All right, I see that #TheLastJedi is trending on Twitter. I have heard the call to arms, but by the time I have completed the post, it won’t be trending anymore, so, yknow, whoops.
Any frequent reader of this blog – or anyone who has spent any time on any Star Wars-focused part of the internet over the past two years – knows all about the divide among fans about Star Wars: the Last Jedi. The second of a trilogy, Last Jedi was both written and directed by Rian Johnson, after a previous installment by J.J. Abrams. What was first assumed would be a cut-and-paste rehashing of Empire Strikes Back, the second movie in the first Star Wars trilogy (as Abrams Force Awakens Is to the original movie), turned out to be a bold take on the traditional, expected Star Wars story, but drew a variety of criticisms, both invalid and valid.
In an interview with the New York Times earlier this week, Abrams offered some praise to The Last Jedi but undercut it with some criticism: “It’s a bit of a meta approach to the story. I don’t think that people go to Star Wars to be told, ‘This doesn’t matter.’”
What Abrams is referring to here is a well-known “read” of the Sequel Trilogy, as a commentary on the original Star Wars. Kylo Ren grapples with the difficulty of being Han Solo’s son and trying to live up to Darth Vader’s legacy, and it parallel’s the movies’ struggle with living up to the Original Trilogy’s legacy.
This was something subtle in Force Awakens, but became much more of a focus in The Last Jedi. Luke, the hero of the Original Trilogy, no longer wants to be a Jedi, and no longer thinks there should be any Jedi at all. On the other hand, Kylo Ren thinks it’s time for both the Sith and the Jedi to end. Luke’s well-known sound-bite is “It’s time for the Jedi to end,” and Kylo Ren has the similar “Let the past die; kill it if you have to.” Between both of these two, you have Rey, who wants to bring the Jedi back and stop the First Order.
It’s important to consider that the famous “Let the past die; Kill it if you have to,” line is spoken by the villain. Should we trust such a message? Probably not.
Similarly, the movie starts with Luke telling us that it’s time for the Jedi to end, and that all he wants to do is die. So, that’s obviously what the movie and Rian Johnson are saying about Star Wars as a whole, right?
No, fucking of course not. Did you watch the rest of the movie?
Luke overcomes the hopelessness and doubt he feels, and re-establishes himself as a hero, reaffirming the Star Wars mythos. One of the last images we get of Kylo Ren is him holding his father’s ornamental dice, where he clearly is not able to let the past die.
The Last Jedi isn’t saying we shouldn’t care about the Rebellion and the Jedi. Otherwise, why would they end with Force Sensitive kids telling heroic stories about Luke?
Now, I think it’s definitely possible that Abrams doesn’t actually feel this way about Last Jedi, and is just saying this to reassure members of the fandom who felt alienated by it. In the past, he said with seeming admiration that he was inspired to take risks. Abrams’ friend Greg Grunberg, who cameos in all of Abrams’ films, mentioned Abrams’ jealousy after reading the screenplay for The Last Jedi; he said Abrams expressed regret on not helming the second film.
Either Abrams deliberately misinterpreted Last Jedi to restore faith in the angry part of the audience, or he was unwilling to critically analyze the message that the entire movie is trying to make. Either way, I have a little less faith in The Rise of Skywalker now.