By Allen Callaci
In 2017, The Last Jedi became one of the most divisive pieces of pop culture since Bob Dylan went electric back in 1965. Cries of “Judas” echo throughout the land. Angry, inconsolable fans started an online petition to strike The Last Jedi from the official Star Wars canon. Others lashed out like a thousand lovers betrayed and unleashed their bots into cyberspace to bring down the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes … and sparked the most laughable alt-right group moniker of them all: Down with Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys (DWDTFF).
Not bad for the first two weeks of a film’s release.
A two-and-a-half-hour controlled burn of the Star Wars mythos by director Rian Johnson, The Last Jedi removes the old brush and the rotting wood of the Skywalker saga, clearing the way for something new. In 2015’s The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams offered a beat-for-beat smorgasbord of comfort food that held fast to the Star Wars formula, reuniting the old gang with the precision of a Guns ‘n’ Roses Coachella performance. Desert planets. Check. Light-saber battles. Check. Hives of scum and villainy. Check. PREDICTABLE SPOILER ALERT: a space battle station as large as a moon blown to smithereens. Check.
The Force Awakens unreeled as the cinematic equivalent of David Bowie’s 1990 Sound+Vision Tour for fans phoned in the set list via a toll-free number. Is there anything wrong with wanting to hear Bowie belt out classics like “Suffragette City” or “Space Oddity” live? No. Nor, is there anything wrong with wanting to see a scruffy rebel alliance once again coming together to bring an imperialistic empire to its knees. But denying an artist, or artistic work, the space—no pun intended—it needs to evolve is throwing a plastic bag over its head and suffocating it.
For viewers of a certain age, watching The Last Jedi will be like attending a high-school reunion where those voted most likely to succeed now work at Wal-Mart and those voted Best Dressed show up in gold lame jumpsuits and matching Crocs. Nothing is where you left it and no one lands where you thought they would. The Last Jedi pulls up the deep roots of the Star Wars mythology.
What feels radical on first viewing seems less so in the context of the preceding films in the franchise. The latest episode includes: Jedi knights, Stormtroopers, adorable critters designed to be doe-eyed plush toys, and one of the most overlooked themes of the Star Wars saga—you can’t go home again. Yes, Han Solo infamously declared “Chewie, we’re home,” the last time we saw the gang together in The Force Awakens … and look how “well” that turned out. BELATED SPOILER ALERT: Solo gets turned into a Han-kabob by his son.
Home never existed as a permanent place in the Star Wars galaxy. Leia’s planet of Alderaan is destroyed. The Rebel Alliance’s “home base” uprooted itself on numerous occasions to stay a step ahead of Imperial Forces as the series progressed. Even Yoda fled to Dagobah in a time of peril. In Oz, there’s no place like home. In Star Wars, home doesn’t exist.
In The Last Jedi, Luke asks Rey where she is from. “Nowhere,” she responds. “Nobody is from nowhere,” Luke assures her. “Jakku,” she relents. “Yeah, that’s pretty much nowhere,” Luke concedes.
Luke should know as someone well-versed in being from nowhere. He describes his home planet as being the farthest from the bright spot in the universe. Unlike Rey, he feels a sense of connection to the place he calls home. In the 1977 original Star Wars, Luke’s first instinct after Obi-Wan informs him that the Empire is tracking the droids he and his uncle recently purchased is to race back to his house. Once there, he finds the charred remains of his aunt and uncle. With that, the young farm boy leaves, never to return, and begins his journey to fulfill a greater destiny.
Perhaps the intense backlash against The Last Jedi by some of the Star Wars faithful can be attributed to the film’s insistence that one can’t go home again. We will never be ten years old again and find ourselves transported to and immersed in a strange and unknown galaxy the way we were when we first experienced Star Wars. Do not throw the youngling out with the bath water. Being older, wiser—and able to buy back all the vintage Kenner Star Wars figures that we destroyed as children because the words “collectible market” were not part of our vocabulary—does not mean that there are not new, unexpected joys alongside old comforts in The Last Jedi.