Alright, people, it's time to invite the ire of the internet (although considering my readership never really rises above five or so I should be fine) and write about Star Wars, which has become the internet's most divisive topic after the release of The Last Jedi, the franchise's most recent installment of its current main trilogy. While the vast majority of people seemed to have truly liked the film, a small but rather vocal group utterly hate it, and have railed against it for everything from what they see as nonsensical plot deviations to an "SJW agenda." Almost all of these criticisms, in my mind, are a bit ridiculous, but one of the most pervasive and absurd is that the The Last Jedi is somehow tarnishing the grandeur of the Star Wars movies that have preceded it. Most prevalently, people often point to the humor of the movie's opening-scene conversation between Poe and General Hux, as well as other admittedly silly moments in this movie, as betrayals of the gravity of the Star Wars brand and spirit. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, and in embracing sometimes ridiculously silly humor, The Last Jedi, I’d argue, is actually more fervently embracing the spirit of the franchise than any film since The Return of The Jedi. And to prove it, today we're going to take a look at one moment from each Star Wars film from the original trilogy, taking but note the hilarity and downright silliness that's been baked into the series from the very beginning.
To start, let's take a look at one moment in the very first Star Wars film, which occurs as our motley crew is rescuing Princess Leia from the Death Star. After they shoot up the cell block where she’s is being held, an Imperial overseer calls in, asking the troopers stationed there if everything is ok. In response, Han Solo, the closest thing to a tough badass the series has, says this:
This short sentence is absolute comedic gold. It combines so much that's wonderfully funny and silly about this moment: the feeling of panic when you have no idea how to answer a question you need to answer, the way we tend to ramble in an awkward situation, and the unfamiliarity Solo has with short military communications in his need to ask back "how are you?" And to cap it all off, Ford finishes the mini-monologue with the quintessential "why the hell did I just say all that?" face. It's an utterly hilarious moment, and one that does a wonderful job of exposing something as awkward that would genuinely be so I’m realnlife. Nor is it the only one in the film. You'll remember, I hope, that Leia punctures the dramatic moment in which Luke arrives to rescue her by calling him "a little short for a stormtrooper" (reminding Luke that, like a doofus, he completely forgot he was wearing stormtrooper gear), that this is the movie which introduced the whole "wow the Millennium Falcon really is a piece of junk" riff that runs throughout the franchise to this day that there's a sequence in this film which involves Han Solo chasing off a group of stormtroopers while yelling like a banshee only to round a corner and be confronted by those same stormtroopers having realized he's just one person and shooting at him, and that A New Hope also invented the "idiot stormtrooper" trope, it's hard to look at this film and not think of it as almost a comedy.
Far from ending this trend, The Empire Strikes Back continues it. This, for example, is how Yoda - who, remember, had only been described to us so far as a great warrior and Jedi master - is introduced.
This is our first glimpse of the powerful warrior who's supposed to train Luke up into a Jedi in his own right: a goofy, chuckling, nonsensical puppet of a creature who likes eating other people's food and getting into tussels with droids. I get the feeling that most people forgot just how downright ridiculous this character was on first introduction, what with the way the newer trilogy made him more of a badass warrior monk and all. Here though, on display for all to marvel at is Yoda's original form: Jedi master comic relief delivered by a diminutive green puppet who talks and acts in the silliest of ways, to the point that both us and Luke initially consider him a senile old man. This, of course, wasn't the only moment of levity in the film. The entire subplot centering around Han and Leia is practically a running comedy bit, with all its banter and blunders and mishaps.
As will hopefully no longer come as a surprise, The Return Of The Jedi brings plenty of its own downright silly humor. Check out the wonderfully fun speeder chase from that movie, and pay close attention to the gaffe that makes it all necessary.
One thing to remember as we jump into this is that Han Solo is the closes thing this franchise has to an unmitigated badass. So the fact that he, even while striving for the utmost stealth, steps on a twig and gets smacked across the face by a Stormtrooper, necessitating the long speeder chase that follows, is about as silly a joke as you can get. This is a quick moment of levity inserted into an incredibly tense moment in the movie, when the pieces of the final confrontation are being assembled, and it's hard to not laugh out loud as it unfolds. And, of course, it should come as no surprise to you by now, dear readers, that Return Of The Jedi contains more than its fair share of other goofy moments. From Chewbacca apparently thinking so much with his stomach that he'll walk into an obvious trap (and the "can someone move this walking carpet?" line that follows) to the hilarious dialogue between Luke and Han at the Sarlacc pit ("How we doin'." "same as always." "That bad, huh?"), this movie practically reads as action comedy.
Perhaps, if you've been following this humor carefully, you'll notice a theme that comes up rather frequently: things are not often what they seem. Whether it's a supposed badass revealed to be a bumbling, awkward goofball or a Jedi Master shown to be a silly-looking puppet who steals your food and gets in a fight with your droid, the humor in the original Star Wars trilogy is all about subverting our expectations. Here's the thing, though: that idea, that things are so often not what they seem at first glance, may well be the thesis statement of Star Wars as a whole. You think someone is a luckless loser from a nothing planet? Turns out they're destined to save the universe. You this mechanical-looking villain is pure evil? Turns out he's actually your father, and by the way he's going to be the one who actually saves the galaxy. The humor of the original trilogy was in no way some kind of distraction from its significance or betrayal of its grand message. Indeed, it might be the most viscerally obvious implementation of the trilogy's theme throughout its entire all six and a half hours. The humor, in other words, is an indispensable part of the project.
This is one of the biggest reasons I find it so hard to empathize with the people who think that humor, even silly humor, somehow sets The Last Jedi tonally apart from the other Star Wars movies, ESPECIALLY if that humor is used to in some way poke holes in the film's villains. Not only is that absolutely in the spirit of one of Star Wars' oldest and purest messages, that anything an audience takes incredibly seriously has far more levity than they realize (the reverence everyone in the Star Wars universe has for Yoda - a goofy-looking, silly-talking puppet - in the original trilogy could easily be viewed as a metaphor for audiences' own reverence for Star Wars, conceived of as a fun tribute to the action serials Lucas grew up watching), it also serves as an indispensable part of film's more serious purpose as well. Remember, after all, that George Lucas very much aligned the villains of the Star Wars trilogy with fascists, and very much intended his films to rebuke fascism. Especially considering fascism's own predilection for self-seriousness, humor that pokes fun at fascism, as the opening exchange of The Last Jedi does, is nothing more and nothing less than an indispensable carrying on of the franchise's deeply important crusade. In other words, humor, especially humor that undermines reverence, might just be the most important part of the entire grand, meaningful, and beautiful project that we call Star Wars. That it exists in The Last Jedi is cause for rejoicing.
With excitement and optimism,