Autistic Future
January 1st, 2018

The New Star Wars Heroes Grow Up

The con­tro­ver­sial, new Star Wars movie is some­thing dif­fer­ent for the beloved fran­chise. New­com­ers and fans who saw the orig­i­nal trilo­gies in the­aters alike may strug­gle with whether to approve of the shift or not. The film is a mix of strong and weak points, and, far more than The Force Awak­ens, rep­re­sents the torch being hand­ed off to the next gen­er­a­tion of char­ac­ters. This is not anoth­er movie where new pro­tag­o­nists drove the plot along­side char­ac­ters from the orig­i­nal trilogy. 

This is where they take over, and the Star Wars uni­verse will nev­er be the same. In some ways, this is a com­ing of age sto­ry, with the mis­takes and flaws of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion on dis­play, beloved char­ac­ters viewed with­out rev­er­ence, some­times harsh­ly, by a new, ris­ing gen­er­a­tion. It is also a com­ing of age sto­ry in that many of our char­ac­ters are charged with grow­ing up, con­sid­er­ing the long-term con­se­quences of their actions, espe­cial­ly their actions as peo­ple who hope to change the world in which they live. While the plot has its flaws, and some fans think the writ­ers went too far in human­iz­ing beloved char­ac­ters through mis­takes, that alone makes the film worth watch­ing for any­one who has grap­pled with choos­ing tac­tics to make change.

The orig­i­nal tril­o­gy and the pre­quels are full of moments where a lone wolf lead­er­ship style and a ten­den­cy to dis­re­gard author­i­ty pay off. The Last Jedi is dif­fer­ent. Poe Dameron repeat­ed­ly tries to sin­gle­hand­ed­ly save the Resis­tance, much like scores of oth­er char­ac­ters have in ear­li­er films. As some crit­ics have point­ed out, this is typ­i­cal­ly a high­ly-effec­tive strat­e­gy for Star Wars char­ac­ters. The young upstart with an inno­v­a­tive plan is near­ly always right. Here, how­ev­er, his chal­lenges to author­i­ty don’t save the day. They fail repeat­ed­ly, and oth­er char­ac­ters die as a result. Rey, too, dis­re­gards a men­tor’s advice and finds that things don’t work out as she had hoped. 

This isn’t a film where the old­er author­i­ty fig­ure is always right. Rey reach­es the first Jedi tem­ple to find a run­down, mop­ing Luke hid­ing from the Force and every­one he loves, refus­ing to step up and do what every­one des­per­ate­ly needs. She strug­gles to reach him and con­vince him to do his duty. It also isn’t cyn­i­cal. An amoral char­ac­ter who switch­es sides at the drop of a hat and can’t moral­ly dis­tin­guish the First Order from the Resis­tance gets the chance to make his point but isn’t por­trayed as right in the end. What it is is a prag­mat­ic Star Wars movie, one which acknowl­edges that col­lab­o­ra­tion, tak­ing expe­ri­enced peo­ple’s advice into con­sid­er­a­tion, and pick­ing the tac­tic which will get the best results under the present cir­cum­stances the way for­ward for those who want to accom­plish last­ing, mean­ing­ful change instead of mak­ing a fleet­ing statement.

This is a film where at least two pro­tag­o­nists try to ram vehi­cles into ene­my weapon­ry, plan­ning to destroy a threat to the Resis­tance and expect­ing to die in the process. The first time, the writ­ers present it as the right choice, the only one which will let the Resis­tance escape the First Order and sur­vive. When a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter tries the same thing under dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, it’s a mis­take, and a friend, maybe even a roman­tic inter­est, is seri­ous­ly injured in the course of sav­ing him from himself.

This is clos­er to last year’s grit­ty Rogue One than the lighter spir­it of the orig­i­nal tril­o­gy in its real­is­tic take on mak­ing change, some­times almost over­bear­ing­ly so. Car­rie Fish­er’s Leia Organa, depict­ed worn gen­tle by time and grief but still as tough and brave as ever, explic­it­ly dis­cuss­es the dif­fer­ence between get­ting the job done and look­ing hero­ic. Not every life-long fan will enjoy a Star Wars fran­chise in which lone wolf lead­er­ship does­n’t always pay off, prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions often out­weigh optics, and the rebels have to count their loss­es care­ful and con­sid­er ends and means. This is far less escapist and more prac­ti­cal than Star Wars has tra­di­tion­al­ly been.

Those who are will­ing to stick out a fair­ly major change of direc­tion will be reward­ed, espe­cial­ly if the writ­ers get at least a slight­ly bet­ter han­dle on the plot going into the last install­ment of this tril­o­gy, by a Star Wars uni­verse in which ordi­nary peo­ple mat­ter more, the insur­gents derive their legit­i­ma­cy more from pop­u­lar sup­port than ties to a long-defunct gov­ern­ment, and a strand of scrap­py opti­mism does­n’t want to hear about the odds. For all this film’s flaws, this is still fun, live­ly Star Wars well worth watch­ing and a sur­pris­ing­ly relat­able sto­ry for any­one doing the hard, unglam­orous work of mak­ing change in the real world.