Stop Apologizing for The Last Jedi
Across the country, a new Star Wars saga is unfolding: the saga of a fandom trying to force itself to like The Last Jedi.
I am a lifelong Star Wars devotee, having seen the original Star Wars in theaters for the first time when I was seven. But do not call me a fanboy, for I am a fan man. I never took up the toy fetishism or caught the “expanded universe” influenza of Star Wars comic books, novels and video games that made Peter Pans out of so many adults. For me, the journey was over once the Ewoks belted out their last “yub nub!”
Yes, years later I fell for The Phantom Menace. but that was healthy fandom, not cosplay fandom (okay, I dressed up for it too.) But just as George Lucas’ Great Work gilded my childhood, so also did his prequel trilogy jade my adulthood, and it was a more cynical me that was dragged to see The Force Awakens two years ago.
Shockingly, my spirit was rekindled! Although this new Star Wars entry lacked originality, J.J. Abrams had at least rediscovered that old spark while proving that he had a few tricks up his sleeve. “New hope” indeed.
Then, Rogue One, that joyless, nostalgia-humping non-story that captured the flavor of Star Wars about as well as Fancy Feast captures the flavor of foie gras. This was my wake-up call, a distant but audible “exqueeeeze me” telling me to jump off this new Star Wars train before I got caught up in another cycle of excitement and dashed hopes.
So no, I have not seen The Last Jedi. But I have heard the laments of those who have chosen the dark path, and if they search their feelings they will know this to be true: we are back in Phantom Menace territory.
After making peace with the fact that TLJ’s 50% audience approval score on Rotten Tomatoes is not the result of a hack by Guccifer, the Star Wars faithful are admitting that Rian Johnson’s take on Star Wars “isn’t perfect” and “has its problems”. But this is just so much beating around the bush. If The Last Jedi isn’t universally hated, it is evident that longtime fans of the franchise by no means enjoyed it. Some reviewers claim that they have had to watch the movie four times to feel redeemed. Even ur-fanboy Kevin Smith had to get blazed to only “sort-of” like The Last Jedi.
Were we not talking about a sci-fi movie with a built in audience of nerdy Jehovah’s Witnesses this movie would already be written off as a mild flop. No one went to see Valerian four times to justify that muddled spectacle. But no matter how hard the apologists work to justify The Last Jedi, all of them end up saying the same things in one YouTube video after another.They may have found Poe Dameron running a Jerky Boys routine on General Hux cute or cringy, but they definitely found it out of place in a Star Wars movie. Luke chucking away his old lightsaber they found awkward and weird. Finn walking around a spaceship in a leaking Fla-Vor-Ice suit they found awkward and weird. People feel universally let down by the outright abandonment of any tantalizing backstories for Rey and Snoke, couldn’t grok Admiral Haldo, hated Super Leia, hate-hate-hated Canto Bight, and have worked tirelessly to convince themselves that the awesome “silent sacrifice” in outer space somehow makes up for all those other letdowns.
I could still see myself enjoying the movie despite all these gripes. I am not afraid of change, and having never longed to see Luke Skywalker return to the big screen I have no problem with Rian Johnson re-imagining him as Oscar the Grouch. (And Luke has every right to be salty! Thirty years ago he saved the galaxy, but now the Empire is back, bigger than ever? What did his hero’s journey even accomplish?) The Last Jedi doesn’t seem to lack for emotion or art design, and by many accounts writer/director Rian Johnson has created a gorgeous movie layered with complex themes. This has led some critics to claim that the movie is a sly meta-commentary on Star Wars fandom itself, less Joseph Campbell and more Chuck Palahniuk.
Still, once I saw that those stomping AT-ATs were back again, that was it for me. It was just another reminder of how frighteningly potent the original Star Wars saga still is, and yet also… how completely mined out.
We all know how we felt, leaving the theater after that sad, sad experience of watching The Phantom Menace. It felt like what Neil Young was bracing us for when he wrote “Sugar Mountain”. You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain, and you certainly can’t be seven years old again, feeling your heart leap in your chest when the words “Star Wars” appear on a movie screen accompanied by a blazing fanfare. The Phantom Menace didn’t feel like Star Wars. It felt like the first time you and your dad ate lunch together at Wendy’s after the divorce. It was uncomfortable as hell, but you told yourself that things would be okay.
Now, matters are worse. Disney has sheared the top off of Sugar Mountain and will not stop until they have ground it down to the contents of a Domino packet. So just as Old Man Luke did with the Force, I must turn my back on Star Wars.
This is not so hard to do, really. If I think about it, I’ve already enjoyed the only successor to the original Star Wars that I could ever need. That happened one afternoon, long ago, when my brother and I fought a last, decisive action figure battle in our backyard, thus ending a conflict that had begun years earlier over who would own our only X-Wing Fighter.
In a moment of in-the-zone perfection, obeying rules that neither of us knew were writing themselves, my brother and I blasted each other’s toys one by one until we arrived at a Mexican standoff, each with one doll remaining. I do not know how — maybe the Force was with me — but I conned my brother into lowering his character’s weapon. The moment he swiveled down the arm of his toy, pa-pew! I shot that chunk of plastic dead. No half-billion dollar studio production is ever going to top that moment.
Will some child soon be fighting with his sibling over possession of a lactating sea-giraffe? I really don’t want to know.
Jason Yungbluth didn’t install the latest update to his R2 unit, and now he can’t get GarageBand to run. Also, many bothans died to bring you his graphic novel Weapon Brown.