‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Tells A Safe And Boring Story About The Force
WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, OBVIOUSLY
Welcome. Before we begin, based on the title of this article, you should know a few things. First and foremost, I love Star Wars. I met my husband in line for Attack of the Clones. I devour the cartoons, books, comics, any kind of lore. Our dog is named Ahsoka Tano Multipass on her AKC paperwork FFS.
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, I was beyond pleased. Finally, Lucasfilm was moving towards a more inclusive galaxy. Rey’s isolation and fighting spirit were a breath of fresh air in a world that still hadn’t seen Wonder Woman and was still reeling from Mad Max: Fury Road. Introducing Finn, a black man, as the human face of the Stormtroopers was such a departure from the status quo. Poe Dameron, a Latinx man, was the best pilot in the Resistance. Even Kylo Ren’s arc, which inverted the “Hero is tempted to the Dark Side” narrative, was new and interesting. Sure, the story hit some of the same beats and treads some of the same ground as previous films, but Abrams set up a story that left people wanting to know more about the characters and the world.
So I went into Star Wars: The Last Jedi with high hopes. I still don’t think those hopes were misplaced. There was so much potential. Just…wasted. I’m not upset about the diversity. I’m not upset about the majority female cast. I’m not upset that heroes can rise from anywhere, not just the Skywalker bloodline. I’m certainly not upset that Luke Skywalker ultimately fulfilled the narrative fate that all Jedi Masters seem destined for. I’m upset about the execution.
Let’s start with the basics. The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi both want to tell a story about the Balance. Hell, you could argue the whole saga is about that. We’ve been talking about bringing balance to the Force for decades. No one in the galaxy can shut up about it. Even Star Wars Rebels touches on it with Ahsoka becoming arguably the first Grey Jedi in the new canon since Disney acquired Lucasfilm. In The Force Awakens, Rey is the Light and Kylo Ren is the Dark but the seeds are planted that either could turn in the future. The Last Jedi doubles down on this, both within the film itself and in the visuals surrounding the release. Specifically, this poster that has Rey bisecting Luke and Kylo Ren with a lightsaber that’s white in the middle.
The first half of The Last Jedi seems to be on track to finish this narrative arc. Rey and Kylo are inexplicably (to them) tied together by the Force. Neither of them understands why, but the connection pushes them out of their comfort zones, and they start to humanize each other. Even though Rey naively and impulsively runs to Kylo to help him turn back towards the Light, even though Kylo pulls Sith 101 on Snoke and murders him, the two of them trust each other enough to team up in a fight that is one of the best action sequences in the whole franchise. For a few glorious seconds, the Light and the Dark fought together. Balance.
But then, inexplicably, The Last Jedi bails on this entirely. What could’ve been the most interesting push in the history of Star Wars storytelling instead stumbles before ultimately retreating back to the safe and familiar status quo. If “Balance” is the theme of the new trilogy — that extremes of either kind are bad and lead to rigid belief systems that hurt and oppress — the second half of The Last Jedi fails itself. Instead, Kylo retreats into his angst and pain while Rey moves into place as the new “Last Jedi,” as named by Luke Skywalker. Exactly back where the story started. Passing the baton to a new generation is not the same thing as making new narrative choices.
I honestly thought when Kylo Ren reached out his hand to Rey that she was going to take it. Not that she would join him and help him rule the galaxy, but that the two of them would team up against both the First Order (now led by Hux, a terrifying True Believer™) AND the Resistance. That Episode IX would be a story about unlikely allies in the face of two (basically) teenagers trying to make everyone get along. All while Rey and Kylo sparred each other about the “right” way to bring Balance to the galaxy.
Then there’s Luke himself. His battle with Kylo Ren had the potential to become as iconic and meaningful as any death in the Star Wars universe, but again, so much wasted potential. We know from The Last Jedi that things went poorly between Kylo and Luke when the former was still a Padawan. We get three versions of the story as to how Kylo Ren came to be from the ashes of the Jedi Training Temple he burned down. Two from Luke, and one from Kylo. And you know what? I’m more apt to believe the emo-Sith than the Jedi Master on this one. Why? Because Luke lied once already. What’s to say he isn’t still lying about his intentions, even if just to himself? Maybe he did mean to kill Kylo. But regardless, The Last Jedi refuses to engage (or maybe even recognize) that Luke Skywalker has fallen to the Dark Side. No, he’s not a Sith. But he let his fear get the better of him; he was willing to snuff out a life on the off-chance the child became evil. When Rey finds Luke years later, he is STILL living in fear. If letting your choices be fueled by terror, especially at the expense of people you love, isn’t the Dark Side, I don’t know what is.
So the duel between Luke and Kylo had the potential to explore this, for Kylo to throw Luke’s shortcomings in his face, to make his uncle understand that once again the actions of the Jedi led to a self-fulfilling prophecy. That the Jedi need to end indeed. Would Kylo Ren exist if Luke Skywalker hadn’t thought to murder him in his sleep? Who knows? And then, for Luke to just die of…exhaustion? So anti-climatic. I’d have rather Kylo have cut him down in cold blood than Luke Skywalker dying of whatever the Jedi equivalent of a “broken heart” is.
At the end of the day, The Last Jedi failed to understand the theme set in motion years ago. That the Light and the Dark are both detrimental and only by standing on the fulcrum (not literally, do not stand on Ahsoka Tano) can the galaxy finally find a semblance of peace.
This is getting obscenely long and I haven’t even touched on Flying Leia, Laura Dern’s inexplicable secret-keeping when she obviously had a plan that would give the Resistance hope, Finn and Rose being shunted off into a side plot that meandered and ultimately had no effect on the story other than to give Finn his stand-off with Phasma aka the new Boba Fett, Chewbacca suddenly being able to out-fly anything Han Solo ever did, the lack of stakes for any of the main cast due to three-inch thick plot armor, the “dark side cave” being a complete waste of time, or Yoda showing up ten years too late to actually make a difference (classic Yoda, really).
If these are subjects you’d like me to go into greater detail on, let me know. If not, know I’m probably going to do it anyway.