To say that Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been a divisive film is an understatement. Debuting to a positive critical consensus, with a 91% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, critics adored the film. However, audience’s opinions seem to differ. Currently, The Last Jedi is sitting at a 48% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Before we get going, I want to establish that mass user ratings on films are a terrible test of a movie’s quality. (But that’s something we plan on tackling at a later date.)
I’ve spoken to many Star Wars fans since this movie has debuted. Some absolutely loved it, some people think it’s the worst thing since Jar Jar Binks slapsticked his way through the introduction of the Future Darth Vader. Personally, I found The Last Jedi to be an absolute masterpiece, and I think it was the bold directions it took were a right direction for the Star Wars saga as a whole. While the movie isn’t perfect, I wanted to address some of the major complaints about the movie, and talk about what I liked about it.
THE DECONSTRUCTION OF LUKE SKYWALKER
So let’s first address one of the most controversial points of The Last Jedi, which is the way that Luke Skywalker was handled. Luke is possibly my favorite character in fiction, and one of the things I was most anxious about was how his disappearance would be addressed. When we finally reunite with Luke, we meet a bitter old man, quite the opposite of the almost benevolent and unbreakable Jedi we saw at the end of Return of the Jedi in 1983.
Luke Skywalker has always been a tragic character, and he’s never been perfect. Thinking about Luke’s life, his actual mother died in childbirth (from sadness or something like that), he lived on a barren planet while his friends left him one by one to live out his dream at the Imperial Academy, he saw his Aunt and Uncle burned to death, he lost his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, he found out that his dad was basically Space Hitler, he found out that he’d been crushing on his sister, he lost yet another mentor in Yoda before he could even complete his training, and then when he finally succeeded in turning his father to the light side, Anakin died in his arms. That’s a lot to deal with, on top of the fact that you’re constantly fighting an uphill fight against a superior force in The Empire. If anybody else wanted to turn into a hermit and live on a secluded island after all that, could you blame them? And despite all of this, Luke still hadn’t broken yet. It wasn’t until years later that he would be sent over the edge, where Luke admits that in a fleeting moment of weakness, he almost struck down Ben Solo when he felt that he had been turned by Snoke to the Dark Side.
That scene alone is where most of the fans have been hung up. How could Luke Skywalker go into his nephew’s tent while he was sleeping and consider murdering him? It needs to be said that Luke never went to kill Ben Solo, he went to his tent to see how far gone Ben had gone. He had already turned to the Dark Side, Luke went to confirm that. But when he felt what was really inside Ben, he was horrified to the extent that he was overcome with emotion. He saw everything he had worked so hard to build crumbling down, and he had a moment of weakness that passed like a fleeting shadow.
Does that sound uncharacteristic of Luke? Not as much as you’d think. In Return of the Jedi, Luke had every intention of saving Vader and bringing him back to the light. But when Vader found out that Luke had a sister, Leia, he threatened to go after her if Luke wouldn’t turn. In that moment Luke was overcome with absolute rage, and attempted to destroy Vader. As it turns out, Luke’s weakness is his friends, and when he feels that they are threatened, that’s when he’s most susceptible to the Dark Side. Which sounds pretty familiar to his father’s own struggle.
Regardless, in Ben’s tent Luke immediately realized what he had done. But by then, it was too late. In a moment of weakness, he had destroyed everything he had ever worked for. But worse, he had betrayed his own nephew, his best friend, and sister in one fell swoop. Earlier we established everything Luke Skywalker had been through and how he had come out on top of it. None of those things were his fault, he was simply reacting to situations he had been placed in. But when he went into Ben Solo’s tent, it was finally his fault. He talks later about the Legend of Luke Skywalker, how the galaxy saw him as a divine character, and how even he bought into that fantasy. And his own pride had caused his downfall. In thinking he could prevent another Darth Vader, he created one.
So what are the things that we find special about Luke Skywalker? He’s far from perfect. He’s whiny, he’s never focused (always looking to the horizon), he’s incredibly naive, and in The Last Jedi he admits that he fell into his own hubris and believed he was invincible. But despite his flaws, he’s fiercely loyal to his friends, he’s unwavering in his commitment to the Light, and he inspires others to be better.
Instead of giving us a benevolent, all-powerful Jedi like many fans were hoping for, The Last Jedi gave us something much different, but much more intriguing in Luke Skywalker. Instead of the legend, we were exposed to the human side of Luke. I think that it needs to be said that it’s a testament to Luke that he never turned to the Dark Side, despite everything he had gone through. Instead, he isolated himself and separated himself from the temptation of the Dark. He never stopped being Luke Skywalker, but he was stripped down to his barest form. Luke’s arc in The Last Jedi is incredibly beautiful, and one that solidifies him as one of fiction’s greatest characters. Instead of a One-Dimension archetype of a protagonist in a hero’s journey, he becomes something more complex. And he learns how to reconcile the version of himself that is human, and how to use his legend for good. In the end, he inspires the galaxy to stand against injustice, and in his final moment he gives the Resistance the one thing he always embodied: Hope.
THE MARVEL-IZATION OF STAR WARS
One of the next biggest gripes of The Last Jedi is that it doesn’t feel like a Star Wars movie, rather it feels like a Marvel movie. I’m actually not going to dispute this point, I’ll actually agree in many aspects. But I am going to defend it.
Star Wars has always existed as a product of its time. A New Hope was inspired by quite a few works, notably Sci-Fi Serial Flash Gordon and Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress are named as two of the most prominent inspirations. The point being, Star Wars didn’t invent the wheel, it simply perfected it.
The humor and style of the Original Trilogy however, is very much a product of its time. When it was released in 1977, humor in films was much more subtle and the dialogue much quicker. Star Wars invented me of the Modern Blockbuster tropes that we see in films today, so it stands apart from other films from 1977, but some of the best parts of Star Wars come from its inspirations.
The most interesting thing about Star Wars now is that we have three different trilogies, each from three very different times.
The first example is the Prequel trilogy, which was released in 1999 and continued through 2005 is absolutely a product of “What Would a Star Wars Movie look like in the Late Nineties and Early 2000s?” It has a much more hammy way of tackling humor, such as Jar Jar poop jokes, slapping C-3PO on a battle droid, or giving R2-D2 a million gadgets to participate in various hijinks. I love the prequel trilogy, but at the end of the day, it relies on the cliches of that period of film. The prequel trilogy is bogged down by clunky CGI and relying on spectacle instead of character growth.
And now we’re in the middle of the sequel trilogy, and we’re finding out what exactly Star Wars movies look like for us today. One thing that sets apart this trilogy from the prequels is the attempt to pay respect to the Original Trilogy, and return to a formula that is much more focused on character growth and a nostalgic atmosphere. While it has a strong focus on what came before, the Sequel Trilogy is very much a product of its time. That includes modern humor, spectacle, and pacing. In The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, characters throw out quips more quickly than can be counted. For many purists, that can be jarring in a Star Wars movie. But if Star Wars ever wants to grow beyond its own legacy, it has to evolve. It can’t simply cater and replicate the Original Trilogy ad nauseam. It must cater to a new generation of fans, and I think it’s been incredibly successful in that respect.
As Yoda says, the burden of a master is that what they are, what follows them grows beyond them. I think the Star Wars Story additions like Rogue One and Solo will always be there to cater to the more nostalgic crowd, but I appreciate the new trilogy for taking risks to grow beyond a shallow replication of something we’ve already seen. The prequels were strongest when they took steps out of our comfort zone, and went out of their way to build Star Wars lore in new and exciting ways.
SUBVERTING THE FORCE AWAKENS’ EXPECTATIONS AND BOLD NEW DIRECTIONS
In the trailer for The Last Jedi, we get a shot of Luke Skywalker yelling, “This isn’t going to go the way you think!” In hindsight, that one line is much more prophetic than fans were anticipating. At the end of The Force Awakens, fans were clamoring for answers that had been set up by questions posed by the movie: Who is Snoke? Who are Rey’s parents? Where has Luke Skywalker been? What’s going to happen to Finn? It caused some major whiplash when those questions were answered, but not in the way fans were expecting.
Who is Snoke? It doesn’t really matter, he simply represents that evil will always rise up in the galaxy. He serves as Kylo Ren’s greatest obstacle, and their relationship mirrors that of Vader and The Emperor, and how Kylo did what Vader could never do by usurping his master.
Who are Rey’s parents? Turns out she’s not a long-lost Kenobi, she’s a nobody. Her parents were junkies who sold her into slavery. But despite being a “nobody” she becomes the galaxy’s greatest hope, and because of her actions, she’s revered in the Resistance. Because of who she is, and not where she came from.
Instead of catering to fan theories, Rian Johnson took the story forward in a way that nobody would expect, and it’s stronger for it.
Instead of taking the new trilogy and rehashing old ideas, Rian Johnson took the trilogy in a direction that was fresh and innovative. Instead of focusing on the old guard, The Force Awakens dove headfirst into its new characters and their relationships. Rey and Kylo Ren’s connection is one of the most unique in Star Wars, and the way that Kylo is fleshed out has elevated him to one of my favorite villains of all time.
Not only are the characters fresh, but the themes explored in The Last Jedi are also incredibly unique to Star Wars. In previous Star Wars films, no matter the circumstance the hero is always right despite acting recklessly and everything goes off without a hitch. The Last Jedi’s most prevalent theme is heroes dealing with failure. In any other Star Wars movie, the Poe/Finn/Rose subplot that included the mutiny and Canto Bright would have ended with them succeeding by ignoring the repercussions. But in The Last Jedi, the theme is hammered home that there are always consequences, but how we deal with failure is much more important than being defeated. It’s a bold direction, but it makes Star Wars that much richer in its complexity.
The Last Jedi is not a perfect movie. But, in my opinion, it’s a masterpiece. It’s one of my favorite Star Wars movies, and I love the themes and direction that the movie took. I think for many fan’s gripes, Episode 9 will answer many of those and tie off the trilogy with a neat bow. But despite some of its shortcomings (I’m looking at you Superman Leia in Space Scene) it’s a wonderfully bold movie, and what that the Star Wars saga has needed.
What are your thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!