Joseph Gordon-Levitt Defends Luke Skywalker in THE LAST JEDI in an Essay
Lots of fans are still talking about and debating over Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In the process, director Rian Johnson continues to explain why he made the choices that he made with the film. I don't think I've ever seen a director have to explain so many things about a movie before. As much as I loved the film, I don't think he needs to explain himself, and I kinda wish he would just stop.
Anyway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who starred in Johnson's Brick and Looper finally got a chance to see the film for himself, and after watching it, he wrote an essay that was posted on Medium defending the film and how Luke Skywalker was handled called "A New Old Skywalker". It's actually a really good write up, but I doubt it will change any of the haters minds.
He starts out by saying that even though he is good friends with Johnson, he is not speaking for him with this essay and says that this is just his opinion. He also wanted to make sure to point out that he's not telling anyone they are wrong in their opinions.
"In our ever more gamified culture, with endless awards shows, publicized box office figures, and the all-knowing Tomatometer, it seems conversations about movies are more and more often put into quantified terms of good and bad, best and worst, right and wrong. And then there’s the twitface-insta-fueled tribalism, people taking sides, pointing fingers and spitting venom at the other guys. There seems to be a lot of that going around right now from both lovers and haters of this movie. Dear oh dear, folks. This isn’t politics or sports. The fruit is in the subjectivity. If you feel differently than I do, I’m 100% cool with that. I think it’s often in these very differences of perspective that movies can be at their most enlightening, helping us learn something about each other and ourselves."
From here, he gets into his opinion of what happened to Luke Skywalker. After going into a little background of Luke's past and the way he was in the previous films, Gordon-Levitt dives into it, saying:
The way I see it, The Last Jedi takes two big risks in its depiction of Luke.
1) He’s different than he used to be.
2) Not only is he different, he’s changed for the worse.
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?
This gives the filmmaker and the actor an extraordinary opportunity to tell a story about one of the most universal truths in human experience — getting older. We all get older, and those of us who are lucky enough to survive our youth all face the joys, the terrors, the puzzles, the pitfalls, the surprises, and the inevitabilities that come along with doing so. Re-meeting our beloved protagonist decades after we last saw him, only to learn that the passing years have changed some of his most fundamental qualities, I’ll admit, it’s almost hard to see. But in that glaring contrast between the Luke of old and the new Old Luke, The Last Jedi offers a uniquely fascinating portrayal of a man’s life marching inescapably forward.
Time changes us. Go talk to anybody in their sixties and ask if they feel very different than they did in their twenties. The look on their face will almost surely speak volumes. As do so many such looks from Mark Hamill in what I feel is a beautifully nuanced and heartfelt performance.
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.
A flawed main character is one of the main distinctions between a story with substance and a gratuitous spectacle. It’s often through a character overcoming their flaws that a movie can really say something. Yes, when the movie begins, Luke has grown cynical. He’s lost faith in what it means to be a Jedi. He’s let fear of the Dark Side of the Force corner him into isolation and inaction. But he needs to start there, so that he can overcome this grave deficit.
To me, this is a story about not losing faith: faith in the outside world, faith in your allies as well as your enemies, in the future as well as the past, in the next generation that will take your place, and yes, faith in your own damn self. Luke has made mistakes that had terrible consequences, and his regret is so strong that he wants to give up. We need to see that despair, hidden under a crusty front of indifference, so that when he finally decides to put himself out there and make the ultimate sacrifice, it means something. It means more than just stalling the First Order to let the remainder of the Resistance escape. Our protagonist has arrived at the end of his journey. He’s re-found his faith, both in the past and the future of the Jedi Order, and even more importantly, in himself. Again, it’s in that glaring contrast between a journey’s beginnings and its end where we find a story’s meaning.
And so, speaking of faith, I’ll end on a bit of a meta note here. It feels to me like a good chunk of the backlash against The Last Jedi is about exactly that. Star Wars has a certain sanctity for a great many of us, and it’s understandable why current circumstances might rattle a fan’s faith. The ultimate authority in this world, its auteur, George Lucas, has recently passed the torch onto the next generation. The new owner of Lucasfilm is a massive media conglomerate. But I think the new Luke Skywalker of Episode VIII gives us good reason to feel reassured.
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.
I completely agree with Gordon-Levitt's thoughts on this topic. It's a well thought out piece that will help keep the conversation going while we wait to see what J.J. Abrams ends up doing with Episode IX. What do you think about what Gordon-Levitt had to say here?