I was asked by someone how the Star Wars universe has changed since it first came out in 1977. The iconic film from relative unknown George Lucas, whose greatest success to that time was the independent American Graffiti. He wrote a story very broad in scope and time, which traced the beginnings of the Republic and then to the Empire and Jedi, and then beyond. He realized that this was way too large and cut it down to a middle story about a young man seeking to find himself and defeat evil.
Star Wars was in the beginning a white male based story with a young female princess (damsel in distress) who required rescuing. She was locked in a prison cell in an impenetrable military base. There are the Nazi-like Imperial leaders (Grand Moff Tarkin), and the army of stormtroopers, who were for all we know robots or clones. We were never sure of which (although our heroes later dress in their outfits while on the Death Star to save the Princess). Virtually all are white except for the alien creatures and the positions of power are held by the white males. The world as it was was run by the white male leaders.
The Force was held in high regard although not fully understood by many, with enough skeptics (like Han Solo) to keep it a mystery. Elder Obi Wan Kenobi teaches the young Skywalker briefly with some basic understandings. Young Luke is delivered the light sabre of his father. Through the Force, and its use, you could “see” better as eyes can deceive and they should not be trusted. Luke turns off his computer to hit the external thermal exhaust port with the missile as part of the finale for Episode IV. The young are directed by the older, and taught the ways of the Force. It is something to be learned, mastered. There were tests for suitability, and the young were the focus (Luke was initially “too old” for the training according to Yoda).
Young Luke is viewed as reckless, craving adventure and never focusing on his chores and tasks on his Uncle’s farm. He has “too much of his father in him” and this is seen as a bad thing. He does though feel for the young princess that he sees in a recorded video message and decides that once his Uncle and Aunt are wiped out that he wants to help the rebels. He is a deep believer in family, rushing back to see his Uncle before learning of their demise, and later his friends (Leia. Solo, Chewie and the droids). He curtails his training with Yoda in Empire because the vision of his friends in pain in the Cloudy City dominate his mind and he can’t shake them. He goes to save them. Luke later in Return of the Jedi hatches a plan to get Han away from Jabba the Hut, utilizing all of his friends in the plan. Leia, Chewie, the droids, Lando Calrisian all help out in saving Han. A strong theme throughout Episodes IV to VI is friendship and putting your faith and trust in your friends. The Emperor admonishes Luke for his faith in his friends. Luke’s love for his sister and protecting her is used against him by Vader to bring him out to fight and complete his path to the Dark Side.
Now we have already seen in the Force Awakens the end to Han Solo as he tries to help his son Ben, and get him away from Snoke. The son kills the father in order to show his connection with the Dark Side and prove he is ready to complete his grandfather’s (Darth Vader’s) goal. One way the older white male father figure is destroyed. Then in The Last Jedi, we have further transition over from white male dominated world, to one filled with more minorities, and more females. The Princess, and now a General is in charge of the Rebellion, as small as it remains anyway. Fishy Admiral Akbar plays a subservient role, whereas in Return of the Jedi he held more sway and power by leading the attack on the Death Star. When Leia is killed and ressurrected under her own hand, a use of the Force that we have never seen before and for which, presumably, she has never had any training, we have her replacement introduced who is Laura Dern. Another female. But look around the smaller rebel group and you see more alien creatures and more people of colour. There is Rey, female and now the heir apparent to the young Jedi. She replaces Luke, and it is made clear that she is not sprung from noble blood, nor related to the Skywalker line in any way. She is a street rat. A no one. Like the young boy at the races later who sweeps up. The young former stormtrooper Fin, shows us that stormtroopers were not all robots, and not all clones, but people. These are people who makes choices. He is black and one of the new heroes. In Jedi he meets a young weeping guard to an escape pod who is Asian. Her sister has died. Later she has escalated from a guard to a flier on one of 13 ships going to attack the First Order armada on the new Rebel base. She then kisses Fin. The Star Wars world has moved from a white male dominated society to one ruled (at least the Rebels) by women and visible minorities and almost all are not male. The First Order is still very much a male dominated world, with the exception of the silver armoured lead stormtrooper.
In this latest story, you see that there is an underlying theme of out with the old, and in with the new. Discard the old people and the old ways, and start afresh. Han has been discarded. Luke has been marginalized as he pouts about his station and failure to teach a new group of Jedi. Rey takes to learning mostly on her own. Ben Solo (Kilo Ren) has been underling to Snoke and colleague of the New Order Army General, but he sees a chance to destroy his Master and take the reins himself. How a powerful Snoke can be so easily defeated is a mystery. Youth know more than the aged it would seem. Luke teaches that the Force is everywhere, and it requires no special assembly or teaching. It simply is. This discards the Episode I meta-chlorean counts for Anakin, and centuries of teachings by the Jedi. The Jedi counsel, their place of prominence within society in the Republic is tossed aside and the once trusted honoured guardians of peace in the galaxy are removed. This is a fundamental shift in the Star Wars universe. Yoda himself comes to deal a death blow to a sacred tree with Jedi writings just to make the point.
Then we have Luke and now I better understand the underlying frustration that Mark Hamill had with this script and the treatment of his character. Luke as a character is disrespected here, and all for a laugh. He “fishes” when his Jedi ability could clearly retrieve a fish for a meal. He milks a manatee-like sea creature and drinks the milk, licking his lips. His casual behaviour and treatment is not with the reverence of a Jedi Master. Yoda played around a bit with Luke’s materials in Empire, like a food stick, but he never was portrayed in this way. Nor other Masters of the Jedi on the Council. Luke may be frustrated with the Jedi ways and teachings but it quite a quantum leap to put him in this place. Finally, Luke may have flaws but being disloyal and certainly not caring for his closest friends isn’t one of them. The idea that Luke would in any way decide to murder his own nephew, upon him believing that there was Darkness inside Ben is unthinkable. This flies in the face of everything that Luke is about. He would kill Han and Leia’s son who was sent to him for training? But it’s more than that. Luke would remain distant and unknown to his sister and brother-in-law while Han flies to his death? Luke can see through the Force as he did in Empire. He went to save his friends. Here he mopes, ashamed of his own failure. But this isn’t what he is about. He wouldn’t abandon his friends. Nor his family, especially in a time of need. Then of course, there is then the use of the Force for him to project himself, a younger version of himself even, to the new Rebel base under attack. He creates objects (dice) that are handed to a living being (Leia) and he fights with Kilo Ren. But he isn’t struck down in anger, like Obi Wan was by Vader in the original, he brought it on himself by the use of this all-new ability of the Force. He commits suicide through this Act, and dies alone. Yes he sacrifices himself, but couldn’t he, and wouldn’t he have been better served showing up himself? Another icon of the series is discarded and removed. Perhaps Luke becomes a ghost like Yoda and Obi Wan, but the meaning and importance of him clearly fades. The dilemma is you have a Leia character survive, while in real life Carrie Fisher dies, and Luke dies, while the real Mark Hamill lives. Where does that leave Episode IX to go? I don’t know but the underpinings of the previous 7 stories is virtually wiped out.
So in summary, Star Wars has shifted and changed dramatically from 1977 until now. Luke and the Skywalker family and blood are pushed to the side. The white male dominated stories are replaced with a more politically correct, but welcome trend which could use some more balance. Does it need to swing entirely the other way and have most of the male characters as bad, and the females good? I hope not. I will admit that I cannot fully agree on the new direction of Star Wars, and maybe that is a big part in my less than enthusiastic watching of the new film. Yes, it was good but it was unsettling too. It didn’t feel “right”. I am no Star Wars geek that disappoints because I didn’t call all of the surprises in advance. Young son and girlfriend can attest that I outwardly asked about the possibility of Luke dying in this episode and I had hoped secretly that it wasn’t true. Part of me likes the Jedi teachings and ways. Part of me likes the harnessing of an unknown mystical force. It is unfortunate that Han and Luke met poor ends for me. The old guard is truly passed and left in the hands of the youth and the young. In forty years time, when I am long gone, will the teens of today lament the treatment of Rey and Fin if they should be treated as so cavalierly? And die with no ceremony nor fanfare? Only time and Disney will tell.