A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away…this phrase has influenced a culture of fans since 1977’s A New Hope. Six movies and 4 decades years later, Star Wars is considered by many to be one of the greatest movie franchises of all time. However, in 2015, Disney changed the landscape of the Star Wars Universe with The Force Awakens, seen by many as A New Hope 2.0. Personally, I enjoyed the next chapter in the Star Wars saga as we were teased the mystery of Rey, Kylo’s inner conflict, the unexplored potential in a character such as Finn, & the eventual return of Luke Skywalker. Based on online comments I would like to think others shared my excitement for Episode VIII and Episode IX. While they didn’t break new ground, there was a vast amount of potential. This all changed on December 15, 2017…
On this date Star Wars: The Last Jedi aka Episode VIII was released and there was a clear narrative shift between J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson. There was also the issue of Carrie Fisher’s death which unfortunately occurred before Episode IX began filming as it’s clear her character was going to be a major player with regards to Kylo’s ultimate fate. Fans were divided to their core with this movie which is evident from the 50% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (as of writing this) compared to a 90% critics score. The Force Awakens had an audience score of 88% while a critic score of 93%. Rian Johnson made a good movie from a technical standpoint and not all of his creative choices were controversial, I truly feel he had good intentions. Unfortunately, the final product made fans feel like he slapped the Original Trilogy in the face, in certain ways making the events of A New Hope to Return of the Jedi feel pointless and invalid.
You can break this down into the following key points:
- The Story
- Luke Skywalker
- First Order & Snoke
- Handling of Carrie Fisher’s Death
The story is likely the easiest one to tackle…it follows a similar path as the Original Trilogy. There truly isn’t any new ground being broke with these newer films, at least the prequels showed us the more political and bureaucratic side of the galaxy. These new movies have followed a previous path under the guise of a new paint job.
Luke Skywalker is the main character of the Star Wars saga (ignoring the prequels).Coming from humble origins, his journey throughout the Original Trilogy ended with him going from farm boy to Jedi master, led by his loyal commitment to his friends and seemingly eternal hope. Remember this is the only person in the galaxy that believed Darth Vader could be redeemed, even Obi-Wan in Return of the Jedi told Luke his father was beyond saving. When we met Luke in The Last Jedi he couldn’t be farther from the character we left in Return of the Jedi. The difference in character personality was so large that Mark Hamill said he had to act like he was playing a different character while filming.
Who is Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi? He’s a depressed and disillusioned shell of himself. While this can help make Luke more dynamic to audiences, it’s a problem for a movie that has teased the Luke Skywalker of fame & essentially attracted most of its audience by promising them a seasoned (or at least older) Luke Skywalker. People were excited and seemed whelmed by Luke’s fight with Kylo Ren even after the reveal was a projection, until it resulted in his death. Why? Because the fans felt cheated and some felt Luke’s story had been tarnished. Luke’s story for the fans was to help the New Republic and build a new Jedi order, however that potential was now eliminated. The death of Luke Skywalker by the end of The Last Jedi comes with a feeling that everything he accomplished had been undone.
- Defeat the Empire & Institute the New Republic (aka freedom to the galaxy): Undone
- Destroy a planet-destroying superweapon threatening the galaxy: Undone
- Balancing the force: Undone
In many ways, it seems Rey is simply redoing all of Luke’s actions, including the rumored redemption of Kylo Ren which carries Anakin’s conflicted soul along with his place as the primary dark force user parallel to Rey.
The First Order & Snoke
The First Order and Snoke are unfortunate problems with these new movies, not because of their inclusion but because of the execution. It would have been refreshing to see the New Republic fight the First Order in a war of equal standings. The First Order as remnants of the Empire is logical for aftermath when considering the vast number of planets in the galaxy that were under Empire rule. It also would have been nice to see them become a symbol for another type of government instead of Nazi Fascism like the Empire was. The First Order was a great moment for an evolution of the Empire, instead by the end of The Last Jedi we received a clone of the Empire (Which is funny as I thought clones were no longer in use for Star Wars). The other half of this equation is Snoke. Supreme Leader Snoke was hyped up to be not only a mysterious threat but a threat more powerful than Darth Sidious & Darth Vader. That’s a bold claim and not something that should be waved in fan’s faces simply to never be followed up on. When Snoke died I wasn’t upset, I enjoyed the twist. However, I was still left disappointed we lost great potential in his story and how his great knowledge and abilities in the Force could have expanded the Star Wars universe.
Handling of Carrie Fisher’s Death
Another issue this movie didn’t handle well was the death of Carrie Fisher. There were multiple places in this movie that could have retired the character of Princess Leia either thru death or other ways of removal such as retirement, hiding, etc. The fact that Carrie Fisher died a year ahead of release and they still left her character in the film with build-up for the final movie was irresponsible. It makes the death of Luke Skywalker even more unsatisfying, knowing he could have been the last surviving member of the Original Trilogy. It’s a shame. Some quick editing could have fixed this issue, even last minute reshoots. I’m sure the cast & crew would assemble for reshoots under such tragic circumstances, as Princess Leia will now have to be sent off unceremoniously with only Chewbacca being at her funeral out of the main group of members from the Original Trilogy. It also makes me wonder…if Luke was always going to come back as a force ghost in Episode IX, what purpose did his death serve? Why still leave a scene in the movie which shows Leia surviving unprotected in space if she’ll not be present in the next movie? All of this just seems irresponsible.