Written soon after I saw Star Wars, but forgotten in my Dropbox.
The Next Hope: The Star Wars Universe after The Last Jedi (SPOILERS)
I saw The Last Jedi, forty years after I saw Star Wars (not known as A New Hope yet). Luke and Leia were forty years older, or at least Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were. (I honestly don’t know how SW time corresponds to terrestrial time, and I think it’s beyond the point.)
I’m a much more mature and sophisticated person than I was with a number of my friends watching for my eighth birthday, and the story being told today is much more mature and sophisticated, while still, I think, being accessable to children. (My children are now mostly adults, so perhaps I can’t tell.)
I am now repeating ** SPOILERS AHEAD: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED **
* Kith and Kin
George Lucas has stated that he sees Star Wars as a soap opera about the Skywalker family. I can look back at it and see that you can see Star Wars in this way, but until I heard Lucas say it, I wouldn’t have seen it in those terms.
And, while Episodes I-VI work in that way, I think here, we have broken it. Skywalker Blood is still at play, as Kylo Ren is now the Supreme Leader, but before, you had Skywalker blood in the higher echelons of both sides, but with the characters of Luke and Han gone, and with the passing Carrie Fisher, we can see that the characters at the core of the “Good Guys” side.
We see two relationships in TLJ between Ren and his family. During the attack on the cruiser, we see him sense his mother and stay his attack. The ship’s bridge is still hit, she is still sucked into the vacuum of space, but this is not his doing. At that time, he could not, within his position within the First Order, stop the attack, but unlike with Han, he would not kill his parent.
There could hardly be greater contrast than with Luke. He feels betrayed by Luke as his mentor, and these feeling are felt intensely, ordering all his forces to attack him, then moving forward to attack Luke himself. Luke is his uncle, his mentor in the Force, and while we see him idolize Vader and show all negative emotions toward Luke, we know that the darkness within him pre-existed the destruction of Luke’s temple. TFA was mostly about Rey, but the next movie promises to be about redemption or fall of Ren.
It is crucial to note, now that every other new member of the narrative has either had their family taken from them (Rose, Rey), has never known one (Finn), or has not had this issue brought up yet (Poe). It doesn’t seem right to say that you’ve had your family taken from you if you abandoned and killed them, as Ren has, but the familial aspects are clearly gone.
* Strategy and Tactics
Throughout the series, core trilogy and prequels, the heroes consistently bet everything on incredible long shots which pay off in spades.
* find the most honest smuggler and scoundrel on Tattoine
* send the plans to Obi-Wan in the memory of a droid
* while on the Death Star, break out the Princess with only the slightest plan
* fire ordinance down the Death Star vent without a firing computer
* go to Bespin to save your friends, one half-trained Jedi vs the Empire and a Sith Lord
* send a small group of Rebel soldiers to turn of the shield for the half-completed Death Star 2
And so on.
Yes, that is a common trope of adventure stories: a hero in over his or her head, succeeding and conquering because of virtue, because of pure hearts and righteous causes.
And many of their long shots failed, or had a cost. Most of Red Squadron (and certainly the rest of the spacecraft) died in the Battle of Yavin. Lando proved untrustworthy, at least at first. Luke came out of the Bespin with a mechanical hand.
The Last Jedi started with a long shot where Poe lead forces to defeat the Imperial fleet that was dramatically tactically successful, but proved to have an intense cost, which then led to the fleet being followed and starved of resources.
They followed another long shot, sending Rose and Finn to Canto Whatever to find another scoundrel and stop the tracking of the Cruiser over light speed. Not only did they not succeed in turning off the tracker, they found the wrong scoundrel, who revealed the plot to the Empire and caused the destruction of most of the escape ships.
There was not a single long shot in the film that paid off, leaving the Resistance down to only the number of people who could fit in the Millenium Falcon.
Poe Dameron’s defining characteristic is that he’s a flyer, the best in the Resistance. During the final battle, his X-Wing is destroyed in the hanger, leaving him out of his depths and searching for relevence through the rest of the movie.
The actions of Poe, Finn and Rose, while exactly what we’ve come to expect in Star Wars heroes, proved to to be catastrophic to their cause, to the point that the Resistance as an echo of the Rebellion of previous stories, is done.
* Politics and Society
And it is probably just as well. The upshot of the time in Canto Bight and the interaction with DJ is that we know that the Rebellion is part of that galaxy’s Military-Industrial Complex.
The Rebellion as a multi-ethnic, multi-species and multi-cultural reaction to the uniformity and uniformity of the Empire is not entirely there during the first movies, mostly showing in Return of the Jedi, in the form of creatures such as Admiral Ackbar. With Leia being planetary nobility (Princess) and with Chewbacca not getting a medal, you can see the Rebellion as the reaction of the previous entrenched power trying to get back what was taken from them when the Republic fell.
Whether that was better for the regular people of the galaxy is not established. If you separate the narrative from the Triumph of the Will aesthetics (which, if you recall, the Rebellion engaged in after the Battle of Yavin) and the Light Side/Dark Side terminology, you can argue that the beings of the galaxy are better served by a relatively begign Emperor than a sclerotic Republic.
The allies in the Outer Rim fail to come to the aid of the Resistance. It isn’t clear who it is, whether this is because Resistance was reckless, the allies are mercenary or the cause was just too far gone, but they don’t come. The Resistance is not the resistance that the galaxy is looking for.
But clearly, a resistance is needed. Not for the playboys at the gambling tables of Canto Bight, but for the people like the stable kids. They see the story of Luke Skywalker as a beacon of Hope.
Each movie takes a step forward in sophistication, and I would argue that you get far better view of what the Empire is and why it’s bad in the Prequels than the original trilogy, even if it’s clear that George Lucas has a tin ear about how power works. The Force allows a trained Jedi to be powerful, but not to project massive power over great distances to large populations, so it is only part of the accumulation of power in the hands of Palpatine and Snoke. The remaining power includes the the war profiteers in the casinos of Canto Bight and the powers-that-be on the local systems, the ones the Empire needs the Death Star to bring in line.
The leaders we have seen so far, Palpatine and Snoke, were tyrannical but calm. The new claimant of the throne, Ren, is anything but. It remains to be seen if the force of the Inner Core (it is presumed) will remain supportive, or whether it will disappear when needed, like the Rebellion’s allies did here.