The first time I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I didn’t like it – in fact, I hated it. That’s why I didn’t post a review the day the film came out: I honestly didn’t think I could tackle it in a constructive way, that’s how unimpressed I was. However, in the weeks since, I’ve found myself re-evaluating The Last Jedi – looking at it from a different point of view, as Obi-Wan Kenobi might put it – and I’ve come to a surprising conclusion: I do like the movie after all.
Don’t get me wrong: there are still things that bug me about The Last Jedi. But then, no film – not even the original Star Wars flicks – is perfect, and in hindsight, most of my issues with The Last Jedi are minor quibbles. Heck, even my biggest gripes with writer/director Rian Johnson’s film don’t bother me anymore, now that I’ve properly processed what the film means for the future of the franchise and, more importantly, for the next generation of fans.
What didn’t I like about The Last Jedi?
Before we unpack what I didn’t like about The Last Jedi, let me be clear that I’ve been broadly supportive of everything Disney has done with Star Wars since it acquired the franchise in 2012.
I’m hugely in favour of the series placing a greater emphasis on female protagonists and featuring racially and gender-diverse supporting casts. I’m also totally onboard with attempts to take the saga in a new, nostalgia-free direction – indeed, until now, my biggest criticism of The Force Awakens was that it felt like “Star Wars Greatest Hits”, and should have brought more fresh ideas to the table. So, believe me: I went into The Last Jedi wanting (even expecting) to like it, and the reasons why I didn’t probably aren’t the same as those expressed by fans at the centre of the current online backlash towards the film.
Instead, my objections to the movie stem less from me being a Star Wars geek (although I am) and more from me being a film nerd. Simply put, The Last Jedi suffers from two key storytelling problems.
For starters, there’s the sheer number of characters crammed into the film. Alongside the considerable number of returning primary and supporting protagonists and antagonists – Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren, Admiral Hux, Captain Phasma, Leia, Supreme Leader Snoke, BB-8, Chewbacca – Luke Skywalker now plays a key role, as do newcomers Rose, Vice-Admiral Holdo and DJ. That’s a lot of characters, and Johnson struggles to juggle them all effectively.
Which brings me to my biggest issue with The Last Jedi: its meandering narrative. Whenever the focus shifts away from Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren, the story starts to feel aimless and the pacing begins to drag. It almost feels like Johnson was only really interested in this main plot thread, and everything else that happens – Poe’s escalating conflict with Holdo, and Finn and Rose’s excursion to the space casinos of Canto Bight – is an afterthought; a couple of half-baked subplots cooked up to keep the wider cast busy and, at best, help flesh out the film’s core themes.
So, yeah: I was disappointed with The Last Jedi, and briefly toyed with penning a scathing review to vent my frustrations. But following the jubilant response to the film that I encountered both in person and online, I decided not to be a kill-joy, and, like Luke Skywalker himself, I retreated from the world (or social media, at least) to lick my wounds in bitter solitude.
What did I like about The Last Jedi?
I’m glad I did, as this gave me more time to reflect on the things in The Last Jedi that I did like. It was a list that steadily grew the more I thought about it.
Certainly, everything that happens between Luke, Rey and Kylo Ren is pretty damn compelling, from the trippy throwback to the Cave of Evil scene in The Empire Strikes Back through to the Roshomon-like flashbacks that depict Luke and Ren’s falling out. Likewise, Luke’s character arc – although controversial – worked for me, Johnson’s boldness in vilifying, then humanising, and ultimately, canonising the legendary Jedi Master paying off in spectacular fashion.
And speaking of spectacle, it’s hard to argue against The Last Jedi containing some of the greatest space action ever seen on screen. Beautifully captured by DP Steve Yedlin, everything from the opening dogfight to the final duel looks gorgeous, and some shots – like the impressionistic near-monochrome visuals of Holdo’s ship ripping apart Snoke’s fleet – rate among the most stunning in the franchise’s history.
But what’s grown on me the most about The Last Jedi is just how hard it works to subvert many of the archetypes and tropes associated with the Star Wars saga. I’ve already touched upon Snoke being treated largely as a “bait-and-switch” big bad, but there’s also the disarming deconstruction of toxic masculinity and male entitlement in the Poe/Holdo interactions, and the revelation that Rey’s true parents were “nobodies”.
Even though this last plot point seems destined to be reversed in Episode IX, it’s still pretty neat that Rey isn’t like previous Star Wars protagonists. She doesn’t have a secret heritage, she isn’t a child of the Force, or the offspring of the Chosen One – and this makes her more relatable. After all, part of what makes Star Wars so popular is how identifiable the characters are despite their sci-fi/fantasy environment, and there’s nothing more recognisable than having an unremarkable background and having to make it in the world (or galaxy) on your own steam.
The Last Jedi is the first Star Wars movie made for everyone
This brings us neatly to why I’ve wound up embracing The Last Jedi: because it’s a movie that’s about how anyone can be a hero – and that means that it’s arguably the first movie in the Star Wars franchise that everyone can enjoy.
Whereas the original trilogy and the prequels appealed predominantly to the escapist fantasies of white male viewers, The Last Jedi presents a story where women and people of colour can save the day, too. It tells audiences that it doesn’t matter your race, gender or what your background is, you can be a hero – so is it any wonder that so many people passionately defend it?
One of the main criticisms levelled at The Last Jedi by diehard fans is that Johnson has messed around with the status quo too much, but really, all he’s done is opened the saga up to more people. For all the talk of letting the past die in the movie and for all its subversive elements, in the end, Johnson keeps things pretty recognisable.
There’s still ragtag good guys versus nigh-omnipotent bad guys, there’s still the Force and lightsabers and all the other trappings that make Star Wars what it is. All Johnson has done is nudge the saga in a more inclusive direction and clear the slate just enough to give his successors a shot at injecting new ideas into forthcoming instalments targeted at younger fans.
Remember that Force-sensitive stable boy shown in The Last Jedi‘s closing shot, pretending to be a Jedi? He isn’t just a symbol for the future of Jedi Order, he’s the embodiment of this new generation of fans, and of the franchise itself. Once I realised this – once I understood and accepted that The Last Jedi was made to give younger viewers the franchise they deserve and will continue to enjoy long after 30-something fans like me are gone – at long last, I was able to stop worrying and love The Last Jedi.