The Last Jedi has turned out to be one of the most polarizing Star Wars movies to date. That’s just one of the many reasons why it’s not only great Star Wars but also excellent cinema.
The paragraph above is my spoiler-free review. If you haven’t seen the latest installment in the new trilogy, go do so, then come back and read the rest of the article because there are many SPOILERS ahead. You have been warned.
It seems that most people either love this movie or hate it. The haters can be split into two groups:
The first are those responsible for the abnormally low Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 52%, sharply contrasting the critics’ score of 92% fresh. They’re basically a small but vocal group of trolls who have a problem with any diversity showing up in a blockbuster. I really don’t care about what they think and I doubt Disney/Lucasfilm do either.
The second group, though, are Star Wars fans. In particular Original Trilogy (OT) fans who endured the prequels and had a very real new hope (pun because I had to) that a Lucas-free Lucasfilm could bring back the Star Wars they loved for years.
For the most part, they were okay with The Force Awakens, both in spite and because of it’s retro feel. From what I can tell, many of them quite liked last year’s standalone film Rogue One, too.
This time, though, they’re not having it. 65 000 (and counting) people even signed a petition to get it stricken from the Star Wars Canon.
So what has them so upset? It isn’t the visuals which are absolutely stunning. It isn’t the action sequences which are some of the best Star Wars has come up with. It isn’t the special effects which are, for the most part, practical (yeah, there’s a bit of prequel-like CGI, but it’s kept to a minimum).
While the primary target of scorn is writer/director Rian Johnson, I don’t think it’s for his directing or dialogue. He gets better performances out of his actors than George Lucas did in the prequels and the cast is solid. They are serious and emotional when they need to be and cheesy when that’s what’s called for.
You won’t find any talk of sand and it getting everywhere in The Last Jedi and even the jokes work, which it turns out is thanks in large part to some script doctoring by the late, great Carrie Fisher who plays Leia Organa for the last time in the film.
So What’s Got Them So Pissed?
The problem these Star Wars die-hards turned haters have is with the story itself.
For starters, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) isn’t heroic, at least not until the very end. He’s flawed, weary and filled with regret.
No, he doesn’t join the dark side of the force like his father did. If he had, I think it would have been an easier pill to swallow for many of the film’s detractors. Instead we get a flawed and self-loathing Luke critical of both his and the Jedi’s importance in galactic events. He also says quite clearly that it’s arrogant to think Jedi are needed for the light side of the Force to continue to exist.
The Force is in everyone and every thing, you don’t need to be a Skywalker or a Kenobi to master it. Good thing for Rey (Daisy Ridley) because it turns out that she is neither, if Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) can be believed on this particular point.
Her parents were junk merchants who probably sold her for drinking money and are buried on Jakku in an unmarked grave. She is “nobody” but also the only hope for the Resistance and the entire galaxy.
Some fans, though, feel “that’s not how the Force works!” Or at least that’s not how it worked in the OT or one of the many ways they predicted it would work in this film.
Another section that ruffled more than a few feathers was Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran)’s trip to the casino planet of Canto Bight. Generally, the argument against this sequence’s inclusion was that it was a needless distraction from the dueling main stories of Rey/Luke/Kylo and the Resistance trying to escape the First Order in a movie that clocks in just over the two and a half hour mark.
The Last Jedi is Star Wars at its Best
I’m a Star Wars fan, an OT old school Star Wars fan. I’m not the type that will blindly accept anything produced under the banner. While I understand where the harsh criticism of The Last Jedi is coming from, it fundamentally forgets what made the original three Star Wars films so great in the first place.
They surprised us, had us enthralled in the universe, guessing what might happen next and keeping an open mind about new ideas and interpretations. The Last Jedi does just that.
I didn’t think Snoke (Andy Serkis) would meet his fate in the second film, but after he did I realized it makes so much sense that Kylo Ren would supplant his master and become the main baddie. This unexpected event hasn’t generated nearly the amount of buzz you’d think it would.
I also wasn’t expecting the Luke that we got, but am glad that he wasn’t just a bearded version of the same Jedi I grew up with. Just as Anakin had his redemption thanks to Luke in Return of the Jedi, this movie was the story of Luke’s redemption with help from Rey and Yoda (who also had his own visual redemption from being a CGI character in the prequels).
We didn’t see Luke’s fall from grace except in flashbacks, but where we find him in this movie makes sense and makes for a better story. Also, learning that Hamill wasn’t thrilled with his character’s development (and later regretted saying so), I’m doubly impressed at the excellent performance he gave.
This was a more powerful and interesting evolution of the character I grew up with than him staying totally light or going dark would have been. His revelations on the Force and the Jedi help evolve the Star Wars universe to where it needs to be.
While I gleefully partook in the theorizing on Rey’s parentage (I leaned towards the Grandpa Obi Wan theory), I didn’t get mad at the movie when I was (most likely) proven wrong. In fact, that revelation brought a tear to my eye. You don’t need to be from the Star Wars equivalent of noble lineage to be extremely important.
This carries over to the Canto Bight sequence. Now I’ll admit that when we first went to the planet, I thought for a moment that we were all of a sudden back in the prequels for no apparent reason and was expecting someone to try and sell Finn death sticks.
Soon enough, though, it became apparent that this was a thematically integral part of the story. Poor kids and CGI beasts abused for the amusement of wealthy war profiteers drinking the Star Wars equivalent of champagne are tied into the Force and the future of the galaxy just as much as the Skywalker family.
This becomes crystal clear in the last scene of the movie but is brought to the forefront first by Rose, herself from this world, not the one of space battles and Jedi. That this is taking us away from characters we know for a bit isn’t a mistake, it’s kind of the point.
I was also thrilled watching Finn and Rose plow through the 1% fully aware of the irony that Disney would be marketing the beasts they were riding on as well as the poor kids who tended to them as action figures. Even the intentionally cute for marketing purposes stuff worked in this movie. I can live with porgs, but BB-8 taking control of an AT-ST was great.
Good Movies Get People Talking
Good Star Wars, come to think of it, good movies, get people talking. The amount of think pieces this film has already generated is impressive, quite impressive.
People are contemplating everything from how it takes a stand in the class war to how it is a cautionary tale against the toxic masculinity found in the trope of the hero who goes in blasters wailing. I’ve even seen two articles calling it a subversive AF masterpiece and one from an Expanded Universe fan arguing it has changed Star Wars forever and why that’s a good thing.
The Last Jedi is not only great Star Wars, it is a great movie, period, just as the first three films were. Rian Johnson isn’t changing or erasing the Original Trilogy, he is respecting it by helping the cinematic universe it spawned evolve.
This is exactly the Star Wars we need right now and I love it.
* Images: Lucasfilm/Disney