Joseph Gordon-Levitt has finally taken to the internet to spill his mind on The Last Jedi. The friend and longtime collaborator of director/writer Rian Johnson have made himself present in the Star Wars fan community before. It is hard to forget the Yoda cosplay he sported for The Force Awakens premier a few years ago. He even has a cameo in The Last Jedi as an old and stubborn Abednedo alien on Canto Bight. Why is it that the film has been out for over a month and yet we are just getting to hear his thoughts now? Levitt posted a short essay on Medium today in which he expressed his thoughts on the film and some of the great audience backlash that it has received. He states that his family life has led him to catch the film so late. This is a very just reason for him barely sharing his thoughts, but once you dive into his essay you realize that his words could not come at a much better time.
Before Levitt dives into the film he clearly states that all of his words are coming from his honest mind. He is not writing this piece in efforts of helping out his friend Rian Johnson. He is also not writing anything in efforts to combat fans or proving anybody wrong. Levitt acknowledges how fierce the internet and film criticism can be now. He simply wants to start a conversation with readers.
After watching the film, Levitt was taken by surprise by the backlash that he had just found out it received. Much of this debate, of course, has to do with the depiction of Luke Skywalker. Levitt does agree that this aged version of the character is vastly different from when we last saw him at the end of Return of the Jedi. He states that the Luke used to be and still is one of the great examples of a prime hero from the original trilogy- so it’s understandable why some people might not initially feel okay with his aged state. It was within Luke’s character that Levitt saw two big risks being taken. The first being that Luke is different than he used to be. The second being that he has also changed for the worst.
As for the first risk, he didn’t have to be different. He’s one of the most iconic movie characters ever. A safer bet would have been to bring him back and make him just like he always was. This is what The Force Awakens did exceedingly well. For example, the Han Solo we meet in that movie is pretty much the same charmingly roguish character we loved in the original trilogy. Yes, he’s gotten older, had a kid, but it hardly seems to have changed him much. And that was fine by me. Seeing him again after so many years felt like a sweet reunion with an old friend. So, why not do the same for Luke?
Leaving Luke unchanged would have been a huge missed opportunity. Think about how rare this is. A trilogy of movies is made with a young protagonist played by an actor in his 20s. Then, no fewer than 40 YEARS LATER (A New Hope came out in 1977) this actor gets to play the same character as an older man. I don’t know how many times that has ever happened in the history of movies. Has it ever happened?
Levitt makes a great point here. Mark Hamill had the amazing opportunity to return to a character after his cinematic debut 40 years later. Harrison Ford had a similar opportunity and I think you can agree that audiences accepted Han in The Force Awakens much more than they have Luke now. TFA has great themes of breaking away from old habits. Han’s arc is very much about this and makes his death even more grand and tragic- it was his big attempt at moving forward. Luke already having taken these steps in his solitude makes sense because as Levitt pointed out- we already got a legacy character being the same in the previous film. Levitt also points out that this change and age we see with Luke is only natural. It only makes sense that the adventures and trials of his life would lead him to be a much different person. He implores you to ask any elder you know if they were the same person years ago and examine their response.
The second big risk I mentioned was that Luke has not only changed, he’s changed for the worse. But to me, the obvious response here is that movie characters are usually better when they’re flawed. Speaking as an actor, when I’m considering whether or not I want to play a certain character, I’m always looking for a healthy balance of virtues and shortcomings. Otherwise, it doesn’t feel real. No one is a perfect hero or a perfect villain, we’re more complicated than that, every one of us. Flawless characters feel thin. And forgive me if I blaspheme, but the young Luke Skywalker always did feel just a little light to me, which is why it was so cool this time around to see him fill out into a more imperfect human being.
Everyone makes mistakes and having Luke make some very big mistakes that he completely acknowledges makes him only more human. Having characters with the most human hearts and attributes in a science fiction film is a rare combination that we do not always see now. Luke having risen to the highest of highs to only stumble to the lowest of lows is a character arch that people will continue to speak on for years to come. I would understand the backlash if Luke did not realize to pick himself up from this low point, but he does so in one of the most epic ways. Luke’s last stand in the film is a grand gesture that he could not possibly achieve in his youth. If you were to look at some of the most iconic protagonists in the film, you would find that none of them are perfect. Now if you were to try to look at these same heroes and try to find which also managed to rise from low points like Luke does in TLJ, then that would narrow the list by a lot would it not? Levitt ends his essay with the most perfect summation of why Luke being so different and yet so real makes for an amazing character arch.
That a big Hollywood studio would take such risks on such a big property — again, to present their central hero in a drastically different light than ever before, to unflinchingly deliver the ominous message that even the most pure-hearted idealists can struggle through darkness and doubt — these are not the kinds of decisions that get made when short-term profitability is prioritized above all else. These are risks taken in the interest of building a world that is not only good for selling popcorn and action figures this year, but that thrives in the long-run on a bed of literary substance and artistic dignity. As a fan, I take it as a sign of respect that the movie was not only a good time, but a provocative challenge. A lot of studios and filmmakers don’t think so highly of their audiences. In the end, to me, The Last Jedi demonstrates not only that we can still have faith in Star Wars, but that Star Wars still has faith in us.
Well said Levitt, well said! To read his whole piece click on the source link below.
Stay tuned for more Star Wars updates leading up the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story in May- Andrew J. Salazar (@yokis101 on Twitter)
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theaters now.
Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is directed by Rian Johnson and stars Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Andy Serkis