I'm seeing a lot of hate for The Last Jedi, which is weird because...
...I think it was brilliant.
(yes, this will contain spoilers)
The Last Jedi has garnered pretty substantial critical praise, but that opinion doesn’t seem to be shared among the most hardcore fans of the property. Many have displayed what can only be described as a sense of betrayal at the choices writer/director Rian Johnson made in the new film.
Some of the memes circulating in Star Wars fans communities epitomize this:
The really telling line in this one is the third. Fans feel that Johnson squandered the character direction of the The Force Awakens.
Which is sort of funny, since The Force Awakens was terrible. The film just rehashed and repackaged A New Hope. Same power struggles. Same settings. Same story arc.
I didn't realize it until tonight, but the most egregious thing about The Force Awakens is that Leia is back leading a rebellion against an evil empire. For real? At least they bothered to create distinctions between the Empire and the First Order. Leia's rebellion is basically the exact same stupid thing, except now it's her son who's the Sith right-hand-man to the Empe--I mean, "Supreme Leader," instead of her father. How depressing is that? You live to defeat one evil oppressive empire only to have another rise up, led by your own child.
Actually, it's not depressing. It's lazy. Really. #$@%&!*. Lazy.
Which is probably the single best word to describe The Force Awakens. Lazy. Lazy character creation ("She's like Luke but better."), lazy plot ("It's the Death Star but it's a whole planet!"), the whole film is infected with this mindset that just regurgitating the classic Star Wars tropes is enough to please the audience...except, it seems like, for a lot of Star Wars fans, it totally worked.
Way too many of you were totally enamored with it. Too many of you loved Rey, despite the sheer laziness of her just magically deus-ex-machina-ing every single problem she faced. Too many of you were caught up in mysteries that echoed or linked back to the previous trilogies. And too few of you said, hey, haven't I seen all this before?
I get the sense that Rian Johnson did. Because, at times in the film, you can see him chafing against the confines of the box he's been forced into. It comes through most clearly early on, when Snoke advises Kylo Ren to ditch the wannabe Darth Vader helmet, and Kylo proceeds to smash it to bits. Because that helmet, like everything else that comes from The Force Awakens, is unoriginal, a diluted facsimile of what worked in A New Hope. Driver wears it for that one scene, and from then on, it's gone. Forgotten. Left behind. And it doesn't end there.
On almost every level, The Last Jedi is about leaving behind the past while acknowledging what it has taught you and how it changed you. This is true of nearly every single character arc of its ensemble cast. Luke leaves behind his reverence of the Jedi and his fear of the Sith, as well as the burden of his failures with Ben Solo. Finn steps out of the shadow of Rey and Poe to stand on his own as a hero, as well as finding a more realistic love with Rose than the unattainable fantasy of Rey. Leia gets closure with her brother and husband, as well as a moment to connect with her son and know that he wasn't able to pull the trigger. Poe moves beyond the leadership he had followed previously, taking the lead fully at the end with Leia's blessing.
Rey leaves behind the mystery of her parents and the need to follow someone else's path.
And Kylo Ren wants to burn it all down. Which isn't the same thing as what Johnson is doing.
At its heart, The Last Jedi is a love letter to everything that worked in the classic films. It's full of little nods and synergies with the original, without it ever feeling forced into some set Star Wars path, with it constantly undermining or defying your expectations. It has multiple moments of pure wonder that fully embrace the lore while showing us something brand new within it. Story points evolve the world beyond the confines set by Lucas, in ways that don't feel unnecessarily mundane, like trade negotiations, but feel real and meaningful and even reflective of our own world.
That's really what's been lacking in the Star Wars films. And not just The Force Awakens. Every episode since Empire is either a recursion loop or a boring dive into some pointless element of the world that has little to do with the overarching story. This was additive in a way that none of the films from Return of the Jedi on have been.
And that's really what defines the choice Rey makes. Kylo Ren wants to forget the past entirely, to completely slough off the shackles and weight of the past and forge forward into whole new territory. But that's not exactly right either; you can move forward while still respecting the past, and that's really the core of what Rian Johnson has done with The Last Jedi. He's recaptured the essence while stepping free from the burden of pure reverence of the past. And maybe Star Wars fans should do the same.
Because, in the end, that’s the heart of the issue. Star Wars fans can be really entitled. I’ve actually seen it articulated outright, that the reason they don’t like the movie is because Rian Johnson didn’t give fans what they wanted, that he didn’t take their expectations and desires into account. As if that’s somehow the making of great films. It’s not. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s one thing to give your audience something satisfying. It’s another to demand that you be given what you want at the sake of the artistic vision of the creator of the film. Because, yes, this is Rian Johnson’s Star War film. Not yours. Not mine. It’s his vision, he was the one chosen to make it. He chose to say something beyond the simple fan service that seems to be what these fans wanted.
Because doing that is how you end up with The Force Awakens.
BONUS ROUND: MORE MEMES!
This is one of the more well articulated complaints I’ve heard about the film, that Luke has regressed into a coward and that Johnson failed the character, but really...you’re blaming the wrong guy. It wasn’t Johnson who made Luke fail Ben Solo. It wasn’t Johnson who made him a recluse. That all carries over from the previous film. Johnson has the awful burden of explaining it all and making it compelling. Which I think he succeeds admirably, and gets, arguably, the best acting performance of Mark Hamill’s career.
I have a hard time fathoming the reasoning behind this comparison. Jar Jar is little more than a bumbling distraction, and is quasi-racist to boot. Rose is not only an anti-stereotypical Asian love interest, but also a mirror to Finn’s cowardice and a core factor in his growth as a character. Finn stops chasing Rey and stands up for himself and his own beliefs. And he wouldn’t have reached that point without Rose to challenge his view of what it means to fight for a cause and sacrifice yourself for it. Her actions inspired him. And he is a better character for it.
This one requires some context.
A Mary Sue is a character that exists as an audience cypher, an idea that comes from fan-fiction. A Mary Sue is defined by certain characteristics. He/she/they (because, while the term itself is gendered, the concept is not) is placed into an established world and is instantly crucial to the plot in heavy handed ways, they succeed effortlessly in situations that would challenge the original main characters of the story, they are often thinly characterized, with little in particular to define them beyond their ability to solve every single problem that comes their way, often on their own and out of nowhere.
Which is a pretty fitting way to describe Rey in The Force Awakens.
Writer/Director Max Landis got a bit of heat when The Force Awakens came out for calling Rey a Mary Sue on Twitter, and while I get elements of why people were bothered (some of it tied to the gendered aspect of the term, which really belies the point Landis was making), I also fully agree with him that she was a textbook Mary Sue, maybe the most overt one ever put on film. She is able to do things that would have been nigh impossible for any previous force user, with a degree of skill and ease that I can’t really imagine the filmmakers thought through.
Which brings us to Rose. Who, honestly, is not at all a Mary Sue. Her skill set is pretty well defined. She’s an engineer. She has tech knowledge. She dreams of a bigger role in the Rebellion. She doesn’t even magically solve anything. She saves Finn, not through intense skill but blind bravery, getting herself seriously hurt in the process. She has previous knowledge of the Fathier, the horse-like creatures they use to escape, but not of how to escape First Order captivity or in hand to hand fighting or anything like that.
This is why she is no Mary Sue.
I can’t tell what the point of this one is. Empire was great and Attack of the Clones sucked. There aren’t people out there who really liked Attack of the Clones, are there? Or, maybe even worse, who really hate Empire?
I’m really hoping this one is ironic.
Yeah, it must suck to be a misogynist watching The Last Jedi. Women in charge, women pilots, women heroes that aren’t just the “hot chick.” Must really bum them out. Sorry, dudes. (not really)
Because when you can fly the Millennial Falcon like a God and fight a trained Sith the first time you use a lightsaber, why on earth would you need to spar with a little robot with a blast shield over your eyes?