Nostalgia doesn’t sour. The sweetness of having the joy and bliss of one’s earliest influences just an “Enter” key away is real, and it’s powerful. For many Star Wars fans, the power of George Lucas’s expansive universe captivated them at formative ages. Nostalgia matters, but it just can’t function as the basis for an argument. Sadly, that doesn’t stop many from using it as such, especially in discourse about Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. The film found critical and commercial success immediately, but many viewers were quick to remark on the film’s “bad writing” and “lack of what makes Star Wars, Star Wars.” Yes, The Last Jedi is flawed. However, the film’s shortcomings stand out only because most of what Johnson gives us is gold.
For many, Star Wars is a formula that shouldn’t be fucked with, a recipe that must never have additional or alternative ingredients. Johnson took serious risks when he wrote the film the way he did, but it’s these changes that elevate the film. All that said, the people who wanted more from The Last Jedi shouldn’t be shamed for feeling disappointed. A fondly regarded adventure from their childhoods has been tampered with in ways they feel are disrespectful, and that’s valid.
Despite what it may seem, this isn’t an “If you don’t agree, it’s because you missed something” argument. However, if fans’ problems with The Last Jedi stem from feelings of betrayal, they’re most certainly missing something: Johnson’s intentions. Rian Johnson isn’t about disrespect. He’s about evolution, about stretching an idea so that those who revere the fandom feel challenged and respected. Unfortunately, this is lost on many and ignored by many more.
When they’re not sheathing their lightsabers in their own assholes, the more hateful fans are ranting about the film’s incendiary take on Luke Skywalker. Luke’s devolution from galactic hero to guilt-ridden recluse actually makes sense. These same fans attack Johnson on Twitter and sign petitions to remove the film from Star Wars canon. The way humans respond to situations and react to subsequent mistakes varies, and it’s unreasonable to expect him to be the same person after such a monumental mistake. If anything, his remorse, regret, and rage stem from love. He sees his self-imposed exile as a mercy. This Luke is vastly different from the one seen in Return of the Jedi, but that doesn’t make him any less compelling.
At this point, bitching about Luke’s new attitude is so common that any argument on the matter is easy to make and even easier to “defend.” The thing is, that bandwagon is fixing to bust a wheel under the weight of its screaming passengers. When are people going to look at The Last Jedi from perspectives that aren’t rooted in how great the prequels and the OT are? When is The Last Jedi going to be examined as its own entity? For those unwilling to do this, just remember who’s petitioning to remove the film from Star Wars canon. That damn petition wouldn’t even exist if people didn’t think it was its own thing. If they considered it a valuable addition to the Skywalker saga, they wouldn’t even offer up the idea. It’s hypocritical and silly.
The most compelling aspect of The Last Jedi is its focus on Kylo Ren. Luke’s goodness and Rey’s growth take a backseat to Kylo’s transformation into one of the best villains in Star Wars canon. This is Kylo’s movie. The Force Awakens belonged to Rey and her deepening connection to the Force, and it’s only natural that the second, darker film would hone in on what makes its villain tick. Unlike Vader, Kylo is interesting, complex, and unexpectedly likable, a subversion of the redeemable villain seen in the original trilogy. The sequel trilogy takes risks with theme and theory, something that both the prequels and the original trilogy didn’t do. There are many “what ifs” that are explored and answered here, such as Kylo’s decision to stay evil and angsty and Snoke’s shocking demise. Johnson toys with Kylo, tugging him toward the light before shoving him right back into the dark.
Vice Admiral Holdo is pushback personified, a calculated yin to Poe Dameron’s reckless yang. Fans label her a “purposeless” character, apparently forgetting that many of the tertiary characters in the Star Wars canon do absolutely nothing to further the plot (Boba Fett, anyone?). Her inclusion needs little justification because she presents Poe with the opportunity to grow as a character. He doesn’t seize that opportunity, but that just develops his character further. The Rebel Alliance was too chummy, so Lucasfilm decided to take the Resistance in a more nuanced direction. How fucking dare they.
Look past the dialogue. Look past the stilted humor. Examine the movie itself by regarding Johnson’s subversion as an attempt to help fans accept humanity’s innate grayness. Star Wars loyalists wanted that clean separation between good and evil, that preferred brand of escapism that erases the possibility of internal compromise from their brains. To them, that’s Star Wars. To them, that’s what the franchise needs to be. Luckily for the franchise, Johnson had growth on his mind and his first Star Wars adventure reflects that.
Lastly, a quick side note about Disney’s sequel trilogy: Stripped of nostalgia, A New Hope is inferior to The Force Awakens. Rey is a more interesting Luke, and Han Solo, oddly enough, is a more compelling mentor than Obi-Wan ever was. While the same can’t be said for a The Empire Strikes Back/The Last Jedi comparison, the latter boasts a maturity that the OT lacked. Seriously, how the fuck can you defend any of the other Star Wars film besides A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Force Awakens? Four of the eight films in the Skywalker saga are total shit parades, and none of them boast the emotional heft that characterizes The Last Jedi.
Johnson’s first foray into the Star Wars universe is thematically inspired and tremendously impactful, even if it doesn’t hit every beat with the director’s typical grace. Regardless of how you feel about the film, it’s worth a second look.