SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Proceed with caution.
The Last Jedi is a movie about the weight of the Star Wars legacy. Luke Skywalker is a broken man. Trying to live up to his own legend has left him tired and bitter. Meanwhile, the younger Jedi are emulating the past. Rey is a Luke fangirl, and Kylo Ren is a Darth Vader cosplayer. The characters even reenact scenes from Return of the Jedi. Ultimately, no one in The Last Jedi is capable of living up to their own impossible expectations. They can’t match the original trilogy. However, they shouldn’t have to.
If Luke is tired, it is because the writers are also. It isn’t hard to read the subtext in Rian Johnson’s script. How can you follow the legacy of George Lucas? Forty years of rabid fandom have built this franchise up to ridiculous heights. The level of dedication from fans feels less like fandom and more like a religion. No new movie could live up to the legacy of the previous ones. So Rian Johnson doesn’t even try to match them. He, instead, burns down the Star Wars of old and starts anew.
Mystery and Anti-Climax
J.J. Abrams and The Force Awakens left fans with a million questions. Who are Rey’s parents? Who is Snoke? The Last Jedi either ignores the question or gives us anticlimactic answers. Snoke is unimportant, and Rey’s parents turn out to be nobodies, space drunks. We at Fandom had a long-running article on this very question, but it turns out we were missing the bigger picture.
Kylo Ren speaks as a fan would about Rey, “You have no place in this story.” Clearly, he’s wrong. Rey is the star. The truth about her parents doesn’t change that fact or her. The dark portal on Luke’s island could only show Rey reflected in a mirror because that’s all she ever was — just Rey. She is no more and no less than she appeared. Not part of the vainglorious Skywalker legacy, Rey is free to be herself.
Meanwhile, Kylo Ren cannot look past what he thinks he deserves. If the new trilogy were written according to fan assumptions, Kylo Ren would be the natural protagonist. He’s Anakin Skywalker’s grandson, the heir to a preposterous prophecy. Yet, in a better twist than any of the Rey theories, Kylo Ren is the villain. This character is broken because he cannot see past his bloodline. He cannot define himself without his ancestors.
Rey is the clean slate. She embodies the potential future for this series. Kylo Ren is our unhealthy obsession with the past. Their conflict is a battle for the heart of Star Wars itself.
Burning the Temple Down
Then there is Luke Skywalker, the character who most sits at the heart of this series. Luke has come to resent his place in the galaxy. Like Kylo Ren, Luke arrogantly thinks he is the most important character in the story. When he failed to train Ben Solo, it was not just a personal defeat for Luke. The whole Jedi Order failed too. If “the great Luke Skywalker” is unworthy, then the Jedis are also.
In his anger, later in the film, Luke prepares to burn down the sacred Jedi temple and torch several sacred texts inside. (The books are actually on the Millennium Falcon, but Luke doesn’t know that.) Yoda appears as a Force Ghost to mock his student’s immaturity, then burns the place down himself. Yeah, Yoda did what Luke was going to do anyway. But what matters is the context.
Luke wants to destroy the Jedi histories because he thinks he owns them. Yoda destroys the temple to remind us that Luke doesn’t own anything. The only things Luke can possess are his own life and choices, and Luke spends all movie making the wrong choices. Importantly, too, Yoda reminds Luke and the audience that the books never mattered in the first place. Canon and trivia were never important, the characters were.
The Horror of Fandom
We fans are just like Luke and the crazy little aliens he shares the island with. Skywalker obsesses over dusty literature that nobody will ever read while the aliens rebuild irrelevant temples that nobody will ever visit. They’re grasping desperately at the exterior details, making those details meaningless. Luke holds onto the books like obsessed Rick and Morty fans fighting for McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce. We fans collect thousands of pages of ephemera in wikis, fill our houses with toys, and then argue endlessly over Midi-chlorians.
The armies of Star Wars’ fandom ironically miss the point of the Jedi entirely. We’re all trying to possess this story. Yoda’s point in burning the temple is simple. “No, Luke (and audience), this does not belong to you.” The villains of Star Wars want to possess and control. The heroes of Star Wars let go. The fans who can’t enjoy a new movie because it isn’t like the old ones are walking down a path to the Dark Side. Nobody owns Star Wars and nobody should.
Those books that Luke loves are just books. They have no meaning other than what people put into them. One day they will disappear and fade away. One day, too, the old, already aging Star Wars movies won’t be so damned important. You either accept that and let the universe change or stay stuck in the past. Luke lets go. He lets his part in the story end and allows a new era to begin. We have to do the same.
You Can’t Go Home Again
The Last Jedi is a very different movie than Episode VII. The Force Awakens is all about fan comfort. Han Solo in that film isn’t different from how he was in the Eighties, just a bit grayer. “Chewie, we’re home,” is the line that got fans all choked up in those reaction videos on Youtube. The whole movie was about that: the comfort of coming home again. But The Last Jedi isn’t about comfort. Luke is not the perfect hero you wanted, your fan theories missed the point of everything, and Admiral Ackbar is dead. The home you remember is gone.
Maybe that’s why some fans are so upset with The Last Jedi. We grew up with Luke, Han, and Leia. Passing the torch to Rey, Finn, and Poe means our era is over. Turns out our childhood nostalgia cannot stretch into infinity. The prequels didn’t kill your childhood, but The Last Jedi did. This movie is not for us, at least not exclusively us. We wanted Star Wars frozen forever as one thing. But that one thing is static and dead. It will disappear if we try to control it. Rian Johnson unfroze the franchise, burnt away the decay, and maybe even gave it new life.
The Last Jedi ends with children whispering the legend of Luke Skywalker. That’s who Rian Johnson made this movie for, the next generation. We had our heroes in Anakin and Luke. They’re done. This is Rey’s time now. It is unfair to her and unfair to this entire franchise to demand it stick to the rules we made up. The Last Jedi is challenging, and even a bit harsh to us fans, but it was a necessary lesson we all had to learn.