Families across the world are heading to theaters this weekend to catch the latest chapter in the Star Wars saga, "Episode VIII - The Last Jedi." Fans are pining to find out what is next for Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Kylo Ren, and the mysterious new heroine, Rey.
Let’s face it: When a new Star Wars movie drops, it’s a big deal — such a big deal that there are some in the halls on Congress mischievously suggesting that release days become a national holiday. The working fans of America might appreciate a day dedicated to processing what they saw on screen.
"The Last Jedi" is a something of a bombshell into the heart of this legacy franchise. If you thought the prequels were divisive, buckle up. National Review calls it an “unoriginal and tone-deaf mess,” the New Yorker dubbed the film "tamed, tamped down," while the Atlantic named it the "best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back." In a stunning disparity, Rotten Tomatoes has the newest Star Wars film ranked as "fresh" with a 93 percent score from critics, but an audience approval rating south of 60 percent that is fluctuating but trending downward.
So if you’re on the fence about seeing this movie, or unsure what to expect, I want to offer some wisdom straight out of Star Wars to prime you for "The Last Jedi" and hopefully enjoying it. Master Yoda delivered some sage pieces of advice to Skywalker in "Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) that are incredibly relevant:
"You must unlearn what you have learned."
Star Wars has long been criticized for being stagnant or stuck in the past. When "Episode VII - The Force Awakens" hit theaters, the leading reactions were “haven’t we seen this before?” There is a format to a good Star Wars movie, from its plot to the archetypal characters and the choices characters make. Rian Johnson, the director behind "The Last Jedi," was much-hyped as a creative force who would throw out the old way of doing things and break new ground in the franchise. He does just that. Prepare to be confronted with a shade of Star Wars storytelling you’ve never seen, and a Force that is more powerful and mystical than you’ve ever imagined.
"Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter."
In an effort to explain to Skywalker that the Force was more than just power, but a life force that transcends space and time, Yoda plucked at Skywalker's arm in the swamp on Dagobah and delivered the above line. We already knew that some of our famous Jedi masters lived on after death in the form of “Force ghosts” that could appear to commune with the living, but Yoda wanted him to think big.
Much like in our own world's great religions, the human body is considered to be a conduit and in other cases a form of prison for the soul, which longs to be connected to a larger universe and plain of existence. Think Hinduism’s “nirvana” and the concept of Astral projection. The Force wants more from Star Wars’ characters than to just be wielded as some form of weapon, it can be a transport to what you might call an out of body experience.
Skywalker says, “I don’t believe it.” Yoda says, “That is why you fail.”
To tie the last two points together, be ready to suspend your disbelief. Skywalker's key failing during his training under Master Yoda was his inability to lift an X-Wing from a swamp. “It’s too big,” he says to Yoda, who easily raises the ship from the water moments later. Attitude and your willingness to let go, think big and be swept away will play into your experience with this movie. Star Wars was always a story of space monks with mystical powers that worldly people do not understand, but since 1977 we have become quite familiar with a narrow offering of wondrous things the Force can do. Get ready for more.
No matter how this opening weekend goes for "The Last Jedi," the final chapter is on the way in December 2019 in Episode IX. Johnson has already been handed the rights to his own original Star Wars trilogy, separate from the Skywalker story that has been going since George Lucas launched Star Wars four decades ago.
Go see this movie — and embrace a larger view of the Force.
Stephen Kent (@Stephen_Kent89) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the spokesperson for Young Voices and host of Beltway Banthas, a Star Wars and politics podcast in D.C.
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