Last Jedi - Destroying the Past – from Chaos comes Change!
Hurrah for The Last Jedi – Can themes from this blockbuster film be applied to modern businesses?
Now I have started this blogging nonsense, I can’t seem to stop, but, I promise I will not bore you too often!!! This just has to come out, it has come from many evenings pondering the film and the simple question – is there nobody else in the world, apart from me, who actually liked the new Star Wars film ‘The Last Jedi’??? Because I absolutely loved it!!! Here I will layout the main criticisms – and try to defend some of them and conclude with why I think that this maybe the BEST so far!!!! I am not saying that the film does not have its problems, what were they thinking with that Leia scene???? But, you have got to love those porgs!!!
To make this a blog with relevance to industry I will also demonstrate how this movie can motivate everyone to change – particularly businesses who may have become a little stagnant and/or those looking to move forward….
So, first a warning – SPOILER ALERT!!! If you haven’t seen the new film – do not read any further, as I would hate to think that I spoilt your enjoyment, for enjoyable it is. It is a true marvel, just sit back in that big comfy cinema seat, with your nibbles of choice, and enjoy.
Have I got anyone still reading??? Well here goes, critically there have been some pretty damning reports, I will attempt to throw a different perspective on five major critiques – so settle down, it will be a long, but, rewarding journey:
1. Kylo Ren, Kylo comes across as an immature whining adolescent with some serious daddy issues, and with the demise of the “emperor”, Kylo will now be the token representative from the dark side and leader of the First Order. He also lost credibility by losing a lightsaber fight to two newbies in episode 7 even given the fact that a Wookie Bowcaster winged him. However, look where Kylo has come from – is there a Skywalker who doesn’t whine or whinge?? Think back to a young Anakin or even our beloved Luke – it maybe that they are genetically programmed to carp on, and gripe that the world is sooo unfair, (and come on, how many times do you get to use the word ‘carp’!!!). Come to think of it most men I know seem to have that exact same genetic condition!! Only joking, but, really, we all seem to be forgetting that Kylo is very young and immature, he has been put in the position where his parents sent him away to train, and then ultimately his uncle tried to kill him – for dabbling with the dark side – isn’t that Luke’s story??. He is entitled to be young and confused – let him mature and see what evil deeds are to come.
2. Snoke, after building up all the mystery around Snoke (some fans believe him to Darth Plagueis), Rian Johnson saw him as irrelevant and wrote him out. Where did he come from? What is his story? Apparently nothing more than being a placeholder for petulant Kylo – the whinger, (petulant, another brilliant word!!). What is left for us now going forward? Instead of an impossible battle against the might of an empire, the scope of the next movie has been reduced to a family soap drama with the brat controlling the armada. But, does it matter?? Is Snoke’s back story that important?? (I will talk later about my defence of this film and why I think that although Snoke was one brilliant baddie, the reality is it doesn’t matter).
3. Slow mo retreat, so the “empire” is following behind the rebels, not jumping ahead a couple of seconds through hyperspace, not sending out fighters, allowing them enough time to get help. And had Leya or Holdo just let Poe Dameron in on her plans, the whole mutiny subplot would have been unnecessary. Why did Holdo remain on the ship, could she have put a stick on the accelerator pedal, release the handbrake, got on a shuttle and let the ship run (or even point it back at the empire ships)? Well, I do not know the answer to all of the issues, and as I said at the start I can only offer an opinion – yes, this would have been an opportunity for Leya to have gone out in glory, but, the rebels ship is under attack – if they had all left the deck, the first order would have detected the shift and the plan blown. As for not letting Poe in to the plan, Holdo hasn’t got Leya to ask, the last she saw was Leya demoting Poe, and remember someone has double crossed the rebels – Holdo has every reason to believe that could be Poe. But, that is not the critique, the critique is based on the slow retreat and the lack of first order action – put it into perspective – the first order are arrogant – they want to watch the rebels falter and destroyed, they cannot imagine that there is a solution to the problem – this is a war and all war has historical military links. This retreat is simply from the age of ‘sail’, from the 1700s. During the age of sail, when large, masted ships ruled the waves, clashes often devolved into long chases like the one depicted in The Last Jedi. Fighting became reduced to math equations. The speed of the ships, over time, enabled both sides to know when an interception could be expected. The trick was to hurt the other ship enough to slow it down and intercept it before the target reached a safe harbour or benefited from a shift in wind or weather. I know it didn’t have to be – but, remember the first order want the rebels to feel the pain. Back in the 1700s a new kind of weapon was created, called a chase gun. Mounted on the bow or stern of ships, these enabled the crews to take pot shots at each other during the chase. The sailors aimed cannonballs and links of chain at each other’s sails and rigging. A lucky shot could change the speed equation enough to change the chase’s outcome. The Last Jedi’s chase sequence is very similar to one of these 1700s-style clashes. The two ships are lined up on the same heading, as if they are both catching the same angle of wind, and the chase ship is using a bow gun to lob projectiles at the fleeing rebel vessel. These unguided shots even curve, as if they were ballistic ordnance fired on earth. Every attack is absorbed by the fleeing ship’s shields in a CGI blaze. The idea, then, is not a lucky shot that will disable an engine. The rebel ship seems worried about running out of fuel, a first in Star Wars movies, so the First Order’s strategy is to launch nuisance attacks on the shield that we must assume is draining power from the ship, forcing it to slow down and bringing the chase to a more prompt conclusion. But the Rebels reach (somewhat) safe harbour regardless. Now, The First Order must employ another military tactic, one dredged from ever further back in human history – but, I will come to that later!!!! (Teasers!!!).
4. Luke - Mark Hamill stated that he fundamentally disagreed with every choice for Luke in the Last Jedi. In episode 8 Luke is a complete failure and displays the same weakness that led Anakin to the dark side of the force. Gone is the reserved cool fellow we saw striding into Jaba’s lair, meeting all challenges head-on and staying true to the spirit of the Jedi. At the end of The Force Awakens, R2D2 (got to love him), has the last piece of the map to find 34 ABY. So, now they know where Ach-To (the world on which the Jedi Order was founded) and Luke is, but, Luke sent that map many years ago, in this time he has developed ‘old man syndrome’, he has been living on the island, alone, plagued by guilt and has finally resolved to bring an end to a Jedi legacy that he saw as one of failure, Skywalker wants to live out his final days and, through his death, end the Jedi Order. He doesn’t want to train another Jedi, he doesn’t want to be part of the force, and why not? I will discuss this more in the conclusion.
5. Luke’s Death. The great big battle scene at the end of the movie saw Leia Organa and her ragtag group of rebels stand off against the might of the First Order on the salt plains of planet Crait. When all hope seemed lost, Luke finally returned from his self-imposed exile to challenge his nephew, the new Supreme Leader Kylo Ren. After a brief exchange of words, the two Force users entered a blinding fast lightsaber duel, only to have Kylo slice his uncle in two. Or so it appeared. As it turned out, Luke was actually millions of light years away on the planet Ahch-To, where the Jedi master was projecting a Force-hologram version of himself across the galaxy. In his final moments, Luke told Kylo know that he will not be the last Jedi, hinting that from then on it is up to Rey, to restore balance to the Force, (which incidentally I think was the biggest weakness of the scene, but, more on that in the conclusion). “See you around kid,” he quipped, paying homage to Hans Solo, just seconds before vanishing with a smirk. The film then cut to a visibly exhausted Luke in the abandoned Ahch-To Jedi temple, where he had been hiding for several years. However fans were quickly left heartboken after the old Jedi fades into thin air only to have his cloaks drop to the ground – mirroring the death of Obi Wan Kenobi at the hands of Darth Vader in 1977’s Star Wars A New Hope. Rey, who felt Luke’s passing from across the galaxy told Princess Leia that it was a calm and peaceful death, suggesting that her teacher had finally become one with the Force. Not that he fainted to death (as Kev suggests, mimicking someone dying on the toilet, ref to the King!!!), honestly, I work with amateurs. The fatal flaw is that Leia did not die, to put an end to the old and bring in the new – but, I have no problem with this scene – he became at one with the force, and kicked Kylo’s ass – what is there not to love about this? Am I missing something, isn’t that the whole point of every Jedi – to reach complete balance and let go of their physical form? I would like to think that Luke will be back, but, as a kick-ass force ghost, think about it, this is a ‘new beginning’! I think the hero’s journey of Luke Skywalker concluded in Return of the Jedi. This trilogy is the hero’s journey of Rey, and Finn, and Poe – not a re-hash of a tale already told. The ongoing story of Luke is one that has to play in tandem with that of Rey.
You will notice that I have not brought up Rose and Finn’s subplot, there is a reason for this – as I quite liked it, so keep reading.
Conclusion – Are you Ready????? (OK, it is a little bit more than just a conclusion!)
Comparing Modernism, Post-Modernism and Chaos theory with Star Wars!
(sounds worse than it is – keep going!)
“Balance in the Force” was always problematic. Whenever anyone in Star Wars talked about trying to attain it prior to The Last Jedi, they really meant one thing only. ‘We’re going to eradicate the other guys from The Force so that we can have The Force all to ourselves’. Fairness in Star Wars - as, alas, often in the real world - amounted to ‘The fairness to give me what I want, and who cares about anyone else’. The Sith hated the Jedi for being Light Side, and the supposedly more chill Jedi hated the Sith for being Dark Side (hate, of course, leading to the Dark Side itself, according to Yoda), and both sides dug in, to the point of mutually assured destruction several times over. How is this balance?
In the original trilogy, that’s fine. An after-the-fact fairytale about oppressed good guys fighting for freedom against space-fascists powered by the evil remnants of an old, pseudo-magical war, Episodes Four to Six need be no less black and white than they are. The original trilogy is a tale of desperate struggles in desperate times, in which unremittingly vile, ostentatiously powerful bad guys have already won, and any would-be heroes are already long crushed under the boot of space-faring Nazi rule. In a situation like that, there need be little nuance. The underdog Light must rally to defeat the rampant Dark, and it must do so without reservation. Because space-Nazis. We don’t need or want them.
But things get more complicated when we hit the prequel period, and the films start trying to explain how this great upset came about. Because while dictatorship is, by its very nature, a pretty simple and straightforward scenario, the circumstances that lead to it, as history has proven over and over again, really aren’t. Going back in time to kill Hitler really isn’t going to change much at all. Such drastic shake-ups in socio-political norms result from complex, long-term feedback loops of resonating, social and economic unrest, in which no side tends to be entirely blameless – and we forget that – it is easy to have a bad guy, but, nobody is blameless in a war. It is never that simple.
I would argue that the original trilogy and to some extent the prequel’s represent modernism, so what is modernism? Modernism, in general, includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of life, were becoming ill-fitted to their tasks and outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world. More common, especially in the West, are those who see it as a socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge, or technology. From this perspective, modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was 'holding back' progress, and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end. Sound familiar?? Maybe something like the ideology of the first six films??
This also resonates with societal norms – paternal and parental viewpoints, which have worked for generations, but, maybe in today’s societies are getting outdated? Businesses are another great example, we often hear the phrase ‘if it’s not broken down break it’, but, why not – why not be radical, try a different perspective? Historically, change is generally imposed on us, but, you can be the master of change, so from that perspective read on!
Light and Dark, good and evil, new and old – you getting it? Someone will always come along to manipulate these factors to their own advantage of course, but without a complicated and troubled political and philosophical landscape to leverage in the first place, there would be nothing for said ‘individual’ to work with. But regardless, the Star Wars prequels stuck doggedly to George Lucas’ simplistic view of Light and Dark during this period, and that’s a large part of the reason they collapsed in on themselves narratively. So, a great way to explain modernism – we want to change everything, but, we don’t want to let go of the good stuff from the past, this isn’t change, but just manipulation.
Now we have Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And thank God we do. Because while The Last Jedi’s unbounded stock-take and myth-bust of the reality of Star Wars iconography is a long overdue slice of narrative self-awareness - the tone set the instant Luke off-handedly throws away his legendary lightsaber, and two years of lore-musing fan speculation with it - it’s also a vital move in ensuring Star Wars’ continued relevance as a modern fable in our times. Postmodernism!! Out with the old order, in with the new – no rules, no past and the rejection of the scientific star wars canon with the idea that there can only be a single coherent rationality or that reality has a unitary nature that can be definitively observed or understood! That is Postmodernity! And, what else does the Last Jedi represent?
Postmodernity grew from people being tired of the mainstream and traditional sociological theories of functionalism, conflict, and symbolic interactionism. This discontent led to development of alternative sociological theories and mirrored western societies’ transitions from “modernity” to “postmodernity”. Just as this film moves us to the uncomfortable – the non-familiar, which is why it has had such a negative impact. Change is hard!! Maybe this is the perspective business needs to come from – look at the future from a new perspective. Don’t be bound by the rules of convention – get out of the box! New Year – New Beginnings, sounds like a movie idea!! Haha!!
This isn’t just about Star Wars changing to reflect the mood of the time, although I also applaud The Last Jedi’s open discussion of amoral, wartime profiteering, class struggle, and the fact that whoever we support on the inside of a conflict, the simple existence of that conflict is always good for someone on the outside. For once, Star Wars is acknowledging the second word in its title with refreshingly stark responsibility and meaning.
But as well as all of this, The Last Jedi, the latest entry in a series long-obsessed with concepts of legacy, destiny, sins of the past, and taking one’s part in a pre-determined lineage (modernism), is an open and explicit detonation of all of those notions (postmodernism). Both within its own, internal story, and within the meta-story of what Star Wars itself means, The Last Jedi is a wrecking ball to the expectations of the past. Blockbuster status notwithstanding, it is one of the most layered, aware, and progressive pieces of mainstream cinematic storytelling this year, unreservedly reworking the nature of its own past story just as it uses those very changes to discuss the nature of that story. And, for that matter, the nature of its audience – get that!! You have to love it!!. None of us are whiter than white, we are all grey!
Let’s debunk another criticism - Rey’s parents are deflating nobodies, and her bloodline has nothing to do with her role in the sequel trilogy’s events. There’s no great prophecy, no Chosen One story, and so her position and path are now entirely her own to define – just like all of us, we are the sum of our own parts, not our past. Which is a rule of postmodernity – let the past stay in the past – don’t let it shape you. This leads us nicely to Snoke, who is dead, the nature of his background, identity, and any big-picture relevance not even remotely explored, and his corpse all but kicked into the bin, instantly forgotten about. He was simply a baddy, (a great baddy), who did baddy things for a while, and now he’s gone. Let’s move on. His past doesn't make him any more important, whatever it was. A great analogy for life – don’t dwell, don’t look back, move on – maybe some reflection on where businesses are going are would be good from this perspective. What worked last year, worked and that was great – or didn’t which wasn’t so great, but, move on, try something new and exciting.
The Force, via Luke’s extra decades’ understanding of it, has been recontextualised as neither good nor bad, with life, death, creation, and destruction simply foundations and functions of each other, with order existing as a default characteristic of nature (again postmodernism). Realising this, Star Wars’ most famous Jedi has stepped away from the Jedi’s most famous power, apparently in order to stop upsetting this true balance, and avoid contributing to the continuing galactic conflicts that would do just that, as they always have before. Kylo Ren’s internal conflict has not ended, as expected, with a similar Dark or Light Side decision to that made by his grandfather and uncle, but rather with a conscious decision to remain conflicted, burning down the traditions expected of him in order to find a new way to navigate his path through a Force-imbued galaxy. What a sensible, adult, decision!!
And the same is the case with Rey who, rather than completing her Jedi training with Luke and becoming a fresh, newly empowered hero in his mould, has been happy to pick up the basics and then head off to work out the rest for herself. I know this is another criticism, but, if she is so strong with the force, why would she need training – or want it. Let her find her own way. And Yoda, once the staunch Jedi dogmatist, heading up the Council in the prequels and reluctant to let young Luke rush his own training in The Empire Strikes back, is glad to let this happen, personally nuking the Jedi temple in order to draw a line under all of the traditions – both in the movies and outside of them – that have led Star Wars to this point. For the first time in Star Wars, the message is not about embracing or resisting destiny, but setting fire to the whole idea of destiny and legacy, and realising that all that truly matters is what’s really happening right now – tadah!! See what I mean, what isn’t there to love about this story. What isn’t there to take inspiration from?
And it’s all brilliant, creating a kind of anti-Star Wars that, once you allow yourself to get over the shock of it all, is the most authentic Star Wars that has ever been. It might proudly jettison expectation and convention every chance it gets, but that’s exactly the point. This is not a modernistic film happy to be led by the artificiality of expected tropes and nostalgia when there are more interesting, more important things to explore and state. The Last Jedi is authentic because it truly pays attention to the detail of its story, and deals with it logically, whatever that means for tradition.
It’s all very well getting romantic about cyclical storytelling and historical parallels (“It’s like poetry”), but if we’re taking the reality of this story seriously? Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it – which is what could have happened if Rian Johnson had followed the traditional modernistic themes –he has blown all that away and introduced a good bit of chaos theory!!! . And so, knowing that all of this has happened many times before (and will happen again if allowed to), the wisest thing that the surviving (and ghostly) Jedi can do right now is break the cycle.
If Johnson had allowed the same Light/Dark, Jedi/Sith, Chosen One/Legacy loop to happen for a third time after what has gone before, he would have been a blind idiot and taken the easy way. Wise warrior monks, still living the definition of madness, millennia after this whole mess first started. Thus, wonderfully, the sequel trilogy suddenly and unexpectedly becomes not just another happy repeat, but a more meaningful work which, without retconning anything, turns the eight films previous into a coherent thematic arc, regarding the journey from destructive, prequel-era dogma to the realisation of natural free will. OK so chaos theory – how does this fit in? Well taken from a postmodernistic stance, there is no absolute truth - Postmodernists believe that the notion of truth is a contrived illusion, misused by people and special interest groups to gain power over others.
Truth and error are synonymous - facts, postmodernists claim, are too limiting to determine anything. Changing erratically, what is fact today can be false tomorrow, (fake news!?! Trumpism!?!). To a postmodernist traditional authority is false and corrupt - postmodernists speak out against the constraints of religious morals and secular authority. They wage intellectual revolution to voice their concerns about traditional establishment. Morality is personal - Believing ethics to be relative, postmodernists subject morality to personal opinion. They define morality as each person’s private code of ethics without the need to follow traditional values and rules. (I am thinking Kylo and Rey here!!). Break with tradition – that belonged to another time, make your own traditions, truths, future – mould your business or life into what you want.
Chaos theory is the branch of mathematics that deals with complex systems whose behaviour is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences. Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for such dynamical systems—a response popularly referred to as the butterfly effect—rendering long-term prediction of their behaviour impossible in general. You may be asking yourself what I am whittering on about, chaos theory is all around us – it is the bits in your day that make you feel uncomfortable – the arguments, the change, the difference. So, what is The Last Jedi, if not pure chaos theory??? Point made – Booh Yah!!! Chaos is good, learn to embrace the uncertain and go with it. Maybe a new perspective on life, maybe radical – but, what a change it can make. It means you can start looking forward, ignoring the past and focusing on where you want to be – taking the positive perspective!
If we apply chaos and postmodernity to Star Wars itself. The tropes that Star Wars has always previously traded upon, if allowed to continue indefinitely, inevitably lead to the same, self-perpetuating feedback loop its destiny-resigned characters have found themselves in for two trilogies already. Stay with the old ways, keep fighting the same old battles by the same old rules, and you’ll go around in circles forever. That’s as true in Star Wars storytelling as it is in real ‘uncomfortable’ life, and The Last Jedi is finally a statement on that, and a brave rejection of stagnant (if comfortable) repetition. Both on and in front of the screen, The Last Jedi is an uncompromising realisation of how progress really happens, whether you’re a burgeoning Jedi or an excited fanboy – or fangirl!! Don’t want to be seen to be sexist!!.
As dedicated consumers of geek-culture, we perpetually find ourselves bemoaning the lack of new ideas while, also, paradoxically, scurrying nostalgically into the past. Nostalgia is a comfortable place to visit at times, but if revered unchecked, it is simply a roadblock to the fresh, future adventures we crave. And so it’s beautiful that Star Wars, for so long the holiest of nerd grails, the greatest nostalgia haven around, and the series most internally reliant on its own narrative past, has drawn a line at which to cut off its own history – and I love it!
Finally, the Real Conclusion!!
It’s beautiful that Snoke is cut down, unidentified and unknown, specifically during a self-aggrandising speech about the predictable nature of destiny. Because who he was doesn’t matter. All that matters is the practicality of what he did, that he was hampering the next generation from finding their own path, and has now been stopped. It’s beautiful that Rey and Kylo, rather than accepting clean, expected roles after Snoke’s death, still don’t really know where they stand, feeling as much empathy with each other’s confusion and potential now that they’re free of legacy as they do conflict with each other’s methods.
And it’s beautiful that neither newly self-ordained Supreme Leader Kylo nor anyone in the Resistance seems to have any clue what the next step is, or where it is even leading, going into Episode Nine. Because that’s what happens to people when they suddenly stop accepting prescribed roles. It takes time to work out who you are and what you’re doing. But the results of exploring that freely are always worth it. And it’s also beautiful that we see the Force itself used in all manner of new and unexpected ways, because in a film so resolutely concerned with re-writing what we know about what the Jedi and Sith are, there’s no more fitting metaphor than rewriting what they can do, right in front of our eyes. The limitations of expectation are gone. Anything can happen from this point on.
And so, for all of The Force Awakens’ brilliance, Star Wars has never had a brighter future than now. Because Star Wars finally has a future, rather than a recycled, riffed-on past. The Last Jedi’s methods of achieving this are shocking to witness at first, but ultimately crystalise a great deal of important, much-needed lessons, about fictional heroes and villains, about long-term storytelling, about franchises, fandom, and – yes – the nature of 2017 itself. And that’s important. Because, literally and in relation to all of the above points, The Last Jedi is Star Wars today. It’s time for Star Wars to admit that things have moved on since 1977, and encourage everyone else to do the same. Like any film, this film has its flaws – I could go on to talk about the final medieval battle scene, and how the writers got that so wrong, but I won’t, at nearly 5000 words – I think you get my drift – move on, we are in a New Year – time for the new, let go of the old – can’t wait for next installment – what about you and your next installment?!!
Now, I really must get back to work – I have been looking busy for the last few days putting this together, eventually, someone is going to notice, I am having far too much fun and then they will know what I really do my time – ‘May the Force be with You’.