It has been a week since Star Wars: The Last Jedi dropped and armies of hyperventilating nerd trolls are still wandering the streets looking for their despoiled childhoods. I get it. I felt it, too. Last Jedi was weird. It was packed full of not always funny jokes, the battles were fewer and less epic and, oh yeah, the Luke Skywalker thing.
Star Wars was my childhood. I learned how to tell stories by playing with buckets of action figures everyday for hours and hours and hours. I mastered the ventriloquistic verities of blaster and lightsaber battles. I could voice distinct X-Wing, Tie Fighter and Millennium Falcon flight sounds.
I had the requisite adolescent crush on Princess Leia, though I strongly preferred her in the giving orders/looking worried Hoth/Cloud City get up rather than the infamous golden bikini of Jabba’s Palace. The Endor look was fetching, but the braids were a bit too precious.
Yoda was my sensei. “Do or do not. There is no try,” is everything you need to know about Buddhist meditation.
John Williams was the soundtrack to my early years. I still use the “Throne Room/End Titles” to celebrate important life events. Not sure why Michelle and I didn’t use it for our wedding march. That was a missed opportunity.
So far, every new Star Wars release has been more or less a predictable affair. The Lucasfilm logo appears, the audience cheers, the unnecessary preamble words scroll and we launch into a game of interstellar cat and mouse at warp speed. Along the way, we are reminded that so and so is our only hope. Ben Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, even that pesky Anakin twerp. All of that is done now. The Last Jedi killed the formula. They told a different story.
The first 7 episodes were the Skywalker family story. Dysfunctional to be sure, but I defy you to name a single intergalactic hero worth his/her salt that doesn’t have father/mother/sister baggage. We were led to believe Star Wars would continue to be a story about the crucial importance of an all-powerful Chosen One magically born at precisely the right moment to save the galaxy from itself and restore the rightful order to things. That’s the story Lucas was telling. Its the story we thought we wanted told in endless iteration. It isn’t the story we need.
The story we need now is the story in which Luke says, “It is time for the Jedi to die, and Yoda says “pretty much”. And when Luke can’t bring himself to light the fuse, Yoda does it for him.
So many wasted conversations wondering if Rey would turn out to be a Skywalker or a Kenobi. She’s neither. Ha! She’s just a ordinary not-Skywalker like the rest of us, except she has more Force awakened in her pinky finger than all the Mace Windus and Qui-Gon Jinns who came before. Rey is a reminder that, if the Force truly is the mystical energy that binds all living things, then we should all be enjoying a bit more of it in our daily lives.
The Star Wars story we need now is one where heroes can be cowardly and where even Jedi Masters make wrong choices and are called to atone for their disturbing lack of vision.
We need a story where the cocky, reckless Han Solo-type makes things worse, not better, by taking things into his own hands. Luck isn’t a plan. Luck gets people killed.
And we need to see the Bad Guys majorly conflicted about their path to the Dark Side. We couldn’t watch Episodes I, II and III and wonder if Anakin would fall. It was his destiny. We knew it would happen. We had already met Darth Vader. Anakin’s fate was set long before the kick-ass pod race on Tatooine. Yeah, he killed a bunch of Tusken Raiders and set fire to the temple. Boys will be boys.
Kylo Ren is far more interesting. He doesn’t have to go dark. He has a choice. He knows his parents. They are good people. Still, he has that inexplicable urge to come into his full power, to be his own person, no matter the cost. He starts out pretty emo but eventually says cool, deep, existential stuff like, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.” That’s straight up Nietzsche.
And let’s have a moment with Rose, who risks her life to save Finn from his suicide run on the First Order’s battle cannon. Did she seriously just prevent Finn from ending the First Order’s assault on the rebel base? Maybe, but it is okay because “We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.” After the most intensely political year of my life, I’m hoping we might all agree to go out and get this tattooed somewhere on our selves. It is everything I have come to understand and believe about future building.
I waited a week to start writing this post. I needed time to figure out why this film felt so much more complicated than all the others. I think I get it now. The Last Jedi is the film that makes Star Wars more than just a cool idea George Lucas had forty plus years ago. This is the film that makes Star Wars more than just an insanely profitable product line.
Star Wars has been liberated from my childhood. Star Wars doesn’t just belong to me. It doesn’t just belong to you. It certainly doesn’t belong to George Lucas. It belongs to everyone now. Star Wars has become mythology, a narrative that connects the nostalgic past to the unwritten future.
When I was three years old, I watched Luke Skywalker receive a message: “Help us, Obiwan Kenobi. You are our only hope.” As it turned out, Obiwan wasn’t the only hope. There as a New Hope, Luke Skywalker. Now, at 43, I learn that being the only hope broke Luke Skywalker. Its way too much pressure. People are flawed. All people. Your cause is lost the moment you make someone your “only hope.”
Star Wars: The Last Jedi could have been called Star Wars: The New, New Hope. The Force no longer depends on a single, skillful hero. The Force depends on all of us to keep the spark alive.
And so, let us take our moment of silence to honor the fallen. Obi-wan. Yoda. Han Solo. Luke Skywalker. Carrie Fisher. Our myths connect our past to our future. But our future is not yet written. Nothing is predestined. Our heroes fail. Our heroes die. They leave us with nothing but a spark and each other. It is enough. It has always been enough.
May the Force be with us all.