You really cannot talk about The Last Jedi spoiler-free. So if you haven’t seen it, stop now and go stand in line.
Let me start by saying that the original “Star Wars” came out the month I graduated from college and I was immediately on the road to drive 90 miles to see it on the biggest screen in Washington state. I’ve seen every Star Wars film in a theater the first week after release. Even the bad ones — and, that is to say: yes, there were prequels.
That said, I understand the difference between seeing the original Star Wars movies as a 10 year old rather than as a 22 year old college graduate. Star Wars for the following generations was more (and remains more) than the annual childhood Thanksgiving airings of “The Wizard of Oz” to us baby boomers. And, by the way, thank God we didn’t have to deal with annual TWoO sequels with a geriatric Dorothy and the Scarecrow.
But in some sense that’s where we find ourselves with Star Wars.
Case in point, take the prequels. George Lucas offered us a bargain: “Hey, those stories were magic, but what if we did “Star Wars: The Early Years” re-cast the characters and added a shitload of CGI – ‘cause you dug those special effects, right?” These movies were loud, big, and devoid of heart and the space opera bravado that defined the original trilogy. Three words: Jar Jar Banks.
The most recent Star Wars movies brought back the original actors and conflicts, and they added a new generation of characters to push the stories forward. Quite literally 40 years later we saw the characters age and hit their human limits. They got old, life didn’t turn out the way they expected, they got disillusioned, and their kids didn’t go to med school and live up to their parents’ expectations, including a few human monsters. In short: in life, shit happens. As a baby boomer, that actually makes a lot of sense. In the age of Trump, it’s more heartbreaking than the 10 year old longing for the young Old Luke.
It’s pretty much where we all find ourselves today. We grew up thinking that we’d rebel, change the world — and life would improve. And, it turns out that some asshat contemporary of ours, at least for the moment, has us fighting the same old battles again and again. Welcome to The Last Jedi.
One by one, our heroes have fallen, and by the end of the film the only one left alive is also the only one we know that in real life has died. The best part of The Last Jedi is that there’s so much of Carrie Fisher, not just a cameo or an eeked out CGI paper doll. One last time, we get Leia and Luke. The real Luke and Leia, facing sacrifice in a world where happy endings face down another ugly reality. In other words” our real 2017.
The Force is still there, but the hard lesson is that it’s nature and not the religion or legends we make up to comfort ourselves with. Luke’s message comes down to “pride comes before the fall.” He is contemptuous of the effect of those who would make him a legend. Yet in the end he gives his all to Do the Right Thing. More than any other Star Wars movie there’s more character development and introspection driving the plot. And we’re left with the last of our childhood characters gone (Carrie Fisher survives the film, but not real life.)
So, where does this leave us? The bad guys, as always, are out—(frozen)-foxed and the good guys live to fight another day. The torch has been passed to a new generation, or two. We’ve lost Luke, Han, Darth — and we know Leia will be gone too soon. No wonder the critics liked the film and the fans haven’t.
So, where does this set the story to go next? First, we know that like George Lucas, Disney won’t leave well enough alone when the Star Wars brand is a literal gold mine. This really isn’t anything new, though — witness the ponderous prequels, the cartoons, and the ordeal of the Star Wars Christmas Special.
Second, it might not be the worst thing that we don’t have to suffer through Star Wars XII: Luke Skywalker’s Walker. The last few movies have paved the path to a new generation of Star Wars. Sure, we’ve lost a lot. But we now have the son of Han and Leia set up against a bad ass female protagonist and a multi-ethnic cast showing that Space isn’t the last bastion of white privilege. There are a lot more characters for diverse future 10 year olds to see themselves in. That not such a bad thing.
And the future of the series is in the hands of Rian Johnson, who jarred long-time fans with a different vision of Star Wars — but it was born out of his own 10 year old fandom. Star Wars definitely will not be the same going forward, but if we’re lucky it’s also not going to be a bland rehash of old characters and tropes. Johnson has a history remixing old forms to get to new places. If you doubt that, take a look at “Brick” and “Looper.” Yes, he may well fuck it up – but it will at least be a good ride.
Shed your tears, as I did. But Star Wars is moving forward.