The Internet hates Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
. . . What?
***SPOILER WARNING FOR THE LAST JEDI***
I made the mistake today of checking the net on what social media thought of Episode VIII. Part of me screamed, "What the hell are you doing?" I said before, discussion in regards to art and media is vital to the evolution of all various medium.
But I'm not seeing that.
At time of writing, review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes has The Last Jedi at 93% from film critics. This means 93% of critics have given the film a positive recommendation. Conversely, the Audience Score - in which users rate the movie - have it at 57% positive from approximately 83,000 users. Now, I do not believe Rotten Tomatoes is the be all end all of film review repositories. Critics, like audiences, are entitled to their opinions and that doesn't necessarily reflect how a person is going to react to seeing a work of art and opinions are never going to line up precisely.
The fan reaction to Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is the most divisive I've seen since the directorial decisions made regarding Superman in Man of Steel. And I want to point out a key word I used in that sentence. "Fan." The problems being addressed are coming from self proclaimed Star Wars fans and that needs to be taken into account.
For the sake of discussion, I did a little digging on Google and YouTube. I looked for concise points regarding the problems fans seem to have with this movie. Then I thought about them for a little bit and formulated my response.
Let me start by saying that any of these criticisms as levied by fans are no less valid than my responses. I'm just trying to analyze why fans seem to be experiencing these bouts of confusion and anger towards a film that I genuinely believe is one of the best in the Star Wars pantheon.
1. The Humor
The Last Jedi begins with a sequence of jokes between Poe Dameron and General Hux of the First Order. It takes an incredibly grave situation - Poe getting past the First Order's shields to take out their artilary cannons so the Resistence vessels can make the jump to light speed - and injects a lot of levity into it. Writer Rian Johnson does this fairly consistently throughout the movie. In an even more serious character driven sequence, Rey communicates with Kylo Ren through the Force and sees him without his shirt off - leading to an embarassing, "Put some damn clothes on bit" from Rey.
Fans seem to be taking umbrage with this humor being infused with sequences that may not need it, taking away from the gravitas of a situation. And upon reflection, there are a few moments where I would agree (Hi BB-8 driving an AT-ST walker).
But I don't think it was done by mandate from Disney or an attempt by the filmmakers to make a more marketable product. Johnson, as a writer, is very talented in weaving drama and comedy together. If you look at his work on the Breaking Bad episode The Fly, he takes an absurd bottle episode of Walter trying to kill a fly in his meth lab and blends it with his growing remorse and fear of everything closing in around him. Ultimately, the slapstick of killing a fly reflects Walter's desire to regain control at the cost of pretty much all else.
The humor in The Last Jedi never felt out of place to me in the context of the film. Poe begins the movie as pretty full of himself. His mission is to distract the First Order from the real objective, the Resistance evacuation. Rey proving to be perpetually vexing to the caretakers of Ahch-To or her embarrassment at Kylo Ren without his shirt on makes since for her character, cause she is encountering situations she's most likely has never dealt with before. The comedy of the Last Jedi is an extension of the characters arcs, which is how it happens in real life. We move forward as people and when we encounter new situations or face a stressful situation, we seek the humor in that. To not do that is to deny a part of ourselves that is human.
2. Inconsequential Characters
In the course of the Second Act, the following characters die: Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), Captain Phasma (maybe, I dunno) and Supreme Leader Snoke. Lets address Phasma first.
To be perfectly honest, with apologies to Gwendoline Christie, Captain Phasma was more good potential in The Force Awakens than a good character, similar to her spiritual predecessor Bobba Fett. There is some things that could be explored - she trained Finn when he was a stormtrooper so perhaps she is conflicted by his betrayal. But nope, she has nothing but contempt for him. That fell flat and I can understand the frustration from fans on that.
Holdo is introduced as a foil to Poe, a more calculating and "need to know" style of leadership. She presumes Poe to be a "cocky flyboy" - which she's not wrong on that, his last stunt got the entire Resistance bombing fleet destroyed - and frustrates him with her passive style of leadership. It infuriates Poe to the point that he, Finn and Rose create a plan to disable the tracking device on the First Order dreadnought so the Resistence can escape.
Holdo would seem like an inconsequential character, and indeed did for me, until we get the twist. The plan fails. Finn and Rose are captured and betrayed by the code-breaker they hired, Poe's mutiny is snuffed out, and the secret plan to reach a fortified Rebel base is placed in mortal peril. What should have played out as a heroic endeavor, is a colossal failure. That makes Poe, whom Leia sees as a potential leader in the Resistance, grow as a person. As she puts it, "[Holdo was] more interested in protecting the light than she was in seeming like a hero."
Now, Holdo as a character could have been developed better - she's not portrayed on screen as anything but antagonistic until she speaks with Leia before they abandon ship - but that's a very engaging bit of character interaction we haven't quite seen in Star Wars before.
But Holdo is not the one fans seem to hung up about. That honor goes to Supreme Leader Snoke. J. J. Abrams set Snoke up in The Force Awakens as this generation's Emperor Palpatine, a commanding presence that would manipulate pieces in this dangerous power game of the First Order and the Resistance. Andy Serkis sells the hell out of it and Snoke comes off as legit intimidating when he has Rey captured and is trying to break her and by extension Kylo Ren.
Then Kylo Ren cuts him in half with Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber.
Fans seemed upset that we will never get the chance to delve into his past, his motivations, and how he plays the board in future installments. He is built up as a grand villain and then killed in the second film of the sequel trilogy.
And honestly . . . I'm glad they did that. Because Snoke is not where the great conflict comes from.
The real dramatic tension I felt in The Last Jedi (and too a lesser extent The Force Awakens) wasn't the grand battle of Empire and Rebellion. It was the ever shifting balance of Light and Dark, not "Good" and "Evil", Light and Dark. Kylo Ren and Rey's interactions were engaging as all hell and Kylo's decision to destroy Snoke and "Let the past die" reflects his desire to move past the strict binaries of the Jedi and Sith. And he believes that Rey feels the same way too. Both he and Rey have the same thing keeping them unbalanced, the past. Kylo Ren desperately wants to destroy it, wipe the slate clean as it were, and from that destruction a new balance will rise in the Force. Rey, on the other hand, believes that the knowledge of who her parents are will grant her that same balance. She doesn't want it destroyed, she just wants to know the truth (more on that later).
And here's the most amazing thing . . . both of them are right. Sometimes you need to be torn down to be rebuilt. Sometimes you need to accept the hard truths you don't want to center yourself. Neither route is inherently "Good" or "Evil". What it becomes is what the person makes of it and Rey and Kylo Ren's choices after the death of Snoke sets up the new dramatic tension of Star Wars. How is balance to be maintained?
3. The Fate of Luke Skywalker
At the end of each of the three times I saw The Force Awakens (no shame, probably gonna do it again with The Last Jedi), I teared up when Luke was revealed. Here was the Jedi Master and his new apprentice ready to rebuild the Jedi Order.
Then Luke chucked his father's lightsaber away and stormed off.
The Luke Skywalker in this piece is bitter, nihilistic, and jaded. I would argue that he is even suicidal, with the old school line of, "I came here to die." His failure at addressing the welling Dark Side influence in his own nephew, Ben Solo, and his horrid reaction to it, has left him hollow and literally cut off from the Force. And it's his interactions with Rey and his re-connection to the Force that makes him reflect on his failures and comes to grips with them by the end.
Fans, I think, saw something like this coming. But the conclusion to that arc has rubbed them the wrong way. I think they wanted to see a fallen Luke rise from the depths of his despair to become the beacon of hope he once was and confront his greatest failure. And he does that . . . kinda sorta.
Luke does return to the Rebellion and gives the tiny remnants of the fleet hope in their darkest moment. He confronts Kylo Ren, conveying that the hope of the Jedi rests not in him, but Rey. And then Kylor Ren strikes him down . . . but not really. The "Luke" the Resistance and Kylo Ren encountered is a Force Astral Projection created by Luke all the way back on Ahch-To.
First off - this is an amazing Force power we've never seen utilized to this massive extent in the universe. Holy shit!
More importantly, Luke's confrontation with Kylo Ren allows Rey and the others to escape on the Millennium Falcon. Luke, completely drained by the struggle to maintain the projection, looks up and sees the twin suns of Ahch-To before disappearing, becoming one with the Force in spirit and body.
This release of tension regarding Luke Skywalker is brilliantly played out, with Mark Hamill giving 110%. But the lack of a real visceral conclusion to Luke's story seems to have left some fans unsatisfied. And while I get the mindset of that, the decision to make this a more psychologically taxing encounter is much more interesting to me. It's worthy of deeper discussion than even Luke's encounter with Vader in Return of the Jedi.
But the final point I want to talk about, I think, sums up why I think the fan reaction is the way it is.
4. Rey's Parents
After the death of Snoke, Kylo Ren offers Rey the chance to join him in rebuilding the Galaxy how they see fit, not bound to any past worldviews like the Sith or the Jedi. To convince her, he has her face the truth about her parents.
They were nobody. They weren't important. And worst of all, she was not important to them.
This is heartbreaking for Rey, but deep down, she knows it's the truth she has never had the courage to face and now she has to. With this revelation, the choice Kylo Ren is giving her makes since. From this chaotic world that treats most of it's people like trash - as seen on Canto Bight - she can find greater meaning by joining Kylo Ren and remaking the World. But she can't do it. She doesn't believe destroying the past will build a better future, which is cemented in the very end when we see she nicked the ancient Jedi texts that Luke was about to burn back on Ahch-To.
People theorized for two years about who Rey's parents were, since The Force Awakens (not so subtly) stressed how important she was. And Rian Johnson made the decision for them to be insignificant. This made some fans feel like Rey herself was less important now since her lineage was not connected to the broader Star Wars canon.
But having her be the offspring of nobody, Rey became a more powerful character in my eyes. She faces the insignificance of her own existence not with self-loathing or hatred like other people might, but with courage and conviction. Now that she knows the truth and has come to accept it, she has found her balance. And she believes that destroying that knowledge of her past would only diminish her as a person. The coda to this is the final shot of a boy on Canto Bight casually using the force to pick up a broom, then gazing up at the stars. Like Rey, he comes from nothing, but can be so much more than that.
For seven films, Star Wars has burned into us the importance of people like Luke, Leia, and Anakin Skywalker. In the case of Anakin, his destiny as the "Chosen One" in the prequels was passed on to his children to fulfil his legacy. Star Wars is rife with characters who are interconnected to a greater destiny and Rey, arguably the new protagonist of the Star Wars canon, isn't connected to it at all, meaning anyone in the galaxy can have a momentous impact on its future.
And that is brilliant.
The views expressed in this article are mine and mine alone. If you would like to go further into the discussion, please leave a comment down below. I simply ask that you are polite and civil in your response.