The Last Jedi is also a deeply political film, though not in the sense that it's "the film we need right now," designed to speak to our "current moment" — in a saga as mythic and timeless as Star Wars, that would be a serious mischaracterization. But Star Wars is fundamentally cyclical, a story of generations and history, and the ways that wars can be won in one generation and lost in the next if memory of the past isn't preserved. That's the story in the films, but it's also the story of the films, with people who grew up watching Star Warsmovies now bringing their children to new Star Wars movies. And it's no spoiler to say that the generational nature of its tale is something The Last Jedi alludes to explicitly several times.
Since the movies are part of our world as much as their own, it's only natural they'd speak to the big, important ideas that animate political questions of every age. One of the biggest of those is whether power is ultimately a corrupting force, or if it can be wielded for good, and by whom.
In the Star Wars universe, power (often embodied in an ability to control the Force) is indeed a potent corruptor, one that's hard to walk away from once you've gotten a taste. This is what lies behind the stories of the villainous Sith order, but it's a tension that the heroic Jedi face, too.
In The Last Jedi, the factors determining how power will be wielded and yielded are an awareness of history and — most importantly — a connection to that history through the people around you. It would spoil the story to say much more, but in several key scenes, characters face a choice between following the right path and disconnecting from their pasts and from others. The choice is clear, and the images near the film's end underline it in moving fashion.
That's nothing new for Star Wars, which has always been a space opera about a family. But this particular iteration drives home that point in a manner that feels, on the tail end of a wearying year, like a deep point of relief, and even joy. Watching lengthy sequences involving heroic, complex characters played by black and Asian and Latinx characters, we can see a future worth living in. Being told that one character was "more interested in protecting the light than she was in seeming like a hero" is a reminder about wielding power well that feels deeply truthful and necessary today.
I didn't grow up with Star Wars,or much pop culture at all. I only saw the films as an adult, and while I've always liked them, I never connected to them the way so many people have; whatever it was they were trying to give me never really found its place in my heart. I went to The Last Jedi with high expectations because of the talent behind it, but I was prepared to just have a good time. And I walked out feeling many emotions, but especially something like hope, that elusive thing with feathers (though hope, to be clear, is not a porg).
I felt expectant, and I believed not just that what the movie was saying was true — that even a small band of people with purpose, conviction, and a good, true story to tell can carry on in the face of evil — but that there's a special power to saying it in a movie.
Star Wars has been with us for four decades now, telling that same essential story in a format that's overwhelming and engulfing. With wit, skill, and love, The Last Jedi takes up the torch and carries it for a new generation.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in theaters on December 15.