Star Wars The Last Jedi was the political film we needed.
Warning: spoilers inside. Don’t read if you don’t want the plot ruined.
‘Hopepunk’ seems to be a fairly new term, coined by Alexandra Rowland, which serves pretty much as the opposite of ‘grimdark’. Hopepunk can show the darkness but at its core it has, you guessed it, hope – and The Last Jedi fits that genre perfectly.
In some ways The Last Jedi was a messy film, but that’s okay. We got new tricks with the force that we’d not seen before (which was a delightful surprise to be honest, as each generation should explore the force more) but we also got a whole load of nothing happening. Things just kept falling flat, which actually made for a superb drama. Luke was a complete disappointment to Rey. She barely got any lessons and he was a man broken by the force, the Jedi and his own moments of doubt and fear. Kylo Ren too spent much of the film doing absolutely nothing but talking. Hell, even Finn and Rose’s little side quest resulted in absolutely nothing – but it was still needed.
Rose and Finn managed to free a herd of abused animals. Their adventure showed them the realities of war and even when they faced execution, they still stayed true to what they believed in. It was a huge film for Finn. He started out wanting to run away (again) but he committed, and was ready to give his life to a cause he still wasn’t certain would win, but he was willing to risk it all anyway. Luke did some soul searching and found some peace before the end – not just in the force and the legacy of the Jedi, but in himself.
In the end, the resistance barely manages to escape. It’s an act that claims Luke’s life. At the end, Rey is left to wonder if they really are enough to take the fight to the First Order and to Kylo Ren, but as Leia points out they are the start of hope. A resistance has to start somewhere and that they are together and risked their lives matters. That Finn risked his own life matters. That Rey turned away from Kylo matters. That Vice Admiral Holdo gave her life so fifty could survive matters.
What really matters throughout though is the history. Some of the people in this fight have been there throughout one war already. They saw the Jedi fall to laziness, greed and complacency. They allowed the Sith to rise in the first place and they fought one war to clean up that mess. Now, another has arisen and this latest threat is none other than the child of Han Solo and Leia. Ben Solo should have been a symbol of hope. His treachery should have crushed them, particularly when few knew the true story of how he turned to the dark side, but still they keep on fighting. Still, his mother kept on fighting because no matter how much she loved him, she knew it was the right thing to do. While Han did…well, whatever Han ever did, Leia became General Organa and inspired (as well as led) a new resistance into the start of yet another war. The film showed Leia’s sacrifice. She was tired of watching people die around her, but she also understood that sometimes there was just nothing else to do.
“Still, his mother kept on fighting because no matter how much she loved him, she knew it was the right thing to do”
The film was also brilliantly feminist. Poe Dameron got subtly shown up by both Leia and the Vice-Admiral when he was insistent his reckless attempts to play the hero were the right way, when actually it was just a chance to give himself some glory. It was the Vice Admiral who saved the day and was the true hero. Rose was a quiet character truth be told, and hints at a relationship with Finn will likely upset those who had their hearts set on Finn and Poe, but she played a vital role and showed Finn what it meant to stand up. Rey too showed up the men around her. She told Luke some home truths he needed to hear, and she even tried to find some good in Ben Solo. Ben didn’t deserve it in all honesty. Bad men shouldn’t keep needing good women to turn them around and so it was right and fitting that it ended up with a true struggle for power. Rey would not compromise who she was. There was pride too in her story. She wasn’t given a forced connection to Ben through her parents. They were nobodies, and she just happened to know the force. It was a brilliant and empowering twist that saw Rey finally claim her own story.
The Last Jedi showed women standing up, starting the resistance and men struggling to keep up in their wake. It was a great film in that it had all the twists many would have hoped for, but it actually stayed true and delivered them. It centred hope but it also explored the agony, pain and ambition behind that tiny spark of hope. This was a truly political film. After everything, there was no reason to believe in the Jedi. They represented an establishment that were aloof and ignored so many, which allowed the extreme right of the Sith to rise. Yet, still, some believed. Still, they had hope even if they couldn’t see it because to just give in would not be right – even if it cost their lives. They didn’t truly know what they were fighting for, but they kept fighting because they saw the horrors of what surrender would mean for the galaxy.
It was a story hinged on hope, which so easily could have given way to despair. At times, so many characters nearly did. It was a film delivered in a year when so many can’t see the other side, when there’s doubts about the Democrats, when Brexit looks a like a void of hate and when the world seems unable to take the action needed to save itself from climate change. Still there is resistance. Still, even when so much is unknown, so many groups are coming together and trying to make a difference. The Last Jedi was a film for our time, but it was also a necessary lesson that for when we doubt, when we think there is no hope, we still have to keep going because then we’re the ones who are creating hope and inspiring others. Let The Last Jedi cement the legacy of hopepunk; for what lies ahead we’re almost certainly going to need it.
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