Star Wars: The Last Jedi (dir. Rian Johnson, 2017) – While Rey seeks help from Luke Skywalker who remains in hiding, General Leia leads the Resistance against the tyranny of the First Order.
Not all risks taken pay off, but The Last Jedi deserves more credit than it received, and little of the enmity sent its way.
Taking on a Star Wars sequel is a tall order for anyone. Just ask Rian Johnson, who now faces more enemies than the Resistance ever did at a single point in time:
- Pedantic Star Wars fans, who want a tribute that is unwaveringly faithful to the franchise’s 40-year-old history,
- Pedantic Star Wars fans, who want new characters and refreshing plots instead of a retread of past stories,
- Cinephiles who loved Brick and consequently have impossible expectations for anything that Rian Johnson touches; and
- Disney (to a smaller extent, oddly enough).
It is only natural that The Last Jedi would end up one of the most divisive cinematic events since that ending of Inception. No matter what Rian Johnson did, his work would have rattled the bones of any one faction. But the show must go on. And he does his version of the best, which will sadly never be enough for most.
The Last Jedi picks up where The Force Awakens leaves off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally meeting Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the flesh. She hands over the long-lost lightsaber to the revered Jedi Master whom she had once thought as a myth. She sees him as hope, but soon as he takes the weapon, Luke hurls it and rebuffs her efforts to recruit him to the Resistance against the First Order.
The subversion of expectations is one of many to follow, though not all risks are rewarding. Against past promises of better villains, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and Snoke (Andy Serkis) make the least of impressions before their exit. Characters who seemed up for bigger things were sidelined too. It was especially disappointing to see Finn (John Boyega), Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) put on side missions that amount to little payoff.
That said, running the gauntlet opens up more possibilities for the story to go. The most controversial of which is one that I personally liked best; Rey’s origins, or lack thereof, made The Force accessible to every ordinary child with hope to rebel against the oppression. Her fighting a dark side within also made her a more layered adventure heroine than most.
Sharing a connection with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) through the Force, Rey continues to battle shadows in fear of following in the footsteps of Luke’s father. The delivery of their telepathic link lumbers, yet there remain fascinating implications in their ill-fated relationship. Bleak fates are teased, only harbouring a glimmer of light in Rey’s probity.
I have avoided writing about The Last Jedi for a long time. I did not like the film as much as I wanted to, but the last thing I wanted was to have my criticism misconstrued as hate against one of my favourite directors, who brought us Brick, Looper, and The Brothers Bloom. Besides, I did enjoy the Star Wars instalment for all its brave moves and spectacular visuals, particularly with the symbolic salt flat on Crait.
This is not an opinion that would sit well with a big part of the fandom, which has grown increasingly hostile against anyone who liked The Last Jedi. Threats have gotten vile, with acolytes throwing racial epithets in the way of actress Kelly Marie Tran and making death threats against Rian Johnson.
There is a line to be drawn here. It seems many have forgotten that these are very real people whom they are attacking. The truth is, it is fair game to point out the flaws of The Last Jedi, just as it is fine to hail it as your favourite in the Star Wars galaxy yet. Let us not forget that Star Wars have always been meant to be entertainment that brings people together, never to set us at odds.