Darth Vader’s masked faced loomed over me from inside the protective glass display case. The black armor had a worn appearance, yet still looked functional. I felt that at any moment the armor could come to life and demand the death of the Jedi and rebel scum. Walking around the Star Wars exhibit at the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. when I was younger was a surreal experience.
The mixture of costumes, ship prototypes, and concept drawings created a feeling of awe in my young mind. I was not walking around a display of movie props, but a collection of ancient relics from a time long ago. Before leaving the exhibit I made my way to the gift shop, because what is Star Wars without the merchandise? There I purchased my first two Star Wars figures, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker (Return of the Jedi). Those figures have since been lost to time, and possibly an eBay auction, but the memory of playing and displaying them still remains. I believe it was in that moment, walking amongst the lighted displays and buying those figures, that I fell in love with Star Wars.
Despite this warm experience though, I have always maintained a partial detachment from the films and fandom of the Star Wars Universe. In part, this is probably because I had not seen all three of the original films until I was in middle or high school. I had seen Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, both the original on VHS and again when re-released in theaters with more...explosions. However, my memory of Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was scattered amongst various media types including partial viewings of edited for television versions of the films, video games, and the occasional book. It was not until my adult years that I realized that some Star Wars media was cannon, such as the two Star Wars: Clone Wars animated shows, while other media, like the Galaxy of Terror book series, were not.
Regardless of my detachment, I do still love Star Wars. I love the Jedi, the Sith, the Force, and of course, the embarrassing sidekicks; looking at you Jar Jar Binks and Boba Fett. However, I believe this detachment has given me a clearer view of the newest batch of Star Wars films. In particular, I think I can discuss Star Wars: The Last Jedi in a way that would please both the Jedi Council and Sith Lords of the fandom.
The truth about Star Wars: The Last Jedi is that it is a decent movie, but only an okay Star Wars film. As Star Wars films go, the film has a lot of great imagery, themes, and applicable subtext. Yet, despite these pieces, the film does not really add anything to the mythologies of Star Wars as a whole. The film fails to take a side, refusing to answer the most basic questions about either previous plot points or the Force. At times, this works, such as in the case of Rey’s parentage.
I realize that some people will disagree, but for a character to come from such a basic place is more interesting to me as a viewer than focusing on the prospect of lineage. This same adage fails when looking at Snoke’s backstory though, or lack thereof. Upon my first viewing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi I thought I did not care about Snoke’s backstory. Upon my recent viewing, I was bothered by this Hugh Hefner, if he had a baby with Gollum, individual who seemed to appear out of nowhere. Snoke is such a contrast from the Emperor that I cannot help, but wonder who he is.
I could jump around discussing many aspects of the film without stating anything that probably has not already been said or blogged about. So, the two areas that I want to focus on that I feel define the film are the theme of old versus young, and the overall characterization of the Force.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi had a difficult task of trying to appease both old and new fans. This task, I believe, plays out in one of the themes of the film. Through the many different story elements coursing through the film, the conflict between old and new heroes rises to the top. Leia conflicts with Poe who she is trying to mentor and guide into being the newest leader of the rebellion. Poe struggles with this task and tends to push forward looking for the next big win, even at the cost of lives. Poe comes from a generation of rebels who witnessed the destruction of two Death Stars and the fall of the original Empire.
Then there is Rey who attempts to find mentorship in Luke. The differences between these two stories are that Rey is completely open to learning something new, while Poe wants to charge ahead. I did not have any issues with Luke’s portrayal in the film. I understand that many people wanted to see Luke in action, but I found his story more interesting as a result of his hesitation to use the Force.
Finally, there is Snoke and Kylo Ren, a relationship that is both parental and adversarial. Kylo initially wants to follow in the footsteps of Darth Vader, but due to the machinations of Snoke he decides to tear it all down. This theme of old versus young is meta in nature and helps to define the films place in the larger Star Wars canon and the internal conflicts that play out in the story.
Where the theme of old versus young is a saving grace of the film, the film’s characterization of the Force symbolizes everything wrong with the film as a whole. I have always regarded the Force as a character, at least with regards to the main Star Wars films. In The Last Jedi the Force is similar to the main characters of the film, in that lessons are learned, but no real changes are made. Though I loved Luke Skywalker’s standoff against Kylo Ren, the entire film could be stricken from the canon without affecting Star Wars lore.
After eight movies, three cartoon series, and a plethora of novels and video games I do not need to know what the Force is. What I need as a viewer and Star Wars fan is a reason to care about the Force and the continuing struggle between the Jedi and the Sith, the Empire and the Rebels. By playing it safe and refusing to pick a side the film ultimately falls flat. Also, and on a side note, I want someone in a Star Wars film to realize that both the Jedi and Sith are wrong with how they view the light and dark sides of the Force. Balance can only be brought to the Force when a character learns to ride the line between the dark and light side of the Force.
In conclusion, I can respect both the love and hate that fans have expressed about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Upon my first viewing of the film, I walked away happy and eager for the next installment. As time passed though, and I was able to digest what I had watched and then rewatch the film, I found myself struggling to get through the story.
There are some great story elements and characters within The Last Jedi, yet a lot of flaws as well. Again, the film takes no real risks and mainly works to retire the old cast and set up the new. Hopefully, Episode IX will take the right steps and bring a satisfying conclusion to the newest trilogy.
Sound off below with your thoughts!
Guest article by Joseph Fridley (@Brother_Fridley)