Star Wars: The Last Jedi picks up right where the last film in this trilogy left off. The First Order is closing in on Leia’s rebels, threatening to destroy them. Rey, Chewbacca, and R2-D2 are offering an old lightsaber to a hermitic Luke Skywalker asking him for help sparking hope in the waning rebellion. Kylo Ren and General Hux are being reprimanded by Supreme Leader Snoke for their joint leadership failure on Starkiller Base. Finn is comatose. Poe is a hotshot. BB-8 is BBing resourceful and cute. A couple of new characters join the fold as well, including plucky mechanic Rose Tico, her fighter pilot sister Paige, and a scoundrel named DJ just looking to get paid.
If you were bothered by how closely The Force Awakens adhered to the patterns established by the original Star Wars films, The Last Jedi is only going to add fuel to your fire. Here is another “middle film” where the good guys are scattered and on the run, a promising force-user is reluctantly trained by an aging master on a weird planet, the black-wearing bad guy wrestles with his badness, the ambiguities of the military industrial complex prove hazardous for our idealistic heroes, and all the while the perfume of a love story is generously spritzed over the proceedings. This film compensates with earnestness and energy what it lacks in “I love you. I know.” wit and “Whose your daddy?” twists. Blunty - it’s a Star Wars movie, and it’s fun.
I enjoy the predictability of these new Star Wars movies. Seeing one at Christmastime is becoming almost ritualistic. There’s a liturgy to the whole affair. You buy your tickets, arrive early to the theater, mill about in the lobby, and watch the people, many of whom are dressed in their Star Wars best. You buy your favorite cinema snack—Sour Patch Kids for my wife and Good & Plenty for me—visit the lavatory—these are long films, after all—locate your seat, and claim it. Festive expectation fizzes throughout the theater. The lights dim. A few trailers for upcoming film parade by. Then a hush settles over the crowd, a hush that lingers as the words of invocation appear in vibrating, blue text on the screen:
A long time ago in a galaxy far,
BA DA! BA BA BA! BA BA BA BA buhbuhbuh BA BA BA buhbuhbuh BA BA BA BA! BA BA BA BAAAHHH…
The fanfare resounds. The crowd cheers. We enter into the story once again.
The liturgy doesn’t end there. The details of the story shift instance to instance, but the underlying narrative about good and evil, resistance and compromise, love and hate remains the same. We “reach out with our feelings” and trust the good to prevail, especially when it seems impossible. The Last Jedi does that “seems impossible” part really well. We seem to be at the end of things for this entire film, and yet there is hope. There is always hope, and even when it’s old it feels new. That’s the nature of hope, and, it seems, the nature of Star Wars itself.
We can quibble about the details if we want—whether so and so acts as a so and so should and if that bit of narrative leaping is logical or not—but that’s kind of like complaining about what color socks your pastor is wearing on Sunday morning. I mean, we do this, but it’s as much a way to show we’re paying attention, that we’re really serious about our worship, as it is genuine concern about the color of said socks, I think.
A Star Wars movie just has to move you in the right way to be successful, and that’s what The Last Jedi does. What does it move you to? Belief in the good in everyone. The worthwhileness of attempting impossible things if they’re right things. Valuing weakness over strength. Letting go of the past, aka “forgiveness,” both inwardly and externally. Honoring your parents. Trusting something beyond yourself. Pursuing peace. I love you. I know. You’re not alone. Neither are you. May the Force be with you. And also with you.