The Last Jedi: The Heart of Star Wars
Rian Johnson’s 2017 film The Last Jedi is, to say the least, a controversial installment in the Star Wars franchise. Amidst the controversy, however, we can find the beating heart of Star Wars.
Failure, hubris, and selfishness. Peace, purpose, and sacrifice. These aren’t just the themes that marble The Last Jedi, they’re also feelings that define the cultural context that surrounds the movie. Though much-maligned, The Last Jedi is, in my mind, the only film in the Skywalker Saga barring The Empire Strikes Back to encourage the audience to feel something besides the energy generated by a Star Wars movie. The direction of Rian Johnson is so palpable because the characters behave like real people, not like people who have to do big, bombastic things because they’re in a movie; for every action, there is a believable reaction.
Like Empire, The Last Jedi is an intimate, personal, and holistic experience. It certainly doesn’t lack the special effects, wacky world-building, character design, and off-beat humor we’ve come to know and love from Star Wars, but it isn’t defined by them. Instead, it is perhaps best viewed through the same lens one might apply to Beowulf or Journey to the West; The Last Jedi is a myth. One scene from The Last Jedi that perfectly illustrates this element of Star Wars and the necessity of understanding the film as myth is Rey’s vision on Ahch-to. Insofar as this movie is a reimagining of Empire, this scene is analogous to Luke’s experience in the cave on Dagobah, where he sees himself in his adversary. The Dark Side is a mirror; reflecting the feelings and desires of those that aren’t content with things being as they are.
“Do your work and step back. The only path to serenity.” — Laozi
Luke in The Last Jedi isn’t a hero anymore, he’s a put upon old man haunted by a terrible mistake he made in “the briefest moment of pure instinct.” Almost certainly all of us have a litany of moments in our lives that have, in one way or another and whether we realize it or not, come to define us. Luke’s failure isn’t the almost murder of Ben Solo, it’s his inability to accept that he is more than that failure; that he can still decide for himself who he’s going to be. Luke’s sacrifice at the end of The Last Jedi, his death beneath the twin suns of Ahch-To, and the passing of the torch from one generation to the next mirror the very beginnings of the franchise. The heart of Star Wars isn’t Hoth, Duel of the Fates, or a fleet of wet star destroyers; it’s the lesson. “Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure, also. Yes, failure most of all.”