Making a Star Wars film must be one of the most daunting things in Hollywood.
While fans cry, “More, more, more,” with wallets wide open, expectations are incredibly high and hard to meet.
Disney paid George Lucas billions for the chance, and they’ve gone ham mining the Star Wars legacy for more cartoons, comic books, merchandise, anthology movies, and core trilogy films.
And in the thick of things, the company tries to corral a wary fanbase worried about the House of Mouse damaging a beloved legacy filled with lore and characters that are to American culture what air is to breathing.
It’s my opinion that no one, at this point, can create a movie in the series without inviting the wrath of fans. Not even the legendary Steven Spielberg himself could create a continuation film that would satisfy the masses and keep the vitriol from spreading to his Twitter feed.
JJ Abrams, whose movie Super 8 was an homage to Spielberg, had a rough time being barraged by fans who criticized his entry to the Star Wars universe, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It was too unoriginal, too vague, and too implausible, they said. Personally, I enjoyed Episode VII for what it was — a greatest hits film that celebrated the original trilogy while forging forward. I reserved full judgment on the film because I think it needs to be seen in its full context, which will happen sometime in 2019 when Episode IX comes out.
So while my opinions and views may change on Episode VIII when I see it in the framework of a full saga, I have the difficult task of trying to explain how conflicted I am after having watched this movie twice.
The first time, I watched it alone. I was desperate to avoid spoilers that could leak from anywhere — social media, friendly conversations, and newsfeeds. After the movie was finished, I felt conflicting emotions. Despite seeing some very beautiful things, a sense of mourning clouded my perspective.
So I decided to wait until I’d seen it again, which is what I did when I returned to the theater with my wife and close friend Christian who I’d taken to see TFA for his birthday two years ago. When the credits began to roll at the end of The Last Jedi, he stood up and raged, putting words to the feelings I felt. We argued in front of the theater as I played contrarian, hoping to balance his opinions of the film. He wouldn’t be swayed — TLJ wasn’t dark enough, didn’t feel meaningful, wasted Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Snoke (Andy Serkis), and gave us the origin of Rey (Daisy Ridley) with a dull thud.
None of that should have been a surprise if you were paying attention to the trailers. You would have known in your heart what was coming, even if it didn’t clear your mind. “This is not going to go the way you think,” Luke screams, rain soaked and defeated, and it’s a message to anyone and everyone entering theaters. The movie spends 150 minutes of its runtime battling preconceived notions as it overturns or drops each of the critical TFA plot points, bit by bit.
Supreme Leader Snoke dies without a fight. Rey’s parents are nobodies — they’re just no-name junkers who sold her off to get high one night. Luke Skywalker has more than lost his faith in the Force — he’s gone apostate by severing himself from it, waiting to die and kill the Jedi Order by proxy.
And Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Darth Vader’s heir apparent? He ends up de facto leader of the First Order and spends the rest of the film screaming at his army.
It’s disappointing, underwhelming, and counter to everything I expected it to be.
But maybe that’s the point.
Watch the trailer again. “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you’re meant to be.”
Those might as well be the words coming directly Rian Johnson’s mouth. Episode VIII isn’t a crowd-pleaser in that it doesn’t give us lightsaber battles, space dogfights, and space opera storylines for the sake of checking off items on a list that Lucas would love. If anything, Johnson wants to wipe the slate clean, bringing Star Wars into a new direction.
Because any child watching A New Hope believed they could be a Luke Skywalker or an Obi Wan Kenobi, even if Darth Vader was the most popular character of them all. Over the years, the prequels turned the prospect of being a Jedi into a lottery with midichlorians, and the Skywalkers somehow kept winning. With the franchise growing and swelling, becoming a Skywalker-centric saga, Johnson — who’s signed on for three more films — shows us where the series as a statement is going by reclaiming the lore, breaking the ceilings, and playing with the idea of what a Star Wars movie can and should be.
In a sense, he’s bringing balance back to the Star Wars universe by giving characters free will. Rey may be strong in the Force, but what defines her is her sense of morality and her resolve. Her counterpart Kylo Ren is a darker version of his grandfather who has gone to great lengths to prove he’s worth of his Sith heritage. He’s killed his father, his master, and he’s done it all willingly. As Kenobi once said, “Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?” Vader, misguided and obsessed with control, finally saw the light at the end, but his grandson is all pain and rage for the sake of it. He has chosen this path, and he doesn’t deny he is a monster.
And Luke — well, Luke dies. If you expected him to return to the rebellion and destroy a fleet of Star Destroyers with the power of the Force, you were probably very disappointed watching him spend the last moments of his life creating a powerful astral projection that gives the rebels a few seconds to disappear into the back of a cave. I’m cynical, I know, but The Last Jedi is more about the why than the what — at least for me.
Because no one, at this point in time, can make a Star Wars movie that will make all of us fans happy. Johnson took it upon himself to break with convention. The Last Jedi doesn’t feel like a Star Wars film because it doesn’t want to be another New Hope or Empire Strikes Back. It’s the inverse of a Star Wars film. It’s not about Rey’s parentage or whether a Jedi knight even needs to be trained. It’s about characters making choices, using what they have to save the dying breath of a rebellion in spite of the odds. Because good isn’t about following the crowd — it’s about doing what’s right.
The Last Jedi isn’t the film we deserve, but it might be the one we need.