Liberty at the Movies: The Last Jedi

Since Solo, the latest entry in the Star Wars franchise, currently sits at number one in the box office (though underperforming expectations both at the box office and critically), this seems a good time to look back on last year’s Star Wars film The Last Jedi.

The Last Jedi is a very divisive film among Star Wars fans with some hating it for breaking with the series’ established narratives and character arcs, while others loved it for charting a bold direction for the forty-year old franchise. Count me (mostly) among the latter.

The film resembles the second installment for the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, in that it features multiple storylines, one of which is the hero of the first one receiving training form an older Jedi master before abandoning the training to confront the series villain. This time, instead of Yoda training young Luke Skywalker, we have older Luke (Mark Hamill) training Rey (Daisy Ridley), the force sensitive heroine of The Force Awakens.

The second plot involves hotshot rebel pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his conflict with his superiors General Leia Organa (promoted from Princess and Senator). Carrie Fisher, who plays Leia, died shortly after filming was completed, so this is the last time we will see a non-CGI enhanced Leia in a new Star Wars film. Poe also clashes with new character Vice Admiral Holdo (played by Laura Dern). Poe takes issue with Leia and Holdo's strategy of evacuation and waiting instead of taking the fight directly to the First Order, favoring a more aggressive strategy.

The second (related) story line deals with Finn (John Boyega), the stormtrooper turned rebel fighter, and Rose Tyco (Kelly Marie Tran) on a mission to the planet Canto Bight to find a codebreaker to help them destroy the First Order’s (the First Order is the villain of the new trilogy replacing the Galatic Empire of the first six movies) tracker.

Finn and Rose’s quest brings them to Canto City, a town dominated by war profiteers who use their profits to control Canto  Bight’s government and enforce a slave society. One of the true delights of the movie is the character of by DJ (Benicio Del Toro) an underworld codebreaker who at first seems like an ally but is just out for the quick buck.

The twist in this plot line is that the arms dealers sell to both the First Order and the rebels. The idea that the rebels are funding this crony capitalist slave society injects some moral ambiguity into the previous seven films where the rebels were always portrayed as 100% pure. But still the fact is the rebels are fighting for freedom from the First Order that wants to rule the Galactic Empire. But this does show why war—even just wars— require moral compromises and harm innocents, which is why they are to be avoided. There may be such a thing as a just war—a revolution against royalty when one has no other option—but there is no such thing as a truly good war.

These comments brings us to the final and major plot—Rey’s training and the relationship between her and the new trilogy’s villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Luke is far from the confident Jedi master we remember from the end of the original trilogy. Instead, he has retreated to the island because he believes the Jedi tradition must end. Luke was brought to this state by seeing his prize pupil—his nephew Ben Solo—turn to the dark side and adopt the Kylo Ren personality. Luke attempted to kill Ben, but when he could not Ben/Kylo took revenge by killing all other Jedi in training.

Luke blames the Jedi order for the downfall of the Old Republic as they become arrogant. Luke rejected the Jedi’s idea that they could control who could and could not control the Force, as well as the notion that the Force could be neatly divided into dark and light. The idea that one needs both light and darkness is also present in the mental bond between Rey and Ren, as well as a scene where Luke’s iconic lightsaber is split in half during a mental tug-of-war between the two.

The idea that one must find “balance” between light and dark, for if one only controls the light they may, through their own arrogance, enable the rise of the dark side, could be an analogy to how those who are arrogant enough to believe they can remake the world by stomping out evil create the conditions that give rise to enemies—in other word blowback.

The idea that the Jedi is an elite that must keep knowledge of the force away from the masses has parallels in many political movements through history. Most relevant to our times is the Strausian idea of esoteric meanings. These are hidden endings in texts that are only available to the enlightened. These meanings must be keep hidden form the masses for their own good.

Luke's comments that control of the Force should not be limited to Jedi also brings back the idea that even those not chosen for Jedi training can have access to the force. This is something first introduced in Rogue One and it is good to see this built upon.

Those complaining about the movie are, in my opinion, overly attached to other versions of Star Wars they grew up with and unwilling to see the franchise change. There are complaints that the film ruined the character of Luke. But it has been almost thirty years since film-goers last saw Luke Skywalker and he has undergone a lot. It makes sense that his character would change and (without giving away the plot for the five people who have not seen it) his arc in the movie shows him regain his hope and belief in the importance of fighting evil.

In conclusion, The Last Jedi is an exciting film with good performances—particularly Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, and Benicio del Toro—good special effects, interesting story telling, and some interesting takes and ideas that breathe fresh life into the Star Wars universe—twists and ideas that reflect on our current political situation. My advice- ignore the haters and help Campaign for Liberty by buying or renting The Last Jedi here.

May the Force be with you.

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