If The Last Jedi Ruined Your Childhood, Maybe It’s Time to Grow Up
I saw The Last Jedi this week and loved it. I also know people who didn’t. And some of the reasons for that seem fair and truly a matter of subjective taste. It’s very funny — funnier than any other Star Wars movie by at least half , like, almost Spaceballs funny— which can throw your Star Wars viewing sensibilities off for a good part of the beginning of the movie at least. It’s got a ton of sub-plots, some of which don’t always seem to feel as though they’re heading somewhere important or even specific. Ghost Yoda makes lightning hit a tree (I hope the estate of Charlotte Brontë got some sort of royalties for that one).
But the complaint I find the most fascinating is that of a certain class of men, around my age, who grew up with Luke as “their” Jedi, and who were upset by his portrayal as a cranky old recluse who rejects (for most of the movie) his hero status. Mark Hamill himself seems to have been one of the men of (exactly) Luke’s age who struggled to make sense of the character’s motivations in the film. In the end, though, Hamill came around to Johnson’s vision, and gave a performance of a lifetime, and I believe that’s precisely because he allowed himself to let go of his notions of “young Jedi” Luke and accept the most painful reality of all: Luke isn’t “young” anymore.
The beard helps. So does the haggard face and snarky old man humor. He seems, when we meet him through Rey, to be angry with himself for growing old and impotent, as though anyone can defend themselves against such things. Perhaps he felt that running away could save him from mortality itself; it would certainly keep him from falling in battle like his mentors. If so, Rey’s discovery of him upends even this simple plan. There is nowhere you can go to escape humanity’s one shared destiny, not even if you are a Jedi.
I think that what these men who are upset by Luke’s characterization really fear is that they, too, have become like Luke — a shell of their former selves, cynical, a bit impotent. You know…grown up. Why are so many of these men so specifically afraid of movies like The Last Jedi or other reboots or reimaginings of popular film franchises “ruining their childhoods”? Why this particular battle cry? They fear that such films will ruin their childhood, I believe, not because it has destroyed some sacred narrative outside of their own experience, but precisely because it stares them in their own weathered faces and reminds them that their childhoods are ruined, or at least over, and that it’s time to grow up.
Women from across America have rallied to the battle cry of #MeToo. We are speaking up and speaking out about the patriarchal abuses of powerful men. We will no longer allow their violations to be swept under the rug or laughed off with a “boys will be boys” shake of the head. They are not “boys.” They are men. And it is time for them to act like it.
Actually, it is time for them to act better than men, or at least better than the men who came before them, be they Jedi or Sith or Hollywood producer or CEO or athlete or President of the United States. It is time for men to be aware of their privilege and the power it affords them, of how they exploit women’s labor, silence their voices, maintain the power structures that keep them from thriving, all in the name of maintaining order, of protecting the canon. From what, might I ask? A new hope?
There’s a beauty to inherited wisdom. The passing of knowledge from one generation to the next maintains a connection with the past while ensuring that important ideas survive into the future. But there’s a danger, too, in the kind of wisdom that the wise pass from master to disciple in an unbroken chain, which is that this passing itself becomes a form of power containment, a method by which wisdom is kept in the hands and minds of those already deemed worthy, which is to say those who share a kinship with the powerful who have come before. This is how systems of oppression are maintained, even by well-meaning people, even by the Jedis themselves.
Rey finds Luke, not the other way around. The Force found her, not through a master or a mentor or a stack of dusty old books in a tree, but because it called to her, from within her, and demanded of her a strength and fortitude she didn’t know she had. It is right that Luke rejects Rey, for her path is forward, without the roadmaps written by the men who came before her. Yoda wants to destroy the inherited wisdom so that a “nobody” like Rey can forge a new path on the strength of her own character and ability and will, not through her lineage or some sense of worth bestowed upon her by a Jedi Council, which, as is rightly pointed out by Luke himself, had its own hubristic hand in allowing the darkness of the Empire to cast its pall over the galaxy.
If you forget the past, you are doomed to repeat it, but if you live in it you are assured to never see the future. Rey understood the subtlety of this distinction where Kylo Ren did not. The irony of the men who bristle at this new Jedi canon is that they themselves, like Kylo, are in their own way obsessed with the past, are willing to aim all of their guns at the figure who dares challenge their notions of the past, even if that figure is himself of the past, and wishes to be forgotten. It’s time to realize that you are not always the hero of the story. It’s time to accept that greatness can come from places you never even thought to look. It’s time to grow up, gentlemen, and if Luke did it, so can you. May the force be with you.