A lot of people have told me they don’t like The Last Jedi because it doesn’t feel like a “Star Wars” film. And those who I’ve asked all have different reasons: the comedy, the pacing, Leia’s force powers, the sheer amount of characters and information given in it. But here’s my question to them: What even is a Star Wars film?
To answer this, most everyone goes back to is the original trilogy. All of Star Wars is compared to those three great films. It happened when the prequels were released and it’s happening again. But let us not let these beloved movies stunt the growth of the franchise.
The original trilogy was a product of their time and of ours. There was really nothing like it at the time in film and, for many of us, the movies are ingrained with our childhood. We’ve seen them dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Most of us have seen the new film once or twice. Nothing will be like the original trilogy for, just like nothing will compare to our first kiss.
And a lot that harkens back to those movies in The Last Jedi. Director Rian Johnson keeps some of it, discards other parts, remixes it and injects new ideas. This is new Star Wars. It would be foolish and a disservice to try and make films that make us feel exactly the same way the original trilogy did. It’s a different time and we’re different people. There’s still a lot that’s familiar, but there’s also a lot that’s new and different.
It’s clear this is a statement Johnson is making. The best example is the ending. Every other Star Wars film ends with a shot of our heroes, together, in a moment of celebration or peace, before the quick transition to the credits with the classic John Williams score. In The Last Jedi, we see a young boy hearing a legend of Luke Skywalker from one of his friends. After getting yelled at by what appears to be their slave owner, he walks outside, uses a little force power to pull a broom to him and looks up to the stars, much like young heroes did in previous films. He has the ring Rose left with the Rebel insignia. There’s still hope in the galaxy. Cut to the credits.
That scene, more than anything else in the movie, is the starkest break from any Star Wars film tradition. What Johnson is showing us is that Star Wars is not all about the characters we’ve come to love over the past 40 years or during the past two hours of the movie. He could have easily ended with the scenes of the Resistance members together in the Falcon — that would have been the Star Wars we expected. But what he did in the closing scene was show all of us that Star Wars is greater than what we think it is. It’s just not about the Skywalkers, the Senate, the Jedi, the Sith, the Resistance or the First Order: it’s also about everyone in the galaxy who’s been effected by it.
We see this in Rose as well, during her explanation of growing up in a mining system where war profiteers laid waste to their worlds. We see it when DJ explains to Finn that the weapons manufacturers are selling to both the First Order and the Resistance. If the original trilogy was about the personal growth and development of Luke, Han and Leia, if the prequels were about the political system that allowed a dictator to rise to power, the new trilogy is about the people who were victim to it all. It’s Finn who was taken from his parents as a child to become a Stormtrooper. It’s Rey who scavenges the battle ruins of Jakku, the final battle between the Empire and Republic. And it’s that boy who showed there’s hope even in the far reaches of the galaxy. That is why his scene was the last in movie.
While The Force Awakens felt very much like the films from the original trilogy, The Last Jedi is something different: It’s Star Wars for 2017. Today, the stories of oppressed people are being told more than ever. The Last Jedi highlights them in a way no other film in the saga has. It’s showing a new side of Star Wars. We thought it was all about the characters we’ve grown to love, but really they are only the tip of the iceberg.
Some people, when they see a classic artist in concert, like a greatest hits performance. Personally, I much rather like to hear their new music, their interpretation of what’s going on in the world and in their lives today. We can appreciate the art that has come before, but why should we be complacent with what happened in the past and continue to relieve it? The Last Jedi is a bold move forward, taking what we love and using it to challenge us. If anything, I am most happy that his film has opened up conversations that no other Star Wars film has. It’s dense, complex and leaves us with questions. If you don’t want your art to do that, stay home and rewatch your favorite films over and over, comfortably reciting lines and remembering your time as a child.
What claim do we have to the story and to the art to say what it should or should not be? Let’s embrace The Last Jedi for what it is and continue to enjoy the original triology for what they is. There’s more than enough Star Wars to go around.