Oh, The Last Jedi… the controversial eighth installment in the Skywalker saga. Star Wars Episode VIII. The work of acclaimed director Rian Johnson. You either love it or hate it.
I’m one of those strange and twisted souls that loves The Last Jedi. It’s an emotional, intimate, and exhilarating take on Star Wars that felt fresh after The Force Awakens, which, although a lot of fun, was basically a safe rewrite of A New Hope.
Sounds like fans should have loved it, right? Apparently not. It drew a lot of hate–hate that I simply don’t understand. Didn’t we want something new and original? Someone to take Star Wars in a new direction that didn’t feel like a rehashing of the original trilogy? Well, Rian Johnson did it! So what are people so upset over?
Here, I want to illustrate some of the reasons I loved the movie, then give my two cents, nickels, and dimes on the common gripes dissenting fans have. To kick things off, here’s a fun fact for all The Last Jedi haters that still hold Empire Strikes Back on a pedestal:
Did you know the Empire Strikes Back was initially met with mixed reviews? Critics thought it was either fantastic or passed it off as something unimportant. And right now, on the review aggregate site Metacritic, Empire Strikes Back scores an 82/100 while The Last Jedi scores an 84/100.
The Last Jedi is more critically-acclaimed than Empire Strikes Back. That is a fact. It’s right there. But haters be hating, as they do.
After The Force Awakens, Star Wars fans felt satisfied but gave a collective, “Show us something original!” And oh boy, did Rian Johnson deliver. This movie didn’t follow any kind of formula or blueprint. A lot of stuff came out of left field, but felt natural to the characters. I was caught off guard multiple times, creating those Oh Snap Moments that led to rewarding payoffs.
And that should be a constant goal for great storytellers, not good storytellers. JJ Abrams is a good storyteller. We can always rely on him to produce/direct fun popcorn films that are entertaining with spectacle and excitement, but don’t really try to say anything deep. His take on Star Trek was fun. Super 8 was solid. And likewise, The Force Awakens was pretty good.
However, Rian Johnson is a great storyteller. He strives to give you those exciting moments while challenging you and pushing you to think. “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” What a bold thing to tell a fanbase that has worshipped a set of space fantasy movies since they were kids! But that’s an important thing to say, because in life we all have to learn to adjust and move on.
That subverts expectations. Star Wars fans weren’t expecting to get their thinking challenged in one of their favorite film sagas. But it was. That’s bold.
Best acting of the saga
Adam Driver absolutely crushed it as Kylo Ren in this one. Looking at his performances across the trilogy, his performance in TLJ is the best, bar none. This Juilliard-educated actor conveys so much emotion in his body language and delivery that you absolutely believe everything Kylo Ren is feeling. His throne room scenes with Snoke and Rey are absolutely stellar.
As for everyone else, the delivery feels tight and believable, except for the Holdo-Leia giggle and “May the Force be with you.” That was a little cringy. But hey, this is still an overall improvement across other films, especially those prequels. Yeesh.
Best character development
Before you can really address this, you have to address what it means to “develop” a character. Does it mean to take a character from point A to point B like the audience expects? Does this mean taking the padawan and turning them into a Jedi? Are you sure about that?
No. It’s to take the character’s biggest weaknesses and force them to confront them. To do that, you have to understand what a character’s biggest wants and needs are and demonstrate how they conflict. To develop a character is to force them to change in a way that causes tension and tangible growth. To become. According to what we’ve seen, TLJ the only real Star Wars to do this on screen.
Poe Dameron is the prime example. He’s a cocky flyboy. He trusts his instincts. He wants to be the hero. But at the beginning of the film, he blatantly disobeys orders that results in the deaths of dozens of Resistance fighters. He gets demoted, and none of his superiors will tell him their plans. But in the end, he learns he doesn’t need to be the hero all the time. That’s important.
Here’s a YouTube video that illustrates this point much more fully than I have:
Fantastic visual style
So much of TLJ looks absolutely spectacular–shoot, it was nominated for the Best Visual Effects Academy Award, now wasn’t it? The opening ship battle is spectacular. The practical effects with the Porgs are a respectful omage to the practical effects of the original trilogy. And the black, white, and red aesthetic of Krate looked so cool. And that hyperspeed shot of General Hux’s ship getting ripped in half…
I mean, just look at these frames!
The humor doesn’t fit
Oh, doesn’t it? Do you have the Star Wars Humor Brand Guide handy to show us what jokes are allowed and what are considered off brand? No? Then what makes you think you know what jokes are Star Wars-appropriate and which ones aren’t? Have you been hired by Lucasfilm to be the judge of that? Still no?
Go to your room.
They wrecked Luke Skywalker
Why wouldn’t it make sense to have a Luke Skywalker disenfranchised from the Force? Do you know what Yoda and Obi Wan did when they experienced massive failure? They exiled themselves. Just like Luke did.
Not only that, Luke’s colossal failure led to the rise of another Sith lord a la Darth Vader. And what’s more, this Sith lord is Luke’s nephew. The son of his sister and his best friend. That’s devastating! Why wouldn’t that disenfranchise him from the Force? To cause him to question everything he was? To rack his soul with bitterness and look upon the Jedi as an organization doomed to failure? To fill his heart with bitterness and regret and anger?
That’s smart character writing.
What’s with the Leia flying in space thing?
I’ll give you that. That was weird. Coulda been better if they played Immigrant Song over that little snippet, but that’s just me.
Why didn’t Admiral Holdo just tell Poe Dammeron the plan?
Because Poe Dammeron showed at the very beginning of the movie that he disregards orders and does whatever the eff he wants. He’s a bad soldier. Why the heck would General Leia or Admiral Holdo share any kind of important information with him? He’s not to be trusted. Not until the end of the movie, anyway. *cough cough* character development *cough*
The “feminist agenda”
Okay, if this thing intimidates you, I genuinely feel sorry for you. Imagine enjoying a movie less because women are depicted as smart, savvy, or powerful! O, the humanity! How could a woman possibly serve as a military leader and order around our sweet heroes! The injustice!
Give me a break. There’s no “agenda”. Go back to your room.
It ignores Star Wars canon/lore
Newsflash: the entire sequel trilogy has done that. So much of the Extended Universe was disregarded when they began work on this trilogy. Move along.
Snoke as a promising villain was snuffed out before we could learn about him
Isn’t this great, though?? Let’s not forget that we knew absolutely nothing about Emperor Palpatine until the prequel trilogy almost two decades after Empire Strikes Back. No one was getting their blowholes plugged over that, last I heard. So why do we need to know about Snoke’s background? Ask yourself why that really matters, then ask yourself if whatever reason you came up with is actually a good one.
Besides, this would have been an awesome move for Kylo Ren’s development if it were handled better in Rise of Skywalker. To propel Kylo Ren as the main villain after killing his father and his mentor…? That’s cold. That’s a villain to deliberately chose evil after having the chance to be good. That’s some compelling shiz right there.
Rey’s origins are dumb
Again, who are you to say this? Did you ever stop to think how beautiful and inspiring it is that a Force prodigy could be a nobody? To come from nowhere and have nothing special about them at all? The Skywalkers don’t have a monopoly on the Force. Not everybody needs to have some grand backstory to be something legendary.
I absolutely hated that they retconned this in Rise of Skywalker and made her Palpatine’s granddaughter. And not just because that implies that Palpatine was able to reproduce at any point. Yuck.
How could they run out of fuel in space?
Don’t try to bring actual physics into a space fantasy. Have you ever asked yourself why you can hear blaster fire in space? Or why there are fiery explosions when there’s no air? Or why there are forward thrusters on all the ships but no backward thrusters to stop or slow down?
These aren’t just problems in TLJ, these are issues across every. single. Star. Wars. movie. Don’t make it a Last Jedi problem.
The casino planet was a waste of time
Not exactly. Did they accomplish what they set out to do on the casino planet? No, but that’s not necessarily a narrative problem.
This segment was used to further Finn’s progression as a decisive figure in the Resistance instead of a guy that’s trying to protect his friend Rey. The planet also revealed more of Rose’s character motives to us, but you guys don’t care about her because you’re jerks. Lastly, it also cemented the movie’s subtext of “the Force can be with anyone” by showing us the Force sensitive stable boy.
There were actually some great things being taught in this scene if you were looking hard enough.
The porgs are a useless creature meant to sell merchandise
This I kind of agree with. The porgs don’t contribute to the story at all. They have some cute moments, but I never fell in love with them. But I don’t think any of us should be griping about what’s used just for merchandise in the Star Wars universe, because everything is used for merchandise in the Star Wars universe. Absolutely anything they can get their hands on. They have no shame.
Rose Tico was a useless character
She absolutely is not. Rose’s character gave you nothing to dislike about her–she’s an earnest Resistance member that wants to bring down the First Order with whatever she can. She has a good heart and is eager to serve. What’s not to like?
One of the reasons I’ve seen that Rose’s character was put into the film was to add diversity to Star Wars with an Asian actor. I seriously don’t get the problem with that. According to my memory, we haven’t seen a single Asian actor in a Star Wars film since Kelly Marie Tran. That doesn’t seem fair to me.
Those of you who are calling her worse than Jar-Jar Binks are being absolutely ridiculous. If you’re one of the people that bullied her off of social media, I genuinely hope you stub your toe on the coffee table every day for the rest of your life.
“Many dialogs are very bad”
Some user wrote this on one of the “most helpful” reviews on Metacritic. I can only assume they mean that the dialogue was poorly written. But to be perfectly frank, most of the people I’ve seen complaining about the writing aren’t exactly articulate individuals themselves. So this take on the script means less than nothing to me.
All of this was pointless.
Well, here we are. I’ve explained why I like the movie and why I think the gripes are dumb. Has your mind been changed? If you hated The Last Jedi, do you suddenly enjoy it? Do you recognize it as one of the best Star Wars movies now?
No? Didn’t think so.
And that’s fine. I’m down to let opinions be opinions when it comes to things as subjective as movies. I just hate seeing great work go underrated or underappreciated when, in my eyes, it’s so fantastic. That’s why I felt like I needed to defend this film. But if TLJ just isn’t your cup of tea, that’s just fine.
The good news is that can all agree on the Holiday Special. It was a complete train wreck that never should have come into existence. So at least we’re on the same page there.