**This Post Contains Spoilers**
If you’ve spent any time on film-centric Internet forums over the past few months, you’re likely to have come across hate of the most recent Star Wars film, The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson). Among other things, one of the most notable criticisms is that the film doesn’t feel like Star Wars. I think this is true. The film explicitly questions the foundations of the franchise, problematizing elements that are usually praised.
The simplistic narrative or myth of “good” vs “evil”, already problematized in the prequel Rogue One, is further distorted in Finn (John Boyega) and Rose’s (Kelly Marie Tran) journey through the Canto Bight casino, where they meet the hacker DJ (Benico del Toro). Once this trio (along with the helpful droid, BB8) have successfully escaped the casino planet, DJ reveals the very exploitative nature of wealth in the galaxy: wealth is derived from weapons sales not only to the First Order, but to the Resistance as well. The predetermined narrative of good and evil are undermined by the material reality that the weapons the Resistance uses are purchased from those who perpetuate oppression and wealth inequality in the galaxy. The First order and Resistance use weapons created and decimated by the same people, who, as we see on Canto Bight, enslave both humans and animals for their convenience, entertainment, and luxury. The Resistance is complicit in the very conditions they seek to remove. This material reality serves to problematize and deconstruct the Star War myth. Where before there was a clearly demarcated good and evil, the material conditions of Canto Bight reveal that neither side is innocent. Both the First Order and Resistance are complicit in the horrors of the galaxy.
This realization is not even the most shocking revelation of the film. While the complicity of the Resistance in the oppression of the First Order is damning, it does not undermine their efforts entirely. One might argue that, given the structure of commerce and trade in the galaxy, the Resistance has no choice but to engage in the purchase of arms from less than ideal sources. Yet, the film goes further to problematize the central Star Wars myth. This occurs through the primary character of the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Rey (Daisey Ridley) travels to find Luke so that he might train her in the ways of the Jedi. Upon arrival, she finds Luke in a state of self-imposed exile. Luke had spent years training a new cohort of young Jedi, only to fail to account for the rise of the dark side within them. After nearly murdering one young Jedi, who then turned to the Sith, Luke imposes his exile. Through these events, Luke comes to realize something that was hidden from the beginning of Star Wars: The light and dark side presuppose one another. Even with the vanquishing of Darth Vader, the very existence of the Jedi will always lead to the existence of more Sith.
The Sith and Jedi seem to exist within a milieu which they structurally necessitate one another. This is further emphasized by Supreme Leader Snoke, who, in talking to Rey states that “I warned my young apprentice that, as he grew stronger, his equal in the light would rise”. This is further emphasized when Luke talks about the balance of the force–a clue that has existed in Star Wars films from the very beginning. The Star Wars milieu is one in which the light and darkness presuppose and need each other–they balance one another. So long as one remains, the other will be there beside it. Thus, when Skywalker tells Rey that “It’s time for the Jedi to end”, it is because in order to truly vanquish the Sith, the Jedi too must end.
It doesn’t go far enough! The Last Jedi pushes past the limit of Star Wars, but at the last second, it turns back.
Despite these realization and problematizations, presented within the film, The Last Jedi fails to accomplish what it sets out to do. I’ve heard it said that the film is a deconstruction of Star Wars, which is true, but this relays something which might be fundamentally flawed about deconstruction: Deconstruction fails to actually change things. This is precisely because it fails to go far enough. Despite the attempt to escape the problems of the Jedi and the Resistance, the film fails to truly escape the possibilities that problematize these entities. In all, the film uses the deconstructed story only to reform Star Wars. The problem with reform is that it fails to account for the structural powers that produce the problems in the first place.
We can think about Star Wars as a milieu with certain possibilities. These possibilities tend to produce Jedi and Sith, but also other things like Storm Troopers and Rebels/Resistances, Empires and First Orders. The problem with The Last Jedi is that it wants to retain certain elements of this milieu, while reforming other aspects. We can think about this as analogous to something like the Civil Rights or Black Power movements. The critique given from Afro-pessimism of these movements is that they attempt to affirm Blackness within a milieu grounded on anti-Black violence. Any attempt to reform the milieu will always return to anti-Blackness, because the structure presupposes an anti-blackness (Wilderson, Afro-Pessimism: An Introduction, 10). Thus, even if we remove Jim Crow laws from the milieu, the possibility of a New Jim Crow correcting the system will always be in play, as the structural anti-Blackness has never been removed or adequately dealt with. In order to truly abolish anti-Blackness, a completely new milieu is necessary.
Harney and Moten suggests that the abolition of anti-Blackness requires a different understanding of abolition. They describe abolition as follows: “What is, so to speak, the object of abolition? Not so much the abolition of prisons but the abolition of a society that could have prisons, that could have slavery, that could have the wage, and therefore not abolition as the elimination of anything but abolition as the founding of a new society” (Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, p. 42). This, as I understand it, adopts a Deleuze-Guattarian understanding of the movement from one milieu to another. For Deleuze and Guattari, a milieu has both a limit and a threshold. Reform tends to go past the limit, and then turn back. But going beyond the limit doesn’t produce real change, it simply pushes the limit back. In order to truly change, one must go beyond the limit, and then push past a threshold. Past the threshold there is no going back, one enters into a completely new milieu in which completely new things are possible, where everything is different.
The Last Jedi runs into the same problems that the Civil Rights movement runs into. It doesn’t go far enough! The Last Jedi pushes past the limit of Star Wars, but at the last second, it turns back. This can be most clearly seen in Luke’s line to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver): “The Resistance is reborn today. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the last Jedi.” Luke was ready to exit past the threshold of the Jedi, entering into something completely new, where neither Jedi or Sith were possible, but he is drawn back into the traditional Star Wars myth, which is then bound to continue along its problematic path. Finn and Rose continue to fight for the Resistance; Sith and Jedi continue in their perpetual battle; Star Wars fails to go beyond good and evil.
It is easy to see why Star Wars would turn back. The current milieu is a safe, secure formula, which nets billions of dollars a year. Even the act of pushing against the limit of the milieu has led to negative feedback. Is it any wonder that Disney has chosen the safe route of J.J. Abrams to direct the sequel to The Last Jedi. Things will remain the same, there will always be a Jedi and Sith, always good and evil, and the problems exposed in The Last Jedi will be forgotten or reformed, but never structurally dealt with.