, I don’t see the result as black or white. There are positive and negative aspects to Luke’s story, depending upon what you are seeking from the film.
[NOTE: I don’t agree with the narrative choices that Disney/Abrams/Johnson have made for Luke Skywalker’s story arc. I believe their narrative fundamentally betrays the character George Lucas originally created. There is insufficient backstory presented to justify Luke’s radical character change. However, looking at the film in isolation, there are some postive aspects to this alternative characterization.]
Luke Skywalker has exiled himself from his friends and family. He lives like a hermit on the edge of the galaxy, much like his former mentor did, Obi Wan Kenobi. (And yet I had the sense that Ben Kenobi retired on Tatooine to keep a watchful eye on young Luke.)
Luke turned away from the Jedi order because of his failure to teach his nephew, Ben Solo, his failure to lead him to the Lightside. In many ways, the back story of Skywalker and Ben Solo/Kylo Ren mirrors the back story of Albus Dumbledore and Tom Riddle/Voldemort from the Harry Potter novels. Both elder mentors saw the darkness in their young magical pupils, yet failed to alter their destiny. Both elder mentors suffered the same remorse and consequence. Is this intentional or perhaps creatively borrowed?
In the case of Dumbledore, the back story was fully explored over several books. In the case of Skywalker, we only get the briefest description and a flashback. Unfortunately, the scarcity of the back story weakens its overall credibility, but that doesn’t hinder the wonderful performance that Mark Hamill delivers.
The expectation to see Luke Skywalker as a Jedi Knight in his prime, fighting the First Order, is long gone. Skywalker is now an old man dealing with his own mistakes and his own mortality (something Millennial fans are not quite ready to understand). Dealing with our weakness is a very human thing. It’s a grown up thing. It’s a heart-and-soul-centric thing. My initial fear was that Disney was going to throw Luke to the Darkside, and that’s not where I wanted to see my childhood hero land.
For me, the strongest, purist, Star Wars moment in the entire film is when the ghost of old Yoda appears. He still sees Luke Skywalker as the same impetuous, cocky, yet fearful student he trained on the planet Dagobah so many decades ago. As expected, Yoda offers some of the wisest words in the entire film.
“The greatest teacher, failure is.”
We are never too old to learn the ways of the force, or the lessons that life has to teach us. At some point in our personal spiritual evolution, we have to give up our duality battles. We have to forgive our own shortcomings. If we want to transition to a world of higher spiritual principles, we need to learn to leave this imperfect physical world behind.
Facing his failure, Luke wanted to turn his back on his Jedi principles, as if they were the reason for his failure, and the failure of the unbalanced universe around him. But the Jedi Order like any belief system or religion, is just the sum of the imperfect men and women who subscribe to and perpetuate it. Its value is reflected within the state of our heart and our will.
When Luke is ready to move beyond his failures, he is ready to move beyond his own damaged ego, and thus become one with The Force.
“We are what they grow beyond.”
As Yoda so elegantly states, it is time to let the next generation take the reins, learn from our mistakes, make their own mistakes, and pass on the torch of hope.
And now for some…
Clumsy Liberal Political Correctness
Yes, it’s true, the original Star Wars was a bunch of white people, two droids, and Lando Calrissian. I’m all for diversity represented on the screen, however The Last Jedi seems to have taken a nosedive into a galaxy of Identity Politics.
Instead of striving for a world where everyone is equal and celebrated, Identity Politics prefers to wallow in the politics of victimhood, the need to elevate some people and demonize others based upon race and gender, reverse-discrimation repackaged for Millennials. Swinging from one extreme to another is not a balanced, healthy approach. It will not make the world a better place. You’re just exchanging one elite class for another. Why don’t liberals understand this? But in the words of Yoda, “the greatest teacher, failure is.”
“And there are lots and lots of tweets and user reviews and responses that focus on the idea that the film’s strongest characters are almost all women, who usually know the right thing to do, while its most evil characters are white men with complexes about being given what they think they deserve … The series’ millennial good guys are a young white woman, a black man, a woman of Asian descent, and a Latino man, while its millennial bad guys are two white dudes.” (Vox.com)
An Extreme Gender Divide
The Last Jedi really pushes the gender divide to a new dualistic extreme – the divine feminine vs the demonic masculine. While the original Star Wars broke new ground giving us a plucky Princess Leia who could handle a blaster and didn’t need rescuing, The Last Jedi seems to be pushing the cause-de-jour of “toxic masculinity.”
We have a Rebel Alliance commanded by wise, compassionate Earth Mothers while the First Order is a fascist troop of humorless white guys (no different from the original Empire). What’s very different is the deliberate diminishment of the swashbuckling male hero, the character of Poe Dameron, who is scolded and berated for his heroic wartime recklessness throughout the film. Maybe that’s the reason Han Solo left Leia and the Rebel Alliance? (humorous speculation)
However, the fans’ biggest objection with the film seems to be the “wussification” of Luke Skywalker – the iconic swashbuckling hero that almost every American boy looked up to as a role model since 1977.
The battle-of-the-sexes makes for interesting dramatic conflict, the maternal leader who runs from the battle to save civilian lives versus the masculine warrior who wants to go down fighting. Unfortunately, Battlestar Galactica did it way better a few years back, pitting President Laura Roslin against Commander William Adama. However Battlestar Galactica didn’t resort to subtle gender-shaming and reverse-sexism. The Galactica leaders eventually reconciled their differences – two rare adult performances in a genre defined by arrested adolescence. The couple became an unbeatable force.
“The Resistance” & Finn Getting All ANTIFA
The Rebel Alliance from the original trilogy has now become “the Resistance,” and Disney has shamelessly transposed a timeless epic from “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away,” on to our post-Trump political world. Here’s two quotes from Vanity Fair which blatantly equates the First Order with the Trump administration and Admiral Leia’s forces with the liberal Resistance movement.
“Though The Last Jedi began filming in early 2016—in other words, long before a referendum on Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton informed every aspect of American storytelling—it’s impossible to ignore the parallels on screen here.” (Vanity Fair)
“As you might imagine, those “fans”—who seem to take their cues from First Order supremacists Hux and Kylo rather than Resistance heroes Rey, Finn, and Poe—aren’t very comfortable with the film’s more progressive messages. Their hysteria-tinged reactions are best ignored.” (Vanity Fair)
One of my biggest problems with the film is a seemingly pointless side-quest where Finn and Rose fly off to a casino planet to find a mysterious codebreaker/hacker played by Benicio Del Toro. Although these scenes are meant to emulate the cantina bar scene from the original film, they feel completely out-of-place in the Star Wars universe, a kind of Casino Royal from a futuristic James Bond satire – the point of which is two-fold.
First, confronted with the lifestyles of the intergalactic 1%, who resemble extras in a Hunger Games movie, Finn’s daring escape/joyride causes a fair bit of destruction to this casino vacation spot. His response – he’s pretty happy to cause some collateral property damage to these galactic elitists (who are just kinda minding their own business). This is a very unheroic and un-Star Wars thing to proclaim. I’m pretty sure promoting anarchy and violence against the rich is not in the Jedi handbook (which incidentally, Luke decides to burn – a highly symbolic act). However it is very ANTIFA.
Second, this intergalactic hacker DJ (what kind of Star Wars name is DJ?) opens a whole new can of worms for the Star Wars univese with one line of dialogue. DJ hints that there are secret powers “behind the scenes” who are selling weapons to both sides of the conflict, profiting from both the First Order and The Resistance. (Just like the Rothschilds did throughout World War I and II.) This is quite the revelation, and I am curious to see where Disney takes this “conspiracy theory” narrative in future films.
The Mythology is Timeless
Ultimately, Disney’s attempts to remold Star Wars will fail. Why?
Because you can’t reinvent good mythology. This is my theory why no Star Wars film to date has ever really worked or satisfied an audience since the original trilogy hit the theaters, in 1977, 1980, and 1983.
You can’t recreate it. You can’t reinvent it. You can’t extend it. And you can’t destroy it.
The original Star Wars was never just a Hollywood movie. It took the world by storm like no other film before or since. In an instant it became a new form of cultural mythology, a uniquely American mythos, the farm boy joining a revolution against British imperial power. It spoke to our deepest hopes and fears, the timeless dance of good vs evil, freedom vs tyranny, our unspoken hunger for deeper meaning and spirituality in a superficial and materialistic culture, reflecting our complex relationship with an absent father-figure (Anakin Skywalker) and a faceless corporate shadow government (Darth Vader).
Star Wars is our American Story. From Birth (A New Hope), to Cultural Death and the Dark Night of the Soul (The Empire Strikes Back), to Resurrection (Return of the Jedi).
About the Author
David Nova is the author of the metaphysical fiction series “Season of the Serpent.” He is a truth-seeker, a Wanderer, a blogger, and the moderator of Deus Nexus: Messages For An Entangled Universe. For additional information about the author or his novels, visit his website, or his Facebook page.
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