Saturday I was reading through some fan reviews of Star Wars The Last Jedi and noticed immediately how polarizing this latest movie seems to have been. When I checked, only 57% of the fan reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were positive. That surprised me, so I dug in a bit to see what people were saying they didn’t like about the film. This brought me to a conclusion about the problem with Star Wars fans, and it’s been a problem for a long, long time.
After the original trilogy came out there were 16 years before the prequels began. That’s a long time for people to grow and develop from their childhood memories, and so when Episode 1-3 came out they were roundly reviled by the fans. I wrote about this a few years ago in fact. People remember the original trilogy mostly through their feelings about it. Those memories were formed in childhood during impressionable ages, and so when something new comes along that doesn’t make you feel the same way, you feel disappointed.
However, the prequel episodes gave fans exactly what they had wanted. We wanted more Star Wars, and Lucas gave it to us. As we watched the original movies again and again we wanted to know more about Anakin and the Emperor. We wanted to know more about the Jedi and the Sith, and all those things that were only briefly touched on in the main trilogy. The prequels did just that. They showed us the story of Anakin, the Emperor, the Jedi and the Sith. They showed us the story that happened before, and filled in all the gaps that we had been imagining in our minds for years.
In many ways the prequels were simply fan service. We all knew how the story ended, we had seen it dozens of times. But we wanted the backstory, and when we got it, it didn’t feel like the original movies. The original trilogy had plot holes and and mystery. They had vague references to events and characters that left us wanting more. Yet, when we got what we asked for, people decided they didn’t like it. Suddenly we had all the explanations that we wanted. We had the dreaded midichlorians, an image of young Vader, the fall of the Jedi, and the rise of the Empire through the deeds of the evil Sith lord Darth Sidious.
What people fail to realize is that the original trilogy was beloved, despite not giving us answers. When we were 10 years old we didn’t care about long explanations about how the Jedi fell. In our imaginations we created those stories dozens of times. That’s why when the prequels came about, I saw them for what they were. The explanation of what we had all been creating in our heads for 16 years.
Now, a whole new rise of complaints are rising up regarding The Last Jedi, and it’s mostly because people are saying that they want exactly what they said they didn’t want before.
I’m going to put a SPOILER break in here, because I’ll be talking about the latest film.
One of the biggest complaints about The Last Jedi is the lack of background on Supreme Leader Snoke. People wanted to know more; what’s his backstory and how is he so powerful? Is is Sith? Is he something else? Why does he have those scars on his head? These are all questions that we also asked about the Emperor in Return of the Jedi.
When the Emperor first showed up in Return of the Jedi we knew hardly anything about him. Throughout the course of the film he had a handful of scenes, but none of them really told you anything about him. He was simply a big bad guy who showed up and shot lightning out of his fingers. Sure, we didn’t know his backstory, that he knew Anakin’s mother and that he took over the Republic through politics. We didn’t care. He was just a big bad guy.
In the latest film, Supreme Leader Snoke takes on that role. He’s a big bad guy who can shoot lightening out of his fingers. The fact that he is killed by his own apprentice (just like in ROTJ) doesn’t change the fact that he’s basically serving the same role that we loved in the original trilogy. Could he have had a bit more screen time? Sure, but just like with the Emperor, we’re going to need to wait for books and other media to learn more about his background.
People are also complaining about how Luke passed away at the end of the movie. People wanted Luke to return and be this big kick ass Jedi that destroys the First Order. Instead, we got a clever ruse and a passing away in peace. Luke says that he’s on that island to die, and that he will not leave it again. I appreciated that he stuck to his word on this. Luke was always the reluctant hero.
He was a young farm boy who needed to step up and correct the wrongs of his father. He never had the benefit of being trained by the Jedi order the way that his father did. He had no peers to learn from, and in many ways had to stumble through his powers. Seeing him broken at the end, remorseful for bad choices and a life that he never asked for, was just what I wanted to see. We got a thoughtful and contemplative Luke, which is more akin to Obi-Wan than the Luke of the original trilogy.
Again though, we got what we asked for. When the new movies were announced we all wanted to see more of the original cast. We wanted our heroes back again for one more round. However, it’s been thirty years, and our heroes are older and are not the young, spry athletes that they used to be. Expecting them to jump in and be the amazing action stars that we remember just isn’t realistic. Plus, in the prequels we got to see a young, spry Anakin Skywalker being awesome and amazing, and people hated it. We need to move on to new heroes and new characters in this universe, and that’s what these movies are about.
The entire point of this final trilogy is to wrap up the Skywalker story. If you watch all of the movies in order, they’re all about Skywalker. Anakin was conceived through the Force, and through himself and his children the universe was remade. It’s time for that storyline to end. Everyone who bears the Skywalker blood is dead, except for Ben Solo, who is now the big bad guy and will undoubtedly bite it in the final film. That means we get a new Star Wars universe to play in, with new heroes and new adventures.
We complained about the prequels being a dumb retread of a story that we already knew. Yet, now that we’re getting original stories, people are complaining that they don’t do what we hated the prequels for doing. Rian Johnson (and J J Abrams) gave the fans exactly what they asked for, a story without a lot of plodding explanations (re: the prequels), and with the original cast reprising their iconic roles. But we need to move on. We need to accept that we will never have the same feeling about Star Wars as we did in our youth. That doesn’t mean that we need to abandon this universe, because there’s amazing stories being told in books and comics and video games all the time.
We need to stop trying to make that Star Wars feeling return, and accept that it’s time for something different. It’s time for a new saga to begin.