Will STAR WARS Fans Ever be Happy? – A Discussion on The Last Jedi (SPOILERS)

I decided not to do a formal review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII- The Last Jedi until I had a chance to see it twice to truly set my feelings straight. You see, The Last Jedi is a Star Wars movie unlike any other, with a refreshing spin and expansion on the mythology that’s been embedded into our subconscious from childhood. Yet, there’s been a disturbance in the force this time around, the fanboy force that is. Before I go on further, I must stress that this is your official SPOILER WARNING for STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. If you have not seen the film, do not read this article!

The Last Jedi picks up only hours after the events of The Force Awakens. It’s been two years for fans of the series to see what happened between Luke and Rey after that iconic final shot in episode 7. So when Luke nonchalantly throws the lightsaber over his shoulder, you’re either on board with this new direction or checked out entirely.

Sounds fair, right? I mean, expanding on the mythology would keep the series fresh and continuously innovating itself within reason, and that’s what the fans want, yeah?

I wish this were the case, due to the obvious gap in critical and audience reactions (Rotten Tomatoes 93% fresh while the audience score is at a 56%) that are the polar opposite of this year’s Justice League. This begs the question, will Star Wars fans ever be happy?We all know how George Lucas’s prequel trilogy was received, and I’m pretty sure Disney wants to completely forget about those as well, which I’m pretty certain the majority of fans wanted in the first place.

Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Upon its initial release, The Force Awakens was universally praised by critics and fans alike, calling it a return to form for the franchise, which I still agree with to this day. The thing is, with a lot of these highly anticipated big-budget tentpole films, the backlash is inevitable. The similarities between TFA and the original 1977 Star Wars (yes, not A New Hope, just Star Wars) is apparent to anyone with a pair of eyes and ears. Now, all film is subjective, that’s the beauty of all types of art, it’s how the individual interprets it in their own emotional state.

But here comes the hypocritical nature of TFA backlash, people wanted something different from the original trilogy, myself included. After the universal love died down from JJ Abrams Ep. VII, it became a “thing” to hate on the franchise reinvention due to the obvious lack of originality. I can see where people are coming from on this, even though I personally felt this was the proper way to “spark” the series back into the right direction.

The Last Jedi is written and directed by director Rian Johnson of Brick and Looper fame. What Johnson did with TLJ is take all of the fan theories, expectations, and speculations that have accumulated over the past two years and basically say “it doesn’t really matter” in the grand scheme of the current story. Let’s take a look at what Johnson is talking about, shall we?

Snoke

Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke, Courtesy of Lucasfilm.

Ding dong, the Snoke is dead. Yes, after years of speculation, Supreme Leader Snoke met his demise at the hand of his apprentice, Kylo Ren. Who is Snoke? How old is he? How did he get those scars? Like a tootsie roll pop, the world may never know. Of course, this would enrage some fans, but the outpour of criticism surrounding the early death has been largely dissatisfying across the web.

This is just some of the backlash that fans have taken to Twitter, and I can’t seem to wrap my head around the negativity of it all. I get that people (myself included) expected Snoke to be some form of Darth Plagueis or another famous Sith Lord, but what would be the fun in that? Subverting expectations can be handled in a way that cuts out the “filler,” thus making the time needed for the actual story, or in this case, the true villain of this trilogy, Kylo Ren.

Now called Supreme Leader Ren (I think), we have an antagonist who is off the hinges, making decisions out of blind emotion instead of proper calculation. This is something we frankly haven’t seen in this universe before, making for an even more intriguing character that Adam Driver so wonderfully portrays. An all mighty and powerful puppet master is what fans expected, and the fact that he was killed off in the second chapter of the new trilogy leaves room for audiences to truly have no idea how the next chapter in this saga will play out. If we waited until Episode 9, where a big reveal shocked audiences only to have Kylo Ren have a redeeming moment to save the greater good, would be just recycling an old plot thread ala Darth Vadar and the Emperor, which is old news at this point.

Are your Snoke theories completely irrelevant though? Only time will tell.

Rey’s Parents

Daisy Ridley in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Courtesy of Lucasfilm.

Another theory that has been conversed even before The Force Awakens hit theaters is who the heck are Rey’s parents? During a conversation following Snoke’s death and a jaw-dropping lightsaber duel in which Ren and Rey team up to defeat Elite Praetorian Guards, Kylo tells Rey who her parents really are.

Drum roll, please…..

They’re nobody. Drunks who presumably sold their daughter for drinking money. A “reveal” so offhandedly mentioned mid-conversation that it just falls through the cracks of the greater story. Do we really need Rey to be another Skywalker? A descendant of Ben Kenobi? Or a creation of a greater evil? The world seems to think so, and for what reason? To simply have an answer that the majority of people agree with.

Having Rey be a Skywalker (or something along those lines) and continuing the Skywalker saga would be an easy, crowd-pleasing decision. But the overall story and message is something greater than a continuation of the “Skywalker Saga.” The fact that Rian Johnson wants us to believe that anyone can achieve greatness, no matter where you come from, is the true message of hope that Star Wars is truly about. Out with the old, in with the new, whether you like it or not.

Luke, Leia, and The Force

Mark Hamill in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” courtesy of Lucasfilm.

“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”- Obi-Wan Kenobi

Luke Skywalker says to Rey in The Last Jedi that “The Force isn’t just about moving rocks.” It’s something much deeper than that, which is being explored and expanded on in such different and unique ways. Let’s take Leia for example. In one of the films most surprising and memorable scenes, The First Order blows a massive hole directly into the destroyer that General Leia (among others) are stationed in. Leia gets thrown into the vacuum of space and thought to be dead for a brief moment. This is when we finally see the former Princess use her Force abilities move the matter around her, pushing herself back to the door of the ship where she is eventually let in.

This may be the most controversial (and beautiful) scene in Star Wars history thus far. The thing is though, it makes complete sense. The Force being an energy field that one who is sensitive to those abilities can control is the whole point, and the fact that fans are seemingly outraged by the expansion of such a vague ability is baffling. Do you really want to see the same old telekinesis type battles that are admittedly cool, but is losing its freshness the more we see it play out on screen.

This brings me to Luke Skywalker and his triumphant return to the big screen. In what perhaps is the most anticipated aspect of The Last Jedi, the Luke we once knew has been but a shadow to what state he’s in now. Think about it, he lost his father after finding out he was actually Darth Vadar, failed at bringing balance to The Force with the turn of Ben Solo to the dark side, and has been secluded on his island for who knows how long.

His apprehension and cynicism towards The Force and The Jedi order is believable, especially for how the story Rian Johnson wanted to tell in this chapter. Remember Yoda (who has a terrific cameo in TLJ via Force Ghost) in The Empire Strikes Back? He did the same thing on Dagoba following the events of Revenge of the Sith. To have an old Mark Hamill still act like the whiney farm boy is highly unrealistic.

His big return battle at the end is sparking what looks to be a life-long debate among Star Wars fans. You see, Luke does show up to save The Resistance in the end, just not the way you think. When Luke shows up, his beard is trimmed, with hair darker as seen in his flashbacks with Kylo Ren, and obviously younger looking than his current state. He doesn’t lay one hand on Ren but distracts him and the First Order enough to have the remaining eight members of The Resistance to safety.

How did Luke do this you may ask? Well, he used something called “Force Projection.” Luke was still on the island, where he explained to Rey early on in the movie that he went to die. Luke showing up on the salt planet of Crait took the life out of him, literally. After some wonderfully executed dialogue exchanges between Luke and Ren, as well as a few Jedi like mind tricks, It’s revealed that the Luke Skywalker shown up for battle is simply a mirage. Luke is floating, meditating on his island, and lets himself go into The Force the same way his mentors before him have. Yes, Luke Skywalker dies, and yes, it’s a poetic end to the franchises main hero.

He looks upon the horizon at the double sunset, exhausted from his battle. But, Luke doesn’t go out in pain, he has peace and purpose as Rey says to Leia before the credits hit. Not only is this a proper send off to one of the biggest characters in the history of cinema, it’s also a way to make room for the new faces of the current canon. Rey, Kylo Ren, Poe, and Finn are all characters we love, and even more so since this installment. Having these expectations subverted opens endless possibilities to what comes next, and that’s a state of mind as a Star Wars fan I want to be in.

Yes, all film is subjective, and I am not trying to sway anyone’s opinions on the matter. However, I feel everyone who is complaining about The Last Jedi should do themselves a favor and see it again. This time, with the twists and turns already at a point of acceptance, and having the open mind of exploring a universe with endless possibilities and most of all, hope.

Rating: ***1/2

@Nick_Casaletto

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