After the Fire: Where The Last Jedi Takes Us
By Alexa Day
Where do I start with The Last Jedi?
I spent a little while, probably longer than I should have, trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to say about the latest cinematic installment in the mighty Star Wars franchise. Star Wars isn’t my family the way that Star Trek is, but the giant chord that gives way to the opening crawl still gives me goosebumps after all these years. My affection for the characters and the story runs deep enough to make me protective. I want the best for the series. So when I challenge the filmmakers to do better, I try to do so firmly but lovingly.
I loved The Last Jedi. It’s challenging an audience that needs to be challenged. It takes us into a darkness more subtle than its predecessors have shown us. Despair and hopelessness settle over these characters like a chill in a damp room. We’re restored to light and hope by the end of the movie, but there are a couple of places along the way that bother me.
And so, firmly but lovingly, let’s start with those places.
It’s all spoilers after this Tweet from Emo Kylo Ren.
hey girl am i a Death Star
because i feel like you should keep trying to rebuild me in spite of my obvious flaws and the lives i’ve destroyed
— Emo Kylo Ren (@KyloR3n) December 17, 2017
Still here? I know. Kylo Ren has problems. We will address that in a moment.
First, let me join the long, long line of people delighted to see so many women in The Last Jedi. Star Wars has always been reasonably friendly to women in leadership for the Rebels, but the Empire and First Order have kind of been boys’ clubs until now. In The Last Jedi, I saw women working desk jobs for the First Order, down in the trenches working the switchboards with the buttons and the blinky lights. They call to mind a lot of women we know — working a crap job for a giant corporation because that’s how you keep the bills paid.
The First Order’s highest ranking woman actually appeared in the preceding movie. Captain Phasma made quite an impression in The Force Awakens, with her blinged-out Stormtrooper armor. In the giant corporation that is the First Order, Phasma is like so many of us out here toughing it out on the day job. She’s better than the drama that Supreme Leader Snoke uses to keep Kylo Ren and General Hux circling around each other, and she knows it. She’s not just trying to avoid the Disciplinary Chokey-Doke ™. She’s about getting her job done because that’s what effective leaders do. But all that hard work isn’t getting her the attention she deserves. The First Order rewards drama a lot faster than hard work. Raise your hand if that sounds like your job beneath the great ceiling of glass.
I want to see more of the woman in the gleaming armor (with a red-trimmed cape, no less), so I hope Finn didn’t succeed in killing her. I’m approaching this question the way I would approach it in a soap opera — no one is dead until there’s been an open-casket funeral and the box is in the hole. But Star Wars killed off Darth Maul just as he was becoming the most interesting character in his film. They’ve taken out characters with strong potential before. I was just hoping not to see that mistake more than once.
girl am i a hyperdrive
because im broken and i think you should stay here and fix me instead of whatever else it was you had planned
— Emo Kylo Ren (@KyloR3n) December 21, 2017
There is apparently a movement to ship Kylo Ren and Rey. That actually makes sense to me on one level. Over the years, I’ve had many, many friends who wanted to set me up with the only other black person they knew because we “have so much in common.” Sticking Kylo Ren together with Rey makes the same kind of sense, and it promises to have the same kind of results. The fact that Kylo Ren and Rey are both strong in the Force is not enough to build a dinner date on, much less a relationship. Kylo Ren and Rey are both living in a vacuum right now, so they can’t see that.
But I do. I see it.
Before I saw the movie, one of the spoilers that slipped through to me was that the mystery of Rey’s parents would be solved at last. I like Rey, so I was a little curious about who her parents are. I didn’t think Luke Skywalker would repeat the cycle of well intentioned abandonment that marked his own childhood. But who else could her parents be? Who else did I know?
Somehow I got to the end of the film with no answers. Concerned that I had missed something, I turned reluctantly to the Internet. At what point had the mystery of Rey’s parents been solved?
The answer was unexpected.
Rey’s parents were nobodies from nowhere who sold their child to get a fix and were later buried in a shallow, unmarked grave, forgotten by a world that was better off without them. We know that, the Internet says, because Kylo Ren says so.
He did say that, yes. I remember. I’m just surprised anyone believes him.
Sit down with your Aunt Alexa for a moment. This is important.
Kylo Ren — who needs to keep a shirt on at all times because the unnatural pallor of that poorly defined torso is not sexy at all, pookie — is lying to Rey. I think a lot of you have been told a lie just like this. I thought you knew it was a lie, but now I’m not so sure. So I want to help you out.
A person who cares about you will not tell you that you are nobody from nowhere who came from nothing. He will not do that even if he knows it to be true. He will not do that even if you know it to be true. He will definitely not do that if he knows this is something that bothers you. This is not to say that he will run along behind you, polishing your ego. Not at all. He might not constantly sing your praises to the mountains — but he will not tell you that you are insignificant, or that any part of your identity is insignificant.
You know who does tell you that you’re nobody?
That predictable, played-out lie is the trademark of a man who has figured out (a) that you are out of his league and (b) that you have not yet discovered this. You are nobody from nowhere who came from nothing, and you have no significance at all … except to me. Your Aunt Alexa and most of your friends can all name one useless dude who tried it with them because he had nothing to offer and he knew it. He probably needed to keep all his clothes on, too.
I hear some of you out there. But Vader —
It’s true that Darth Vader also gave Luke Skywalker some unwanted news about his parents. That situation was very different. For one thing, Vader was telling Luke the truth. His information was about as reliable as it gets. Vader was also trying to get Luke on the same side of the Force. Vader was trying to lift Luke up with him, using the truth. Kylo Ren is trying to drag Rey down with a lie.
I love you because we’re the same is a very different message from you can’t leave because you don’t have anything else. If you don’t hear me say anything else today, I need you to hear that.
i stood around all day shirtless and covered in oil in case i got an unexpected call but unfortunately i didn’t
— Emo Kylo Ren (@KyloR3n) December 19, 2017
The long road from farm boy to Jedi Knight to Jedi Master has not been kind to Luke Skywalker. His decision to follow Obi-Wan brought him to the highest point in his life, a place of meaning and purpose and fulfillment and enlightment. And then the bottom fell out, and the way of the Jedi cost Luke everything he had. This is the Luke who greets us at the beginning of the film.
Mark Hamill said, at one point, that he was opposed to where director Rian Johnson was taking his character. “[A] Jedi doesn’t give up,” Hamill said. The idea that Luke would find himself in such a dark place, no matter the circumstances, was simply unthinkable.
That really spoke to me. Because I am not in a place emotionally to hear from someone who never gives up. I’m tired. I’ve given up. And the idea that I would find myself in such a dark place was once unthinkable to me, too.
In a film filled with strong and vulnerable and multi-dimensional female characters, I saw myself most clearly in Luke. He doesn’t want to be involved in anyone’s spiritual transformation anymore. He wants to be left the hell alone and leave other people the hell alone in return. When I saw Luke hiking up to the Venerable Jedi Tree with a good old-fashioned firebomb in one hand, I pumped my fist. I don’t need another cheerleader. I need a good old-fashioned firebomb and a venerable target at which to hurl it.
Yoda’s appearance, just as Luke is about to let that firebomb fly, turns the film away from its slow but inexorable march into the dark. Yoda being Yoda, he does this in a way that feels backwards to the rest of us. He doesn’t stop Luke from burning down the tree. He starts the fire himself.
It raises an important set of questions.
When the tree is gone, Luke will remain. Who is he now, in the ashes? What will he do now that he’s closed the door on his past?
What will he make of his freedom from the order and structure that informed his entire life?
It’s a big question. Luke finds an answer in his most defining moment, before he truly passes the torch to Rey.
That question is out there for all of us. Who will we be after Burning It All Down? What will we do in the ashes?
I didn’t need a cheerleader or someone who never gives up, but dammit, I needed that question. I needed that as much as I needed to Burn It All Down. I think Hamill saw that for himself, too, because he walked back his doubts about the film and his character upon further consideration.
I don’t think fandom is entirely ready for all that. Not right away. There’s a reason AMC Theatres felt they needed to warn people that the interval of silence in the middle of the story was intentional and not a defect in the sound system. Some people aren’t ready, and some of them won’t be ready for a long time.
But are you? Are you ready to consider who you actually are, without the identity and the structure you’ve been trying to grow into?
Isn’t it worth asking?
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Alexa Day is the USA Today bestselling author of erotica and erotic romance with heroines who are anything but innocent. In her fictional worlds, strong, smart women discover excitement, adventure, and exceptional sex. A former bartender, one-time newspaper reporter, and licensed attorney, she likes her stories with just a touch of the inappropriate, and her literary mission is to stimulate the intellect and libido of her readers.