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Complaint #3 – Canto Bight (and a Quick Note on the Force)

Superficially, the Canto Bight sequence seems pointless. From a basic plot perspective, it accomplishes nothing, insofar as Finn and Rose fail in their mission. If certain pointy-eared Force ghosts are to be believed, however, then failure may actually be the greatest teacher.

The Canto Bight casino planet feels like an attempt to build a high-concept new world that is more distinct than, say, the scavenger planet of Jakku is from the desert planet of Tattooine. As we become immersed in this environment and meet some of the colorful background aliens who populate it, it starts to feel like something out of the world of Harry Potter. The chase scene on the back of space horses, known as fathiers, conjures up memories of Ewan MacGregor riding a CG salamander in Revenge of the Sith. Another intentional echo? Who’s to say.

Is the movie trying to say something with Canto Bight? Of course it is. The whole milieu would appear to be an overt allegory of the divide between the haves and have-nots, how the privileged few in this world — the 1%, as it were — are perhaps doomed to be overridden at some point when at last the 99% decide to take back freedom in their hearts (as represented by the galloping space horses).

Again, it is jarring to see Star Wars get political. That seems more like Star Trek’s thing. But as Sarah Jeong, senior writer at The Verge, recently noted on Twitter … in Revenge of the Sith, Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine/Darth Sidious “screams ‘UNLIMITED POWER!!!’ and then throws Senate seats at Yoda.” And that’s before you remember that the original Star Wars is very much George Lucas reacting to the Vietnam War through the prism of space opera.

The scene she’s referencing came out in 2005, at the height of the George W. Bush presidential administration. So much for Star Wars being apolitical.

They say it’s not courteous to talk about politics and religion — those two things especially — at the dinner table. But since we’ve already broached one subject, we might as well bring up the other. Back in September, when I wrote a news article about Rian Johnson praying for the success of The Last Jedi at a temple in Japan, I found an old tweet of his where he said he grew up religious and was once a devoted Christian. As someone with a similar religious background, I felt like I could see where that may have informed some of his choices in this movie with regards to the Force. Basically, if the Force is God in the Star Wars universe, and the Jedi and the Skywalkers were God’s chosen people (cue Ewan McGregor wailing, “You were the Chosen Ones!”), what does that mean for everyone else?

Now the Force has been made available to all people. Everything up to this point has been the Old Testament of Star Wars. Last Jedi forms a new covenant for the franchise going forward.

This is embodied in the noble figure of broom boy, the stable kid at the end who is left staring up at the stars right before the movie cuts to its closing credits. Broom boy is a nobody, very much like Rey herself, but he, too, is in touch with the Force. No longer are Skywalkers the only ones destined for greater things in the Star Wars universe. For all we know, broom boy could be the central protagonist of the new trilogy of Rian Johnson Star Wars films that has been announced. Though as our own Chris Evangelista argues, broom boy’s small but significant role in this movie may have just been intended to show “that the stories and legends of Star Wars will continue to spread throughout the galaxy, long after our current heroes are dead and gone,” and “that the Star Wars universe is vast, and there are people and stories in it that exist beyond the scope of what we’ve seen so far.”

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Complaint #4 – Yoda, God of Thunder

Bringing the Force to the people is why Yoda shows up to summon some lightning and burn down the tree that once housed the sacred Jedi texts. Yoda’s reappearance in this movie is initially jarring, too, if only because the character’s visual design has been so wobbly across the six live-action films that he has appeared in. First he was a great puppet, then he was a bad puppet, and then he was a CGI creation. Then his backward-talking became ever-more stilted and ridiculous, his lines becoming a jumble of self-parody. (Cue George Lucas typing, “Not if anything to say about it I have.”)

Now Yoda is a puppet again, but something still looks a little off about his face. Maybe it’s just that they achieved the glowing blue Force-ghost effect around him in a different way than they did at the end of Return of the Jedi. I don’t know. All I can say is that when I saw The Last Jedi the first time, the scene with Yoda took me out of the movie a little.

On a second viewing, I was able to relax into it more, and I think it is appropriate that Yoda, the saga’s wisest character, should be the one to show up to set fire to the past. “Let the past die,” Kylo Ren says. “Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.” They may be going in different directions, but Ben Solo and Yoda have a similar line of thinking.

One of the many beautiful images that The Last Jedi leaves us with is that of Luke and Yoda, silhouetted from behind, as they sit back next to each other on a hill to watch the past go up in flames. The past is not meaningless. It has brought us to where we are today. But if the Star Wars franchise is ever going to progress, maybe it’s time to let go of some things, so the franchise can become what it was meant to be — back when George Lucas was still young and pure, entertaining ideas about other visionary directors coming in and competing, trying to outdo each other to see who could make the best Star Wars movie.

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Old man Luke is a flawed character, a hero who can only disappoint those who believe in him, yet he Force-projects an idealized image of himself onto the battlefield to become a legend that will inspire future generations. It is only fitting that at the tail end of the franchise’s 40th anniversary year, Luke Skywalker should bring Star Wars full circle, giving closure to the first four decades of movies by staring up at a binary sunset again like he did when we first met him back on the Tatooine farm all those years ago. Like Obi-Wan and Yoda before him, Luke fades away, but he never did get the chance to teach Rey her third and final lesson. Maybe he will come back as a Force ghost to do that in Episode IX.

The Star Wars franchise is in a good place now, where it feels like every new movie outdoes the former one and is hailed by critics and fans (well, some of them, anyway) as the “best since Empire Strikes Back.” I grew up loving the Original Trilogy; I struggled with the prequels; I liked The Force Awakens; I really liked Rogue One. But The Last Jedi is a film that brought even more tears to my eyes than the poignant, self-sacrificing fate of Rogue One’s characters. And for that, I can overlook the flaws.

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