In 2017, Walt Disney Studios and Lucasfilm released Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, this film was second movie in the Star Wars sequel trilogy and the eighth installment in the Star Wars film franchise. The blockbuster was highest-grossing film of 2017, but it was met with mixed reviews from both critics and fans. Some praised the film for being a subversive take on the Star Wars franchise, while others found the film to be extremely disrespectful to the Star Wars canon. Upon film’s release the review aggregator website, Rotten Tomatoes had the film at a 90% approval rating with critics and a 45% approval rating with fans. Many online petitions were also started on the night of the film’s release, urging disney to remove The Last Jedi from the official Star Wars canon. These outraged fans would cite too many red herrings, boring sub-plots and childish humor as the reasons for their distaste with the film (SOURCE). However, these popular criticisms are merely nitpicks and ignore the film’s narrative shortcoming. The main reason the film fails is because the film’s ideological argument gets undercut by a incoherent decision. Star Wars: The Last Jedi tried to revolutionize Star Wars with a exciting and subversive central thesis, but failed because it pulled it’s punch at the climax of the movie.
The film begins with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a powerful young force sensitive girl, going to the planet Ahch-To so she can recruit the legendary Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to rejoin the resistance. However, upon arrival Rey discovers that Skywalker is no longer the the idealistic hero he once was. Skywalker has denounced the Jedi order and is now hiding from the war that plagues the galaxy. Despite his unwillingness to help, Rey still tries to convince Skywalker to rejoin the fight. After multiple attempts to persuade him, Skywalker agrees to at least give Rey an explanation for why he has left war and why he believes the Jedi order must end. Skywalker explains that the Jedi are romanticized as heroes who saved the galaxy, when in reality they failed to bring any actual positive change to the galaxy and are directly responsible for the rise of the Empire. He says “Now that they’re extinct, the Jedi are romanticized. Deified. But if you strip away the myth and look at their deeds… The legacy of the Jedi is failure. Hypocrisy. Hubris. At the height of their powers they allowed Darth Sidious to rise, create the Empire and wipe them out. It was a Jedi master who was responsible for the training and creation of Darth Vader.” It can also be inferred that Skywalker feels the resistance against the New Order is futile because after he brought down the Empire in the original trilogy, a identical evil regime has risen to power. Skywalker’s reasoning makes logical sense. Clearly something is wrong with how the Jedi operate if evil always returns.
The film then suggests that the reason for this cyclical rise and fall of good and evil is because the force requires balance on both the light side and the dark side. When light rises so does darkness and when darkness rises so does light. This point is made explicitly clear when Supreme Leader Snoke, a seemingly all powerful expert on the force, explains why Rey is so strong with the force despite her lack of training. He says “Darkness rises and light to meet it. I warned my young apprentice that as he grew stronger, his equal in the light would rise.” If the audience is to believe this is how the force operates, then their logical conclusion should be that Jedi’s fight to rid the galaxy of evil is pointless because the force will always create more evil to achieve balance in the universe.
The argument that trying to rid the galaxy of evil is futile is further reinforced through film’s B-plot. While Rey is busy recruiting Skywalker, Resistance members Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) go on a secret mission to disable the First Order’s tracking device. In order to succeed, they acquire the help of a shady hacker named DJ (Benicio Del Toro). While he agrees to help the resistance, DJ believes that neither side of the war is truly good or evil. DJ’s personal philosophy is that good and evil are “made up words” and suggests that the war will never end because the galaxy’s economy prospers on selling war materials to both sides of the fight. “You beat them today and they beat you tomorrow” he says. When Finn argues against his cynical viewpoint, DJ shows him concrete evidence that the wealthy arms dealer, who’s spaceship they hijacked, made his fortune by selling weapons to both the First Order and the Resistance. DJ eventually betrays Finn and Rose after the First Order offers him more money and in his final moments in the film he says to Finn, “It’s all a machine, partner. Live free. Don’t join.” Through this storyline, the film is suggesting that battle between good and evil will never end as long as people are able to profit from the war. This further supports the film’s central message about the futility of war and runs parallel with Skywalker’s belief that fighting evil is hopeless.
At this point the film has made it obvious to the audience that the current system of combating evil is broken and if the audience is using rational reasoning then the logical conclusion is that the galaxy needs a radical change in order to stop the constant fighting. Using “And, But, Therefore” narrative format, the film’s thesis is arguably, the war continues to kill millions and the war must end, but war will never end because the force and economy always will it into existence, therefore in order to end the war, the galaxy needs a radical change. However, the film abandons this logical argument at the climax of the movie. Throughout the film, Rey has been communicating through the force with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Skywalker’s former pupil who turned to the darkside because Skywalker attempted to kill him. After the two have multiple conversations, Rey becomes convinced that Ren still has good in him and that he can be brought back to the light. Rey heads to the First Order’s command ship where she meets Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke immediately begins to torture Rey as he demands she tell him where Skywalker is hiding. Snoke discovers Skywalker’s location and then orders Ren to kill Rey. In a shocking twist, Ren spars Rey and murders Snoke. A epic fight sequence follows with Rey and Ren working together to defeat Snoke’s bodyguards. Once the two win the fight, Ren extends his hand to Rey and says “It’s time to let old things die. Snoke. Skywalker. The Sith. The Jedi. The rebels. Let it all die. Rey. I want you to join me.” In this moment Rey is given a chance to potentially stop the war and end the cycle of violence, yet despite everything she’s learned about the force, and the cyclical nature of good and evil she says no.
Rey’s decision not to join forces with Ren makes no sense in the context of the film and her decision completely undercuts the film’s central message. Rey has spent the entire film learning that the old ways of combating evil do not work. She has also witnessed that Ren is no longer morally compromised, demonstrated by his decision to kill Snoke. Furthermore, Ren has fought for both sides of the war and is in touch with both the dark side and light side of the force. He is clearly the most qualified person to figure out how to bring a end to the cycle of violence. Despite all of the logical reasons to team up with Ren, Rey refuses for seemingly no reason other than she would rather be a Jedi. The third act of the film is then focused backpedaling on it’s argument with more inconsistent character decisions such as Skywalker contradicting his beliefs by joining the Resistance.
If Rey had agreed to join forces with Ren then not only would the film’s argument make logical sense, but the film would have revolutionized the Star Wars franchise. Star Wars has been at the forefront of pop culture for past four decades and each film tells a story about a battle between good and evil. However, despite the franchise’s longevity, since the release of the original trilogy, none of the films have truly progressed the franchise. The prequel trilogy gave audiences unsatisfying answers to questions they had from the original films and Star Wars: The Force Awakens is more or less just a retelling of the original Star Wars. However, The Last Jedi is the first film to attempt to progress the franchise by questioning why the galaxy is always at war. The problem with the film is once it reaches a answer to this question and suggests a solution, it ignores it and immediately returns back to the roots of the franchise. If Rey and Ren had both agreed to transcend good and evil by working together to tear both institutions, it would have subverted the expectations of a Star Wars film and progressed the franchise into a new exciting terrority.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi could have revolutionized the Star Wars franchise, but failed because it abandons it’s central argument at the last minute. Rey’s decision makes no logical sense and completely undercuts the film’s subversive and thought provocting message about society’s definitions of good and evil. Before Rey’s choice, the film spent 2 hours explaining to the audience that our systems of fighting evil need to change and once a actual change is offered the film choses to simply ignore it. Spending all this time abrasively subverting how to fight evil, just to revert back to the old ways is a missed opportunity to bring Star Wars in a new direction.
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