Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released last year, and the division between critical acclaim and fan reception is palpable even 10 months later. The second chapter in the new sequel trilogy, The Last Jedi currently sits at 91% Certified Fresh by critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but a vocal percentage of Star Wars fans hate it so much that here's now a cottage industry of YouTube videos detailing its various crimes against the franchise. The quality of a Star Wars film hasn’t been this hotly contested since the release of The Phantom Menace almost twenty years ago.
For the longest time, the only thing many fans have remembered about The Phantom Menace is how widely disliked it is, but at the time a sizable chunk of general audiences and Star Wars fans actually enjoyed it. It achieved an A- CinemaScore (the same score as Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, which was released at around the same time), and was a huge hit at the box office, while critics were comparatively chilly in their reviews.
Even close to a year later, The Last Jedi still has a dedicated anti-fanbase continue to dominate headlines with their toxic attitudes and harassment of those involved in making the movie. While The Phantom Menace, is almost universally derided, the backlash had a slower build (perhaps only growing with the size of the internet) and was fairly limited back in '99, before the next two prequels had been released and before Jar Jar Binks had been cemented as a symbol of how to ruin a franchise.
- This Page: The Last Jedi Reactions Were The Reverse of The Phantom Menace
- Page 2: Will The Last Jedi Hate Ever Die Down?
Phantom Menace & Last Jedi Are Both Auteur Movies
Both Phantom Menace and Last Jedi were fortunate (or unfortunate, in the eyes of many) to have wildly creative directors with almost limitless freedom at the helm. George Lucas, grand architect of the Star Wars mythos, came back to his beloved franchise in the late 90s. Empowered by his ownership of the IP, he went back to what he perceived as the very beginning of the Skywalker saga, with the discovery of Force-child Anakin Skywalker on Tattooine.
Director Rian Johnson, whose main claim to fame by 2017 was the Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis time-travelling hitman head-scratcher Looper, was brought on board for Episode VIII. He immediately proceeded to disregard much of what transpired in J.J. Abrams’ Episode VII: The Force Awakens, much to the chagrin of fans - yet it was his prerogative to do so, as allowed by studio mandate (or apparent lack thereof).
Lucas has never been the most critically-acclaimed director; The Empire Strikes Back, the most well-regarded film in the original trilogy, wasn’t even directed by him, but by Irvin Kershner. Johnson, on the other hand, has received much more critical acclaim for his filmmaking prowess - which may be why critics, but not necessarily fans, loved his take on the Star Wars franchise. To critics, the mythology matters less than the fact he made a well-structured and entertaining movie.
To the fans, this auteurship has a direct influence on their beloved characters, and there are some transgressions that particularly rubbed people up the wrong way. Much of the disappointment over The Phantom Menace’s relatively boring trade embargo subplot, annoying alien sidekick and whiny tween hero can be tempered by the Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul of it all. But in the eyes of some fans, the way Rian Johnson exercised his creative control over The Last Jedi went too far: excising the mystery of Rey's parents from the plot, killing off Snoke without exploring who he is exactly, and having Luke Skywalker behave like a crotchety old hermit before (literally) fading away into nothingness.
Critics and Fans Have Switched Positions
A brief assessment of critical and audience reception to Episodes I and VIII will show that the positions have been reversed. Whilst critics were cold on The Phantom Menace, there was a large portion of the fanbase who tried very hard to love it (it was the return of Star Wars, after all), and there were many who genuinely did. A Google search of the phrase "In Defense of The Phantom Menace" will throw up countless articles from many reputable fan sites, from writers who were fans at the time of its release.
The reverse is true of The Last Jedi, which has a 91% "Certified Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes, while the internet is currently littered with YouTube videos and scathing posts on fan blogs dressing down the brave new chapter of the Star Wars Universe. There was even a movement to shut down Rotten Tomatoes because of the movie's rating... which demonstrated a considerable lack of understanding as to how Rotten Tomatoes works.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019