The Last Jedi brought animal welfare to Star Wars
The Sequel Trilogy is controversial in Star Wars fandom, perhaps even more so than the prequels. I do not understand this. The themes that George Lucas explored on his return to the franchise, about a republic descending into fascism, were interesting. But the actual storytelling was atrocious. The sequels, while flawed, were very watchable.
Maybe we just had more time to digest the Prequel Trilogy, or maybe the people who grew up with them are now old enough to watch the movies with nostalgia. I was young when The Phantom Menace arrived, but not young enough to absorb the film and the two that followed uncritically. I was aware of the beatings they received from the reviews and was mostly okay with that.
My review of the Sequel Trilogy is not unique. In retrospect, it’s clear there was no plan. If neither JJ Abrams nor Rian Johnson wanted to direct three films, I wish one of them had been tasked with creating an overarching narrative that the other would follow. Ultimately, the trilogy looks like a car driven by two people fighting for control of the steering wheel.
Personally, I prefer the Abrams movies, even though The Force Awakens is spin-off and The Rise of Skywalker is inconsistent. They look more like Star Wars to me. Also, the relationship between Han Solo and Kylo Ren is one of my favorite parts of the trilogy and it mostly plays out in the first and last episodes. Their dream reconciliation might be the most emotional scene in the entire franchise.
Count me among those who don’t appreciate the portrayal of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, or the various ways Johnson undermines what Abrams establishes in the first movie. One thing I love about the middle entrance, however, is that it features animal welfare as a concern in the Star Wars series. I wanted to see the film again in that spirit.
I have to say that I don’t think cultural analysis is particularly important as a way for activists to change their minds. I like it, and it’s a nice break from other, more effective forms of activism. In that sense, it is important. Being an activist, especially in a time of backlash like the one we are going through now, can be a thankless quest. Anything that helps you keep going should be prioritized.
There are two storylines in The Last Jedi that establish animal welfare as a concern within the Star Wars franchise. The first concerns Chewbacca and the porgs. Chewie travels to the ocean planet Ahch-To with Rey, who attempts to recruit Luke Skywalker to join the Resistance. Off-screen, the wookiee presumably hunts and kills small bird-like creatures.
We see Chewbacca roasting the carcasses of porgs over a fire, as he’s surrounded by other members of this adorable species, staring at him in horrified disbelief. The scene is played for laughs, but eventually the wookiee adopts the porgs, allowing them to settle into The Millennium Falcon. To borrow a phrase, he comes to see them as friends, not food.
The second relevant storyline involves Rose, Finn, and the Fathers, a species of horse-like creatures used at the Canto Bight racetracks. Explaining her distaste for the city, Rose tells Finn to take a closer look at the treatment of fathers, who we see whipped and abused. Their treatment is used to symbolize the broader moral rot of Canto Bight.
When the opportunity arises, Rose and Finn release the fathers from their stables. The depiction isn’t ideal from an animal rights perspective, as the couple rides on the back of one of the creatures as part of their escape. But it is a step in the right direction. I’m glad The Last Jedi includes both those scenes and the ones with Chewbacca and the porgs.
I can only hope that future Star Wars movies – and I hope we’ll have more movies soon, not just TV shows – will explore the issue of animal ethics in more detail. While I understand the series is really closer to fantasy than sci-fi, I wonder if the universe might have its own version of cultured meat.
Maybe some Jedi branches could be vegan. That would make sense to me, given the overall philosophy of the Jedi, but it probably couldn’t be a universal requirement, given what we know of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s occupation of Tatooine or the regime of Luke on Ahch-To. Then again, both are in exile and disillusioned with the Jedi at these times, so maybe this could be undone.