A certain movie changed Hollywood and movie merchandising forever in 1977.
It took the Heroes Journey concept that had always been a staple of ancient myths and reimagined it as a story involving space battles and mysticism in a galaxy far, far away. 7 more movies followed and here we are.
However, Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi, the latest entry in this franchise has been the most polarizing one yet.
Why do so many long-time fans such as myself FEEL BETRAYED?!!!! Let's jump this SPOILER-HEAVY discussion to hyperspace!
I cannot speak for all children of the 80's but my childhood was instantly changed the moment that I caught a glimpse of a lightsaber being activated by a rising Jedi legend named Luke Skywalker. The imagination that I already had was amplified at least a thousand-fold and in the real world, the seeds were slowly planted for my eventual career in engineering upon absorbing the visual technical splendor that consisted of X-Wings, Tie Fighters and the Millenium Falcon. More than anything else, its universal message of hope being able to conquer mankind's worst tendencies has perhaps always been the main takeaway while surviving in an uncertain world.
It has now been over 40 years since the quintessential cinematic franchise made its debut. The Original Trilogy (OT) is still what most fans consider sacred and recommend to their friends who have yet to wisely believe in the existence of the Force. The same dedicated fans also tell the same friends to avoid watching the less-loved Prequels first but the latter group often fails to listen; furthering the divide even more between the believers and heathens who can easily get turned away by the pop cultural stain that is Jar Jar even before they get to the OT.
I was an open-minded fan about George Lucas's sale of the Star Wars brand to Disney. I actually enjoyed Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens even though critics were right about it being a rehash of Episode 4: A New Hope. I thought this was necessary in order to reignite interest after how divisive the prequels were. As much as I was sad to lose forever one of my childhood heroes, Han Solo; I was genuinely excited for the further adventures of the new characters that I had taken an instant liking to: Rey, Finn and Poe. On a side note, I dug Rogue One a lot as well. I understood that more risks would be taken with Episode 8 to push the franchise in a fresh direction, especially from everything that we had been hearing about Director Rian Johnson's bold approach. However, nothing could prepare me for the mixed emotions that I had after finishing my viewing of the Last Jedi that I had taken time off from work for on a cold Friday afternoon. After walking out of the suburban New Jersey theater into the mid-December snow, I found myself at the mercy of the following soul-sucking thought process after cleaning the outside of my car and facing evening rush hour traffic head-on under Queen Elsa's favorite weather conditions:
MIXED EMOTIONS evolved to HATE.
HATE became ANGER.
ANGER transformed into OUTRAGE.
OUTRAGE birthed THIS ARTICLE.
My conclusion was clear. This movie was a COMPLETE DISGRACE to everything that I ever loved about Star Wars.
I have reasons for my discontent and hopefully even the Rian Johnson Groupies will give me a chance to explain.
Reason # 1: NOT My Luke Skywalker
For those of us who grew up watching the OT, Luke Skywalker was the point-of-view character whose journey we experienced. He started off as an idealistic farm boy on a desert planet but was convincingly transformed into the galaxy's savior and Jedi protector by the end of the trilogy. He was prone to mistakes but was able to rise above them with his unwavering optimism and committment to keeping his friends safe. In this movie, Luke is unrecognizable and his legacy is tainted forever by Jedi heretic Rian Johnson.
This is supposed to be the same Luke that saw good in Darth Vader (even after the latter blew up Alderaan) and for doing so, saved the galaxy by disproving Emperor Palpatine's toxic cynicism like a badass. Here, he is tempted to kill his idiot Millenial teenage nephew just because he MIGHT be corrupted by the dark side. This was supposed to be the traumatic moment that broke Luke but this explanation does not hold up since he was way out of character even before the trauma itself. Another defining moment from the OT was when Luke abandoned his Jedi training early on in Dagobah to save his friends in Cloud City. The entire basis for the current trilogy is Luke abandoning his friends when they were in FAR greater danger from Snoke than they ever were during tea time with Vader in the OT. The movie's defenders have said that Yoda and Obi Wan also hid after the rise of the Galactic Empire but that was much less about forsaking their duties as Jedis than taking a break to sort things out and watching over Luke as he grows up (He was rightfully the last hope, after all). Yet, Mr. Skywalker bizarrely lets a map to his location exist when he is trying to remain hidden. Yoda returning was a welcome sight but then the Jedi altar was hit with lightning.......just because. We also never got to see Luke deal physical damage to the First Order as a Jedi Master in his prime. The Force Hologram concept to fool Kylo was a surprising revelation and it would have remained cool had Luke NOT DIED IMMEDIATELY AFTERWARDS and now, at best, we can only have him return as a Force Ghost who gives pep talks to Rey. His death was the ultimate insult and the callback with him gazing at the two suns before fading away into nothingness was one of the worst attempts at appeasing fan service ever. Luke deserved a far better sendoff for being the main character of the OT, without which there would not be this lame excuse for a movie. Another overlooked misstep is that he totally ignores his old friend, Chewbacca when he comes to visit his New Age hippie sanctuary planet and leaves him to roast Porgs all by his lonesome self. What kind of ASSHOLE FRIEND does that?!!!!!!!!! It's bad enough that Chewie never got a medal for help destroying the Death Star and Leia did not even grant him a hug after witnessing the death of his best friend, Han. Luke could have at least shared some of the Jamba Juice that he aggressively milked from the mammaries of the alien that was just trying to enjoy the morning sea breeze before being violated.
Reason # 2: Kylo Ren.....WORST CHARACTER.....EVER
Kylo Ren is not just the worst villain ever. He is perhaps the WORST CHARACTER IN ALL OF FICTION. In a franchise that has always been about cool and charismatic antagonists, he exudes no menace or threat whatsover. He comes across as a whiny hipster who is cosplaying. His excuse for falling into the Dark Side is also utterly unconvincing and don't you dare bring up the movie's horrible justification of Uncle Luke drawing a lightsaber on him in his sleep since I have already covered how that singular moment destroyed the legacy of a beloved (and better) character. He was a spoiled teenager who had a good life handed to him after his parents'generation made many sacrifices to defeat a totalitarian empire. Aside from Uncle Luke's pitiful character moment, there is no convincing reason as to why he would even consider getting a creepy new uncle in the form of Snoke. In the OT, we knew how Darth Vader was feeling in key moments despite not being able to see his facial expressions underneath his imposing black helmet. Kylo has the luxury of using his inconsistently scarred face to emote and draw viewers in but he does nothing meaningful with it. He comes across as a smug and emo Hot Topic cardboard cutout who is very difficult to connect with.
He has been bested in combat twice by Rey and throws laughable temper tantrums. The sad part is that his miserable character would be tolerable if he remained a supporting villain but after killing off Snoke (another unwise decision), we are left with Supreme Leader Kylo in charge of the First Order. The OT had Palpatine and Vader as threats. Now, we are left with Kylo and Hux (a uniformed idiot who is unworthy of even spit shining Tarkin's boots with his diseased saliva!): AKA Dumb and Dumber!!!! This is the main reason why for the first time in my life, I have absolutely NO EXCITEMENT for the next Star Wars flick and I am surprised that it would ever be possible for me to feel this way.
Reason #3: Jedi Master Rey
I really liked Rey in The Force Awakens and was enthusiastic to learn her mysterious backstory that was teased. Many critics took issue with how she was able to skillfully fight a trained warrior like Kylo after picking up a lightsaber for the first time. I defended her at the time since I was sure that we would get a solid explanation. I will state upfront that I am also good with moving beyond the Skywalker lineage and letting other Force-sensitive individuals in the galaxy step up to the plate. In this movie, it is revealed that Rey's parents were nobodies. That would be acceptable going forward provided that she had some Jedi training to account for her lightsaber moves, mind tricks and flips. HOWEVER, SHE HAS NO GOD-DAMN TRAINING WHATSOEVER!!!!!!!!!! Anakin was the Chosen One and even he had to train. Luke was his son and had to do so as well. I'm ok with the franchise's next Jedi master being an Ewok (or even a Porg!) as long as he/she trains somewhat to earn that status. Focusing back on the movie, I am also disappointed that we did not get even a single lightsaber duel involving Rey or anyone else. To make matters worse, Anakin's iconic blue lightsaber was casually destroyed during the otherwise impressive fight with the Praetorian Guards (one more "Fuck You" moment from the enlightened Mr. Johnson to the loyal fans).
Reason #4: The New Republic is a JOKE
A huge price was paid by many characters in the OT to liberate the galaxy from the clutches of the Empire and establish the New Republic. This government is said to still be in control of the galaxy all throughout Episode 7 and the First Order was just a fringe militant group that was in control of the outer planets. Even when the Hosnian System was annhilated by Starkiller Base, the reaction from the protagonists indicated that the New Republic was still running. Yet, at the beginning of this shitty flick, we are quickly told that the First Order has taken over the galaxy and the Resistance is on the run with no mention of what exactly happened to the New Republic. Even more ridiculous is that the Resistance is down to just enough people to fill the Millenium Falcon. The worst part is that there is NO TIME SKIP between this and the previous movie to even explain the sudden change in power within the galaxy. This new trilogy could have differentiated itself from the OT by keeping the core conflict between a progressive intragalactic government and a fringe terrorist group with a rigidly hateful ideology. Instead we are getting an uninspired rehash of The Empire VS. Rebels with less compelling characters on both sides (again, the main flaw is that Kylo and Hux exhibit no menace at all). Everything that happened in the OT to make the galaxy a better place seems to have been in vain now (Yes, Porkins and Dak will never be forgotten)! For such a critically praised take on Star Wars by newly reknowned auteur thespian Rian Johnson, this is the opposite of running with fresh ideas.
Reason #5: Rose Tico and the futility of Canto Bight
First of all, I want to say that as someone proudly of South Asian descent, I am always happy to see more diversity. From the interviews that I watched, the enthusiasm of Kelly Marie Tran was infectious and I was looking forward to seeing her bring new character Rose Tico to life. She seemed like a genuine fangirl. Unfortunately, her character was very poorly written and ended up being used as the director's heavy-handed political mouthpiece to awkwardly raise points regarding class warfare and animal cruelty while visiting the glitzy casino planet known as Canto Bight (aka Space Vegas). All of a sudden, the movie started feeling less like Star Wars and more like a bad episode of Captain Planet. Her falling in love with Finn seemed forced as well. The latter had even reacted to her kiss as if it were from some random drunk girl in a bar during a Wednesday Happy Hour after work. Benecio Del Toro's DJ seemed a little promising at first but then he was just a traitor who proved that this entire subplot was just exhausting to watch. At least BB8 being mistaken for a slot machine was somewhat amusing. Even the revelation that war profiteers on Canto Bight were selling military assets to both the First Order and Resistance was a shoved in plot point that was never followed up on. As a character, Rose deserved a much better debut since Tran tries her best with what she is given.
Reason #6: Space Leia and Rocks are Heavy
Leia being Force-sensitive is a great thing that was set up well at the end of the OT and of course, she is Darth Vader's daughter. Yet, being able to survive and float in the vacuum of outer space is a feat that we have not seen any of the most powerful Jedis or Siths perform in the movies so far. This one stunt alone should automatically make her the MOST POWERFUL JEDI MASTER EVER as per the timeline of the movies. When she floats back into the ship, the other Resistance members casually react as if nothing happened. It boggles my mind as to how they were not the least bit shocked that a middle-aged lady survived an explosion and floated like Mary Poppins to the medical bay as if she were going for a routine check-up. In the OT when Yoda was able to raise the X-wing from the swamp in Dagobah, Luke was totally in awe along with the audience. Even if you ignore this idiocy, this MOST POWERFUL JEDI MASTER EVER should have been able to lift up some rocks on her own without having to rely on young Jedi Master Rey's help to escape the cave that the surviving members of the Resistance were trapped in.
Reason #7: Poe and Finn are Morons
When watching the Force Awakens, I definitely dug the instant friendship between these two dudes. Within minutes of being introduced to these guys, I felt a stronger connection with them than I possibly ever did with Anakin over the entirety of the Prequels. I was very curious to see their further adventures in the galaxy. Now I DON'T want to see these losers ever again after their sorry portrayals in the latest movie (Congrats, Rian Johnson!). Poe gets a large percentage of the X-Wing squadron decimated during the movie's opening sequence when he tries to attack a Dreadnought Star Destoyer. He proceeds to act cocky and secretly launches the Canto Bight mission behind Holdo's back. He then initiates a failed mutiny. His only job in the end is giving some cliche speech before having eye sex with Rey on the Millenium Falcon. I have a much softer spot for Finn but he serves no purpose here. In the Force Awakens, he was partly comic relief and a confidence-challenged hero that I wanted to root for. Here, he is just forgettable.
Reason #8: Space Warfare Revolutionized
A single X-Wing should NOT be able to take out the guns of a Dreadnought Star Destroyer PERIOD. That was easy. Let's move on.
Reason #9: In Remembrance of Admiral Ackbar
Admiral Ackbar might not have been one of the main characters in the OT but in this movie, his death is treated as an off-screen afterthought with no impact. His "It's a Trap" line is one of the most iconic moments before the OT's final space battle. Knowing that he is a fan-favorite character, Rian Johnson should have treated his departure with a bit more respect than the zero amount that was shown. Why should we be surprised though after how he mishandled Luke's absurd exit as well? The Infinity Curry will always remember and honor you, Admiral.
Reason #10: Fun with Porgs
Listen, I like Porgs very much. I'm an animal lover in general. I just have a random thought. If Porgs were brought in to be more kid-friendly and sell merchandise in the same way that Ewoks were in the OT, WHY IN THE HELL WOULD YOU SHOW A PORG IN COOKED FORM ABOUT TO BE EATEN? Don't get me wrong. As an adult, I chuckled at that scene. It seemed like a gag that would be more appropriate for Family Guy, South Park or Adult Swim. That being said, this is just the kind of scene that can give children nightmares when they see a cute and cuddly alien creature that they're supposed to adore transformed into an extra crispy snack.
Reason #11: SUBVERSION IS NOT ORIGINALITY
One of the main reasons as to why this movie is being praised is because it subverts expectations on multiple levels.
I have some news to share. Ready?
Subversion for the sake of subversion, being edgy for the sake of being edgy and being different for the sake of being different is the OPPOSITE OF BEING ORIGINAL. Any hack writer can do that. It's always easier to demolish than build on an existing foundation. There is nothing wrong with cleverly subverting tropes but when you're operating within an established franchise, you also should respect the past and the characters'core traits at the same time. Otherwise, it is just lazy storytelling.
Conclusion: The Galaxy's Future
Honestly, what is there to be excited for now? I'm all ears.
How doofuses Kylo and Hux are going to be brought down by what remains of the Resistance on the Millenium Falcon?
The rise of our one true savior, Broom Boy?
I am actually hoping that Wedge and Lando stay away from the sequel since I would like them to remain alive and happily retired in a pleasant corner of the galaxy that is untouched by this bullshit.
JJ Abrams has his work cut out for him but I'll give him a chance to win me over with Episode 9. Until then, I'll remain dead inside. Granted, he did put Rian Johnson in the awkward position of having to resolve the ambitious plot threads that he had introduced as part of his dubious Mystery Box approach. He has a bad habit of introducing questions that he has no answers for and now, for possibly the first time in his career, this habit is hitting him back hard in the face like karma. JJ has only himself to blame for not letting us see Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie all in the same room together. Another thing that bothers me is that he just recently submitted his pitch for Episode 9 to Disney, which is just hysterical in the worst way possible. They should have all of the story beats mapped out for the entire trilogy. Instead, we are getting a DISJOINTED mess with different directors' visions competing for control. As flawed as the Prequels were, they at least had a singular vision under dialogue-challenged George Lucas.
Now that the nerd rage is out of my system, I am going to start thinking happy thoughts
Step #1 of my Sunshine Therapy involves smiling at my long-time celebrity crush, Natalie Portman........
Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!