Having fallen in love with Star Wars from the time that I first saw it in the late 1970s, it brings this 45 year-old no pleasure to concede that, for various reasons, the latest installment in the SW saga is simply not a good film.
Much has already been written about The Last Jedi’s poor story-telling, sorely underdeveloped and misused characters, and rampant Political Correctness. Most of the commentary has been spot-on in these respects. However, little to no attention has been drawn to that which is most disturbing about TLJ:
It is the first anti–Star Wars Star Wars movie.
TLJ essentially deconstructs the whole SW saga.
The classic tale of the perennial battle between Good and Evil collapses in on itself, here being revealed as an epic delusion begotten by the monumental arrogance of those—the Jedi—who thought themselves heroes. By insisting upon a hard and fast distinction between the dark and light sides of the Force—by insisting that morality is an objective feature of the universe—and positioning themselves as guardians of the Light, the Jedi, in their “hubris,” as Luke Skywalker says, gave rise to all that had gone wrong in the galaxy.
In other words, it is the Jedi Order that is the “root cause” of evil (if we can any coherently speak of evil in connection with TLJ). To put it more exactly, it is civilization, its traditions and institutions, from which all corruption springs.
Freedom, Equality, and every other virtue can come about only after the old civilization has been razed, burnt to the ground along with its literature, those Jedi texts to which Yoda takes the proverbial match in TLJ.
This idea that civilization is corruptive of nature extends back centuries in Western thought. Its most prominent representative is the 18th century French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau. It was Rousseau who famously remarked that “man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” Civilization enslaves. Specifically, the institution of private property, the cornerstone of civilization, is the origin of all cruelty, vice, and horror. Rousseau’s remarks on this subject say it all:
“The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said ‘This is mine’, and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by…crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”
Private property engenders material inequalities and hierarchies, the “chains” that enslave. The Jedi, to hear TLJ’s Luke Skywalker tell it, created and perpetuated hierarchy and inequality vis-à-vis the Force inasmuch as they were either delusional or deceptive enough to presume that they alone had the right to protect it, as if it somehow belonged to them.
And herein lay the true significance of Daisy Ridley’s “Rey,” the chief protagonist of Disney’s trilogy:
She is a Rousseauian Hero, the Great Leveler, the quintessential champion of Equality.
Rey is the most sagacious, potent, and capable of Force users, exceeding in these virtues even Yoda; yet she is no Jedi—at least she is not a Jedi in any traditional sense of this term. The criteria that aspiring Jedi were expected to satisfy before they could be recognized as “masters” by guardians of the old order have not only been relegated to the dustbin of history, but that history itself both the heroes and villains of TLJ agree also needs to be erased.
Rey herself has no history or, what amounts to the same thing, no history worth talking about. This trilogy’s main villain, “Kylo Ren,” wayward son to Leia and Han Solo, nephew and former student of Luke, and grandson of Darth Vader, has a history; but, as far he is concerned, it is inconsequential, a thing to be unequivocally repudiated. As he tells Rey: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.”
The heroes agree.
The little green Socrates of SW, Yoda, emerges for one brief scene in TLJ to beat Luke to the punch by destroying all of the ancient Jedi Scriptures. Yoda tells Luke that all that Rey needs to know regarding the Force she already knows. “We are what they [students] grow beyond.”
Rey already outstrips even Yoda in sagacity.
In The Last Jedi, Light and Darkness, the Jedi and the Sith—these are for all practical purposes dismissed as relics of a bigoted past. The Resistance indeed promises to continue fighting against the First Order, but unlike the misguided Rebellion and, before it, the Jedi Order, it is not concerned with restoring balance to the Force or the freedom that existed during the days of the Republic.
No, the Resistance is about as interested in conserving the past as is Kylo Ren. It would appear that its point in fighting is to hit the reset button, to wipe the slate clean and write anew.
This is no slight deviation from the SW mythos. The Jedi and all of the heroes of the Old Republic were akin to the men of the American founding generation inasmuch as they fought for the sake of conserving an inherited way of life. In glaring contrast, the Resistors are more like the French Revolutionaries, radical egalitarians inspired by Rousseau and against whom Edmund Burke defined what would become known as conservatism.
The radicals of the French Revolution were zealots who, for the sake of leveling the inequalities and hierarchies that were the legacy of the past, fiercely and indiscriminately used the guillotine against the members of the Ancien Regime that they sought to purge from their midst.
Most decent folks today, regardless of their politics or religion, share Burke’s assessment of the French Revolution. The radicals were many things, but they were not good.
This, then, is another respect in which The Last Jedi underscores the arbitrary, the arguably artificial, character of our conceptions of right and wrong, good and evil:
The Resistors are not good in any objective sense of this term.
And neither is The Last Jedi a good film.