As those who follow me on Twitter and have watched my recent periscope know, I have a great many problems with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. That said, pretty much every criticism worth making has been voiced by others, and I unfortunately don’t have time for a full-length review; however, I had to comment on one of the movie’s clear themes, which I think plays a huge role in why the movie sits so wrong with me.
That problem can be boiled down to this one line by Kylo Ren, which has become one of the most well known lines from the film: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.”
Disclaimer in advance: I don’t know if I’ll be able to completely avoid touching on politics and religion here, though I will not over-focus on it. However, if i’m to be true to my own thoughts on this, I have to address all angles of why this theme sits wrong with me.
To begin to address this, I have to first talk a bit about myself, my heritage, and my recent life changes. As I think many of you know already, I am a religious Jew, who a little over a year ago moved to Israel and has more recently started a stint of service in the Israeli Defense Force. It is with this part of my being that the idea of “Letting the Past Die” is so at odds with.
If my people had done this, I would likely not be here today. I certainly would not be sitting in the ancestral homeland of my people, where we have our own government and army for the first time in 2,000 years, as the Zionist movement would never have existed. Moreover, in Judaism we are taught that it is very important to pay respect to the past, both directly, through respecting our elders, and indirectly, through learning our history and maintaining the traditions passed down through the generations. In particular, the scene where Luke decides to burn down the ancient tree, and then Yoda does it, felt very wrong. And yes, I know that Rey did swipe the books beforehand, and that Yoda likely knew, but seeing him ridicule to Luke what were ostensibly the sacred texts of the order they both had dedicated their lives to felt wrong. Yes, the Jedi as they were in the prequel trilogy failed in many respects, and in a sense were the cause of their own downfall. But that is no reason to throw away everything that they were aspiring to be, to dismiss it as “boring,” and unimportant. Heritage, both familial and cultural, is a part of who we are. It is certainly not everything, but to “let it die, or kill it,” would be to destroy a key part of ourselves.
This also ties in to the agenda I believe this ideal pushes regarding culture (here’s where I get a little political, so bear with me). In the last few decades, and especially more recently, there has been a big push against the broader Western culture that is the essence of the nations so many of us were born and raised in. We see it when people attack the idea of the traditional family, religion, and heritage. Just recently, yet more Confederate statues were torn down in the United States. And while I get the many issues surrounding them, they are a part of American history that we can look at and learn from. Groups like ISIS destroy statues related to things they don’t like; we should not do the same. The attacks on Western culture and the history of great nations like the United States are too many to list, and, while like the Jedi that past was nowhere near perfect, letting it die is not how we move forward. We have to learn from the past, respect it, and respect the people from the past–and this can be done while not letting it rule us.
Personally, I like to live without regretting past decisions. I can acknowledge mistakes, but dwelling on them, letting them impact me now, is not a way to live. I cannot change that, so I move forward. But I don’t try and forget, and I certainly do learn from my past actions.
Finally, we have the last major reason this “let the past die” theme was troubling to me, and it is most likely the most intentional reason The Last Jedi had for it. It is the “new” Star Wars telling us to forget the “old” Star Wars. In two films now, we’ve seen 2 of the 3 primary characters of the original films die (and Carrie Fischer has sadly passed away in real life.) Moreover, the legacy of these characters has been destroyed. Han regressed to being a smuggler again before getting killed, and Luke, complete opposition to his character, first considered killing his nephew out of fear and then abandoned everything and everyone, refusing to help even when pressed until the very end of this film. Mark Hamill has stated himself, in interviews, that “this is not my Luke Skywalker.” Luke was optimistic, and not a coward. He would never have become the man he was in this film, even in the face of a massive failure. And then, after one moment of heroism (while still staying on that island), he dies childless, leaving nothing behind. And Leia is basically doing the exact same job she did 30 years ago, fighting the same fight. It is also more than likely that Kylo Ren will not survive the trilogy, even if he turns good again, which means that all of our old heroes died childless, leaving no direct legacy behind. I cannot say if this is a direct anti-family message, but when I see this movie in a time when the idea of the family is under attack, and more of the Western world has birthrates below the replacement level, I see parallels. People are living only for the now, with no eye to the past and apparently no care for the future (just look at all the childless leaders of Western Europe, who are using the low birthrate as an excuse for bringing people who do not share their nations’ cultures and ideals. For all my issues with the old Star Wars Expanded Universe, at least our heroes actually had families, had children, and did not give up.
This is already getting long and a bit rambly, so I’m going to cut it off here. Again, I can’t say that this was intended, but it was the vibe I got from this theme in the film (and maybe Rey, who saved those texts, will react against this in the next film, but I’m not getting my hopes up). We’re being told to let the old Star Wars go, to let our own pasts and heritage go, or to even kill it. (I also see some parallels between elements of the sci-fi and fantasy writing world having attempted to erase memory of the old pulps, which the #PulpRevolution is fighting to restore.)
No, I will not let my past die. I will not let the past rule me, and I won’t let myself fall into the trap of living in the past, but I will always remember, always respect and seek to understand it, and do my best to live up to the ideals I choose to follow, ideals created by G-d and great men, and ideals which inevitably will impact my own creations and life choices. As I said earlier, my people are still here because we have clung to our past. I will do whatever I can to make sure we continue forward, living in the now but always respecting and learning from the past.
That’s it for now; I’ll try to get more blog posts up soon, but given my lack of time, I can’t completely commit to any schedule. I will say that you can check out books 1 and 2 of the Galaxy Ascendant series, A Greater Duty (which is still on sale), and A Looming Shadow. Additionally, I’ve been doing periscopes, and you can follow me or check out past broadcasts here. Lastly, if you sign up for my mailing list, you will get, in addition to important news and updates, free short fiction on as regular a basis as I can write it.
Until next time!