I finally saw The Last Jedi

Okay, I finally saw it a couple of weeks ago and then I went and read all the things about it that I had open in tabs in three different programs and I stewed on it all a bit and contemplated, and there were a couple of things that I was genuinely boggled by in the fan commentaries I saw. So I’m going to put a cut in here for those people who don’t want to see the spoilery bits, because I didn’t see it until a month ago and there might be people who care.

A lot of the commentaries I saw orbited around the idea that The Last Jedi knew what the fan expectations were, and very deliberately refused to meet any of them. And I … find myself wondering what these critical questions were that met with no satisfying answers. I saw a couple of people who were furious about the lack of explanation of Snoke, and I don’t get it. There’s space in there for backstory, sure, but if the backstory isn’t in the movie someone will write it (either for tie-in fiction or in fanfic and almost certainly both) and it doesn’t matter to the arc of the story.

It’s been very clear that this new trilogy is set up as the story of Rey (with support cast in Poe, Finn, BB-8, etc.) and Kylo, and questions like ‘where did Snoke come from’ are not part of that. Given that it is implausible that domination-aligned Force sensitives do not exist in the galaxy far, far away, even if the specific religion/discipline of the Sith is not a going thing (and who knows if the ‘rule of two’ thing was more than one schismatic branch of them anyway), those figures are going to be jockeying for position. Given jockeying for position, a young, troubled, and gifted man is an excellent target for mindwhammy-backed gaslighting manipulation, especially if the master training him is ill-equipped to teach (more on that later). Given that this is an entirely plausible thing, the actual interesting question is now what, and goddamn, that movie had a lot of movie in it without wasting time on filling in some useless backstory for how this particular predator managed to get this particularly juicy prey.

Posit predators. Okay. Posit juicy prey. Okay. Things happen from there.

That the predator did not find an Anakin – link goes to THE essential Anakin Skywalker fanfic and I will brook no argument with that, go read it, it’s short – but something else, something deadly and utterly wild (my cross-fan-reference comment on Kylo is “When Gryffindors Go Really Bad They Go Really Really Bad”) – is a point of important difference. (And – this comment makes more sense if you’ve read the fic now – venerating one’s enslaved ancestor against the wishes of one’s family is not exactly an in on bondsman mentality.)

This story is not about Snoke. Snoke is one of the circumstances that put the important characters on the board. Rey’s parents, likewise, are a circumstance that put her on the board, not a grand mystery to be teased out (Mark Hamill’s trolling aside, he was so obviously amusing himself with it).

And I guess I understand the fan mindset that takes the scenery and wants to make more story out of it, but I don’t understand being disappointed that Snoke doesn’t have a sweeping arc of history to explain where he came from. He’s a manipulator and an abuser who wants to be seen – like all such abusers – as larger than he actually is. In the end, that costs him, because his drive to make Kylo small so he wouldn’t be a threat is what made Kylo hate him, and what pushed Kylo to enact an abused child’s revenge fantasy on Snoke’s unexpecting self. (And one can see Rey’s naiveté in thinking that that would be enough, in hoping that Kylo would turn back – but as I have seen others say, Kylo was deeply wronged, and by more than Snoke, while still being very wrong, large fractions of the time.)

I saw some signs that some people were complaining about the mysticism, and I … do not even know what to say to that, because I’m not sure I personally can deal with someone complaining about weird religious subtext in Star Wars as being a genuine fan of the thing and damnit I am not going to turn into one of those ‘but you’re not a REAL fan’ people. The logical upshot of the Force as portrayed is the trickster master, the “upon that thwack on the head the student was enlightened” master, the “strike me down and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine” master. The only plausible universal Force is one of moving balance, chaotic in the mathematical sense, an interplay of shadows and illuminations that cannot be truly still because nothing in the galaxy is ever still.

(And if one looks at the codifications in the prequel trilogy, one sees a greyface Jedi Order so devoted to order and rigidity and discipline that it not only cannot handle Anakin, it cannot handle someone altering its own records. What it knows is all there is, and it cannot not-know anything real, and thus it is doomed to decay. “This is… wrong tool.” To cross fandoms again.)

And for a bit I thought Luke had figured that out. Not just the failures of the Jedi Order of before, but his own limited understanding. He guides Rey into an understanding of the Force, and makes noises of agreement, of correctness, of truth as she perceives not only the flow of light over the plants and the living things, but the bones underneath, the essentiality of death and decay to the cycle, the dynamic balance.

But no, he didn’t get it. She felt the cold pit in the base of the island, the Dark balance to the Light of its two suns, and sought it out with her mind, and he hissed and recoiled. Luke never got over being afraid of the Dark.

And that’s why he failed Kylo. It’s why he nearly failed Rey.

And Rey goes down into the Dark looking for the truth of her parents, for the hope of their return, and found herself looking at shadows of herself. She did not bring fear or hatred or rejection, she brought loneliness, abandonment, and need. She looked into the mirror there, she saw shadows join, approach, and become herself.

She had never felt more alone, she said.

And climbed back out.

“What’s in there?”
“Only what you take with you.”

When Yoda sent Luke into the cave for his own confrontation with the Dark, he said, “No weapons. You will not need them.”

Luke looked back over his shoulder, and buckled the belt on anyway.

Luke brought violence to his experience with the Dark, and it brought Vader into that space, and when he struck to kill, he saw that the shadow had become himself.

Only what you take with you: yourself, and a lightsaber.

So what happens when he sees the Dark in an apprentice, so many years later?

Himself, and a lightsaber. Without thought, without conscious volition, because he was so wedded to an inability to deal with the Dark without violence.

Rey, who went down into the cave with herself and her yearning, knew herself abandoned, and came out resolved to do what she needed to, alone if necessary. As she had always done.

Raise your hand if you think Luke was a competent enough teacher to recognize that the Descent was a critical part of training a Jedi!

(And really, the structured Order of the prequels makes me wonder if they’d forgotten the Descent entirely, leaving it only to masters perhaps older than that form of the Order such as Yoda to remember the traditions from when an apprentice trained with individualized guidance throughout.)

And here’s a thing that I wonder if anyone else caught. Luke tried to teach Rey a lack of dualism, a more nuanced understanding of the Force than he, himself, was capable of believing, as demonstrated by his actual actions. He read those books under the tree, the ones he went to burn not knowing that Rey had already nicked them, and he got some of the language, but he could not truly embrace the entirety. “Master Luke” he might be called, but his actual mastery eluded him.

And he got bonked on the head by a certain old Muppet, and got a solid dose of cranky trickster master.

And then Yoda destroyed the tree with Force lightning.

Did nobody else notice that? Because damn that was a thing.

Oh, he called it down from the sky rather than throw it from his hands, but this is still the canonical Dark Side power, the electrokinesis, and perhaps it was that bonk on the head with a stick, seeing that happen, seeing Yoda embrace the destruction and death portion of the balance, saw him utilize that iconic symbol of the Dark, that is why Luke actually finally got his enlightenment.

And he went to face the Dark once again, and brought himself, but he did not go unarmed, he would never go unarmed, not even then: he brought his enlightenment with him, as the holy-fool trickster master he was finally able to become.

Look at that gorgeous arc. Just look at it. That long stuttering course to Mastery and a blaze of perfection as he finally achieves it. He doesn’t need to make himself huge and belittle Kylo to make his mark, either, he’s a perfect counterpoint to Snoke that way – instead he apologizes, he accepts the rage, he faces the Dark, and he does not bring hate and fear to the encounter.

In the end, he finally manages to bring the peace that Yoda tried to tell him to cultivate, rather than once again kindle violence.

He finally climbed the rest of the way out of the cave on Dagobah to see the suns again.

1 comment to I finally saw The Last Jedi

  • I was particularly struck with Rey’s snapping fingers; “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

    There’s a … reading? viewing? … where the point is the light/dark dichotomy is not a property of the Force. It’s a property of the Force adept.

    (I remain sad we didn’t get Leia being canonically Sith. Because boy oh boy is Leia sith by inclinations, and this is not saying in any way that Leia is evil.)

    (Though I am still annoyed that Poe Dameron, mutineer, didn’t get shot dead.)