“Star Wars” has been a powerful myth for a generation which has few stories left to unite it. It is regarded by some people with a fervor once reserved for religions. Indeed, since releasing “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” in 2015, Disney has made “Star Wars” a part of the collective Yuletide celebration. Each year, actual grown men don the gay apparel of a Jedi knight, light a plastic lightsaber and dutifully attend midnight premieres as if it were a Midnight Mass. A new installment is planned annually at least to the end of the decade.
But by steeping the franchise in the orthodoxy of political correctness, Disney risks alienating the true believers.
“Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” maintains Disney’s puzzling decision that strong female characters must be fashioned at the expense of the boys. Carrie Fisher, who gives her final performance as General Leia Organa, showed 40 years ago that a woman can be strong and independent without being patronizing and off-putting. She is now reduced to the frazzled matriarch of the Resistance, wringing her hands over the boyish impulses of her star pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Poe did not contribute much to “The Force Awakens,” and the character continues to offer little more than cringe-worthy snark that falls flat.
Also contributing little is Finn (John Boyega), the AWOL stormtrooper who spearheads an abortive subplot that merely adds unnecessarily to the movie’s excessive runtime. Joining him in this task is Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a superfluous character who is used to round out the film’s racial quota, and to deliver an impassioned soliloquy against animal abuse, child labor and the galaxy’s military-industrial complex. Even when Benicio Del Toro joins the pair as the memorably named codebreaker “DJ,” it is not enough to render their adventure interesting.
Most instead will be interested to catch up with Rey (Daisy Ridley) in her pursuit of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Fan reviews taught me the term “Mary Sue,” an amusing pejorative for a female character who is — according to Urban Dictionary — “so perfect as to be annoying.” Rey is a Mary Sue. “The Force Awakens” introduced her as a single woman stranded in the desert who could very well fend for herself, thank you very much. Even the feisty Leia allowed herself to be rescued many years ago, but Rey was a damsel much too clever to be in distress. Attempts at chivalry toward her were spurned, and she proved herself to be an expert at everything she tried. In this film, Rey seeks training from Jedi Master Luke, though one is left wondering why she needs it.
Similarly, when General Leia is incapacitated early in the film, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) takes the reins to preside over the women’s studies department at the helm of the Resistance fleet. The purple-haired Holdo is there to instruct Poe Dameron in the ways of sublimating his reckless “flyboy” tendencies. Her demeanor at first has all the warmth of a nun rapping your knuckles, which seems to indicate that she is a villain. Of course, the audience is made to feel ashamed for questioning such a thing, and she is revealed to be another Mary Sue. Her cool-headed competence is the foil to Poe’s mutinous tantrums, who kicks chairs around like a schoolboy off his Ritalin. Holdo’s character is not particularly well-developed, but nevertheless she is given the most visually spectacular act of gallantry in the film.
Anyone who questions whether this is intentional need only remember the telling tweets of Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta, screenwriters of last year’s “Rogue One.” Reeling from the 2016 presidential election, the pair exclaimed on Twitter last November that “the Empire is a white supremacist […] organization,” and “opposed by a multi-cultural group led by brave women.” Indeed, compared to the ladies, the men of this new trilogy are conspicuously weak. Attempts by the new male characters to be daring or chivalrous are rebuffed and frowned upon. Disney has seemingly made as its objective to drain even the classic characters of their masculine heroism.
In “The Force Awakens,” Han Solo made his descent into darkness as a failed husband and father. In this film, Luke is an embittered, disillusioned old man who speaks contemptuously of the valiant deeds that made him a legend. His great revelation — delivered by the wisest sage in the galaxy — is how best to embrace his failure and entrust the future of the Jedi to the girl.
At the heart of this feminist tale is the troubled boy Ben Solo, or Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The cumbersome mask he ditches makes obvious that young Ben is having a crisis of identity, as he tries pathetically to fill the shoes of his grandfather, Darth Vader. The evil of Vader was frightening because it issued from a father figure, and tempting because it bristled with authority. The evil of Ren is comparatively adolescent, petulant, and depressing. It is the neurotic, self-pitying whine of a bitter son who was failed by the men in his life.
Audiences must wait until “Episode IX” to see how it all resolves, but if Kylo Ren finds redemption from the Dark Side, most likely it will be thanks to the feminine side.
Jon Brown is a freelance writer from Asheville, North Carolina. He is currently studying journalism at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.