As fans celebrate Star Wars Day on May the 4th, there's no better time to look back on The Last Jedi and how it was a celebration of what makes the franchise great. The sequel to the ultra-successful Force Awakens arrived in theaters last December to much hype and anticipation, but it quickly stirred up a considerable amount of controversy. Due to writer/director Rian Johnson's creative decisions, The Last Jedi became the most polarizing Star Wars installment since the prequels, and viewers continue to debate its various pros and cons to this day. Some feel what Johnson did was bold and helped push Star Wars in fresh directions, while others became unsatisfied with the direction of the sequel trilogy.
Odds are, final evaluations of The Last Jedi won't be made until Episode IX premieres next year and we can view the entire trilogy as one whole story. Still, when viewed in a vacuum, Last Jedi boasts several notable merits that made it the ideal way to honor the galaxy far, far away during its 40th anniversary. Rian Johnson didn't just made a great Star Wars film, he took the baton from J.J. Abrams and did something truly special with the series. But before we get into that, it's important to address some misconceptions with Last Jedi.
Rian Johnson Didn't Course-Correct After Force Awakens
The Force Awakens recaptured the glory days of the Star Wars series and earned more than $2 billion at the worldwide box office, but there were some common complaints. Chief among them was that the story didn't really do anything new with the material and acted as a soft reboot of A New Hope. The severity of the parallels (and they are there) was exaggerated, but even those who loved Force Awakens knew Episode VIII couldn't just be The Empire Strikes Back 2.0. Abrams later confessed any similarities between Force Awakens and the original film were intentional, and the followups would do some different things.
People may not have been prepared for just how different The Last Jedi was. After two years of fan theories and predictions, the final product seemed to subvert expectations at every turn. Snoke's mysterious backstory didn't matter because the character was just a red herring to mask the true villain of the sequels. Rey's parents ended up being two degenerate alcoholics who sold her for drinking money. The grizzled, tortured Luke Skywalker was a far cry from the original trilogy hero longtime fans grew up with (in a meta twist, Rey was disappointed by the Luke she found on Ahch-To). On the surface, The Last Jedi almost plays as the deliberate antithesis of Force Awakens, but that wasn't Johnson's real intent.
Simply put, The Last Jedi was not a knee-jerk reaction to the criticisms lobbied against Force Awakens. Lucasfilm hired Johnson for the job way back in June 2014, when Episode VII was in the thick of production. He then when right to work on the script, using only Abrams' film as a springboard to his own movie. When Johnson was penning his Last Jedi screenplay, he had no idea what the reaction to anything in Force Awakens would be, so he just followed the threads the best way he could, crafting a narrative that tested its characters in multiple ways by putting them in tough situations. So, when general audiences finally found Luke on the island, Lucasfilm already knew he was a bitter old man waiting to die. Due to the logistics of the production schedule, Johnson's script needed to be finished well ahead of time so the various departments (costumes, props, sets, etc.) could handle their responsibilities. The turnaround was too quick for Last Jedi to be a response to Force Awakens.
People are quick to accuse Johnson of recklessly tossing aside plot points established by Abrams, but that couldn't be further from the truth. It was Abrams who had Luke abandon his friends in their time of need. It was Abrams who had Maz Kanata tell Rey that her parents were never coming back for her. Abrams even didn't really do anything to suggest a massive twist involving Snoke. The director's infamous mystery box reputation and hypothesizing fans were what caused the "Who is Snoke?" question to blow up. All Abrams did was lay the foundation for Johnson to build upon, and the end result championed some of the core themes of Star Wars.
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