For the first time in years, Star Wars has something to say.
Warning, heavy spoilers there will be. Warned, you have been.
Let’s dig in.
The Last Jedi marks a significant change in theme and direction the over forty year old franchise. Where The Force Awakens was an overwhelmingly familiar (yet infinitely enjoyable) retread of classic Star Wars material, The Last Jedi couldn’t be more different, bold, or ballsy. In a sense, The Last Jedi acts as director/writer Rian Johnson’s deconstruction of Star Wars and the Skywalker saga as a whole, as well as reconstructing what this storied franchise could mean moving forward.
“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.”
These are the words spoken to Rey by Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, shortly after his unceremonious execution of Supreme Leader Snoke. Kylo, the latest descendant of the galaxy’s most powerful family (often the one determining its fate), claims that he is finished with the push and pull of the Jedi and the Sith, of the light and the dark, of the Rebellion and the Empire. Burn it all down. Let the past die, he claims.
Except this ain’t exactly the case.
Kylo’s entire arc in this sequel trilogy thus far has focused intensely on his past. He yearns to forget it, but he can’t. He’s being torn apart. He feels entitled to his power, his place in the First Order, and the relics of his late grandfather. For someone so intent on killing the past, it sure matters to him a lot. The juvenile irony of this is further highlighted when he implores Rey to join him, in the hopes that they can rule the galaxy together.
Kylo longs to kill the past, yet he refuses to learn from it, ignoring the mistakes made by those before him. He’s barreling headstrong towards the same fate of his grandfather, and seemingly every other preceding Sith in this troubled galaxy. Such is the way of the mighty Skywalker blood.
Why should the fate of the galaxy fall into the hands of one immensely powerful family? Why do they get a monopoly on the powers of the Force? The Force is what binds the galaxy together: people, nature, good, evil, everything. Shouldn’t the Force, by its very nature, belong to everyone? These are the questions at the center of The Last Jedi‘s core themes.
This is where our new band of heroes comes in. Rey, self-proclaimed to have come from nowhere, is the latest protagonist to take on the title of Jedi. In a series which up to this point has been so focused on legacies, dynasties, and inheritance, Rey is somewhat of an anomaly. While The Force Awakens hinted at a great mystery regarding her lineage, The Last Jedi makes it painfully clear that she indeed is *gasp* a nobody. A kid born from some desert junkies, sold off and left alone to fuel their bad habits. As Kylo puts it, “[she] has no place in this story.”
Yet Anakin’s lightsaber, the one belonging to Kylo’s bloodline, called out to Rey, not him. The Force brought Rey, a nobody, to Luke Skywalker, the greatest hero the galaxy has ever known.
Rey has her place in this story, as does every single seemingly “nobody” hero in this new trilogy. Finn literally was nameless, just a randomly numbered stormtrooper who defected. Poe Dameron isn’t royalty from Alderaan, he’s simply a hot-headed pilot. Rose Tico, a newcomer in The Last Jedi, is an unassuming maintenance worker for the rebellion.
According to Kylo Ren, none of them have a place in this story. But that doesn’t matter to them, they are heroes because it is the right thing to do. They are common, ordinary people carving out their own place in the story. They don’t need to be the descendants of someone great or powerful or have magical blood. Anyone can be a hero, Rian Johnson argues, as long as they have the will the drive, and the ability to learn from the past.
The Last Jedi is a film, above all else, focused on failure. Everyone fails. Rey fails to turn Kylo to the light side. Kylo fails to turn Rey to the dark side. Finn and Rose fail to sabotage the First Order’s tracking device on the resistance ship. Poe fails at every turn with his impulsive decision making. Luke is trying to recover from his failure in training Ben Solo, and consequently failing to live up to his own legend.
And that’s okay. Failure is the greatest teacher. That is how we grow and improve. Not by “killing the past.” To kill the past is to forget the past, to reject knowledge gained by it. Luke failed in restarting the Jedi Order. In his hubris, this failure leads him to conclude that the Jedi should end. It isn’t until Rey enters the picture that he realizes that failure does not negate progress.
Star Wars is moving beyond our beloved heroes from the original trilogy, but it isn’t forgetting them. While Luke and Han may have passed on, our new heroes are learning from their mistakes, forging their own path. Just as The Last Jedi has done.
More succinctly, as a certain wise Jedi master put it: “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”
I honestly have no idea where Star Wars will go after The Last Jedi and that is extremely exciting. One thing I do know is that we are moving past an era so focused on one small, powerful collection of people. The Force didn’t belong to Luke Skywalker, or Darth Vader, or Kylo Ren.
The force belongs to everyone.