Just nine days before the official release of Episode IX, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker it seemed strange that a top trending topic on Twitter was its predecessor. While The Last Jedi will be remembered for many things, most notable right now is the backlash the filmed faced. For those of us old enough to remember the original trilogy, this is not unlike what happened with Empire Strikes Back. Yet, what brought this battle, constantly fought on social media, back to the forefront are J.J. Abrams and the cast seemingly insulting Rian Johnson’s Star Wars masterpiece.
Yes, if you, dearest reader, are a member of the so-called “Fandom Menace” you will find no ally in this essay. Yet, I’d urge you to keep reading, because what I am is a person who loves Star Wars. Not only that, a friend recently told me that my superpower is being impervious to disappointment in these films.
First, we’ll examine if the backlash to The Last Jedi reached the marketing for The Rise of Sykwalker. Some Twitter-pundits believe that they are trying to appeal to the angry fanboy contingent of fans who consistently harass Rian Johnson on social media to this day. Then, we’ll talk a bit about the movie, and why it’s okay to dislike it (or any Star Wars film/trilogy). Finally, we will talk a little bit about how, backlash or not, The Last Jedi is perfectly in line with the themes and characterizations of Star Wars. Yet, if you don’t want to get into all that again, I understand. Just know that, like everything involving the backlash for The Last Jedi, this is all being blown out of proportion.
Are J.J. Abrams and the Cast Contributing to The Last Jedi Backlash?
Image via Lucasfilm
On Twitter, people shared some out-of-context press clippings that seem to show director J.J. Abrams and the cast of the sequel trilogy insulting The Last Jedi. The most commonly shared piece came from a New York Times interview, in which Abrams seemed to suggest that The Last Jedi was too “meta.” He also said that some fans felt that writer and director Rian Johnson told them certain things “didn’t matter” that should. Now, luckily Star Wars fans would never take a bunch of out-of-context quotes from interviews and lose their shit about them. Psych! Just kidding. That’s exactly what fans did. These fans were those fervently defending The Last Jedi against (checks notes) the film’s executive producer, J.J. Abrams. Others felt that J.J. Abrams had joined the #FandomMenace.
Along with Abrams, cast members Daisy Ridley and John Boyega also made comments seemingly against the previous film. Boyega called the choices made in The Last Jedi, “iffy” and (like Mark Hamill) expressed regret about not getting enough scenes with the core three leads. Daisy Ridley said she “cried” in “relief” when she found out Abrams (the man who hired her) was coming back. Haters of The Last Jedi are pointing to these comments as “evidence” that even the cast hated that movie. Of course, they are also ignoring the countless quotes where they defend the film.
Boyega, just like Mark Hamill before him, seemed hesitant about the direction of his character and who he didn’t get to work with. Both of these actors have defended the film and admit that it’s a worthy successor to the first film. Their reaction to Abrams’ return is likely more about the chaos of losing Colin Trevorrow rather than anything to do with Rian Johnson.
It’s Okay to Dislike The Last Jedi, But Be Honest About Why That Is
Image via Lucasfilm
Those who disliked the middle chapter of this new trilogy are reading the quotes from Abrams and the actors in the most uncharitable way possible. They also still point to Luke Sykwalker himself as their champion. Hamill was so upset at the characterization of Luke at first that they made an entire documentary about it for The Last Jedi home release. While he was surprised at where Johnson took Luke, he eventually came around to Johnson’s way of seeing things. He also admits his story ideas aren’t the best. One pitch he had for the final battle was for Luke to grow in size to Godzilla-like heights and stomp out the First Order.
Yet, one doesn’t have to like The Last Jedi or any Star Wars movie, for that matter. Just, if you don’t like it, don’t pretend it’s because it’s “not Star Wars” or was in any way a poorly-made film. One downside of being hyper-secretive about these hotly anticipated movies is that Star Wars fans have had almost 40 years to imagine what the next chapter of Luke Skywalker will be. Some fans already read those chapters, in the “Legends” novels, games, and comics that came out between the Original and Prequel Trilogies. What makes fans the angriest about this movie is that it does not match or surpass their own “head-canon” about what that next chapter is. The backlash directed at The Last Jedi is because their fan-hopes have been betrayed, not the saga itself.
Failure is What Makes The Last Jedi Great
Image via Lucasfilm
The Last Jedi, like the other middle Star Wars chapters, is a film about failure. Yet, these failures are never quite what you think they are. Rey fails to get Luke to return to the fight or even actively train her. Yet, he serves as her inspiration both through his unconventional lessons and his sacrifice at the end of the film. Poe, Finn, and Rose try to save the Resistance fleet from the First Order but fail to do so. Yet, during their ill-fated mission to Canto Bight, Finn and Rose (also Luke Skywalker) inspire the next generation to believe in hope. Leia fails to rally allies to the Resistance, but in doing so she rallies the remaining members to become true leaders.
Kylo Ren, conversely, succeeds in taking his place as the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Yet, he remains unable to defeat his mother or uncle when faced with them. As Yoda says as the ancient Jedi text-tree burns, “the greatest teacher, failure is.” Yet, The Last Jedi still faces backlash from fans who feel that their heroes aren’t supposed to fail. Where we find Han, Leia, and Luke in this sequel trilogy bothers them. Return of the Jedi literally had a final shot that showed all of our heroes happy in victory together. While we wish they could have perpetually stayed that way, it makes for a very uninteresting story. Exploring their failures is not betraying that previous ending nor does it disregard their character growth.
The Last Jedi Is the Perfect Middle Chapter in the Star Wars Generational Myth
Image via Lucasfilm
When George Lucas made the first Star Wars film, he wanted to make a film that served as a counterpoint to the bleak malaise that dominated cinema in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Even though the target audience was Generation X children, it started out as an ostensibly “Baby Boomer” myth. The Star Wars prequels, on the other hand, were a myth made for the millennial generation. It sought to warn them about how venerated institutions in government and religion can rely too much on dogma and be corrupted to authoritarian ends. So, it makes sense that this sequel trilogy is a myth that looks back critically on the failures of the Baby Boomer era. Though, unlike their real-world counterparts, Luke, Leia, and the gang managed to bring about a quarter-century of peace and prosperity before it all fell apart.
In failure, the original trilogy heroes reacted in-character. Leia doubled-down on what she knew from her youth, leading a resistance to the authoritarian threat. Han Solo regressed slightly. He’s back to, ultimately, running from his problems. Yet, Luke Skywalker had the most tragic reaction. As the great hope of his generation, he withdrew from the universe. He thought the best thing was to “go away” because the galaxy would be better off without him or the Jedi. Yet, by the end of The Last Jedi, all of those characters found their way back to the light. Han was eager to rejoin the fight. Leia, who lost hope, found the young leaders she sought. And Luke recognized that his legend was his greatest power. For a movie all about failure, The Last Jedi allowed the original trilogy heroes to succeed one last time.
The Last Jedi Backlash Will Persist, at Least Until The New Generation of Star Wars Fans Grows Up
Image via Lucasfilm
During the prequel era, the harshest critics of that trilogy were the fans who were adults when they saw it. A study of Star Wars fans found that kids who grew up with the prequels loved those films and the originals almost equally. Still, it also found that while most fans enjoyed the previous two trilogies, there is a significant contingent who simply hate The Last Jedi. It’s sad, because it suggests that despite loving the previous trilogies, these fans missed their point. Legends and heroes are powerful, but they are never quite what we thought they were. When fans didn’t get an ass-kicking, fully confident Luke Skywalker they felt betrayed. Yet, the Luke they got was maybe not the one they “deserved,” but he was certainly the hero Star Wars needed.
Because the key thing in The Last Jedi that people forget is that Rey affected Luke as much (if not more) than he affected her. She inspired him to reconnect with the Force and save the Resistance in a way that did not betray the ultimate tenets of the Jedi. He used the Force not for offense, but defense. He tried to save lives. And even though he said he wasn’t there to do it, he also tried to save Kylo Ben’s soul. His last lesson to his fallen padawan was that fighting for selfish reasons is ultimately futile. It’s a gorgeous last message from everyone’s favorite Jedi Master.
What did you think of The Last Jedi? Share your thoughts (respectfully) in the comments below. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters on 12/20.
Featured image via Lucasfilm
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.