Click here if you’d like to read my in-depth analysis of The Last Jedi (a cinematic masterpiece if you ask me).
The most recent Star Wars film, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a huge box office disaster, grossing only US$ 357 million in five weeks with an estimated production budget of US$ 300 million. Unsurprisingly, this disappointing box office return and the film’s arguably McD cheeseburger quality has now turned into fuel, added to the fire that is the larger debate about the Disney era of Star Wars — Is Disney destroying Star Wars?
A debate which of course ties back to one Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. This is where it all began. Written and helmed by Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick), The Last Jedi s came crashing in like the Valdivia earthquake of 1960 and shook the very fabric of the Star Wars fandom, so much so, that people have not stopped passionately discussing this movie every day of every week for the past five months. The Last Jedi also started the Great Geek Twitter War of the 21st century (take that Batman V Superman!)
Many fans seem to believe that Disney is indeed ruining Star Wars, with the biggest argument being The Mouse has systematically taken stinky dumps on the original trilogy, ruining the very essence of Star War itself. There is even a line in The Last Jedi that goes, “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” I understand the frustration, believe me, I do. I left the press screening of The Last Jedi feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. But then I watched it another time and everything clicked. Then I watched it again and again and again. And three more times after that. I love this movie to pieces and I can’t stop thinking about it.
If it wasn’t obvious enough which side of the camp I’ve set up my tent, here are my top five Star Wars movies.
- The Last Jedi
- Empire Strikes Back
- The Force Awakens
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- Return of the Jedi
That’s right. Three out of the four Star Wars movies from the Disney era is in my top five, with the most polarizing of the lot holding the championship belt. The Disney era of Star Wars is great and below I break down why. But before that, let me just say that from a financial standpoint, Star Wars is fine. Sure, Solo has proven to be a flop, but The Force Awakens grossed US$ 2 billion, while Rogue One and The Last Jedi grossed US$ 1 billion. But there is something to be discussed, in terms of quality, direction and the hate people feel towards this franchise.
The Last Jedi and the legacy of Luke Skywalker.
In one of his recent videos, popular film critic and Star Wars fan, Jeremy Jahns, brings up the discussion Kathleen Kennedy had with George Lucas many years ago, regarding the future of our beloved galaxy. Kennedy said:
“The main thing is to protect these characters and make sure that they still continue to live in the way you created them.”
Did Kathleen Kennedy keep her word? Perhaps not. Han died at the hands of a new character, Kylo Ren; Luke perished without wielding his green lightsaber and going H.A.M, and Leia will unfortunately not be returning in Episode IX because of the unfortunate passing of our Princess Carrie Fisher (which is of course not Disney’s fault). But I would argue that by not keeping her word, Kathleen Kennedy, along with the likes of J.J Abrams and Rian Johnson (especially Rian Johnson) only added to the legacy of the characters we know and love.
Think about it: Do you really want these characters to remain as they were 30 years ago? I can already hear some of you screaming “F*ck yeah!!” at your laptops. Imagine if Han Solo didn’t die in The Force Awakens and if Luke Skywalker was as optimistic and wide-eyed in The Last Jedi, as he was in the original trilogy. Picture him wielding his laser sword in person and facing off against the First Order (maybe he loses, maybe he wins, but he doesn’t die). And then finally, in Episode IX, Luke and Rey go up against Kylo Ren in an epic saber duel, while Han, Leia, Poe and Finn fly their battleships taking down Hux and the First Order. The good guys win and they all live happily ever after.
Could they have been good movies? Sure. But wouldn’t that story also be more or less the same as the original trilogy? — not just in terms of narrative flow, but thematically as well. Perhaps that’s why many of you go to these movies. To wallow in nostalgia and relive past memories. Not to get slapped in the face and learn that your heroes aren’t what they appear to be. Or that after everything the trio went through in the original trilogy, life in the galaxy far far away still found a way to be shitty and depressing. You know, cause life has been absolute bliss in the real world since World War II ended.
What we need to ask ourselves as fans, is whether we want new and more Star Wars movies or if we wish Star Wars would’ve just ended with George Lucas’ original and prequel trilogy. If your answer is the latter, then this discussion is moot. But if you’re swaying towards the former, then perhaps the only way to ensure the survivability of this franchise is by shaking the landscape of Star Wars altogether.
Would Kylo Ren be as effective of a villain without murdering Han and Luke’s sacrifice? Would Rey have been able to grow and achieve the fullest potential of her character if Luke were still alive?
I’m reminded of an old-school pro-wrestling philosophy: ‘Going out on your back.’
This concept centres around professional wrestlers losing their final match for the purpose of giving the new guard a boost. Something absolutely necessary in long-form storytelling. Keeping our heroes exactly as they were years and years ago, makes them stale. It makes the narrative stale. Just ask any WWE fan about John Cena and how his character went from being a crowd favourite to the most hated figure in modern professional wrestling, simply by being exactly the same, year after year.
Why should we be truly afraid of Kylo Ren, if the greatest Jedi of all time is still alive in his most majestic form? Who cares about Rey, when we have Master Luke Skywalker? Would we have been as afraid for Harry Potter and gang if Dumbledore was alive to fight alongside them all the way to the end? Would we have rooted as hard for the Starks and against Joffrey if Ned Stark wasn’t killed? When these greats go out on their backs, it propels the entire story forward. Han Solo may have died, but in his death, he helped propel Kylo Ren to be one of the best villains ever put to screen. Luke’s death allows Rey to grow and become the next big thing without the legend of Luke Skywalker hovering over her.
But the film doesn’t just kill the old guard off to thrust the new characters to greater heights. The film kills the old guard off while adding to their legacy. Han was the charming, likeable scoundrel who helped save the galaxy. But with his arc in The Force Awakens, he goes from that to the husband who drifted away from his wife after their son went down a dark path. And in the end, he goes to bring his son back to the light, like any father would. He opens up to Kylo Ren in a scene that has Han at his most vulnerable in any Star Wars movie, only to be murdered anyway.
The same can be said about Luke, who in the original trilogy goes from being a wide-eyed kid to a Jedi knight. His arc in The Last Jedi adds even more depth to his character. Overcome with shame from his past mistakes, Luke ostracises himself from society. He becomes a crusty, grumpy old man. But when he realises what needed to be done, he Force projects himself halfway across the galaxy, takes on Kylo Ren and the First Order, and saves the remaining members of the Resistance, spreading hope across the galaxy in the process, all without engaging in violence or drawing a single drop of blood. That is the MOST JEDI any Jedi has ever been in these movies. He actually follows the proper Jedi teachings (which is more about peace and non-violence than it is about lightsaber duels and acrobatics). At that point, Luke even superceded Yoda.
The whole notion of Disney crapping on the legacy of the original trilogy and its legendary characters is ridiculous. Disney made these great characters better and allowed room for the narrative to move in new and interesting ways. For the first time, in a long time, we do not have a single clue on how the final chapter of Star Wars is going to close. Heck, we don’t even have the slightest idea how it’s going to open.
Different types of Star Wars movies.
For the longest time, Star Wars, despite the vastness of its galaxy, has always been about one family — the Skywalkers. And while we’ve gotten great Star Wars movies in the past, they’ve all more or less danced to a familiar tune. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is my second favourite film of all time and it too follows, thematically at least, conventional fantasy beats. But following the same beats can get tiresome if we’re talking about a saga that is already 10 movies deep.
Familiarity leads to comfort, comfort leads to boredom. Just like our sexual relationships, we need to keep things fresh and spicy, especially if we’ve been together with the same person for 30 years. And Disney recognised that. But first, it gave us more of the same. The Force Awakens is a remix of the old because it needed to bridge the gap between the fans of the original and the fans of the prequels and bring in a whole new generation of Star Wars fans. But once that goal was met (US$ 2 billion at the global box office and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes — I say the goal was met), Kathleen Kennedy didn’t hesitate to give us different.
Rogue One is a war film that features no Jedi and only one sequence right at the end in which a lightsaber is ignited (I still get the chills thinking about it). It is a film about suffering. It is a film about sacrifice. And it’s a film that highlights just how integral the rebel soldiers (not the Force wielders, but regular soldiers) are in the war against The Empire. It is also the first Star Wars film to be painted in shades of grey. It is also arguably the first Star Wars movie that shows us that the Force doesn’t just belong to the Jedi and the Sith, but everybody. We see that through Donnie Yen’s character, Chirrut Îmwe.
The Last Jedi. TLJ is a deconstruction of Star Wars and a subversion of conventional fantasy tropes. You expect a rocky-styled training montage, but when you first meet Luke, he’s a faithless man and a shell of his former self. You expect a big reveal for Rey’s parentage, but they turn out to be nobodies. None of that magnificent Skywalker blood. No ties to Kenobi. Nothing. Just nobodies. It is the first Star Wars movie to be a character study more than an uplifting adventure. It breaks our heroes and villains down to their bones and takes each shard and places it under a microscope. It is a Star Wars movie that frankly couldn’t be fu*ked with ‘what the fans want’ which is exactly what makes it such an offbeat, refreshing experience. It’s a film that challenges you in ways you didn’t expect a Star Wars movie could.
And then we have Solo: A Star Wars Story. Despite my personal feelings towards the movie — above average popcorn stuff –, it is still unique. Again, it’s one without Jedi or the Sith or lightsabers (Maul aside). It isn’t even about galaxy-altering events. It’s a simple heist movie focused on a few characters, none of whom are named Skywalker.
The Disney era of Star Wars more than any other era, seems interested in exploring the vastness of the Galaxy and not just fixated on a single bloodline. And this can be seen in their animated TV series, Star Wars Rebels too, which focuses on a small rebel crew, as well introduces us to new Force wielders, Ezra Bridger and Kanan Jarrus.
“But if the Disney era is so great, why do people hate it (especially The Last Jedi) so much, huh?!”
Well, guess what homie? Once upon a time, people hated Empire Strikes Back too. Yes, you read that right. What is now universally considered the greatest and most artistic Star Wars film to date (so much so that every single Star Wars film that has come out thereafter is compared to it), was once just as polarizing as The Last Jedi.
Chunks of critics and fans expressed their disappointment and confusion watching Empire Strikes Back. Why is it darker? How can they kill off Han Solo?? Vader won Luke?? Vader is Luke’s father??!! These were the questions of many people’s mind walking out of cinemas in 1980. A lot of people didn’t like it because of how different it is compared to A New Hope.
And here’s a critic from The New York Times compared The Empire Strikes Back to A New Hope:
“It’s not, by any means, as nice as Star Wars. It’s not as fresh and funny and surprising and witty, but it is nice and inoffensive and, in a way that no one associated with it need be ashamed of, it’s also silly… It’s a big, expensive, time-consuming, essentially mechanical operation. The Empire Strikes Back is about as personal as a Christmas card from a bank.”
People complain about Luke drinking breast milk from an alien creature as if it’s the most repulsive, non-Star Wars thing on the planet. Back in 1980, a critic from The New Yorker had this to say about The Empire Strikes Back‘s more “ridiculous” moments:
“Han Solo saving Luke’s life on the ice planet Hoth by slashing open a snow camel and warming him inside; Luke’s hand being lopped off, and his seemingly endless fall through space; Chewbacca, the Wookiee, yowling in grief or in comic fear, his sounds so hyper-human you couldn’t help laughing at them; the big-eared green elf Yoda, with shining ancient eyes, who pontifically instructs Luke in how to grow up wise – Yoda looks like a wonton and talks like a fortune cookie.”
But it isn’t just critics. A Critical Hit, compiled some fan reviews from the old popular sci-fi magazine, Starlog. Just like how many are complaining about Rey’s parentage reveal in The Last Jedi, saying it’s just a ruse, people had the same thing to say about Vader’s reveal too.
“Is Luke related to Vader? Most think so now that Vader came right out and said it. Well, I say, do you believe everything you hear? Vader may have lied just to enlist Luke to his side. Vader would then dispose of Luke once he got what he wanted.”
Some fans on Twitter apparently remember what the mood was like watching Empire Strikes Back on the big screen all those years ago and claim that if the internet existed back then, they would’ve started an online petition too. (But of course, we can’t actually validate whether these lads actually watched the film in the cinema in 1980, or if they’re just horse shitting).
Same here. In fact, my brothers and I all mentioned something to the effect of "Lucas ruined Star Wars" when we left the theater after that first showing. Ah…kids and their hyperbole, right? Thankfully, time and hindsight proved us wrong. 🙂
— William Andrade (@SirDarthUno) December 18, 2017
But, but, but at the very least, no actor who played a prominent Star Wars character in the original trilogy publically expressed his/her shock or disbelief or disagreement or dislike towards a particular creative decision like Mark Hamill did during The Last Jedi, right? Wrong.
Look, the truth is, Star Wars is a franchise that has always looked better in the rear window, once it’s marinated at the back of your head. And I’m convinced that in time, The Last Jedi will be revered just as The Empire Strikes Back now is. So I urge everyone to calm down and give this new era of Star Wars a chance. Take a step back, relax. Enough with the screaming and the petitioning. Stoping harassing the filmmakers and actors on Twitter and look forward to Episode IX.
Hey you! Yes you, hot stuff. Like my article? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. Also, don’t forget to share it with your buds. And if you’d like to talk movies with me or tell me how wrong I am about the Disney era of Star Wars you can hit me up here: @dashtalksmovies