Although there have been a lot of divisive movies in the past couple of years as franchise canons have become more rigid and social media is more accessible than ever, none of them have divided critics and fans quite like Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi did. The angry fans still haven’t eased off Johnson online. They still routinely tell him that he ruined Star Wars and that The Last Jedi was the worst movie ever made.
But most fans are biased one way or the other. The truth is, there’s a lot to both love and hate in The Last Jedi. The important thing is that it started a conversation and got us to think about the stories we’re consuming. Here are 5 Ways The Last Jedi Made Star Wars Worse (And 5 Ways It Made It Better).
10 Worse: Old, Grizzled Luke Skywalker
As much as Rian Johnson will defend his characterization of Luke Skywalker, the guy Mark Hamill plays in The Last Jedi just doesn’t seem like Luke. Hamill himself agrees with this and pleaded with Johnson to rewrite the script to reflect the Luke that we know and love.
Johnson refused, and we’re left with the story of the man who saw the good in Darth Vader concluding with him having a hunch that his nephew might be a bad dude and trying to kill him in his sleep. The grand finale redeemed Luke’s Last Jedi arc a little bit, but not totally.
9 Better: The Force Projection Twist
The Star Wars movies have been famous for their plot twists ever since Darth Vader told Luke that he was his father. No Star Wars movie – or any movie, really – has been able to top that twist, but that’s not for lack of trying. The twist that Kylo Ren was the son of Han and Leia, the twist that Leia was Luke’s twin sister, the twist that Darth Vader was really a good guy at heart – they were all attempts to live up to the cinematic rug-pull of the Vader reveal, and no matter how strong they were individually, they failed to live up to Empire.
The Last Jedi did, too, but it made an interesting and, at the very least, original attempt: the twist that Luke wasn’t really there battling Kylo Ren because he was actually back on Ahch-To, projecting himself. But the intense Force power it took to do that kills him.
8 Worse: 152-Minute Runtime
The Star Wars movies are supposed to be zippy and fun, moving seamlessly from set piece to set piece, until we’re released into the end credits overlaid on space imagery at around the two-hour mark. But when Rian Johnson was done with The Last Jedi, it was 152 minutes long.
We can definitely feel the extra half-hour as the Canto Bight sequence drags the movie down in the middle and the finale on Crait feels tacked on. Johnson should’ve stuck to a more traditional, breezy runtime. The Force Awakens was only slightly shorter at 135 minutes, but they flew by and you didn’t realize you were watching a remake until later. The experience of actually watching it was a ride.
7 Better: It Wasn’t A Total Rehash
Generally, the fan response to The Force Awakens was negative because it was a rehash of all the greatest Star Wars moments strung together in a loose narrative, and the fan response to The Last Jedi was negative because it was too different – or, in other words, too original – and didn’t stick closely enough to the earlier stories.
One might be wondering, will these Star Wars fans ever be happy? You either make them too nostalgic or don’t make them nostalgic enough. The fact that The Last Jedi is an original story with bold narrative choices we hadn’t seen before is something to be praised.
6 Worse: It Also Sort Of Was A Rehash
The Last Jedi still has a lot in common with The Empire Strikes Back. The young hero is trained as a Jedi by an older, wiser warrior. The young hero develops a close emotional connection to the villain based on a possible familial connection. Meanwhile, the villainous organization chases the heroic organization across space with a whole fleet when they’re confined to one ship.
It all converges in a final battle that comes down to a lightsaber duel that allows the rest of the heroes enough time to escape. Plus, it ends on a downer note. Are they different enough? Fans have been asking that question for the last year and a half and still haven’t arrived at an amicable conclusion.
5 Better: Moving Past The Midi-chlorians Nonsense
The Force is a curious thing. In A New Hope, Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi got us all geared up with a spiritual speech about how the Force exists in all living things and binds us together. But then The Phantom Menace explained the Force as a hereditary thing that exists in “midi-chlorians” in your bloodstream.
The Last Jedi sort of backtracked this by showing that, actually, the Force could exist in anyone. It is a spiritual power that permeates around the galaxy and imbues itself into the consciousness of Force-sensitive heroic types like Luke Skywalker, or Rey, or “Broom Boy.”
4 Worse: Inconsistent Force Rules
The worst thing a movie with its own internal mythology can do is mess with the consistency of that mythology. The Last Jedi is guilty of this on a number of counts – namely when Leia suddenly realizes she has the Force and flies around the vacuum of space like Peter Pan.
The idea of the Force ghost is reduced to pretty much a ghost since all Yoda does in his “more powerful than you could possibly imagine” form is look blue and translucent and hang around with Luke to impart wisdom, just like he did when he was alive. The mysticism of the Force is gone.
3 Better: Emotional Elements In Every Action Sequence
There’s a rule of thumb in action movies that every action sequence has to drive the development of the plot or the characters in some way. It can’t just be a 20-minute detour to give the audience some mindless violence. It has to serve a purpose in the story. That’s what makes the action in The Last Jedi so great.
Rian Johnson made sure to imbue every action scene with some emotional elements, whether it’s Rey and Kylo Ren reluctantly fighting together to take on a common enemy or Holdo finally letting go of protocol and doing the right thing with the most spectacular sacrifice in Star Wars history.
2 Worse: Disappointing Payoffs To Mysteries
There are a lot of differences in the narrative strategies of the original and sequel trilogies, but the main difference is how these two trilogies have reacted to the landscape of the contemporary film industry. The original trilogy was made pre-social media, back when spoilers were not a mortal fear and audiences were far more patient. Now that fan theories and spoilers are king, Star Wars fans feel actively involved in the creative process, trying to predict what’ll happen in each movie instead of just waiting to see. So, after two years of Snoke identity theories and Rey parentage theories, fans were wholly disappointed to see those mysteries pay off with a schlocky death scene and the revelation that Rey’s parents are dead nobodies.
As we’ve seen from Lost, Cloverfield, and The Force Awakens, the J.J. Abrams school of filmmaking teaches a lot about plants, but very little about payoffs. Something like a mysterious character introduction (i.e. Snoke in The Force Awakens) is a good plant, but it needs to be paid off. What we see in The Last Jedi is another director trying and failing to pay off an Abrams plant.
1 Better: Handing The Saga To A Future Generation
If the Disney-era Star Wars movies are going to survive, then they need to let go of the past and accept that they’ve become something entirely new. This will be scary at first to diehard fans of the saga and they might not follow the franchise into the future, but until Disney lets go of what we hold dear from the earlier Star Wars movies and embraces the evolution of the story, the movies will continue to divide audiences.
The Last Jedi handles this in Luke’s attitude towards the Jedi and Rey’s obsession with her own backstory. It also ends on a hopeful note with a nobody background character using the Force and suggesting a bright future for Star Wars with new characters.