This past weekend marked the release of Star Wars: Episode VIII, The Last Jedi. This is the second film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, which has introduced a whole new generation to the joys of Star Wars fandom.
This movie has received mixed reviews, which, as a loyal Star Wars fan, baffles me, but as a general media consumer I understand the critiques. Even though the franchise is becoming more inclusive and diverse, the story stays basically the same; good versus evil, beautifully choreographed light saber battles, and a collection of quirky characters and imperiled civilizations. The story pandered to hardcore Star Wars fans, but in doing so risked leaving the average moviegoer unimpressed.
Some reviews are taking a page from the character Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and arguing that the past should die and that the Star Wars story should pursue a new direction. In fact, The Last Jedi took the good-versus-evil trope that has dominated all of the Star Wars movies and offered a more nuanced take on it. In this installment (spoilers ahead) the Jedi are not the spotless, perfect leaders of the past, and the dark side, represented by Kylo Ren, isn’t entirely evil either. There is no longer a fine line between the dark side and the light, but rather, they exist on the same plane, and compete with each other for dominance.
The movie shows this by explaining the illusive Force in a compelling, visual way. In the first half of the movie, Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks out Luke Skywalker (played by the returning Mark Hamill) who has given up his Jedi ways and hidden himself away on the planet Ahch-To. She persuades him to teach her the ways of the Force, and quickly learns that her understanding of the Force is simplistic and misguided. It’s not magic that moves inanimate objects; it’s a deeper power that brings order, working with the good and the bad to create harmony and balance.
This struggle for balance is also shown through the telepathic-like connection between Rey and Kylo. They are able to see and speak to each other, even while being parsecs away. They are both tortured by losses and are compulsive and immature about wielding their powers. Nevertheless, the connection between a rebellious heroine a pawn of the dark side shows that their existence is more equal than we might have previously thought. Rey is imperfect good, and Kylo is unformed evil—as a result they are both more complex and human.
As the Star Wars old guard passes on (RIP Princess Carrie Fisher) and the new guard takes over, it will be interesting to see what new revelations and challenges Episode IX reveals. The message of The Last Jedi was more philosophical than previous Star Wars installments, and the movie did an excellent job of awakening and renewing this age-old franchise. It still possesses all the elements that we love (including some wonderful battle sequences), and still engages our love of fictional galaxies far, far away, but it’s also portraying the deeply human struggle to come to terms with good and evil in an imperfect world, a challenge that exists both off-screen and on.
Image: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Pictures