Thursday, December 21, 2017

Confessional: THE LAST JEDI Made Me a STAR WARS Fan

by Alejandra Gonzalez
I’ll admit it: far too often, I have found myself championing Lord of the Rings against Star Wars enthusiasts for the sake of establishing which franchise reigns superior. I call it the "Great Clerks II Debate," in which I find myself being the dude who throws up on Randal’s floor when he has only negative things to say about Peter Jackson’s adaptations.

This article contains SPOILERS for The Last Jedi.

For the better half of my life, I refused to open myself to The Force because I thought it would mean the betrayal of my beloved Middle Earth. Still, being the fair woman that I am, I (slightly reluctantly) was sure to have seen every installation of Star Wars before I developed these opinions, and none of them had what it took to change my mind about the franchise. This was true until I was forcefully (no pun intended) dragged to watch The Last Jedi, and to my immense surprise finally found the Star Wars movie that did. For those who know me, what I’m about to say is earth shattering: The Last Jedi made a Star Wars fan out of a Lord of the Rings devotee.

Upon leaving the theater, my first thoughts after “I really love Oscar Isaac” were wondering why I enjoyed this movie so much when I never particularly cared about Star Wars. I wondered what made me pit Star Wars and Lord of the Rings against each other when the principles of both are generally the same: Good triumphing over Bad, the need for hope in the face of despair, and the unfathomable powers of friendship. It wasn’t until later that it came to me. In Star Wars, the dichotomy between the light of the Jedi and darkness of the Sith was so strongly articulated that I rarely found myself faced with a character who was morally gray, conflicted internally with who they are or which side they want to represent. We have Anakin in the prequels, but he becomes the primary antagonist of the entire franchise, representing darkness by default. With Lord of the Rings, that was never the case. I loved how none of Tolkien's characters (besides my dear Samwise) were above being corrupted by the power that came with the Ring. The way the franchise explores our capabilities to be evil, no matter High Elf or Halfling, was what endeared me to it because it felt true to life. Nobody is ever purely good or entirely evil the way it felt to me in Star Wars -- until I was lucky to have seen The Last Jedi.
Luke defines The Force as "the balance between all things." I found this ironic, seeing as though until The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I personally didn’t find much of this balance in our characters who championed this “Force” throughout the entire franchise. We do, however, see more of this internal battle between darkness and the light inside of Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi, although I wouldn’t call it a healthy balance. He is one of (emphasis on “one of”) the only characters in the franchise who exhibits this moral conflict, and, although he is evidently being overcast by the darkness inside of him, he has occasional glimmers of faint light that make us believe he may not be beyond turning. A perfect example of this is how the darkness inside of Kylo was strong enough to kill his father in The Force Awakens, but a small wavering light was the reason he was unable to kill his mother in The Last Jedi. It is arguable that his betrayal of Snoke was selfish, but I felt that Kylo was taking the first steps in destroying this dichotomy between good and bad that has been plaguing him, and this franchise, for so long.

I found myself growing fond of Kylo because of this, and even found myself sympathizing with Luke in The Last Jedi for similar reasons. Luke is suffering from a dissipating sense of faith in The Force. He has grown cynical of it, and initially refuses to help Rey despite being the only hope for The Resistance. This is unlike a Jedi, pessimism and doubt in The Force being traits not customary for those belonging to the altruistic order of light. To be frank, I was shocked in the best way that I was seeing such behavior from our Jedi hero. When Luke made his choice to do the right thing, it felt more authentic because I knew he had undergone a personal journey before deciding to be a hero. This was significantly more gratifying to me than being faced with characters who were “good” simply because it was the way of the Jedi.
The most prevalent critique of The Last Jedi from people who didn’t like it was that it didn’t feel like a Star Wars movie, and perhaps that’s what I loved so much about it. The movie completely obliterates what my expectations from this franchise are and sets up for a promising future by distancing itself from archaic principles concerning Good vs. Evil. In one of my favorite scenes, Yoda’s Force ghost urges Luke to look away from ancient Jedi texts and towards a future that promises improved principles and renewed hope. I urge Star Wars fans that weren’t particularly fond of The Last Jedi to do the same. To reiterate, The Force is defined as the balance between all things. I am ecstatic to say that after The Last Jedi I have finally found The Force. I have found the balance I needed between loving Lord of the Rings and this fresh direction which The Last Jedi promises fans of Star Wars for a long time to come, even in galaxies far, far away.


  1. great article.

    but i'm asking the question: what is a Star Wars film? what's missing in The Last Jedi that makes it not feel like a Star Wars film?

    1. the gray areas in the morality of its characters, Luke's cynicism and (spoiler alert) how he appears to Kylo at the end is what most of the criticisms I've seen from people who didn't like it have been

    2. i've read the same. and that's what is making The Last Jedi not feel like a Star Wars film? that Luke is flawed? that characters have doubts? i don't buy it.

      about Luke. he's a Master Jedi, but we can't forget he's basically self-proclaimed Master. maybe Yoda said something about it in Return Of The Jedi, but he still got barely more than basic training, then fought Darth Vader. because he got his nemesis he's a flawless Master now?

      so with all these questions i have, what happen in The Last Jedi makes a lot of sense to me.

      and maybe i'm just an idiot who's talking out of his ass, Ace Ventura style :)

    3. The next standalone film is actually a wacky sex comedy about Luke's 2 years of Jedi U (it's only an Associates). They've got it covered.

    4. To me, this is why fans (i.e. fanatics) aren't always the best people to ask about these matters (I distinguish the fanatic from the lover or the enthusiast). Many of these folks are actually disputing, against the people who legally own and/or make Star Wars, what is and isn't Star Wars. "That character would never do that!" The people who legally own and/or make Star Wars have decided that that character would do that. He/She did it. People can dislike it. They can say it doesn't make sense, argue the point, and be right or wrong about it. But they can't claim it's a betrayal of the property.

    5. Thank you for saying this. I've wanted to shake all the people saying "IT'S NOT STAR WARS" and tell them that yes, it is Star Wars. I know this because it said Star Wars at the beginning and was made by the people who make Star Wars and stars the actors from Star Wars playing their Star Wars characters. Someone not liking it does not change what it is.

  2. Great column! Glad you found a Wars you dig, Alejandra :-)

  3. In my opinion the main issue that people seem to have with The Last Jedi is Luke and I felt like there was almost not other way to deal with him. JJ Abrams has said that Luke didn't work in The Force Awakens because if you put him anywhere other than at the end he steals the movie away from the new characters that they were trying to establish.

    So Luke is hiding on his island and he obviously is there for a reason. I got my hero moment that I didn't know that I wanted from Luke. Mark Hamill has said himself that it is no longer Luke's story. Basically whenever he got involved it had to mark the end for him because he is at least believed to be so powerful that he causes a distinct advantage for any side that he happens to be on.

    1. "JJ Abrams has said that Luke didn't work in The Force Awakens because if you put him anywhere other than at the end he steals the movie away from the new characters that they were trying to establish."

      That's a totally rational and valid storytelling choice, and I completely get it, but it's not one I happen to agree with - like James T. Kirk, "I don't believe in the no-win scenario." It strikes me as one more cop-out from the guy who thought ripping off The Wrath of Khan was a great idea. But, hey, I get it.

      As a mild Star Wars since childhood, I never actually wanted this sequel trilogy, because I've had and loved Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy since just a few years after seeing RotJ. Since, to my mind, those books make up a perfect sequel trilogy of their own, any new cinematic sequel trilogy had an impossibly high bar to reach to win my love... and I've found TFA hopelessly mediocre, and TLJ only a modest improvement, so win my love, they have not.

      Obviously, however, these new Episodes are 100%, official Star Wars stories, and I have nothing but good thoughts for those who love them. It's legitimately great that many women fans particularly embrace them. They aren't my thing, but that's totally okay. (Unless Kathleen Kennedy breaks into my flat wearing a Minnie Mouse costume and burns my Thrawn Trilogy books, that is. If she does that, I'll reserve the right to be pissed.)


      As for TLJ's new aspects of the Force, I don't mind them. What I do kind of mind is [X]'s ghost still sticking around thirty-plus years after his death - my personal feeling is that, per Zahn's Heir to the Empire, he would have fully moved on to the next plane of spirit by then, even if the actual scene between him and Luke was an objectively terrific one. But hey, that's just my two cents, not any kind of dogmatic statement.)

  4. So when I first started dating my wife, she was never a big Star Wars fan. She had seen the original trilogy once as a young child but not being exposed to much sci-fi, and an unfortunate incident with an Ewok, led her to not grow up loving it like I had. I re-watched the original trilogy with her early in our relationship and she got on the space bandwagon but was still not as in love with it as I was. We saw Episode 7 opening day and while we both really liked it I could tell the love affair with Star Wars that I had was still not there with her. Then came episode 8.

    From the beginning space battle I could tell that this movie was different. Not just different from my unconscious expectations but also in how it was connecting with my wife. After Rose's sister heroically sacrifices herself to bomb the dreadnought (which is one of my favorite scenes in the movie) my wife and I turned to each other to react. This was so cool, my wife normally doesn't dig space battles. The movie continued on like this, engaging my wife in ways I didn't think an action movie could. For example; she fell asleep during the airport fight scene in Captain America: Civil War but she was on the edge of her seat during Rey and Kylo's fight with Snoke's Praetorian guards.

    Once the movie was over, I knew I really enjoyed it but it was also pretty jarring to me and it took me a while to process it. I started to panic a little when I went online and saw the backlash. Yeah there were problems but I didn't see any reason to hate it. I worried that it was like Episode 1 all over again. Meanwhile, my wife was steadfast in her love of the movie. She confidently proclaimed it as her favorite and, in her opinion, best Star Wars movie.

    We spent literally hours the next day discussing the movie and it brought me out of my funk. It was a great movie and, while there are issues, the hate solely appears to be coming from rabid fanboys with their Snoke/Rey/Jar Jar/Rebels identity theories. I loved this movie and, more importantly, my wife loved this movie. That this movie is able to bring so many more people into the Star Wars family just makes it that much sweeter.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this! I'm so glad your wife enjoyed the movie so much ❤️

  5. Thanks for the nice article! As much as I'm glad you've found a Star Wars movie to champion, I'm mostly looking forward to you writing about Lord of the Rings...I love both franchises.

  6. Ms. Gonzalez, I totally dig this post. I'm curious, however, as to whether you ever gave Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy a try (see above). They're old-school SW Expanded Universe/Legends, but they were also the first books to continue the narrative from the OT movies, so they require zero additional franchise familiarity to dive right in. Zahn mostly keeps our OT heroes purely heroic, albeit fully human and imperfect, and he introduces several awesome new characters who are very much complex and not purely heroic/evil, including the excellent female antihero Mara Jade. And since Zahn's background was a sci-fi writer, he brings a lot of Tolkien-style seriousness to the SW galaxy - unlike in these new movies (Prequel Trilogy included), hyperspace voyages actually take days, and The Last Jedi's story hook of being able to temporarily outrun a fleet at sub-hyperspeed, but doomed if you attempt an actual jump, feels very reminiscent of his approach to the universe. I'm not as big a LotR fan as you, but I have read Tolkien's trilogy, and, though Zahn's books go in different directions from the Abrams/Johnson sequel trilogy, I have a feeling you might enjoy them.

    /soapbox pitch!