The year is 1977. Carter becomes President, Voyager 1 is launched in the fall, and many wide eyed children take to the cinema that summer for a new, epic tale from space, a classic tale of good versus evil manifesting itself as the righteous Jedi fighting against the powers of the dark side and the malcontent Sith. It was a battle that captivated an entire generation, the first wave of children that had just survived the death of counter culture in the 60’s, Manson family and all. These flower children now had children of their own and were figuring out how to be parents. This sets the backdrop that the original Star Wars (later titled A New Hope) was born into.
These children grew and as they did, the films continued on, first with the Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and the conclusion of this story with Return of the Jedi in 83. The story had a happy ending. In 1999, the prequel trilogy began, first with Phantom Menace, Clone Wars in 2002, and Revenge of the Sith in 2005. Even though these films were generally received pretty poorly, we were all ok because we knew that the end of the story was a good one. We knew that it would be ok because good would always triumph in the end. Then, the franchise returned to the big screen with The Force Awakens in 2015, smashing box office records and introducing some familiar faces alongside a new cast of heroes. We couldn’t really see it then, but things weren’t quite as they seemed. The generation that had grown up with Star Wars is now middle aged, with their children, the millennials, that were experiencing this whole new odyssey. This is the crucial point, the crux of what has divided fans on the second installment of the new trilogy, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Last Jedi opened worldwide on December 15th of this year and to date has made nearly $500 million in just over a week. In fact, it has already gained the second biggest opening weekend of all time, only behind its predecessor, The Force Awakens. Last Jedi continues the story of Rey (Daisy Ridley) in her quest to learn more about the Jedi, Finn (John Boyega), ex storm trooper turned rebel, and Poe (Oscar Issac) and his mission to defeat the First Order, no matter the cost. The evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) also returns to carry out his mission of destroying the Jedi once and for all. There was a new director at the helm this time as well, with J.J. Abrams being replaced by Rian Johnson, director of Looper, The Brothers Bloom, and a few episodes of the smash hit, Breaking Bad. In addition, some familiar faces returned as well, including Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Princess Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) to continue the fight they have been waging their whole lives. Almost immediately, fans and critics were split over the new films, with critics praising the film and fans lashing out. There seems to be several reasons for this, the majority of which come in the form of disillusionment of the film being different from what the average Star Wars fan expects.
This new film in the franchise seems to be suffering from what we will tentatively refer to as the “Rotten Tomatoes” affect, a tragedy on a massive scale that should never affect a film series as precious as this. For those that do not know, Rotten Tomatoes is an website that lets audiences and critics alike assign numerical percentage based on their liking of a film. While there are many sites like this, Rotten Tomatoes seems to be the most popular and is having a horrible effect on the film industry. The new trend for 2017, mainly the superhero blockbusters, have been widely criticized by critics on the site, giving audience goes a bad taste in their mouth before they even step foot inside the theater. It’s an abhorrent way of perceiving films and has given the wrong impression of many films, sometimes even before the film is officially released (just like they did to my Batman V Superman, a film that I still maintain is great… with the addition of the director’s cut). However, Last Jedi is a different scenario, as the critics seems to enjoy the direction of the new film and fans giving negative reviews. How can the fans of arguably the biggest film franchise of all time have such disdain for this film when only two years ago, they sang the praises of Force Awakens?
There are several complaints of “hardcore” fans as to why they do not like the film, with some even starting a petition to remove it from the film cannon. While citing the increase of millennial presence in the film (all of the protagonists being women and minorities and the evil forces being white men), the use of too many or too few porgs (it’s more, it needs more porgs), and their complaints about the use of Skywalker, they are all grasping at straws and missing the one thing that is really bothering them. Looking past all of these complaints, the main issue that most are having with them film is that it is a dark, more twisted universe than ever before, offering very little in the way of hope, merely a spark in the distance. While the complaint makes sense, in the end it’s pointless because, in my opinion, Last Jedi is not worthy of the hatred it is receiving. And I’m going to tell you why.
The universe is a scary place, there is no denying that. In the 80’s the conclusion of our story was a good one and we lived our lives placated with the notion that good always finds a way. It’s what Luke, Leia, and Han believed and in the end they won, right? Fast forward to 2017 and Star Wars has gone in a completely different direction than what we thought it would. All of Luke’s hard work in turning Vader from the dark side of the force was for naught. Han and Leia in their battles against the evils of the empire meant nothing. Here we are in Last Jedi with our heroes old and broken. Their lives have not been peaceful and evil still thrives in the form of the First Republic. What the Last Jedi does is rip away a generation of security blankets, showing us a dark, gritty side of the galaxy and sometimes, even in our heroes.
However, all is not lost and that is what makes this film so great. There will always be evil in the world, as this is the way of life. Last Jedi offers an honest, bleak, but still resourceful side of life in the galaxy. One of the movies main themes is letting go off the past and looking towards the future. The black and white of life from yesteryear does not fit here, circa 2017. No, but what Last Jedi does offer us is a flicker of hope that no matter how bad things get, minds can always be swayed, hearts can always turn, and good always has a chance against evil. That’s what life is any way right? Chances that we take that sometimes, more often than not, fail but there is always the hope of success.
With perhaps the best cast ever assembled, a massive cult following, and a direction that leads to a climax (be it good or bad) with episode IX in 2019, the Star Wars franchise has bright days ahead of them. Last Jedi is a triumph of storytelling and works masterfully to tell a new tale while also resolving old ones, with questions being answered that were decades in the making. This is a universe that so many still turn to for an escape or brief pause in the rush of life. It is a classic franchise with a rabid following that will continue to grow into the future. In the end, even though this isn’t your father’s Star Wars, it is an excellent film, strong in the box office and stronger still in the force.