In the final article of our look back at The Last Jedi we discuss how our views changed (or didn’t change) and how we see the movie and franchise now.
Right after I saw The Last Jedi, I honestly considered leaving fandom. I regretted getting invested and for spending my hard earned coins on anything Star Wars related. I wanted to return to the world of not knowing much or caring about any of it. I had other fandoms and other interests. I could have spent the last two years investing my free time and energy into that, rather than Star Wars. Perhaps more easily than some who grew up with the franchise and felt a special attachment to it, I could have walked away.
But something kept me sticking around, as I observed the fandom in the days that followed TLJ’s release. It was clear that I was far from the only person who didn’t quite connect with the story presented in the film. While TLJ was indisputably the highest earning film of 2017, it was also very clearly divisive. I wasn’t the only person not interested in going back again to see the film in theaters.
In the weeks that followed, I observed an unusual thing happening both in entertainment media, fandom, and from representatives of LucasFilm itself. In a lot of ways, what I was observing felt very peculiar. After The Force Awakens, most of the focus, speculation, and attention was on what was going to happen next in the story. Was Rey Luke daughter? Who was Snoke? What would happen to the FO with their base destroyed? What about the Knights of the Ren? Was Finn force sensitive? Following The Last Jedi however, to me it seemed in almost all corners that the discussion was less about the story and what was anticipated in Episode 9. It was all focused on franchise, the quality of the film, and the quality of the fans.
The very things that excited me about Star Wars in the first place, the questions that made me excited to finish the trilogy, were almost completely absent from the conversation, even from those who loved the film. I observed clumsy PR from the director and others, but little by way of stoking hype for the next installment. It seemed odd to me that the second film of a huge high profile trilogy would have almost completely stalled out the general conversation and anticipation for the actual story it depicted. When the conversation turned to questions of ‘types of fans’, and whether all criticism for the film came from corners of fandom deemed undesirable and thus irrelevant, my curiosity peaked.
The physical film and our real world reaction to it was the conversation, not the story and the galaxy far, far, away. The more I read, the more I concluded:
This couldn’t have been the reaction they were expecting or hoping for.
While the saying does, “All press is good press”, I have to wonder whether conversation and interest in a movie that was the middle of a trilogy did not lead to widespread excitement and anticipation for the story last installment really could be interpreted as positive or fortunate. The Force Awakens was able to cultivate and sustain anticipatory interest in the zeitgeist of popular culture during the two year wait for The Last Jedi. I am sure the architects of the franchise were hoping to capture or at least maintain the level of hype and story excitement they had created after Episode 7. Instead as the months went by, it seemed like the fandom and general interest in Star Wars became smaller and more narrow. There are loud people left talking who love the movie, and a somewhat bifurcated smaller group of people who do not. From what I observed, it seems that a great many people, perhaps a larger share than the previous two groups, simply stopped participating altogether. Indeed, many of the fans I’d met and befriended while waiting for Episode 8 did leave fandom.
I nearly became one of them. Me, the brand new fan, engaged by the first episodic installment, ready to peace out after viewing the second. That’s worrisome.
Fortunately for me, my morbid academic curiosity in the business and press relations response to The Last Jedi, kept me engaged enough to discover a small corner of fandom that was different from the rest. The Star Wars Shadow Council presented a completely different perspective on the actual story, and wanted to talk about it, which made me rethink and reconsider my initial impressions. I read the Case for Rey Skywalker with and open mind and was impressed by the detailed analysis. Many of the things that didn’t sit well with me from my first viewing, actually in a broader view did not make complete sense when analyzed at a surface level. If looked at from a different perspective, as the council suggested (and indeed one that is not disputed by the film at all), the story shifts and many of the elements that I was initially drawn to remain strongly a part of the story.
Finn and Rey were still there, Rey Skywalker wasn’t out. Luke still matters. There’s still some problems with Finn, Poe, and Rose’s depictions, and other odd decisions, but on a whole the story makes more sense when viewed through the lens of Rey Skywalker. The story’s presentation is more meta than linear, I believe to the film and franchise’s detriment. Most of the audience, both those who love the film and those who despise it, take the surface read at face value. Meta is only satisfying if you know the context. I believe in this case, it drowned out too much of the story. In some respects, the emotional resonance of the meta narrative (such as Luke and Rey’s relationship for instance) is underappreciated by the audience at large as a result.
Many of the ideas and themes the episode tried to tackle were always of interest to me, and since joining the council I have more appreciation for them, in addition to retaining my curiosity about the business perspective of all of this. I still believe the execution of what LucasFilm wanted to do was very flawed, but I feel better in understanding their intention. In retrospect, for better and worse, my first impression of TLJ as something both ending and beginning anew, was probably correct.
So I am still here, still curious. Cautiously optimistic, but with less goodwill for the franchise going forward than I had a year ago.
So where were we? I originally left the theaters swallowing my distaste for The Last Jedi, and burying it deep down to avoid thinking my favorite franchise had taken a turn for the worse. I wasn’t excited for Episode IX, or for the future of Star Wars, in general. I had no intentions of buying TLJ, or watching it again.
Something haunted me about TLJ though. It was as if the movie intentionally gave me what I didn’t want to see. I expected it to challenge me and and break new grounds, but not like this; thinking back on it, I didn’t find it to be revealing in the sense that this was a “new direction” the franchise was taking. It all felt very forced.
I wanted to fight for Star Wars. I wanted to like TLJ, but I was struggling. Then, something happened out of the blue. I actually forgot all about it until writing this final segment of my retrospective – a couple weeks after TLJ was released in theaters, I was contacted through twitter by this Star Wars blog I was following – the Star Wars Shadow Council. They seemed really excited about something, and asked me to read over, and provide any feedback I might have on, their notes of TLJ. As I read along, I quickly saw that I wasn’t alone – they too, felt there was much more to the film than meets the eye. However, I hadn’t bothered digging nearly as deep as these folks did, and so one by one, each of their notes began crystallizing my subconscious feelings for the film. You see, I’m a planetary geologist by day, and so what intrigued me the most was that these weren’t just some run-of-the-mill fan theories, they were elegantly woven analyses filled with careful thought and refined through due scrutiny, and all supported by logical and well-laid out lines of reasoning – just as one does when substantiating scientific results, implications, and conclusions for peer-review. I was hooked! As they say, the rest is history.
Still though, it took me until December 2018 to finally re-watch The Last Jedi at home, almost a year to the date from its theatrical release (Yes, I own a copy, I’m not a heathen!). However, I’m not here to defend The Last Jedi. I’m here to defend Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi. Yes, I understand many of the arguments against the pacing and storylines of the film. I still have a few of them myself. But I’m writing this because I’m a fan of Star Wars and storytelling, and also because HOW DARE YOU TALK BAD ABOUT LUKE SKYWALKER!
I’ve heard and read several hot takes on TLJ (and they continue to this day), all the way from incessant fanatic praise to unbridled hatred and “childhood ruined.” Where some believe that TLJ strayed too far from Star Wars and the Luke Skywalker of the Original Trilogy (OT), others take the same point to argue Rian Johnson is a directorial genius, and that he created the most unique Star Wars film to date.
I disagree with both angles. Personally, I don’t think TLJ is a departure from Star Wars at all. In fact, it’s just as paralleled to the original trilogy as was The Force Awakens – and that does include the surface read. I’m not saying TLJ is an Empire 2.0, because it’s not, but people – I am saying it’s a bizarro mash up of both Empire and Jedi. Wait, is Return of the Jedi still “Jedi?” Or, is The Last Jedi, “Jedi” now? RIANNNNNNNN! And while I still have a few (a couple substantial) gripes with the film itself, it’s full significance will surely only be seen after IX.
If you’ve not read TLJ case for Rey Skywalker, I highly recommend it. Re-watching TLJ with this as a meta-guide and subtitled version for the subtext of the film completely changed TLJ for me. I’ll be honest, the saber toss still bothers me, it’s just an ill-timed joke in my humble opinion considering the pain both Luke and Rey went through to meet each other under these circumstances. But for the rest of it, there he was – Luke Skywalker! A reluctant and jaded recluse, tortured even, and just when you were about to break him open, a horrible memory or terrible recollection would close him off again. But it was still Luke, and he was putting up a front to Rey just as Yoda first did with Luke in Empire; this time for very, very different reasons (also see: Luke’s scene with R2D2 aboard the falcon for the real Luke). I urge anyone reading this to consider what exact darkness Luke saw inside of Ben that drove him to the edge of the Dark Side once more? The threat of losing his family appears to be the one fear Luke struggles with the most (see: RotJ)….
I could go on, but all this to say that my opening up to Luke has opened me up to the rest of the film, and it’s continuing to connect me to the other characters as well. Funny enough, my favorite message of TLJ, and perhaps of the Skywalker Saga itself, is the lesson that Yoda waxes poetic to Luke on Ahch-To:
“Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”
– Yoda, The Last Jedi
However, this message isn’t just about Jedi Masters and their students:
Any parent can tell you that 😉
The week following the release of the Last Jedi was a sad one for me. Less because I was disappointed with the movie (I had convinced myself by that point that the movie was some sort of misdirection) and more because my friends were taking it so badly. Gradually though we all came to the same epiphany that while the surface read of the movie appeared subversive, the meta story was a seamless continuation of The Force Awakens. That became the thesis of our Case articles: that the surface read was intended to subvert but the meta reveals the true story in the subtext. It was only later that we found an interview from Rian Johnson that showed that this odd style of storytelling is in fact his MO as a filmmaker. That knowledge proved to us that we were on the right track and we’ve had a lot of fun trying to follow that trail where ever it may lead us. As for me, I’ve made my peace with The Last Jedi. It’s not my favorite to watch, nor my least favorite (that’s still Attack of the Clones). There are parts of it I really enjoy and parts of it that I really wish were executed better. Overall though, Rian Johnson’s penchant for filling every scene with meta has made it a very enjoyable film to analyze. I’m really looking forward to IX, but at the same time I’ll be almost sad when it does come out and this period of theorizing and speculating is over, because it sure is fun!
One year later, I still don’t enjoy watching TLJ. However, I’ve found that analyzing the movie with my friends and piecing together the galaxy LFL is creating with the movies and Expanded Universe materials to be right up my ally. I can appreciate, in a way, what LFL was trying to do with TLJ, but I – like many others – am heartily relieved that J.J. Abrams is helming Episode 9.
A year later, and when I think about The Last Jedi, I think about the disgraced love child of Age of Ultron and Cars 2. The movie just doesn’t come off as a major, underwhelming disappointment to basically everything I would have looked forward to in a sequel to The Force Awakens, but it’s also a completely pointless sequel that has meaningless subplots that went nowhere. At this point though, I’ve accepted the movie for what it is, a lot of bad with shades of good in it. TLJ was an objectively well acted, directed movie with amazing cinematography, but I felt that the story, the script behind the movie, was probably one of the weakest of the franchise.
It was a plotless mess of a movie that lived and died by its themes and nothing else. In my opinion, Rian Johnson needed a co-writer to help iron out the terrible script of TLJ, and perhaps, maybe going back and re-thinking his editing and directing choices that made the film so much of a tone-deaf mess. I’m glad that JJ Abrams and Chris Terrio are writing the script for IX, and that Abrams is returning to finish what he started back in TFA. It may have taken 3 years, but I’m excited to finally get a proper sequel to The Force Awakens and see how the Skywalker saga ends. The fact that Blade Runner 2049’s Art Director, Paul Inglis, is going to be the Supervising Art Director of IX, the film will be shot in 65mm and the fact that the cast and crew seem to be really happy with what they’re doing, has me thrilled to see the conclusion to this trilogy.
Well, a year after seeing The Last Jedi, I still love it. I have come to accept that it’s not a perfect film (the only truly perfect film is Speed Racer) and that there are issues with some of the subplots, but that actually makes me appreciate the great parts of TLJ even more. As of me writing this, the Episode IX title has not been announced yet and we haven’t seen any footage from the film. But I hope that it continues the great story of the Sequel Trilogy and hopefully improves on stuff from TLJ that wasn’t as good.
When I began to consider the notion that perhaps Rey Skywalker and FinnRey (my two ‘must-haves’ of the ST) hadn’t been debunked at all, I didn’t want to get my hopes up again, only to have them crushed in Episode IX. But after reading interviews with Rian Johnson as well as becoming a member of the Shadow Council and discussing their theories with them, my tune began to change. For example, I had seen the lack of screentime with Finn and Rey together and ultimately his kiss with Rose as a death knell for the ship. But upon closer examination, there is more than what appears on the surface. Finn and Rey spend the majority of the film apart, yes, and they don’t exchange any dialogue, yet they are never far from each other’s thoughts. Finn is desperate to find Rey at first, so much so that he is willing to leave the Resistance and Poe.
In the novelization, Rose often thinks disparagingly of his constant mentions of Rey and his one-track mind. Finn is also reluctant to relinquish the beacon leading Rey home to Poe, believing it is their only chance to reunite again. As for Rey, she promises the unconscious Finn that they will see each other again and kisses him on the forehead at the end of TFA, as well as telling Chewbacca to pass on a message to Finn from her in TLJ (the contents of that message being left suspiciously unrevealed). And, of course, the hug between them when they finally do reunite at the end of the film says more than any words can: they love each other completely and unconditionally. They are each other’s home.
Rey Skywalker was slightly more difficult for me to reconcile. Luke does not show any signs of recognizing Rey, and his behavior toward her for the majority of the film is gruff at best. Rey finally admits to herself that her parents were “nobody” – something I puzzled over at first, since Rey didn’t care who they were in TFA, just that they would come back for her – and Kylo, who seemed to recognize her previously, flat-out tells her they were “filthy junk traders who sold you off for drinking money”. Again, on the surface, that seems to kill ReySky dead, or so the majority of online fandom would have you think
However, the Council’s TLJ Case for Rey Skywalker completely revolutionized how I viewed the Force plot in the film. If viewed from the perspective of Luke either a) deliberately withholding the truth from Rey to protect her from the burden of the Skywalker legacy, or b) believing Leia is playing a cruel joke on him by sending a girl who looks exactly like his dead daughter to convince him to rejoin the fight, his treatment of her begins to make more sense. Additionally, Kylo may be consciously or not-so-consciously lying about his vision of her parents: he is explicitly shown to be an unreliable narrator, as evidenced by his version of the Jedi temple flashback. He also may have seen Rey’s fear and believed it to be the truth. Either way, there is definitely room for loopholes in his declaration. We also, conveniently, never see the faces of her parents or are even given names. That was one of the first things that struck me about the “reveal”.
In short, while I do believe that there is more to be gleaned from The Last Jedi than at first glance, my personal feeling is that the plot and characters were sacrificed for the sake of symbolism and subtext. The characters were challenged, but perhaps not in ways they needed to be or that would give them much growth going forward. I may not ever make peace with the film, but I’ve accepted that it is the movie we have, and perhaps Rian Johnson’s vision ultimately isn’t so radically different from mine after all.
The Last Jedi was a complete shock, but it also led to our greatest achievement as a blog. As stated in the previous article, in the week following the release we had begun rapidly accumulating insights and observations that all was not as it seemed. By Christmas Eve we had accumulated so much material pointing at a different story than what a straight reading of The Last Jedi suggested that Sprinkles proposed we compile it into a single definitive case for Rey Skywalker. The original idea was to present it in one article, however it didn’t take long to discover we had vastly more material than could reasonably fit into a single piece and the project grew into eight total articles.
Over the course of January and February we wrote and released a series of articles totalling upwards of 160,000 words. While we all knew most fans wouldn’t be convinced, we hoped at least some would be persuaded not to give up. To this day, the most gratifying words I’ve heard are the fans who have told us that they only stayed in the fandom because of what we had written. Despite the isolation and, from some, derision we’ve endured, knowing that we’ve provided a measure of hope to many has made it all worthwhile.
It wasn’t until early May that I was finally ready to watch the entirety of The Last Jedi again and with the Case, knowledge of the deleted Caretaker scene and our subsequent SkyMom theory, it’s a radically different movie. My issues with Finn and Poe’s stories remained, but the Skywalker story was tragic and poignant. With the proper context, the dissonance I felt in theaters had disappeared.
While TLJ sent us reeling, today we have nine dedicated and diverse members and a thriving Discord. We’ve authored dozens of articles and, while we don’t all agree on where everything is going, we’re firmly looking forward. Personally, I’ve recovered from the shock of the movie and, with all we have worked out, have even come to enjoy the movie. Looking at it through the lens of a father doing everything he can to save his daughter makes it particularly compelling for me as the father of two children. That isn’t to say I don’t have my criticisms, I still think the movie could have conveyed its messages a bit better (when a lot of people exit the theater thinking the film agrees with the antagonist, there’s a problem). However, I can say I’m fully enjoying the franchise again and greatly anticipate Episode IX.
So, what’s next for us? I have an ongoing series I’ve been working on detailing how the narrative of the franchise is being built and what this means for Episode IX and the future of the franchise. At the same time, I’ve been meaning to revisit my background theory from before TLJ and do a full update. Several people have asked me if I’ll do a plot prediction for IX as I did for TLJ and I’m happy to say that I will. Look for the first one after Celebration! We’re also still looking to do a podcast and aim to do some videos. Overall though, I aim to just enjoy the ride as we enter the most jam packed year of Star Wars yet!
One year on, I still haven’t rewatched TLJ, nor do I have any desire to. As I said, I still think it was a weak installment in the saga, and that it squandered its screen time on philosophizing, while royally screwing over its protagonists as a result. I still bristle at the sloppiness of Finn and Poe’s storylines, and am angry at how the audience interpreted Rey to be a weak-willed girl in love with a “bad boy” instead of the heroic heir to her grandfather’s legacy. But in wasting its time going nowhere, TLJ also left many doors open for the future. The more information that has emerged since, the more I am convinced that the saga overall is still going in the right direction. And my biggest fear–that Finn and Poe were going to be demoted to side characters–is assuaged significantly by having JJ Abrams at the helm.
Do I still feel trepidation about the final installment of the saga? Absolutely. But I also have hope, a rather poetic, full-circle note to end this story on. I look forward to a year from now, and I sincerely wish once again to walk out of the theater feeling that sort of sparkling optimism and joy that I felt the very first time. Onwards and upwards, and may the Force be with us!