If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably already seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi in theaters. If not, this article is riddled with spoilers from this point on. You’ve been warned, young Padawan.
Okay, so there are a lot of overarching themes throughout this movie besides the usual dichotomy of good and evil that permeates throughout the franchise. Take your pick: how a heroic myth can mask an ugly reality, leadership requiring sacrifice, failure as a teacher, the fallacy of a singular governing ideal, and so on.
But perhaps its greatest theme is about how moving on requires letting go. Like Kylo Ren said, let the past die. It’s a brutal sentiment, isn’t it? Adam Driver says it with such finality. It’s a necessary one, though, both for Star Wars and its fans.
One thing that Star Wars has always excelled at is building a fictional world in your imagination beyond what the director shows on screen. Take the Mos Eisley cantina scene from A New Hope. The dirty, grimy place is littered with scum and villainy from all corners of the galaxy. One even tells a young Luke Skywalker that he has the death sentence on twelve systems. While the main characters’ quest to save the galaxy was important, you always felt that their story was just one of millions happening within a vast world.
The original heroes as shown in the new films are still the same people, but they’ve been shaped by their experiences after the fall of the Empire. Han Solo was still a rebellious smuggler at heart, but one who had become wiser with age and broken by the son he had lost. Princess Leia is still a badass general, but now more than ever she feels the tragedy and loss brought about from all the violence.
Luke’s twist is the most interesting. From whiney farm boy to the hero who redeemed Darth Vader and saved the galaxy, he’s now a jaded and bitter old man filled with regret over his failures. His destiny as the heir to the Jedi order didn’t turn out quite the way he had expected. It’s a far cry from the young man who pleaded with his father that there was still good left in him. The idyllic image and hope that the rest of the galaxy holds out for him, it turns out, is far from the truth.
This decision from the storytellers has divided fans and critics alike. Some praise the bold choice to show the old warhorses as flawed individuals, while others claim the direction is too far removed from the original trilogy. Fact is, it’s hard seeing our heroes fail. But it reflects reality so well. Our real-life heroes, mighty as they may be, do fail and change as they grow older.
As our heroes have evolved, so too must the world they live in. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are now dead. The late Carrie Fisher is gone in real life, too, so we’ve already seen the last of Leia onscreen. The past is dead. The world of Star Wars, and its fans, must move on without them. There are millions of other stories in the galaxy worth telling.
In their place, we now have Rey and her cohort of young heroes. For the last two years, fans have speculated what her connection to the galaxy’s greater tale is. As expansive as the Star Wars universe is, fans have come to expect that every character has some link to the Skywalkers or the Solos. Instead, we learn that Rey is exactly as we met her in The Force Awakens—a nobody. Not a Skywalker, or a Solo, or even a Binks. She’s an orphaned child abandoned for no grand rhyme or reason. She simply happened to be in the right place at the right time, with the right amount of sensitivity to the Force.
Too often in geek fandom, a culture of elitism and hate manifests when a disgruntled group feels that someone or something is trampling on what they hold dear to their hearts. Change can often be met with disdain by hardcore true believers. At best, it results in friendly disagreements. At worst, well, just look what happened when McDonald’s ran out of Szechuan Sauce in the US.
The Last Jedi not only encapsulates the end for the original heroes, but the beginning for a new generation of fans. This is important to remember. For Star Wars to continue to grow, new stories must be told for new fans to appreciate. Han, Luke, and Leia can’t be around forever as the exact same swashbuckling heroes, nor should they be. Newer fans of Star Wars won’t have the same emotional connection to them that the rest of us do. To continue falling back on them would be unfair to audiences expecting a great movie and not just pure fan service.
Just as Rey, an outsider, can become strong in the Force and part of the galaxy’s major events, so too can new fans and others who appreciate what Disney has done for the franchise. It’s fresh and rejuvenates a decades-old franchise that was reeling from the hatchet job that was the prequel trilogy. The ‘70s and ‘80s were a glorious time for Star Wars, but that past is dead. It’s time for fans, new and old, to move on.
But still, be thankful. We still have so much more of that galaxy far, far away look forward to.