To borrow a phrase often utilized by famed British movie critic Mark Kermode, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a film that’s ‘not without it’s flaws’. It’s a movie that comes to the table burdened by a number of key issues that attract vehement criticism from general cinema-goers and hardened Star Wars fans alike, making it easily the most divisive entry in the franchise to date.
Well, I’m here today to tell you that absolutely none of that matters, because regardless of what else you may have seen or read about The Last Jedi (TLJ), it is and always will be an exceptionally good movie.
Allow me to open the case for the Defense by laying out a few boundaries and borders for us to work within. The chances are, if you’re a Star Wars fan who really hates TLJ, then there’s probably little that I can do or say of any real consequence to change your mind. Star Wars is a highly emotive franchise, that’s been running for a fair old time and has inspired a huge depth of personal feeling for a lot of people.
If watching TLJ left you feeling the urge to hurt either person or property, then you may as well stop reading this now. It’s a waste of yours and my time. But for anyone who merely felt mildly upset or confused by the film’s content, hopefully this piece may well inspire you to undertake a second and more open-minded viewing.
Secondly, the Star Wars franchise as a whole is currently experiencing some high-profile problems that extend far beyond the runtime of TLJ. These are indeed dark times for the force, with the brand suffering from accusations of over-saturation, a battle between creative talent and an overbearing studio, and significant drops in both critical acclaim and box office return.
I’m not here today to offer my personal opinions on these larger issues, but stand before you trying to face off against some of the more unfair and irrelevant attacks on a movie that’s perfectly in keeping with everything that’s gone on before it.
So, before we get to rattling through the list of criticisms that have been leveled at Rian Johnson’s contribution to the Star Wars cinematic canon, let’s look at some of the reasons why TLJ is a particularly strong movie.
From the outset, where Johnson channels countless iconic war movies with the doomed Resistance bombing run into the heart of Hux’s fleet, the intent and scale of the movie become clear. This is a film that is clearly going to be different from what’s gone on before. This is something where the director has been allowed to put his own personal stamp on the material. This is going to be something good.
Which should have come as no surprise to the fans, because Rogue One and The Force Awakens had already teased that this would be the new direction that the Star Wars stories were going to go. Never before had a Star Wars movie killed off it’s entire principal cast, or seen a fan favorite brutally betrayed and slain amidst what should have been a joyous family reunion.
The days of comedic slapstick Gungans and one-liner quipping Jedi Council members were long gone. This was more like Game Of Thrones, but with lightsabers.
Following the opening murderous space firefights, the movie then hurtles forward into the desperation and tension of the escaping Resistance fleet’s final doomed voyage. Finn, Rey and Rose’s sub-plots all clamor and jostle in a bid for the audience’s interest, but in reality the entire film is now building up to that final fateful face-off on Crait.
Once again, proceedings are conspiring to end the life of another founding character, though maybe not the one that the audience were expecting when they had been settling into their seats at the movie’s outset.
The familiar multi-layered battle sequence (space fights, ground fights, Jedi fights) so often utilized to close the previous movies is unsubtly pushed to one side by Johnson in favor of a more compact and emotional ending. As if the loss of the truly kick-ass Admiral Holdo wasn’t enough, it’s now time for Luke Skywalker to make the ultimate sacrifice for his sister and spiritual family.
By the end of TLJ you’re right to feel a little bit numb and lost, that was the director’s intention all along. But what you shouldn’t be doing is whinging that ‘this isn’t my Star Wars’ and taking to social media for an angry rant. You don’t own this franchise, and it’s time for the series to evolve just as everything else does in life.
The reason that the prequels don’t work or connect with the fans as George Lucas wanted them to is that essentially they’re a tired re-tread of the original trilogy. Well, that and some truly awful dialogue and CGI. Fans of the first three movies were quickly bored of the same old characters and tropes being wheeled out in front of them. Which is why help doesn’t materialize for the surviving Resistance members at the end of TLJ – and why the main characters are cruelly and brutally dispatched without more noble intentions or actions.
You have to feel a little bit sorry for Johnson. The second movie of the trilogy is traditionally there to take the fan feedback from the preceding film and then transition that into where the studio want the final movie to end up. Having clearly been given a brief that involved joining the dots between a ‘Point A’ and a ‘Point C’, I personally have no doubt that by the time the third and final movie had been released, TLJ will be viewed in a much more sympathetic light, as it becomes clear why the story had to play out the way it did in order to set up the third installment.
When I’ve tried to push my own friends and colleagues on why they didn’t like TLJ, the answers they provide are almost universally unsatisfactory. “I didn’t get it”, is a popular one. Or, “It just didn’t work for me”. It strikes me that most folk don’t even know why they’re hating on the movie. They just feel like they should, and then seize on some of the popular gripes that have been published online as an excuse. So let’s examine some of those…
First up, a major criticism that fans have with the film is that is doesn’t explain any of the big questions or cliffhangers raised by The Force Awakens. Who are Rey’s parents? Who the fuck is Snoke? The Knights Of Ren, what are they all about? None of these get addressed. My reply to that (beyond telling people to man up a little) is that these are clearly questions that aren’t integral to where the story is going, and that folk should wait until after the third installment is released, as it may well answer them then.
These aren’t valid reasons to hate on TLJ or what it’s trying to achieve.
The next most common gripe is that the studio is trying to shoe-horn and crowbar too many ethnic minorities and LGBT characters into the franchise. My response? Utter bollocks. There have been black actors such as Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones and Samuel L. Jackson in the franchise since it was created.
The romantic elements of the Star Wars universe have always been far less important than the other familial themes being focused on, and what’s the harm in depicting a universe where social themes and attitudes are evolving just like in the real world?
Next up, the idea that TLJ is too jokey? Some viewers felt like Poe’s radio exchange with Hux, and Luke’s little boob milkshake devalued the overall storyline. Again. Utter bollocks. The Star Wars movies have always weaved an uncomfortable path between humor and drama. While children are being murdered and people are having their limbs hacked/burned off, you have the likes of Jar Jar Binks and the Ewoks running around in the background. Again, these are cheap and irrelevant reasons to hate on a film.
Last up is the idea that TLJ just doesn’t do what some fans wanted it to do. With the sad and untimely passing of Carrie Fisher, a significant portion of the fan base wanted it to be Leia that died, not Luke. They also wanted to see some of the more grounded and realistic fan theories such as Rey being Obi Wan’s daughter, being included and validated in the storyline.
Well, just like everything else in life, unfortunately sometimes things don’t work out the way people would like. Get over it…
The Last Jedi is as ‘Star Wars’ as they come. From the kick-ass ‘Rey/Kylo Vs Snoke’ fight scene, down to the fact that every First Order Officer is a British TV actor of note, this is a film in keeping with the finest and noblest traditions of what has already gone on before. Yes. I will grant you that the Finn/Rose subplot is up there with some of the weaker stories we’ve seen so far, and that there’s still a feeling that the filmmakers don’t quite know what to do with Poe Dameron yet.
…But – you need to hang on in there until the end of the story before you form your final opinion.
Star Wars fans wanted a change of direction, and that’s exactly what they got. So save your hate for Star Wars: Resistance. Because that does look truly awful…