There was a lot to like about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I’m going to be talking, here, about a specific problem I have with the very final scene in The Last Jedi, so I want to start out by saying, a) spoilers ahead, and b) this hot take (™) is coming from a place of love. Here’s the problem: after talking about hope, and retaining hope and losing hope and reinvigorating hope throughout this movie, the final scene is supposed to feel hopeful, but instead made me sad and panicky, because it illuminates a problem with the depiction of childhood in Star Wars movies. They’re movies I love, and I want them to do better by kids.
In the final scene, we return to the lives of the young captive children who are made to tend the racing beasts freed by Rose and Finn earlier. The camera discovers them in what can only be an illicit moment of leisure, and they are telling stories of the Resistance. Interrupted by a large, clearly adult being who yells at them, they scatter and return to work. The camera follows a small kid who casually uses the force to pick up a broom and starts sweeping. He looks out into the starry sky, soulfully, probably, dreaming of the Resistance, and the music swells as we are are shown that he wears Rose’s ring with the symbol of the Resistance. As he looks out into the stars. Soulfully.
I feel that scene is supposed to fill me with hope. The swelling music, the fortifying stories of the Resistance and the symbol on the ring, the fact that this kid can use the force, all of that is supposed to make the audience feel that a rejuvenation of the movement and a resurgence of the Resistance are on their way.
Instead, I ask: Is the existence of a downtrodden underclass inherently hopeful because they might rise up? Is the daydream about the Resistance at the end supposed to make me think these children will rebel against their oppressors on their own, successfully, and form a child army? Is that good or hopeful? Why didn’t the possibility of rescuing these captive children come up when Finn and Rose were freeing the racing beasts? Is someone on their way right now to save these kids? Where are their parents?
The fact that the kid has hope does not, at the end of the movie, feel hopeful to me, because that final question, where are their parents, illuminates fans ongoing issue with the multigenerational saga of the Skywalkers that is these eight movies so far: these movies are not great at dealing with childhood or parenting. In the most recent movies, for instance, we have learned that Finn was stolen by the army as a baby and raised with a number instead of a name. Our current information about Rey indicates that she was abandoned as a child. In Rogue One Jyn Erso saw her parents get taken away from her. All these heroes, like the captive children shown briefly in The Last Jedi, kind of have to raise themselves. They don’t even get the implied loving surrogate families Luke and Leia got in the original trilogy.
And for all the extremely important Darth Father issues that plague generations of the Skywalker extended family, we don’t really see any parenting of children. Kylo Ren is so dadless he can’t even find a shirt. There are indeed intergenerational parenting problems writ large and operatic. But childhood, and the importance of parenting in it, is evoked a lot in the Star Wars movies but not depicted.
This movie is doing extremely well in the box office and deservedly so. As is already being discussed in reviews, The Last Jedi explores what a Star Wars movie can be. If messed up childhoods are going to continue to feature in these films, I, personally, want the Star Wars movie narrative to treat childhood more thoughtfully, and I want that poor kid with the broom to have a nice life of levitating rocks rather than needing to join the Resistance.