Well ahead of the release of The Last Jedi, I’d made a private resolution to stop being so goddamn grumpy about Star Wars and superheroes moving forward. That’s not to suggest, mind you, I rescind my cultural criticisms of them, merely an acknowledgment that I’d said my piece, have nothing more to offer on the matter, and have no wish to spend 2018 mired in negativity. There’s enough of that going around these days.
And yet here I find myself, first post of the New Year, compelled by fate—just like Obi-Wan, I suppose, and, more recently, Luke Skywalker himself—to crawl out of hiding. Here’s what happened:
The week Last Jedi hit theaters, I was preoccupied with last-minute errands and arrangements for my trip home for the holidays, and Star Wars, frankly, was the last thing on my mind. I was peripherally aware the movie was “in the air”—reviews were near-universally hailing it as “groundbreaking,” the best of the series since Empire—but altogether oblivious that it had already opened.
Until Saturday, December 16. That’s when unsolicited text messages start pinging in rapid succession from friends and colleagues, decrying it as “the worst Star Wars ever,” “a betrayal,” “the death of the franchise,” etc. (One old friend even suggested I stay away from the movie at all costs if I wanted to preserve any fondness I had left for Star Wars.) I couldn’t quite reconcile any of that with the glowing critical notices, so I went to Rotten Tomatoes, and, sure enough, an overwhelming plurality of the audience was hating this movie. Not strongly disliking it, mind you—despising it. Some excerpts:
“I will pass on IX and it won’t make any difference in the grand scheme of things, but there is nowhere the plot can go in the final movie that I particularly would care for. I have no investment in the characters, plot or universe anymore.”
“Steaming pile of bantha poodoo.”
“Easily the worst in the Saga. Lifelong Star Wars fan. It’s now all over.”
“Worst movie EVER. I can’t begin to find the words that express how bad this was. Guess it’s hard to say much without spoilers. Just be warned it’s not the star wars you know.”
“You won’t fool me, nor my money, ever again.”
And then there was this succinct four-word review:
“Fuck you rian Johnson”
How to explain such opprobrium? (Note: There are those that suggest a vocal minority of haters has merely created the misleading illusion of substantial backlash—possibly that’s true—but the sampling of direct responses I’ve fielded for the most part range from faint praise at best to seething vitriol.) I mean, these were the movies that were supposed to “redeem” Star Wars after creator George Lucas’ best malignant efforts to ruin all our childhoods with the prequels, right?
So, what’s gone wrong? I wondered. Were fans simply being oversensitive? Or did filmmaker Rian Johnson, making his Star Wars debut, indeed deliver a credibly bad movie—a “franchise killer”? How exactly did things reach such an extreme, fevered pitch a mere two years after Disney’s much-anticipated brand-relaunch of Star Wars?
It’s a complicated answer with more than one determinant, but I can get to the heart of the problem for you.
Hold that thought, though. We’ll get back to Star Wars shortly.