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Part of this reflects Johnson’s interest in Ben Solo and his lack of interest in Snoke (can you blame him?), but it’s also a perfect reflection of the grander ideas at work in The Last Jedi. Luke Skywalker loomed large, but in the end, he was just a bitter old man with a chip on his shoulder. Snoke loomed large, but in the end, he was just an vicious old bastard whose backstory is unimportant and who gets stabbed in the back by his angsty student. In a universe where everything is connected, where we’ve been trained to expect greater meanings and profound truths, this is a punch to the gut. Not everything is connected. The mightiest can fall. And at some point, they probably should.

Snoke probably mattered once upon a time, to someone. But he’s gone now. Luke Skywalker mattered to the galaxy, but his time is over. The future has been yanked from the hands of past masters and the universe will be reshaped by Kylo Ren and Rey, who are both fighting for the same thing from opposite directions: the chance to build a future beyond the command of a generation that failed. Johnson’s decision to bring us even closer to Ben Solo, even allowing him to fight alongside Rey in an incredible lightsaber fight, before doubling down on him being irredeemable may be the best choice in a movie filled with audacious choices. Just because Darth Vader was redeemed doesn’t mean his grandson is going down the same path. And yeah, the motivations of this new villain make a certain amount of sense, don’t they? That should trouble you as much as it troubles Rey.

(As a side note, the sudden demise of Snoke feels akin to General Hux’s transformation into bumbling comedic relief. Some may take issue with him being reduced to a punching bag, but it once again feels like Johnson taking an ill-defined character from The Force Awakens and running wild with him, giving him something to do. The same goes for Maz Kanata, who is funnier and wilder in her brief cameo here than she was in The Force Awakens.)

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Save the Things You Love

If the death of Snoke was The Last Jedi bursting a bubble, the revelation about Rey’s parents is…an even bigger bursting of an even bigger bubble. The Last Jedi is a movie about disappointment – your heroes are broken, your allies failed you, and your mystery parents, whose identity has been driving your entire existence so far, aren’t Skywalkers or Solos or Kenobis. They’re just some schmoes who sold you off and left you to rot on a backwater planet. If your last name is Skywalker, you’re destined for greatness. It’s a given. But what does it mean if your name is Rey? Just Rey?

The Last Jedi is full of nobodies brushing shoulders with somebodies. Rey discovers that her parents were drunks, simple traders who didn’t care about her, even as she trains under the legendary Luke Skywalker. Poe Dameron must grapple with the fact that he’s taking orders from General Leia Organa, a woman who has suffered and bled and fought for the Galaxy for 30 years, and therefore knows what’s right more often than him. And poor Rose must come to terms with the fact that Finn, a “hero” of the Resistance, is prepared to desert the moment things get tough. The new men and women of Star Wars (with the notable exception of Kylo Ren) are profoundly ordinary. Or rather, they’re profoundly ordinary people forced to live up to the extraordinary people around them, even as those extraordinary people often let them down.

I imagine we’ll see Star Wars fans upset about Rey not being a secret Skywalker or a Kenobi or a clone of Emperor Palpatine or the reincarnated Anakin Skywalker (the internet is a bad place), but Rey’s origin as just a person is more powerful than even the most shocking twist. Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywalker emerged from a nothing planet as nobodies and rose to the occasion, stumbling into destinies they could never have imagined. To tie every character of significance to them and their circle of allies and enemies would be to rob them of their power. The beauty of Star Wars, since its earliest days, has been the depiction of heroes coming from every corner and every walk of life. A farm boy. A princess. A smuggler. They have no business saving the galaxy, but damn it, they have to! Who else will?

And now we have an orphaned scavenger abandoned by her completely un-noteworthy parents, a conflicted deserter from a vicious military regime, and a skilled pilot with a lot to learn about leadership. The next generation of Star Wars heroes are born from disappointment, the disappointment of having to live in the shadow of heroes and the disappointment of having to fight the war that those heroes failed to actually win all those years ago. No one should have to do this. No young person should have to go to war. Why should these kids, with no connection to the previous generation beyond being unfortunate enough to exist in the same galaxy as Luke, Han, and Leia, suffer for the sins of the Skywalker family?

They shouldn’t, but this is the hand that was dealt to them. And they’re going to fight because that’s what heroes do, no matter where they come from. Secret parentage that supplies an easily digestible explanation for your superpowers is for chumps…and Jedi masters who spend their final days in self-imposed exile.

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A Long Time Ago…

Think back to the original Star Wars, the 1977 film, back before it was subtitled “A New Hope” and before it inspired an entire multimedia franchise. Look at the man who made it: George Lucas, a young hotshot, a proper artist, whose previous brush with science fiction resulted in the grim THX 1138. That film wears its politics, and its anger and frustration, on its sleeve. And while Star Wars is an infinitely more accessible film, it’s still the work of the same man and he’s still speaking the same language. A “fun” movie about a team of freedom fighters battling an oppressive, fascist regime is inherently political. Lucas knew this more than anyone and he even kept it alive in the much-derided prequels, which ended up being an entire trilogy of films about the failure of democracy in the face of a tyrannical despot.

When Lucas conceived Star Wars, it was as fresh and radical as anything else made in the American New Wave of the ’70s. But by Return of the Jedi, the ragtag Rebel alliance felt safer and the Force more of a superpower than a mystical way of life. An already simple premise was made simpler, an undesirable turn after The Empire Strikes Back doubled down on Lucas’ original concepts. It’s telling that The Force Awakens feels like a cinematic adaptation of our nostalgic feelings about Star Wars instead of a Star Wars movie as conceived by George Lucas.

Perhaps that’s why The Last Jedi is such a jarring experience, one that feels specifically built to make audiences work through their feelings about this universe. Rian Johnson is unabashedly political and unafraid to slaughter the sacred cows. The First Order isn’t just a group of guys whose costumes provide cool cosplay opportunities – they are fascists, evil and cold and frightening. The Resistance isn’t a team of plucky heroes – they are a band of fighters who are specifically cast with diverse men and women to reflect the fears and frustrations of millennials who feel trapped and afraid in a world where resistance often feels futile (and who really wouldn’t mind tearing apart a casino city operated by the 1%). The Force isn’t just a cool excuse for heroes to lift rocks – it is something mystical and mysterious that cannot be easily explained and comprehended, something that even Luke Skywalker has a complex relationship with at this point.

Even the Lando surrogate, the unnamed codebreaker played by Benicio del Toro, offers no easy answers as he betrays our heroes and doesn’t even reach for apology or redemption. Even the goofy humor that arrives early and often is a departure from the norm, a case of Johnson making the movie his own rather than following a style guide. The Last Jedi feels like a movie young George Lucas, passionate and bold, would have made. It feels like a proper Star Wars movie by refusing to feel like a Star Wars movie.

The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story want to please you. They want to hit familiar beats and remind you why you love Star Wars. They are so much fun. But The Last Jedi doesn’t want to remind you of anything. It doesn’t care about your relationship with Star Wars. The only relationship that matters here is Rian Johnson’s relationship with Star Wars, and for the first time in a long time, here is a Star Wars movie with a proper point of view, one delivered by a storyteller who is unafraid to shatter a universe he loves, to break down the heroes that mean so much to him. A wise and noble Luke is easy. A Luke with regrets? That’s hard. That’s tough to swallow. That’s what elevates The Last Jedi beyond a simple retread – it asks you to take these characters seriously in a way that other Star Wars films have not, to acknowledge them as something beyond a vessel for escapism. Star Wars can only matter in the long run if it’s given the room to grow. And right now, it feels like the sky is the limit. Right now, Star Wars feels…unsafe.

And that feels great.

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