The Last Word Part 3 – The Last Jedi

We come now to the man himself, Luke Skywalker, the last surviving Jedi. Here it is unavoidable to discuss why it has been so difficult to separate criticisms of the movie and criticism of it as a Star Wars movie. Because there are so many legacy characters, and so much legacy world-building, criticism of the one can often look and sound like criticism of the other. Nowhere is this problem more acute than with Luke Skywalker, but I’m going to try anyway, basing the section below only on what is apparent and visible in just this one film.

I propose there are two Lukes in this film. The same schizophrenia on the concept of sacrifice is apparent with Luke’s character, and his decisions in this film require him to have been both Lukes almost at the same moment.

The first Luke is a tired, regretful man, wise in the ways of the force but under the impression that the universe is worse for his actions. He is, in short, a depressed but still well-meaning recluse. We see this Luke in the calm and collected figure facing an army. We see him on the Falcon, meeting R2-D2, remembering dead friends and old victories, when the universe seemed brighter and true victories achievable. We see him nearly in tears at the destruction of what may be the last Jedi texts left in existence. We see him, especially, in that wonderful training scene where he tickles Rey’s hand with a leaf, a scene in which Luke is humorous and humble and somewhat insightful and altogether human. The Luke that chastises Rey for so quickly being entranced by the Dark Side during meditation. That’s one Luke.

The other is a rabid madman shooting from one extreme to the other. The man who decided ends justified the means and so Kylo had to die in his sleep. The man who, having failed in premeditated murder, cut himself off from the Force declaring that the past must die, leaving the galaxy to be wracked by the threat he forsake his principles to kill. This is the Luke that meets Rey with a tantrum, throwing away the proffered lightsaber. The man who seems to believe the light side and dark side play equally vicious games with people. The man who stomped off to the books with a lit torch and an intent to vandalize.

Now I can hear people argue that this is unfair, that Luke is a complex character who has suffered deeply. That his indecision of the book burning is understandable, that his reaction to the lightsaber, a weapon with which he almost killed Kylo, understandably different from old friends like R2-D2. This is actually a decent argument, not least because Mark Hamill has actually become a decent actor since A New Hope and has done his utmost to paper over the poor writing.

Yet in the end this does come down to bad writing, because the previous two sections prove this argument to be not credible, not least because the incoherence is not resolved. Luke vanishes with the calm of a man who has resolved his internal disputes, but it is impossible to say for certain whether he has made peace with the Jedi continuing to exist or ceasing to exist.

Consider in Rey’s training, he declares he will show why the Jedi & Sith must end, and then chastises Rey for being so quickly drawn away from the light side. Snoke states that “light would rise to meet the growing darkness” that is Kylo, but Kylo agrees with Luke that this is obsolete Jedi/Sith nonsense (and then proceeds to kill his master and offer Rey a seat at his right hand, in classic Sith fashion). And after Yoda has given the imprimatur of the great beyond upon the end of the Jedi, Luke ends up saying “I will not be the last Jedi.” Yoda appears to have disagreed, destroying the tree when Luke hesitates, but the Jedi texts that were to be destroyed are aboard the Falcon, apparently acquired by a thieving Rey who has given up on acquiring wisdom from an madman. Are we supposed to believe Yoda appeared only so that Luke could go to his doom under a cloud of delusion and lies, believing that the Jedi philosophy was dead when it had in fact been saved?

But the bottom line with Luke is that if we are to see him as a deeply conflicted man who finds peace, there should be a clear message as to the manner in which he found the peace the visuals and music claim he did, and the movie doesn’t give us that clarity. The movie deals with the Force, and the Jedi tradition, with just the same form of dysfunction as it does with the concept of a heroic sacrifice. Thus I maintain that while Mark Hamill did a remarkable job with poor material, the material really was poor, and his best efforts could not save the movie from the failures of the writers.

Note, however, that proving the incoherence of Luke’s character implicates a discussion of the philosophy of the Jedi & Sith, which means that critiquing the core of the movie (Luke) is difficult without discussing the film as a Star Wars film. I believe I have made the case for bad writing on the basis of the film alone, and so it is time to turn to the film as Star Wars.

Mutiny on the Raddis <- prior | Index | next -> The Philosophy of the Force

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