I told myself I wasn’t going to write about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Enough blood and ink and emotion has already been spilled by histrionic reviewers and fans who either loved or despised the movie.
And honestly, it ranks pretty high on the “Things That Don’t Matter All That Much” list, alongside the Cleveland Browns, Hootie and the Blowfish, and the fact that U2 is hugely overrated.
But as a lifelong Star Wars fan who knows an unhealthy amount of Star Wars trivia, it does matter to me. And after seeing the movie for a second time last night, I really wanted to write something, even if it’s only for myself. Lest you forget, I’m a millennial blogger with an opinion, which means I’m contractually obligated to share it.
So here I am, a 35 year-old man writing about laser swords and Wookies. My mom would be proud.
If you would rather receive a roundhouse kick in the throat than read about Star Wars, I get it. This isn’t the post you’re looking for. Move along. But for the rest of you, you’re welcome/I’m sorry.
At The Heart Are Characters With Heart
Ultimately, Star Wars has always been about the characters. Yes, it’s about the Rebellion and Jedi and good versus evil. But it’s more than that. It’s about the people who make up the Rebels and the Sith and the bluish, hovering, semi-dead Jedi.
At the outset, all the characters had heart. Even when Luke was a young whippersnapper complaining about not being able to go to Toshi Station to get power converters, he deeply cared about the Rebellion. There wasn’t much question that he was a good guy, and when his aunt and uncle were killed, he was all in on being a Jedi and fighting the Empire.
He had heart.
Han Solo was initially a heartless mercenary who only cared about money. But when it mattered, he came back and rescued Luke on the final Death Star trench run. From that point on, he was all good. Heck, he was frozen in carbonite because of his dedication to the Rebellion.
Obi-Wan, though regretting his choices regarding how he trained Vader, was not in hiding out of self-pity. He was running for his life from Vader. When he met Luke, it was game on. He confronted Vader head on and sacrificed himself so that Luke and his companions could escape the Death Star.
The good guys always risked their lives for each other. They had each other’s backs. They answered the call when danger arose and didn’t shrink back in the face of overwhelming odds. And C3PO always reminded us that the odds were terrible.
The Empire was always clearly evil. Vader was menacing and frightening. The Emperor was a sadistic monster. Stormtroopers marched in formation like Nazis and delighted in wiping out innocent planets like Alderaan.
We never had any doubt about who was good and who was evil. We never watched Star Wars movies to see finely nuanced characters battle their inner demons. Yes, there was the whole good in Vader thing in The Return of the Jedi, but that was about it.
Star Wars has always been about characters who we cared about. Characters who cared deeply, did hard things, and had a real impact on the story. They all had heart.
Characters Without Heart
My biggest disappointment with The Last Jedi (and I had a lot), was that the characters lacked heart. It was as if director/writer Rian Johnson went out of his way to say, “Everything you thought about these people is wrong. They’re not so great. They’re flawed, messed up people who happen to be fighting for the Rebellion.”
In most cases, I would be thrilled with that directing choice. Normally, I hate two-dimensional characters. I like nuanced characters who have great flaws and weaknesses. I know that life is messy and I like movies that depict those blurred lines.
But not in Star Wars. I want clearly defined characters who know what they’re about and who I can get behind 100%. I want good and evil. I want people who know what they really care about. I don’t want wishy-washy flip-floppers.
That’s what was missing in The Last Jedi. Characters with heart.
The line, “Let the past die,” is repeated numerous times by a variety of characters, and in some senses, it felt like that was Johnson’s guiding principle. It was as if he wanted to take characters who had an established past and strip that from them. To transform the good guys into sort-of-good guys who have all sorts of problems. To show us that even the greatest aren’t that great.
The last we knew of Luke Skywalker, he was a triumphant Jedi who had vanquished Vader and the Emperor, defeated the Empire, and was a firm believer in all things good.
We encounter a very different Luke in The Last Jedi. He’s a shriveled, simpering, bitter, whining, dry alcoholic-ish figure who cares about nothing except letting himself and the Jedi order die. He’s not interested in helping the Rebellion or his sister or anyone else. He cares about himself and that’s about it. His character was completely gutted and we’re only given a few minutes of backstory as an explanation. It was a massive character shift in a miniscule amount of time.
When recounting the history of the Jedi, Luke calls it a history of failure. A history consisting of myths and legends rather than real people. This isn’t the Jedi or the Luke we were given in the previous movies. This is something altogether heartless and apathetic. It’s hard to care about this version of Luke.
Poe Dameron, the ace X-Wing pilot who thrives on ripping Tie Fighters to shreds, is revealed to be a cocky hot head who doesn’t know how to follow orders.
Fin, one of the heroes of The Force Awakens, reveals his mixed colors when he tries to sneak off the ship at the beginning of the movie.
Yes, these characters had moments of redemption in the movie, but even those moments were tempered by the fact that their actions didn’t matter at all. Poe and Fin’s elaborate plot to board a Star Destroyer resulted in everyone getting captured. It did nothing to contribute to the rescue of the Rebels and ended up being nothing more than a strange, distracting plot point that added nothing to the overall story.
Fin also could have redeemed himself by plunging headlong into the battering ram cannon but that was cut short when Rose knocked him off course (presumably making her some sort of hero and setting up some sort of romance between the two).
Luke’s “battle” with Kylo Ren at the end of the movie was nothing more than a diversion. He never left his island and never actually fought Ren. He just projected some sort of weird Jedi hologram, which I don’t understand but I’m willing to suspend disbelief on that one. His sacrifice wasn’t much of a sacrifice. He died/vanished, just like he wanted to from the outset.
Even Admiral Holden, the woman who took charge after Leia was injured, wasn’t much of a hero, at least in the traditional sense. She did sacrifice herself (which is heroic and admirable) in an effort to save her people, but that sacrifice accomplished nothing. It didn’t actually save the Rebels in the end. It was yet another strange plot device that didn’t really contribute to the movie (other than the cool shot of one ship ramming another as it jumped to hyperspace).
In the end, I came away feeling very “meh” about everyone except Rey and Kylo Ren. I’m all in on them. They know what they’re about. They are the new Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.
But the rest? It’s hard for me to be all in on them. They all became much less likable.
I don’t want that kind of Star Wars.
Let The Past Die
Rian Johnson was all about letting the past die, and in many ways, he let the past of Star Wars die. The characters I loved are less lovable. The things I thought I knew about the Jedi are less certain. And with the departure of Han Solo, Luke, and presumably Leia, there’s not much left of the past.
I realize I’m in the minority on this. Most of the people I’ve talked to about the movie loved it.
And as I said at the beginning, I’m a 35 year-old guy writing about Star Destroyers, which is pretty lame.
Will I watch the movie again? Sure. I’m a Star Wars fan. But it doesn’t have the magic the others do, and I miss that.
I miss the heart.