The original Star Wars trilogy is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In 2017, those modifiers contextualizing time and space apply just as well to the creation of the original Star Wars, and that’s the problem. The Last Jedi tasks itself with the unenviable job of unmooring itself from the baggage of the original trilogy, which began 40 years ago. It performs this task with a kind of arrogance (and though I haven’t seen anyone call it that) that has sparked criticism from self-professed longtime Star Wars fans.
I wrote the paragraph above on Saturday morning when I intended to post a full write-up of The Last Jedi, but I don’t think I can do it. My thoughts took a turn over the weekend as I prowled social media sites to find there are 3 general responses to The Last Jedi: unconditional love, a kind of nameless ambivalence, and unadulterated hatred. I’m not good enough to organize my thoughts on a single viewing (I already tried twice), so instead I’m going to work exclusively from the premise that the movie’s real problem isn’t actually anything in the movie itself, but rather the way time works.
- The First Star Wars movie came out in 1977 and the subsequent films in that trilogy released 3 and 6 years later, respectively. And then The Phantom Menace was released in 1999.
- In that time between 1983 and 1999, the primary avenue to any “new” Star Wars information and stories came in the form of the novels that comprised the Extended Universe.
- Upon the advent of the internet, all of that information and those stories were organized, curated, and posted online for all to read. *Do not click that link unless you want to lose 90 minutes of your time*
- Over time, this information became a kind of institutional knowledge that became inseparable from the characters and events of the original trilogy. I mean, I’m not even a hardcore fan but I know that eventually, Luke Skywalker got married, started a Jedi Academy, and something about endless Palpatine clones. Han and Leia had a kid they named Anakin and a set of twins (Cole and Avery?).
- The unintended consequence of this institutional knowledge is that it has warped people’s perception of the original trilogy. For example: Based ONLY on the original trilogy, what do you know about Boba Fett? Mon Mothma? Admiral Ackbar? What is a Mandalorian? What are the Jedi Trials? How does a Jedi create his own light saber? So much of what we consider Star Wars lore isn’t actually from the original trilogy. It’s actually from a bunch of different sources which have coalesced over time.
TL;DR – The original trilogy isn’t what we think it is, especially in terms of storytelling and scope, but it biases our view of everything related to it, anyway.
In 2017, we no longer have to wait so long for new Star Wars content. If Disney has its way, we’ll get a movie every year. Starved fans are finally being overserved. We’re getting what we wanted, only not the way we wanted it. Well, that’s the problem, right? That the galaxy from a long time ago and far, far away hits a little too close to home.
I’ve read many complaints in particular regarding the way The Last Jedi portrays Luke Skywalker. I thought it was the single most interesting feature of the movie. We understand his failing, we understand why he’s in exile (it’s simply what failed Jedi do, baby), and best of all – he has the same concerns I do. How did the Sith rise to dominance when the Jedi were at the height of their strength? Was the idea of Luke Skywalker ever an accurate presentation of who he actually was (I’ve argued for years that the answer is a redounding “NO”)? What is the point of anything if it always ends the same way or if it never ends?
The Luke Skywalker problem is the microcosm of issue mentioned a paragraph ago: it would be great to get more Luke Skywalker, but only a certain version of him, the version that’s forever the hero and galaxy’s savior. Maybe that’s not true. Maybe people simply wanted the Luke stories they read in the Extended Universe. But really, that was always going to be impossible. Luke Skywalker is a fictional character. Mark Hamill is a 66-year old human being. Neither was going to last forever, at least not in the only way we’ve ever known them.
For so long, Luke Skywalker, his father, his sister, and all of his friends had been frozen in time on VHS and Betamax, then DVD, and finally Blu-Ray. Some 30 years later they returned to life and somehow they’re supposed to be exactly the same as we remember them? That would necessitate a deeper suspension of disbelief than the one required to accept an entire universe predicated on the existence of an all-encompassing deus ex machina called “the Force”.