The Last Jedi Makes Star Wars Pointless
Posted on January 9, 2019
It’s taken me a lot of time and self-reflection to begin dissecting The Last Jedi with a renewed and critical focus. I originally wrote a post out of pure disbelief and anger shortly after seeing TLJ several times in theaters and then re-watching the entire saga from the prequels to Solo – but that previous post was more to discuss how badly TLJ botched the character of Luke Skywalker. I examined Luke’s character in each film and discussed over several points, citing sources from the films, why he would not (as currently presented) be the character we get in TLJ. The Luke issue alone is something I could spend several posts on, but I wanted to take a moment to discuss another very sad side-effect stemming from TLJ and its aftermath – the fact that Star Wars no longer matters after what happened in The Last Jedi. Not the prequel trilogy, not the original trilogy, and certainly not the newer trilogy.
To me, a lifelong Star Wars fan – that’s a bitter and disappointing pill to swallow. After all, you’re talking to the kid who used to have all the original Star Wars action figures in a Darth Vader carrying case. You’re talking to the guy who, as an adult, dresses like Obi-Wan Kenobi and tries to make kids smile at charity events and conventions. I mean, I’ll just say it. I love Star Wars. Well, at least as far as the older films go. I have an investment in the original story, in the original characters, and in the entire mythology of the franchise.
When the new films were announced, I was ecstatic. When The Force Awakens was released, I was blown away. I was there, on opening night, along with a friend of mine. We were dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker from Episode III. We ended up on the news. And – let me just say – The Force Awakens was awesome. I wrote a post about that, too – and said essentially that while I loved the movie, it was essentially a reboot under the guise of a sequel (and that was okay with me and still is). Yet, the new characters of Rey, Finn, and Poe seemed compelling and interesting – and it was great to see some of the old guard return to tie this new trilogy to the old. J.J. Abrams set up a lot of intriguing questions, and I went back to see TFA no less than ten times in theaters.
When TLJ was released, I did the same thing and dressed up as Obi-Wan for opening day, stood in line, excitedly chatted with the others – and then came away after the movie confused and feeling empty. The events in TLJ unfurled in a chaotic web of “subverted expectations” – but not in a good way. Yet, I thought that maybe I had gone and the movie caught me off guard because I was tired, because I was trying to compare it too much to TFA. So, I went to see it again, and again, and again – trying to force myself to like it, to love it, to understand why Rian Johnson made the choices he had as the director. But in the end, I acknowledged that while there were some decent aspects to the film, it left a bad taste in my mouth and it didn’t agree with me. I was not alone by any means.
There are many reasons for this, which I will go into on another post – but for now, I’ll focus on what I started this post with – TLJ made everything in the OG Trilogy and the prequels essentially not matter. At all. Let me explain why.
For the prequels, this point is moot. I mean, there was a lot that happened in the prequel trilogy – but because it was written with the OG Trilogy in mind, there was coherence (aside from the pesky midichlorians). The events in the prequels did not conflict with the events in the OG Trilogy in a massive way, and so the narrative for the Saga was pretty much intact. And, likewise, the OG Trilogy did not mess with the newest trilogy and did not cancel out the events in the prequels. Coherence. Even in TFA – there was some kind of coherence with the original trilogy. Though Luke, Leia, and Han were in the film, there was a possibility of explanation later on in the newest trilogy for why their characters were the way they were in TFA after we’d seen them in a much different state at the end of Return of the Jedi. But we did not get that information. TLJ did not show us how the characters had ended up the way they had.
LUKE SKYWALKER – FROM HERO TO ZERO
Now, I’ve already discussed Luke’s character and why he SHOULDN’T be the way he is in TLJ in another post (which is obviously my opinion as a fan of Star Wars and as a viewer/critic of film). But here we go with why his entire arc was rendered pointless after the events of TLJ.
In A New Hope, Luke left the confines of his myopic farm life on Tatooine and was dropped into the middle of a centuries-old conflict between the Light Side of the Force and the Dark Side of the Force. The Yin and Yang philosophy at the heart of Star Wars. He was whiny, then – and in Empire Strikes Back – his arrogance and his whiny and entitled and naive nature almost got him killed and almost got his friends killed. However, by the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke not only learned from his mistakes, he fixed many of them. He was no longer the brash, arrogant youth who’d lost his hand. He was no longer whiny. He successfully turned Darth Vader to the Light by refusing to strike down Darth Sidious in anger. So, with a complete arc and lots of mistakes along the way – Luke Skywalker became a compelling character with a life ahead of him improving upon the lessons he’d learned in those three films.
However, that’s not what we got in TFA and especially TLJ. Instead, we received a Luke who has abandoned friends and family – something he never would have done even at his whiniest. We get a Luke who has not only turned his back on the world and everything he cared about, but also on his own teachings. And for what reason? We are led to believe he did so because he lost control of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. I will say it again, and again, and again. It makes no sense for his character. Yes, people can change over time – but we were not shown what changed Luke to become so different. There is no way he would have thought that the Sith wouldn’t emerge to take advantage of the vacuum he’d left, and Ben turning to the Dark Side of the Force was not something he hadn’t experienced before – so it should not have affected him as much as it did. The Sith and Jedi have always brought balance to one another. As a Jedi Master, he would have known the Force does not work that way, so that he could simply shut himself off from it. He talks at length about how the Jedi have constantly screwed up – yet he does not acknowledge the great things they’ve accomplished, thus rendering all of his accomplishments in the first films essentially pointless. And, because he shut himself off from the Force (only to eventually turn it back on to defeat Kylo Ren anyway) – so many people died and he ended up being one of the very screw-ups he was so keen on ridding the world of. Now, he’s dead. And for what? To buy the “Resistance” a few more minutes? Great job, Luke.
He is not even a shell of the former Luke we all came to love. He had no bearing on the film’s story, and if you took his character away, not much would change. Plot points were assigned to his character in TFA but in TLJ they were all ignored and forgotten about. He had no relationships that mattered with any of the new characters; he did not even train Rey, as she already knew everything on her own – and in fact, she was the one to teach him something. Pathetic.
LEIA ORGANA – FROM EMPOWERED TO SUPER-POWERED
Out of the three main returning characters featured in TFA and TLJ, Leia found herself vastly improved in station, and in experience. In A New Hope, Leia was captured by the Empire. Then, she had to watch in person as Alderaan was blown to smithereens by the Death Star. At the end of A New Hope, she was starting to become more like a leader – presenting Luke and Han with medals at a victory celebration after the Death Star, in turn, was blown up. Then, in Empire Strikes Back – Leia was in full leader mode – commanding an evacuation of Hoth. Finally, in Return of the Jedi, Leia is at her strongest. She leads a rescue mission to save Han from Jabba’s palace and goes there in disguise as a bounty hunter. She kills Jabba. She participates fully in the Battle of Endor, and is almost directly responsible for enlisting the aid of the Ewoks, which eventually turned the tide of battle in an otherwise hopeless situation.
In TFA – Leia has moved up in rank and is now General of The Resistance. She had a kid with Han Solo, and she has acquired the ability to use the Force – presumably from Luke’s training. However, by the time TLJ rolls around – Leia becomes comatose for half the film, but also somehow uses the Force to survive the vacuum of space, despite we the audience not being privy to witnessing any of the Force training she must have had over the years with Luke. So there are some ways in which she has become stronger (The Force) but others in which she has devolved (She was not able to keep The First Order from emerging in the absence of the Empire, despite her efforts in all three previous films and the political footholds she had managed to find). In both cases, we were not shown a single shred of how either of these evolutions and devolutions in her character came about. And because her efforts in the first films were made null and void, her leadership qualities don’t stand out as much anymore. And because we were not shown how she trained with Luke to acquire her new Force powers, her incident in space seems more like a deus ex machina than a familiar power/ability we have all grown used to seeing on the big screen.
HAN SOLO – FROM SMUGGLER TO BUNGLER
Considering Han Solo’s background (before the film Solo: A Star Wars Story was released, mind you – because that film changed aspects of his character) – his transformation by the time we meet him in TFA is the most natural, and I wasn’t going to include him on this list but I figured it was at least worth a mention because if the other characters had the ball dropped on them by Disney, then surely Han did as well because all of their stories are intertwined. In A New Hope, when we meet Han he is a scoundrel (remember, he shot first). He’s hanging out in Mos Eisley, he’s a smuggler, he works with some bad people and doesn’t care how bad they are except when he owes them money. However, when Han meets Leia, Luke and the rebels – they slowly have an influence on him through the duration of the film until the end when he shows up to help Luke with the Death Star run from out of nowhere, despite originally leaving the group to their own devices. In Empire Strikes Back, he has softened a lot and has become more of a hero – and the film essentially opens with him saving Luke from certain death by slicing open a tauntaun with Luke’s saber so that the two of them can be warm inside the dead beast’s body in order to last the night in freezing temperatures. He pays for all of his dirty deeds when he is encased in carbonite at the end of the film. In Return of the Jedi, Han is saved by his friends and aids in the Battle of Endor, before finally growing into the start of a relationship with Leia – which will eventually result in Ben Solo being born.
When we meet up with Han in TFA, he’s reverted back to his old self. He’s a smuggler once again, is separated from Leia, and is estranged and hated by his son. Luke is not in contact with him, and the only one who still has his back is Chewie. Most of that is believable to me, at least in the context that we’re given. However, because we don’t delve into the relationship that Han had with Leia – we are just guessing at what exactly happened with his character to make him devolve aside from what they tell us. And, since one of the main rules of storytelling is show and not tell, his transformation seems hollow despite his making the most sense of the three main characters.
Despite his heroism, despite his lessons learned in the original trilogy – Han goes back to being a smuggler, and is somehow more of a bumbler than he was when he was younger. Maybe that’s just old age, but either way – the fact that like what happened with Luke and that he seems to have “forgotten” all of his lessons from the past, his character development no longer matters in the original trilogy.
SO – WHY DOES THAT MAKE THE OG TRILOGY POINTLESS?
When you think of a great story and characters, you come to love them not for how they regress (unless that’s done well, as in the superior Breaking Bad series) but for how they progress. In the case of all three main characters – they all originally progressed, even with minor setbacks during the trilogy. Luke went from naive farmboy to Jedi Knight. Leia went from inexperienced princess to hardened commander. Han went from scoundrel to war hero.
If we’re to take TFA and especially TLJ as canon, which we must as they are official canon – all, literally all of that progress is undone. In the end, what reason have we to root for Luke if we know he just turns out to be a pathetic quitter who ends up losing all of his knowledge about the Force, the Jedi, and the Sith? Why do we care about his journey anymore if he turns out to be a sociopath who wants to murder his sleeping nephew in cold blood? Why do we care about the romance between Leia and Han if in the end, they just give up on each other and we don’t even get to see the good times they had together? Why do we care that Leia is such a strong character in the original trilogy if, even after the Empire is wiped out – a new threat that is just as bad comes in to take its place and she’s not effective enough politically to squash it? Why do we care that Han changes his stripes and fights for the good guys if he just reverts back to being a dickhead smuggler and gives up on his wife and kid? Why do we have an investment in these characters in the first place? Hope.
With TLJ – all hope is squashed. Han is killed by Kylo Ren. Ackbar is killed offscreen with barely a mention. Luke has left all of his friends and family to die because of one stupid (improbable) mistake. Leia is the only one who gives a damn, but even she turns out to be an ineffective leader who has loose cannons like Poe running around getting half their army killed. Anything those original three characters has accomplished has been undone. And even the entire prospect of the Force has been undone by the fact that anyone can be a Jedi. Instead of a state of mind, anyone who has “The Force” possesses what amounts to superpowers when instead it should be a philosophy. In fact, Rey makes it clear just how useless Luke is when she not only defeats him on Ach-To in hand-to-hand combat, but also doesn’t learn a single thing from him.
As far as the prequels go, if the OG Trilogy doesn’t matter – it goes doubly so for that trilogy. Anakin? The fall of the Jedi? Who cares. The Skywalker bloodline doesn’t matter in the least. The fall of the Jedi was a good thing, according to TLJ – because they may as well have been evil dictators. It doesn’t matter that Anakin had been mentioned in a prophecy. It doesn’t matter because even Rey is stronger than he is.
And if the characters don’t matter, the Force doesn’t matter, the Jedi don’t matter, and all our heroes are dead? Who cares anymore? If none of that matters, then neither does Star Wars. That’s really sad.
“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” – Kylo Ren
Man, that was definitely the mantra for the new trilogy. Kill the past, indeed.