It’s next to impossible to create a sequel that satisfies. So why not challenge your built-in audience instead of pandering to them? The Last Jedi isn’t a perfect film — no episode of the Star Wars mega-franchise really is — but it was an outstanding jolt to the system, a chapter that complicated its heroes and deepened the cosmic mystery of the Force. It married an unapologetic sense of humor (there’s nothing worse than a space opera that takes itself too seriously) to what was, in essence, the major turning point for a Jacobean blood drama. And it had a bunch of gambling Muppets, not to mention Yoda being kind of a dick.
Among its greatest achievements, though, TLJ stunned and infuriated the people who purport to understand Star Wars best and love it the most. This week saw the emergence of an absurd campaign to “remake” Episode VIII, led by someone who refers to the film as “blasphemy.” Since TLJ hit theaters last December, he and a small faction of geeks have carried undying rage in their hearts for Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed the installment. They’re none too happy with Disney, either, but Johnson — who graciously declined to comment for this story — tops their enemies list.
Now, I’m being a little facetious when I say TLJ is good because it pissed off a certain type of fanboy. What I mean is that the very things they hate are what make it good. (They’re going to scream at me for writing this piece in the first place, so no need to pull my punches here.) Last year, Vox did a comprehensive roundup of their scattershot gripes, which included the movie’s progressivism, the way it confounded fan theories, its jokes and how the characters evolved. In other words, all the fresh, adaptive stuff that propelled the film away from the purgatory of moribund nostalgia that is reboot culture. Through all this, TLJ’s detractors argue that its greatest sin is a handful of plot holes. Please. They could nitpick the original trilogy to death if they felt this fiercely about logical consistency and sloppy storytelling — but they sure don’t!
Johnson has bravely accepted a role as the Star Wars hardliners’ nemesis, happily trolling them on Twitter whenever he’s accused of sinking the series. But the fact that you can raise nerds’ hackles simply by listing the films in the order they were released, without additional context — as they will automatically mistake this for a personal ranking — shows they’re way more focused on policing one another’s opinions than the pleasures of sci-fi mythology.
Moreover, they believe that their dogged interest in Star Wars means they’ve earned the right to steer the ship, and they keep threatening financial ruin for new stories in the universe that fail to conform to the group’s headcanon.
Nobody serious would credit the idea of a boycott, though. The Last Jedi is the 11th highest-grossing movie of all time; Star Wars fans are always going to pony up for a new Star Wars movie, if only to complain that it ruined their childhood; and Johnson is still slated to write three more screenplays despite Lucasfilm announcing a halt to other spinoffs.
What’s comforting, even if you take issue with his Star Wars philosophy, is that Johnson has a strongly defined vision, with an eye to the far horizon. He knows the narrative has to change or die, that new fans (i.e., actual kids!) will become its guardians as bitter, middle-aged guys fall away in protest.
Growing pains are supposed to hurt, which is why a couple of critics came to see the “betrayals” of The Last Jedi as a feature, not a bug — because to erase the tension between past and future is to remove any pretext for the story to continue.
Life goes on, man, and if you would have preferred a two-hour montage of Old Han Solo high-fiving Old Luke Skywalker, I don’t know what to say. I would’ve imagined that, unlike the rather paint-by-numbers The Force Awakens, this one at least gave you something to sink your teeth into.
And hey, maybe it did, since it doesn’t look like you’re gonna let go of this anytime soon.