To suggest a kinship between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Batman v Superman is sure to rile up fans and detractors of both tentpoles equally, but may actually be the key to understanding why the pair have proven so divisive; and tell us the real problem with the so-called “fan-critic” divide.
If you were wanting to compare Episode VIII to one of the Batman films, the obvious parallel would be The Dark Knight. It’s a sequel, the second of a major reboot, that’s altogether bigger than what’s came before that takes a mature look at its well-established heroes and why they really do what they do. And nobody would disagree that Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is the best blockbuster villain since Heath Ledger’s Joker. But when you break it down, there’s an unexpected film in the Caped Crusader’s pantheon that it’s closer to.
On paper, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would have been The Dark Knight of the shared universe era. A deconstruction of both its titular heroes – a highlighting of their fundamental dichotomy – full of icon-shaking turns, it aimed to expand the proto-DCEU and provide a grown-up experience but instead wound up one of the most divisive films of the 2010s: seemingly for every fan claiming it a masterpiece of cinema, there was a detractor ready to decry it a genre folly. Now, why does that sound familiar? Since its release, The Last Jedi has become marked out as the most-divisive entry in the saga, with effusive reviews made to seem all the more positive thanks to an extreme fan backlash. Considering it too was coming from a high-reaching place, the similarities already begin to come to light.
To make clear, we’re not going to be comparing the films on any subjective or artistic level, rather take in how The Last Jedi and Dawn of Justice have, against all odds, ended up in the same area of the pop culture discussion – and why this is very important for mainstream cinema going forward.
Batman v Superman and The Last Jedi Are Conceptually Similar (This Page)
How Batman v Superman and The Last Jedi Are So Similar
From conception, both films were strange beasts. They’re auteur projects, driven by their directors: Zack Snyder was following up his own Man of Steel with a story of his own devising written by past and future recurring collaborators David Goyer and Chris Terrio, with regular producer Deborah Snyder on hand; Rian Johnson directed a screenplay he himself wrote built on a daring pitch to Lucasfilm, working alongside producing partner Ram Bergman. By all accounts, they were gifted a rare degree of freedom by their brand-concerned higher-ups at DC and Lucasfilm respectively, with both getting final cut (albeit to a studio-mandated runtime).
But, above all, they were ambitious films. Neither was happy just playing in the nostalgia sandbox like J.J. Abrams in The Force Awakens or Bryan Singer with Superman Returns but wanted to advance and explore the themes, world and characters. They deconstructed Luke Skywalker and Superman, Darth Vader (by way of his grandson Ben Solo) and Batman, but on a grander scale the tropes of the franchise. What makes a Star Wars/Batman/Superman movie? What do these heroes really mean to people, and how does their multi-decade legacy stand today.
More granular, there are obvious narrative parallels. Both are an above-average two-and-a-half hours long (The Last Jedi is just a minute longer than Dawn of Justice), with a recognizable blockbuster style presented in a manner approaching epic – they’ve been compared to Lawrence of Arabia and Shakespearean tragedies respectively. There’s a central scene with a shocking twist that purposely challenges everything the audience thought they knew without ever truly upsetting, a hero death at the end that is more about the nature of the sacrifice to their arc than it is the act itself, and all this alongside character realignment from the previous film and what we’d seen long before.
That last point is particularly important given the position in the franchise. Each movie is the middle of a planned trilogy that runs alongside other new movies set in the universe and exist contextually against forty years of the heroes on the big screen. Yes, the positioning within the story is different – Man of Steel was a standalone, new generation and Batman v Superman more overtly setting up the future, while The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi are more conscious of the series’ entire scope – but it’s a similar pivot point all the same.
Of course, the end results are completely different. Even those who love/hate both would never say the movies feel like obvious bedfellows. But it is nevertheless in the post-release reactions where the films’ comparisons – and their telling distinction – really comes to light.
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