This year has seen many instances of audiences disagreeing with professional critics. Most recently, critics tore apart the FOX show The Orville and Netflix’ new feature film Bright, which were both met with great approval from its core audiences. Instead, critics praised the newest chapter in the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi, which left many fans disappointed.
At its premiere, The Last Jedi scored a whopping 8.5/10 on imdb, which has gone down to 7.6/10 at the time of writing. On Rotten Tomatoes, it scores an unbelievable 91% critic score, but only 51% audience score. Some media outlets rushed to defend the film, claiming that angry overzealous fans did not hesitate to create new accounts so they could express their frustration with this film. Possibly, but then if people were so frustrated they felt they had to create new accounts specifically to let the world know how bad the Last Jedi was, does that somehow make the critics right again?
I held off on writing a review for weeks, because I felt as if I was the bad guy, criticising a film made for children. What if I was the only one who hated it? I don’t want to spoil the fun for everyone else. Most of my friends and colleagues felt the same way. I watched the film with a family, with both young children, young adults and members of the generation 60+. We all came out of the theatre, unsure what to say about the film. But as we started to discuss it, we felt encouraged to just admit that we didn’t really like it that much. Since then, I have had similar experiences with many other friends and thus want to speak up for them, even if I will get lots of backlash for it.
But why is the Last Jedi so divisive? It seems that (in particular in the USA), the entire debate has little to do with the film itself and more with politics. If you liked the film, you must be a feminist communist social justice warrior, who wants to destroy the world. If you disliked the film, you must be a sexist, trumpist alt-right neo-nazi bigot, who wants to destroy the world. So if anything, we can all at least agree that the world as we know it must end. And so must the Jedi, according to Luke Skywalker himself. Except he is #notmyluke, as many people claim, including actor Mark Hamill himself, who has repeatedly gone on the record to say that he fundamentally disagreed with every decision made regarding his character and that he no longer recognised him.
However, in all fairness, he did also go on to accept that this was no longer the story of Luke Skywalker, but the story of Rey, Finn and Poe.
This is probably the reason, why most long-time fans had trouble accepting the new story directions of the sequel trilogy. Though this criticism is also not quite justified. When I first saw The Force Awakens, I was entertained, but did not feel like I had seen anything new. What was missing was a new direction for the franchise. The Expanded Universe had opened up many fascinating new story avenues, (some of which were disliked passionately by many fans). What made them interesting was the plurality of new characters that took centre stage in addition to our beloved heroes. It became a thriving universe, full of interconnected storylines and character relationships, rather than just a cyclical retelling of the same story themes, in which heroes of the past had become old and jaded and are reduced to nothing but sacrificial chess pieces in an unwinnable game of Light versus Darkness.
The Force Awakens had had the chance to throw us into an unrecognisable new universe that was shared by both old and fresh new characters. Instead, it gave us a paintjob over the original trilogy and side-lined the old heroes, in favour of new characters that were not too different from the old ones we already new and loved and let them fight in a copy-paste galactic civil war between what is essentially still the rebellion and the empire. Even the plotline was not original. Han Solo’s son already turned to the dark side in the Expanded Universe and he too was defeated by a female brunette Jedi Knight (mind you it was his twin sister) in the end, after killing a certain main character. Still, the film set up some interesting mysteries and potential plots to be developed and explored later on, so it could be forgiven. If only the next film delivered on those promises…
Unfortunately, this is exactly the reason why many fans got upset. Personally, I would have been thrilled to see more creative stories, with strange new aliens and a conflict that had nothing to do with the empire and rebellion, or even the dark and light side of the force. But of course, that would not have been playing it safe for Disney, who had invested a lot of money into their new acquisition and were afraid of angering just as many fans as George Lucas had with his prequels (though personally, I really liked the prequel films). Which makes it all the more surprising that they allowed Rian Johnson to make the Last Jedi the way he did. Not only was the goofy tone of the film more reminiscent of Thor: Ragnarok than any previous Star Wars film, but the mysteries and set up plot lines from The Force Awakens were either completely ignored or done away with in haphazard ways, creating a story that felt nihilist to its core, as none of the events in the film ultimately mattered at all. Aside from that, the film also features some questionable character motivations, a lot of glaring plot holes and a very slow pace that made the entire experience not only nerve-wrecking, but also tiresome. After we left the theatre, our entire group had a migraine and was ready to go to bed (and we watched it in the early afternoon!). This is not to say the film did not give us some amazing scenes as well, but unfortunately, they either drowned in the sea of weird scenes in between, or did not make much sense within the context of the film itself. On top of that, the John WIlliams score did not feel very original (which is hard for me to say, as I absolutely adore his music!). It was a staccato of short cues, mixed out of themes from the original trilogy and The Force Awakens. To me, the most memorable piece was the new version of the Princess Leia theme, which I only remembered, because it played during the end credits “In loving memory of our princess, Carrie Fisher” part. Even that was recycled.
Now there is no point in tearing each other apart over a film. However, we can still look at the film in detail and take away some lessons of storytelling from some of its more questionable scenes and think of what could have been done to avoid these blunders. I will devote my next entry to this.