The Last Jedi: Godspeed, Rebels!
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an excellent addition to the Star Wars canon, precisely because it is not cowed by its predecessors. Instead, the new film is a surprising, occasionally subversive continuation of the saga—and a film designed to get at the heart of what makes Star Wars stories appealing, what makes them matter. It seems director Rian Johnson set out to make the essential Star Wars film, and in many ways he succeeded.
The film moves forward the stories of classic characters like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), alongside the new protagonists introduced in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, namely repentant stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and potential Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley). But it is two new additions to the cast who best embody the ethos of The Last Jedi, deconstructing the Star Wars tropes of chosen ones and rebellious derring-do and then rebuilding a new vision of hope and heroism. Mild spoilers will follow as we delve into why.
The first Star Wars movie had the science-fiction trappings of aliens and spaceships, but it was at heart a certain kind of fairy tale adventure: An ordinary farm boy goes on a quest to save a princess from a dark sorcerer-king. But the twists of the original trilogy negated the idea that Luke Skywalker was a normal young man who had stumbled onto a chance at heroism. It was revealed that the princess was his sister, the sorcerer-king was his father, and they were all part of a destiny-laden bloodline. The Last Jedi goes back to basics. Anyone can be a protagonist in this universe, no magic heritage required.
Luke Skywalker tells Rey (and us) that the Force unites all living beings, and it is foolish to think of the Force as the special purview of one family or even of the Jedi order. The movie bears this out with a satisfyingly anticlimactic answer to the question of who Rey’s parents were. And it drives the point home with Rose, a lowly Resistance mechanic who aids former stormtrooper Finn in a key plotline. Rose is played by Kelly Marie Tran, a relatively unknown actress of Vietnamese descent who is not “Hollywood beautiful.” She realizes the role marvelously as a winning everywoman who fights in defense of the innocent. Though she bears a Force-symbol pendant as a memento of her sister, a fallen Resistance fighter, she is not driven by a desire for vengeance. Instead, she honors her sister’s self-giving by taking the time to free children and animals from tyranny. In a climactic moment, she pulls Finn back from the brink of foolhardy sacrifice and delivers an encapsulation of the movie’s values: “We have to start caring more about protecting the things we love than destroying the things we hate.”
Rose is at the heart of the movie because she subverts the tired trope of destined heroism and shows how “ordinary” people can make a difference by fighting for good (as opposed to only against evil). Even in a galaxy far, far away, there is, as it were, a universal call to holiness. But another new character, and another subverted trope, had a more specific and less expected religious resonance. Vice Admiral Holdo, played by a pink-haired and poised Laura Dern, reminded me strongly of St. Thomas More, as depicted in Robert Bolt’s classic play A Man for All Seasons. Holdo’s arc interrogated the idea of heroic martyrdom and offered something akin to a Christian response.”