Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Themes Explained – Wisecrack Quick Take
Welcome to this Wisecrack Quick Take on Star Wars: The Last Jedi!
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra
Written by: Alec Opperman
Edited by: Travis Martin
Produced by: Emily Dunbar & Jacob Salamon
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Themes Explained – Wisecrack Quick Take
Hey Wisecrack, corporeal Jared here on the set of Earthling Cinema. We just saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi and seems like it’s pretty divisive. While the critics seem to love it, it’s one of the least liked Star Wars movies by audience reviews. And the Wisecrack team is similarly divided, but regardless of whether you loved it or hated it, it’s hard to deny that the movie took some big, interesting risks. It deliberately plays with our expectations of what a Star Wars movie is, re-thinks the eternal battle between light and dark, and questions the efficacy of heroics.
Welcome to this Wisecrack Quicktake on the Last Jedi. And for the love of god- spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen it, go watch it and come back. The Last Jedi puts forth two major ideas: 1) Let go of the past, kill it if you have to and 2) Don’t be a hero, preserve the light. So first, let’s break down the first one: should we let the past die? Rey’s whole reason for seeking out Luke, in addition to getting him to join the resistance, is to get answers about her powers and her parents. Rose holds onto a family heirloom that’s a reminder of her deceased sister, and Leia, after the murder of Han Solo, is struggling to hold onto the memory of her son.
Other characters try to outright reject their past. Luke renounces the Jedi, convinced that the force is about balance, not a bunch of dudes with laser sticks convinced that they’re the arbiters of that balance. He even decides to burn the Jedi temple and the foundational texts within. Luke also rejects his legacy; the legend of Luke Skywalker. Rose is compelled to part with her past by giving away her precious family amulet. Kylo Ren is killing off the memory of Ben Solo. He also urges Rey to forget about who her parents are, or his own lineage, and join him. In a galaxy where home planets have a tendency to get blowed up, it’s not bad advice. But ultimately, the film rejects this message, reasserting the importance of embracing the past. Even though Luke and Yoda burn down the Jedi temple, turns out Rey has them safely stashed in her belongings. Luke affirms he won’t be the last Jedi, and Rose gets her pendant back. But most importantly, Luke revives the legend of Luke Skywalker when he confronts Kylo Ren, but more on that later.
Now onto the next lesson: Don’t be a hero, preserve the light. Or more specifically: if being a hero means yelling Leroy Jenkins in the face of insurmountable odds, then don’t do that. This is embodied by Poe, who disobeys orders and gets a bunch of people killed in taking down a dreadnought, and Finn, who goes on a suicide mission to destroy the battering ram cannon. The whole point of all of this is to say: when things are so dismal, the battle can’t be about winning. The best we can do is preserve the light.
This is decidedly a different attitude than other Star Wars Films which characterized the day being saved by Jedis hopping in X wings and blowin’ stuff up. But with Vice Admiral Holdo’s skepticism of Poe, The Last Jedi takes a new approach. Finn’s suicide charge is interrupted by Rose, who tells him that at this stage, it’s not about defeating the enemy so much as protecting what you love. Except that’s exactly what Finn was trying to do? And after admonishing Poe for the entire film, Vice Admiral Holdo,, saves the transport ships by sacrificing herself and ramming the First Order cruiser – more or less what Finn tried, but in space. So uh, what the hell, Star Wars?
By the way, if you want to hear that and more fan rage, check out our Last Jedi Episode of our movie podcast “Show Me The Meaning” – it’s available wherever you get your podcast.
Anway, it’s in Luke’s arc in which we see these two themes of the past and heroism collide in a really interesting way
Most of the movie shows Luke incessantly refusing to get off his ass and join the rebellion. He is even confronted with the exact same call to adventure as Episode 4, which he also initially refused. But this time he refuses for like 2 hours. Rather than joining up with the cause like he did in episode 4, he does something else – he projects his image to the rebel holdout. Echoing Rose’s words, he’s not here to defeat the enemy, but to preserve the light by saving his sister, and stall the First Order. He projects his image and dies from the tremendous energy the feat requires. But why didn’t he just go in person and kill Kylo, or at the very least, let Kylo strike him down a la. Obi Wan Because the galaxy doesn’t need a hero. They need a symbol.
While Leia’s call for assistance fell on deaf ears, the final shot of the film details poor exploited children of Canto Bight retelling the story of Luke Skywalker surviving the impossible barrage of blaster fire. This is where Luke comes to accept his legacy and his past. This revitalized “legend of Luke Skywalker” will inspire more people to join the resistance than Leia’s cries for help. Luke Skywalker as a symbol will do more for the resistance than Luke Skywalker the man ever could.
There’s another reason I find this really interesting. The original Star Wars was heavily inspired by classic Westerns. With its ensemble of outlaws and the lawlessness of open space.
And, in that tradition,Johnson takes an idea we see in the classic Westerns like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Fort Apache. In both films, an undeserving character is enshrined in legend for the greater good of the west. In The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, the false narrative that the idealistic Ransom Stoddard killed the seemingly unkillable Liberty Valance brings order to the West. And in Fort Apache, the lie that Captain Thursday died a noble hero enables the US military to continue its duty. Luke Skywalker may not have been the hero people thought he was, but the lie created around his epic last stand will go on to spark the next wave of resistance. In a quote that equally describes all three movies, a reporter in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance proclaims “”When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The Last Jedi even uses the Western trope of a retired gun-slinger, hesitant to enter back into the world of violence.
Now if you’ll allow us to get meta for a second, there’s another way of thinking about all this. The Force Awakens, in dealing with its own past, decided to make a more or less a scene for scene remake of A New Hope. But unlike JJ Abrams writer director Rian Johnson, did something much different. Johnson took the fundamental building blocks of Star Wars, foresaw audience expectations, and deliberated subverted them every step of the way. In many wars, The Last Jedi is similar to The Empire Strikes back. A jedi who travels to a planet to be trained, our protagonist finds out who their parents are, and a villain who is seen in more than just a hologram. They even swapped out Billy Dee Williams for Benicio del Toro, betrayal and all.
However, in The Last Jedi, our mentor refuses to help and Rey’s parents aren’t legendary Jedi, but junkers who sold her for booze money, and Snoke just dies with no fleshed out backstory. When I first saw the gaping dark hole in The Last Jedi, I thought “Oh this looks familiar! But unlike Luke instead, Rey finds nothing there – it was a deliberate misdirect. And finally, and I’m still a little unsure about this: the powdery white base is pretty much the same as Hoth but covered in salt instead of snow. I was a little confused as to the very deliberate proclamation that the white powder was salt – but here’s what I’ve got: salting the earth. In ancient history,, salting land was a way to curse the land and prevent anything from being built atop it – as salt is toxic to crops. Is Johnson salting the earth of Star Wars lore, by redefining the resistance, and what it means to be a hero?
Also unlike the original trilogy which finds its heros in princesses and people with quote unquote noble blood, The Last Jedi does a lot of work to move away from this narrative. Our new heroes are Finn – a janitor, Rose, a pipe mechanic, and Rey, who we learn is not the descendent of a powerful family lineage like the Skywalkers, but junkers. And unlike the rest of the film, which seemingly argues for preserving the past, The Last Jedi is moving away from the narrative model that defined its predecessors. What do you think, Wisecrack? Was The Last Jedi a cinematic masterpiece, or a midichlorian dumpster fire? Also, we’ll be doing an AMA for the first hour after this video gets released. We’ll have a pinned comment where you can ask us about Star Wars, how we work, my favorite Korean BBQ restaurant, my dog Woody, or anything else you want.