The Last Jedi & Postmodernism

Do I still have to give a spoiler warning for Star Wars: The Last Jedi ? If so, then consider it given.

I’ve written before about how much I detest this film and why. But while I noted the huge gulf between the critics rating and the user rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I didn’t really get into why the film is so divisive. A lot of people seem to love this movie while a whole lot of other people hate it. That split in opinion seems to correspond pretty well to political ideologies–liberals seem to be the ones that love it while right-leaning people tend to be the ones that hate it. What’s curious, though, is that the movie isn’t really that leftist, politically speaking. I mean, sure there’s the Planet of the One Percent that it gets sidetracked on where no one can be rich without being an arms dealer; and yes, the men of the film tend to get trashed for the sake of making the women look good in comparison; but as contemporary movies go, it’s not that politically stilted. Those conservatives who can’t look past that much in order to enjoy the movie probably aren’t watching contemporary movies at all (though I can’t really blame them). So why do opinions split the way they do?

The answer finally dawned on me while I was listening to one of Vox Day’s old Darkstreams the other day about postmodern literature.  In it, he explains his own epiphany that he tended to dislike the really acclaimed postmodern books because they took a very different approach to writing. Their prose is not meant to be read word for word in order to find meaning. Instead, it’s meant to be skimmed over so that the reader is left with an impression. In other words, they don’t write in order to say particular things but rather to evoke particular feelings. Textual coherence is set aside for the sake of evocative imagery in a kind of “word salad” as Vox put it.

There is something very similar going on in The Last Jedi. Anyone who is looking for a coherent story that comprises a new chapter of a saga that takes place in a fleshed-out universe with an established history is going to be terribly disappointed. From scene to scene, the whole movie is an incoherent mess. It’s incoherent with the original trilogy: For example Luke Skywalker, who had selflessly risked his life to redeem his Space-Hitler father from the Dark Side in the old movies, now straight-up attempts to murder his nephew because Kylo was merely conflicted about the Dark Side. It’s incoherent with the first part of the new trilogy: For example, Luke & Anakin’s old lightsaber is presented as a profoundly significant piece of history in The Force Awakens, but is tossed aside like trash in The Last Jedi. It’s even incoherent with itself: For example, people who (in a universe with auto-pilot) sacrificed their lives by staying behind to pilot ships that were just going to run out of gas and be destroyed anyway. Totally pointless, but they did it twice. (The more noticeable one was Vice Admiral Hair Dye, who explicitly says she has to stay on their last cruiser because someone has to pilot the ship, but does so from the hangar bay while she’s saying goodbye to the very last of the crew who were leaving. In other words, if the ship absolutely had to have a pilot–even for the short time it had left–then who was piloting it while she and literally everyone else was down in the hangar bay? And even when it cuts to her back on the bridge, she’s still just looking out a window and not piloting anything.) Oh, and if you want an exhaustive list of these kinds of problems, try the Anti-Trekker’s lengthy review on Youtube.

But while these scenes made absolutely no logical sense, they did create evocative images. Luke’s attempted murder presented the powerful image of a fallen hero who couldn’t live up to his own legend. The discarded lightsaber subverted audience expectations to create feelings of uncertainty. The captains going down with their ships were images of bravery, dedication, and self-sacrifice. Everything in the film had a purpose inasmuch as it was meant to manipulate the audience into feeling particular ways. So from the postmodern perspective where those kinds of subjective experiences are the only things that really exist, the film hit all the right notes.

And that takes us back to the split opinions along ideological lines.  That postmodern perspective is much more common on the left than on the right. Just look at the world of social justice, and you’ll find evidence of that in spades. It’s all narrative thinking in which the moment-to-moment impressions given by a fluid cultural story are the only things that matter. There’s nothing objectively wrong about asking where a person is from, but it gives an impression of alienation, and so it’s a microagression. There’s nothing racial about the word ‘niggardly’, but it reminds people of a specific slur, and so its racist. The whole “only an enthusiastic ‘yes’ means ‘yes'” standard for sexual assault has no objective meaning, but if a woman gets an impression of rape, then it was rape. Leftists are used to thinking within an incoherent mess of a framework when it comes to reality, so why would that bother them when it comes to fiction?

But the problem (both with the film and the postmodern perspective) is that subjective experiences cannot exist in a vacuum–they need to be tied to an objective reality to be truly meaningful. Sacrifice doesn’t work as a concept without giving up something of real value in exchange for something else of real value. Subverted expectations are just irritation unless the expectation and what actually happens are both organically rooted in reality. Even the image of a fallen hero needs to be under-girded with A) real heroism and B) a fall that proceeds from real flaws actually possessed by that hero.

Just as social justice is a parasite on civilization, The Last Jedi is a parasite on the Star Wars saga. It adds nothing new to it–it cannot, for the very idea of Creation is alien to postmodern philosophy. It merely consumes what came before it to evoke some ephemeral impressions–leaving everyone more impoverished than they were before.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
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3 Responses to The Last Jedi & Postmodernism

  1. Matt, I came to the same conclusion. Why did it receive fawning critical adoration, but widespread contempt from average movie-goers? Because average movie-goers didn’t realize that it was a film made to stimulate the engorgement of virtue, rather than to tell a story.

    You might like my review where I argue this:

    • Matt says:

      You’re right Bnonn; I do like your review. Thanks for posting it. I hadn’t thought of the film as being pornographically leftist before, but I think that description hits the mark.

  2. Logic Monkey says:

    The straw that breaks the camel’s back need not be the longest nor the most egregious straw. It need only be the latest of many.

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