Last December saw the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film could easily have been described as far and away the most anticipated film of the 21st century (at the time,Avengers Infinity War swiftly brought an end to that), and had an effect like no Star Wars media has ever had on the fandom. The film, written and directed by franchise newcomer Rian Johnson, ripped a hole in the fabric of the most heavily populated media following of all time, as half the fandom left the hall enamored, while the other half left the cinema screaming bloody murder. As a die hard Star Wars fan myself, I went into the film with fairly high expectations. I was already familiar with some of his other work, particularly his darker pieces such as Looper and Brick. This film, acting as the second coming of The Empire Strikes Back, the darker of the original trilogy, made his prior repertoire a perfect reason to exercise some faith in his direction. And, looking at the film as a film and nothing more, it was faith well bestowed. The problem, and the bone that Star Wars fans pick most vigorously, is the the treatment of the franchise as a whole, and the way popular staples of the lore were disregarded, as well as the treatment of plot points introduced in the Force Awakens.
Purely from a technical standpoint, Rian Johnson directed a superb standalone film. It’s a visual spectacle, with engaging cinematography and exceptional effects and sound mixing. Some of the performances are excellent, the show being stolen by Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. Driver, or more specifically Ren’s character, received much criticism after the Force Awakens for having a shallow character, and replacing the menacing, evil air around Darth Vader with an “emo teenager”. Driver shone as Ren in this film, however, really giving the character depth and giving him that emotional leanness that he lacked in the first installment. The other performances were decent, barring Mark Hamill, an incredible voice actor but never really taking to the screen, and Kelly Marie Tran as Rose; but more on that later. Some of the shots were exceptional; the fight sequence near the end as well as, most notably, the light-speed obliteration of the First Order’s fleet by Admiral Holdo; and Johnson did a phenomenal job establishing the connection between Rey and Kylo, regardless of it’s nature. From a technical standpoint, Johnson made a film that in any other situation would have been seen as excellent. This, however, was not any old situation.
One of the main criticism of the film was the treatment of the questions asked and mysteries set by The Force Awakens. The Star Wars franchise is famous for it’s interconnecting web of characters stretching back centuries on the timeline. The idea that Snoke was as much of a nobody as Rey’s parents were is simply an unacceptable answer to the relevant questions, and I was among many who was ready to break things after seeing that. Rey’s lack of connection aside, ridiculous as it is, one simply cannot introduce a character with the weight of the most powerful force user since Yoda, who everyone seems to know, and then just kill him without explaining him. It is just not done, at all, not only the Star Wars franchise. It does not help that Finn, a promising character to say the least, was sentenced to a meaningless, forgettable, and frankly unnecessary casino sequence, romantically tied with the weakest character in the Star Wars universe. The whole thing needn’t have happened, including the inclusion of Rose’s character, had Admiral Holdo simply told Poe Dameron the plan for retreat in the first place, instead of playing useless mind games for reasons never really explained.
The biggest problem people had with the film was the way the franchise as a whole was treated. The portrayal of Luke Skywalker, while theoretically interesting, was an ill-advised risk to say the least on Johnson’s part. Star Wars fans have grown up worshipping this man who they’ve never seen use the indescribable force power he is told to have had. After all that time, Star Wars fans wanted to see him bring down a planet with his bare hands, but instead they were given a hologram, the most cringe-worthy lightsaber stance ever seen, and a touching death (which in fairness was a very well done scene). Star Wars fans walked into the film prepared to say goodbye to Leia Organa; when her son’s abstinence with the trigger was made irrelevant we were all ready, but instead she was resurrected in the way only Disney knows how, leaving her to pass off screen, which in the eyes of a Star Wars fan is a punishable offense. The aforementioned callous treatment of the connectivity of the universe only added insult to injury.
Rian Johnson took on the challenge of directing a franchise, no, the franchise film, and made the worst mistake he could have made: he disregarded the franchise. He set out to make a quality film, which is a truly admirable thing to do, and it’s an irreplaceable quality in a storyteller. One has to understand, however, that a Star Wars film is not seen as only a film. It is seen as another piece in the puzzle, a puzzle of intertwining and interrelating webs with characters that make up a story of good vs evil, a story which raised people. To pretend otherwise shows dangerous disregard for franchise filmmaking, and is disrespectful to fans who have spent their lives worshipping a story, a story that is indescribably important to them. Rian Johnson is an excellent filmmaker, a consummate storyteller who obviously believes in the purity of a story. Unfortunately, franchise filmmaking is handling a story that is bigger than a film, and in this case that larger story was not handled well at all.
This, however, is not an excuse. In more recent times, actress Kelly Marie Tran was bullied off of social media due to racist and hateful comments made about her, as a result of her portrayal of Rose in The Last Jedi. At the same time, Rian Johnson and many others involved with the film’s writing and development have been on the receiving end of hate messages and even death threats. Star Wars is in danger now of being remembered for the disproportionate hate from it’s fanbase instead of the message of justice and morality propounded by the films. There is a difference between disliking a film respectfully and the outrageous behavior some Star Wars fans are displaying at this time, just as there is a difference between having respectful reservations about a character’s place in a story and an actress being driven by hate from social media platforms. Star Wars can be as impactful a story as it wants, and it is, but when all is said and done, it is a story, and these are people’s lives. As the third installment of the sequel trilogy begins it’s shoot in a few months’ time, Star Wars fans need to re-evaluate their sensitivity. The Star Wars legacy is at stake.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 70/100 Aryamaan’s Score –