Spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
It is a time of reckoning. HOT TAKES blot out the sky like locusts. After leaving my initial viewing of THE LAST JEDI I found myself troubled with LUKE SKYWALKER’S direction in the film, but after sleeping on it, I began to warm up to the character’s trajectory through Episode VIII.
A second viewing revealed just how much work went into executing the narrative maneuvers behind SKYWALKER’S journey in the film and a third viewing was blissful. Afterwards I drafted my first HOT TAKE. Then, on a fourth viewing my mind wandered to the portions of the story I’d initially had no major issues with, Finn, Rose and Poe’s attempts at saving THE RESISTANCE from the pursuing FIRST ORDER.
It finally clicked just how complete their failure was. It dawned on me that these heroes didn’t just fall short of saving THE RESISTANCE, they inadvertently doomed it. I hated it and I hate it. With a few days to cool off and a second HOT TAKE shot across the bow of the internet I prepared myself for a fifth viewing and, hopefully, one final HOT TAKE….
I’m just going to jump right in, but feel free to check out my first two posts on the film in the links above for more context.
While Finn and Rose’s failure to shut down the hyperspace tracking on Snoke’s Star Destroyer ensures the Resistance’s last flag ship won’t escape the weaponry of The First Order, it isn’t that failure that dooms their friends. DJ, played by a Benicio Del Toro who is really making some choices, sells out the defenseless, fleeing Resistance shuttles, and while Finn and Rose couldn’t have known that would be the outcome of their excursion with the code breaker, their misplaced trust in him is what seals the fate of The Resistance on Crait and necessitates Luke Skywalker’s climactic actions and their consequences.
That trust is its own failure, one that is shared by Leia and her fellow Resistance leadership from go, as they plan in the film’s opening minutes to jump to hyperspace and send word to their allies in the Outer Rim. It’s a failure to take the temperature of the room, a failure to understand what is and is not inherent. DJ tells Finn point blank that he equates The Resistance and The First Order, but Finn presumably holds on to the assumption that despite what DJ says, the stranger he met in casino jail understands The Resistance is inherently better, possessing an obvious moral superiority to the First Order, an obvious righteousness. A similar assumption is made by Leia, expecting that The Resistance’s call to arms will be answered because they are the side of the angles, because they carry with them an inherent, universal righteousness.
Finn, Leia and even Rey exhibit the sort of binary thinking required to sustain decades-long warfare: I am good, they are bad and these truths are not only obvious but intrinsic. What we can extrapolate from the apathetic galaxy we garner hints of in both The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens, however, is that the vast, non-combatant majority is perhaps less concerned with good and evil than they are with war and peace.
The assumptions our heroes make and their consequences in The Last Jedi feel like a metafictional extrapolation of a possible Star Wars future on the part of writer-director Rian Johnson.
How quick our protagonists are to deem themselves “rebels” and talk of “rebellion,” how eager they are to revert to the status quo of days gone by, to slip into those tried-and-true roles. Finn and Leia are making assumptions based on the Star Wars of yore, manipulating pieces as best they can to set up the familiar dynamics of the Original Trilogy where a ragtag band of freedom fighters takes on a monolith of evil in the name of freedom. But the galaxy ain’t having it, and while fans may bemoan anything that strays too far from X-Wings and Death Stars and TIE Fighters right now, Johnson’s script addresses the eventuality that, should this same conflict continue to play out as it has over the course of nine movies, the galaxy and the audience will both lose interest. While The Last Jedi certainly feels like a reaction to the accusations of repetition lobbed against The Force Awakens, it also feels like a preemptive strike against criticisms that could be lobbed against Episode X or Episode XX.
There are only so many variations of Stormtroopers, so many variations of TIE fighters, of robes and lightsabers. The unanswering galaxy at the end of The Last Jedi that so deftly subverts Finn and Leia’s assumptions is the audience of Star Wars future, the audience in a world where trilogy after trilogy sees the rise of red totalitarianism, the spark of rebellion and the eventual triumph of blue and green democracy again and again and again. That’s the cyclical thinking that breeds the failure of our heroes in The Last Jedi, the perception that that is how Star Wars worked and so it is how Star Wars will continue to work.
Finn and Rose’s failure and Leia’s disappointment are cautionary tales not only for those ready to make war (for better or worse) in the Star Wars galaxy, but for those in charge of Star Wars’ future. And yet, for all its condemnation of repetition, The Last Jedi leaves the creative forces that be behind Episode IX with an easy opportunity to slip right back into that familiar status quo of A New Hope. Will the galaxy beyond the ceaseless, titular Star War allow that sort of regression? Will audiences? Have Finn and the gang taken the lessons of The Last Jedi to heart? Has J.J. Abrams taken the lessons of The Last Jedi to heart? I guess we’ll know in two years.
There was a moment over my heated and passionate courtship with The Last Jedi in which I found myself wondering if this was the film that would separate me from future generations of Star Wars fandom, if my reception to it was indicative of the hardening of some sort of previously fluid fandom concrete that now immovably dictates what I will and won’t tolerate in relation to things I enjoy and limits my ability and desire to appreciate the new or different. You know, am I old now?
Star Wars is making a big transition as it is now, arguably for the first time, a story truly without end. That means heroes don’t get to just win and be happy anymore. That means villainy doesn’t just disappear. That means there doesn’t get to be balance. Since I was born Luke Skywalker and his friends had won. But that retaining that victory and getting more Star Wars are kind of mutually exclusive without that filthy “P” word all you punks seem to hate so much.
For some fans, The Last Jedi may very likely prove to be a line of demarcation between something they hold dear and something else.
That being said, I have had more fun dissecting and debating this movie with friends than any other piece of entertainment in recent memory. I wasn’t having these kinds of discourses about The Force Awakens, I wasn’t stumbling onto these kinds of dorky epiphanies with Rogue One. That doesn’t make it a superior film, but for that alone, and for the ingredients it gave me to cook up three fingerprint-erasing hot takes, I do love The Last Jedi.
Also, seriously, you get that she was pulling herself, not flying, right? Good lord.