The Last Jedi — Review
A film, and Star Wars review, for one of the most polarizing films of all time.
In 2015, J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens hit theaters during the Christmas holiday. After the conclusion of the film, fans came away with a plethora of questions. The Force Awakens highlighted the concept of mystery, in a universe with thousands of distinct questions and mysteries in the fandom.
As I previously claimed, the film presented many compelling questions. For example, why did Luke Skywalker go into exile? Who were Rey’s parents? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke?
Between the release of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, fan theories flooded the Internet. Perhaps Supreme Leader Snoke was the Sith Lord Darth Plagueis — or other characters such as Jar Jar Binks or Palpatine reincarnated. Furthermore, Rey was certainly related to Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Overall, fans were clamoring for these questions to be answered in Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. The film certainly addressed some of them. However, on the other hand, certain answers — such as Rey’s parents — did not please many fans, as well as the answer to who Supreme Leader Snoke is. Still though, The Last Jedi is a successful and solid film.
Blockbuster, successful film franchises such as Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe use each film as an important building block toward the concluding, final goal — the last film in the series. With that being said, J.J. Abrams utilizes this approach in The Force Awakens. However, there are extreme downsides to this filmmaking approach. Sometimes, individual films feel like placeholders or advertisements for the next larger film. Furthermore, potential boredom can hinder the audience’s excitement.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Rian Johnson cited his directing decisions towards creating a new story and ultimately destroying expectations. “The easiest thing for Rey and the audience to hear is, ‘Oh yeah, you’re so-and-so’s daughter.’ That would be wish fulfillment and instantly hand her a place in this story,” he said.
The film explicitly focuses on Luke Skywalker’s failures as a Jedi. With this, Rian Johnson eliminates many of the questions and elements J.J. Abrams presented for fans in The Force Awakens. The Star Wars saga constantly centers around the Skywalker storyline, and Abrams took this approach as well.
However, Disney and LucasFilm gave Rian Johnson approval to determine the identity of Rey’s parents, the identity of Snoke, and the overall story. With that being said, Rian Johnson disregards many of the Star Wars stereotypes. He subverts the importance of Rey’s parents, diminishes Snoke’s character, and most importantly, introduces a failed, flawed Luke Skywalker.
Instead, Rian Johnson uses the questions posed in The Force Awakens to craft his own story. The answer to Luke Skywalker’s exile is incredibly gut-wrenching and tragic. Even a character as noble as Luke Skywalker can make horrible, evil decisions. In a singular moment of fear, Luke heavily considered killing his nephew, which creates a compelling redemption for Star Wars’ most beloved protagonist.
The entire film subverts fan expectations. Tasked with relaunching the franchise, J.J. Abrams returned to the basic building blocks of the franchise. However, if Star Wars films continue to use elements of the past, the franchise will become boring and predictable. The story needs new directions.
If Rian Johnson borrowed from the past, fans would have most likely enjoyed The Last Jedi more. However, if this approach was taken, The Last Jedi would’ve been a placeholder in between the first and final films in the series. The Last Jedi, although polarizing, pushed Star Wars’ boundaries forward.
By disregarding the expectations created by J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson certainly polarizes fans. However, going against the familiar storyline is the right, correct choice. In one film, Rian Johnson separates Rey’s story from the Skywalker one, finalizes Luke’s story, and eventually leaves the fate of the galaxy up to lost children like Rey, highlighted by the final scene. Through challenging established expectations, Rian Johnson creates new devices and brings the iconic characters into new lights. The new reinvention is exactly what the Star Wars franchise needs. The only way to bring Star Wars back to a franchise of infinite possibilities is to simply defy expectations and subvert them as well.