In the Absence of Virtue

As I expected, I caught a fair amount of disagreement with my last post, but I was happy to hear it. I had a few really good conversations where people explained to me the positives of loyalty, and they definitely brought up some things I hadn’t considered. But ultimately they did not change my mind about loyalty being inherently virtuous.

That’s not because (as some people took it) I hate loyalty specifically, but rather that I don’t think any character trait is inherently virtuous. I was picking on loyalty last time mostly because it was on my mind, and it’s one I don’t think we question enough. But I’m happy to question the virtue of every supposedly positive character trait, including my own.

So now I will need to break that down and then talk about how we can behave in the absence of virtue.

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Replacing Loyalty

I am skeptical about loyalty. I’m not normally one to inspire it, and when I have given it I have not often received it in turn. It’s important for me to say that because I realize it colors the argument I am about to make:

Loyalty is not an inherently positive character trait.

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Criticizing Empire Like It’s The Last Jedi

I don’t normally do this, but this time, I’m going to start with my conclusion. Because I want you to know where this is going before you get into the pointed jokey part. So here’s the main point I want to make:

You are allowed to like or not like any Star Wars movie. But it’s time for you to acknowledge that your preferences are emotional, not rational.

Those of you who hate The Last Jedi (even if you’re not an utter jerk about it) are doing so for emotional reasons. All the rational criticism you like to throw around is what your brain does to legitimize a decision you’ve already made. This is not an insult, it’s just how human brains work. We fool ourselves into believing that we make logical choices, but most often those logical chains are built to justify rather than to decide.

I’m going to show you how this works by criticizing Empire Strikes Back in all the same ways that many people have criticized The Last Jedi.

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Themes and Lore of The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi has been around for a couple of weeks now, and everybody seems to have a strong opinion one way or the other. There have been plenty of good and even a few great articles written about how the disruptive nature of its narrative is a positive direction for the franchise, while some supposed fans have complained that it is too much of a departure, that it is somehow no longer Star Wars.

This latter complaint is the one I want to address, because I believe The Last Jedi to be VERY much in line with Star Wars lore and (more importantly) its thematic elements. Those who want it removed from the canon are not only ridiculous but also clueless about the fact that this movie continues traditions that are in every part of the canon.

I will not be addressing scene-by-scene questions that other people have called “plot holes” in the movie. I have found that multiple viewings with these questions in mind demonstrate that Rian Johnson already put the answers to nearly every one of them in the movie itself (from “why doesn’t Holdo tell Poe?” to “how does DJ find out about the shuttles?”). Nitpicking lesser details may be possible, but that’s true of every Star Wars movie, including the supposedly holy Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars has never been perfect.

Rather, I want to talk about two primary themes of The Last Jedi and how they relate to the rest of the canon. I will talk far beyond the 9 theatrical movies and delve into shows and books and games as well. You see, I like Star Wars. And I am tired of people who only like two and a half movies trying to tell everyone else what Star Wars is about.

[SPOILERS below for pretty much all of Star Wars.]

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Narrative Innovations of The Force Awakens

I have mentioned in the past that I really love all of Star Wars, so there was no question that I was going to enjoy The Force Awakens. I could go on for hours about all the wonderful things in it (and I have).

But then people started posting all these complaints about how this movie is just A New Hope all over again. Ignoring for the moment the easy response to this that Star Wars is supposed to be cyclical, I still find this complaint to be extremely superficial. It ignores the amazing new things that TFA brings to Star Wars that none of the previous movies had. Since I am a writer, I am particularly focused on characters, and I wanted to take a blog post to just examine the main characters and the narrative innovations they bring to the Star Wars universe.

Spoiler warning. We are definitely entering spoiler territory. Continue reading