Star Wars: The Last Jedi – What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on What Went Wrong in Star Wars: The Last Jedi!
Written, Directed, and Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Hey Wisecrack, Jared here, and I promise I’m not here to beat a dead tauntaun. As I’m sure everyone knows, The Last Jedi pissed off a lot of fans. At Wisecrack, we’ve surfaced the usual rants: Luke Skywalker is suddenly a green milk-chugging coward. Snoke gets Darth Maul-ed before we know anything about him. Holdo’s plan doesn’t make any sense, the Canto Bight section is boring, Rey’s parents were a red herring, Marvel humor for days — “Hi, I’m holding for General Hugs?” “This is Hux.” — and of course, Leia Poppins. But we’re not gonna spend 15 minutes fanboy raging. Instead, we’re going to discuss how Rian Johnson tried to revolutionize Star Wars, but didn’t. So what went wrong? Well to answer that we’ll need a little help from a guy who, in a roundabout way, is responsible for making Stars Wars Star Wars. Nope, not that guy. This guy. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on the Last Jedi: What Went Wrong? And Spoiler alert, even though I already spoiled pretty much everything.
Now, before we jump in, if you’ll allow me to get a little meta on you. The relationship between Kylo Ren and Darth Vader can be interpreted as a commentary on the relationship new Star Wars has with the original Star Wars. “That you will never be as strong as Darth Vader.” In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is burdened by the task of living up to the legend of his grandfather, just as the new series has the seemingly impossible pressure of living up to the legacy of the original trilogy. Just as Kylo Ren mimics Darth Vader by dressing like like him and using a voice modulator, even though there’s nothing wrong with his voice, — “Look how old you’ve become.” — so, too, does The Force Awakens mimic A New Hope.
As many critics have noticed, it’s almost beat per beat the same movie. This might seem like a stretch, but the dynamic between Snoke and Kylo in opening of The Last Jedi furthers this meta reading, as Snoke tells Kylo to take off the stupid mask — “Take that ridiculous thing off.” — and that he shouldn’t even bother anymore. “Alas, you’re no Vader. You’re just a child.” And then? Ren breaks the mask. They might as well go and throw Luke’s lightsaber off a cliff. Oh wait… Johnson is telegraphing to his audience that this will no longer be a rehash of the original trilogy. The film will be a radical subversion of the Star Wars formula. For the new Star Wars to live, the old Star Wars must die. “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” With the Last Jedi, Rian Johnson isn’t interested in recycling Old Star Wars. He’s interested in progress. Not only progressing the franchise itself, but the landscape of a certain galaxy far, far away. In order to progress the franchise, Johnson abrasively undermines the tropes and traditions that characterized the previous films. Whereas Luke Skywalker was the son of noble blood, “Oh, Luke!” Rey’s parents are just degenerate winos. “They were nobody.” “They were filthy junk traders. Sold you off for drinking money.”
Our heroes are now janitors and mechanics instead of politicians and princesses. Luke is no longer the idealistic hero, he’s a failed nephew murder/slovenian philosopher. Yoda goes from symbol of Jedi piety to would-be book burner, and the Jedi order kinda sucks. “Lesson two. Now that they’re extinct, The Jedi are romanticized. Deified. But if you strip away the myth and look at their deeds… The legacy of the jedi is failure. Hypocrisy. Hubris.” “That’s not true” “At the height of their powers they allowed Darth Sidious to rise, create the empire and wipe them out. It was a jedi master who was responsible for the training and creation of Darth Vader.” So you might be asking: Why sh*t on everything that defines the previous films?
Well, cuz turns out, the events of the previous films didn’t really lead to any progress. After the collapse of the Empire a nearly identical Nazi-inspired fascistic order has risen. So, clearly something is wrong in the galaxy if this keeps happening. So, what’s to blame for this re-emergence of evil? Well, Johnson seems to suggest it’s our inadequate conception of good and evil. But wait! Stark divisions between good and evil are what the entire Star Wars mythology has been built around. It’s the Dark SIDE not the Dark “nuance.” “Only a master of evil, Darth.”
And here’s where the movie almost gets really smart. As many of you may know, George Lucas crafted the original trilogy point for point around a book called “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Written by Joseph Campbell, the book sets forth a kind of universal story structure from which myths, stories and literature all borrow – which is why the structure is called “the monomyth.” But, instead simply recycling Campbell’s Monomyth as seen in the original trilogy, Johnson uses it to complicate our relationship to the dark side. You see, Campbell’s monomyth is based on the work of psychologist Carl Jung, who wrote about ideas like the collective unconscious and “archetypes,” universal “primordial” images ingrained deep in our psyche. Those archetypes, for Campbell, inform the kind of characters that keep popping up in stories across continents and cultures. So, let’s talk about one of those archetypes: the shadow, and how The Last Jedi tries to radically redefine our relationship to it.
For Jung, the shadow is the primal or animal part of our unconscious that tends to get repressed – the “dark side.” See where we’re going with this? In the monomyth, this dark side usually gets embodied by a character who represents the shortcomings, fears, and anxieties of our protagonist. Gollum is Frodo’s shadow, a stark reminder of what he could become. But, if you really want “Shadows 101” – look no further than Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker. Darth Vader was once a powerful Jedi who succumbed to the Dark Side. For Luke, Darth Vader serves as a constant reminder of what he could become if he does not conquer his fear and master his passions. So, confronting Darth Vader is more than just a physical confrontation, it’s an emotional and psychological one – it’s why Luke spares Darth Vader’s life. If he were to strike him down in anger, then he’s lost the battle with his inner demons. But whereas the old Star Wars wants you to conquer your inner demons, the new Star Wars has other ideas.
In all the films, we’re meant to believe that balance in the force is desirable for the good of the galaxy. “You refer to the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the force. You believe it’s this boy?” However, The Last Jedi suggests that the force is something that inherently promotes balance. When the darkness rises, the force amplifies the light to balance it out. “Darkness rises and light to meet it. I warned my young apprentice that as he grew stronger, his equal in the light would rise.” If we’re to believe Snoke, here, wouldn’t that mean the inverse is true? That any powerful Jedi order would be met by an equally powerful dark side? If so, we have no choice but to read Luke’s criticism of the Jedi order as one that blames them, in part, for the cyclical rise and fall of these fascist empires. While it’s kind of ambiguous, this logical conclusion seems to be hinted at by Luke. “And this is the lesson. That force does not belong to the jedi. To say that if the jedi die, the light dies, is vanity. Can you feel that?”
With Episode 8, the dark side is no longer something to be conquered by the valiant Jedi at the behest of the light side, because that will make the force “overcorrect” to achieve balance, leading to more amplfiications of evil. According to Jungian analyst, Robert A. Johnson — NOT To be confused with RIAN Johnson. — we shouldn’t think of our “dark sides” as something to merely conquer and expunge. Johnson says this act of repression causes us to “accumulate the darkness” which creates an “ego split.” According to his reading of Jung, when you suppress the darkness, you’re forced to find a scapegoat, project all your own ugliness on to them, leading to a never-ending fight. This is quite literally done in the very way the original Star Wars is written – with Luke’s inner demons projected onto an evil space wizard.
Instead of maintaining this classic distinction between good and bad, both within our characters and in the general plot, Rian Johnson tries to complicate it at every step of the way. As we see, conquering evil with good hasn’t done much for the galaxy. The empire is basically back with a sexy new rebranding, and Snoke is basically Palapatine 2.0. In Earlier Star Wars the good/bad distinction is literally black and white, and thus The Force Awakens brings us right back to where we started. So to progress the franchise, Rian Johnson tweaks the basic Jung-ish formula.
If Jung suggested that we must reconcile our dark side with the rest of our personality, does the galaxy need to reconcile its dark side with the larger order of things? “Balance. Powerful light, powerful darkness.” Consider Benicio del Toro’s character DJ. Rather than upholding the traditional distinction between purely good Rebels and purely evil oppressors, he explores how even the good guys can get caught up with the darker elements of the universe. As the Galaxy’s very own Blackwater mercenary, the cynical DJ sees through the false divisions of “good” and evil.” “At least you’re stealing from the bad guys and helping the good.” “Good guys? Bad guys? Made up words. Let’s see who formerly owned this gorgeous hunk. Ah, this guy was an arms dealer. Made his bank selling weapons to the bad guys. Oh… and the good.”
This marks the most morally ambiguous moment in any Star Wars film when he not only suggests that divisions between good and evil are insincere and unhelpful, but complicates our understanding of the rebellion as a infallible good. Robert Johnson sees our traditional understanding of the light and dark sides as straight up dangerous: he says that our inability to reconcile with our shadow, and therefore our eventual scapegoating onto others, will inevitably end in violence, war, and racism. For the Last Jedi, rather than the good guys and bad guys, there’s a system at play. “It’s all a machine, partner. Live free. Don’t join.” It becomes the first Star Wars film to explicitly critique the galaxy’s military economy, and the exploitation and animal rights violations inherent in it, which even heroes like Princess Leia are party to. “Then shelled us to test their weapons.”
So, you might be asking at this point: aside from being too ballsy, What went wrong? Well, the movie goes out of its way to, in both form and content, tell us that we must kill the past – whether it be the past structure of Star Wars films, or the moral lens we understood the previous films through. Then this happens: “It’s time to let old things die. Snoke. Skywalker. The Sith. The Jedi. The rebels. Let it all die. Rey. I want you to join me.” Rey is given a chance to end all the dogmatism of the previous films and yet… she says no. And from this point on, it’s all backpedal central. “No, no. You’re still holding on! Let go!” All the things that we were convinced need to be killed are reaffirmed. Tearing down the heroic archetypes inherent in the monomyth? “The temple was burning. He had vanished with a handful of my students and slaughtered the rest. Leia blamed Snoke, but it was me. I failed. Because I was Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. A legend.“ The legend of Luke Skywalker lives on, “Luke Skywalker,” inspiring the galaxy once again and this time as an added bonus: it’s a lie! Yay!
Necessity to tear down established orders that delineate the division between good and evil? “It’s time for the Jedi to die.” Nope. “And I will not be the last Jedi.” Desire to distance itself from the established narrative structure of the original trilogy? Nope. “Strike me down in anger, and I’ll always be with you.” “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Forget the Jedi past? Nope. Save the books. It’s not that movies can’t insert ideas and then ultimately reject them. But usually the ideological shift happens as the plot pushes our heroes to reconsider their ideas in interesting and thought-provoking ways. Instead, Luke decides to reaffirm all the antiquated ideas because… he loves his sister? I guess? Other reversals are equally perplexing: don’t be a hero, “She was more interested in preserving the light than she was seeming like a hero,” until it’s ok to be a hero?
And by this point, the film has made a psychologically sophisticated case for why Rey should team up with Ren: the old way doesn’t work. Jedis are repressed as hell, and we’re stuck playing a galactic game of Nazi Whack-a-Mole. Fine. We need a radical change. Which is literally what Ren seems to be offering. Despite her faith in Ren’s essential goodness, and despite Luke’s lesson that the force beyond is good and evil, Rey hesitates. Here’s where Rey and Ren become opposing stand-ins for the film’s two potential moral codes: Ren is the realist who knows that the Rebels will try to impose the same moral expectations onto Rey as they did to Luke. Having become well acquainted with his bad side and his good, and wisely calling out the folly of the false division, Ren is arguably closer to finding that Jungian balance than most.
He seems to be offering to Rey exactly what Robert Johnson and Jung say a person should strive for: recognition that the ego and shadow are both part of a person, and what’s more, that one literally cannot exist without the other. Meanwhile, Rey represents the old moral code of Star Wars: the temptation to run away with her swole new crush is ultimately overcome by her desire to be the good Jedi, a morally-pure, infallible hero who definitely isn’t suppressing a lifetime’s supply of darkness, no siree! So, if you’re going to revolutionize Star Wars, great! Want to reframe how we think about the central conflict? Cool! But spending all this time abrasively subverting everything we love and know about Star Wars just to shrug and revert back to where we started: less cool. But what do you think, Wisecrack? Is this latest iteration of Star Wars sacrilegious or a much-needed fresh take on the series? Let us know in the comments.