Archive for December, 2017

My Very Personal Reaction to THE LAST JEDI (with spoilers!)

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Lots of spoilers in this post. Stop reading if you don’t want to see them.

There came a point, fairly early in the promotional campaign for THE LAST JEDI, when I realized something shocking: I didn’t care. The trailers looked great, the action looked exciting, the characters looked interesting, but something about it just couldn’t get my engine to turn over. It was the porgs that really hit this home for me: I wasn’t upset about cute little animals in a Star Wars movie–I’m a long-time defender of Ewoks–but I just didn’t care about them. I had no interest. I’d still take my kids to see it, because I wasn’t angry or anything, I just wasn’t excited. And that was kind of a weird, sad realization for me.

Had I “grown out” of Star Wars? That makes me sound more elitist than it should, because I am still a raging geek: as I sit here typing this I have half-painted toy soldiers on desk, a post-apocalypse nerf gun in easy reach, and two shelves right over my head displaying Spider-man, the Enterprise D, a Dalek, a Rancor, a dragon, a Klingon teddy bear, and an AT-AT the size of a pet dog. I literally grew up with Star Wars–I’m 40 years old, born in 1977 just like Star Wars was; it was the first movie I ever saw in a theater, at the tender age of three months old, and I’ve built my life and career around the passions that Star Wars and stories like it have given me. And yet there I was, feeling kind of meh about a Star Wars movie. That was not a pleasant position to be in, and as melodramatic as this sounds I had to really look at myself and try to figure out what was going on. The conclusion I came to is one that I came to a lot this year, to the point that it kind of defined 2017 for me: I realized that not everything was for me, and that that’s okay. Not everything has to be. Not everything should. I had Star Wars when I was kid, and it gave me something amazing that I needed, and now that I didn’t need it anymore it could go and give that something to someone else.

So I showed up at the theater with five of my six children on Saturday night (the baby stayed at home), thinking that it would be a fun way to pass a couple of hours, and my kids would adore it, and all would be well. And, yes, in some ways it was a very meh experience. On one hand, I love the new characters, and this movie even made me love Kylo Ren, who I thought was pretty boring in THE FORCE AWAKENS. On the other hand, I called almost every single twist and development in the entire plot, sometimes as long as two years ago. The only one that took me by surprise was Luke being a force projection from one planet to the other, which was awesome. Now, to be fair, I predicted those things because it’s how I would have done it, given a crack at the script, so I’m not complaining so much as saying “yes, this is the movie I wanted it to be.” Even knowing that Luke was going to go full Jedi Master in the final act, actually watching it happen was fantastic. But being what I wanted meant that it was never *more* than I wanted. I sat there thinking “Okay now they’re doing Empire Strikes Back. Now they’re doing Return of the Jedi. Now they’re doing Empire again. Ooh, now they’re doing Avatar: The Last Airbender.” And I enjoyed all of those things, but I wasn’t moved by them, if that makes sense. And I was fine with that, because I’d already resigned myself to not being moved by them. Because I’d somehow shifted from being a Star Wars guy to not being a Star Wars guy anymore. This movie was made for my kids, not for me, and that was how it should be.

Except then there was a scene that was made exactly, perfectly for me, and it moved me very much.

The scene came around the end of the second act, when Luke was ready to burn down the force tree and all the Jedi records within it. Yoda appeared to him, as a force ghost, and they had a little conversation about the past and the future and the Force and the Jedi, and it was really starting to resonate with me. Luke had spent his life trying to be the person he thought others needed him to be, and he’d failed, and now the galaxy was out of his hands and he didn’t know what to do. And then Yoda said: “We are what they move beyond. That is the burden of all masters.” And that’s one of the single greatest statements on adulthood and parenthood and generational change that I have ever heard. It addressed my feelings about the movie itself–that it wasn’t for me, and that’s okay–while also addressing my larger feelings about my life and my family. I have six kids, like I said, and the two oldest are teens (and the third might as well be), and I’ve spent their whole lives watching them learn and change and grow and I knew it was coming but now I can see, as clear as day, that they are growing beyond their need for me. I’m confronting, not academically but right here in my actual life, the fact that my greatest goal as a parent is to make myself obsolete. To raise children so smart and capable and powerful that they can not only survive in the world without me, but excel in it to levels I’ve never been able to reach. We look at little babies and we say “She’s so cute, I wish she could stay like this forever!” but we don’t actually mean that. We want our children to get out of the nest, out of our shadow, and surpass their potential in incredible ways. And the terrible paradox of parenting is that this glorious triumph is also an ending, and a loss, and a letting-go.

“We are what they grow beyond. That is the burden of all masters.”

The greatest accomplishment of THE LAST JEDI is that it opens Star Wars back up again. Everyone who’s played the video games and the RPGs knows that there are a million billion stories to tell in that galaxy, and then the prequels dug their heels in on the Skywalker saga, and even THE FORCE AWAKENS couldn’t quite break out of it. THE LAST JEDI does. The new generation has finally left the shadow of the old and claimed its own identity, and that’s awesome. It’s going to be its own thing and takes its own risks and find its own glories.

And somehow, in doing so, it got me interested again. THE LAST JEDI managed to be for my kids but also for me, in a completely different way, and it’s not the Star Wars I grew up with but that’s a good thing. It’s probably the very best thing about it.