The controversial new film’s greatest strength lies in its grit and its incorporation of women. (Major spoilers follow).
Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” could have been another generic blockbuster, but instead, it’s a thoughtful piece of art that engages its audience — and takes risks by doing so.
Art today is by nature political. To willingly ignore that fact is to erase the power of the film, to neuter it. If we consider “The Last Jedi” without political context, we lose much of its thematic importance: the significance of not just Rey, our main female protagonist, but also of all the women in the background, the ones who serve minor roles and have no names. The fact that some of the “red shirts” are women is indicative of women having more agency in the “Star Wars” universe. And the women in the film aren’t all cookie-cutter blank slates meeting a quota — there are old women, young women, women of all different races. This matters, and it matters a lot. As a little kid, I remember feeling a deep sense of injustice at the fact that Leia and Padme were my only options when I was playing “Star Wars” with my friends. Now I watch with pride as my little sisters opt for both lightsabers and space buns. By giving the rebellion over to the women, Johnson has widened the possibilities of the stories he can tell and the audiences he can reach.
Johnson paints a dark picture in his conclusion to the original trio’s lives. “The Last Jedi” is what happens after everyone gets their happy ending; stories are comedies or tragedies depending when they end. Life is cyclical, and while it hurts to see our heroes become grayer versions of themselves, there’s a realism that brings a more redemptive light to the ending than a sugar-coated candy world would. The glimmer of hope in “TLJ” is worth more because of the struggle to get it. It’s precious, because it’s dwindling. In this sense, it is kindred in spirit to “The Empire Strikes Back,” and while it pays homage that film, “The Last Jedi” also frees itself of the burden of remaking the same stories as the original trilogy. It’s an idea that’s important — a passing of the torch that defies the status quo.
Nostalgia is increasingly being peddled to the masses, with shows like “Stranger Things” and films such as “It” and the upcoming “Ready Player One” indicating that many people want to live in this amalgamation of everything from the eighties. No new “Star Wars” film will ever live up to the nostalgia of what George Lucas did 41 years ago. Johnson knows this, and while some things will never change (cute aliens, spaceship fights, revolution), he takes risks that pay off. One of the underlying themes of “The Last Jedi” is the poisonous nature of nostalgia — how living in the past can leave people toxic and bitter. It’s a gutsy move to reject nostalgia culture in a franchise that makes its money off people’s childhood memories, but it pays off. By warning of the dangers of getting stuck in the past, Johnson honors that past while looking toward the future.