Skywalker’s Sacrifice

Over the weekend, Sean and I did a 24 hour Star Wars movie marathon. That’s all 10 movies: Episodes I, II, III, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rogue One, Episodes IV-VIII, quite a recap going into Episode IX next week, a nice refresher. I’d only kinda seen Episodes I-VI before this – Sean made me watch them once, but I was pretty high on pain pills after a back surgery and clearly didn’t remember much. All I knew is that I really didn’t connect with them as much as people who’d grown up with them did.

Having now rewatched them properly, I think I know why I don’t love the original trilogy: it’s made for kids. So if you were a kid when you first saw it, you probably feel all warm and fuzzy toward it. But if, like me, you were a grown up, well, it’s harder to excuse a lot of its flaws. I was routinely unsettled by the characters’ coldness – every time there was a big battle, they’d immediately celebrate their victory with high fives and hugs all around, no word of sorrow for literally hundreds or thousands or a whole planetful of their friends who were just slaughtered. And the so-called romance is completely passionless. You’re telling me Han Solo is a cold fish? Really? I’m pretty sure a scoundrel like him would be making use of all the supply closets and cargo holds in the Millennium Falcon. I’d bet there’d be boxes of condoms falling out of every console on that ship. But what really gets me is the overly simplified concepts of Light and Dark. There’s good guys and bad guys and nothing in between. I thought Luke Skywalker was a bit of a wiener in Episode IV, but Mark Hamill grows him into a hero over the whole of the trilogy and I suppose George Lucas wanted to tell his fellow nerds: look, we can be heroes too. Darth Vader, meanwhile, is pretty much the epitome of villainry – the way he looks, talks, breaths, walks, it’s all so imposing and threatening. I love him as a bad guy and have a hard time getting over that he wasn’t the bad guy boss, and an even harder time understanding how quickly he was ‘turned’ by Luke in the end. I know that as a 6 year old, little Sean was relieved that Luke’s dad was now ‘good’ but big Jay (god I hope that doesn’t stick) feels quite conflicted about it. It’s just a little too easy, and unearned. Plus, the dude has slaughtered millions at this point. Sparing one hardly seems like adequate contrition.

Anyway, all that to say it’s a total relief when we finally get to the newer movies, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. They are so much more emotionally and thematically complex that I respond to them on a whole different level. They’ve made me cry, while the previous ones didn’t even make me feel. The Last Jedi in particular feels like a real triumph in cinema – after I saw it in theatres, it grew on me the more I thought about it, the more I traced the themes of failure and perseverance and hope and redemption. But it’s only now, having watched all of the films in quite succession, that I can truly appreciate all that this film accomplished. The Last Jedi is more or less Luke’s film. He’s been in exile but Rey tracks him down, determined to gain his help for the Resistance. But Luke denies her. He is a beaten up old man who just wants to be left in peace. He doesn’t want to fight anymore. The fight has gone out of him. He suffered a major setback in training his nephew, Ben. He couldn’t keep Ben from turning to the Dark side. It even brought out some Dark in Luke as he contemplated ending Ben before he could turn into Kylo Ren. Ever afraid of the Dark, Luke runs away in shame and sadness, to a quiet life of contemplation. He turns himself off from the Force. And he’s not the only one who is suffering. His sister Leia may still be fighting, but it’s taken a toll on her. Now she knows that even victories come with a cost. She is emotionally exhausted, and burdened. And that’s to say nothing of her son, whom she has lost. It was shocking in The Force Awakens to learn that Han and Leia shared a son, but losing him tore them apart, as grief does to so many parents in mourning. We see how much life has changed Han – still a plucky, trouble-making smuggler, but also a grieving father keening for even a glimpse of his fallen son. Luke too is changed – no longer the young boy filled with optimism and confidence. He has seen too much, suffered too much. His wisdom has made him weary. It’s hard to see Luke without hope, but it reminds us of his master Yoda – he too had exiled himself in the face of failure. In fact, he only broke his exile to train Luke. And now here we are, some 40 years later, with a new young Jedi and Luke is the teacher. A reluctant teacher, of course, because Luke has been so disillusioned he’s lost his faith, yet he can’t help but step up in exactly the way that his teacher did before him, even giving his life for Rey in the same way that Obi-wan did for him. When Luke’s cloak flutters empty to the ground it’s a direct call-back to Obi-wan’s own demise, and a brilliant cinematic moment.

I liked The Last Jedi for having the courage to show us failure. Every other movie (and by no means do I just mean Star Wars) shows us heroes facing down impossible odds and overcoming them. This is a new kind of test: how to get knocked down and get back up again. How to keep going in the face of failure. How to let go of the past. And these films mean that last bit in more ways than one, literally passing the torch between the older generation and the new, but teaching both that only by letting go can we truly move forward.

Video evidence of our movie marathon:

25 thoughts on “Skywalker’s Sacrifice

  1. Tom Being Tom

    I’m a fan of the Star Wars idea, but never was enthralled by the actual movies. The newer ones are so much better, but those “big fans” from youth tell me they are not. Your review was incredible, and well thought-out. I still love the characters and the premise; but the movies themselves always leave me wanting.

    (The Mandalorian, on the other hand, knocks it out of the park!)

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    1. Jay Post author

      Not so unusual – they both average more than 90% on rotten tomatoes. Disney has allowed it to move away from its more juvenile themes and embraced more diverse and complex story-telling.

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  2. Endless Weekend

    I have very fond memories of Star Wars IV-VI (and not only because of the symmetry the numbers present 🙂 ), and I’m prefacing it with admitting they’re memories, not recollections from having seen them recently. There’s allure in the simplicity of black and white clarity: this is the dark side, this is the light side, this is evil, this is good. There’s also allure in it all taking place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”, meaning that these galactic problems are not impacting us, and we can leisurely “enjoy” them… And there’s allure in it all being part of an interconnected group of people (brother/sister, father/son, wife/husband, etc.). Yes, that’s child-like simplicity, and, yes, there’s a lot of charm in it.

    When I first saw Episode I, I was disappointed. It felt like it was made to promote merchandise, introducing characters who can only be explained by being preconceived to be action figures (yes, I’m talking about you, Jar Jar Binks! 🙂 ). You could ALMOST see the “Made in China” stamp when they turned. Ugh. That changed my mind about the series in a way that Princess Leia’s buns and bikini never did… 😉

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    1. Jay Post author

      I still struggle to this day with the concept of it being a long time ago – everything with space automatically feels futuristic to me. And since I never saw the original movies until quite recently, I’d never seen that crawl, so I’ve always assumed them to be stories set in the future and now I’m grappling with them being in the past…
      But yes, as you say, it’s a very intriguing mechanism to make the whole thing feel somehow important and urgent but never threatening.

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      1. Endless Weekend

        That’s an intriguing question: can sci-fi stories be set in the past? I’m not talking about ones like Space Odyssey 2001 which is now in the past (though it does depend on an intervention in the past, does that count?), but ones that were intentionally set in the past. Not time travel, either. Could this be more like a diary left to us of an account of something that happened hundreds of years ago… in a galaxy far away, to teach us to be on the lookout for cuddly creatures that may carry a punch (or weird hairdos)? 🙂

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  3. D. Wallace Peach

    You’re brave. I don’t think I could do it. I could watch the original trilogy with my grandson, and would probably love it. But after that, they didn’t work as well for me. I still groan every time I think of Jar Jar Binks. Ugh. He killed it for me forever. Lol.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, those prequels were rough, especially since those were the first films we watched. I get that George Lucas was overly excited to repeat his formula with better technology, but it just didn’t strike the right chord. With such large gaps between releases they needed to be able to evolve the series, not do a redux with CGI.

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  4. Liz A.

    I couldn’t sit through them in quick succession like that. The original trilogy was made as a throwback to Saturday serials from the movie theaters in the ’30s, so they were supposed to be simplistic. But the newer ones do have so much more emotional depth.

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  5. leendadll

    I don’t think the 1st StarWars was so much for kids* as a product of it’s era. The USSR was still big and considered bad, while everywhere else was good. There was little thought to civilian casualties or the realities of war. And the movie’s techniques were revolutionary. I will never forget the feeling as the evil ship came on from overhead… at the time, it felt like VR!!
    (*apologies if you referred to Ep1-3, not the first 3 movies… I can’t scroll up on my phone.)

    Han wouldn’t have condoms… hardly anyone used them back in the 70s!! They didn’t become common till well into the AIDS crisis… I’d say late 80s for gays and mid to late 90s for straights. But, yeah, he definitely would have a trail of partners!!

    I’ve only seen the first movie and, regrettably, the one with JarJar.

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  6. Paul. Writer and Filmmaker

    I watched Star Wars: A New Hope again the other day and it is such a brilliant adventure film. So many amazing ideas and the pace just whips along. It truly is a cinema classic and I agree one that means more to those who saw it on original release. I would also add that on yet another re-watch it is full of plot-holes and questionable logistic details (how does R2-D2 roll along on sand?), but I kind of forgive those because the film is so much fun.

    Very interesting and well written write up of Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. You are right in regard to the powerful thematic of Luke’s arc, but other than that (and the brilliant Adam Driver), The Last Jedi genuinely, as with Force Awakens, has a very sparse story. The Last Jedi’s/Luke’s drama was undermined many times with silly gags throughout too.

    Obviously, load of stuff happens and a narrative of sorts occurs, but Rey’s (who I take to be the main protagonist of the ensemble) journey, seems splintered and confusing. I am the opposite of you as I felt hardly any emotional contact with these films, as opposed to the original trilogy. I suspect the Force Awakens/Last Jedi strands, especially re: Rey and Kylo Ren’s continued battle, will be explained and the story will make sense. Hopefully.

    Great reading your article though, as there is a lot to enjoy about these later Star Wars films. It’s always interesting to get a different opinion and emotional response, even if my own differs.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I think Sean’s immediate problem with TFA was that it reminded him too much of one of the original films in terms of story and structure. I was disappointed that he was disappointed but I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that a lot of people who grew up with the series feel very passionately about the originals and I can respect that.

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      1. Paul. Writer and Filmmaker

        Cool. I just remember never seeing anything like Star Wars ever before on the cinema screen; although I was only 7 years old. Having said that Lucas borrowed the structure and characters from Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, so nothing is ever as original as you think.

        I’m so looking forward to seeing The Rise of Skywalker and it bringing all the strands together. I really want to know what Ren’s journey/destination actually is. Rian Johnson genuinely used smoke and mirrors in The Last Jedi!

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      2. Jay Post author

        Yeah, TLJ was an interesting bridge – but to where? I think it can’t really end up exactly where they planned and there’s so much to fold in!

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  7. J.

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this and getting a different perspective on Star Wars. I’ve never viewed it as a kids movie, but I did see it when I was a kid and I’ve made my mind up about loads of elements of it (I think if you think about how Jedi ended, there is the hint that it’s not as simple as Dark and Light – Luke connected with and drew from the Dark Side when fighting Darth). When I saw the others, it became clear that the prophecy was misinterpreted. It was Luke who was to bring balance. Or something.

    The prequilogy was awful and such, while the sequilogy (so far) has disappointed me. I’m glad you found something in them, though… I just found TFA to pretty much follow A New Hope (though it did feel more like a Star Wars movie than any in the prequilogy)… The Last Jedi is pretty dreadful (flying Leia!? Del Toro? Snoke?). So dreadful, in fact, that I’m left feeling a bit mnah about 9 (though I’m intrigued about how they’re gonna recover it).

    Anyhoo, Luke I say, I enjoyed your take on it… and I’m

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  8. kindredspirit23

    I was in high school with episode IV and college with VI(do I have that right? original 3 were episodes 4-6?). Anyway, just young enough to watch it twice in one weekend and once more later. I have seen all now save this last one. I can see your progression through the episodes. Personally, I don’t wish to see them again, but time will tell on that. I believe I still have the VHS tapes of the original 3 boxed (opened by whoever I bought it from, I think). Anyway, I am on to the next big one for me – “John Carter of Mars” brought to good life by Disney and its new way of making non-disney-like films. Edgar Rice Boroughs brought 10-12 volumes of John Carter of Mars. Here’s hoping they do 2 or 3.

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  9. Florence Ezekafor

    Happy birthday! I’m not a fan of Star Wars. It’s no wonder I don’t know much about the episodes. My kids love them episodes though and have forced me to sit at cinema once. I slept off . Can’t Imagine myself sitting for 24hrs to watching it 😀 However, I love the happiness and valuable time both of you time doing things together! . I’m really happy for you guys. By the way you look stunning😍💖

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