I’ve been one with the force as long as I can remember.
I grew up watching the original trilogy on grainy VHS tapes. As a kid, I dressed up as Luke Skywalker for Halloween (complete with his right-handed black glove). I watched each of the prequel films on their opening weekends in the early 2000s. Throughout high school, I read plenty of the old expanded universe books, many of which still resonate with fans today. This year, I wrote more than a dozen articles about the Star Wars saga before the most recent film’s release.
I’ve been pretty quiet on social media about my thoughts on “The Last Jedi.” But I’ve certainly noticed the controversy the film has created since it was released last Friday. But I can no longer stay silent on the matter.
Let’s stop complaining about “The Last Jedi.” Seriously. Just stop. It’s a fantastic film, and easily one of the best in the series. Not to mention, this is the future of Star Wars films. Fans need to mature their Star Wars palettes if they want to appreciate what’s coming next.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” opened last weekend to record numbers. We’re talking $220 million at the box office, including record sales in Utah, a clear hit rivaled only by its predecessor, “The Force Awakens,” which debuted in 2015.
But what is less clear, perhaps fogged by the dark side, is a consensus among fans, who have been divided about whether or not “The Last Jedi” is a worthwhile Star Wars film.
As of this writing, the film’s Rotten Tomatoes audience score sits at 55 percent, which is four percentage points lower than the controversial prequel film, “The Phantom Menace.” That’s right: The newest Star Wars film is currently scoring lower than the film considered the worst of the saga. A colleague of mine called the film a “half-baked prequel.” Others said it tarnished the legacy of the original trilogy.
But a lot of the film’s criticisms are missing the point of what makes this film work. These criticisms are rooted in what came before. In order for there to be a great Star Wars film, we need to appreciate what “The Last Jedi” has given us.
“The Last Jedi” takes everything you'd expect in a Star Wars film while simultaneously flipping the script. So much of what you wanted in a new Star Wars film — especially as a “The Force Awakens” follow-up — came true in “The Last Jedi,” just not in the way most of us expected. But the truth is, the shock and awe many of us felt over the unconventional and unanticipated reveals are in themselves fan wishes fulfilled.
As one Vox article explained, it’s hard to pinpoint all of the issues Star Wars fans have with this new movie, and since most of them are plot related, I don't want to give away too many here for people who haven't seen the movie.
But let's just say that many fans didn't like the revelation of Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) parentage, or how the film handled the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) or even how it portrayed Luke Skywalker.
And to be honest, I have my own issues with the movie. This is nowhere near a perfect film. Its biggest flaw, I think, was in devaluing the main character, Rey, into someone who reacts to the men around her, rather than paving a new course for herself as she did in “The Force Awakens.” (Donna Dickens at Medium has a better explanation of this.) She is a strong central character who played second fiddle to Adam Driver's Kylo Ren.
But these complaints — my own included — miss the point of the film. “The Last Jedi” is designed to make us feel uncomfortable. If Star Wars remained stagnant and only provided rehashes of old films, then we’d be stuck watching the same movie over and over again. Like much of Hollywood, we would see reboot after reboot, rehash after rehash. "The Last Jedi" is the growing pains of the franchise expanding into new territories.
It also delivers a promise of something more. It’s a film that says Disney isn’t afraid to boldly take Star Wars somewhere it hasn’t been before. It’s willing to expand its limits and bring us all into new territories. As a reader of the expanded universe novels (now called “Legends”), I can tell you that much of what we saw in “The Last Jedi” isn’t absurd when you’ve read those books. This is all a part of Star Wars becoming something fresher, better and stronger than what we know it to be.
Disney hopes Star Wars will be an everlasting franchise. When they bought the franchise in 2012, it was a sign that we’d be getting more of these films as long as they still turn a profit and fans want to see them.
But the only way that can happen is if Star Wars sacrifices its traditions, including the conventional thoughts fans have had about it. We need Star Wars to evolve into something new.
As Kylo Ren says, sometimes you have to let the past die. “Kill it, if you have to. That's the only way to become what you were meant to be."