Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Yeah, This is Why the Jedi Need to End

I boot up the internet and Star Wars is everywhere. With Star Wars Celebration 2017 coming to an end last weekend, the aftereffects of the event are still reverberating through the web like an infamous cry of a million souls before they were extinguished by a dirty great space laser. More to the point, everyone’s still recovering from The Last Jedi teaser and Battlefront II’s trailer. Suffice to say, that kind of reveal leaves a lasting impression.

However, one of the biggest takeaways from the event was Luke Skywalker’s claim that the Jedi must end in The Force Awakens’ sequel. As a former beacon of hope for the Jedi order, his disillusionment has caused quite a stir. The obvious question is ‘why’, but a better one should probably be ‘why not?’.

Are the Jedi fighting their last battle? Unused concept art for The Force Awakens

If you stop and think about it, the Jedi have been nothing but trouble. Besides appointing themselves as galactic police who stick their noses where it may not be wanted, they seem to rely on violence more often than diplomacy. Moreover, they bulled their way through the Clone Wars as generals and warriors when that’s precisely the opposite of what they were built for: I thought a Jedi’s lightsaber training is meant to be used in defence of the innocent and as a last resort, not a first response. Aren’t they primarily diplomats and monks?

Then there are all the amusing gaffs they’ve made throughout the original/prequel trilogies. Most egregious of these would be Obi-Wan’s flagrant dickery in lying to Luke’s face about his father. ‘True from a certain point of view’? Shove off, that’s ridiculous. It’s a somewhat limp attempt to justify a retcon and makes Obi-Wan look negligent. Then there’s Qui-Gon Jinn’s hilariously bad attempt at babysitting, where he takes a young child into the heat of battle when he could have left him literally anywhere else. Finally, the books reveal that the prequels’ Jedi temple was built on a super-evil Sith shrine that apparently corrupted them over millennia (it was apparently capped, but would you take that chance?). I mean, come on. I adore these films, but the characters do make some bizarre decisions.

Then there’s an aspect that, in contrast, the prequels handled rather well. The Jedi are essentially a cult: you follow their strict rules or you hit the road. Additionally, these rules can seem needlessly cruel. Take their refusal for Jedi to form attachments, for instance. This has never ended well, as demonstrated by Anakin’s fall and the fact that those same attachments let Luke save the whole damn galaxy.

Most damning of all would be when you read between the lines. As explained by Tor, a reason for Obi-Wan lying to Luke about his father could be that they needed an assassin who’d take out the Emperor’s greatest asset without querying why. Knowing about his head-in-the-clouds demeanour and daydream to be a hero, Kenobi fed him a suitably clichéd story about his father that’d set him on a collision course with Vader, no questions asked. It’s a calculated, manipulative move.

Similarly, Luke was given the surname ‘Skywalker’ and left with his family – surely a giant red flag to Vader – because he could also serve as bait as an added bonus. If Vader found him, Obi-Wan would emerge and take him down.

It’s a fascinating way of looking at the old Jedi order, and it doesn’t paint them in a very good light. As such, I’m not surprised that Luke wants to shut things down now he’s older and wiser.

Rogue One May Stand Alone, But its Dark Underbelly Shouldn’t

WARNING! There are spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story up ahead. Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen it yet.

Rogue One is many things, but mostly it’s a shock to the system. The first indication of this is an abrupt shove into the plot instead of the iconic text crawl we’re used to. Rather than setting the scene with choice backstory of a galaxy at war, we’re booted headfirst into space before witnessing a family being torn apart. It’s a powerful statement of intent.

The Empire may be evil, but the Rebels aren't necessarily good either - concept art shown at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim
The Empire may be evil, but the Rebels aren’t necessarily good either – concept art shown at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim

What follows is no different. Although there are hints of the loveable cheesiness you’ll recognise from older Star Wars films, this movie plants its flag in a morally grey quagmire. The Empire remain fascist dictators, but now we know the Rebellion aren’t paragons of justice like we thought them to be either.

This wrinkle adds oodles of depth to the original trilogy. When Luke Skywalker joins those plucky Rebels in A New Hope, they’re portrayed as a ragtag yet idealistic group of freedom fighters who have a lot in common with Robin Hood’s Merry Men. A collection of brave souls who’ve given up everything to defeat the corrupt establishment, they’re one step away from giving all they steal to the poor. However, Rogue One peels back the curtain to reveal an organisation with considerable amounts of blood on their hands. From outright murder to acts of terrorism, their actions challenge the idea that they’re entirely ‘good’.

Despite evicting Forest Whitaker’s radical Saw Gerrera from their number, they still make use of some dubious contacts and count very dodgy individuals amongst their number. More to the point, their superior officers are happy playing dirty. Captain Andor kills his informant at the beginning of the movie in cold blood, whilst his commander orders him to assassinate an Empire asset… despite said asset’s contributions to the Rebellion. Rather than being heroes, we learn that they’re not always to be trusted. It’s an intriguing but chilling twist.

This kind of revelation doesn’t just inject complexity into the saga; it allows our imaginations to run wild too. What else have the Rebels been up to that we don’t know about? Do we even want to know? Andor suggests he and his crew have done some dubious things in the name of freedom, and those blurred edges open a trove of stories begging to be told. If that doesn’t demand a comic series, novel or video game, I’m not sure what does. Though we won’t get a sequel to Rogue One, hopefully the franchise isn’t going to let this dark underbelly stand alone as well.

Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.  

Star Wars isn’t a Space Opera; it’s the Wild West

Tactical ignorance is a flaw most of us share. Specifically, we prefer to forget that life can be ugly. These kind of reality checks are uplifting in a way you wouldn’t expect, though; they demonstrate how far we’ve come. Our ancestors puzzled out mathematics despite rampant disease and the threat of being pillaged, for heaven’s sake. That’s to say nothing of natural disasters they simply weren’t equipped to handle. Fast-forward a few centuries and we’re firing satellites toward the other end of space. These bundles of technology then trundle around alien planets, beaming data back at us.

Applying this kind of logic to fiction is intriguing. Take Star Wars. We associate the franchise with devices that let you cover light-years in a matter of moments (hurling ships into what’s known as ‘hyperspace’), but this makes you wonder what the galaxy looked like before they were developed. We’ve got very little idea now the expanded universe has been booted unceremoniously from canon. Books, comics and games before Disney acquired the franchise no longer ‘count’, leaving a gaping hole in the timeline prior to Phantom Menace.

What’s left suggests a less romantic universe. Mention of millennia-old ‘hyperspace sextants’ in The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary hints at a simpler time, one where faster-than-light travel wasn’t possible. I’d assume they were used in charting a new frontier, supported by the ‘historical’ need for carbonite stasis to survive long journeys beforehand. While it’s best known for snap-freezing Harrison Ford in The Empire Strikes Back, apparently the process was intended to put travellers into suspended animation during long-haul trips.

enhanced-buzz-wide-24377-1398184137-7
Early Star Wars concept art, courtesy of the incomparable Ralph McQuarrie

As with the Alien franchise, this breed of star-trekking isn’t glamorous. For starters, astronauts might wake up to a universe that’s rather different from the one they remember. Then you’ve got to factor in scientific mind-benders like time dilation, whereby time is relative and dependant on the rate you’re travelling. It’s a low-key version of time travel; those jaunting around space may find that everyone else has aged ‘faster’ than them.

It’s not a great alternative, basically. Being realistic, you need months to bridge the distance between planets. Exchange that for decades when crossing the void separating solar systems. Colonies are likely to have been established closer to home as a result. They’d also be notably smaller than those seen on film, because it’s expensive transporting supplies across the cosmos. According to Planetary Resources, shipping enough water for six people on the International Space Station costs $2 billion per year. Even breaching the atmosphere is pricey. You need an absurd amount of energy to clear gravitational pull. As NASA researcher Kevin Fong noted, making sure vehicles achieve ‘an orbit wide enough to get it to miss both the Earth and the upper layers of the atmosphere… you need to travel at around 17,500mph’. Consider the cost of reaching those speeds. When coupled with the provisions and fuel needed for a single astronaut, you’re staring down the barrel of a very expensive project.

These outposts would probably be isolated, too. Help is hard to come by in the depths of space, particularly when it takes weeks to arrive. This leaves settlers to fend for themselves. Aside from foreign weather patterns, flora and fauna, they’re stranded on a planet that may not even feature oxygen. And what about the physical cost of living on another world? Although Star Wars never troubled itself with reality (and nor should it), this might rob us of our health. Lesser gravity wastes bones and musculature, to say nothing of radiation. Then you’ve got to consider the psychological impact of being cut off, not to mention other people. Astrobiologist Charles Cockell pointed out that space ‘is a tyranny prone environment… If somebody gets control of oxygen, they could very well have control over the whole population and could threaten dire consequences in return for extraordinary levels of power’. It may sound ridiculous, but experts are already planning a bill of rights to avoid those problems – not to mention ways of toppling dictatorships.

In a nutshell, it’s a lifestyle which strips away every luxury. The fact that Maz Kinata’s pirate empire has existed for one thousand years indicates a frontier more like the Wild West than anything else. As observed by Frederick J. Turner in 1894, settlers of North America returned to ‘primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line’. That doesn’t sound dissimilar to Tatooine.

Which raises a question of its own; did early inhabitants of Star Wars piece this all together through trial and error, or were they sped along by first contact with one of the series’ extra-terrestrial races? Perhaps the answer is ‘neither’. The Tarkin novel references an ancient civilisation which constructed interstellar weapons of mass destruction. This became an inspiration for the Death Star, so it’s possible the remains of an older society provided the technological leap needed (a la Mass Effect).

No matter their origin, it puts the Empire’s advancement into context. It must’ve taken decades at the very least to reach that stage, especially when those efforts had to have been funded by competing nations. We’re told that Coruscant (the prequels’ city planet) is humanity’s homeworld, so did it host different countries before galactic rule? Do they still exist at the time of the Skywalkers?

It’s wild and unnecessary speculation on my part, obviously. But that’s fun of it. What we don’t know is often more entertaining than what we do; we can fill in the gaps ourselves. Many criticise the removal of EU content. This is my counter-argument.

Sources: BBC, American Historical Association, Wired, The Guardian