When I first heard of Disney acquiring Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012, I feared it meant nothing good for the franchise. After seeing the two films that have been released so far, Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, I am upset at the direction the galaxy far, far away is taking. Rey is intended to mop up the mess left by the Skywalker family while effortlessly bending the Force to serve her desires. Disney has no reverence for the traditions and character development set up in the original three films and is instead focused on opening up avenues for in-universe sequels.
One of the most offensive scenes occurs near the end of The Last Jedi. I am speaking of the burning of the Jedi texts at the hands of Force Ghost Yoda. The burning of books is a highly charged, dare I say, evil act. Democracy and equality do not walk hand-in-hand with book burning. It is wrong to withhold history and information from later generations. A parting of ways does not necessitate destruction of the past wisdoms. And Yoda’s quips that ‘page turners, they were not’ and ‘that library contains nothing that the girl Rey does not already possess’ are reductive and insulting. Is this a reference to the Expanded Universe that was created to tell the story post-Return of the Jedi? At worst, it’s something more insidious and political that tells younger generations that there is no true wisdom to be found in books and histories, instead they should look to their young, impetuous, and untrained leaders. Hero worship does not replace scholarship.
If the book burning is the capstone of this terrible film, the character assassinations of Luke and Han represent how the message is not to pass the torch, but to set fire to the work of the original trilogy. Both characters are washed-up failures with little remaining of their former heroism. Han has somehow returned to smuggling and double-crossing, which I find rather unbelievable considering his former role as a general in the Rebellion. How many outlaws will be looking for the infamous Han Solo to slip underneath the radar in their employ? After the conflict with the smugglers and rathtars aboard the freighter, the rookie Rey somehow has more knowledge than Han of the Millennium Falcon, knowing to activate the compressor to jump to hyperspace as they escape, leaving Han to pose as the fool. This act continues after they escape.
INT. MILLENNIUM FALCON - DAY CHAOS: INTERCUT between the COCKPIT where Han and Rey pilot, ALARMS SOUNDING, problems everywhere, and the LOUNGE where CHEWIE YELPS as Finn nervously works to BANDAGE HIS SHOULDER. SPARKS! HAN Electrical overload! REY I can fix that! HAN The coolant's leaking! REY Try transferring auxiliary power to the secondary tank-- HAN -- Secondary tank, I got it! INT. LOUNGE: (Finn tries to bandage Chewbacca) INT. FALCON COCKPIT: HAN This hyperdrive blows there's gonna be pieces of us in three different systems. Han at the controls when all the alarms STOP. Rey, satisfied, sits in the co-pilot seat. Han is confused. HAN (CONT'D) What'd you do? REY I by-passed the compressor. He looks at her. A little, appreciative laugh. Han exits, walking past BB-8.
It is completely unnecessary for Rey to know better than Han Solo how his ship works. The Force has been shown to augment piloting ability but since when does it provide foresight into machinery? This scene merely serves to humiliate Han and reinforce Rey as a Mary Sue who can solve any problem she encounters.
Han’s shameful representation pales in comparison to Luke’s disgraceful state in The Last Jedi. This is NOT the Luke we left at the end of Return of the Jedi. He had grown powerful in the Force. One of my favorite moments displaying the strength of Luke after training with Yoda is when he coolly confronts Jabba the Hutt in his throne room to rescue Han and Leia.
Return of the Jedi establishes Luke as the inheritor of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Zen-like confidence in the power of the Force and Yoda’s sheer ability to channel his own will. The Last Jedi forgets the strength behind Luke to establish him as a failed leader and teacher. Luke’s primary sin is his lack of faith in Kylo Ren. What is unbelievable is how he is shown to react to this lack of faith. He listens to his fears instead of seeking guidance from his teachers in the Force. This is a departure from the Luke established at the height of his power in Return of the Jedi. The internal battle between attachment and mindful action is at the heart of a Jedi’s development. Luke in The Last Jedi has all but abandoned his devotion to the Light Side of the Force by hiding from Kylo Ren and the entire battle being waged between the ruins of the Rebellion and the First Order. If Luke did not give up on returning Darth Vader to the Light Side, why should we believe he would retreat into despair upon Kylo Ren’s defection? And a related complaint: why is Darth Vader invoked by Kylo Ren as a symbol of ultimate evil when he returned to the Light Side and slayed the Emperor?
Where the Original Trilogy sets up our heroes as using the Force to fight the battle between Good and Evil, the new films seem to imply the Force is an invisible actor that has a will and can control its actors. All bets are off when it comes to predicting what powers the heroes can use. Finn, who is not shown to be Force-sensitive, wields a lightsaber without a second thought. Dark side powers in particular seem to have gone through a period of innovation and barely resemble ones used by Original Trilogy villains. Mind-reading is apparently part of their repertoire, as is the ability to produce wracking pains without invoking Force lightning. And while I’m glad Luke is able to die of his own accord and not at the end of Kylo Ren’s embarrassment of a lightsaber, the whole scene is senseless spectacle. Producing a Force Ghost is supposed to be a very difficult accomplishment; Luke projecting his likeness to fool an entire battlefield is above and beyond anything we’ve seen from Force-users before.
This is not the Force that requires the training and practice of the old school. Rey’s raw talent is enough to pose her as the equal and anti-thesis of Kylo Ren. When Rey’s natural ability is touted as her strength, the underlying message is that if you have to work hard at something, don’t even try. Rey encounters no significant set-backs in the two films. Her determination is blind; her mission is to oppose Kylo Ren but her loyalty to the Light Side is hollow and plot-driven. Compare the depiction of the Jedi in the two scenes.
HAN Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid. LUKE You don't believe in the Force, do you? HAN Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful force controlling everything. There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny. Ben smiles quietly. HAN It's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense. BEN I suggest you try it again, Luke.
And the following from The Last Jedi:
LUKE Why are you here, Rey, from nowhere? REY The Resistance sent me. We need your help. The First Order has become unstoppable. LUKE Why are you here? REY Something inside me has always been there and now it's awake. And I'm afraid. I do not know what it is... or what to do with it. And I need help. LUKE You need a teacher. I can't teach you. REY Why not? I've seen your daily routine. You're not busy. LUKE I will never train another generation of Jedi. I came to this island to die. It's time for the Jedi to end. REY Why? Leia sent me here with hope. If she was wrong, she deserves to know why. We all do.
Rey cannot invoke the battle between Light and Dark because she stands in the middle of it. Instead she speaks of Leia as her authority figure. Sloppily, I might add, what reason does she have not to call her General Organa? This conversation between Luke and Rey does little service to the mysticism of the Force; Rey says ‘something’ is inside of her but she cannot give us an impression of her experience. It’s cheap dialogue. It’s a subtle insult to the mysterious image Obi-Wan Kenobi gives to us in A New Hope.
BEN Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.
I don’t expect Rey to be an expert but the new films give no such respect to the power of the Force. Rey’s journey focuses only on Ben’s first line: the Force is what gives her power. But the philosophy of goodness that Obi-Wan and Yoda instill in Luke in his first teachings is nowhere to be found in Rey’s journey.
EXT. DAGOBAH - DAY With Yoda strapped to his back, Luke climbs up one of the many thick vines that grow in the swamp. Panting heavily, he continues his course - climbing, flipping through the air, jumping over roots, and racing in and out of the heavy ground fog. YODA Run! Yes. A Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger... fear... aggression. The dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice. LUKE Vader. Is the dark side stronger? YODA No... no... no. Quicker, easier, more seductive. LUKE But how am I to know the good side from the bad? YODA You will know. When you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack. LUKE But tell me why I can't... YODA (interrupting) No, no, there is no why. Nothing more will I teach you today. Clear your mind of questions. Mmm. Mmmmmmmm.
Luke in The Last Jedi has traded his confidence in the Force for despair.
LUKE Leia blamed Snoke, but...It was me. I failed. Because I was Luke Skywalker. Jedi master. A legend. REY The galaxy may need a legend. I need someone to show me my place in all this. And you didn't fail Kylo. Kylo failed you. I won't.
Luke calls himself a failure because he has out-of-character knowledge. His arc is over. Luke cannot save the galaxy because of his fear of the Dark Side, his sad devotion to an ancient religion in concept if not in action. Luke cannot save the galaxy because he represents the old guard. These films are determined to kill off anything inherited from the original story, even if it makes no sense for the characters to behave that way. The story is goal-driven and shallow; the characters behave around the plot rather than create it. Where A New Hope is a classic example of the Twelve Stages of the Hero’s Journey, Rey’s writers are so concerned with making her appear powerful they cannot make her appear weak on the process to earning that power. Rey’s ‘ambiguous’ statement that ‘the galaxy may need a legend’ clearly cannot apply to Luke who has been turned into the incapable teacher. Rey is titled a legend when her adventure is barely begun. Her hero’s journey has a number of departures from the classic structure:
- Rey never refuses the call of her journey; she has no fear of it, and little fear of the Dark Side of the Force. She indulges her curiosity when called to the dark during meditation. She has no fear of her connection to Kylo Ren and trusts him despite having no reason to do so. Her obsession with him transcends her devotion to the Light Side of the Force.
- Rey is not presented as Luke’s mentee; she is presented as his equal in the Force. The two spend an inordinate amount of time arguing about what Luke should do and very little time on actual instruction. Luke is presented as just as feral as Master Yoda on Dagobah, but without the wisdom the hero’s mentor should have. And in the end, Yoda encourages Luke to forget the ancient knowledge and trust that Rey already contains everything she needs. There is nothing she needs to learn.
- Rey does not cross the threshold into the ‘special world’ or into the unknown. She seems just as home captured by Kylo Ren, effortlessly performing Force Persuasion, as she did on Jakku preparing bread. She mindlessly follows the plot with her natural talent instead of applying lessons taught by her travels.
Rey is a boring character who poorly inherits the position of Force-wielding protagonist. Both she and Luke are orphans from a backwater planet. But what else do the two heroes have in common? I found little to admire in Rey’s origin, who has taken up a scavenger’s life and strikes tallies on her wall, counting the days since her parents left her in the desert. A New Hope drops the viewer in the middle of Tatooine and we are part of Luke’s small world. He has ‘chores’ like we do, he has hopes of becoming a pilot, something greater than his current station. He is a moving character. He finds friends and teachers and eventually becomes a true Jedi when he fights the Dark Side in the Emperor and Darth Vader. Where Luke has an internal life, Rey has only her sorrows. When fighting the biggest bads in the galaxy, she’s got her parents at the back of her mind. It’s melodramatic and a poor way to establish a new character. It only gets worse as she floats through her journey with very little encountered adversity; she does not display character growth, her personality does not change, and her power in the Force has no definition. She channels as much power as she needs to get to the next stage of her story.
Reboots and ignoring established canon is nothing new for practically any modern franchise. But what’s particularly galling is the lip-service given to the Original Trilogy all while ignoring its spirit. These new Star Wars films lack heart. They supply an empty, overly perfect hero who follows her path as a horse with blinders. She can pilot better than Han, she can channel the Force better than Luke, and she’s already a rival to the villain without having to crack a book or listen to her elders. Like the two new movies, she’s got no substance, no love, no growth. The writers expect us to accept her title as Legend without having her earn it. And the viewer is practically dared to keep silent on her flaws, lest one be labeled a – misogynist. Clearly all the men, books, and doubts just need to get out of her way and let her get on with single-handedly saving the universe.