The Fandom Menace: Why The “Last Jedi” Hatred is Proof of Its Success
Do I even have to warn about spoilers? OK. There are spoilers herein.
By now, you’ve likely heard that “fans” are upset about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But look a little closer. You’ll notice it’s a very specific group of fans that feel slighted — the canon-obsessed, rigidly nostalgic fan who winces if you fail to take even the most inconsequential detail of their beloved fantasy seriously.
But here’s the thing: Their anger is proof that The Last Jedi is an incredible film.
In 2016, The Force Awakens launched the moribund Star Wars franchise back into orbit. And don’t throw the Clone Wars animated series or Star Wars Rebels at me — to the masses Star Wars had become Jar Jar Binks, deathly wooden acting, and incomprehensible trade disputes. It was as far from “fun” as you can get without becoming Star Trek. (Easy….easy….) Force Awakens was a blast, but if there was one critique to be made it was that it was too reverent of the original films. It smacked of fanfic, the way it referenced and resurrected the best parts of the saga, while ignoring the worst. It was a thinly-veiled A New Hope remake, but fans got to see Han and Chewie pilot the Falcon together again so all was well. There was a new masked villain, new-look Stormtroopers, and cuter droids. It was about all the change the hardcore could stomach. But in fact, JJ Abrams had delivered the perfect rope-a-dope to set up Rian Johnson’s precision gutshot.
The Last Jedi is about letting go. Letting go of the old movies. Letting go of the old characters. Letting go of the obsessive nostalgia. Early on, Supreme Leader Snoke berates Kylo Ren, taunting him by saying he’s “No Darth Vader” and ridiculing him as “just a boy in a mask.” These aren’t villains in the way that Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader were. These are Empire fanboys playing parts, cosplaying as bad guys. The obsessive fans in the theater were seeing themselves portrayed as villains, and it stung. And even though Snoke snarks Ren, he’s also playing a part. He sits on his throne with his remixed royal guards like a Comic Con Palpatine. He knows what he’s supposed to do — he’s supposed to get an apprentice and plow through the galaxy with his massive army. Just like they did back in the day. Hell, he even has a Rule 63 Boba Fett in Captain Phasma. The entire movie could take place in the lobby outside Hall H in San Diego.
And that’s when Johnson tears it all down. For two years, fans have speculated about Snoke’s identity — was he Darth Plagueis the Wise? Was he Palpatine reborn? Was he Vader’s lava castle manservant from Rogue One? At the same time, every fan knew…just KNEW…that Rey’s parents were Skywalkers. Or Kenobis. They had to be. It was the way things worked here. Everyone in this universe is related. Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO as a child, despite the fact that an 8 year-old slave on a desert planet would have no use for a protocol droid. Lucas needed everyone to have met everyone else, for some unknown reason. Young Obi-Wan had to meet young Boba Fett, even though there was no need for them to have any relationship whatsoever. For an 8-ton slug who can barely lift his arms, Jabba pops up EVERYWHERE. George Lucas created a universe that was about as vast as your local high school.
But Johnson tears it all down. Snoke is dispatched without ceremony. We never find out who he is or what he wanted, because it didn’t matter. He didn’t want anything. He wanted to be Palpatine, and he was for a time. Rey’s parents are revealed to be nobodies. Drunks. Scavengers. Because that is the point this movie is making. For the first time, a Star Wars movie looked farther than its own nose and had something to say. It is burning down the old canon — literally, as Yoda arrives to set fire to the old Jedi books (which were ultimately saved, giving Abrams a convenient out if he chooses to use it in the next movie) — and we see class division for the first time. We get a sense that there are people in the universe who are neither on the side of the rebellion nor the empire, and are just happy to get rich off the conflict. This is a startling new development for a normally black-and-white Star Wars movie. Luke was raised in humble surroundings despite his entitled blood, but Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s class status is never brought into play. Lucas himself awkwardly painted himself into a class corner in the prequels when he made Luke and Leia’s mother a queen — a conundrum he basically chose to ignore with a hamfisted and nonsensical explanation that Naboo elects a queen democratically (if that’s the case, why do they always seem to be 14 year old girls? Are they really the most qualified to lead in a democratic government?)
So Rey has The Force because she does….not because she was born into it. She’s low class, an abandoned kid on a trash planet. She’s not another secret Skywalker, and that’s the point. Johnson isn’t even subtle about it– the closing shot of the movie is a young stable boy casually using the Force before staring in awe at the stars above. He doesn’t have to be a Palpatine or a Skywalker or a Kenobi to gain entrance. He’s a nobody. And the universe can be for him, too.
So The Last Jedi is a slap in the face to the fanboys who can’t let go, which explains their visceral reaction to it — it’s all tough love where Force Awakens was warm hugs. You can’t go on just saying the same lines over and over. At the close, Last Jedi leaves its characters in an uncertain place. Poe tried desperately to be the Han Solo, and ended up instigating a wrongheaded mutiny. Finn isn’t sure if he’s the hero who is supposed to make the ultimate sacrifice, or the good soldier who just does what he can to help. Rey isn’t Luke nor is she Obi-Wan. They can’t make choices based on the roles they are supposed to play. They have to start figuring it out on their own. In case the point was still just a little beyond your grasp, Kylo Ren ends up fighting an idealized illusion of Luke Skywalker that doesn’t actually exist.
This is Star Wars maturing. Shedding itself of the Skywalker merry-go-round and ending up in a place where new things are truly possible. It hurts, and fans who were so massaged by Force Awakens are finding it painful. So they instantly reject it. But if you remove yourself from the fanboy obsession and appreciate a good story, you would realize that, for the first time perhaps, the next Star Wars movie can go…anywhere. Episode IX is not shackled into a predictable final battle. It’s not finding out Snoke and Rey’s identities as part of the same bloodlines we’ve seen before. It’s not a final duel between Ren and Rey while Snoke looks on and cackles.
It’s going to be something completely new. And completely unexpected. And that is truly exciting, if you allow it to be. If you’re not afraid of admitting that freeing itself from the Skywalker family doesn’t mean the end of Star Wars. This has the potential to be a vast universe, if you let it.
Oh, and as for the boneheaded whining that the jokes are too “modern”? No one seemed to have an issue with Chewbacca apparently watching old Tarzan reruns as a kid on Kashyyyk.
Let it go, fanboys. If you can, The Last Jedi is your first step into a larger world…