I can just remember walking into a movie theater in the summertime in Boise 40 years ago, having waited a couple of weeks or so until the lines went down, to see this new hot movie called Star Wars. Who would have guessed – I sure didn’t – what it wrought?
The new movie and the eighth in the series, The Last Jedi, is one of the better entries in the field, and seems to set up well the upcoming finale. It is better focused than most, without losing the scope or epic feel of the earlier movies. It seems less obsessed with battle scenes, in space or with light sabers, than most of the films (though those scenes are by no means forgotten).
But it also seems a little more thoughtful than any of the others, and repeatedly returned to the subject of the past – and the need to let go of it. That would seem to be necessity after the last movie, The Force Awakens, which was enjoyable also a little over-slavish in its carbon-copying of the structure of the first movie.
And the subject of releasing the past has a more immediate point with this movie, since the three key actors who starred in the first and appeared in the last (Force) will be gone for episode IX. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo was killed off last time, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker comes to an end in this one, and Carrie Fisher, whose character seemed well positioned for another movie, personally passed on. The last movie will be carried on entirely by the new generation, which got a good workout in this new movie.
There is another aspect to this passing of a the torch and the transmission through generations that I liked.
Part of the mythology developed through the early movies, and continued on in the prequels, was that of blood ties – of the state importance of destiny and the “strength of the force” and such running through family connections. The point was emphasized repeatedly, and was the subject of some of the most dramatic points in the series. (One of the dramatic peaks of the early movies was the moment when Darth Vader declared to Luke Skywalker, “I am your father!”)
This movie, while tossing away a number of other things as well, several during some excellent Hamill scenes in which he puts paid to a lot of uneasy questions about the whole jedi culture, seems to diminish the importance of that. The titular last jedi (spoiler ahead) is not Luke Skywalker – who we probably were expected to anticipate it would be – but one of the new generation. And one of the dramatic highlights in this movie was the revelation, after toying earlier with the question, of the parentage of that character: “nobody,” meaning no one with personalized importance to the story, and meaning that this new character is important for herself, for her own capabilities and actions, and not because she was part of some Royalty of the Force.
This is a break with the Star Wars mythology, and a good break. It always seemed a little too reliant on Middle Ages mythmaking, and too little on the kind of forward-thinking storytelling you might expect in solid science fiction. (Of course we can argue about whether this is more about sci-fi or fantasy, but that’s another subject.)
That new toss may be a key to where the series winds up in its final episode, a couple of years from now.