Even if you are not a giant nerd, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi will mean something to you because the movie features the final performance of a great woman: Carrie Fisher. Fisher was able to embrace and be open about her flaws while doing excellent work as a writer, actor and raconteur. On our best day, most of us could not reach her worst level. I found myself on the verge of tears for the entire movie because of what we lost, but also for what the Star Wars universe lost, our moral compass, General and Princess Leia Organa.
Star Wars characters are always tempted by the dark side or start with questionable reputations, but regardless of what she lost, whether it was her home world, her family, her freedom or her clothes, she never strayed from the straight and narrow, isolated herself in despair, stopped fighting strategically, went into a blind rage, or indulged in self recrimination. She had access to political power, privilege and the Force, but was never seduced or deluded by it. She used that power like a pipe to empower others or a shield to defend them, not a bank like the men in her family who were vulnerable to thinking that the story was only about them and their potential to become legends. She was always willing to get her hands dirty. She would never issue an order that she was unprepared to execute herself. For her, the stakes were higher. She was fighting for the soul of the universe, often alone and tired, but still tireless and undefeated in the ways that counted. Her final moments on screen show that she not only did not change, she got better and looked fabulous at sixty years old while doing it, giving us fierceness as she glares into the horizon at the opposition over her outfit protecting her face from the elements.
So what have they, Fisher and Princess Leia, left us? Fisher was an unofficial script doctor for The Last Jedi. She brings a lifetime of knowledge as Princess Leia and experience as a Hollywood mover and shaker that normally discards women after they are no longer considered sexually viable. This movie is her last gift to us, and I received it ambivalent about the future, but in a good way because I have no idea what comes next, and as someone who watches tons of TV shows and movies, I can usually tell.
Detractors of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens complained that it was too similar to Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Rogue One was exciting because the Resistance was more realistic and vulnerable. Even though we knew the end, we did not know how we got there or what was lost. The Last Jedi understands that audiences have gotten complacent with out knowledge of minutiae and the legend. We are comfortable that plucky rebels will disobey orders and save the day even in Rogue One where the consequences are fatal for them. The problem with rebellion is that it is hard to find a balance of when to stop rebelling and fighting once you have started fighting. Resistance is messier than serving the First Order. To belong to the First Order or the Empire, you simply have to follow the strongest person or die. To belong to the Resistance, you have to figure out what winning looks like.
Princess Leia has had the flashy victories and been willing to sacrifice everything and everyone to take out one ship, but she is still fighting so now she and the franchise have to redefine success. You won the war and defeated the Empire, but you can still lose. Evil keeps changing its form and can suddenly become your brother or your son. How do you define success if it is not winning a physical battle? “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Even though The Last Jedi is the most visually sumptuous entry in the franchise, I was more struck by the sheer number of elemental scenes with characters happily greeting each other with joyous exclamations at the reunion and the realization that the other is alive and well. Sacrifices were acceptable if it meant saving more people, but unacceptable if life was lost to hurt the enemy.
The Last Jedi demands that viewers reboot our values and expectations of what is important in this franchise. It tosses out everything that we thought mattered and answered a lot of questions that I had after The Force Awakens about Rey and Finn. Rey, Finn and Ben Solo/Kylo Ren are all survivors of childhood abuse. This latest installment introduces us to more survivors and victims of childhood abuse. Spoilers to follow.
I don’t think that it is an accident that when we first see Rey and Luke interacting, he is repulsive as he sloppily drinks blue milk from a lounging mammal, a female bantha. We later find out that Luke is an abusive (Jedi) priest who was entrusted with the care of Ben and failed spectacularly, albeit understandably. Side note: Mark Hamill is still a legend. Retroactively we should be horrified that Rey is asking this guy to train her, but because we have been rooting for Luke for four movies, it is hard to adjust your perspective, especially considering that Luke is wrong to precipitate events, but also right because Ben does turn into a villain. I did somewhat roll my eyes at the idea that of course a woman thinks that a man can change and drops everything to do so, but if I can put my bias aside, they are all survivors of abuse. Rey and Finn took a different path from Ben, who wants revenge and to destroy everything that made the abuse possible. Rey is literally incapable of looking back. She is a self-made woman. She and Finn are special because of how they were able to create themselves, not because they had the best training or inherited the Skywalker blood by an accident of birth. The end of the film suggests that the storytelling child may also have the Force as the broom jumps in his hand (or it is part of broom technology, who knows). You’re special even if you are nobody if you can find a way for your spirit to survive and not become a part of the destructive power structure.
The Last Jedi has a strong vegan impulse. From disgust over Luke’s morning beverage choices to guilt over Chewie’s dinner (poor porgs), the exploitation of animals played a dominant theme in this installment of the franchise. If the rebels struggle with defining victory, the animals of this universe have no such problem. They instinctually choose a path that the rebels then must follow to survive, whether it is the fathiers destroying the casino or the vulptices briefly seeking shelter in the base, only to then escape when it no longer provides protection. These animals are like Leia. They never choose the dark side and escape as soon as they can. The Force is with them.
Sarah G. Vincent is an infovore who is originally from NYC and has lived in Massachusetts since 1993. She received an A.B., cum laude, in History and Film Studies from Harvard University in 1997 and received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2000, where she was also an editor and arts reporter at the Crimson/FM and worked at the Harvard Film Archives. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she published “The Cultural Context of the Shopping Mall: Tension Between The Patron’s Right of Access and the Owner’s Right to Exclude.” She is in a committed, exclusive spiritual relationship with the Triune God and for more information, directs readers to look at the Apostle’s Creed.