This article comes from Den of Geek UK. It contains Star Wars spoilers!
Back in December of 2015, I wrote an article entitled “Why Star Wars Matters,” which was essentially a love letter to the franchise in anticipation of The Force Awakens making its big screen debut. One of my main considerations was that the new trilogy of films wasn’t being made for us, and by “us” I mean anyone who isn’t currently a child. Of course the appeal of Star Wars is universal, but different generations have had their own trilogies and will defend them all accordingly, even The Phantom Menace.
My three year old adores all the characters in the Star Wars universe, free of the cynicism and bitterness that seems to consume so many people, who look for every negative within a popular film, as if it were made as a personal affront to their own existence. The two extremes don’t make one right and the other wrong, but merely that if you’re old enough to log a comment on a website, then you’re most likely not the demographic for a new Star Wars movie, unless it’s Rogue One of course, but there’s an exception to every rule.
After watching The Last Jedi, I immediately set about looking for reactions and reviews, assuming that because the film had taken on board criticisms aimed at The Force Awakens for re-treading A New Hope territory, that it would be met with a rapturous reaction. I was wrong. Though it did seem there was a grace period of twenty four hours, where the news was full of positive reactions from fans and critics, until the usual and sadly predictable backlash began.
It’s nigh impossible now to make a film that pleases everyone, with blockbusters proving more divisive than ever – slate Justice League and you’re a Marvel lover or a stuffy critic, but love a film like The Last Jedi and you’re on the Disney payroll (I wish). It’s a shame that anger has become quite so cut and paste, when the rest of us just want to love every film we watch, realizing that nothing is perfect and it’s healthy to have a difference of opinion.
Many of the accusations leveled against The Last Jedi seem to completely contradict themselves, smearing Vaseline over the rose tinted specs used to look back on the Prequels, as if they were superior in every way to The Last Jedi, which is completely unfair. So in a bid to bring balance to the force, let’s tackle all of the main criticisms aimed at writer-director Rian Johnson’s movie one by one:
It isn’t the Luke Skywalker we all know and love.
Mark Hamill said he disagreed with every character decision that Johnson made for Luke and, even as someone who loved The Last Jedi, it’s easy to see why. Everyone was expecting a kind but withdrawn Jedi Master, who could be quickly redeemed by the appearance of Rey’s powerful innocence and commence training her, as he had been trained before – only that would have been utterly predictable.
There had to be a damn good reason why Luke hadn’t come out of exile of his own accord during the events of The Force Awakens. Closing himself off from the Force made it so that Luke was oblivious to Han’s death and the turmoil of the galaxy. He couldn’t have done it without harboring a real resentment, the kind that would consume him with bitterness, for the Jedi and the ways of the Force.
In The Last Jedi, Luke has an edge and stays true to his own belief that he’ll do more harm than good if he gets involved. The fact that he doesn’t fly off with Rey and Chewie for the final fight, but later returns of his own accord, gives emotional weight to his redemption and it’s one that lingers. His death also has meaning and purpose, unlike Han who was clearly killed off to emulate Ben Kenobi’s death in A New Hope.
The Finn and Rose’s casino adventure drags and is unnecessary.
I have to admit that the pacing does suddenly drop a little, while Rose and Finn search for an infamous codebreaker who can help them disable the First Order’s hyperspace tracker. Yet, while the anti-capitalist message is a bit heavy-handed, the encounter with the children in Canto Bight – which seems so incidental at first – is the crux of where the Star Wars franchise is heading next.
Not only do we meet a Force-sensitive child at the end of the movie, but the story of the Rebellion is spreading yet again to all corners of the galaxy, inspiring people across the to rise up against oppression, from the First Order to slave owners, tying into Poe’s “We are the spark” speech beautifully. It’s always difficult to judge the pacing of a scene on first viewing when it does seem an unwanted distraction, especially when the other storyline involves Luke. That said, the coda gives us a better understanding as to why the Canto Bight section is in the movie to begin with.
It’ll be interesting to see what Finn can bring to the next chapter, as his character has been struggling for purpose since getting butterflied by Kylo Ren, possessing no Force powers, without Dameron’s swagger, and suffering from being apart from Rey. Finn’s still an affable foil and here’s hoping he gets more time with Rey and Chewie next time around, but there’s a strong argument that he should have been allowed to sacrifice himself during the final battle.
We don’t find anything out about Snoke before he’s killed.
Well, we didn’t know anything about the Emperor in the Original Trilogy either, until it was retrofitted in the Prequels. It seems as if the anger surrounding the lack of an origin story for Snoke is a strange combination of destroying all the fan speculation and conspiracies, mixed with Hollywood’s formulaic insistence that every character must have an origin story.
Yes, it was a bit of a shame that more wasn’t divulged, but at the end of the day it was Snoke’s abusive relationship with Kylo that was more pivotal to core of the story, as he was only interested in using Ren as an insider, rather than fitting him to the usual master/apprentice template.
Rey’s parentage and the other threads from The Force Awakens were all thrown out.
Now I really do love a lot of things about The Force Awakens, but last time I checked there weren’t many champions defending it with the same fervent passion that seems to fuel The Last Jedi backlash – as I remember people moaned about everything from Kylo Ren’s villainy fading into a teenage tantrum, to the “duck-faced” stormtrooper redesign.
If TLJ had followed through with all of The Force Awakens‘ plot threads, there would have been an equal (if not worse) outburst, similar to those that have accompanied such obvious character reveals in the Bond and Star Trek franchises of late. Should Rey have been revealed to be a Skywalker, it would have been a painfully predictable moment – and a lazy narrative choice. No one predicted that Rey was a no-one, who came from nothing. There’s a lot more to be mined from that, then if she simply had to carry around Skywalker baggage for the rest of the saga.
We wanted more Phasma.
Well, you got about the same amount of Phasma as you did Boba Fett in the Original Trilogy. Since she was simply flushed down a garbage shoot in The Force Awakens, it was at least nice to see her go down in battle this time around. Besides, is there a chance she’s still alive? We never saw a body…
The humor was jarring and ill-fitting.
You mean as opposed to The Phantom Menace, which saw Jar Jar pratfalling endlessly, or little Ani spouting inane lines that still make me cry a little inside? Or did you mean Attack of the Clones, where Threepio gets his head knocked off and stuck on a battle droid during the biggest Jedi battle ever? Or any of R2’s comedic moments at the start of Revenge of the Sith, just before Dooku is brutally beheaded? Or the essential addition of swinging Jawas into Star Wars? Or… wait I’m going to skip Empire, because I can’t bring myself to say a bad word about it. Or most of Return Of The Jedi, from the replacement of Lapti Nek, to the Ewoks, to Chewie’s Tarzan call?
Either way, comedy is so subjective that the content will always divide an audience – I actually laughed a lot at Poe’s “Holding for Hux” skit, which many seemed to have hated – but to say it’s not very Star Wars just isn’t factually correct.
Leia flying through space with the Force is ridiculous.
As I’m typing this, new interviews with Rian Johnson have appeared and he made the very good point in one of them that with each new Star Wars film, there’s an expansion of how people use the force. A lot of people seem to have struggled with Leia’s use of the force, or at least how it’s depicted, but since she’s a Skywalker and we have approximately zero idea of how much she’s gleaned from Luke since the end of Return of the Jedi, why doubt her ability?
It’s certainly a surreal sight, but one that brought me to tears, in no small part due to the tragic loss of Carrie Fisher. Though we might never see Leia’s fate play out as intended – she would have taken center stage in Episode IX – it makes sense for us to see her using her powers. In fact, she seemed like a potentially great mentor for Rey in the next film. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how they fulfill her destiny, but hopefully it won’t have to be cut short.
Why is Rey so badass with the Force when she’s had so little training?
Well, mostly because Rey is pretty badass anyway. When Finn first sees Rey on Jakku, he runs to save her, only to witness her staff skills take out much bigger assailant. When we see her practice her lightsaber skills alone in The Last Jedi, it looks like a similar discipline. If she can self-teach fighting and flying skills and is naturally strong with the Force, why shouldn’t she possess a mastery with that particular weapon? Luke didn’t even have lightsaber training with Yoda, not that we saw anyway, but it didn’t stop him from taking on Vader alone (though I will always love that Vader is only toying with him, using only one hand to fight his son).
It also makes sense that she can beat Kylo Ren, because he’s pretty much impotent with rage, possessing no discipline and the kind of self-entitlement issues that fandom seems to be displaying at the moment. It’s what makes the scene when Rey-Lo team up against Snoke’s guards such an awesome sight. He should have had the upper hand, but it’s his inner turmoil that results in such a messy fighting style.
Poe Dameron keeps acting like an idiot and characters don’t seem to develop.
It’s interesting that Poe’s opening gambit is to disobey a direct order, choosing to take out the First Order Dreadnought at the expense of many rebel lives, as it’s one that not only earns him criticism from Leia, but also from the audience. Strangely, I sided with his plan. Even though the rebel losses were high, it seemed like the vast, hulk of a ship would have led to much greater loss of life further down the road.
His mutiny is a bad move, though. Against Vice Admiral Holdo’s wishes, he concocted an alternate plan – a convoluted one at best. Poe learns his lesson when that plan fails, though, and the sacrifice of Vice Admiral Holdo finally hammers the message home: that he is not the great hero he thinks himself to be, but he could become one. Let’s not forget that Luke spent the majority of Empire whining and being chastised by Yoda – mistakes, not just the victories, that fully round out a hero.
Now, while I can see the concerns over character development for others over the course of Jedi, it’s worth noting that events roll on from The Force Awakens quite quickly and take place over a very short amount of time. Gone are the traditional three-year gaps from previous adventures that have, by proxy, allowed for all kinds of growth and allusions offscreen. I know movies should work on a different dynamic to the real world, but I can’t say that I’ve developed much this week. That said, it was Rey’s journey, alongside Luke and Ben Solo, that really flourished in TLJ and for that alone I’m grateful.