Spoilers for Logan and Star Wars: The Last Jedi
2017 killed your childhood superheroes. It’s hard to believe that it was just within these past five years that The Avengers grossed over a billion and a half dollars worldwide, effectively triggering the explosion of popularity of superheroes movies, and that Disney resurrected the Star Wars film franchise and released three new films (all of which grossing more than a billion dollars also). Because of this, as 2018 dawns upon us, I think it’s important that we stop to appreciate the fact that in 2017, Hollywood killed the Wolverine and Luke Skywalker.
What’s noteworthy here isn’t that the two iconic characters were simply written off, it’s how their deaths represent growing frustration of the limits of creating stories within these generational franchises and the vision to grow beyond the myth surrounding these stories. Both Logan director James Mangold and Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson aim first to deconstruct the myth of their respective heroes and franchises before letting their heroes pass on.
In both cases, it’s the heroes’ failures that set the stage for both narratives. In Logan, Charles Xavier (who in previous X-Men films provided guidance and answers to all lost mutants) has killed off the X-Men and destroyed his school, his safe haven for mutants, due to an uncontrollable disease that has consumed his mind. As the last X-Man, its Logan’s duty to protect and care for Charles, but he is barely able to provide for him. Meanwhile, mutantkind is on the verge of extinction because of an organization’s tampering with the mutant gene pool. Similarly, in The Last Jedi, the galaxy is in disarray because of the New Republic’s failures. It is also revealed that Luke Skywaler’s direct failures as a teacher led to the birth of Kylo Ren and his disappearance from the galaxy.
Mangold and Johnson takes the demythologization a few steps further, painting the glorious and epic adventures of previous films in a disenchanted and more complicated light. Throughout both films, Logan and Luke Skywalker are treated like and explicitly referred to as legendary figures of myth. Luke admits that the “Legend of Luke Skywalker” is what ultimately caused him to fail, while Laura and Logan’s antagonist Donald Pierce are clear fans of “the Wolverine” myth. “You do know they’re all bullshit, right? Maybe a quarter of it happened, but not like this,” Logan says about the X-Men adventures Laura reads about in the comics. Logan continues that costumed heroics are ridiculous and that “in the real world, people die.” Similarly, Luke’s “training montage” are lectures on why the Jedi must end. Luke’s even explicitly tells Rey that the legacy of the Jedi Order is failure, referencing the events of the Prequel Trilogy. Essentially, both films echo Yoda’s line from the Empire Strikes Back, “Wars not make one great.”
In fact, wars only leave people, places, and systems broken and bloodied. The Last Jedi evokes this depiction of war, despite being tied down by a G-rating, in the Battle of Crait, wherein red soil emerges from the salt covered landscape evoking blood and death. On the other hand, truly earning its R-rating, Logan sets its middle act in the house of the Munson’s, a family generous enough to take in wanderers Logan, Charles, and Laura. This family has seen no violence, other than the occasional threats to the father’s local business, but it’s Logan and Laura’s presence in that house that ultimately leads to the family’s violent death at the hands of X24.
Logan’s demythologization is perhaps best seen in X24, as all of Logan’s flaws manifest in the X24 character, an animalistic machine that has no feelings or free will. Charles Xavier’s unceremonious death at the hands of X24 is a brutally heartbreaking moment in the film, which is followed by another brutally heartbreaking moment of Logan trying to convince Charles that it wasn’t he who stabbed him.
The romanticized idea that our heroes are perfect, that they will save the day, and that they always stand for what is good is effectively shattered in these two films. The audience is left with the depiction of heroes that aren’t always morally right, that do fail from time to time, and that even give up in the most dire of situations. Two of the most heartbreaking moments of any blockbuster this year are the scene in which Luke Skywalker revealed that the reason he shut himself off from the Force was because he failed his students with a momentary lapse of judgement and the scene in which Logan revealed his contemplation of suicide because of the burden and pain his supposed “gift” has brought upon him.
Both Logan and The Last Jedi spend most of their runtime deconstructing and tearing down the myths of iconic film heroes, before letting them die after the battle is finished. Actually, that’s a false statement. In both films, there’s a portion in between the deconstruction of the myth and the heroes’ death wherein the heroes reconcile their legacy with their failures and return in the climactic battle of the film in order to reaffirm the myth. This is a significant portion in both films, for if these segments were taken out, the films would just be paraphrasing Kylo Ren: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” While a bold statement if a film were to support it, the notion is more regressive than reflective. Instead, with the inclusion of the sequences wherein the hero reaffirms the myth and saves the group of the next generation’s heroes, the films paraphrase Yoda: “We are what they grow beyond.”
Yoda tells this to Luke as he accepts the fact that he failed and the possibility that Rey could be the one to right his wrongs and rebuild the Jedi Order. His arrival on Crait serves to echo two sentiments brought up by the Resistance: “We are the spark that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down,” and “We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!” Luke’s “fight” with Kylo isn’t meant to defeat him or the First Order, it’s simply to provide a spark of hope and the means for the Resistance to fight another day. Luke was never the one to save or defeat Kylo Ren. His hope is that Rey will learn from his mistakes the same way he disregarded his masters teachings in order to save Darth Vader.
Logan’s ultimate challenge is to overcome the burden and pain that comes with his immortality, and his failure to protect Charles causes him to believe that he has regressed into being more alone than he was before, the last of his kind cursed to loneliness and isolation. However, it’s through this failure that Logan sees himself in Laura, and how she is still not beyond saving from the life he lived. After initially believing his duty to Laura was over and refusing to help the other X23 mutants further, Logan shows up and sacrifices himself in the film’s climactic battle to defeat the film’s antagonists and to clear the way for them to cross the border. “Don’t be what they made you,” Logan tells Laura as he dies, referencing the fact that they were both rogue experiments filled with rage and made for killing.
It’s okay that our heroes fail, Logan and The Last Jedi are trying to tell us. There is grace in their failure, and their failure then becomes an opportunity for the next generation to learn and grow. In Yoda’s words (again), “The greatest teacher, failure is.”
After Logan’s death and burial, the children walk off to create their own safe haven for mutants, while Laura briefly stays behind to turn the cross over his grave into an “X,” reaffirming his mythic status as hero and X-Man. In The Last Jedi, it’s explicitly shown that the story of Luke Skywalker singlehandedly facing down the entire First Order has made its way across the galaxy, inspiring a humble, stable boy to maybe one day venture off to face any enemy of freedom and justice himself.
Logan and The Last Jedi breathe new life into the mythic storytelling of comic book movies and space operas like Star Wars. They’re challenging films, for sure, as they ask the audience to become disenchanted with iconic heroes of cinema, but they’re better additions to the library of franchise filmmaking for it. It’s an understatement to say that filmmakers like George Lucas and Richard Donner had bold ambition in mind when they introduced narratives like these to the film industry decades ago, and I’d like to assume that they’d agree that now, at this point in both genre’s popularity, is the time for the myth to transform. Whether or not that assumption is correct, one thing I am sure of is that we will move on from Logan and The Last Jedi. Not because we’re going to leave it behind, but because we’re going to grow from it.
Well, at least, until Disney buys us all.
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures