MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! PROCEED WITH CAUTION!
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is many things. It’s surprising. It’s emotional. It’s visually stunning. It’s challenging. And at its heart, it’s deeply, profoundly, and unashamedly hopeful.
Star Wars has always been a story about hope—who embodies it, how it spreads, and what happens to those who lose it. In this way, it’s perhaps our most cherished piece of uniquely American mythology. For generations now, people have seen reflections of our collective national fears and aspirations in this saga, and they’ve found hope in this story that has now been passed on for more than 40 years. And that’s what myths are. They’re the stories we tell ourselves to get through the darkest nights, to inspire us to keep going, and to help us believe that heroes exist and maybe even exist inside of us.
In the eyes of some people, The Last Jedi takes that mythology and smashes it—making heroes fall and hope shrink. However, those eyes are trained on the past, and The Last Jedi is a story about the past giving way to the future and old heroes passing the torch to new ones. It doesn’t destroy the Star Wars mythology that’s been passed down since 1977; it expands it. And in doing so, it provides us with a new message of hope that is deeply important for the world we’re living in:
You don’t have to look like a traditional hero to be a hero. You don’t have to be born into greatness to do great things. Your worth isn’t determined by other people’s expectations; every person has value, and everyone’s journey can be a hero’s journey.
The heroes of The Last Jedi don’t look like the heroes we’re used to, and that’s the point. They’re people of color, they’re women, and some of them are middle-aged. The very young, very white, very male Luke Skywalker of A New Hope—who comes to learn that his father was “the Chosen One”—is no longer the driving force of this story. He’s still part of it, but he’s older now. As Yoda tells him in the film, he is what the next generation has to grow beyond. And this film allows the next generation of Star Wars heroes to begin to grow beyond him.
Luke—along with Leia and Han Solo—represented the traditional mold of heroes when they first appeared onscreen. (Although respect must be paid to the fact that Leia was equal to—and perhaps even more heroic at times than—her male counterparts.) They were all gifted in some way. Han made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Leia was a diplomatic prodigy, a Rebel leader, and part of the same powerful bloodline as her brother. And Luke was known for his piloting skills before even leaving Tatooine, to say nothing of his family connection to the Force.
In The Last Jedi, this idea that all heroes are gifted in some way is directly challenged by Rose and Finn. Although Finn was a Stormtrooper (and maybe there’s still something to the fact that he wielded a lightsaber in The Force Awakens), the point is made multiple times that he was actually a sanitation worker. But instead of that being something to be ashamed of as it would be in some narratives, it’s shown to be a strength. He uses that seemingly ordinary background to help the Resistance more than once. And Rose isn’t her sister Paige; she’s not a heroic bomber. She’s a mechanic. She represents the everywoman in this story, and that’s why she’s so important.
Rose doesn’t use the Force. She’s not a typical Star Wars hero. She has a normal job, she gets tongue-tied when talking to someone she admires, and she comes from a small mining planet. She’s also played by an Asian woman, which in and of itself is a big step forward for the face of heroes in this universe. In most other movies, someone like Rose would be relegated to the background unless some revealing twist about her identity came to light. But in The Last Jedi, the everywoman gets to be a hero not by discovering some part of herself she never knew existed but by owning the parts of herself that have always been there. She seems smart and good with machines and numbers, but that’s not why she matters. She matters because she has perhaps the biggest heart in the film. She matters because she’s a normal person without any special powers who just wants to do the right thing and protect those who need it. She matters because she’s a reminder to all of us normal, non-Force-sensitive women that heroism isn’t about fighting against bad guys; it’s about fighting for what you love. The bravest heroes are normal people who take a stand, and Rose never stopped standing up for what mattered to her.
Rose’s inherent sense of right and wrong—coupled with her inherent warmth and kindness—made her the spark that lit the flame of the Resistance in places far from its home base. Leia’s signal might not have worked, but in a small yet significant way, Rose’s did—another passing of the torch from one hero to another—even if no one knows it yet. Her gentle kindness toward the children on Canto Bight showed them what the Resistance is—a light of hope for those in the galaxy who need it most. Her empathy and compassion inspired those children to hope, and it’s so important that it’s her Resistance ring that the little boy is wearing at the end of the film. The Resistance isn’t just made up of hotshot pilots, Rebel princesses, and Force users; it’s made up of ordinary people who believe in fighting for those who are oppressed, and thanks to Rose, the idea that everyone can make a difference in a movement like the Resistance no longer feels like a catchy but ultimately hollow slogan—it feels like the truth.
Rose’s existence also highlights one of the most unique parts of this new generation of Star Wars films: They’re filled with women. Women are doctors, pilots, mechanics, captains, and—most importantly—leaders. In The Last Jedi, the Resistance leadership is almost all female, and the two leaders who are most prominent are both middle-aged women: General Leia Organa and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. These two women aren’t just figureheads, either. They shoot blasters, use the Force, pilot ships, and command with confidence. And when a well-meaning but hotheaded young man (aka Poe Dameron) disobeys their orders; he doesn’t turn out to be right all along. He turns out to be wrong, and as such, the film never undermines its female characters for the sake of making the male character the hero. It’s the male character who has to learn from his failures in this story, and it’s the older women who’ve already learned from decades of failures who are actually treated as figures worthy of respect and of the legends whispered about them in hushed tones.
This is especially true of Holdo’s arc in the film. (I could write another billion words about Leia, but I’ll save that for another time.) She isn’t the prototypical action heroine. As already stated, she’s older, but that’s not why Poe remarks that she’s not what he expected. It’s her purple hair, jewelry, slinky dress, and soft tone of voice—her femininity—that defy convention in terms of what a female commander “should” look like. In so many action movies, a woman who looks, speaks, and acts like Holdo would be exactly who Poe thinks she is—a coward at best and a traitor at worst. However, Rian Johnson’s goal in this film was to challenge his characters’ expectations of heroism and our own, so Holdo ends up being one of the film’s bravest characters and biggest heroes. Her sacrifice required nerves of steel and the kind of inner strength few possess, and she did it while looking gloriously, unapologetically feminine. As Leia said, she was more concerned with protecting the light than looking like a hero—but if this movie taught us anything, it’s that the most heroic people are often the ones who look like nothing like what we expect.
And that brings us to Rey’s journey in the film. Even before The Force Awakens was released, speculation began about her identity, and it was all centered on who her parents were. Was she Han and Leia’s daughter? Luke’s daughter? A secret Kenobi? Who her parents were became more important to some people than who she was, and that was reflected in her character. Her search for answers about her identity and her place in the world was wrapped up in her search for the truth about her parents.
And when that truth was finally revealed, it was the hardest thing for Rey to acknowledge—so hard that she spent her entire life repressing what she always knew: They were nobody. They sold her for drinking money, never planned to come back for her, and died unheroic deaths. She wasn’t Luke’s child or the lost sister of Ben Solo. She wasn’t left an orphan by parents who joined the Resistance—or were killed by the First Order. As Kylo Ren reminded her, she wasn’t born into a place in this legend; she comes from nothing. To most people looking at her past, she is nothing. But as Kylo Ren also told her, she’s not nothing to him. And as Johnson makes abundantly clear, she’s not nothing to this story.
Rey is proof that your past doesn’t have to define you. She is an inspiration to kids dealing with abuse and neglect, kids who struggle with abandonment, and kids who grew up in the foster system because their parents couldn’t take care of them. Her story is meant to show that no one is nothing—no matter where you come from, you are a person of value, and you have something to offer to the world.
When Rey goes into the dark place searching for answers about her parents, she sees herself instead, and that’s the crux of her entire hero’s journey summed up in one image. Her identity belongs to her—not to anyone else. She’s not beholden to anyone’s legacy but her own. She is defined by her own choices, her own strength, and her own compassion—not by her connection to anyone else. Rey is the main character in her own story—not a continuation of someone else’s story. She protects the light and chooses kindness not because it’s in her bloodline—that couldn’t be farther from the truth. She does so simply because she’s a good person. And when she tries to help the man she calls Ben, she does so not because he’s really her brother or cousin, but simply because she believes in reaching out to those who need it, in helping others escape the loneliness she felt for so much of her life. Her desire to fight for a brighter future for everyone is what makes her a hero—not her last name.
Rey’s power isn’t tied up in her family history, and that is going to serve the story well going forward. As Luke said, the Force doesn’t belong to the Jedi. In the same way, being able to connect with it doesn’t belong to the Skywalker family. In this universe, the story of Rey is going to resonate with kids like the boy on Canto Bight who have grown up with nothing but a feeling inside of them that they’re meant for more than a life of lonely, hard labor. And in the world outside of these films, her story is going to resonate with anyone who wants to believe they can be defined by who they grew up to be rather than how they grew up.
Just as the Force doesn’t belong to the Jedi, Star Wars doesn’t belong to a certain group of fans. It belongs to everyone, and, as such, everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in this story. That’s where hope is born—in the stories we’re told as children that we cling to like a security blanket. The end of The Last Jedi is so important because those kids on Canto Bight telling Luke’s story with handmade dolls aren’t so different from kids around the world playing with Star Wars action figures. We’ve all been those kids, and now a new generation of kids gets to keep the next chapter of the myth alive by telling the stories of a new generation of heroes. And that new generation of heroes looks a lot different than the one that came before—giving many more kids, especially many more little girls—their own place in the story.
Hope is spread through the stories we share about the heroes we dream of becoming. The Last Jedi reminds us that we can all be one of those heroes—that everyone’s story matters and deserves to be told. And that is the spark that will light the fire that will bring hope to a world that desperately needs it.