Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was released three years ago. The movie was met with a lukewarm reception and went on to nearly split the Star Wars fanbase down the middle.
It could probably be assumed that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the most divisive film of the Star Wars franchise. That’s saying a lot, especially from a fanbase that created an entire documentary explaining why George Lucas ruined their childhood (to be clear, he didn’t). Still, a quick search on Twitter for The Last Jedi will conjure up numerous sentiments of hatred for the film, but also statements from people who consider it the best film of the franchise.
Despite the divisiveness of Episode VIII, it was still a great success, at least financially. It made over $620 million at the domestic box office and is still the ninth-highest grossing film in the United States. The majority of professional critics seemed to really enjoy the film, and the critic’s consensus on Rotten Tomatoes states that:
"Star Wars: The Last Jedi honors the saga’s rich legacy while adding some surprising twists- and delivering all the emotion-rich action fans could hope for."
Still, while the critic’s score stands at 90%, the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is significantly worse, sitting at only 42%. When digging a little bit deeper, it’s easy to understand the disconnect. From purely a critical filmmaking standpoint, The Last Jedi is a masterpiece.
The cinematography is truly top-notch. The film (and in my opinion, the entire sequel trilogy) is absolutely gorgeous, with some amazing wide frames. The set pieces truly highlight the film’s use of practical effects, and most of the dialogue is expertly written and performed. However, when looking at the bigger picture of how the film fits into the larger Skywalker Saga, there are some issues that start to come up, especially among longtime fans of the franchise.
Some of the most consequential and important parts of the Skywalker Saga happen during this film, and the choices made by director Rian Johnson definitely subverted expectations. This is one of the biggest issues that fans have with the film. Many feel that The Last Jedi subverts expectations for no reason and that the major reveals of the film were pointless letdowns.
There are a few really big “expectation-subverting” moments in the film, and one of the key plotlines is Luke Skywalker being a crotchety old hermit that refuses to train or acknowledge Rey. Many people were quick to point out that this is a complete departure from Luke’s character, and that the Luke of the original trilogy would never give up and isolate himself.
In reality, the truth is that this depiction of Luke is more in line with his character arc than people realize. Luke was always impulsive and a rash decision-maker. His choice to go save his friends without completing his training in The Empire Strikes Back nearly cost him his life and could’ve doomed the Rebellion.
With this impulsiveness a key part of Luke’s character in the original trilogy, it’s not unlikely that his making a critical mistake in training Ben Solo could’ve driven him to isolation. His feeling that he failed would ensure that he wanted to keep himself from letting anybody else down. However, as Master Yoda eventually tells him, “the greatest teacher failure is.”
It’s also important to remember that this film takes place 30 years after the original trilogy. It would be silly to assume that Luke’s personality and worldview wouldn’t have changed at all in three decades. This causes him to make an impulsive decision to shut himself off from everyone because he simply thinks that it is the right thing to do.
By the end of the film, Luke realizes his mistake and projects himself onto the planet Crait to allow the Resistance time to escape. This outward thinking towards others is the essence of the Jedi. Although this causes his death, he understands that his sacrifice is for the greater good and that the Jedi must live on in order to truly achieve balance.
I would argue that this change in Luke is not only in line with his personality, but shows more of an evolution of his character than any of the original three films did. Luke realized his mistake, came around to the cause of the Resistance and saved the day. To me, that represents his journey throughout the franchise more than anything else.
The other biggest revelation from the film is the fact that Rey is a ‘nobody’. Although this was retconned in The Rise Of Skywalker, making her a Palpatine and then a symbolic Skywalker, many people still took offense to this decision.
After The Force Awakens came out, there were numerous theories about Rey’s heritage, and many people were upset that Rian Johnson chose to not expand on any of these theories in his film. Johnson felt that it was a chance to challenge the character and play on her story, stating in a 2017 interview with Insider:
"The hardest thing for her [Rey] is to hear she’s not going to get that easy answer…..You’re going to have to find the strength to stand on your own two feet and define yourself in this story."
A major theme in the Skywalker Saga has always been family. That is why I personally didn’t like the fact that Rey was a nobody. I felt that tying her to an established character would’ve helped the trilogies blend together. Although I do like the sequel trilogy, one of the gripes I have is that it doesn’t do enough to connect to the larger Star Wars world.
Although there were definitely issues with this retcon in The Rise Of Skywalker, I felt that it was a necessary decision based on the way that Rey’s character went in The Last Jedi. Even though Rey’s parentage is a bit of a mess storywise, I do give Johnson credit for at least trying to take the lineage in a different direction.
Obviously, The Last Jedi was never going to be a perfect movie. None of the Star Wars movies are perfect, and they all have their flaws. However, given everything that Rian Johnson had to work with, he still produced a movie that was unlike anything previously seen. It appears that more and more people are starting to come around to this film, and I think that is for the better.
When The Empire Strikes Back first came out, many people criticized it in the same way they did The Last Jedi. It was seen as too dark, too different, and left too many questions unanswered. Now, it is almost universally considered the best of the franchise. Perhaps in another 20 years, people will begin to see this film in the same way.