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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

May 29, 2018: BlockbusterStudying: The Last Jedi

[Although Black Panther has already busted just about every conceivable block, Memorial Day launches the summer blockbuster season. So this week I wanted to return to some BlockbusterStudying, focusing especially on big hits from last year. Add your BlockbusterStudying thoughts, please!]
[NB: some SPOILERS follow, so if you haven’t seen Last Jedi yet, go do so and then come back to share your thoughts here!]
On the thoughtful questions behind a controversial character arc, and why they’re so vital.
It’s not exactly breaking news to note that Mark Hamill did not initially see eye-to-eye with director and screenwriter Rian Johnson over his character Luke Skywalker’s role and perspective in The Last Jedi (2017). Hell, there’s even a new documentary called The Director and the Jedi that documents their disagreements, as well as their evolution toward a more shared understanding (one that Hamill now voices very eloquently). In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll note that I absolutely love the film, and especially really enjoyed both Luke as a character and Hamill’s performance (and it’s a tribute to him as an actor that he does such a pitch-perfect job despite his reservations). But I get where Hamill was coming from with those initial responses: for most of the film Luke is a bitter and nasty s.o.b., and one who specifically expresses opinions and perspectives that seem to dismantle quite thoroughly everything about the Jedi and the Force that constituted his character’s beautiful arc in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Yet as I argued in this post (still one of my favorites across the more than 2300 I’ve shared in this space), I believe that the character of Luke has always represented a complex combination of Jedi and anti-Jedi (at least as an influential character like Yoda defines the Jedi). More exactly, Luke has always relied on emotion as a guiding part of his embrace of the Force and role as a Jedi, despite Yoda’s assertions that emotions are dangerous or lead to the Dark Side. So the Luke that we meet at the start of Last Jedi—a Luke whose missteps and failures with young Ben Solo have made him question bitterly his own life and work, as well as the broader concepts behind the Jedi Order and even the Force itself—is just experiencing and responding to another set of emotions, ones still driven by love and family (Ben is his nephew, after all) but now coming from a far darker place. Without spoiling entirely where his character ends up by the film’s wonderful concluding moments, I’ll just note that anyone who sees that bitter Luke as the Last Jedi’s only or central version of this character and his perspective must have stopped paying attention a bit earlier than they should have (or taken a really long and poorly timed bathroom break).
However, I don’t think his character’s arc and evolution in the film is necessary to appreciate Luke’s bitter questions about the past and his ideals. Indeed, I would argue that another failing of Yoda’s seems to be that even after the disastrous events of the prequels—and his own direct role in Anakin Skywalker’s descent to the Dark Side, as I note in that hyperlinked post—he still when we meet him on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back holds to most of the same ideas about the Jedi, emotion, and the like. Even if those disastrous past events had not taken place, I don’t think anyone should continue to hold the same views across the arc of their life, not without careful and thoughtful examination of them and a willingness to critique and even perhaps set aside those that do not stand up to such scrutiny. While Luke might voice his examinations and critiques in a more bitter way than would be ideal (again, he’s an emotional guy!), the perspectives themselves are healthy and exemplary for any person late in his or her life. And [SPOILERS one more time] with the help of Rey, herself a combination of Jedi and emotion to be sure, by the end of the film Luke moves past those critiques and into a distinct but still heroic perspective on the Jedi and their role.
Next blockbuster tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other blockbusters you’d highlight and analyze?

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