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#MayTheFourth: Balancing the Force – Understanding Both the Praise and Criticisms of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

While applauded by critics, the bold and subversive nature of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, directed Looper’s Rian Johnson, has left the Star Wars fanbase fractured between those who absolutely loved the film, those who absolutely hated it, and a few left in between. Easily the most divisive Star Wars film so far, The Last Jedi, perhaps, was destined to be controversial given the monumental task set forth, such as the return of the iconic character of Luke Skywalker to the franchise (Mark Hamill appeared in a mere cameo at the end of 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but audiences truly spend time with their original trilogy hero in this film.) and the final on-screen appearance of the late Carrie Fisher (a.k.a. Princess Leia), for example. Perhaps nothing could truly be as purely satisfying as what our own imaginations have whispered to us regarding what we might witness in that darkened theater. And, while I disagree with many of his choices, director Rian Johnson is someone who took the story in a distinct direction and changed the characters and the mythology in lasting ways going forward. Fans cannot be expected to love every choice made and story told, but we must acknowledge that for Star Wars to survive and grow with new generations, it must evolve, be given room to change, and provided the opportunity to take chances and even fail at times.

With this editorial, I, as a representative of Fanbase Press, urge fans on both sides of The Last Jedi divide to rise above the polarization of the most recent Star Wars film and, despite whether one loved or hated the film, take a look at the from a different point of view: the one they disagree with.


Below is a breakdown of some of the most hailed and lamented moments and elements of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with each point including both an explanation of why some fans loved the moment and others just didn’t. Star Wars is a beloved fandom to many, and the infighting and derision over The Last Jedi is not the same as the friendly debate, speculation, and fan theories that have made the Star Wars fandom such a fun and enriching group of people to be a part of.

Just to be absolutely clear, this editorial will offer no credence or quarter to some of the fringe elements of the Star Wars fandom that suggest there’s some sort of issue with more prominent inclusion of women or people of color in the franchise. Those beliefs don’t belong in the Star Wars fandom and have no real place in the values Star Wars represents.

It must also be acknowledged that The Last Jedi is neither a horrible film, nor a flawless one, and we fans are often too certain in the validity in our opinions and initial reactions, and, therefore, could benefit from listening to those whose opinions we respect, yet disagree with. We, as fans, all share some sort of kinship given our shared passion and love for a galaxy far, far away. We are the Star Wars fandom’s only hope. And how will we rule our new empire? With an iron fist, like Vader? With a twisted fanaticism, like Kylo Ren? Or, broken by the conflict, will we retreat to exile like Luke Skywalker and cut ourselves off from the Force?

Perhaps, on this May the Fourth of the year 2018, we can attempt to “balance the Force” by forgetting all we think we know about The Last Jedi and trying to understand those who disagree with us on the film. Admittedly, I am a fan who was left somewhat unfulfilled by The Last Jedi, but I have done my best, below, to fairly explain how we fans can feel so divided by so many of the same scenes and elements in Johnson’s film.

Clear your mind. Just breath. And take your first step into a larger world.

The state of Luke Skywalker

In The Last Jedi, it is revealed that the legendary Jedi Master from the original Star Wars trilogy has become disillusioned with the heroic myth of the noble Jedi Knights and, viewing their methods as severely flawed, has exiled himself to planet of Ahch-To. He has cut himself off from the Force in order to let the Jedi die out in an attempt to end the destructive and continuous conflict between the ancient order and the dark side users known as the Sith. Much of Luke’s loss of faith revolves around his attempts to train his nephew, Ben Solo, who was struggling with his own temptation to turn to the dark side. When Luke peers into the sleeping boy’s thoughts, he is so overcome by the inherent darkness in his nephew that he draws his lightsaber, briefly considering ending the boy’s life in order to spare the galaxy the pain Luke foresaw. Ben, waking to find his uncle, in his view, attempting to kill him, is sent on a downward spiral by Luke’s actions, destroying Luke’s new Jedi academy, joining forces with Supreme Leader Snoke, and following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Darth Vader.

Why some fans loved it: Instead of giving us a fan-service version of Luke Skywalker who defeats the First Order with god-like powers witnessed only in Star Wars video games, Johnson’s depiction of our former hero is layered, fascinating, and completely unexpected. The Last Jedi‘s Luke challenges everything both Rey and the audiences think they know about the legendary Skywalker, as well as questioning and examining many of the simple “truths” fans have long accepted about the Jedi, despite certain evidence to the contrary. While seeing Luke’s fall from grace to an Obi-Wan Kenobi-type existence filled with doubt and regret is, admittedly, painful and heartbreaking; however, watching Hamill’s performance as the Jedi find his way again and going on to inspire future heroes and heroines across the galaxy is undeniably powerful.

Why some fans hated it: The Luke Skywalker who refuses to kill his father in Return of the Jedi stands in direct contradiction to many of the character’s actions depicted in The Last Jedi, so much so that it, at times, feels like the final cut of The Last Jedi is missing a specific scene of two. While there’s no denying that people change over the years, no one is immune to a critical moment of self-doubt, and even the great Luke Skywalker could become arrogant under the influence of his own growing power, but something feels majorly off. If Luke refuses to abandon hope for his father (a mass murderer who sliced off Luke’s hand and tortured his sister and friends) and manages to successful redeem the man known as Darth Vader, why is he so quick to abandon his nephew, someone who the film repeatedly tells us is struggling with his pull to the light side? Shouldn’t Luke believe Ben is even more capable of redemption than Vader was given the conflict inside the boy? Wouldn’t he be even more determined to show Ben the error of his ways and attempt to save his sister’s son? Even if Luke’s belief in himself was completely shattered by his momentary urge to kill his nephew, wouldn’t he still believe in the good within Ben and be desperate to explain to Ben how he failed him and why Ben shouldn’t base an entire tragic future path on Luke’s split-second screw up? Luke states, truthfully, in The Last Jedi that, “a Jedi Master was responsible for the training and creation of Darth Vader,” but Luke, the director, and the film also seems determined to ignore that a Jedi was responsible for the redemption of the Dark Lord of the Sith and his return to the light, as well.

General Leia in space

Near the beginning of the film, when General Leia’s ship, The Raddus, is under attack, the windows of the bridge are shattered by laser fire and Leia, Admirial Ackbar, and several other Resistance members are sucked out into the cold reaches of space and their apparent deaths. After a momentary “fake out,” it’s revealed that Leia has miraculously kept herself alive with an unknown Force power and uses her abilities to drag herself to another Resistance spacecraft where they pull her inside the airlock. While alive, Leia falls into a coma and is taken to the medical bay.

Why some fans loved it: There’s no question that fans have been waiting for Leia to demonstrate some serious Force abilities ever since Luke told her in Return of the Jedi, “You have that power, too. In time you’ll learn to use it as I have.” Especially given The Last Jedi ended up being the last Star Wars movie filmed with Fisher, it was especially important that this moment was included. Life has not been kind to Leia after the original trilogy, but the intelligent and determined princess we knew went on to raise a son, build a new republic, form a resistance, and master some of the most impressive Force powers we’ve ever seen on-screen.

Why some fans hated it: It’s hard to not admit that the depiction of Leia gliding through space as if being pulled by an invisible string came off as a little goofy for some fans. While I don’t believe there’s anyone who legitimately didn’t want to see Leia ever use any Force abilities (We all accepted her hearing Luke in The Empire Strikes Back and feeling Han’s death in The Force Awakens.), we could have used a tiny bit of exposition to explain how the Force allows someone to survive the coldness and harsh atmosphere of space. We’ve never seen the Force used to survive harsh elements (such as being underwater or resistance against heat or cold) on film, so perhaps audiences need just a bit more of an explanation in order to buy this one.

Kylo Ren and his decision to “let the past die”

In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren abandons his Vader obsession briefly explored in The Force Awakens and, as a response to Snoke’s belittlement and a burgeoning connection with Rey, instead seeks to let the remnants of both the Empire and the Rebellion be destroyed, so that he and Rey can build a new “world” together. In fandom, the phrase “let the past die” has come to represent a unifying motto for fans who loved the bold, subversive approach The Last Jedi had throughout the film.

Why some fans loved it: As Jyn Erso once said, “This is a rebellion isn’t it? I rebel.” Star Wars fans love those who rebel, and it’s hard to resist Kylo’s seductive “burn it all down” approach in this film. More so, it speaks to some very interesting themes Johnson is exploring regarding heroes, legends, and nostalgia. Fans have seen plenty of the Jedi battling the Sith in the previous seven films, and while the fanbase would surely cheer on another conflict that vaguely mirrored what had come before, Johnson clearly had an urge to show audiences something new and impactful. The Last Jedi has excited many fans with the creative risks it took, and they see the words of Kylo Ren as a mantra warning us to not get trapped within our preconceived notions.

Why some fans hated it: While there are clearly some themes and messages in The Last Jedi that speak to forging ahead and not being held back by the past, the film’s ultimate message is entirely contradictory to the “let the past die” message. Not only does this message come from the extremely dubious source of a duplicitous villain, but the ultimately triumphant Luke not only rescinds his mission to let the Jedi “end,” but he tells Kylo that his old master will not be the last Jedi. Furthermore, Rey takes the Jedi texts from Ahch-To, saving them from being burned or forgotten, thus preserving the past.

On a secondary note, some fans were disappointed to see this theme used to do away with Kylo’s Vader worship. It was an interesting element of the character that hadn’t been fully explored and played into many of the new trilogy’s themes regarding legends, generational cycles, and toxic fandom.

Rey’s training

Given Luke’s stubborn and disillusioned state, he only reluctantly agrees to train young Rey, and even then, he only agrees to three lessons total (only two of which we see in the film). Eventually, Rey leaves Luke on Ahch-To after he refuses to help her turn Ben Solo back to the light side, and she’s forced to pursue her mission alone.

Why some fans loved it: Once again, Johnson’s script and direction undercut expectations, with Luke’s lesson focusing on a fascinating discussion regarding the failure of the Jedi and their appropriation of the Force. Additionally, having Rey confront Luke about his own failure’s regarding the fall of Ben Solo and abandon her potential master in pursuit of her own mission to turn Ben away from the dark side is a demonstration of a heroine throwing off the shackles of the past and finding her own agency instead of following a path demanded by fandom or past films.

Why some fans hated it: While Luke’s lessons are worthy concepts for Rey to learn and understand, she receives even less training than Luke’s haphazard, bastardized, and interrupted training on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back. Maybe this wouldn’t have been such an issue if many of the trailers and much of the marketing campaign wasn’t built upon the suggestion of Luke training Rey. While the message about Rey discovering her own agency instead of being given it by someone else is a compelling one, for some, the lack of training and focus of Luke’s lesson ultimately makes the film more focused on telling the story of Luke Skywalker than the assumed lead of Rey.

In addition, the film’s timeline gets a bit wonky when you try to figure out how Rey spent a few days on Ahch-To but managed to meet up later with characters who’ve spent the entire movie in a spacecraft pursuit that’s depicted as taking a matter of hours.

Poe and Holdo

Why some fans loved it: Vice Admiral Holdo is a commanding female presence who’s portrayed quite awesomely by actor Laura Dern. Holdo is a welcome addition to the Star Wars mythos and teaches hot shot (and trigger happy) Poe Dameron a valuable lesson regarding leadership.

Why some fans hated it: The concept of Vice Admiral Holdo is an awesome one, and no one can knock the always stellar Laura Dern, but the execution doesn’t hold together under closer examination. Holdo’s decision to keep her plan of escape secret and to pull rank in a life-and-death situation seems to make little sense.

The return of Yoda

When the broken Luke Skywalker goes to burn the ancient Jedi texts, he is granted a visit from the Force ghost of his former master, Yoda. Much like when he was alive, Yoda reveals another truth to his former student – that failure is the greatest teacher.

Why some fans loved it: First, who doesn’t want to see Luke and Yoda together again? This was a powerful scene in many ways, but the strongest piece is certainly Yoda’s message about failure, a lesson that resonates through Johnson’s entire film.

Why some fans hated it: The message about failure was great, and bravo to Johnson for using practical effects, but why was the beloved little green guy putting on his “crazy act” from when Luke first meets him in Empire Strikes Back? That off-the-wall persona was a test for the young Skywalker, and the “real” Yoda has always been more stoic and reserved (especially after the fall of the Jedi Order), so it doesn’t really make sense to include it in the character’s appearance here.

Finn & Rose’s trip to Canto Bite (and the character of DJ)

Finn and Rose go on a secret mission to the casino world of Canto Bite, a home to the privileged and a number of arms dealers for both the Resistance and the First Order. Looking for a master code breaker, Finn and Rose join forces with DJ, an amoral, roguish type who ultimately betrays them to save his own skin.

Why some fans loved it: Johnson’s exploration of this unseen corner of the Star Wars universe really struck a chord with some fans, playing into the film’s themes of learning from failure and choosing to fight for something (or not to, in DJ’s case).

Why some fans hated it: For many fans, this sequence did not connect with them, coming off as unnecessarily long and a somewhat pointless side trip in a film that chose to cut scenes like Luke privately mourning the death of his friend, Han.

Supreme Leader Snoke

During the middle of The Last Jedi, when everything seems lost for our heroine, Rey, Kylo Ren betrays his master by slicing Supreme Leader Snoke in half, ending his life and presence in the film.

Why some fans loved it: It’s an unexpected twist that immediately changes the game and pushes the plot forward in interesting and compelling ways. It also immediately proceeds one of the most exhilarating and visually stunning scenes in the film: Kylo Ren and Rey teaming up to fight Snoke’s guards.

Why some fans hated it: After all of the buildup of mystery and intrigue behind Snoke, including Johnson and actor Andy Serkis saying the character was more powerful than the Emperor during their press for the film, his death seems somewhat dismissive of the character. While his murder at the hands of his apprentice is shocking, the lack of explanation regarding who Snoke is, why he was so powerful, and how he bested all of the heroes of the original scene off-screen means that his death condemns him to being nothing more than a pale imitation of the Emperor.

Holdo’s sacrifice

When her allies are in danger from Snoke’s massive spaceship, Holdo embraces the ultimate sacrifice, engaging her ship’s hyperdrive and blasting through the enemy spacecraft in a kamikaze attack that destroys her opponents.

Why some fans loved it: Partially playing out on-screen in complete silence, Holdo’s sacrifice is one of the most beautiful scenes in the film and one of the most emotionally satisfying ends ever for a Star Wars character.

Why some fans hated it: It’s a stretch to try and create head canon for why Holdo couldn’t use autopilot or a droid to complete this task. In a similar fashion, it’s difficult to explain why none of the other Resistance ships which simply ran out of fuel and were destroyed by the First Order attempted this maneuver, or why this military tactic wasn’t employed shortly after the mass production of hyperdrives.

Luke drinks some green milk… straight from the source.

While trying to convince Luke to train her, Rey follows the Master Jedi one morning as he exits his hut. Instead of heading off to perform some mystical Jedi task, Luke proceeds to milk a four-breasted alien and drink the creature’s green milk while shooting Rey a surly look.

Why some fans loved it: It’s a weird moment with a weird creature in a weird film. The scene really speaks to the bizarre alien nature of the Star Wars universe, the same as A New Hope‘s cantina scene did, while showing Luke’s determination to drive Rey away and erode her concept of the legendary Luke Skywalker.

Why some fans hated it: The scene comes off as slightly gratuitous, especially given the creature’s sentient appearance. In addition, it seems like this scene could have easily been eliminated or replaced in the final cut of the film with little to no effect on the overall plot.

Rose saves Finn’s life

Finally believing in a cause, Finn attempts to sacrifice his life to save his friends and the Resistance from the First Order in one of the final scenes of the film. At the last second, Rose stops Finn, saving his life and stating that the war will be won by saving what they love, not destroying what they hate.

Why some fans loved it: Saving what you love over destroying what you hate is a fantastic message for these characters and a Star Wars film. It’s a powerful, yet simplistic, example of the differences in ideology and approach between the First Order and the Resistance, as well as a continuation of the franchise’s poor opinion regarding giving in to the negative emotions (fear, anger, hate) that we all possess.

Why some fans hated it: The message may be a solid one, but it makes no sense in the context of the rest of the plot. Finn may be acting out of his hate for the First Order, but he’s also trying to save the Resistance (the friends, allies, and mission he’s come to care about over the course of the film) from destruction at the enemy’s hands. The film seems conflicted, in general, regarding the theme of sacrifice, depicting both Holdo’s and Paige’s sacrifices as heroic and noble, while regarding Finn’s attempted sacrifice as foolish with no real explanation as to why this is the case.

Luke’s last stand

During the climax of the film, Luke Skywalker arrives on Crait and saves the Resistance in the moment of desperate need. Fending of a hail storm of laser bolts from the First Orders’ walkers, eventually, the Jedi Master faces his former student, Kylo Ren, in a one-on-one lightsaber battle. When Kylo finally manages to slice through his uncle, he’s enraged to discover that he’s been fighting a Force projection and that Skywalker is back on Ahch-To meditating. Luke’s Force projection tells Kylo, “See you around, kid,” and then vanishes. Back on Ahch-To, incredibly weakened by the strain of his projection across the galaxy, Luke becomes one with the Force, fading away and leaving his Jedi robes behind.

Why some fans loved it: In many ways, it’s the perfect end for Luke Skywalker. The ingenious writing of the scene allows for fans to enjoy their hero’s ability to single-handedly take on an entire army, while also maintaining Luke’s adoption of the Jedi’s non-violent approach to confronting his enemies (much like his show down with the Emperor and Vader in Return of the Jedi). Unlike the prequels, which subjected powerful Force-users like Yoda and the Emperor to garish, undignified physical combat, The Last Jedi continues the Jedi values present in the original trilogy and demonstrates how an individual as powerful as Luke Skywalker eventually grows beyond the need for physical combat, understanding that the true battle lies within. This is never more clear than when Luke’s victory over Kylo revolves around his need to remind his nephew of his father’s love and how Kylo’s murder of Han Solo will haunt him forever. In addition, the final shot of Luke becoming one with the Force while staring calmly at a twin pair of suns is definitely one of the most beautiful visuals in the Star Wars series.

Why some fans hated it: In addition to their desire to see Luke return to save the day in an actual, physical sense, many fans struggled with the death of Luke. The death of an iconic and beloved character like this is always going to be a tricky maneuver that, no matter what, ultimately won’t work for every fan. (See Captain Kirk’s death in Star Trek: Generations or Ripley’s death in Alien 3.) The biggest struggle here seems to be that many fans were preparing to lose Luke Skywalker after the death of Han Solo in The Force Awakens, but they were still hoping to have Luke around for at least one more film. There’s always the possibility of Luke returning as a Force ghost, so we’ll all just have to wait and see.

The final shot of “Broom Kid”

After the events on Crait, we return to Canto Bite, where we see a group of stable children playing with makeshift action figures. One child is clearly telling the others the story of Luke’s confrontation with the First Order walkers and refers to him by name. An alien enters the room, scolding the children and telling them to get back to work. One young boy goes outside to the stable and uses the Force to pull his broom to him. He looks up at the stars and holds his broom like a lightsaber, inspired by the legend of Luke Skywalker and imagining his own future adventures.

Why some fans loved it: It’s beautiful, iconic imagery that speaks to anyone that’s ever imagined holding a lightsaber themselves. Luke Skywalker’s legend lives on and inspires others, but the final message is that literally anyone could be the galaxy’s next hero.

Why some fans hated it: It seems really suspect that the story of Luke’s actions on Crait could make it back to these children on Canto Bite. Aside from a handful of Resistance fighters on the Falcon, who’s going to talk about it? Other than them, only Kylo Ren and the First Order witnessed it, and they certainly aren’t going to spread the word of their own defeat.

Additionally, the message that anyone can be a hero is not something new to the Star Wars mythos. That’s literally the entire point behind a farm boy from a backwater planet becoming the legendary Luke Skywalker.

Bryant Dillon, Fanbase Press President


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