How The Last Jedi burns the past for a brighter future

Spoiler: If you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet, please bookmark this post and come back after you have seen it.

The rabid fan base of the Star Wars franchise are burning their t-shirts and vowing to never see another film that is made by Disney. What they don’t understand is how instrumental The Last Jedi is in resetting the past for a brighter future. Rian Johnson is an avid fan of Star Wars – he is one of the rabid fan boys, but he is also a visionary. And here’s why.

Let’s start with the major gripes from fans. With all the chatter about Rey not being related in any way to the Skywalker story and the treatment of Luke Skywalker (fuelled in part by Mark Hamill himself) what fans don’t understand is that Rian Johnson is resetting the films in the same ground-breaking way George Lucas did when he created A New Hope.

In the latest trilogy, we have an orphaned scavenger abandoned by her parents, a conflicted deserter from a vicious military regime, and a skilled pilot with a lot to learn about leadership. They have been handed the keys to the galaxy by a farmboy from a backwater planet, a deposed princess and a scoundrel who is quite happy to shoot first under the table when pressed in an argument.

The Last Jedi is an important step forward from the nostalgic glow of Rogue One and The Force Awakens. It’s an important reset that literally burns the past for an important new generation of heroes in the making. Johnson knows that in order to reset the legacy and point it to the future, the past needs to fall away like the gentle flutter of Luke’s robes as he passes on at the end of The Last Jedi.

We can’t hero worship forever, at some point there is a need to appoint an enfant terrible and successor to Darth Vader. Snoke was never going to be that villain. His quick demise at the hands of Kylo Ren only enforces the notion that the galaxy is now in the hands of a more tortured soul in Ren. Snoke was so evil that he could literally move people like pawns. He is a successor to Emperor Palpatine in the original trilogy, a big bad who was summarily thrown down a shaft in the Death Star by Darth Vader. Ren is tortured by his past, conflicted by his parentage in much the same way Darth Vader was in the original trilogy. Ren will ultimately make a nuanced and interesting villain.

This next generation of Star Wars heroes are born from disappointment, both familial and in what they inherit – a small motley band of resistance fighters who are literally up against impossible odds in the films’ final frames. Children shouldn’t inherit this kind of future from their heroes, but this is what makes The Last Jedi so incredibly relevant in 2017. Look at the future we are leaving our children.

Why should Rey, Finn, Poe and Rose suffer for the sins of the Skywalker family? They shouldn’t, but this is the hand that was dealt them. In a very tangible way, Rian Johnson has done what Yoda did in the film, burning down the tree with the crusty old Jedi texts that he freely admits Luke hasn’t even read. It raises interesting questions about what we hold close because it makes us feel comfortable.

What fans forget is that just as this current trilogy needs to remain fresh and relevant to a new generation, back in 1977 George Lucas had a bold vision about a band of unlikely heroes who ended up being handed the keys to save the galaxy.  A New Hope was a daring space opera (initially that no film studio would touch) about a team of freedom fighters battling an oppressive, fascist regime and was inherently political. In 2017 this message also feels incredibly relevant.

The Last Jedi has similar intentions. As the keeper of the wisdom of the Jedi, Yoda seems quite happy to literally burn the legacy of the Jedi to the ground to start again. When Yoda states that, ‘We are what they grow beyond,’ this is an acknowledgement (from Rian Johnson himself) that Star Wars needs to grow beyond its legacy and begin anew.

The galaxy needs to be handed on to a new group of heroes bought together by the hope of knowing that the galaxy can be a very different place.

The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story wanted to please the fans. And there is no doubt as the standalone films continue, these films will continue to pander to fans. They will want to hit familiar beats and remind you why you love Star Wars, but at some point retrofitting legacy characters backstories into new, more daring trilogies will begin to grate. Rian Johnson wants to shatter the universe he loves and bring it to the brink so it can be reborn.

Yes, Luke Skywalker has become an embittered old man who has lost his mojo in The Last Jedi, but in a final act of heroism he moves into Star Wars lore to make way for those who will follow in his footsteps – that abandoned young girl with big ideals and a gift that is only beginning to be realised. Luke passes the baton to a new band of ragtag rebels. This moves the film from the past to a hopeful future full of possibilities. That may be the true genius of Rian Johnson’s vision for The Last Jedi.

Right now a galaxy far, far away doesn’t feel comfortable any more. And that feels great.

Adrian Drayton




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