How THE LAST JEDI Lets Go of the Past

“It’s time to let old things die.” Kylo Ren doesn’t get many things right, but with this quote, he nails the theme of The Last Jedi. When we return to theaters in 2019 to see the next Star Wars movie in the saga, we won’t see the big three from the original trilogy. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are gone (though the latter could appear as a Force Ghost), and General Leia’s Carrie Fisher is no longer with us. The Jedi aren’t exactly removed from the picture, but I believe the organization will be different from what we’ve known in the first six films. Episode VIII writer and director Rian Johnson used familiar beats from Star Wars—the Jedi and Sith and the light and the dark—but he also cleared the slate for a nobody from Jakku to continue the story started by the Skywalker bloodline.

The second lesson Luke imparts unto Rey concerned  the Jedi’s legacy of failure. Luke cites how the Jedi’s hubris allowed Darth Sidious to rise to power. Luke recognizes his own failures with Ben Solo, too, a mistake that led to Ben serving Supreme Leader Snoke. But failure the story can recover from. Yoda points out how failure is the greatest teacher. The real problem has been arrogance. It led to the demise of the Jedi, Palpatine, and Snoke. Luke believes that buying into his own “legendary” status contributed to his misjudging of Ben.

Rey is the opposite of a legend. Her parents aren’t Skywalkers or Kenobis. Kylo uses this reveal to talk down to her, telling her she has no place in the story. But she’s at the heart of what happens next. Making Rey like any random person plucked out of the galaxy opens the door. The Force isn’t only for those with an impressive lineage. You don’t have to come from privilege of any kind to be a pivotal person in the tale. Everyone is important, everyone can save the day—even the kid sweeping the fathier stalls on Canto Bight.

By moving the story past those strongly tied to the original trilogy, Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose have options ahead of them that aren’t weighed down by fan expectations. And with the death of Snoke and Rey’s parentage reveal, they’re not weighed down by hundreds of pages of Reddit theories either. They’re unfettered, and thank goodness, because the Resistance has dwindled so much it’s hard to hold onto the spark of hope. We need their unburdened energy.

The Resistance still has to (hopefully) defeat the First Order, so while the “wars” part of the title will likely still be accurate in Episode IX, it’s clear the existing tactics may be upended. We’ve only known the Star Wars universe during times of violence. The galaxy keeps repeating its mistakes. When Rose tells Finn, “That’s how we’re going to win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love,” she’s not just talking about saving his life. She’s presenting a fresh perspective for the future, which plays out in Luke’s Force projection on Crait.

Luke could have hopped into the X-wing we saw off the coast of Ahch-To, performed some repairs, and plotted a course to the salt planet. History tells us that’s what Luke would do. The last time his friends were in danger in The Empire Strikes Back, he did just that. He acted impulsively then, just like Anakin acted when he went to Tatooine to save his mother in Attack of the Clones. But instead of confronting Kylo Ren in a violent battle that would have left one of them dead and the Resistance at risk, Luke chose a peaceful method that bought the handful of surviving Resistance rebels time to escape. He didn’t fight what he hates; he saved what he loves—which takes courage.

It’s not like the kind of dashing heroics Poe Dameron engages in at the beginning of the film, when his actions result in the destruction of a Dreadnought and the entire Resistance bomber fleet. Luke’s actions are more like Vice Admiral Holdo staying on the run from the Supremacy to preserve the light. She saved what she loves, and like Luke, she’s a hero. And hopefully, this approach will continue.

Moving forward, we must unlearn what we have learned. If conflict has torn the galaxy apart for this many decades, the attitude must change. Like Kylo says, it’s time to let old things die. It’s time to find a new way, and The Last Jedi makes that possible.

Images: Lucasfilm, Disney

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