Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed this Star Wars movie! Despite the negative fan reception, The Last Jedi possesses all the ingredients to a worthwhile movie: a functional story, meaningful stakes and a compelling conflict. Colour me surprised! After the middling efforts of The Force Awakens and Rogue One, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to more Star Wars.
But despite my low expectations, The Last Jedi left quite an impression on me, albeit a complicated one. And I think it’s worth explaining why.
The Last Jedi begins as the Resistance is sent reeling from heavy casualties. The Rebel fleet is in dire straits as they attempt to outrun the fast-approaching First Order. While Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to bring Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) out of self-imposed exile and rejoin the Resistance, Commander Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) recruits the help of Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to execute a risky plan in hopes of stopping the First Order’s pursuit.
Structurally, the film is split into three parts: the power struggle aboard the Rebel’s flagship cruiser, Finn and Rose’s search for a codebreaker, and Rey’s training with Luke. By the end, these three arcs converge, and a last stand takes place on the salted red soil of an abandoned Rebel outpost.
Succession is a major motif of The Last Jedi. In a well-written (but spoiler-ridden) article on Rolling Stone, famous game developer Hideo Kojima writes about Disney’s goals with The Last Jedi: “The motif of succession is present throughout the film: Vice Admiral Holdo takes command when Leia is incapacitated, and Poe Dameron is demoted for disobeying General Leia’s orders. And most importantly, there is the succession from Luke to Rey.”
The Last Jedi also handles the Force differently. In Lucas’ installments, particularly the prequels, the Force was heralded as some mystical talent inherited by a select few. But as Kojima explains, The Last Jedi suggests that the Force favours no one: “Until now, the Force has always been something that only the chosen can come to possess, but this assumption is turned on its head. As we learn from Luke’s lesson, the Force is, in fact, omnipresent, there for everyone.”
What does this mean for Star Wars as a franchise? Historically, Star Wars merely focused on the Skywalker family; the original trilogy focused on Luke and Darth Vader, while the prequels focused exclusively on Anakin before he became Vader. If anything, the series was little more than a silly family squabble that resulted in galactic consequences.
But if the Force is for everyone, then this naturally means that anyone can be a hero, so long as they have the courage and conviction to do so. And as Kojima explains, this reinvention of the hero is what truly sets this movie apart from its predecessors: “The Last Jedi may be the first attempt to free Star Wars from its era of mythology, and propel it into the present. The closing scene of the young boy hopefully gazing up at the stars is as fitting an indication of this intent as any… It’s a new era, starting in a kingdom without a king.”
The Last Jedi is no masterpiece however, and even I have my own issues with the movie. The pacing seems off, and some plot lines simply don’t hold my interest. The story, as functional as it is, lacks a gripping sense of tension. The Rebels aren’t engaged in a high-speed chase with the First Order, but a slow crawl towards impending doom.
But my qualms with The Last Jedi don’t even compare to the rage-induced hysteria of unhappy fanboys. The dedicated fanbase has taken it upon themselves to express their impotent nerd rage in the most obnoxious way possible, populating favourable reviews with negative comments and review bombing Rotten Tomatoes in an act of protest. Even Kojima’s impartial analysis of The Last Jedi has been swamped with comments calling him a hack and a Disney sellout.
So why exactly are the fans upset? They claim it is because the movie doesn’t abide by the established lore. “How can you weaponize lightspeed travel? Why did they make Luke such a coward? You can’t have a Sith Lord lose to someone with no Jedi training! The prequels are better than this pile of trash!”
Really? You’d rather listen Qui-Gon Jinn rant incoherently about midichlorians? Or watch Jar Jar Binks become a politician?
To be fair, some fans (particularly older ones) have brought up valid concerns, all of which boils down to tone. The Last Jedi doesn’t really take itself seriously, and it comes off feeling like a parody of itself. Disney has ostensibly given Star Wars the Marvel treatment: maintain at least a joke a minute, even if it hurts the movie tonally.
But the worst of the fans instead complain about Disney’s diverse casting, whining about the racial minorities and women that play our main characters. They conflate Disney’s desire to reach a wider demographic with identity politics, and proceed to spout some nonsense about how liberals, feminists and SJWs have ruined their favourite movie franchise.
But what if I told you that the original Star Wars wasn’t all that great to begin with?
In truth, Star Wars isn’t a cinematic masterpiece. Like Star Trek and Forbidden Planet, Star Wars was just another campy space opera. It was as simple as stories go: a bunch of unremarkable misfits rescue a princess and save the galaxy. What made Star Wars unique was its stunning spectacle and sweeping popularity. This is Star Wars’ legacy; not cinematic excellence, but memorable iconography.
Likewise, George Lucas isn’t some genius auteur, but a clever businessman who expanded Star Wars into a media empire. It took a team of talented artists and technicians to make Star Wars a success. And while Disney’s corporate objectives are unsavoury, their film productions are just as profit-driven as Lucas’ productions were.
Even now, I don’t really see the appeal to the original trilogy. Of course, I didn’t grow up with Star Wars, and I have the fortune of living in the wake of its influence. But in my humble opinion, The Last Jedi is an improvement on the franchise. The film takes our beloved Jedi principles and updates them to address modern issues. In the process, it shatters our preconceptions of heroism, asking us not to worship Luke as a legend but to draw inspiration from his adventures. It suggests that, even against impossible odds and insurmountable evil, any one of us can be a hero.
Because the Force isn’t a power you inherit. The Force belongs to all of us. Which means it also belongs to you, whoever you are.