Following up on my observations about “Rogue One,” in the previous post, I was interested in comparing it to the next installment of the third and final trilogy of the original Star Wars story arc (something that many of us have been anticipating since the 970s, when George Lucas was still talking about the movies as a series of three trilogies).
I was pleased to see that “The Last Jedi” seems to bridge “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” in both style and themes. While there’s plenty of “Force magic” at work, and talk of genetic destinies, there’s a refreshing dismissal of their importance, as well. Luke Skywalker uses his authority to take back the power of the Force from midichlorians and restore it to a cosmic unity that’s accessible to anyone who can draw upon the hope it promises, or the destruction it can unleash. There are great powers presented in this installment that don’t need the Force to dominate the galaxy. We’re almost back to the “A New Hope,” and its context wherein Darth Vader can be seen as a lone, sad devotee to an ancient religion.
The true role of the Force in this movie is about choice, and finding balance. And it’s clearer here what “balance” signifies. The point was muddled in the prequels; Anakin Skywalker was destined to restore “balance to the Force,” but why should there be balance between the positive light and the destructive dark sides of the Force? Here, we see the shrine where the Force originated. It’s not, as we saw in “Rogue One,” in Jedha, which is apparently where the Jedi originated much of their technology, since it’s a khyber mine, used in fashioning light sabers. This shrine is embedded in a tree, which suggests the original moment of enlightenment for Siddhartha. There he found the balance in all things, and became the Buddha. Like the Buddha, Luke himself has no need of such a shrine, and it turns out, neither do any of the Jedi. The Force can speak for itself.
We see that demonstrated in “The Last Jedi,” as the story strikes its own balance. The light and dark Jedi, the Resistance and the New Order, may occur on the outskirts of the galaxy, but we get a glimpse of the powers that fuel their conflict on the casino world, where the world’s greatest code-breaker lurks. These are the wealthiest people in the empire, and they have struck their own balance by getting rich off arms sales to both sides. The casino provides the illusion of risk; they’ve minimized it for themselves, while maximizing it for everyone else. The House always wins, when played on their terms. We have high hopes for the code-breaker, but despite his rebellious demeanor and chance-taking, his faith is as narrowly-defined as theirs, as is his desire to minimize risk (his closest counterpart seems to be Lando Calrission).
The Force as experienced here feels more grounded, and contains actual wisdom that connects seamlessly with the experiences of the characters, so we can almost feel the truth of Luke’s observation that the Force doesn’t belong to any one person by right of birth or training. Rose’s observation to Finn that the Resistance will win because the way they fight is at one with why they fight, is almost straight out of the Jedi handbook, yet she has no personal knowledge of it.
There’s an amusing moment when Chewbacca, now a grizzled old veteran, reluctantly realizes the connectedness of all things from a flock of goofy seabirds known as Porgs. They reward his enlightenment by doing what pets often do: following him about (they feel safe enough with him to infest his Millennium Falcon) and closely identifying with his every mood. These creatures have been compared to the Ewoks of “Return of the Jedi,” but there’s a crucial difference. The Ewoks were much like Chewie: they were soldiers, just tinier, and allies of his cause. The Porg don’t have anything to offer him; they’re just the evidence and reward of his hidden compassion for all things (whether he wants it or not).
Even R2D2 seems to channel the binding wisdom of the Force, when he reunites with Luke. Likewise, the very last shot we see is on the casino planet, mirroring Luke’s own hopeful gaze into the twilight, in which we see a boy’s unremarked and fleeting gestures suggesting the kind of hope that no doubt once gave birth to the Jedi order. It’s a moment you’d expect to see in a Spielberg film (who was once asked to direct a Star Wars film early on), but here, with the old order at every level leaving the spotlight, we can glimpse a future that expands, like its beginning, into the stars.