Rian Johnson and Luke Skywalker have given the Jedi a story arc that makes sense.
This post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
It’s confession time. I don’t hate the Star Wars prequels. Wait. Stop. Don’t close the browser. come Closer. I have reasons.
There are things about The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith that are indefensible. I’m not a fool. Jar Jar Binks is awful and clearly racist. George Lucas can’t write dialogue and you should never use CGI when a Muppet—or even a puppet—will do. But I’ve always found a lot to love in the prequels.
One of the many reasons I love Star Wars: The Last Jedi is that it redeems the prequels. I loved the world of the prequels because they were movies about prophecy gone wrong. Anakin is a messiah who’s actually an antichrist. Worse, the Jedi aren’t the noble knights of legend, but a lazy priest class that lets Anakin become Vader. The Last Jedi knows this. Luke Skywalker knows this and he makes damn sure that Rey and the audience learn from the mistakes of the past. It recontextualizes the prequels and reinforces what I loved about them.
In the prequels, the Jedi are the worst. They’re an overfed priest class lording over the last days of the decadent Republic from their towers in the sky on Coruscant. Everyone says they’re supposed to be the morally upright guardians of order, “the guardians of peace and justice,” as Obi Wan tells Luke in A New Hope.
But the first jarring example that the Jedi aren’t all they’re cracked up to be comes in The Phantom Menace. Anakin is a slave they have to buy away from his master. He’s a child slave and instead of burning Tatooine to the ground and instituting social change, the Jedi gamble Anakin’s freedom in a pod race where death is a very real possibility. No wonder he grew up to murder them all.
Jedi ignorance and incompetence permeates the prequels. Mace Windu immediately betrays the ideals of the order when he learns Palpatine is a Sith lord. He attempts to execute the man without trial because he’s too dangerous. “It’s not the Jedi way,” Anakin says. “He must live.” But Windu raises his saber, and signs the death warrant of the Jedi order in doing so.
Then there’s the midichlorians, the last and best example of how the Jedi lost their way. In The Last Jedi, A New Hope, and Empire Strikes Back, the remaining Jedi describe the Force as a spiritual energy that connects all living things. In the prequels, the Jedi use devices to track the level of midichlorians in the blood to help them decide if someone is worth training. Fans have always pointed to this as an inconsistency in the logic of the world, but it makes perfect sense to me.
Pseudoscience is the last bastion of a religious order clinging to power. Midichlorians are bullshit and I think the Jedi knew it. They’re using the blood bugs to enforce the Divine right of kings. They need the order to be exclusive, but the Force belongs to everyone. If they can use midichlorian counts to keep out prospective Jedi—regardless of their actual skill or talent with the Force—then they have greater control over who they train and who they exclude.
Yoda, Luke, and Kenobi never bring up the midichlorians after the Republic dies because they know this. They know what the Jedi were doing was wrong.
Luke Skywalker is The Last Jedi because he’s come to a place in his life where he realizes that the Jedi order must end. He’s cut himself off from the force and stopped training new applicants. He stares directly at the camera in the new movie and tells the audience that the Jedi are hypocrites full of hubris. They didn’t see Darth Sidious coming and they should have. Even Luke knows the Jedi are bullshit.
Anakin had to destroy the Jedi so Luke could redeem them
The Last Jedi is wonderful for many reasons. It doesn’t try to be Empire Strikes Back, it’s super weird, and it knows puppets are better than CGI characters. It also redeems and recontextualizes the prequels. It does so by rehabilitating the Jedi order by acknowledging its past crimes and working to move beyond them. It doesn’t rewrite or retcon the films fans hate, instead it elevates them to an important place in the cannon.
The prequels are movies about a society in decline. The new trilogy is about the rebirth of hope. It’s about learning to believe in legends again. That’s the message of The Last Jedi. Its ultimate act of beauty is to redeem the Jedi order in both the minds of the galaxy and the minds of the fans.
My Star Wars friends always explained to me that the prequels felt like a betrayal of everything they believed about the Star Wars universe. The Jedi were dumb, feckless elites who’d forgotten the spiritual nature of their path. They allowed fascism to destroy the republic. What they hated, I loved.
But I’d never read the Star Wars novels. I hadn’t heard the stories of the Old Republic and the Jedi masters that they had. I didn’t know what Jedi were supposed to be before the prequels made them something terrible. The Last Jedi’s final moments were built for every Star Wars fan who wanted to believe the Jedi were the noble knights Obi Wan sold them as in A New Hope.
Luke Skywalker’s final act is to burn down the sacred Jedi temple on Ahch-To and then project himself onto the battlefield of Crait during the Resistance’s last stand against the First Order. He does not appear as he actually is—a broken down old man hiding on an island—but as the black clad Jedi warrior of old. He’s a symbol, a symbol the galaxy desperately needs.
He takes on an impossible amount of laser fire and fights Ren to a standstill, just long enough for his friends to escape, before disappearing and passing on into the force like Yoda and Obi Wan before him. It does not matter that the First Order won the battle because, by simply appearing, Luke has given the galaxy a new symbol.
He’s also given Star Wars fans a story arc that makes sense: The Jedi were heroic knights who had lost their way after a thousand generations guarding the Old Republic. Yoda and Obi Wan were contrite remainders in the original trilogy, beaten Jedi who lived the consequences of their order’s arrogance. Anakin had to destroy the Jedi so Luke could redeem them. The Force created the Skywalkers to balance the force, but it took two generations and three movies series to do it.
The final scene of The Last Jedi is of a child slave who gets in trouble for telling his friends the story of Skywalker’s last stand against the First Order. He’s shooed away by his masters and stands outside, looking up at the stars with hope. He turns his broom around and holds it like a lightsaber, his shadow elongated on the ground in the shape of a budding Jedi.
It’s an image that mirrors the famous posters for The Phantom Menace, but subverts it. Luke—and writer/director Rian Johnson—redeemed the prequels. They made all that trouble and pain worth it by giving the fans back the Jedi they believed in as children. There’s hope in the galaxy once more, and belief in an old order of knights who always do the right thing.