With Star Wars: The Last Jedi now in cinemas and devouring the international box office, the attention in the weeks since its release has circled on the fan reaction to the movie, especially in light of a massive gap between critical approval and a decidedly mixed audience approval score. There have been numerous reasons given in the weeks since its release that have attempted to explain this divide, including the movie’s longer running time, the humour, and bots being created to deliberately lower the score. Perhaps there is truth to some of these rumours, but I believe the fundamental reason for this divide in opinions is the fact that, while The Last Jedi is a good film in its own right, its a bad Star Wars movie.
The Star Wars episodic films, excluding the anthology movies, have always concerned the fate of a family. The Skywalker Saga was the story of episodes 1-6, concerning Anakin and his children, Luke and Leia. Despite how you feel about George Lucas, the story of Star Wars is the brainchild of Lucas, and he himself described the movies as the story of fathers and sons, and grandfathers and sons, a soap-opera in space. When episodes 7-9 were announced, everyone assumed that these movies were continue the story of the Skywalker clan. Even George Lucas’ original drafts for episodes 7-9 concerned the children of Luke and Leia. However, what we’re gotten in The Last Jedi has been a move away from the Skywalker family in favour of new heroes unconnected to any of the previous movies.
Now in essence this shouldn’t be a problem, but it undermines what Star Wars has been about up until this point – a family. The reveal of Rey’s parentage in the movie doesn’t fit within the established mythos of Star Wars, which borrowed heavily from Greek tragedy and Arthurian legend; both of which concerned royal lineage and destiny. Lucas himself always described the moment of Luke receiving his father’s lightsaber as the passing down of Ex Calibar, and one could be forgiven in thinking that Rey coming into possession of Luke’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens had greater meaning, especially with the enigmatic vision she received after touching it. But alas, that proved not to be the case in The Last Jedi, and Rey’s vision played little role in the movie. Now I completely understand what director Rian Johnson was going for in The Last Jedi, the idea of the everyman being the hero or savior of the galaxy. However, that doesn’t chime with the established lore of the saga so far which speaks of prophecies and the chosen one. If you don’t want your hero to be connected to the established lore, then make them the hero of one of the anthology movies. When they announced that they were doing anthology movies, I assumed that the purpose of these was to have stories unconnected to the Skywalker saga, but these new episodic movies seem to be little concerned with the evolution of that family saga either.
Moving on from the issue of Rey’s parentage, which for some seems a non-issue, to the issue that has been the crux of debate for seasoned Star Wars fans: Luke’s character. In a previous article regarding the death of the movie trilogy, I lamented the loss of the movie trilogy because of the lack of closure it affords characters, and The Last Jedi is a perfect example of resurrecting a character not in service of their story, but in service of the movie’s story, or more likely in lip-service to fans disillusioned after the prequels. The Last Jedi does not serve Luke’s character at all, in many ways it actively undermines his arc from the original trilogy. Director Rian Johnson treats Luke as a tool to make his machine work, and its heartbreaking to hear Mark Hamill talk about his character in the movie, because he is clearly very disappointed by his character’s turn in the movie. Hamill, through interviews, has even gone so far to say that this Luke is not the Luke Skywalker of George Lucas’ movies.
Luke’s journey in the original Star Wars trilogy is the quintessential hero’s journey. He begins the journey as a lonely farm boy and is thrust into an intergalactic war. By the time we reach the end of Return of the Jedi Luke’s journey is complete, he has vanquished the emperor, redeemed his father and saved the galaxy from destruction. He is a true hero in every way, able to glimpse humanity buried beneath his father’s mechanical exterior. And yet, in The Last Jedi, we are made to believe that this same man, upon sensing the growing evil inside his nephew, had a moment where he considered ending his life. This makes no sense, especially since Ben Solo hadn’t yet been fully turned to the dark side. In the original trilogy Luke refused to kill his father Darth Vader, even when warned by Yoda and Obi-Wan that he was irredeemable, yet he found a way to bring him back to the light, despite the fact that Vader had been terrorising the galaxy for the best part of two decades between Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi. Luke’s wide-eyed optimism sensed the good of Anakin Skywalker fighting against the corrupting force of Darth Vader, but in The Last Jedi that optimism is gone and replaced with world-weary cynicism, that’s never really explained. We know that Luke feels like he failed Ben Solo, but is that reason enough for him to forsake the rest of the galaxy and determine that the jedi should end?
In conclusion, I think that while The Last Jedi is a good movie, it fundamentally fails at being a Star Wars movie for failing to recognise and understand what made that farm boy on Tatooine such a compelling hero. This is the same problem that Superman has suffered in his recent outings like Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. Forcing murkiness and darkness on heroic characters doesn’t always work, and especially when those characters are lauded among the most heroic in all of movie history. Luke’s turn from the light is a massive misstep in a franchise that has ceased to resemble itself in the post-Disney era. I don’t think that The Last Jedi is a bad movie. I just don’t know if its a true Star Wars movie at all. It looks like Star Wars and it sounds like Star Wars, but it doesn’t feel like Star Wars.