I feel like it’s pretty much a given but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway.
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
On the evening of Thursday December 14th 2017, I sat down to watch the midnight showing of Star Wars Episode VIII: the Last Jedi. After loving the Force Awakens I was excited to find the answers to all the questions I was left with. For example:
Where did Snoke come from?
Who are Reys Parents?
Why is Luke all alone on that planet?
After 2 hours and 32 minutes I walked out of the theater confused. What the hell did I just watch? Is this how fans felt after walking out of the Phantom Menace?
The next few days as I stewed over each scene and I became angrier and angrier. I felt robbed. I had many conversations with friends talking about how much I disliked the movie. I gave it a 5 out of 10. And apparently I wasn’t alone. My friends/the internet had a very similar opinion of the movie.
And then my wife asked me if we could go see it again. She kept falling asleep during our first viewing and wanted to see what she had missed. So we saw it again. Then something magical happened: I kind of liked it the second time.
What had changed?
Just like before I analyzed the movie over and over in my head. And I came to a conclusion. What I didn’t like about the movie had very little to do with what was in the movie, but all the elements that I thought were missing. I went in to the theater with certain expectations of all the things that Star Wars owed me. Which meant that all my problems I had. Mainly originated from all the baggage that I brought with in me rather than what Rian Johnson put into the movie.
Once I watched the movie knowing what questions I wouldn’t get answered, I was able to sit back and enjoy the movie for what it was (I still have no excuse for casino planet that missed the obvious set up for some more dope pod racing scenes. Again and example of my own baggage). I moved my rating up to a respectable 7 out of 10. While it still has its issues, it is overall a solid flick.
Let’s look at some of the criticisms that the the Last Jedi. Starting with the one of the biggest questions: Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? We never quite get that answer. Between Episode VII and Episode VIII all we know is that he is head of the First Order and Kylo Ren is his apprentice. But think about Emperor Palpatine from the original trilogy. As of 1983 when Return of the Jedi was released we knew almost nothing about him other then being the head of the Empire and Darth Vader was his apprentice. It wasn’t until the Phantom Menace in 1999 that we began to see the evolution of Darth Sidious. While I still would like to know who Snoke is, I can’t really be mad about not knowing anything at this point.
Next: Luke Skywalker. My only real complaint here is that I wanted to see more of what happened with the Jedi Academy. This movie did show us the first flashback in a Star Wars movie. I wish there were more but it’ll have to do for now. I really like what they did with Luke. At first I was on the fence about how they handled his exit but then it dawned on me that everything that he says throughout the movie comes true including stating that he would never leave the island. Which makes the ending all the more powerful. He even has a few lines about the hubris of the Jedi Council that retroactively makes the prequels more tolerable (no easy feat). And big ups for Frank Oz flavored surprise. Quite unexpected and an appropriate length of screen time.
Last but not least, lets address Rey’s parents. Before diving in, lets review the tone of the Force Awakens. Episode VII shows us a story that plays out dangerously close to a New Hope. It uses a familiar format to ease us into a new Star Wars era. There is a great focus on the concept of Legacy in TFA which then builds up plenty of clout allowing Rian Johnson to unleash his TLJ thesis: the past doesn’t really matter. No matter where you came from, or what you hold sacred, it only matters what you do. Kylo and Rey have a conversation about how Reys parents were nobodies. While Snoke does make a comment about how he manipulated Rey and Kylo, which does leave the door open for Reys parents to actually be people of note, this idea of Rey coming up from nothing does remain on brand with the messaging throughout the movie. Either way I’m on board.
The Last Jedi is a continuous ride of breaking down our preconceived expectations. It plays with these expectations by showing us a movie where every plan our heroes concoct fails in one way or another. With the exception of the final scene, our heroes are losing the entire time. Everything we love about this universe is broken down almost completely and the good guys are almost eradicated before the final epic theatrical display of balls out hope. Which I believe is the point of this movie. Star Wars doesn’t really owe us anything. Rian Johnson proves that to us. While I do think that the movie has a few issues, if you found yourself not enjoying this film, try and think about whether it was actually something you saw or whether you just didn’t get what you wanted. I recommend watching this movie at least a second time, reevaluate, and enjoy the Last Jedi for what is there not just what you wish were there.
That’s my point of view, and I’m sticking to it.
May the Force Be With you.