I’ve seen “The Last Jedi” a couple times now. And I liked it very much! Here there be spoilers.
I cannot remember the first time I saw “Star Wars,” but ever since then, I have been a fan. As a kid, I memorized the Original Trilogy, devoured all the Expanded Universe books I could get my hands on, and collected the toys and games.
Fan cred established, I saw nothing in “The Last Jedi” that I thought incompatible with the ideas explored in the Star Wars Universe (Expanded or otherwise). Let me, for the sake of illustration, remind you of some things that happened in Kevin Anderson’s Jedi Academy trilogy of books:
- Luke, depicted not as a farmboy pilot but as a sage guru literally hovering cross-legged in the air, decides to start up a Jedi training temple and gathers students from obscure corners of the Galaxy.
- Badass smuggler Han Solo gets himself captured and committed to the spice mines of Kessel, where he befriends a Force-sensitive slave boy.
- On Luke’s instructions, Lando visits a gambling planet that specializes in…blob races, because one of the gamblers keeps winning and therefore might be Force-sensitive. But it turns out he’s just fixing the races, so the visit to the casino planet is a failure.
- One of the Jedi students builds a lightsaber according to an ancient design, including the gimmick that he can twiddle a dial to adjust the saber’s length.
- Grand Moff Tarkin’s ex-lover (you’re welcome!) takes over the remains of the Empire, which is still around post-Return of the Jedi, starts menacing the New Republic with Star Destroyers.
- The Empire had been developing a superweapon the size of a small fighter with an indestructible hull and torpedoes that explode stars into supernovae. Also, there’s an extra Death Star.
- A Jedi student turns to the dark side, kills some of his fellow students, and hijacks the Imperial star-killing weapon to erase the Empire from the Galaxy in a murderous rampage, starting with the star system where the Empire trains kidnapped children into Stormtroopers.
- Luke spends large sections of the plot in a Force-induced coma, unable to affect anything.
Maybe you see what I did there: It certainly seems like plot points from “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” came from kernels of the same ideas that we saw in the extremely cyclic Imperial-Remnant-menaces-New-R
Fortunately, “The Last Jedi” presented these well-worn Star Wars plot points in a way that broke out into entirely new ground. In doing so, it neatly skipped over a lot of the terrible baggage built up in the Expanded Universe. (Sad as I am to see the Rogue and Wraith Squadron books demoted, I do not mind the decanonization of the aforementioned Jedi Academy trilogy!) The movie adeptly set up situations in which I thought something familiar was going on, but the script went in a completely unexpected – but still logical – direction. I thought each thread told an important and interesting story: The space chase pointed out that the Rebel flyboys – iconic as they are – actually don’t rank that highly in the command structure, and that the Resistance purposefully chose their leaders for their competence and dedication to the cause. The visit to Canto Bight took us to a part of the Star Wars universe often described yet never seen, and gave us the first example of a harebrained scheme in that universe which didn’t work – in fact, the good guys’ failure set up the defeat of the Resistance, by leaking to the First Order the plan to abscond to Crait. The Jedi training montages effectively passed the torch from Luke to Rey in almost exactly the same way Yoda did to Luke, while confronting some hard truths about how the canons of the original trilogy and prequel trilogy interact. The flashbacks confirmed for us what the Jedi always said about the Dark Side: it’s seductive, something that has to be resisted over an entire lifetime. The throne room confrontation reminded us that sometimes luck and skill, not parentage, determines the impact one can have, all while it pulled a trick where the Dark Side seduced not only a character on screen, but the audience. And the final act gave the greatest Jedi in the Galaxy a powerful sendoff, with smaller sendoffs for Han Solo and (by subtext) Carrie Fisher wrapped up in it.
“The Last Jedi” certainly had me thinking more about it than any previous Star Wars movie.
Did the characterization of Luke and the Jedi fit in with what we were used to seeing in the rest of the Star Wars Universe, though? This seems to be the point that’s driven the most fan contention. Well, after all that thinking, I realized something: Luke Skywalker has always been a “gray” Jedi.
By the time Luke is at the height of his power, in “Return of the Jedi,” we see him Force-choking Jabba’s guards, manipulating the mind of his majordomo, and intentionally setting up a fight that annihilates the crime lord’s entire court. Facing the Emperor’s and Vader’s taunts, Luke even pulls strength straight from the Dark Side at the mere mention of the possibility that his sister could do the same. We also got these hints in “The Empire Strikes Back:” Yoda told Luke that a Jedi uses the Force “for knowledge and defense; never for attack,” and yet Luke goes on the offensive the very moment he sees Darth Vader on Cloud City. We could retcon this idea to apply to the first movie, too, before George Lucas expanded on what the Jedi Order believed: during the Battle of Yavin, Luke hears Obi-Wan’s voice telling him to trust his feelings and his response is to immediately unleash a volley of laser blasts. Luke seems to be a Jedi who embraces his emotions for their strengths, and sometimes draws on canonically Dark Force powers, but keeps his eye on the overall goodness of his actions.
I think a “gray Jedi” is probably what Yoda and Obi-Wan wanted the whole time. They lied and withheld information, shaping Luke to be the sharp instrument they wanted – in Yoda’s exact words – to “conquer Vader and his Emperor.” Their lessons to Luke concerned a few specific points: the mechanics of proficiency in the Force, that the Dark Side was seductive and Luke should be on his guard, but also that Luke should trust his feelings. “They do you credit,” says Kenobi, a sentiment the old Jedi Order from the prequels would not espouse. In the end, Luke broke with even his masters’ teachings. Obi-Wan flat-out rejected the idea that Darth Vader could be turned to the light at all. All that seemed okay with them. Yoda and Obi-Wan did not want to re-establish the old Jedi Order. They wanted Luke to become a Jedi for tactical reasons, and Yoda told him to pass on what he had learned – not to pass on the tenets of the stuffy old Jedi Order.
So, could Luke become a person tempted by the urge to off his nephew while he was still young and helpless? That sure seems like a proverbial seductive moment from the Dark Side, and Luke – firmly in the character we remember – resists the temptation after a moment in which it manifests itself. (The tragedy is not that he can’t resist, but that he is a fraction of a second too late.) Could he abandon the teachings of the Jedi? Well, he was never really moored to them in the first place, and he wasn’t told to stick to the old Order. Could Luke abandon his friends? This is the hardest pill to swallow. Still, this is the man who abandoned Yoda and Obi-Wan mid-training, and the man who left Leia and Han on Endor to chase after the dream of redeeming his father. I have to think the possibility, disappointing as it is, exists: could he, scion of the Jedi, abandon his friends? “If you honor what they fight for…yes.”
What I find endlessly more intriguing than worrying over how Luke got to this state, though – we got all the answers we really needed, after all – is in considering where things go from here. The Rebellion is on the run with their bleakest prospects yet. Kylo Ren has an enormous Pyrrhic victory under his belt, and is obviously going to be haunted going forward. Rey has taken up her own version of the mantle of the Jedi with perfect clarity of purpose. People throughout the Galaxy are gaining access to the Force. How the last movie of this new trilogy shapes up will be fascinating – and I hope it goes more in the Rian Johnson than the J. J. Abrams vein!
There are endless subjects for me to speculate about – will Luke appear as a Force ghost? (I hope he does, just to poke Kylo Ren.) Is Poe Dameron going to be the next great Resistance commander? Will Rey train others in the Force? Will Chewie get more daring piloting scenes proving him equal to Solo with terrific John Williams Millennium Falcon music? Where’s Lando?!
But, in closing, I want to address only one, the one I’m most opinionated about: How does Princess Leia figure into the third story? The problem is that the third movie is obviously her handoff to the younger generation. But Carrie Fisher isn’t here for us any more, and Lucasfilm promised not to CG her. I see three possibilities:
One, Leia dies offscreen between “The Last Jedi” and Episode IX, or very early in Episode IX. This would, in my opinion, be the least satisfying option. It would explain the actress’ death, but would not give any meaningful closure in the story. It would therefore simply feel like the real world intruding into the plot. Two, the writers find a way to keep Leia around as a character, but remove her from onscreen storytelling. They’re actually already set up for this: with all the hints about allies in the Outer Rim, Leia can go on offscreen missions to gather allies and only check in with the main characters occasionally via already-staticky and already-CG hologram. Three – my favorite of the options, despite its immediate shock value – is recasting General Leia.
I like this idea best because it’s the most logical from a storytelling point of view. Leia will become the grand sage of the Resistance, the Mon Mothma figure. After all, she seems to have most successfully integrated the lessons she learned into her new fight against the Dark Side. She can carry on where Han and Luke could not. I even hope that she survives the movie, and potentially continues on into other stories, as the touchstone between past and future. We, as viewers, could also get the supreme satisfaction of seeing her lead troops into battle with her own Jedi powers, something that has been sorely lacking from the Star Wars Universe until now. Furthermore, Kylo Ren’s relationship to his family and past must figure prominently in the plot of Episode IX – despite, or perhaps because of, his own insistence – begging some confrontation between him and Leia.
And – I kind of like the idea that even though Carrie Fisher isn’t around any more, Leia Organa will continue on.
It’s going to be a long wait until Episode IX.