I know what you’re thinking. This is probably yet another hit piece on Star Wars: The Last Jedi retreading all the same points about what they did wrong and how everything is ruined now. No.
This is about how we as a community of movie fans or sci-fi fans react to things. It’s about how I think we often get so passionate about something that we overreact. Not just once but again and again and again until it seems like we can’t have nice things without ruining them. We’re like excitable puppies with a new cuddly toy. We profess our love for these things but then before you know it we’ve ripped the face off it and it has to go in the bin.
I’m a member of a few Star Wars communities, groups, etc on Facebook. Ever since The Last Jedi came out they have, by and large, been a war-zone when it comes to this. It’s not just that people didn’t like it. It’s that people with a strong opinion either way put down their flag and then defend it mercilessly. Their stake in the discussion becomes deeply personal and factions begin to emerge. Then every time a conversation starts up it just becomes a shouting match between the factions.
Every time one of these communities gets a new, seemingly harmless post called something like “I’ve seen TLJ. What did you think?” it’s like throwing chum in a shark tank. It’s only a matter of time until people are thrashing about talking about boycotting the director, boycotting the franchise or refusing to ever sit in front of another Star Wars movie.
So let’s consider a few things. First of all, is TLJ objectively a bad movie? I think we’re still too close to it to get a clear unbiased picture but it’s emerging that even if it’s not a bad movie it’s certainly not a great movie. Personally I didn’t think it was too bad but then it wasn’t the jaw-dropping spectacle that I’ve come to expect from Star Wars movies. Due to the nature of the fandom, this has been incredibly divisive. A lot moreso than its predecessor The Force Awakens.
In my opinion, the movie’s not fantastically written. A lot of it seems to either go nowhere or pop up with no foreshadowing. Like a murder mystery where the killer is a motiveless stranger hiding in the attic the whole time.
There are specific things that don’t appear to make sense even after contemplation. Why didn’t Holdo tell Poe what she was up to? Why does Leia back her up? Why, having had Rose and Finn travel to Planet Casino was the hacker they were looking for not the one they ended up using? That whole thing is a weird setup to work through and there’s a lack of satisfying resolution which I think sets people up to be less forgiving of the lesser irks of the movie.
Also, I’ll say it right now, I love Porgs. I loved Ewoks back in the day and Porgs are basically Ewok puffins so they have the same appeal for me. I don’t see an issue with them. But I can see why people might take issue. We all remember the Jar Jar fiasco. We’re trying to move on.
People also argue about the now-infamous “Leia Poppins” scene. Should Leia have survived the explosion? To be honest I think losing Leia then or in the (arguably impossible) suicidal collision with Snoke’s ship would have both been semi-decent ends for the character if done right, so it’s odd to see her hanging in there. It also makes you wonder of what they DO do with her character will be poignant enough.
The classicists are long-term, dyed-in-the-wool star wars fans. They were likely around for the original trilogy or have at least garnered a fondness for it. If not the original trilogy, then they were certainly picked up during the prequel saga or through the Extended Universe (EU) that has been explored through a plethora of games, books and graphic novels.
For the classicists, lore and canon are everything. All new entries in the movie series must comply with the fundamental chronology and physics of the established canon. Respect for episodes 4-7 is essential, even episodes 1-3 to some lesser extent. Classicists are angry when new entries into the series don’t respect these rules, especially those that have been concocted since Disney bought up the franchise in 2012. The Last Jedi has angered classicists through it’s largely flippant treatment of the history, lore and science of the previous instalments.
The other group, the modernists, tend to be younger and their experience of the Star Wars series is largely cultural; learned second and third-hand through references in other media, video games, tropes and secondary content. They may have some experience of pre-Disney Star wars movies but their emotional connection is not as strong.
For modernists, the important thing is that the current Star Wars movies adequately reflect their own values and experiences. Modernists will be the ones arguing for increased representation of strong female role models, diverse racial messages and will react strongly against things that they consider to be in conflict with their values such as poor representation of transgender topics, veganism, social justice, animal rights, weight prejudice and sexual politics.
This adjustment toward modern views appears to take precedence over retaining ‘the old ways’.
So which am I? I’m older, though not old enough to have been around for the original trilogy. I was however old enough to have grown up with those movies and to have been around for the prequel era so I’m largely in what I’d refer to as ‘classicist territory’. I’m able to retain a certain amount of objectivity though and my jimmies remain unruffled (unlike when I watched Suicide Squad but that’s another story).
I like a lot of things about the movie. I like the whole salt planet thing. I liked the crystal foxes. I thought the casino scenes were pretty good. A lot of the interactions between Luke/Rey or Finn/Sue were worthwhile. The battle scene in the throne room. There’s a lot in there to talk about besides what wasn’t quite right.
But, given all this, I still have a certain amount of understanding for why people get upset but it’s still important to try and look at these things with a little perspective. My theory is that it’s to do with fan-perception of characters they’ve become invested in. How those characters are caretaken by the director or writers is important, but this can be just as much about incorrect perceptions or entitlement than it can do with poor direction or scriptwriting.
When people watch something growing up, it becomes part of their cultural experience. They fall in love with the characters and settings and the world in which they’re found. The movies themselves act as windows into this exciting world and so they carry a certain amount of responsibility before they’re even made. The problems arise when that vision played out on screen doesn’t match expectations. Either through the fault of the director/screenwriters or the fault of unfairly inflated expectations, when a movie fails to portray what the audience EXPECTS, it can be such a jarring experience that die-hard fans reject it as a reflex.
When it comes to movies as cultural milestones, those people we put in the ‘classicists’ group tend to judge new additions to a series relative to the part of the series they consider to be ‘core’. For Star Wars that’s the original trilogy and it’s always going to be hard to measure up. The same thing happened with The Matrix. The second and third movies weren’t bad as films, but they were always compared to the earth-shattering sociological masterwork that was The Matrix. It was never really going to hold up.
I think the important thing to remember is that we’re all supposed to be movie-fans, Star Wars fans, geeks of one type or another. If we let something as trivial as this become a constant rift then we spend more time arguing than actually appreciating new things. That in turn creates a somewhat nasty environment in which to make new movies. Can you imagine if it’s like this every time a new Star Wars movie comes out? That doesn’t spell a very long future for new StarWars movies.
Ultimately, if this is what we’re going to be like then we’ll only ever end up with movies that studios know they can make money on. This often means safe, by the numbers, repetitive junk. That’s right, just Fast & the Furious movies one after another until the sun implodes.