Lucasfilm and Disney spent the weekend counting global returns for Star Wars: The Last Jedi (TLJ), which critics loved while fans showed-up in droves. The Last Jedi debuted as the second largest opening weekend of all-time and is already number 10 at the 2017 domestic box office (it should jump to number five this weekend, even despite stiff competition from Jumanji and several other new releases). By anyone’s measure, The Last Jedi is a massive success.
[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]
However, after the dust settled on this weekend’s fireworks, something quite unexpected happened: many fans posted vicious, angry reviews in Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, citing problems with dialog, plotting, characterization, and tone. It seems that a lot of folks really, really hated this movie for a bunch of different reasons. It’s a sentiment that’s spread across media and entertainment web sites — there’s on ongoing online debate between those who loved the film, and those who most certainly did not. So what happened in TLJ and what does it mean for Episode IX?
The Last Jedi is something of a unicorn; critics loved it, box office revenues are incredible, but somehow the film polarized audiences. Critics universally agreed that The Last Jedi was a flawed but a fun experience that stayed true to the spirit of previous Star Wars films. Most critics also agreed that writer-director, Rian Johnson, was solid (if unspectacular), and faintly praised him for “not screwing it up.” However, many fans are taking aim at both Rian’s screenplay directing choices.
Fairly or unfairly, The Last Jedi will be forever compared to The Empire Strikes Back, which most people still contend is the best film in the franchise. Additionally, TLJ movie repeats several beats from both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which many fans found jarring and yanked them out of the narrative (this was a common complaint about The Force Awakens (TFA), which itself borrowed heavily from A New Hope).
Let’s discuss a few of the most commons issues people have raised, starting with tone. George Lucas’ first two Star Wars films were rather serious sci-fi films, but beginning with Return of the Jedi, for better or worse, Lucas added the Ewoks as comic relief. Since then we’ve endured Jar-Jar Binks and a bunch of other silly characters that contrasted with the epic space opera stuff across all of the post-Empire Strikes Back films. However, in TLJ, humor is used much more forcefully, it pervades the plot, often to the detriment of its characters (such as the First Order‘s General Hux, who’s bounced around in near slapstick fashion, like Thor in the Avengers).
The implementation of the Force has also become a major source of contention. In the original trilogy Jedi and Sith could push, pull, jump, choke, or mind-control other characters within a certain range (and a few could sense major galactic disturbances, like the destruction of a planet). The prequels added a bunch of martial arts and acrobatics to their skillsets, which looked really cool. In TLJ Force users could suddenly communicate with each other on distant planets across the galaxy, and even physically interact, which was kind of cool, but also kind of weird.
However, Johnson’s use of the Force truly broke with fans in one particular scene with Carrie Fisher, who is blown out of her starship and apparently killed, only to float back inside moments later, in a coma but very much alive — this scene has been ridiculed and roasted throughout the Internet, because it was absurd. The Force is now apparently on steroids, looks like something you’d find in a video game, and fans are reacting negatively. Some have contended that felt Johnson was making-up the underlying rules for its use as he went along — Lucasfilm is very cautious with its execution of Star Wars canon, this was not an arbitrary decision by Johnson or anyone else (I speak with firsthand knowledge, I once worked at Lucasfilm).
Finally, and this is a big one, was the convoluted story arc for Luke Skywalker, his final scene, and his own peculiar uses of the Force. Star Wars is essentially a Samurai-Western in a Sci-Fi wrapper, so the martial arts are a key, underlying element in these films, and Luke Skywalker is its ultimate grandmaster. However, we learn that while Skywalker was training Kylo Ren to become a Jedi, he sensed that his pupil had been turned to the Dark Side; rather than confront Kylo straight-up, he sneaks into his tent in the middle of the night and raises a lightsaber for a kill strike. This is a cowardly and dishonorable act, regardless of how you spin it (to be fair, Johnson shot this as a Rashomon moment, we get both Skywalker’s and Ren’s perspectives). This scene is not true to Skywalker’s character, and it is sparking outrage.
Skywalker redeems himself in the film’s final act, he battles Ren and the First Order while the remaining Resistance fighters flee the battlefield. Skywalker seems unbeatable, surviving a multitude of devastating attacks from both the First Order and Ren… and then we see he was never really there, merely an astral projection of himself. It’s an awesome moment, until you think about how bizarre this really is… and then Skywalker just fades out, literally. After 40 years we finally get Skywalker back, and he’s cooler than ever, and then he’s gone. It proved gutwrenching to fans, on top of all of the other issues in this film, this proved a final straw for many.
There are probably another dozen things that I could bring up about this flawed movie, but we start getting needlessly nitpicky. For instances, the runtime was too long given the events on-screen — this should have been 2 hours max! The Last Jedi is not a bad film; it’s polished, often beautiful, and has several really exciting moments. However, it’s not the successor to The Empire Strikes Back that so many want it to be — nor should it, honestly — this movie absolutely needed to be a stand-alone chapter, and yet remain a connected experience overall.
Ultimately, The Last Jedi had the impossible job of living up to the expectations of three different audiences (the original trilogy, the prequels, and the post-Disney films). The Star Wars saga has moved forward, and I honestly have no idea where it goes in Episode IX. Unfortunately, I (and a lot of Star Wars fans) left the theater with the feeling that we won’t remember much about this film in a month.
SOURCE: Box Office Mojo