We’ll finally get a proper Han Solo backstory film this month. It’s difficult to express just how eager I am for it. Ahead of Solo, I want to take a moment to reconsider the most recent Star Wars film The Last Jedi. Rain Johnson’s Episode VIII stands as a unique Star Wars film grittier while also being more ambitious and succeeds because of it. While The Force Awakens ended the hero Han Solo, The Last Jedi ends the hero Luke Skywalker. This pushes the story into new, more authentic and interesting territory compelling us to either become fitter viewers or corpulent ones.
When we were kids, we all wanted to be Han Solo because we were all really Luke Skywalker. A poor kid living in nowhere doing nothing with no way to get out. Yet we felt there could be something if only…
If only what? An ascetic walks out of the desert revealing you are now ready to pursue your true destiny: “I’m not going to Alderaan. I’ve got to go home. It’s late, I’m in for it as it is.” And when you get home, everyone is dead. Murdered. Your life is literally burned to the ground. So you leave.
Almost immediately you meet a version of yourself you wish you were–free, unbound–and at first he hates your face. Mocks your idealism, is always annoyed by your questions and your presence visibly irritates him. Eventually, you earn his respect. You get under his skin helping to make him a better person. People tell you you’re a hero. You get it into your head you have to be even more. You go down the zealous path of that long dead ascetic. You endure challenge after challenge never really shaking off your naivety but rather having your idealism confirmed through hard trials.
You get cocky. It’s all revealed to be a house of cards. It comes crashing down on you. You survive but you feel deep failure for the first time. You abandon everything. You never look back. And then a girl shows up believing if only…
Look, there’s not much about The Last Jedi that needs to be said. Fairly early on after the film’s release fandom coalesced into various camps about it:
It’s too draggy and long
It’s too fast-paced
It is magically both draggy and fast-paced
It’s too much about one family
It’s not about family
The plot is terrible
The plot is fine but the acting is terrible
The plot and acting are fine, but the pacing is terrible
The plot, acting, and pacing are fine but the characterizations are terrible
It needed more humor
It needed less humor
It needed a different kind of humor
Not enough character development
Too much character development
The stakes were too low
The stakes were too high
It’s too much like the original trilogy
It’s not enough like the original trilogy
In a bizarre way, Star Wars has gotten so huge, the already arguably largest fandom in the world now must incorporate not just obsessives but audiences demanding saccharine, easily digestible stories in massive quantities. Disney will oblige. Star Wars is becoming something different. We all need to adjust our expectations and our appetites, and The Last Jedi is a keen opportunity to do so as it “has been reduced from a cinematic experience and important piece of the vast Star Wars mythos to just another piece of pop culture to fill our social media news feeds. It has welcomed a series of memes, GIFS, and hashtags, both positive and negative, and as such, is a constant reminder of how quickly our screen obsessed culture believes it can determine the worth or worthlessness of any particular person or thing. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram continue to be useful platforms that are misused by abusive tools and ego masturbators.” The Last Jedi isn’t the strongest Star Wars story; it is the most necessary one we’ve yet seen. I don’t know if I would go so far to say the film is “exceedingly hard to pinpoint in terms of where it stands in relation to the other movies in the canon” but it definitely shatters the “binary mythological world” introducing more “complexity, nuance, and shades of gray.”
More than anything else we experience a bookending of Luke’s story. We see how he didn’t turn into an Obi-Wan but more of a Han. It’s fascinating that in these new films our male heroes have all fled feeling themselves failures. In The Force Awakens, Han retreats into deep space only coming back in an attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of his son. He fails and dies.
Similarly, Luke throws himself into self-exile because of his failure. True to his word, he never leaves his island and dies there. Does his attempt to redeem himself succeed? It’s difficult to say. At the end of his dual with Kylo Ren, Luke spits a line at his nephew echoing not just Han Solo’s words but his tone. It is a taunt not meant to save Kylo, not meant to ask his forgiveness. From a certain point of view, Luke’s “See you around, Kid” twists the knife in Kylo’s conscience; it’s one last fuck you saying ‘You murder the ones who love you.’
This seems to put an exclamation point on the still fresh epic battle Kylo and Rey fought back-to-back. At the end of that fight, Kylo pleads to Rey “Please” and as the author Kameron Hurley points out “you see who he really is, this terrified, lonely little boy whose teacher turned on him, and who started down a dark timeline and refuses to go back. Kylo Ren is truly the villain of our time: a privileged young kid who believes everyone has wronged him, and who wields great power he doesn’t know how to control, whether that’s a gun or his own physicality, or in this instance, the Force. We deserve this villain.” Luke faces his fear of failure as well as the person he failed. Doing so is how he finally overcomes his fear allowing him to fade away into The Force in the warmth of the Light rather than in the Dark. It is still chilling. It is at once selfish, cruel, self-sacrificing, and moving.
In this way, the death of Luke Skywalker isn’t the compliment to the death of Han Solo, an echo of the murder of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the deathbed redemption of Darth Vader, or even the near-death of Leia Organa. Rather, it is an end of an arc opening up the possibility the final film of the new trilogy will be completely its own. How that final installment will look is anyone’s guess, but it won’t be (or ought not be) like anything we’ve yet seen since all the previous anchors are now gone.
There will be more Star Wars stories. Some will be the retro tales we’ve longed for like Solo or Rogue One. However, it’s likely most will be other-than what we’ve known. The Last Jedi by concluding Luke Skywalker’s story forces us to accommodate other stories. To have a vibrant, meaningful mythology, we need to transgress the boundaries of the old tales becoming a different kind of viewer.