So I’ve come across, generally, three ways of reflecting on The Last Jedi. (If I may be so bold, it almost seems like the breakdown of readings of Vatican II).
Firstly, the Liberal – “The Last Jedi changed everything, overthrowing what came before, and ringing in a new age of Star Wars storytelling which isn’t weighed down with the worn out ideals of the past. It should be celebrated!”
These are the ones who think the ideals and values present in the film – the primacy of wise women over foolish or weak men, the questioning of traditional practices, the skepticism of masculine heroism, the presence of a diverse cast, the ‘breaking of the cycle’ – have made this film a kind of rally cry for more modern values. Read almost any bit of positive commentary and the story’s ideas will be the strongest argument for its status as “a good movie”.
It should be recognized that these are most likely to be “right-side of history” folks of various stripes. They want the old order, to varying degrees, to be done away with, and a new order, often of egalitarianism, relativism, and feminism (of a certain sort), to be put in its place.
Secondly, the Reactionary – “The Last Jedi changed everything, overthrowing what came before, and ringing in a dark age of Star Wars storytelling which is defined by a rejection of perennial values in favor of the modern agenda. It should be condemned!”
These are the ones who see in the film a break with the past. Tradition, in the person of Luke, seems to be given short shrift. The heroism of the past films is made to look foolish in a hamfisted manner. The old characters are killed off without handing much of anything off. Story and character choices appear to be agenda rather than plot driven.
It should be recognized that these tend to be “wrong-side of history” folks – from Conservatives, to Altright, to Reactionary Traditionalists. They want to either keep the current order in place or return to an order more grounded in tradition.
Thirdly, the Hermeneutic of Continuity – “The Last Jedi has some ambiguity in it’s treatment of traditional values and includes more modern sensibilities. We should welcome its challenge to refining and reaffirming the traditional values in light of the modern situation.”
I’ve only met one person espousing this, really, and not online. He made a cogent argument for the movie’s strengths even among its weaknesses (e.g. the whole Finn and Rose subplot). On the matter of, say Luke’s plot, one must lean in to Luke’s despair – he is seeing everything he’s worked for fall apart, he feels abandoned by the Force, he feels like this is just a cyclical pattern, he can’t overcome his attachment to the Jedi ways which only exacerbates the despair – and so his tale becomes one of trying to find a way out of despair. His first choice is just waiting for death, but by the end he is given a new way out in self-immolation as a sign of hope for others. Theoretically, you could do the same sort of lean-in for much of the rest of the film.
This is basically an attempt to rise above the ideological commentary of the film and to allow the traditions and values of the past to fill in the connections and plotholes and so become the guiding light on that which appears new. This is a typical practice in large paradoxical canons (see Marvel or DC) or religions founded upon textual continuity (see Catholicism).
It’s a reading I’m sympathetic toward – it’s animated by great optimism. If TLJ was a religious text, I’d basically read it as such. That’s by and large how I read Vatican II and certain recent comments by the Holy Father.
But TLJ is not a religious text. It’s formed by its cultural milieu and is similarly attempting to form that milieu. Ideology cannot be separated out so neatly, especially on a cultural artifact of this scale and where one’s ideological opponents won’t do so. Reading 3 is aligned with 2 insofar as it is not progressive but conservative and traditional, and so is an opponent of 1.
Upshot to all this reflecting – our discussions of The Last Jedi aren’t about The Last Jedi. They’re about who we are and who we are seeking to be – traditional (which the OT and Prequels fundamentally were) or liberal-progressive (which the sequels seem to be embracing).
So I exercise my right be a reactionary. Ultima Jedae delenda est.