“The Last Jedi”: Nobody can own the force
“The Last Jedi” is the film that brings the first Star Wars cycle to a close and paves the way for the second, while also striving to remain relevant to current affairs.
Fans held high expectations for the film, and it delivers.
As the eighth in a series of cult films, almost all of “The Last Jedi”’s audience will be Star Wars fans, the majority of whom will love it in any case. There is, though, a segment of these fans who have long since thrown in the towel and decided on their dislike of the new film years before its release, complaining that the franchise has succumbed to commercial interests and the spell has been broken. Besides this, the prominence of leading heroines may have subconsciously discomfited a distinct section of the male fans who appear ready to hate the film…
“The Last Jedi” is a film that has been written and shot with great attention to detail. Its first goal was to make sure that fans by the end are waiting enthusiastically for the next film, in order to guarantee audience numbers. In the end, even a cult film series like Star Wars, which breathed life into the Sci-Fi genre when it was made and became a popular cinematic legend, is driven by commercial aims. It is essential to maintain a base of loyal customers. This requires that the film solves two problems at once: it needs to include the familiar elements from the old films that fans know and love, while simultaneously bringing something new to the series… Fans want to see the parts of the series they have grown used to, but they do not want to feel as though they are watching the same film over again. But they should also be presented with little surprises (new planets, new creatures, new weapons, allusions to mythology including the Turkish Ergenekon myth, and so on), to keep them hooked for the next film.
“The Last Jedi” is successful not as a standalone feature, but as the latest instalment in the Star Wars series. The technical mastery of the film is second to none: the visuals are flawless, as are the effects, the editing, the sound… The narrative is well-balanced considering the film continues a story which is already seven films long and will go on for at least one more film. The subject matter and themes are developed in ways consistent with the Star Wars mythology, and the film effectively adds psychological depth to the characters and reflects the conflicts they experience.
The latest Star Wars trilogy, starting with Episode Seven, has gone “back to the future” to follow chronologically the story of the original trilogy after a sojourn in the past in the prequel trilogy. The eighth film completes a story cycle and begins a new phase in the narrative, just as A New Hope did.
Exploring the trope of “light and darkness”, the film goes beyond portraying “good and evil” as polar opposites at war, and touches on the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang, which teaches that the energy in the universe is tied to the balance of opposing forces. The Jedi Knights, representing the light side, and the fallen Sith Lords on the dark side are simply two sides of the same “Force”.
The film brings Rey and Kylo Ren together in a surprising manner, and their interactions reveal new ideas around balance in the Force. While the importance of these two characters to the series becomes clearer in “The Last Jedi”, the film maintains the mystery around Rey’s past. Most importantly, there is a crucial development in the struggle between Supreme Leader Snoke’s First Order and the rebels, closely linked to the identity of the eponymous “last jedi”.
The concept of “the Force”, the energy which exists everywhere in the Star Wars universe and stems from the balance of energy flowing through all beings, is this time used in a critique of the Jedi religion, (and in fact of all organised religions and ideologies). After Rey finds and implores the Jedi Master Luke to join the resistance, he teaches her that the Force is not something that can be possessed.
In a vitally-important scene, the spirit of the legendary Jedi Master, Yoda, demonstrates to Luke the meaninglessness of places and objects considered “holy”, directing him instead to seek out the essence that lies behind faiths and ideologies. Ironically, the way he does this holds a divine symbolism for today’s world. In brief, the message is that power is not something that one can own, and that we should not become arrogant.
The first Star Wars film, “A New Hope”, hit screens 32 years after the end of the Second World War, two years after the Vietnam War, and in the middle of the Cold War, and it carries a conspicuously anti-fascist tone, (while this year’s movie makes allusions around the Trump administration). But the makers of “A New Hope” were not yet acquainted with concepts like equal representation of genders, instead adopting a fairy-tale storytelling format: we have a princess in need of rescue by a Jedi Knight, and, as “evil magicians” obstruct him in his quest, he gains the support of “good magicians”. ISIL, the “dark forces” of our age bear a noteworthy resemblance to the Sith Lords, another group that is the creation of an evil empire, and it is the YPJ who set out to stop them, so it was natural that Luke’s role would be filled by Rey, Princess Leia would become General Leia, and that the characters who sacrifice themselves are women of the resistance, just like the YPJ’s guerrillas.
This is a significant step towards raising visibility of female role models and rebutting prejudiced views. Otherwise, “The Last Jedi” is just a Disney blockbuster that is guaranteed to sell highly-priced tickets at the big cinema chains. In most countries, chain cinemas are built in shopping malls, the shrines of consumer culture. But the film, with its perfect technical execution and the avid John Williams soundtrack, is a captivatingly impressive production, and if you can forget the market forces behind it, “The Last Jedi” can even be seen as a revolutionary film.