Star Wars: The Last Jedi Will Bother Some People. Good.
There is a scene in Star Wars: The Last Jedi—I won’t say too much, but you'll see it yourself—where a young Asian woman does a brave, selfless thing to help the Resistance. It’s a very sweet, very Star Wars Hero Moment, but it's also an important one. Los Angeles Times film writer Jen Yamato called out its significance for fans of color on Twitter, noting “films like these leave their mark on entire generations—representation matters.” She woke up the next morning to a stream of mentions telling her to “stop making everything about race.” Her reply? “I hope you all enjoy the new Star Wars.” The implication was obvious: They won't. The Last Jedi isn’t here to appease the old guard.
And that goes for both categories of reactionaries—the Star Wars fan upset that the franchise’s heroes now include (::clutches pearls::) women and people of color, and the misogynist, racist, classist, dark side of the populace that’s always been present, wielding power in one form or another. In themes and plot, The Last Jedi asserts again and again that monolithic dominance isn't good for anyone. The movie isn't here to Make the Galaxy Great Again. It's to tell the stories of the people who want to actually fix it.
(Spoiler alert: Minor spoilers for The Last Jedi follow.)
This, of course, manifests itself in ways large and small. There is, for one, the presence of Rey (Daisy Ridley), the extremely Force-sensitive hero introduced to much excitement (and wailing and gnashing of teeth from no-girls-allowed fanboys) in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She’s back this time around and even more prominent, proving she can match wits with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and wield a lightsaber without her boobs getting in the way. Then there’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the offspring of Han Solo and Leia Organa, who got neither his father’s charm nor his mother’s compassion. If it weren't for his willingness to go outside, he'd be every entitled troll on the internet—and the stench of his toxic masculinity only intensifies in The Last Jedi, with his surrogate dad Supreme Leader Snoke calling him "just a child in a mask" while harassing him for being bested by a girl (aka Rey).
But the real issues The Last Jedi brings to the fore emerge not in character traits, but over much longer arcs. When Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and Finn (John Boyega) go to Canto Bight, the Las Vegas of the Star Wars universe, Finn first marvels at its opulence and Big Spender vibe. But Rose, who grew up on a planet dominated and oppressed by the wealthy who marauded its resources, implores him to look closer. The one-percenters on Canto Bright achieved their wealth by selling weapons to the First Order. They’re war profiteers; their money is blood money. To Rose, and the audience watching through her eyes, their way of life isn't beautiful, it's evil—and deserving of destruction.
Then there are the very differing leadership styles of Leia and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). She’s pragmatic, more interested in saving the Resistance than winning big; he’s the opposite. (Well, he wants to save the Resistance, but he also wants to win big.) He wants to make bold moves against the First Order; she wants him to "get your head out of your cockpit." They’re both portrayed as right (and wrong) to varying degrees, but in a franchise where the heroes have historically succeeded by being cocky and often reckless, placing cooler heads at the helm feels like a pointed demotion for the stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herders.
And these are just the top-level examples. There are many more throughout—particularly in the dynamic between Kylo and Rey, wherein he might as well be asking her to join the patriarchy each time he tries to lure her to the dark side—but I'll leave those unspoiled for now. Some of the best bits of The Last Jedi are open to interpretation, and over-analysis would suck out all the fun. But suffice to say, The Last Jedi isn't without a point of view, and the Force-sensitive will see it right away.
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This isn't the first time that this phenomenon has occurred, and it won't be the last. The so-called alt-right took on Rogue One for its female hero and diverse cast. There was, prior to its release, blowback against The Force Awakens for its “black stormtrooper”—the character who turned out to be Finn. (Boyega’s response to the backlash at the time? “Get used to it”—a sentiment that seems all the more prescient now.) Every Star Wars movie from here on out will probably be considered in the context of the period and political climate surrounding its release.
Jedi have always been leery of politics and politicians, and George Lucas himself has said that George W. Bush is Darth Vader and Dick Cheney is Emperor Palpatine. But writer-director Rian Johnson’s movie seems to be turning those covert ideas into overt messages—first by portraying a universe with a more inclusive cast of characters, and then by making them actually talk about what it means to “resist” (aka be in the Resistance) and how to achieve those goals.
In his review for The Last Jedi, my colleague Brian Raftery made a point about the movie that will likely resonate for a long time: that the latest Star Wars seems far more interested in reinventing the franchise than merely re-reawakening it. This is true for both its narrative, and characters used to tell it. There may always be people who don’t want more broad representation in cinema, who would rather things stayed the same, or even reverted. This isn’t going to happen with Star Wars, so perhaps it’s time that those people take a piece of advice from Kylo himself—and let the past die.
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Star Wars: The Last Jedi stars Mark Hamill, Laura Dern, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Domhnall Gleeson and Kelly Marie Tran take the WIRED Autocomplete Interview and answer the Internet's most searched questions about Star Wars and themselves.