Star Wars: The Last Jedi -- Leaving the Past Behind / by Keith LaFountaine


SPOILERS BELOW -- READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was sold out in every theater in my hometown -- not just in one theater, but in three. To put that in perspective, I can't think of any other film that has successfully sold out one theater here, let alone three of them.

It is an understatement to say that The Last Jedi was one of the most anticipated films of the year. Coming off the heels of the socially and critically lauded The Force Awakens fans were ready to see what Rian Johnson and his team had in store for them. 

Or were they? Because while the film made an astounding $220 million at the domestic box office and $450 million worldwide, and despite the overwhelming critical praise -- this film holds an 86/100 on Metascore and a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- fans have been very split. In fact, this is the lowest rated Star Wars film for fans -- rated lower than both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.

So what happened? Why are fans so angry with Rian Johnson's vision?

I think it's important to mention, firstly, that the hype for this film was unbelievable. It may have been more anticipated than J.J. Abrams' effort back in 2015. The trailer for The Last Jedi seemed to show a gritty, dark installment that hinted at Rey teaming up with Kylo Ren, facing off with Snoke, and learning from a potentially Gray Jedi-Luke. There was a lot of anticipation for how Johnson was going to add to the narrative. However, the fan expectation was that he was going to add to what was already set up before him.

Rian Johnson had other plans. He wanted to make his own film in the Star Wars universe. So he essentially took what he liked from The Force Awakens and explored the themes he was interested in while cutting off (literally and figuratively) the roots he wasn't interested in. He also took Luke, as a character, to a much darker place than fans were expecting and wrapped up a lot of major points of speculation (Rey's parents, Snoke's backstory) within minutes.

Oh, and he killed off Luke Skywalker.

Part of the reason so many fans were disappointed was that they believe Rian Johnson did not honor the legacy of the Star Wars franchise. It wasn't just that he killed off characters and ended big plot points from The Force Awakens, it was that he didn't honor the legacy of the original films. I don't agree with this point for a few reasons.

 © 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

© 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

 

Part of the difficulty with this new trilogy is its purpose -- is it allowed to be its own entity, or must it exist as a revamp of the original trilogy? J.J. Abrams managed to avoid criticism from some fans by delivering A New Hope 2.0 -- complete with a new Death Star, a new orphan stranded on a desert planet, and a new Empire. While there is no denying how effortlessly Abrams executed this vision, one also cannot deny that it was a bit easy. It didn't take any risks. Even the aspects of the film that hinted at larger themes for the trilogy -- the mystery of Rey's parents, who is Supreme Leader Snoke, etc. -- didn't blow me away. If anything, they were almost frustratingly one-note. Supreme Leader Snoke was just another evil, old dude who was really strong with the force (he was so familiar, in fact, that some fans theorized he was Darth Sidious). The mystery of Rey's parents was only interesting insofar as we would learn possibly why she was force sensitive.

There is no denying that these mysteries fueled fan theories for the past two years. In fact, that sentence might be an understatement. Who is Snoke? He might be Darth Plageuis! He might be Sidious! He might be Mace Windu! Who are Rey's parents? Luke! Han! She's related to Obi-Wan?

So what does Rian Johnson think? Well according to him -- and what is now canon -- Rey's parents were drunks who sold her off for a beer. Supreme Leader Snoke is another evil guy who is too blind with arrogance to see his own death. And fans are pissed about that. To be denied their theories, and to have two years of speculation end so anti-climactically, felt like a slap in the face for a lot of people.

But let's really pull apart these ideas -- did we really care about Supreme Leader Snoke? I mean, sure it would have been cool if he was Darth Plageuis or if he was Mace Windu. But those ideas betray everything we know about the saga. Darth Plageus's death was an essential part of Revenge of the Sith -- learning how to conquer death itself was what helped turn Anakin to the dark side, and Sidious's story becomes either ridiculous or silly (or both) if he ended up surviving. Mace Windu was a Jedi who channeled the dark side during battle, but he was still a Jedi Master held in high regard on the Council. Not only that, he was essentially second-in-command to Yoda in terms of power and reputation. Not to mention he got thrown out of a window. But even if he did survive that fall somehow, he was not going to turn to the dark side because of it.

So I would assert that people aren't necessarily angry about Snoke's character being killed off, but that their theories that have been percolating for the past two years have been thrown out the window for a rather anti-climactic ending. And I will absolutely grant that Snoke's death is anti-climactic (and very surprising). But did we really want to go down that road again? Another robed figure with lightning powers who's impossibly old and wants to rule the galaxy? We've seen that already. So why would we want to see it again? Killing off Snoke may have been a surprising move, maybe even a clumsily handled one, but it was the best decision available. It sets up Kylo as the main villain (which is definitely for the best as he is a more engaging character than Snoke ever could be), and keeps fans on the edge of their seats.

Rey's parents are still a point of speculation, as many fans are theorizing that Kylo was lying. But if he wasn't (and I like to think he wasn't) then what does it mean that Rey's parents were nobodies? Well, it means that midichlorians, and the whole aspect of the prequels that fans despised, no longer matter. Anyone can be a Jedi. It further cements the force as a binding, universal force that holds us together and not just a platelet count. 

 © 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

© 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Another point of contention for fans was Luke's characterization. How could this beacon of the light side, of morality and goodness, almost become dark? Further, how could he shirk his duty as a Jedi and become such a morose, frustrated person?

People seem to forget that Luke had to stop himself from murdering his own father in Return of the Jedi. After Vader manages to anger Luke by saying he would turn Leia, Luke screams "never", fights his father, and cuts off his hand. People also seem to forget that Luke has always been tempted by the dark side, ever since Dagobah. So why is the notion that he would be tempted again be ludicrous? Because he's a Master now? He's still a person at his core -- a person who has seen untold sadness, shame, and pain in his life (including almost killing his own nephew because he saw the dark side in him). Why wouldn't he exile himself? Yoda did, too for many of the same reasons.

What is most frustrating for fans, though, I think is that this is the first film in 34 years to actually push forward, to leave behind the original films and the extended universe and to create something new. And this comes back to the purpose of this new trilogy: do we just want these films to rehash the nostalgia of the original trilogy? Or do we want original Star Wars films that push the saga in new, brave directions?

The Last Jedi is not perfect. The second act sags, and there are some very jarring editing moments throughout the film. Some characters aren't very fleshed out either (Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo, for instance). But, as a whole, The Last Jedi succeeds more than it fails, in my opinion. We just need to get beyond the fact that our fan theories weren't entertained and that the saga is moving forward. It's going to be weird and it's not going to be perfect. But it's time we leave the past behind and move forward.

If you want to watch the original trilogy, watch the original trilogy. It's time for this new trilogy to do something new. We should embrace that, not be angered by it.