Unclosed Loop: The Last Jedi

Last Jedi?Perhaps the only thing more interesting in the Star Wars universe than The Last Jedi right now is what people have been saying about the movie.  I posted my initial thoughts here.  Now that school is back in session, though, I’ve been able to talk with co-workers and students about their thoughts (which can be divisive).  At the same time, some good writing and theorizing continues to be produced online.  A handful of Tweet-storms have presented great theories about the nature of the Force, the fallibility of the Jedi order, and the controversial stand taken by Luke throughout the movie.

One of the best articles I’ve read about the movie is another piece from The Ringer,  this one by Chris Ryan.  The title, of course, gives it all away: that Star Wars movies are now all about Star Wars.  Here’s an excerpt from early in the piece:

In some ways, The Last Jedi is a perfect Empire Strikes Back remake, just not in the way we usually think of remakes. It follows the narrative structure (characters separate, go on missions, and reunite having learned something) and borrows some of the same emotional beats (parental betrayal, loss, confronting your darker impulses, sacrifice) while also tweaking them. Johnson treats Empire like a musical standard. You will recognize the melody (the cave in Empire is the pit in The Last Jedi, etc.), but it’s what the artist does within the confines of the song that matters.

For Ryan, then, the comparison between ESB and TLJ are necessary and good.  I thought the same way going into the movie.  When I left the first viewing, though, I felt like the movies were quite different.  Which is something that Ryan deals with in his take, too.  For Ryan, it’s the “busyness” that makes TLJ radically different.  He continues:

It is in this relative lack of busyness that the thematic weight of the movie is felt. Empire is about lots of things—purpose, sacrifice, love, friendship, droid repair. A few people make a lot of very important decisions—Han Solo takes Princess Leia to Bespin; Luke drops out of training to save them, against Yoda’s wishes; Darth Vader makes a play for Luke by revealing himself as his father—and they have profound consequences (carbonite freezing, loss of a hand). By clearing out all the noise, the centrality of the four main characters—Han, Leia, Luke, and Vader—is made all the more apparent. What’s happening to them really feels like it’s happening to the entire galaxy. The importance of what is taking place on Dagobah and in Cloud City, to these few characters, feels enormous. Han and Leia go through enough traumatic experiences (can we talk about the friggin’ bats that attack the Falcon?) and have enough downtime that their romance feels authentic, and his “I know” hits like a hammer.

I believe Ryan is onto something here.

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Rod Dreher finally got around to writing about The Last Jedi through the lens of the Benedict Option.  And rightly so.  There are a lot of parallels, more so in TLJ than in The Force Awakens, which was, of course, released at a very different time in our popular culture.

Here’s Dreher’s point of connection between the contemporary Christian condition and the position taken by Luke Skywalker in the movie:

Another point of comparison: we see that Luke’s spiritual burnout came because he thought he could use the Force to subdue the galaxy for Good. It turns out, though, that the Force can be used equally for Evil, and that there is no guarantee that the Light will triumph over the Darkness. This yin-yang structure is not Christian, but I see in Luke’s condition contemporary Christianity in the post-Christian era. It’s not so much that Christianity can be used for evil — though it certainly can be perverted that way — as it is that Christianity as a force for political good has been routed and beaten back.

You can also see Luke’s plight as the same as the Church in post-Christian modernity. The world has been lost. Luke has retreated to the hermitage, where he will live out the old religion until it dies with him. There is room in the Jedi religion for monastic figures. Think of Obi Wan Kenobi, and Yoda. But the Jedi religion also has a warrior class, who learn from the contemplative monks (so to speak), and take that knowledge out into the world, acting on it. You can see why Luke felt he had to retreat to the island where the Jedi religion was born — to go back to the roots — but if he does not pass the faith on, somehow, it will die. He needs someone to take the — wait for it — Jedi Option. Bwahahahaha!

That last laugh is a bit much (and very Giffen and DeMatteis).  But I can understand his laughter.  And while some might see his comparisons as a bridge too far, I definitely think it’s allowable.  The whole post is worth reading, even if you don’t agree with Dreher’s take (or the Benedict Option in general).

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It is, of course, the little things that give away fans and detractors of the movie.  I heard it said early on that you can tell someone will like TLJ if they loved Rogue One.  That’s held up mostly to be true in my conversations with others.  But it’s things like Luke chucking the lightsaber or Kylo simply tossing out that Rey’s parentage is meaningless or the quick and easy death of Snoke that has turned some “fan boys” off from the movie.  Was it all too easy, too flippantly executed, these ways of “cleaning the deck” from TFA?  Maybe.  And for every fan of Rose, there seemed to be someone else who felt like, even as good as the character might be, the story points the character was most vested in were too much of a distraction.

Another interesting comment that I’ve heard from a number of people has to do with how the movie “democratizes” the Force in a necessary way.  Part of that comes with the Rey reveal from Kylo.  Another part of that comes from the closing shot with the kid and his broom.  It’s an interesting take.  I thought the whole point of Luke in the original movie was to show how a kid from no where could find himself in the middle of everything, good and bad, that the universe had to offer.  Even when the prequels were “all about the Skywalkers,” I never assumed that the whole Star Wars story was utterly tied to one bloodline.  That seems to be the narrative, though, that any people feel that The Last Jedi is saving us from.

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Maybe more than The Last Jedi, the “final” entry in this particular trilogy will determine many things about the big picture story being told.  It’s interesting that JJ Abrams is back on board for the finale.  How will he respond to so many of the elements he set up being removed from the table almost effortlessly?  Just how different will the narrative be timeline-wise?  We’ve got a few years to wait . . . and to predict . . . and to let expectations grow.

(image from nbc.com)

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