The Last Jedi Made Star Wars Divisive in the Best Way Possible
Much has been made about how various fans reacted to The Last Jedi. For some, including the vast majority of critics, it was the most refreshing shift in the franchise yet, and subverted many of the tropes and ideas that made Star Wars what it is. For others, it was a betrayal of the characters and world they loved, and they were happy to let everyone know how they felt, particularly towards director Rian Johnson.
Whatever you think of that film, the fact that it was so ballsy in its risk taking and willingness to deviate from fan and studio expectations is a major deal. This is a property of immense cost and an investment Disney want to keep going for decades to come. That will be reliant on the willingness to follow in sturdy footsteps that take risks and aren’t endlessly concerned with abstract notions of profitability and audience reach. The DCEU tried that, chopping and changing its films in re-shoots and marketing to fit new molds when things started to go south, and nobody won with the end results. The Last Jedi changed expectations then raised them. Solo is a damn fun film but even its ardent defenders can’t overlook how conventional it feels in comparison to the daring approach taken by The Last Jedi.
For every fan who was turned off by The Last Jedi, there were others who hungered for more of that style. The film also offered a sharp reminder that a franchise, even one this beloved, can only coast on nostalgia for so long. Audiences’ attentions are more splintered than ever, and franchises need to keep making themselves relevant or risk becoming relics. In that sense, it’s a worthwhile business and creative investment to risk losing the goodwill of a few hardcore fans. Lucasfilm believed in Johnson's vision enough to give him the necessary creative control, and that should give them greater incentive to do the same up other talents, particularly since their distrust of directors and habit of replacing them shows the downsides of "playing it safe."
Being Divisive Can Make Star Wars More Interesting
Currently, Star Wars is beholden to the Skywalker Saga. As the story that started it all and the narrative thread that strings all eight of the main films together, it’s the part of the franchise that has the most focus from fans. They care more about Luke, Leia and Han than anyone else, generally speaking. Of course, that central story could only last so long, and now the original trio are gone, with two dying in canon and one becoming inevitable due to the off-screen death of Carrie Fisher. The franchise has already begun the work of creating foundations for a new age of Star Wars beyond the Skywalkers, and they have greater power to expand beyond those limitations when the franchise isn’t beholden to the need to be universally appealing.
The Last Jedi was criticized by some for dissecting the beloved hero of Luke Skywalker and deconstructing the heroic image surrounding him, one created by the films and fans alike. This willingness to topple an idol and build a more complex narrative on its foundations is what made the film as powerful as it was. Finally, this was the franchise acknowledging that change was necessary, if not always easy or universally accepted. The eighth episode takes the franchise to new emotional peaks and layers of thematic intrigue and forces the story forward in ways that the more nostalgic comfort of The Force Awakens, for all of its qualities, couldn’t. Star Wars has to be something new now, and it’s easier to make that happen when you’re not universally adored or carrying those expectations all the time.
The Star Wars franchise is a rich and expansive universe with endless possibilities. It doesn’t have to adhere to industry ideas of what’s safe, what plays best to big audiences and what is guaranteed to make money. If Solo has taught them nothing else, it forces them to acknowledge their own fallibility and take more chances outside the box. The future of the franchise is dependent on Lucasfilm and Disney’s willingness to embrace their newfound divisiveness. It may not be easy but it’s a necessity, and It’ll be more rewarding in the long-term.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019