Letting the Past Die: A Star Wars Analysis

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Posted December 29, 2017 by Haley Schojbert in Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a divisive movie. Where The Force Awakens was criticized for being a soft reboot that played it safe and rehashed A New Hope, The Last Jedi is critiqued for its departure from expectation. I enjoyed how the movie responded to the criticisms of The Force Awakens by taking risks and subverting the narrative. As a result of Rian Johnson’s decisions, there were some wonderfully crafted character moments that immersed me as a fan and made me fall in love with Star Wars all over again.

Letting the past die is not just a goal of Kylo Ren’s, but a metaphor for the film’s entire entrance into a new generation of storytelling. Instead of fitting Snoke into the all-powerful master manipulator Palpatine-esc role, his attempt at exploiting Kylo is his downfall, and I was pleasantly surprised when Kylo did not begin a redemptive arc because of this. By killing Snoke and destroying his helmet, Kylo solidifies himself as a character that is no longer looming in Vader’s shadow. He is forging his own path, and it is full of rage and anxiety at his own inadequacies. Nonetheless, he is not trying to be his grandfather anymore.

Rey’s parentage was another subversion of expectation in the film, but it fits nicely into The Last Jedi’s egalitarian view of the force. The future of Star Wars is the broom boy at the end of the film, as shown by The Last Jedi’s focus on minor characters and their view of political and economic fallout. People that do not belong to the Jedi order or a well-known family represent hope for that future. I appreciated this departure from the prequels’ way of expanding the Star Wars mythos. Anakin Skywalker was turned into a prophetic figure meant to destroy the Sith, and the story implodes by painstakingly forcing shallow relationships in order to depict him as human person. The interesting and compelling aspects of Vader were not how he became an ultra-evil, force-choking henchman of the Empire, but how he found it within himself to do the right thing. Not because he was the chosen onebut because underneath the mysterious and intimidating mask, there was a human being.

Rogue One achieved a similar effect, through the character of Chirrut Imwe. By having a character that is spiritually connected to the force, and showing the sacrifice of people that were affected by the Empire without painting them as the chosen heroes, Rogue One is able to add depth to the world of Star Wars and the impact of this mythical power. I think The Last Jedi takes this a step farther than Rogue One could because it is not boxed-in by directly leading up A New Hope and having to kill its protagonists.

By pursuing multiple character moments, the film is no longer a coming-of-age hero’s journey, but rather, it is interested in expanding upon the war’s effect on the entirety of the universe. The scene with Paige Tico has so much dramatic weight for a moment surrounding a character that is seen once and never again. Her sister Rose enters the film and becomes a main protagonist later on to reiterate the importance of her sacrifice, but also, to show how the war literally rips families apart. Scenes like this raise the stakes of the conflict because the Resistance fighters are no longer just a bunch of extras getting blown up; they’re vivid characters. Furthermore, Rose is willing to give up her last remnant of her sister in order to win against the First Order.

They even draw attention to class tensions with the greedy, wealthy elite that benefit economically from selling weapons in the war. The end-game is that every person is affected by the intergalactic conflict, regardless of their social status or family name. Admiral Holdo’s decision to jump to lightspeed and destroy Snoke’s flagship is the most breathtaking and surreal scene in the entire film. Most of her screen time is spent challenging Poe Dameron’s impetuous and trigger-happy nature, and acting as a roadblock for the well-established and liked protagonists. But somehow, by the end of the film,  her sacrifice truly resonated with me and left me truly enjoying her character.

I enjoyed how characters like Poe and Luke were given more depth and flaws. At the end of the film, Luke comes back as the hero to save the day and help the Resistance escape, but he is merely a projection. He fades away while looking at two suns, showing his journey to be cyclical, and I found it all to be very poetic.

Disney redefined the canon, and now they have a new avenue to add onto it. The capabilities of the force are becoming more abstract and malleable, and the introduction of new characters and shedding of the past means that Episode IX can start anywhere. I could be cynical about the corporate conglomerate that will pump out lucrative Star Wars sequels and spin-offs, but as a fan of the franchise, I am excited that the new film payed homage to the originals while forging its own path and breaking form without relying on nostalgia.

The movie has the basic aspects of Star Wars that the prequels extrapolated on, but it recognizes that more lightsaber battles do not necessarily make for a better film. It imbues raw emotion within its fights, and moments like Rey and Kylo teaming up feel more rewarding because of their complex dynamic. The film lets the past die by shifting the focus on what makes Star Wars compelling; the importance of the Jedi was never truly the lore of an ancient religionit was standing up against the oppressive, evil, and dark forces in the world. Luke wasn’t a compelling character because he was the chosen one, but because he was a farm boy with dreams of leaving Tatooine. The Last Jedi isn’t perfect, but much like the original trilogy, it has heart.


About the Author

Haley Schojbert

Haley is an editor, writer, and avid reader that enjoys role-playing games and having a lot of opinions about fictional characters.