the last jedi shows us how to fight the alt-right
With The Last Jedi being the most political Star Wars film yet, it's increasingly hard to ignore the toxic discourse around many aspects of the film.
Spoilers follow for Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is on track to become the most successful blockbuster of the year, but that hasn't stopped an almost immediate backlash from fans angry at the direction of the new film. It’s far from perfect and there are many legitimate criticisms to be levelled at it, but fanboy temper tantrums and nonsensical online petitions -- such as the one to expunge The Last Jedi from the Star Wars 'canon' -- are difficult to take seriously.
Nevertheless, with The Last Jedi being the most political Star Wars film yet, it's increasingly hard to ignore the toxic discourse around many aspects of the film. Indeed, the parallels between the First Order and the rise of the alt-right are numerous. It's clear that the Empire of the original trilogy were modelled on the Nazis: the brutal, militaristic regime and the uniforms all echo the ideology and aesthetics of European fascism. Similarly, the First Order, rising from the ashes of the Empire, mirror the rise of neo-fascists online.
The similarities go deeper than mere narrative coincidence, however. Obsessed with the past and insecure about their own legacies, both the boyish General Hux and Kylo Ren consciously replicate their fascistic idols like boys playing dress up. In The Last Jedi, old-school villain Snoke tells Kylo to remove his “childish mask”, underlining that Kylo's emulation of Darth Vader is no more than an adolescent mimicking of masculine power. Both he and Hux represent the toxic masculinity of the alt-right, who embrace the ideology, bullyboy tactics and symbolism of far-right politics while paradoxically claiming it is their critics who are the “real” Nazis. When Kylo Ren and Hux describe Resistance fighters as traitors, it's hard not to hear the “will of the people” of recent tabloid rhetoric in their splutterings.
"It seems some fans missed the memo that Star Wars has always been a romantic fable about fighting an authoritarian regime in the face of overwhelming odds."
Though it's troubling to see so much vitriol posted online, it's also a sign of the positive, progressive thesis at the heart of The Last Jedi. It seems some fans missed the memo that Star Wars has always been a romantic fable about fighting an authoritarian regime in the face of overwhelming odds. In a nightmarish political climate, The Last Jedi offers a real sense of hope and resistance to anyone feeling increasingly despondent after the regressions of the last few years.
It's easy to dismiss silly petitions and minor online vandalism as simply the impotent temper tantrums of a minority of overgrown toddlers, but just look to the White House and see how this culture of extreme entitlement -- at the cost of facts and integrity -- can become extremely dangerous.
While Kylo Ren and Hux squabble over Daddy Snoke's approval, the alt-right trolls compete for validation online in a battle over who can shriek the loudest. There has been talk that The Last Jedi's lukewarm audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes (54% at the time of writing, contrasted with the 93% critics' approval) is the result of a campaign by a determined minority to damage the film's score by spamming the site with fake scores. Unhappy at the film’s strong women, racially diverse cast, and the progressive moral idealism of the heroes.
This is especially interesting given that last month, similarly vocal toxic fans were crying conspiracy for Justice League's unfavourable critical reception. Compare this with the lovely, warm story of Rose Tico actress Kelly Marie Tran fortuitously overhearing fans raving about the film and going over to make friends with them. It's fitting that the actor who plays a key figure in the Resistance should so perfectly represent the authentic spontaneity and unaffected joy that can come from huge, shared cultural events, while a handful of keyboard warriors work to undermine the simple pleasure of sharing big, silly blockbuster cinema with each other.
"The Resistance of The Last Jedi mirrors the online resistance against President Trump. The Resistance rebels fight not for their own advancement or personal validation, but for the collective good, its principles set against those of the First Order."
In contrast, the Resistance of The Last Jedi mirrors the online resistance against President Trump. The Resistance rebels fight not for their own advancement or personal validation, but for the collective good, its principles set against those of the First Order. After hotshot Poe Dameron clashes with Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo over a secret plan to escape the clutches of the villains, he learns that he is not in full possession of the facts and gets a swift lesson in listening and respect. Elsewhere, on a mission to casino planet Canto Bight, John Boyega's Finn learns the cost of the capitalist machine that keeps the First Order in battleships, rescuing both the horse-like Fathiers and their enslaved child riders.
Coupled with a climactic fight with old nemesis Captain Phasma, Finn ultimately learns that the cause he is fighting for is bigger than him, sacrificing himself for the greater good. Meanwhile, Chewie turns veggie after learning that porgs -- cute little hamster-penguins animals -- are friends, not food. These sequences represent a confluence of ideologies -- ethnic diversity, powerful women, animal rights, resistance to neoliberal capitalism -- that have come to define the left-wing identity politics of the so-called millennial generation. The proponents of these values have been derisively labelled Social Justice Warriors (it remains unclear why social justice should be considered a pejorative). After this film perhaps the 'J' in SJW should be made to stand for Jedi.
The rise of the online far right is deeply troubling, and the shrieking tantrums of entitled bullies can often seem deafening. But The Last Jedi offers us a different vision, one where we can work together for the common good and where difference is celebrated, not annihilated. The irony is not lost that Johnson's film is a product of the biggest entertainment machine in the world, a Death Star-sized behemoth that has thus far swallowed Lucasfilm, Marvel and most recently Fox. Yet, where the dubious politics of Blade Runner 2049 signal just how far we have to go with gender representation on screen, Disney's The Last Jedi may well be the most radical mainstream blockbuster in decades.