You may have heard there’s a new Star Wars movie. With it came a cottage industry of thinkpieces and reactions, many of which were divided. Some people praised the movie, others hated it. I fall on the side of the former, to the point where I’ve been thinking about it for almost a month.
I don’t necessarily think I have anything interesting to add to the critical analysis of the film, or convince anyone who thought it was bad that it was, indeed good. It wasn’t even my favourite movie from 2017 (That honour belongs to Thor: Ragnarok). But for me, The Last Jedi was a fascinating meditation on what Star Wars is.
So what is Star Wars? Space ships, lightsabers, superweapons and the force? Fantasy in space? It is, of course. It’s also probably the intellectual property I’ve spent the more time with. I was too young to see the original trilogy in theaters, but watched them all on VHS, got into the Expanded Universe, and I’ve played numerous incarnations of Star Wars roleplaying games, board games and video games. I haven’t read every book or played every game (the sprawling story of the EU lost me sometime in the 2000s, the prequels nearly killed my love of Star Wars, and I’ve probably missed more games than I’ve played) but I have a lot of Star Wars locked up in my brain.
Here’s where Star Wars gets interesting for me. For all that the movies have essentially followed the Skywalkers, the books and games have been far more about striking out and dealing with rebellion and resistance. To me, that was always the more interesting part of Star Wars. That might be why I liked Rogue One so much, despite that it was a seriously flawed movie; it was about the rebellion, not about Luke or Anakin. Rogue One felt like a war movie, and I loved it. It asked the question of what it was like to be one of those rebel soldiers who were never named in the movies previously but who died fighting for what they believed in. It’s worth noting that I also love Star Wars: Rebels, which is, you guessed it, also about the rebellion.
So the fact that The Last Jedi felt like a story about the survival of the Rebellion played heavily to me. So too did the fact that the latest trilogy has pointfully identified angry young white men as the antagonists, which feels about as topical as one can get right now. And while I hope the actual Nazis who are disturbingly common and Star Wars fans don’t have a lot of crossover right now, I suspect they might. I worry that those people have taken exactly the wrong message about Star Wars, one in which they think they’re the rebels, not the evil empire, and I suspect they’re also the ones who complain about Star Wars being inclusive of women and people of colour actors. This isn’t news, but this is the Star Wars I’m happy to show up for.
But most of all, I think The Last Jedi is about opening Star Wars up, not just to tell new stories, but really making it for everyone. The Resistance was very female and non-white. And of course, with the original cast dead or going to be that way, (*salute for General Organa*) the new movies are entirely in the hands of new characters, who are female and non-white. A lot has been made of the line “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to” which was ironically spoken by Kylo Ren, but perhaps spoken to the audience who want to keep Star Wars to themselves. And I haven’t even gotten into Finn’s arc of choosing a side. This is a movie overflowing with the kind of symbols that Star Wars hasn’t been known for, and I loved it.
Did The Last Jedi have flaws? Absolutely, but in my mind no more than any other Star Wars film, and none that detracted from the film for me. For this point in my life, it’s probably my favourite Star Wars movie.