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Why We're Still Arguing About The Last Jedi
Sandy Schaefer
2021-08-03T16:31:05
Star Wars The Last Jedi
Star Wars The Last Jedi
There are few better ways to start an online debate than to mention Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Nearly four years after the release of Rian Johnson's sequel to The Force Awakens, fans are still arguing about the film -- about its portrayal of an older Luke Skywalker or, in the latest example of The Last Jedi trending on Twitter, the scene in which Force Ghost Yoda seemingly burns the sacred Jedi texts so Luke can "look past a pile of old books."
What's fascinating (or infuriating, take your pick) about The Last Jedi discourse is how little the discussion has changed since 2017. Whereas fans' opinions toward the other Disney-era Star Wars films ebb and flow, especially when it comes to the spinoff films Rogue One and Solo, they remain more or less divided into the same "Love it"/"Hate it" camps that initially sprung up around Johnson's entry in The Skywalker Saga. It all comes down to a fundamental difference in the way people not only read The Last Jedi's themes but also how they feel about them.

Star Wars Fans Can't Agree On Luke Skywalker

Easily the biggest sticking point for fans is The Last Jedi's interpretation of Luke. Even Mark Hamill has admitted to struggling with the film's characterization of the aging Jedi Master, claiming he's "he's not my Luke Skywalker" and insisting to Johnson that "Jedis don't give up" when he learned Luke would be living in self-imposed exile on Ahch-To following Kylo Ren's fall to the Dark Side. After returning as a CG de-aged version of Luke for The Mandalorian's Season 2 finale, Hamill rekindled the flames of that debate by thanking the episode's director, Peyton Reed, for allowing him "to revisit my character when he was still a symbol of hope [and] optimism."
Hamill's comments speak to the heart of the disagreement among fans. Those who prefer The Mandalorian's version of Luke over The Last Jedi's see the character's command of the Force and reverence for the ways of the Jedi as qualities that give him strength and power, making him an inspiration for others. In contrast, those who feel the opposite see Luke's compassion and willingness to recognize not only the fallibility of the Jedi but his own shortcomings as the characteristics that allow him to evolve and rejuvenate the Resistance against the First Order. For the same reason, they praise The Last Jedi for restoring Luke's humanity and rejecting the very legend of him as a badass warrior that The Mandalorian aims to restore.

The Last Jedi Is About Letting Go of the Past

Star Wars: The Last Jedi's Cave Scene with Rey
Star Wars: The Last Jedi's Cave Scene with Rey
"Let the past die. Kill it if you have to," Kylo Ren says in The Last Jedi. While the film itself similarly argues that holding onto the past can be detrimental, it still recognizes the importance of learning from history and not forgetting the mistakes made by those who came before. It's also a movie that aspires to lead by example, whether that means taking the story from The Force Awakens in unexpected directions or being more inclusive by incorporating characters like Rose Tico into the mix. But more than that, The Last Jedi makes a concerted effort to subvert the conventions of Joseph Campbell's monomyth, better known as the Hero's Journey, which formed the foundation of George Lucas' original trilogy.
Going against the very idea of how many fans define Star Wars is a bold move, to put it simply, but also one that is either a necessary step for the franchise to continue progressing or a blatant show of disrespect for everything that's come before, depending on how you look at it. As such, it's no wonder a scene as short yet vital as the moment where Yoda urges Luke to let go of the Jedi texts is being received as either the embodiment of everything wrong with The Last Jedi or a reflection of what makes the film so refreshing and moving. It's not even that fans, per se, disagree that letting go of the past can be important. However, as with Yoda and Kylo, they have clashing visions for not only how to let the past go but what parts of the past need to be left behind.

The Last Jedi Is Ambitious... But Imperfect

Kelly Marie Tran Rose Tico Star Wars The Last Jedi
Kelly Marie Tran Rose Tico Star Wars The Last Jedi
For everything that fans disagree on when it comes to The Last Jedi, there are a lot of elements they agree are great -- like Steve Yedlin's vibrantly colorful, dynamic cinematography or, for that matter, the porgs being genuinely endearing. At the same time, both sides appear willing to admit there are valid criticisms to be made, whether it concerns a smaller issue like Captain Phasma's unsatisfying death or something bigger, like how the movie makes too many jokes at Finn's expense or mostly includes Rose -- the first major none-supporting Asian-American character in a Star Wars movie -- to teach Finn a lesson. More often than not, however, these points get pushed aside by fans in favor of yet another debate involving Luke or what The Last Jedi is actually about.
Perhaps that's why The Last Jedi discourse is so circular and never-ending: Because fans are so caught up arguing about the film's core themes and what the movie should have been, it prevents the larger discussion from reaching a consensus about how good (or not good) a job The Last Jedi does of accomplishing its goals. Until that changes, it's difficult not to assume we'll be back in the same exact spot by this time in 2022, with The Last Jedi's five-year anniversary on the horizon.
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