As I've said before, I really liked the newest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. It might even be my favorite of the Star Wars movies, although it's hard to pick! So I was a little surprised at all the uproar after the release. Many fans hated The Last Jedi. One of the big complaints I've seen is that Luke was out of character, that there's no way he would exile himself to a distant planet with a threat like the First Order on the horizon and that he would never believe the Jedi should end. But I think Luke was perfectly in character. So here's my analysis of The Last Jedi from Luke's point of view: how his ill-informed comparison between Kylo and Anakin led him to make this choice--and how, in The Last Jedi, he realizes it was a mistake.
When Rey meets Luke on Ahch-To, he immediately responds by shutting her down. His reluctance to help her, and the others in the Resistance, continues for a large portion of the movie. Over time we learn that Luke now blames the Jedi, himself included, for the rise of the Dark Side. He's determined to become the last Jedi and to let the secrets of the order die with him. Though Rey eventually convinces him to teach her, he holds to this belief that the Jedi need to end up until the final conflict of the movie, when Yoda comes in ghost form to tell him to knock it off.
Why does Luke believe this? I think it's a simple answer: he doesn't have the information that the audience has about the rise of Darth Vader. Luke hasn't seen the prequel movies. Luke has no idea what it was that led Anakin to turn to the Dark Side, what mistakes the Jedi Order might have made, so after having his own protege do the same, it's natural for him to come to the conclusion that the Jedi religion is poisoned.
But we, the audience, do have the prequels, in their imperfect glory, so we can look at Anakin and at Kylo Ren, and we can make a comparison more accurate than the one that Luke made. And indeed, The Last Jedi sets us up for exactly that. The Last Jedi is all about the differences between Anakin and Kylo Ren.
Anakin Skywalker was born into a harsh existence. Raised as a slave on a distant and brutal desert planet along with his single mother, he has a lot of trauma to deal with already by the time Qui-Gonn Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi come skipping into the picture. He's made the best of it, proving himself to be a gifted engineer as well as a strong Force user. But when Qui-Gonn frees him from slavery and offers to mentor him as a future Jedi, Anakin jumps at the chance. Still, joining the Jedi means leaving the one person he's always had on his side, his mother--and not just leaving her, but leaving her in the same tragic situation he's escaping, slavery on Tatooine. Though he chooses to leave, it's not without a share of heartbreak, and Anakin expresses his determination to come back and free not only his mother, but all the slaves in the Outer Rim.
But when Anakin meets the Jedi, he finds them reluctant to help. The Jedi Order, for all its reputation, is an organization surrounded by rules and regulations that has little interest in interfering in politics, even though it's aligned with the Republic. Not only does the Order not approve of Anakin's mission to free the slaves of the Outer Rim, but it initially refuses to take Anakin on because of his attachment to his mother. Typically, the Order takes Force-sensitive children away from their parents before they make a real emotional attachment and then trains them in relative isolation at the Jedi Temple. What the Jedi don't recognize is the damage this does to their mental health and empathy. (There are many studies that will back me up on this.) Though the Jedi Order throughout history has found a way to train many healthy and good Jedi, by the time Anakin comes along, it's so caught up in its own rules that it no longer recognizes the true importance of connection with other human beings. Often, it even teaches fledgling Jedi to suppress their emotions. We know this hasn't always been true, because of their previous success and because of leftover teachings like the one Anakin shares with Padme, that the Jedi ought to feel love for all living beings. But over time, the spirit of the law has been lost, and the Jedi Order now stands more as an example of following the letter of the law. (Qui-Gonn Jinn, I would argue, is the last Jedi of the Order who does follow the spirit of the law.)
This problem comes to its inevitable head in Anakin Skywalker. Obi-Wan does choose to mentor Anakin in memory of Qui-Gonn, but the other Jedi continue to treat Anakin with suspicion and distrust. Instead of recognizing the impact that his past has on his mental health and appropriately treating it, they stigmatize his struggles and try to force him to forget what he's been through. They teach him to swallow the trauma, never recognizing how much damage this can do. I don't know if I can say that Anakin has PTSD at this point, but he definitely is in need of a good counselor to help him work through what he's experienced. But that's not "the Jedi way," and so Anakin becomes emotionally dependent on the only three people who treat him well--Obi-Wan Kenobi, Chancellor Palpatine, and Padme Amidala. And then his mother, the one other person in the universe who he trusts, dies in front of him, beaten and bruised.
As such, it's only natural that Anakin would become frantic when he learns, though his Force powers, that Padme is going to die. Anakin doesn't just love Padme as his wife and the future mother of his children; he's dependent on her. And he's losing all of the people he trusts: now that Anakin's a full Jedi, Obi-Wan isn't around as much for him to turn to. Additionally, Anakin can't fully trust Obi-Wan: if he turns out to be more like the other Jedi than Anakin hopes, Obi-Wan could both hurt Anakin with his lack of approval and get Anakin kicked out of the Jedi Order. Meanwhile, the Jedi are telling Anakin not to trust Palpatine. With all that happening, how could Anakin be anything but desperate to save Padme?
This desperation and the continued lack of support from the Jedi Order lead Anakin to turn to Palpatine, who offers the only solution Anakin has been offered. However, in this, Palpatine reveals himself to be the Sith Lord Darth Sidious--and for a while, Anakin is deeply conflicted. Ultimately, though, the Jedi, in isolating Anakin, have played right into Darth Sidious's plans. Sidious took advantage of their mistakes and manipulated them all, including Anakin. Betrayed, in many ways, by the Jedi Order as much as by Darth Sidious, Anakin turns to the Dark Side in hopes of saving Padme--only to be instrumental in her foretold death. At that point, the new Darth Vader loses all his will, including his desire to end slavery in the Outer Rim, and his transformation into Darth Sidious's apprentice is complete. Darth Vader becomes complicit in, and often the direct cause of, the oppression of trillions.
While Darth Vader is indeed a villain, and while his actions cannot be justified, it's easy to understand how he got to this point--and why he would still have it in him to turn back to the Light. But Kylo Ren's life is a different story entirely.
Ben Solo is raised free and healthy, with both parents, receiving all the benefits of the new universe the Rebellion has created. Yes, his parents' relationship may have been a bit unstable, although I think it's more likely that the fractures we see in their relationship in The Force Awakens were caused by Ben's turn to the Dark Side, not the other way around. All evidence points to Leia and Han being good parents. And yes, Ben had a lot of heavy expectations on his shoulders, but so do many of us. Nothing in Ben's early life indicates the kind of trauma Anakin was dealing with. In fact, when you compare Ben's early life to that of every other character in the Star Wars universe, it's clear that he is the Star Wars definition of a privileged white boy.
Unfortunately, like many privileged white boys in our society, Ben becomes prideful. Rather than seeing his privilege as the result of the Light, he begins to think of himself as being somehow better than the others around him. And while his family sees him as a potentially incredible future Jedi, that isn't enough for him. They want him to protect others, to protect freedom, and that doesn't support his feeling of entitlement. So when Snoke comes along, Ben's eager to meet someone who did validate his feelings of self-importance. That's when Ben Solo becomes Kylo Ren--and it isn't as the result of years-long trauma, like with Anakin. It's the result of pure, simple pride, and it happens before Luke even trains Ben.
But Luke knows about Ben's upbringing, even if he doesn't know about Anakin's, and he's aware, at least, that Ben has already encountered Snoke when he joins Luke's Jedi School. Luke's real concern in The Last Jedi isn't about the impact of their early lives--though this is significant in both cases. Instead, Luke, not knowing what the Jedi did that contributed to Anakin's turn, looks at the way he himself trained Kylo--and sees no real error but one. We know, from the original trilogy, that Luke's beliefs and his actions are very different from those of the Jedi Order. Luke represents a new era of Jedi; Luke doesn't carry the same corruption that the Order did. Luke prizes his attachments to Han and Leia and allows emotion to be a driving force in his life. He always fights for what's right and joins the Rebellion rather than staying politically detached. And, of course, he reaches out to Anakin rather than pushing him away. As such, it's probable that Luke's teaching at the Jedi School didn't include the crucial mistakes that the Jedi Order made. His teaching, like Leia and Han's parenting, was probably very good. There's no justification for Kylo's actions--except possibly the one mistake that leads Luke to exile himself to Ahch-To.
Feeling that his teaching wasn't quite reaching Kylo, Luke looked into Kylo's mind and saw very clearly that he had already turned to the Dark Side, and how so. In that moment, Luke's instinctive response was to destroy the monster that lay before him, so he drew his lightsaber. But that moment lasted only a split second, and then Luke was absolutely horrified with himself. (Some have said that Luke would never do that, even for a split second--I would like to point out that Luke is not a perfect man. He's not Jesus Christ, even if he does follow the archetypal path. Rewatch how he absolutely whales on Darth Vader before regaining control of his temper in Return of the Jedi, and I think you'll see what I mean. Any good person, when faced with evil, reacts with horror and, yes, at least a little anger--including Jesus Christ, who be throwing tables, my friends.)
Now, Kylo's reaction was, obviously, way over the top--he buried Luke in rubble, killed most of the other proteges, took a few with him, and set the Jedi School aflame. Again, Anakin's actions can't be excused--but they're a lot more understandable than Kylo's.
Still, Luke is sufficiently affected by the result of his mistake, and he exiles himself so he can take a moment to think about what happened. Once he gets over the initial shock of what he has done, Luke must inevitably realize that his one mistake doesn't explain Kylo. After all, terrible as it was, by the time Luke made that mistake, Kylo had already turned. So Luke compares what little he knew of Anakin to what happened (or in fact, didn't happen) with Kylo, and comes to the conclusion that the fault is in the Jedi teachings themselves. Something about being a Jedi corrupts people, and Luke failed by being prideful enough to believe that he could teach the Jedi ways appropriately. Therefore, it's best that Luke remain alone on the island until he dies, taking the Jedi with him. A little overdramatic, perhaps, but that is the Skywalker Way (TM).
Luke may never know the truth of what happened with Anakin. Unlike the rest of us, he can't make a fair comparison. But when Luke, after having "lost" Rey, decides to destroy the Jedi texts themselves, he receives a surprise--Yoda shows up in his Force ghost form. Now, Luke may not know the truth, but Yoda does. Yoda was there for Anakin's turning, and undoubtedly, he's had some time to think about the mistakes that the Jedi Order made. Luke expects Yoda to try and stop him from destroying the texts, but instead, Yoda sets the tree that holds the texts on fire via lightning bolt. (Of course, Yoda, unlike Luke, probably knows that Rey took the texts with her, but the message still stands.)
In his own quirky way, Yoda is telling Luke the truth that Luke previously failed to see--yes, the Jedi Order, the old ways, may have been wrong. It doesn't matter, ultimately. Those ways aren't Luke's ways, and they aren't the important part of what it means to be a Jedi. While some parts of the past are better left behind us, the lessons learned from those events are still important, and that is what it means to be a teacher: passing on both success and failure and leaving the next generation to choose what to do with that information. Some will choose wrongly. Others will go on to become even better than their teacher. Such is the way with Kylo and with Rey--one chose the Dark and the other has chosen the Light. Yoda goes on to tell Luke that while he cannot save Kylo Ren from the Dark, he can save Rey and, by extension, the Resistance--so he better get off his butt and do it.
And in doing so, Luke becomes not the last Jedi.
In that lies the vital message of The Last Jedi. Anakin's path into the Dark is very different from Kylo's, which shows us that ultimately, nothing Luke or anyone else did would have stopped Kylo. There were no traumas, no mistakes, no real outside influences that made his choice clear. Kylo chose the Dark of his own free will. But is there a way for Kylo Ren to be redeemed? My argument, and what I believe the message of The Last Jedi to truly be, is no. Once again, in comparing Anakin and Kylo, we see the truth.
Anakin, after he became Darth Vader, remained under the thumb of the new Emperor Palpatine for the next twenty-three years. The Emperor had control over everything, and Darth Vader saw no way and no reason to stop that. Again, terribly wrong, but understandable when you think about how broken Anakin was. It isn't until Luke, Anakin's own son, reaches out to him and, for all that Darth Vader did, continues to believe in him, that Darth Vader realizes there's another, better path. It isn't just Jedi Order and Empire, and salvation is possible, even for him--and, truly, deeply, Darth Vader doesn't want Luke and all his goodness to die. So Darth Vader kills the Emperor to save his son, and in so doing, both frees and redeems himself.
Kylo's relationship with Snoke is very different from Anakin's relationship with Palpatine. While Palpatine expertly manipulated Anakin so that he became emotionally dependent on him and then kept him under his thumb up until the end of Return of the Jedi, Kylo is never dependent on Snoke, never sees him as a friend. Snoke is a means to an end, and while Kylo might respect him in some ways, he isn't controlled by Snoke the same way Anakin was controlled by Palpatine. Kylo is allowed to act in ridiculous, childish ways, is allowed to throw temper tantrums and destroy property all the time. And when Snoke finally calls Kylo out on his childishness by insulting his helmet, it seriously ticks Kylo off. Kylo comes to the conclusion that it's time to "let the past die--kill it, if you have to." But he's still conflicted about his decision to kill Snoke--up until the moment he learns that Snoke has been manipulating him by connecting him with Rey. The threads of Kylo's last vestiges of loyalty snap, and he decide to murder "his true enemy."
Some people have said that Kylo Ren follows a similar path to Darth Vader's, that he kills Snoke in order to save Rey. In every honesty, I don't understand that viewpoint at all. I think the movie made it quite clear, after the initial fight, what Kylo's true intentions are--and they have nothing to do with goodness or Light. Kylo kills Snoke because he wants to take Snoke's place and Snoke's power, because of the helmet jibe and the Force Skype revelation, and yes, in part because he wants to win Rey over. But not because he wants to help Rey or become good in any way. Kylo sees Rey as another asset that can extend his own power. When Rey tries to invite him to the good, he instead tells her to abandon the Resistance, the Light, all of her friends, to join him. He tries to manipulate her into it. And though it breaks her heart, she realizes in that moment what Luke and Yoda already knew--Kylo Ren is not redeemable.
Essentially, the message of the original Star Wars movies is that "anyone can be redeemed," but the message of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi is a vital caveat to that fantastic original theme: "but not everyone wants to be." Sometimes, people just choose to do the wrong things, and that is the case with Kylo. Kylo, even from the beginning, is given every opportunity to join and rejoin the Light, and instead, he repeatedly chooses the Dark. Someone like that cannot be saved. They don't want to be.
Is it possible that Kylo will get a redemption arc in the last movie of the new trilogy? Sure. Anything's possible. But I really hope he doesn't, not because I want Ben Solo to be evil, but because that message is so, so important. It's important to people in abusive relationships, it's important to parents whose kids have gone totally off the rails, and it's especially important to all of us today facing a climate that gave birth to the alt right and far too many mass shooters. All of us need to know that sometimes, people choose not to be redeemed, and when that happens, it's our responsibility to do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves and those around us. If Kylo gets redeemed, that message is undercut, and it would be not just tone deaf to the modern state of the world (something that Star Wars has never been before), but also honestly a disappointment.
For now, I'm happy to say that The Last Jedi is a great movie with a great message. It's not a perfect movie, (as CinemaSins says, "no movie is without sin"), but I stand by my case.
Any thoughts? Come at me, bros! I've heard a whole slew of arguments against The Last Jedi, and I have a defense for all of them--at least a defense that I'm satisfied with. If you want to know my thoughts on other aspects of the movie, let me know! And I'll be back again next week.
Images via denofgeeks.com, swfanon.wikia.com, worldsgreatestheroes.wikia.com, SaraForlenza on DeviantArt, LucybelleH on Twitter, slashfilm.com, and hubofleather.com.
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