WARNING – This review will NOT be spoiler free.
Star Wars – Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is the kind of movie you’ve already decided on seeing. This will not be my standard spoiler-free analysis, but rather a personal reaction. It’s been almost a month since I saw the film. It wasn’t the experience I was hoping for. A few years back when I heard that there would be a new trilogy I was very excited to see my childhood hero Luke Skywalker again. In The Force Awakens he only received a silent 15 second cameo. In The Last Jedi he was revealed to be a hermit living in shame. He self terminates at the end of the movie (but there’s no forewarning, so when it happens I just sat there and thought, wait…did that just happen. Did he just die?) The credits rolled and I quickly made the universal gesture for wanking-off to my girlfriend.
God and Lucasfilm have cleared the bench of characters I love and they have not coordinated efforts. The new characters fail to keep me interested in what’s to come. Rey is dull, Poe is dumb and while I enjoyed John Boyega the last time, they took his character Finn nowhere in TLJ. He was a prop for someone named Rose who taught us about love, animal cruelty, the military-industrial complex and necklaces. Kylo is the most interesting because Adam Driver can act, but he was already defeated in the first film so there’s no tension there. He’ll lose again.
I could say a lot about what is good about the film, but I’d rather just talk about Luke because it overshadows everything for me. It’s personal. I remember watching ROTJ and wondering how he would escape Jabba, then cheering when he took that flip off the gangplank to save the day. It thrilled me like no other movie ever has. I remember hoping that Vader would save his son and being sublimely satisfied when he did. That single moment is my favorite experience while watching a movie. I can still feel my reaction like it was yesterday. I was six years old. These were the cinema experiences that cemented my love of storytelling and heroism. The Last Jedi made me wanna leave Luke back where I last saw him in 1983. Then he was my hero. Now he’s kind of depressing to think about.
I gather that people who are over fifty are just not marketable heroes to Disney. I gather that they really want these movies to be about young people like Rey. OK.
Luke’s essential purpose in the film is to be convinced by Rey to save the “resistance” by using some force powers. There’s some clever themes in there – like him performing legendary deeds through the use of illusion. He saves the day without attacking. Sounds like Luke. I can dig it.
He gets really tired from his last big force trick though and he dies and disappears into the force. OK, I knew it would happen some time.
So why is he filled with shame in this film? The Last Jedi relies on our childhood adoration of this mythical character to make a point about human frailty and the way we foolishly idolize “heroes”. Heroes are only human. The film illustrates this by portraying Luke as grumpy and fearful of Rey. He doesn’t want to train her. He wants to be left alone to die. He’s filled with shame and regret after a conflict with his nephew Ben. Luke has gone off to hide while all his dark premonitions about Ben actually happen. So Luke Skywalker is kinda the reason everything is bad again. During the film, he learns to accept his failure so he can go back to helping everyone.
Here’s the rub. There’s a flashback where Luke ignites his lightsaber and considers killing his sleeping nephew before he has gone bad. All suspension of disbelief ended for me at that moment. I disconnected from the film. It was like when Superman won’t save his father in Man of Steel. It was another example of the rejection of virtue in modern culture. Star Wars was never intended to be realistic or nuanced – it was intended to be a mythological tale about heroes that would help the young learn virtuous lessons.
No longer my Star Wars.
Failure is a lesson that Luke was already taught in The Empire Strikes Back when his father whupped him and cut his hand off. If this is part VIII and the story is about Rey, then maybe she should learn about failure. She’s not a mythical character at this point. She’s a socio-political one. She has no faults, no failings, no bruises and no trials. She’s there for the little girls. You know what I say to that? Go play in the pink isle.
Luke is gone now. So how do I feel? Not very interested in Star Wars. And to be clear – it’s not because he’s dead. It’s because he was transformed into a miserable failure masquerading as a legend.
I expected a mythological tale wrapped in space opera and filmed like a matinee serial. That’s Star Wars. The Last Jedi was something else. It’s as influenced by Game of Thrones’ shocking deaths and reversals as anything else. Thematically the writing is strong, but it shows no appreciation for the greater arc of the trilogy or the saga. The movie played like a bunch of made up bullshit to make me go “ooh” and “huh” and “oh, neat Taoism”. Rian Johnson wanted to “kill the past” as Kylo says and he did. He made me sad when I look at a picture of my childhood hero Luke Skywalker.
Here’s a quote from Arthur Conan Doyle that was included in the press materials for the original Star Wars. I imagine that today it would be considered a micro-agression.
“I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.”
I’m all grown up now. So thank you, Rian Johnson for freeing me from my past. Good luck with your new trilogy. I’m sure it’ll make lots of money!