by Jason Callen
Rian Johnson has accomplished something remarkable. He has taken a sprawling space opera that encompasses 8 feature length films, hundreds of hours of animation, and dozens of books, comics and video games and created a story about intimacy and connection. Given the nature of the force as the “thing that binds us and holds the universe together,” you’d think something along these lines would have been attempted before, and certainly there have been moments throughout the series that highlight the connections the force can create, but it always felt more in service of plot then any kind of exploration of the force’s potential. Through the simple, time honored technique of cross cutting between two characters Johnson creates that connection between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo (Adam Driver). It is the first time we’ve seen two characters communicate with each other via the force. I know, it seems ridiculous right, like this has happened repeatedly, but no, all other moments of force communication (I’m making these terms up as I go) have always been between “ghosts” and the living or been just a word or a feeling between living characters, never a conversation. (And yes, I realize that technically the connection is manufactured by a third party but I don’t think it changes the impact at all). Big deal you say. What’s the difference you say? I know, I felt the same way at first but as Johnson persisted in its use it became clear he wanted to give the force a more important role. So we get this expanded connection and we get Leia’s amazing force moment, which was so necessary and about damn time, but beyond that we get connections between non force wielding characters. Not telekinetic connections but human ones. I’m speaking obviously of Finn and Rose who end up separated from the main action but vital to it nonetheless. With no one else to trust, they must rely on each other. This would seem a fairly straight-forward side mission, something abundant in the Star Wars universe, but when Johnson goes back to Rey and Kylo, the parallels between the two budding relationships become clear. Neither Finn nor Rose is force aware in any sense we are familiar with but their connection is clear and clearly meant to enrich the potential of the force. The “force binds and connect everything,” it is not simply a tool for the Jedi and Sith but something that anyone one has the potential to tap into. As it should be. And while Finn and Rose didn’t exhibit any force powers, I would not be surprised to see them emerge in later episodes.
Luke’s belief that it is “time for the Jedi to end” takes on a different meaning if we accept this. We don’t have to assume a Jedi genocide or more (always more!) self-imposed Jedi exile. Instead the end of the Jedi might simply mean the end of Jedi elitism. People no longer need the Jedi to inform them on the ways of the force or to restrict them in the ways in which the might use it with religious tenets. Put simply, the force is for everyone. You don’t bring balance to the universe by hoarding the force among a select few. You bring balance to the universe by imbuing all with the force. Children abandoned to slavery, former Storm Troopers who grow a conscious, lowly maintenance workers who have only ever dreamed of battle, broom boy…any one could now end up the greatest wielder of the force the galaxy has ever seen. Couple this new potential with Luke’s evolution to a celestial being and it’s safe to say Rian Johnson has blown up the Star Wars mythos, and while many have and will disagree, I’ve found those moments that have garnered the most ire (I won’t list them, you know them) to be the moments that set this film apart from the rest and give the audience something richer than we’ve come to expect. The future of the franchise has never been so wide open or exciting.
Will any of this potential be realized in upcoming films? Sadly I hold out little hope for the next episode since it will be returning to the pedestrian, TV aesthetic inclined, J.J. Abrams who is half the director and a third the writer that Johnson is. But fear not, Disney has already green-lit Johnson a new, non-episode trilogy so there is reason to rejoice and believe he’ll get a chance to move his vision forward, and if we’re really lucky (and if Disney has any brains at all) perhaps he’ll be involved at least in the writing of the next episode. Whatever happens, they better be bold, because the bar has been raised. This is the best live action STAR WARS.