The movie that split the fandom right down the middle, The Last Jedi, is a lightning rod for debate. Here’s why it’s not as bad as some may think…
Legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali is quoted as saying, “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” That quote also serves as the basis of my defense of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and I will be returning to it later on in this column.
Based off of several conversations that I have had about the film, most of its complaints (as far as I can tell) primarily deal with how Luke Skywalker was portrayed. Simply put, a significant portion of the fan base wholly disagreed with the direction that the character was taken.
Nostalgia is a heck of a drug and because this new version of Luke Skywalker didn’t exactly match up with how many people chose to remember him, there was hell to pay for The Last Jedi director, Rian Johnson.
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An older Skywalker
The Last Jedi’s version of Luke didn’t age as gracefully as fans had hoped he would in the subsequent years since the ending of the Return of the Jedi.
Instead of revisiting the inspired life of the Jedi who – in his younger years – destroyed the first Death Star, toppled Emperor Palpatine from power and won redemption for his father, Darth Vader, we were introduced to a broken Luke Skywalker in Johnson’s film.
He was a shell of his former self and his trademark optimism and willingness to face challenges head-on were gone. Also gone were Luke’s boyish features. Skywalker was now gray-bearded and surly with the temperament of a grumpy old man who no longer wished to be bothered by anyone ever again.
An unintentional push to the dark side
Years after restoring the Jedi Order and beginning a new academy, Luke took on his nephew, Ben Solo, as a student.
Soon, the uprising of the dark side influence got to such a level that Luke could sense what a real threat to his loved ones Ben was to become.
One night, in a brief moment of weakness, Luke sought to end the threat by igniting his emerald-hued lightsaber and killing Ben only to come to his senses soon thereafter. Unfortunately, before he could holster his weapon, the worst case scenario occurred.
Ben awoke and saw his uncle’s lightsaber ignited above him and it was too late. Ben took Luke’s actions as a show of aggression and that was the final push that he needed to descend even deeper into the dark side of the Force.
Photo Credit: Lucasfilm
Ben incapacitated Luke as he went on to burn the new Jedi temple to the ground and he also killed a great deal of his peers along the way. Before departing for good, Solo recruited some rogue students and took them along with him. Speculatively, those other former Jedi were the beginning of the Knights of Ren dark side faction with Ben Solo re-christened as their leader, Kylo Ren.
With his new Jedi Order all but destroyed at the hands of his fallen nephew, Luke’s extreme guilt not only led him to abandon his friends and family but also the entire galaxy. His absence allowed the proliferation of the First Order as the most severe threat to peace since the days of the Empire.
A new perspective
Luke’s failure with Ben forced him to take a long, hard look at the circumstances that brought everything about. He came to realize some hard truths about not only himself but also the Jedi Order overall.
It was those realizations that led Luke to shut himself off from the Force during his self-imposed exile on Ahch-To.
His new perspective allowed Luke to see that despite their reputations as guardians of peace, the Jedi could be arrogant. Their hubristic behavior allowed his father to be turned into an agent of evil for a threat that was growing more and more powerful, unbeknownst to the Jedi, until it was too late.
This all brings me back to the quote from Muhammad Ali that I shared earlier. Luke’s guilt and pain from his loss and failure pushed him into a new train of thought that was virtually counter to everything he was taught to believe. Simply put, he evolved and his views changed.
As an older man, Luke didn’t view the world in the same way during his time on Ahch-To as he did during his time as a young man on Tatooine.
Photo Credit: Lucasfilm
People grow, people change, people make mistakes and our heroes are no different whether they’re fictional characters or real life figures. True, it’s their speech, their actions and their heroic nature that endeared them to us in the first place but to expect them to remain entirely infallible is unrealistic.
Seeing how Luke dealt with his actions over the course of the movie was refreshing for me to see. Instead of being a cliché rehash of what had already been done prior, Johnson boldly took the narrative in a new and unexpected direction.
Even our heroes are subject to age and evolution. They will make decisions we disagree with and cause us to question everything we thought we had known previously and that is okay.
Luke’s characterization in The Last Jedi was jarring for many but it was a necessary risk.
Seeing his story run its full arc was incredible and from the moment he first appeared onscreen to his final moment with his sister Leia, I was fully invested and ready to see the final confrontation between he and Kylo Ren.
Luke’s new characterization posed a stark dichotomy to what it was in the Original Trilogy and that made his portrayal that much more realistic to me.
I’m not saying The Last Jedi was a perfect film but I also don’t think it is deserving of all of the backlash it has gotten from many fans.