Star Wars: The Last Jedi has had a mixed reaction from Star Wars fans and critics. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, yet a number of Star Wars fans left theaters perplexed or disappointed. What fans and critics can agree on is that The Last Jedi defies expectations, and presents the Star Wars universe like never before.
Perhaps by examining those expectations, it is possible to reconcile The Last Jedi's strengths and weaknesses as a film; perhaps the problem is not The Last Jedi as a film so much as The Last Jedi as Episode VIII in the Star Wars saga. The Last Jedi is a great film, with captivating characters and beautiful visuals, but that doesn't mean that it's a good Star Wars film.
In its attempts to redefine the Star Wars franchise, The Last Jedi ends up subverting the key themes of the series and fundamentally changing the Star Wars franchise's approach to storytelling.
The Last Jedi Is A Great Movie (This Page)
What Makes a Star Wars Movie?
As the original novelization of A New Hope begins:
“They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally they became heroes.”
-Leia Organa of Alderaan, Senator
Star Wars has always centered itself on the hero's journey, when an individual rises to meet their destiny. Star Wars, as a pastiche film that combined Flash Gordon-style space opera with samurai and western films, embraces these tropes of heroes and destiny. Even when Star Wars is self-aware, referential, or humorous, it earnestly values heroism and fate.
George Lucas was inspired by Joseph Campbell's classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which charted the seventeen steps of the hero's journey, including the "Call to Adventure" and the "Meeting the Mentor". The original trilogy follows Luke Skywalker as he follows each of these steps on his way to becoming a Jedi. The original films believe in the extraordinary heroism of everyday people, but its roots in Campbell's book and the epic hero tradition also promotes a sense of fate or destiny. Luke is destined to save Darth Vader because he is Vader's son; similarly, Han Solo is destined to transform from a self-serving scoundrel into a Rebel hero.
While Star Wars overwhelmingly approaches good and evil (and light and dark) from a binary, the prequel trilogy and more recently Rogue One have complicated these simplistic notions. The prequel films are darker than the original trilogy, and the lines between hero and villain blur, but ultimately, the prequels tell another classic story: the fall of the tragic hero, as Anakin Skywalker transforms into Darth Vader.
The Last Jedi Was a Great Film
The Last Jedi delivers incredible twists and action sequences. Kylo Ren's betrayal of Supreme Leader Snoke and the ensuing lightsaber brawl had audiences on the edge of their seats. The reveal that Luke Skywalker has used the Force to project himself onto Crait from Ahch-To (and his subsequent death) was a shocking discovery. Admiral Holdo flying her ship through the First Order's flagship was visually stunning and emotionally moving.
The film has action, humor, strong performances from a stellar cast, and even at the longest run-time of any Star Wars film, it feels fresh and fast-paced. The Last Jedi is inventive and, especially in comparison with The Force Awakens, took risks. As a result, it delivered an exhilarating and original cinematic experience that seems unlike any blockbuster film in theaters. While not every risk worked in The Last Jedi, it's admirable nonetheless that Rian Johnson committed to creating such an innovative and often subversive film.
The Last Jedi also celebrates the power of Star Wars lore through the children on Canto Bight. Just as the stories of heroes in Star Wars have inspired countless children in our galaxy, the children of Canto Bight also see the stories of Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion as a rallying cry for hope and heroism. This heartfelt acknowledgment infuses the film with a retrospective admiration for previous Star Wars films, even as The Last Jedi sets itself apart.
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