Why Star Wars Fans Love Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII…
I recently wrote about “The Dark Side of The Last Jedi,” why some diehard Star Wars fans take such serious issue with Rian Johnson’s addition to the saga. Nearly twenty percent of fans I polled said they didn’t care for the new film, half of whom said they hated it. On the flip side, 81% of Star Wars fans said they liked Disney’s latest movie. More importantly, 59% said they loved it! That is truly saying something. I already heard all the negative comments people had about TLJ – you can read them here if you’d like – so I wanted to know why people loved this story so much. I want to share with you their thoughts, and then I’m going to try and make sense of this rift that has split Star Wars fandom so dramatically.
“Personally I loved The Last Jedi,” says Katherine from Oklahoma City. “It was a great reminder of why I fell in love with the franchise. It was filled with great comic relief, but yet also had the intensity that I remember feeling when watching A New Hope for the first for the time. The movie completely blew any theories I had speculated beforehand.”
She went on to say, “Now if I had never seen any of the films, I would admit that I would’ve been lost especially with the whole Skywalker clan back story. But I felt like they described what happened between Luke and Kylo beautifully, they explored both sides of the story from both perspectives.” There is an intriguing juxtaposition with this view and those that claim Rian Johnson killed Luke Skywalker’s character. Perhaps as Obi-Wan states, it’s all depends on your point of view.
Bren, a contributor to StarWars.com, states, “I’m 30 years old and I loved it. Felt like it bridged the prequels and the OT very well from its humorous critters to Canto Bight to Luke droppin’ Darth Sidious’ name and talking about the failure of the Jedi.” Undoubtedly the hubris of the Jedi was an issue that needed to be addressed. “It’s a big-budget blockbuster that had audience cheering for a guy meditating at the end…that’s pretty incredible if you think about it.”
“I hear some of the complaints (Ackbar’s death, Holdo versus Poe) but ultimately I think the film does enough to make things make sense in context. Personally even though I think the film has flaws, it’s also super smart about setting up and paying off plot points. I think a lot of folks tend to stick with their first reaction rather than unpacking the story and its meaning. I think that’s the source of much of the knee-jerk hatred—some didn’t want to process and meet the film on its terms, rather they were stuck in what their own expectations and hang-ups are. So, while The Force Awakens had a solid first-impression impact on most, The Last Jedi needs time to simmer and repeat viewings help tremendously. I came out of my first screening feeling like a truck hit me but the more I see and discuss the film the stronger the themes and ideas become.”
As Bren mentions, even fans who love The Last Jedi admit that there may exist a generational gap between those who can or cannot accept the direction in which the saga is going. Kate from Southern California remarks, “At first I was extremely disappointed because it seemed a bit hokey, but then something clicked and it gave me an entirely different perspective: We, as the older generation, have to remember that an entirely new generation was introduced to Star Wars via the Prequels. Many of them consider those their favorite films because they themselves remember the awe-inspiring experience of seeing them on the big screen.”
“I think that Rian Johnson,” Kate continues, “taking that into consideration, did a brilliant job of merging those two Star Wars ‘genres;’ the classic and more serious feel of the originals, along with the more fun loving and almost cartoonish feel of the prequels, thus making it an enjoyable and relatable cinematic experience for any age. We were all brought into the story on the same level no matter where our origins lie.”
She concludes, “What we ‘original’ fans need to realize is that, with the way that the franchise is expanding, we need to be more open minded to change if we want to truly enjoy where it is going. If all that we do is keep picking it apart, we will be responsible for its demise, rather than encouraging it to continue to grow to be enjoyed not only by us, but by generations to come.”
Nicole made her feelings on The Last Jedi vividly clear. “I love The Last Jedi. It is not a perfect movie but I am going focus on why I loved it. First off, this is a beautiful movie cinematography speaking. The emotions! This was an emotional movie and I love that. Star Wars is not only about actions. The characters evolve and I love that.” In this regard, Nicole’s view seems to differ significantly from viewers who did not believe that characters like Rey and Kylo evolved throughout the movie. “I like when characters learn from their journey and change in a way. Positive or negative. It is like us you know.”
“Reylo” was also a favorite theme among fans who adored the film. “I love the connection and bond between Rey and Kylo. I must admit that the highlight of this movie was their parts. A lot of chemistry, the emotions, the connection. And the Red Throne Room fight was AWESOME ! I was on the edge of my seat all the time while watching it. Can’t wait to see more about this connection in Episode IX and where it will lead.”
Finally, Chrys from the UK not only stated why he loved The Last Jedi so much, but also addressed the “hostile fans” as he called them who he feels bear such great unwarranted hatred for the film. “I love The Last Jedi! I’ve become rapidly tired of defending it to hostile ‘fans’ of (often) frankly low intelligence and sexist, right wing, macho-toxic mentality. The same dumb, ill-thought out criticisms are repeated endlessly.”
Whereas critics of The Last Jedi despise the fate of Luke Skywalker, Chrys disagrees. “The thing I personally love most about the movie is Luke’s journey – it runs counter to so much macho movie culture; to me he is no less a hero for being broken – an apparent failure, jaded and disillusioned. This is part of the path of wisdom. It’s also a big part of many of the old myths that have always influenced Star Wars. The tragic fall of the hero is a powerful motif and I think incredibly important in storytelling. I believe in the power of story, of narrative to effect change in us, to encourage and inspire. It’s difficult for some of us to find inspiration in flawless heroes – but in the human and the fallible we find something that equates to our experience. I know what it is to fail, to fall, to lose everything – even to lose hope. The Last Jedi is about the loss of hope (and failure) and it’s about finding hope again – rekindling the spark. Luke journeys through disillusion and despair to sacrifice and redemption in his final apotheosis. That’s so much richer than him wading in as uber Jedi alpha male and laying waste to the First Order!”
To Chrys, feminism did not detract from the story – it enhanced it. “I also love the powerful presence of feminine wisdom and guidance in this movie (something [Joseph] Campbell deeply appreciated) – an important and often neglected aspect of the Hero’s Journey.”
In conclusion, Chrys succinctly summarizes why so many fans have fallen in love with The Last Jedi. “For me, this is both the wisest and most human of the Star Wars movies. The critique of the Jedi and the emphasis on the Balance of the Force (implying that both the Jedi and Sith unsettle it) is deeply satisfying on a mythic and spiritual level. But all of the deep stuff aside – the film is still one helluva ride for me! Fun, funny, exciting and visually awesome with some incredible stand out moments; the one that sticks in my mind the most is the iconic Holdo sacrifice, the powerful use of silence. Brilliant directorial flourish here!” Simply put, “It’s my new #1 favourite.”
So what does it all mean? With the release of The Last Jedi, Disney has undoubtedly lost some Star Wars fans – possibly for good – as the numbers have shown. The remaining followers however are now more enthusiastic and dedicated than ever before.
The Last Jedi has numerous flaws. Plot holes. Unanswered questions. Cheesy humor. The reason why this film is so important to the future of the Star Wars franchise though may lie in the looks on my children’s faces as they watched so intently for two and a half hours. From laughing at “General Hugs” to being hopeful once again as they saw a young boy use the Force to grab a broom, The Last Jedi captured their imaginations from start to finish. As Yoda put it, “Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.”
How then can we all apply this philosophy? We as fans from all ends of the spectrum must stop dissecting these movies so completely that we are unable to enjoy them for what they are. We must have the mind of a child. Embrace new ideas. Enjoy the visuals and the characters and the stories for how truly amazing they are. Taking Yoda’s teachings one step further, perhaps we must also unlearn what we have learned. Star Wars may truly be going in a new direction, but we must allow ourselves to take that first step into a larger world.
JFK historian and assassination researcher. Member of Citizens Against Political Assassinations and Assassination Archives Research Center.