In case you haven’t read my author bio: I have been a Star Wars fan since I was five years old. I have vivid memories of sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car watching A New Hope at the drive-in in 1977. And I’ve been in love with Luke Skywalker for about that long. So to say I was a wee bit excited about The Last Jedi is a massive understatement. (Spoilers to follow, but guys, it’s been a year. I think we’re past the spoiler horizon.)
Thanks to social media reminding us of what we posted a year ago on a given date, I was reminded that The Last Jedi came out about a year ago. And I realized… I haven’t watched since I last saw it in the theaters. No, no, come back. This isn’t one of those “Rian Johnson ruined my childhood” posts. I loved The Last Jedi. I loved it a lot. I was excited about it from the moment I saw the last few minutes of The Force Awakens. I could not wait to see how my beloved Luke turned out. When it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and goodness, I was even more intrigued. I wanted to see a cranky, struggling Luke who was coming to terms with a life that hadn’t gone the way he’d expected. And I got it. Mark Hamill was every bit as brilliant as I expected him to be. The storyline was as good as I’d hoped, full of gray areas and good intentions and being human.
But I don’t know for sure when I’ll be able to watch it again.
I’ve cried during movies before, during books. Hell, in high school, I went to see Dead Poets Society with a best friend and we cried through the end of the movie, the credits, back out to my car, and sat there in the parking lot and cried some more. But TLJ was the first time I came face to face with losing a character that I have known and loved for forty years. I wasn’t terribly surprised by the loss, and I thought the way it happened was brilliant and exactly right. But. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t grieve. That I’m not still grieving, even a year later.
I saw TLJ twice in the theaters. The first time, I didn’t cry when Luke faded away–not much. But the moment the credits rolled and I turned to talk to my friend next to me, I opened my mouth to speak and a sob came out. The second time, I started sobbing the moment we saw that binary sunset and I pretty much didn’t stop until the movie ended. I don’t mean I shed a couple of tears. When I say ‘sob’, I mean body-shaking, trying-not-to-whimper-out-loud-in-the-theater ugly crying. When the credits started this time, I think a few people around me were a little worried.
When TLJ came out, I was a pretty active member of the Star Wars fandom online. In the aftermath of TLJ, I had to step away. Very strong, very different opinions on the movie put me at odds with people I consider friends, so in the interest of that friendship, I stepped away. So I was dealing with two losses, in a way. I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until I realized I was avoiding everything connected to the Star Wars fandom.
That’s when I realized I was still mourning the death of Luke Skywalker.
Don’t get me wrong, I know he’ll probably turn up as a ghost in the next movie, and I know there’ll still be books about him to come out–there’s a lot of story left to tell. (The comics, in particular, are wonderful!) But after seeing him for the first time on screen almost 42 years ago, and then watching him finally fade away… there aren’t words for that sort of feeling. Outside of soap operas, I don’t know of many media franchises where we see our beloved heroes get old and die, and certainly not those as legendary as the original trio in Star Wars.
It was watching the end of an era and it was also coming face to face with my own mortality, something that’s started happening on occasion these days. I was a five year old little girl when the first movie came out. Now I’m a forty-six year old woman and seeing the passage of time in my favorite characters was seeing the passage of time in myself. Seeing Luke–who isn’t that much older in TLJ than I am now–look back on his life and question his choices… I suspect a lot of us ‘original’ fans have found ourselves doing the same thing. Good characters always hold up a mirror to ourselves, but usually, even the best characters can only capture us at one point in our lives–because we only see them at one point in theirs. Seeing Luke, Han, and Leia grow up and grow old (do not get me started about Carrie Fisher, I will start crying and not stop for days), we get to see that mirror throughout a lifespan.
That’s a lot of impact for movies some people dismiss as popcorn movies. (Another ‘don’t get me started’ topic: popcorn movies are freaking awesome.)
I don’t know when I’ll be able to watch TLJ again. Soon, I think, because I keep wanting to relive the not-sad moments. And I need the reminder of the power characters and stories have to connect with us and change us. When the story ends, we have to let them go. But because they’re stories, we can always go back. Like my hero says, “No one is ever really gone.”