The New Identity of Star Wars and The Contradiction Within
by Jake Quinlan
On a basic level, the Star Wars films are actually quite simple stories universally understood by everyone: the forces of good overcoming the might of evil. George Lucas took elements from Kurosawa, most famously The Hidden Fortress, and World War 2 while injecting it with straightforward psychology gleamed from the writings of the likes of Campbell and Jung. Lucas himself admits to this in his 2017 Star Wars Celebration interview on stage; he simply sees these movies as a “…film for 12 year olds.” and “…it was designed to be a film like mythology of this is what we stand for- you’re about to enter the real world.”. Keeping this in mind the meaning behind the films is to present a vertical slice of culture to a young mind, and due to the family nature of the movies, be contextualized by their parents to prepare that individual for the realities of the world. It is a rather beautiful message and a noble goal to set for realizing a universe of adventure; a non-biased cultural artifact espousing the virtues of the society it was born out of. This fact about the conceptualization of the franchise has been lost recently with the reveal of the final trailer of the latest picture to take on the illustrious name: The Rise of Skywalker.
The problem really began with the previous film in the canon the decisions made therein. To say that Rian Johnson’s entry in the franchise was controversial would be an understatement. Many have documented the splitting of the fanbase over the various plot elements and character depictions; from a random YouTube commenter to Mark Hamill himself, everyone had something negative to say about this film. One of the most discussed topics being the validity of the Canto Bight subplot featuring John Boyega’s Finn and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico. According to Johnson this segment of The Last Jedi was written into the script as a way of developing Boyega’s character and to “…be a pivot point for Finn seeing an extra layer of moral complexity to the whole fight by seeing it through Rose’s eyes.”. Many saw this endeavor to challenge Finn’s worldview with Rose being his foil as a waste of time because it didn’t really accomplish anything. Canto Bight was a series of bizarre set-pieces and questionable attempts at comedy and moralizing. None more so than Rose setting the Favier-horse creatures free from captivity. While the Canto Bight portion of The Last Jedi was mainly about the morality of war-profiteering it also delves into animal cruelty. The movie makes it a point that keeping animals in captivity for the purposes of sport and the eventually mistreatment of said animals is an evil which must be dealt with. Finn and Rose ride on the back of one of the Favier-horses creating all sorts of chaos and destroying private property as they attempt to escape the casino portion the city. Finn asks Rose if that it was worth it to see “…them hurt.” while Rose remarks that it was only worth it after she let one of them go. All of this transpires as a swell of triumphant music plays with the animal scampering off into the shadows. Johnson admitted that the Favier-horse creatures were designed to emotional manipulate the audience and making them “beautiful and sympathetic, who feel wise so you can emotionally connect with them.” According to Johnson these creatures existed as a parallel to the machinery around them and symbolized something worth saving.
This scene lost all meaning the second the final trailer was seen. JJ Abrams’ installment has Finn and a ragtag group of Resistance fighters riding on horseback on top of a Star Destroyer presumably into battle. Let me get this straight; it’s bad when animals are held in captivity for the purposes of sport but it’s fine if they are held in captivity for the purposes of war? This feels like a moment of it’s perfectly fine when our heroes do it but bad when the villains do the exact same thing. What exactly is the movie trying to tell us at this point? Is it alright to tame horse-like creatures or isn’t it? This segment of the trailer makes the scene in Canto Bight even more pointless and frankly makes the entire exercise embarrassing in hindsight. Why tell this morality tale about cruelty, create a creature which illustrated this point and showed what the Resistance were fighting for in a pure way and then immediately take it away in the next film? It simply doesn’t make any sense.
The past films told mythological stories without the need of inserting particularly modern politically motivated opinions. This is a very confusing message conveyed in the films, completely contradictory to the past film. It also brings about a bigger problem of what kind of messaging Star Wars is trying to project anymore. As was stated before the purpose of Star Wars is to be an exercise in myth making and create a reflection of the values of the society which created it. George Lucas had a clear vision of what kind of morality was to be placed into these films. The space horse’s debacle is but one example of mixed messages, poor handling of the material and state of the franchise. Many of the universal themes of Star Wars are becoming lost to spectacle and lip-service to whatever political persuasion in vogue in Hollywood in the years which the movies were put together. The original movies were simply about the battle between good and evil, overcoming the flaws inherent in your character and seeing the good in everyone. Even the prequels had these kinds of ideas of a man giving up on his principles and falling to evil for the sake of power, despite how it was implemented. The sequels seem to be built on legacy rather than trying to tell their own story. Inserting modern conceptualizations of the hero thought up by a committee think tank and marketed broadly to sell toys, all the while pandering to political ideals which Star Wars was seldom about.