News and Opinions Editor
There’s something just so tough about the “lasts” in life. The last time you play a sport in high school or college, the last time you see a relative before they die or even the last time we see our favorite heroes on the big screen.
Many times, lasts mean more to some people than to others. The last time I see my cat does not have the same emotional impact on my neighbor. There’s likewise tragedy the last time you see your favorite hero and said hero happens to be completely unlike anything you’d expected or seen before. Trouble is, sometimes people may not have seen your hero as deeply as you did.
I am a keeper of the Star Wars Expanded Universe: the comics, books, TV shows and other media that was a part of the old Star Wars canon before Disney purchased Lucasfilm and wiped the deck clean. I love and treasure those stories because as a kid they were my lifelines to the greatest fictional universe ever conceived.
The Luke Skywalker of the Expanded Universe (EU) was what I still aspire to be. He was a hero, a loving member of his family, a man capable of reaching out and loving others and a father. This Luke Skywalker was, in a sense, the archetype for much of the maturing Star Wars audience and a vision of maturity for a group of fans growing under the EU’s existence. Luke Skywalker rebuilt the Jedi order with his family and many new friends. While Luke made many mistakes and the galaxy nearly fell apart many times, he always maintained an optimism and confidence that good would eventually prevail over evil. Eventually, in every story, it did. The heroes emerged changed and sometimes tragically depleted, but confident the force would guide them. The Last Jedi did not follow the orthodoxy of the old canon.
The Last Jedi made Luke Skywalker a “mature” but fundamentally broken character for the next generation. Like the optimism of the late 20th century when Star Wars was created, Luke learned fighting evil wasn’t just a one-and-done external battle. Evil could not be broken and overcome as easily as Luke had expected. Luke himself dealt with the pride and assuredness that ultimately led to his fundamental failure with Kylo Ren detailed in The Last Jedi. Then, much like we all do when we mess up, he decided the galaxy was better without him, so he went away to live out the rest until he died and, by default, ended the Jedi Order.
As a general audience goer to Star Wars or just a fan of the movies, The Last Jedi wouldn’t bother you. You never met a post-Return of the Jedi Luke, you never met his wife Mara Jade and you never watched him go on amazing adventures and grow out of his confidence and hope in the Jedi. While that’s okay, there wasn’t a sense of tragedy brewing for you. Luke was broken, and that’s the only story the movie ever told.
To the keepers of Star Wars, the insiders to the secrets and beautiful intricacy of the universe, the movie could be viewed as a travesty. Luke lost the heart of who he was in the EU. Luke was broken in a way only real Star Wars fans understood. I can understand why there was anger from some super fans over Luke’s portrayal. It felt offensive and downright heretical to create a Luke devoid of his confidence and idealism. For the most devoted it surely could have felt like a slap in the face and an excommunication from the insider’s table. The tragedy director Rian Johnson created cut deep to the most loyal fans.
As much as I mourned the loss of the EU’s Luke (and I did on my second viewing with actual tears) I was captivated by the story Director Rian Johnson told with his “Last Jedi.” That might have a lot to do because I think I’ve lived in a world full of “Last Jedi.” This Luke felt much more like the people I’ve heard in Akron, Ohio who’d lost all the hope and idealism they used to hold in their hearts. When the jobs dried up and people moved away these optimists became bitter pessimists. The hope of industry and success dried up as they got older. I was shocked by how eerily familiar Luke felt to me watching the film. This Luke wasn’t what I expected, and frankly not what I wanted, but he was the Luke Skywalker I understood.
What was equally hard and difficult was the moment Luke decided to give his life saving Rey and the new hope of the galaxy. I began to imagine a world full of blue-collar workers (my Luke Skywalkers) hopeful their lives could begin again. I could see them rise to the occasion to save hope for the future generation. The places captivated by Star Wars rose with him again, so when Luke disappeared it was hard for me. I really tried hard to imagine how amazing the world would be if this theatrical moment was played out in my own personal Lukes. Then when Luke disappeared I hoped, maybe even prayed, his spirit had gone out to inspire that heroism and newfound hope in America’s heartland. When I knew that couldn’t happen because this is a fictional universe I finally broke and ugly cried. It was hard because I felt exactly like Rian Johnson intended me to feel. I felt like the world could never be the same again. I cried so ugly I think my dad wondered if I had snapped sitting in my seat.
As it’s written, the film drags the audience low with the tragedy of Luke Skywalker only to bring back hope. It’s beautiful to see Luke regain his hold on his hope. It reminds us to hold on to our hope. When hope dies in one place it’s reborn in another place. Hope is never absent. As I have observed in my conversations with people if you paid attention to the storytelling you loved this film, but if you didn’t then you hated or didn’t love the film.
Perhaps to hear the hopefulness, even if Luke isn’t who you imagined, you have to believe hope can be found outside of your own expectations and last moments of life. Walter Brueggemann writes in his book Prophetic Imagination, “Hope… is an absurdity too embarrassing to speak about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts.” Brueggemann is all too right in his statement. Hope is not quantifiable, but it’s the difference in this film. Hope is impossible to pin down, but when you feel hope it’s the only element in the room. As Jyn Erso said in Gareth Edwards’ Star Wars film Rogue One, “Rebellions are built on hope!” Mr. Johnson drags you to your lowest point before you ever see hope in this film. He takes every comfort away from you (RIP Ackbar) and forces you to stare at the facts of defeat and hopelessness. He casts the image of the last Jedi before your eyes and dares you to stay to watch his last moments. Then and only then does he, like the masterful director he is, allow you to see hope in spite of the facts quite literally in the form of a vision of Luke Skywalker.
Then as that hope dissipates and disappears in one place a new hope rises in another place. Only after Luke is gone do you see Rey carries on the mantle of the last Jedi. Only after you’ve cried over the death of your embittered hero do you see all might not be lost for the idealism you loved in Luke Skywalker. We may hate the “lasts” of life whether on the big screen or in our personal live, but these lasts can breathe hope into us if we pay attention. Rian Johnson, you have made a film that breathes hope in a world sorely in need of it. In the midst of bitterness we must dare to believe hope can rise. That’s the enduring legacy of The Last Jedi in my mind, and it makes the movie one of the best proclamations of hope our modern world has.