The Last Jedi: On the Character Assassination of Luke Skywalker
…and other major issues with The Last Jedi.
In this essay I will show that The Last Jedi is not just an incompetently made film, it’s a stain on the legacy of Star Wars and a direct assault on the core fanbase, especially those who grew up on the Original Trilogy (OT). With a single exception, I will be using only the films themselves to make my points.
MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE LAST JEDI AHEAD.
This film is a big middle finger to anyone who grew up believing in Luke Skywalker. Without any good reason, it completely destroys his established character and turns him into a terrified and cowardly old man committed to dying alone wallowing in regret. By strongly contrasting Luke with the saintly Rey, and presenting her as a flawless paragon of moral perfection, the film not only makes her a distant character who’s hard to relate to, it also belittles the struggles of Luke and Anakin and all of their allies, and retroactively subverts the hopes and overall message of the OT.
In the book Anime: From Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, author Susan J. Napier tells the story of a young girl in Japan who wrote to Hayao Miyazaki with a small complaint: she couldn’t relate to the heroes of his films, because they were too strong and perfect, and thus, distant. That unattainable ideal is honestly what Rey represents, an impossible character whose only inner conflict (and I’m being generous with the word ‘conflict’ here) is that she doesn’t know who her parents are. Over the course of two films, she has never suffered a great, life-changing loss or had to face any real moral dilemma. In fact, her personal development has been rushed as all hell because, at the end of The Force Awakens, it’s only been a couple of days since she encountered Finn and got caught up in the war. The only window for time to have passed occurs during the period after the destruction of Starkiller Base but before Rey leaves to seek out Luke. Even so, I don’t think we’re looking at a significant amount of time.
In all six of the pre-Disney films, Star Wars’ protagonists undergo years-long inner journeys that change and shape their characters, leading to choices that drive the narrative. Those heroes’ growth through various challenges (based upon the Joseph Campbell ‘hero’s journey’ template that Star Wars greatly popularized) shaped their inner evolution while simultaneously driving the narratives of their respective films. Before we get into The Last Jedi at all, let’s first investigate why this model of gradual character growth is so essential to telling a story in the idiom of the Campbellian mythos.
The Hero’s Journeys of Anakin and Luke Skywalker
Anakin was introduced as a talented young boy with a great hand for machines, pride in his skills, a lot of ambition, and of course, strength in the Force. These traits are presented as mostly beneficial to his work as a slave boy for Watto and his career as a podracer, but via the first Jedi Temple scene we see that Anakin’s future is clouded and uncertain, and that there is fear in him. There is also a deleted scene in The Phantom Menace where Anakin beats the tar out of Greedo, who was evidently bullying him. Between that scene being cut and Anakin’s tough-kid trash-talk with Sebulba, we get a sense that Lucas wanted to drop only subtle hints of Anakin’s darker side this early on.
In Attack of the Clones, the first things we notice about Anakin are that he’s anxious, reckless, impulsive, petulant, and thirsty for Padme’s affection. By this point, Anakin’s spent many years in training, and is ready for some action, in every sense of the word. He also undergoes a major challenge when he senses that his mother is in peril. His response? To slay the sand people in anger. His scene of admission to Padme shows how torn he is — not because of his remorse, but because he had none (“They were animals, and I slaughtered them like animals.”).
And of course, in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin was torn between his political friendship with Sheev Palpatine and the Jedi Order, but he did not take a holistic view of the matter and allowed his judgment to be led by Palpatine, who preyed on his fears. Through his powerful position, Palpatine also gave Anakin the kind of lovin’ he couldn’t get from either the Jedi or Padme. He stroked Anakin’s ego, drop-fed him with praise, fanned the fires of his ambitions, and finally, told him what he already knew — that he was stronger than the Jedi, and their dogmatic ways were holding him back.
Everything that informed Anakin’s turn to the dark side was a question of nurture over nature. He was a sweet kid, starting out. But he was presented with obstacles, and given choices. Some of his choices may have been either bad or good, depending on your point of view, but the ones that led him towards the dark side were clearly defined. He slew the sand people. He slew an unarmed Count Dooku. He let his fear of Padme dying — a strong premonition, nothing more — influence his actions to turn against Mace Windu and support Palpatine’s murderous plot. He killed children. He murdered the Seperatist leadership. Finally, he choked his own wife. When he awakens in the Darth Vader suit (after a torturous process), the first thing little Ani asks is whether Padme is alive. His grief and anguish over learning that she died drove him over the edge in sorrow. The aftermath of Revenge of the Sith paints a very clear picture of what kind of a man the imposing villain of the OT really was. Vader was not born innately evil, nor a misunderstood hero. He’s a tragic figure who made some very bad choices and became essentially spiritually trapped in a cyborg body, doing the bidding of the master he was cleverly manipulated into serving. And despite better robotics existing (see General Grievous), Darth Sidious kept Vader in a suit that was awkward and limiting, so as to keep his power and spirit forever in check. Now that’s a mythological story if I ever heard one. It’s Faustian, epic, allegorical, and larger-than-life.
Now off to Luke Skywalker’s story, which we’ll explore in slightly greater detail because of the multitude of choices he makes and the path that he takes. In Star Wars/A New Hope, Luke was a budding pilot yearning for adventure and to escape the life of a moisture farmer. He was ready to join the Empire if he had to, in order to realize his ambitions. Then things happen and his aunt and uncle are killed. This is the major turning point for him. He’d never thought his desire for adventure would manifest itself in this way. Now he had nowhere to go, and was caught up in something much larger than himself. Enraptured by tales of the Jedi Knights and the needs of the pretty princess, Luke chooses to accompany Obi-Wan, and makes the effort to pull his weight. He presses Han to make sure they’re not being swindled. He actively decides to train in the Force, finds training with the droid difficult, and yet continues on. He uses his wits and skills to make it off the Death Star, makes a choice to join the Rebellion, attempts to convince Han to fight with them, and turns off his targeting computer so that he can put his faith in the Force to guide his hand.
With regards to the destruction of the first Death Star, the Force in this instance acts as the Tao, or Qi, or Holy Spirit if you will; essentially, we’re talking about the energy of the universe. This is the most important moment in all of Star Wars. Ultimately, the universe decides to help guide Luke’s hand to take out the Death Star. Even as he celebrates with his friends, Luke knows deep down that he owes his success to the power of the Force, not to his own ego. He avoids the trap that Anakin fell in. Luke’s father constantly hogged the spotlight, took credit for every action that went in his favor, and bragged about saving Obi-Wan (except for that one time post-rescue in Revenge of the Sith when he defers to Obi-Wan in order to one-up him with put-on modesty).
Furthermore, in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke is visited by Obi-Wan’s Force ghost, who tells him to seek out Yoda to continue his training. Luke doesn’t want to leave his friends, but he realizes that he must do his best to become stronger to face Vader, so he reluctantly leaves. On Dagobah, he must confront his weaknesses. Luke is impatient and impulsive. Yoda taunts him by being mischievous and misleading. Then he reveals that his silly alien act was just a front, and Luke immediately insists that he won’t fail Yoda. The training that Yoda prescribes for Luke is specifically tailored to address his weaknesses, which are, namely, his lack of patience and his impulsiveness. And sure enough, it is this impatience, coupled with his attachment towards his friends, which spurs Luke to action. Even knowing full well that he might be walking into a trap, Luke can’t ignore his friends’ suffering. The difference between his reaction to this premonition and Anakin’s in Attack of the Clones is that Luke is acting out of genuine love and concern from feeling the certainty of his friends’ suffering, not from fear caused by a dream (one likely incepted into him by Sheev). Please keep in mind that the ideas of premonition, dreams, and even strong feelings about the present being taken seriously are storytelling tools often used in mythology.
Luke’s rush into action leads to immediate negative consequences for himself, but the aftermath spurs on a lot of inner growth and soul-searching. It was utterly important for Luke to learn (A) the truth of his parentage, (B) that he was not yet Vader’s equal in combat, and (C) that he should have listened to his Masters. Luke takes these lessons to heart, and when we see him again in Return of the Jedi, he’s had time to grow and to train. Luke surprises us with his aptitude and skills and saves the day. Then, before the Endor mission, Luke shows the depths of his sensitivity to the Force when he senses that Vader is on the nearby ship. Luke then confronts his father in full acceptance of the truth of his own parentage and insists that he can be redeemed. This is a bold move from Luke, and he suffers a lot at the hands of the Emperor because of it. He’s put to the ultimate test as he’s been shown that his friends on the forest moon and in the Rebel fleet are all doomed. Yet Luke continues to have faith in the Force and in his father.
Luke’s belief in the innate good of the human heart to triumph over evil wakes up the good in Anakin Skywalker — the part of him that screamed “what have I done?” after letting Mace Windu die to Force Lightning in a similar manner — and Anakin throws the Emperor off the balcony. The end of the arcs of both of these characters takes place after Anakin asks Luke to take his mask off, revealing Sebastian Shaw’s pale baby face, now at peace. Anakin implores Luke to tell his sister that he was right about him. After nearly two decades of murderous acts, Anakin has brought balance to the Force, but it’s only through opening himself to the spark of love and understanding that Luke had awoken in him by suffering for his father’s sake. This act of unconditional love towards a mass murderer echoed Anakin’s own sacrifice, reminding him in just the right moment why he sold his soul to Palpatine to the first place — it was to save his wife and children — and this snaps him out of the dark side.
The journeys that these characters go on are compelling in and of themselves, but together, they form the skeleton that holds the first six Star Wars films together. Say what you will about the subplots in the prequels, Anakin’s and Luke’s lives inform one another and intersect, and the father-son redemption arc is airtight. We saw much of Anakin’s difficult childhood and how it shaped him. And we can imagine what Luke’s childhood was like from the characterizations of his aunt and uncle in Attack of the Clones and A New Hope. A complete story has been told. Now that we’ve gotten that all out of the way, let’s move on to the new films and how they handle the journey of Rey.
Rey’s Non-Hero’s Journey
Rey is the anti-Star Wars hero. She finds herself suddenly innately and unimaginably powerful for no good reason, with the only vague explanation in the films being a throwaway line by Snoke about how Kylo Ren’s sudden rise in power left a vacuum on the Light Side of the Force that needed to be filled. Rey does things considered to be impossible, knows things she shouldn’t, and is able to do great feats with her power without any negative consequences ever arising from her inability to control or predict said power.
She has been correctly identified as the epitome of the Mary Sue trope — that is, a character that is perfect in every way, solves every problem, and always steps up to the plate to deal with any situation. Rey overshadows everyone else in the galaxy by virtue of having no character flaws and being proficient in literally everything she does. In The Force Awakens, she can pull off a perfect Immelmann turn with the Millennium Falcon despite never having flown it in her life. She uses a Jedi mind trick without prior instruction. Upon using a lightsaber for the first time in her life, Rey defeats an immensely powerful, trained Force-user who slaughtered a temple full of Jedi trainees (an argument can be made that Kylo Ren’s shaken mental state after killing his father caused his mind to be clouded, but the hateful act of murder is supposed to empower dark side adepts, which is why Anakin was able to slay all the younglings after assisting in Mace Windu’s murder). It’s also true that Kylo was shot by Chewie’s Bowcaster and perhaps a bit weakened. But Rey’s proficiency in saber combat still comes out of left field. Many fans anticipated that there would be a reveal explaining that Rey had also been a student of the Force, and had just lost her memory or been left on Jakku for her own protection. We got no such thing.
In The Last Jedi, it is shown that Rey has an innate understanding of how to wield and use a lightsaber. No training required, folks! Over the course of a week at most (the events of The Force Awakens take place quite rapidly, and I assume there’s only a brief break between those events and the beginning of The Last Jedi), she goes from having no knowledge of the Force to besting Luke Skywalker in single combat, to expertly taking out the Praetorian Guards, to being able to lift what I presume to be several tons of boulders with the Force. All of this is patently ridiculous.
For comparison’s sake, why don’t we contrast Luke’s years of training with Rey’s innate knowledge of the Force? He struggles against the training droid, while she instinctively takes to the lightsaber. That said, the fact that her parents are nobodies (unless we later discover she was literally born from the Force and Kylo was lying) and there is no prophecy about someone so unbelievably powerful (remember, we are talking about a saga steeped in and inspired by mythology here) makes her sudden strength in the Force quite intriguing as a plot point, and for some viewers, this unexpected shake-up is a breath of fresh air.
One theory is that the Force “chose” Rey as a conduit to flow through, and it desires to use her to bring about a change in the tide of the wars. But if this is the case, there’s no allusion to it in The Last Jedi. Another theory is that Rey’s powers “awakened” along with those of a glut of other adepts due to an imbalance in the Force that occurred after Luke cut off his Force connection.
Even if one of these far-out theories is true, they don’t help the character much, because we all know what happens to individuals who are suddenly given large amounts of power with abilities they may not even know about. They struggle to control and focus it, and inevitably cause collateral damage.
Luke chalks Rey’s proficiency up to “raw power”. Now, I found this a missed opportunity for some great character development. If Rey was suddenly ultimately powerful in the Force, she ought to be feeling overwhelmed, sensing things left and right, and having a hard time shutting out subtle sensory details, or knowing her own strength. Yet unlike what happens to Anakin and Luke in the PT and OT, or even to Finn, Luke, and Poe in The Last Jedi, her actions never lead to negative consequences, and thus, she never really learns anything.
“The greatest teacher, failure is,” Yoda says in this new film, and yet, it is Luke who is constantly and continually failing. In his old age in this Disney canon, Luke’s stubborn and stuck in a mire of regrets, waiting to die. On the other hand, Rey, in true Mary Sue fashion, has never failed onscreen. She’s never experienced being unable to help her friends, or having to choose between their suffering and her own life. The worst that has happened to her is that she’s had her mind invaded by Kylo, and she’s been Force-tortured by Snoke, but she immediately rebounds from both, and neither of those actions have any consequences past being beats on a script.
The biggest struggle Rey faces is in coming to terms with the fact that her parents basically abandoned her (or at least, that’s what the film leads us to believe; there’s maddeningly no conclusive evidence to prove that Kylo wasn’t lying). Rey is curious about the dark place on the island, the hole that leads her into a hall of mirrors where she’s mentally trapped into just going through the motions of endless instances of herself, and at the end of this trial, she asks to see her parents. Only, instead of seeing her parents, she’s confronted with her own face. The vaguely defined trial seems to be telling her that there are no easy answers, and that she will have to shape her own destiny.
Now, being attached to the idea of one’s parentage is an outward symptom of a deeper inner lack. In Rey’s case, she’s simply utterly confused as to what to do with all of her newfound power, and thinks that finding her parents will be the key to unlocking her path. This is also why she implores Luke for guidance. But in terms of an inner journey, this is a blatant cop-out. Her inability to reconcile her path isn’t a real character failing or inner demon. It’s a reality to be lived through, not a flaw to overcome and transcend.
Thanks to this lack of inner conflict, Rey is a cipher, a bland character with less development than an underwritten shonen anime protagonist. And even worse, over the course of Episodes VII and VIII, she has been dragged along by the needs of the plot, rather than being an active force of change within it.
Chalk it up to bad planning. It’s in part because there is no unified vision between Abrams’ The Force Awakens and Johnson’s The Last Jedi that the latter is so unsatisfying. The first film set up a bunch of difficult questions and led the plot momentum towards a certain direction, and the second gleefully subverts all of that in the name of “letting the past die”, one of the film’s central themes.
It’s all well and good to want to wrap up loose ends and go for ‘gotcha!’ moments to shake things up, but this film does them at the expense of the overarching plot, character development, and thematic content, and instead injects meaningless bits of pithy humor and preachy “life lessons”. The problem with this approach is once you insult, ignore, and outright disregard the lore of your mythological space fantasy, it won’t carry any weight when you need it to.
Care to give some examples, you might ask? Well, let me just briefly interrupt myself to take a detour and count the number of unanswered or frankly unbelievable character-driven questions posed by this film.
Basic issues with The Last Jedi that the Disney canon can’t explain
How come Luke, upon learning that Kylo Ren killed Han, and the First Order destroyed the New Republic with a star-sucking ultra-weapon, did not immediately decide to go to Leia to help her? Fear? Shame? Even with the Starkiller Base destroyed she was clearly in mortal danger with a sudden power vacuum and the First Order on the rampage.
If Luke is already willing to die alone on Ahch-to, doesn’t that mean that he has nothing left to live for? And if that was the case, wouldn’t he seize any opportunity to redeem himself by dealing with the problem that he feels he created? To just sit around and mope about his past failures does not fit with his established character. It is a sign of a man who no longer values life, who in fact is anti-life and doesn’t care if his sister lives or dies. I can’t accept this. One might argue that Luke was afraid that Kylo or Snoke might turn him to the dark side, but there was no evidence of this in the film.
Did Rey even have a plan when she went to see Luke? Was this not something discussed by the Resistance? Was she just going to stubbornly wait there forever? There was really no Plan B for if he refused to come back?
By what reasoning would Luke not have read the ancient Jedi texts, as he insinuates to Master Yoda? Laziness? Impossible. He knew that he carried the entire future of the Jedi with him. It was his absolute duty to read and digest them and apply them to his teachings. Arguing otherwise is tantamount to believing that Luke does not care about life itself, humanity, or the Force, which is patently untrue and impossible. He shut himself away out of fear and shame and cracks jokes with R2 and Rey, which means he can still feel something.
Just why is Kylo Ren so innately evil? How did he possibly end up with so much darkness within him? The film seems to insist that he was born that way, which blatantly goes against Episodes I-VI’s established themes of nurture over nature in terms of human development. There is always a reason for why one turns to the light side or to the dark. It may be true that Snoke did some terrible things to mess with Kylo and gave him some sort of brain damage while he was in Leia’s womb, but this is never mentioned in the films. Leia and Han seemed at a loss as to why Kylo was evil, and Kylo himself can provide little insight. Allow me to quote the film:
Rey: Why did you hate your father? Give me an honest answer. You had a father who loved you, who gave a damn about you.
Kylo Ren: I didn’t hate him.
Rey: Then why?
Kylo Ren: Why what? Why what? Say it.
Rey: Why did you… why did you kill him? I don’t understand.
Kylo Ren: No? Your parents threw you away like garbage.
Rey: They didn’t!
Kylo Ren: They did. But you can’t stop needing them. It’s your greatest weakness. Looking for them in everyone. In Han Solo, now in Skywalker.
So from this exchange, I’m led to believe that Kylo never hated Han, but rather saw his own attachment to his father as a weakness that he needed to eradicate. Well, that just plain doesn’t make sense. Attachment is supposed to lead to the emotions that empower dark side adepts.
If Kylo Ren was suddenly turned, then why aren’t we told what seed existed in him that Snoke was able to play on? Why is such an important character failing never addressed? Just why was Luke so certain, even for an instant, that he couldn’t be redeemed? It’s so unclear.
If a character is as evil and twisted but also as conflicted as Kylo, especially one that originated from the failings of the three main characters of the OT (who, when last we saw them before The Force Awakens, had already overcome every adversity through the power of love and friendship and have all somehow regressed and lost their character development), we deserve to see more of what made him that way. In the films, we don’t have any background as to how Ben encountered Snoke. In fact, we don’t have any background regarding Snoke whatsoever, how he became so powerful in the ways of the Force, and how he managed to step up to command the First Order.
These are basic questions that were posed by The Force Awakens, and there’s no blaming the fans if they expect answers. Defenders of this sequel trilogy may point out that in the OT, we were given no information about Emperor Palpatine, but we didn’t require it then. He was accepted as part of the world building and his mystery was interesting. But once you make a sequel to that story, one that’s supposed to take place in that same universe, but introduces a ridiculously powerful alien character that has arrived out of left field to break the peace established in Return of the Jedi, seize the single most powerful position in the galaxy, and drive Han Solo’s own son to kill him, you most definitely owe the audience an explanation as to where he came from and what his motivation/endgame is. Otherwise, there’s no weight to his actions or death. But this film even wastes Andy Serkis’ talents.
Speaking of endgames and power, I’d like to point out that, even if we don’t know what made him so evil and he comes off more often than not as an indecisive man-child with no leadership qualities, Kylo Ren was one of the best-written, developed, and acted characters in this film, though that isn’t saying much.
Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s look a bit closer at what Rian Johnson, Disney, and Kathleen Kennedy have done to Luke Skywalker.
The Character Assassination of Luke Skywalker by Disney, Kathleen Kennedy, Rian Johnson, and J.J. Abrams
Suffice it to say that the Luke Skywalker that greets us in The Last Jedi is a complete point-by-point subversion of the depiction of his character in the OT. He’s a grumpy, miserable, failed man who is unwilling to even talk to Rey. By making her knock and wait at Luke’s doorstep, Johnson surely thinks that he is making some parallel to the Zen masters who would constantly reject their students as a way of testing them before training them. But in this instance, it comes off as untimely and ridiculous.
Set aside for the moment the question of whether the Jedi should continue or not. The question of Rey’s training or of ending the Order outright could come later. The Luke of the past films would not have hesitated, upon hearing of the events of the last film, to do the right thing, to ‘man up’, raise his X-Wing out of the water, and, even if he couldn’t save Kylo Ren, to at least attempt to protect Leia’s life and the lives of innocents after his nephew killed Han in cold blood.
That this Luke is conflicted about training Rey makes sense, but why is training even the central question? Best to first give her the full picture, and this should be easy if he’s already resigned to dying alone. It should be clear from her own spunk and drive that unless he gives her the whole story, whatever rhetoric he spins to dismiss her isn’t going to be able to convince her why the Jedi must end, or that the Force, light or dark, is dangerous.
And yet he dawdles on and avoids that, too. It’s maddening how this bastardized Luke is content to roll over and do nothing. The slaughter of his students ought to have spurred any man, let alone one who has gone through so much hardship and sacrificed so much already, to deal with the problem he had a part in creating, rather than wallowing in self-pity over it, all the while knowing that he is the only person with the power and the adeptness in the Force who could possibly do something about Kylo Ren.
The fate of the galaxy is at stake due to Luke’s own major mistake, and he knows he could have prevented the death of his friend Han, but for most of the film, he doesn’t seem the least bit troubled over it. This is why the film cut away from showing Luke’s reaction to Han’s death — because they couldn’t make what ought to have been genuine grief work with how he continues to mope around for another hour and a half.
He lies to Rey, denies the truth, and it’s only when Rey physically attacks him and defeats him (which I’m also calling bullshit on) does he relent.
And the truth? We’re told that Luke snuck up to his nephew’s bedside, read the evil that was in his heart, and thought for a second that he ought to just kill him. Then that second passed and Kylo ended up with the wrong idea.
First off, that Luke changed his mind so quickly shouldn’t excuse the fact that, as his first thought, he instinctively went towards killing Ben in cold blood. What manner of evil could have been in this child’s mind to make him so sure that was the only way to go? Surely it wasn’t evil enough, because most of Kylo’s hatred is self-directed (as evidenced by his tantrums, drive to cut off all attachments, and constant disappointment in himself), not to mention he still has qualms about killing the members of his own family. He couldn’t open fire upon his own mother. There are people here on Earth who would gladly kill their mothers. Are they any worse than the mass murderer known as Darth Vader, whom Luke unconditionally forgave and believed in, even though he betrayed the Jedi Order, slew every youngling in the Jedi Temple, and spent years hunting down Jedi in exile and ruling the Galaxy with an iron fist? Just what did Luke see, exactly? It doesn’t add up, in my opinion.
Taken all together, these are worse than the actions of a beaten and downtrodden character who saw all of his students massacred and his dreams up in smoke. They are the actions of a deranged sociopath.
Let us be as specific as possible. We are not just talking about onscreen actions. It is the context within which the film presents Luke Skywalker that is immensely troubling, rings absolutely hollow for the character, and retroactively damages the past work.
Let’s diverge from the films for a second and take a very recent example. In the campaign of the new, Disney-canon Star Wars Battlefront II, Luke Skywalker is noble and heroic. He goes out of his way to save an Inferno Squad member’s life. This character inspires his squadmates to turn against the Empire. In this game, Luke is portrayed as being heroic and compassionate.
All that heroism, selflessness, and wisdom came at a hefty price. Unlike saintly Rey, Luke had to earn every last bit of his street cred. To overcome his inner faults and open himself up to the Force, Luke trained with Obi-Wan, then with Yoda, and (as every work has led us to believe) for many years after Yoda’s death. He was not the kind of man who would stop improving or studying the Force. He was not the kind of man who would stammer and try to evade his teacher’s question when asked if he had read the ancient Jedi texts, no matter how broken he might have been by the loss of his students to an inexplicably evil boy, whom he also inexplicably almost murdered in his sleep. To buy into the reality of this film is to accept so many implausible scenarios it made my head spin and reject what I was seeing outright.
If you’d like to go even further into hypothetical scenarios, follow me down this train of thought. Luke, who’s not only naturally strong in the Force, but trained for many years in it, ought to have sensed the darkness within Ben Solo at a young age. Like any great Zen monk, he then ought to have taken immediate remedial steps to show Ben love and compassion and lead him down the correct path. If Luke did not sense this darkness, if it was hidden to him all that time, then either Snoke was actively hiding it from him and Force-sensitive Leia somehow at every second of young Ben’s life, or Ben was born so sneaky and devious that he could have fooled a Jedi Master as to his true nature as an infant. Neither option seems to make sense to me.
Are you starting to see the mental gymnastics it takes to consider even just the primary characters and events of The Last Jedi canon?
Defenders of the sequel trilogy have been making the fallacious argument that Luke’s character needed to be severely weakened in order to empower Rey and Ben. But there are so many other ways they could have put Luke in a disadvantaged position or made him unable to take things into his own hands. Luke could have been fighting a battle against the dark side of the Force within himself. He could have been hunted down like Obi-Wan and Yoda while having dependents whom he needed to protect and keep secret (much like himself when he was younger). He might have been studying or meditating in an attempt to find a solution to the constant imbalances in the Force and in how he went wrong in training Ben. Instead, not only do we have a Luke who is unwilling to engage in the world, the film goes out of his way to degrade and belittle him. This film didn’t just jump the shark or nuke the fridge, it milked the space anteater-mermaid-cow.
Just take a quick look at some of the fan theories being made, and you’re sure to see a whole mess of ideas that would have been far better and more intriguing than what we were given. And with 40 years of prior material, Disney didn’t even need to look far. The Lucas-sanctioned Expanded Universe had no shortage of great and poetic storytelling ideas. The more I think about it, the more baffling it is that Kathleen Kennedy would go so far as to erase the strong and complex Mara Jade from canon in order to push the bland Rey.
I haven’t even brought up the two other subplots and myriad plot-holes that populate this messy film, and how none of the three parallel scenarios are connected to one another at all, thematically or story-wise, but for the loosest strings. But since we’re on the topic…
Let’s have a few nitpicks, shall we?
So let me get this straight. Supreme Leader Snoke can remotely Force-choke people, read every thought in Kylo Ren’s mind, and use Force lightning (and he was even described by Disney as being stronger than Darth Sidious), but he literally couldn’t sense the movement of the lightsaber right beside him? Why did he even have to close his eyes to see Kylo’s thoughts? Why did it take seconds after Snoke is killed for the two guards by his side to react, and why was their reaction so slow and lifeless?
As to whether the Force can be used to survive, let alone move in the vacuum of space as per Leia’s return, I’ll leave that to the astrophysicists and those deeper steeped in the lore… it makes my head hurt just considering it.
Poe Dameron and Admiral Holdo’s arc is utterly useless and simply the result of bad management and miscommunication. All she had to do was tell him, “yes, there is a plan, and it’s Leia’s plan, but I can’t trust anyone right now, especially after your hotshot stunt, and the fact that we don’t know how they tracked us through lightspeed.” Subplot solved, unpredictable hotshot put on ice.
The whole conceit of the Resistance running out of fuel is something I’ll have to concede as relating to the functioning of their equipment, but one thing that doesn’t make sense is how quickly they run out of fuel and why, for instance, the Medical Frigate slows down after it runs out of power, seeing as how there’s no inertia in space and any object set in motion should continue at the same velocity until acted upon by another force.
Also, why did Admiral Holdo wait until several other transports were blasted before ramming that pursuing First Order ship (earlier it’s blatantly stated that was the plan, but they make it out to be a spur of the moment sacrifice), and why didn’t the ramming at lightspeed end that whole fleet? Even accounting for any manner of shields, that much speed and force should have done much more than just cutting a large hole in that flagship. The shockwave and debris alone ought to have wiped out the entire fleet.
Here is a Wikipedia article that offers more information on the Relativistic Kill Vehicle trope often seen in science fiction.
A 1 kg mass traveling at 99% of the speed of light would have a kinetic energy of 5.47×1017 joules. In explosive terms, it would be equal to 132 megatons of TNT, or approximately 75 megatons more than the yield of Tsar Bomba, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. 1 kg of mass-energy is 8.99×1016 joules, or about 21.5 megatons of TNT.
EDIT (01/28/18): Wikipedia took down the Relativistic Kill Vehicle Trope page! Was it due to pressure from Disney? I don’t understand. Here is a backup page hosting that same information.
Even worse, what Holdo did introduces a gigantic plot hole across the saga. Why even have dogfights anymore if all it takes to destroy the largest ships are lightspeed kamikaze attacks? Could it truly be that this is the first time in the Star Wars universe anyone has thought of using that as a battle tactic?
Oh, and Finn and Rose’s storyline went absolutely nowhere. Benicio del Toro’s character might have been interesting if that arc had even the slightest bearing on the main plot. Captain Phasma was wasted. BB-8 is made out to be capable of doing almost anything. He can tie up guards, board and pilot a walker, fly Finn and Rose into the base, etc… it’s absolutely insulting to the First Order how much this little droid is able to get away with. The Resistance should build an army of BB-8s and let them take down the First Order.
Why are there no TIE Interceptors, Bombers (who ought to have been deployed against the Resistance ships), or other small fighter craft? Are the wasteful fools that run the First Order just down to regular old TIE Fighters now?
On that note, how does the First Order continue to get its funding? By bullying other systems and running a protection racket? They lost so many Stormtroopers, ships, and even their entire planet-sized base at the end of The Force Awakens, but there’s no evidence of that having hurt them here, at least not enough for them to take pause and regroup.
With these two military powers at each other’s throats, how come no other force in the galaxy has stepped in to fill the power vacuum, to pick a side and assist one or the other, or to challenge either the First Order or Resistance? Don’t the highest-ranking officers of the First Order have better things to do than chase the Resistance for days at a time? Couldn’t they have another fleet warp in to the other side of the fleeing Resistance and catch them in a pincer attack? How does the First Order maintain control of so much of the galaxy with such a comparatively small force and with such little support, especially now that they lost their strongest weapon and everyone knows they blew up the New Republic? Is there literally no one left to care? What’s happening on Coruscant right now? Does the Senate even exist anymore? (And no, it wasn’t the planet that blew up in The Force Awakens - that was Hosnian Prime.)
It’s like these films are happening in a large cosmic vacuum. Why doesn’t the film even attempt to answer these questions? Just the slightest bit of context would be helpful.
Oh, and how about the Knights of Ren? Way to build up a series of cool-looking characters and then discard them completely.
Here’s another complaint that was brought up to me. How come Kylo Ren couldn’t sense that Luke was just Force Projecting himself? He ought to have been able to sense Luke’s presence, or lack thereof. It was pointed out to me that Leia seemed to have noticed that Luke wasn’t really there. So why should Kylo Ren, who is presumably powerful enough in the Force to stop a laser blast in mid-air the first time we see him, not be able to tell that he wasn’t actually fighting Luke?
One observation I read in a comments section was that The Last Jedi plays and feels like a Netflix film. I would have to agree. It’s mostly clinical, only artful when it absolutely needs to be, and largely written, shot, and edited like a Marvel film. Every serious moment is undercut with a cheap joke, and for over half of the film’s runtime, it’s blandly lit and composed. Where Gareth Edwards took pains to make Rogue One, though shot digitally, gel visually with the style of the OT, and even J.J. Abrams attempted to add some flair (and flares) to spice up his shot compositions, The Last Jedi feels boring and digital in its aesthetic, mise-en-scene, sets, and lighting setups, despite being shot on 35mm. It’s like for about 60% of the film, the filmmakers went out of their way to make the film look and flow as blandly as possible, only to spice it up towards the end. But hey, at least John Williams’ score is better this time around.
Why the Disney canon will never eclipse George Lucas’ vision
So far, fan reaction to The Last Jedi has been decidedly mixed. Some love it, some hate it, and others think it was just all right.
The film goes out of its way to preach direct messages to the audience, with one of the main ones being spoken outright by Kylo Ren.
Kylo Ren: It’s time to let old things die. Snoke, Skywalker, the Sith, the Jedi, the Rebels… let it all die.
What’s clear to me, from the honestly disturbing scene of Yoda setting fire to the Jedi tree and giggling about it, is that director Rian Johnson’s priority was in destroying — not deconstructing, destroying — the legacy and consequences of every Star Wars film that came before his. And he threw the baby out with the bath water. This is an act of monumental ego on the part of a filmmaker (a filmmaker whose previous work I loved, by the way) who has shown that he doesn’t even grasp the finer details of Mr. Lucas’ mythology.
Case in point: let’s take perhaps the film’s most important scene. Luke is coming clean to Rey on the truth regarding Kylo Ren.
Luke: Lesson two. Now that they’re extinct, the Jedi are romanticized, deified. But if you strip away the myth and look a their deeds, the legacy of the Jedi is a failure. Hypocrisy, hubris.
Rey: That’s not true.
Luke: At the height of their powers the Jedi allowed Darth Sidious to rise, create the Empire, and wipe them out.
Amazing, Luke. Every word of you just said was wrong.
During the events of the Prequel Trilogy, the Jedi weren’t at the height of their powers at all, and to say so is insulting to anyone who knows anything about Star Wars. The tide was shifting and the Jedi were growing weaker. Master Yoda admitted that he could no longer sense as clearly as he used to, which is why no one predicted the rise of Darth Sidious. This outright lie, written by Johnson and told by Luke to an impressionable Rey, goes against the clearly established lore in the prequels, not to mention numerous other non-film sources that make it clear the Jedi were in decline around the time of the Battle of Naboo.
And before anyone claims that Lucas and Hamill are 100% all right with these deeply flawed sequel films, please consider that Mr. Lucas can’t speak as freely as he would like (recall the apology he made after the Charlie Rose interview), and that he has a vested interest in these films’ success, since he owns billions of dollars in Disney stock.
As such, it is up to us fans to hold Disney accountable for their treatment of Star Wars. And to this end, I’m officially boycotting all further output from Disney. I’ve only read a few of the Legacy/EU books, and a long time ago, but I will only consider those stories to be canon now. They aren’t perfect, but their stories and characters are far more interesting.
If I am disagreeing with fundamental story or character decisions, it is because I believe The Last Jedi is blatantly disrespectful to everything previously established in the Star Wars canon. Disney has drawn a clear line in the sand and rejected so many of the fundamental building blocks and story/character choices that made Star Wars great that this film, and whatever follows next from it, can hardly even be called Star Wars at all.
No, The Last Jedi is not a deconstruction of Star Wars, as some of its defenders might have you believe. It is the anti-Star Wars, a blatant destruction and desecration of the foundation of the series from the ground up. It derives its power from the shock value of going against the grain of what this series has always been about, and of eliminating any iota of courage or heroism in Luke Skywalker, only giving us the bare modicum of a redemption arc by having him commit a courageous sacrifice in the final act, and only after nearly all of the Resistance has been picked off like flies.
Over the last three decades, Disney films have pushed anti-traditional stances. Heroes and heroines alike outright reject traditions and authority and seek their own paths. I’m not saying that traditions are good by default or should not be questioned, but life isn’t so black-and-white. George Lucas knew that, and that’s why the original six Star Wars films, through the journeys of Anakin and Luke and the struggles of their friends, are filled with a nuanced exploration of these questions, of imperfect politicial ideologies in troubling times, of allowing old dogma to fade away and change, and of adaptation between times of great war and peace, all through characters that, even if they are lightly sketched, have clear ideological stances that are explored through their words and actions. This is world-building.
Han had many chances to save his own hide, but Luke inspired him, and he couldn’t turn his back on the Rebellion. A reformed gambler, Lando had to make a difficult choice between his duties to Cloud City and to his good friend. Leia risked life and limb to go into Jabba’s palace and pull off a daring trick with a thermal detonator to rescue Han. Obi-Wan had to finally accept that he had failed Anakin and face him in mortal combat, and yet, when the opportunity came to kill him, he couldn’t do it. Padme wanted to do her best for her people in a messed-up system, and through her disillusionment we saw how the political process was rigged. Even a minor character like Jango Fett just thought of himself as a man trying to make his way in the universe, and even showing that he had the ego to want an unmodified clone to raise as a son was enough to sketch out his character. Then there’s the Darth Jar Jar theory, but let’s not get into that.
“Most of the spiritual reality in the movies is based on a synthesis of all religions. A synthesis through history; the way man has perceived the unknown and the great mystery and tried to deal with that or dealing with it.” — George Lucas, Science of Star Wars
George Lucas drew from many, many influences in making Star Wars: Joseph Campbell, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, old-school sci-fi, Akira Kurosawa, Taoism, Zen Buddhism, Arthurian legends, Dune, Heinlein, film noir, 1930s Saturday matinee serials, you name it. His prequel films were so filled with ideas, they burst at the seams, and many would argue that they fell apart under their own weight thanks to sometimes weak script decisions, an overabundance of CGI, and theatrical direction. But at least they reached for the stars and attempted to tell deeply human stories about flawed characters without destroying the characters and impact of the original trilogy.
On the other hand, what have Disney used as primary sources for their version of Star Wars? The original trilogy, and possibly Spaceballs. Rather than follow the usual Star Wars pattern of the Campbellian monomyth, the film grounds Luke in the “Refusal of the Call” stage and keeps him there for nearly the entire runtime.
I’m shocked that seemingly no one involved at the highest levels of the production of this sequel trilogy has been able to grasp their hubris in attempting to replicate the tone, storyline, and script beats of the original trilogy without properly understanding what made it work in the first place.
The marrow of the skeleton of Star Wars is in its humanist message, and in the transformative power of hope. Disney has attempted to harness the pale word ‘hope’ in all three of their films so far, and each time, it has fallen flat because they don’t appreciate the finer details of world-building, or writing spiritually deep characters, or integrating character development with the plot, nor do they care about properly implementing mythic structure and storytelling devices in their films. They just want to keep the kids and non-English-speakers entertained.
Some say it’s all about the quick buck, and the International box office. Others say it’s desperation to make up in ticket sales what they aren’t making in merchandise or home video anymore. But Disney Star Wars directors, if they don’t wish to be fired, must also meet the requisite quota of one-liners, pick which demographics to appeal to in what quantities, and balance the ratio of cute mascots to action to drama. From the audience’s chair, though, the constant balancing act gets old and predictable, and the meat of the story gets lost in the static of mediocre filler content. The amount of pointless filler in this film is simply staggering, especially considering that we are talking about a product that must have cost upwards of two hundred million dollars to make.
Even so, the worst transgressions are against the cast and characters of the original trilogy. By utterly emasculating the character of Luke Skywalker beyond all reason, all Disney has done is break the hearts of millions of fans for the sake of being edgy and different.
Is it any wonder that the law of diminishing returns has already kicked into high gear after only three movies?
I am done with the Disney canon, but this is my advice to the Mouse House. First off, finish this sequel trilogy right. Give Rey some actual stakes and character development. Don’t split up the characters. The constant cross-cutting between storylines in this film got old fast. Also, don’t shy away from emotional payoff. How come we never saw Luke’s reaction to Han’s death? That was a major oversight.
Second, if you’re not even going to attempt to tell a proper mythological story, just stick to what you know. Make crowd-pleasing Marvel-esque films with the Star Wars license if you like, just set them on the other side of the galaxy, and in a timeline far, far, away from what has already been established. Don’t attempt to tell stories about Jedi or the Force or the Skywalkers anymore, not without the input of someone who actually understands mythology, spirituality, and story structure at a deep level. You’ve failed utterly in doing justice to these immortal characters, and The Last Jedi not only damages the legacy of the entire Star Wars saga, it’s clearly alienated a good segment of your fanbase.
I really wish Carrie Fisher had a better swan song than this, but the person I’m most sorry for in all this is Mark Hamill, who, by the way, turned in a great performance, even though he didn’t agree with the direction Lucasfilm wanted to take his character. Mr. Hamill said this to director Rian Johnson after reading the script for Episode VIII:
“I fundamentally disagree with virtually everything you’ve decided for my character.”
– Mark Hamill to Rian Johnson
I’m sorry you had to suffer through this, Mr. Hamill. You’re a great guy and you deserved so much better.
Thank you for reading my thoughts.
May the Force Be With You all.