Let’s Talk About The Last Jedi

Unless you live under a rock, or plain just don’t like movies, chances are you’ve seen the newest entry of the Star Wars saga by now. It’s been quite the divisive piece of entertainment and whether it knocked your pants off or made you so angry that you were mean to Rian Johnson on Twitter, there’s no question that it made an impact on you. It sure as hell made a huge one on Kevin and I.

But here’s the thing. If we had all come away from The Last Jedi with warm feelings of nostalgia in our tummies and then immediately went home and stopped talking about the movie, because it was more of the same of what we come to expect from Star Wars, then you would know that Disney had just churned out a giant cash grab and wasn’t interested in trying anything new. And that would suck, because part of what made Star Wars great in the first place was that it tried things that were new.

Instead, Disney trusted Johnson to create something bold and original, and we are still having discussions about it over a month after its release. And that’s how you know this is much more than just another movie. Instead, it’s a piece of art that challenges us to rethink what we think we know about some of our favorite stories and characters, and that’s something that we desperately need in an age of cookie cutter sequels and tired remakes.

So Kevin and I are going to keep that discussion going. Feel free to chime in if you wish.

Jesse: So Kevin, I guess let’s just get right to it: what did you think of Star Wars: The Last Jedi?

Kevin: The Last Jedi eh? More like The Last Star Wars Movie I Will Ever Watch! No, no not because it was bad, because it was good! Like so good that I will be on my death bed, mask off, and my last words will be a requesting this movie to be turned on to guide me to the dark other side.

Okay that’s a bit hyperbolic. I’m still unsure whether it’s my favorite Star Wars film or my second favorite but it’s up there and I am eagerly anticipating my rewatch so I can catch all of the little moments of greatness.

Speaking of moments, besides shirtless Kylo Ren, what was your favorite moment of this blockbuster?

Jesse: I enjoyed this movie so much that it took me almost a week to consider all of my favorite moments so that I could narrow it down to one. And I’m still not there yet, so I’m going to give you two: Chewie almost eating a porg in front of other porgs and any time that Benicio Del Toro’s character stuttered!

Alright, time to be serious. I can’t really decide on the one that I liked the most, so I’m just going to go with the moment that Luke and Leia shared on screen. Yeah, there wasn’t anything blockbustery going on in that scene, so I may be cheating a bit, but that’s the one that hit me right in the feels. Maybe it’s because it was the first time that they’d been together since Return of the Jedi, or maybe it’s because we won’t see them together again. Maybe both. All I know is it very nearly got the man tears flowing, and also was just a wonderfully written and acted scene. That’s one I’ll always remember when I think of the Star Wars saga as a whole.

So what about you Kevin? Was your favorite moment an emotional one like mine, or as a vegetarian did Chewie’s reluctance to eat a porg wind up being the one that resonated with you the most?

Kevin: Poor Chewie, first he lost Han and now he’s lost his appetite. Without delving too far into the world of vegetarianism I will say that Chewbacca refusing to chew (sorry) the little porg in front of his buddy porg is basically how you feel as a vegetarian any time you are tempted to sneak a little meat into your diet. Those porgs will haunt you!

Anyway, this discussion of the funny little scenes in the movie was suppose to be a quick one but the more we dive into it the more I realize that this movie was full on nuts. We had the Kylo chest scene for all the thirsty Kylo/Rey shippers and the Chewie refusing to eat meat scene for all the thirsty Chewie/Porg shippers as well as Del Toro’s stutter, and we haven’t even brought up Luke’s penchant for green milk straight from the udder! Add that to the poor island dwellers who have to pick up after Rey and you have the makings of a truly wild and hilarious movie.

Point blank this movie was fun, weird, unique, and a breathe of fresh air. It’s like Rian Johnson and crew saw the Star Wars fanship evolution (that is, from everyone being a fan when the original trilogy came out to a period of time where it was considered immature and weird to be a fan of such nonsensical garbage to a time where we all wanted to be fans again but couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm for the prequels and back to Star Wars being the biggest thing on the planet when The Force Awakens came out) arrive to a place where Star Wars was cool again and instead of taking the easy route and embracing the newbies, they wanted to scare off those who can’t handle anything weird. And to an extent that has happened. I have plenty of family members who LOVED The Force Awakens but struggled to muster up enthusiasm for The Last Jedi. I believe they wanted to like it but they just couldn’t quite get there.

For you and I, as fans of Star Wars but mostly just love the cinematic experience in general, this direction only sucked us in more. Then again, I think you and I are pretty easy going. Give us something that you put your passion into and take a few well calculated risks and we will probably enjoy ourselves. But for the Star Wars “fanboys”, well, they seemingly aren’t enjoying this “new” direction.

Which means this new entry in the Star Wars franchise has turned off a lot of the casual fans and upset a good portion of the loyalists. Does that sound familiar? It should because that sentence could have been written about all three of the prequel films (and to an extent about Return of the Jedi, hell even The Empire Strikes Back).

My point is, while franchises like the MCU can churn out two-three movies a year and get mostly endless praise, the Star Wars franchise seems to struggle with universal acceptance. Except it still is somehow one of the biggest and most popular franchises of all time. What gives?

Well allow me to attempt to answer my own question with an observation. Star Wars seems to exist for the sole purpose of asking the question, “who owns a narrative experience, the creators or the audience?”. Think about the general takeaways from the movies as they came out. In A New Hope everyone walks away feeling good about a straightforward hero’s journey, except in space, as Luke takes down the Death Star. A good and fun time. In The Empire Strikes Back people leave wondering, “wait is Vader really Luke’s father? That was kind of weird.”. In Return of the Jedi the audience is left trying to figure out what makes them more uncomfortable, Luke and Leia being siblings or the existence of Ewoks.

Already the audience is wondering, “okay these movies are fun but I wish they hadn’t done this or that”. It works with the other movies too. The prequels as a whole seem to exist for the sole purpose of adding fuel to the “what the hell is George Lucas doing” fire. And even after Mickey Mouse wrestled control away from Lucas and hit back with, essentially, a modern day remake of Star Wars’ most straightforward film, The Force Awakens, the audience was still questioning their decision making.

But why? Why is this franchise so closely monitored by audiences? Is it because we have had a few generations of people who have literally grown up with the franchise and thus they feel some sort of ownership over it? Is it because filmmakers are out of touch with the demographic that puts butts in theater seats? No, I believe it’s because the Star Wars franchise isn’t afraid to take risks. Risks like sprawling exposition about the politics of the galaxy in the first five seconds of every movie. Risks like bars full of alien creatures with wacky music. Risks like an entire nine film universe about the wars of the galaxy that mostly only follow one small family. Risks like a tall apelike creature who can’t talk, and a walking toadlike creature that we all wish couldn’t talk. Risks like lightbeams that act as powerful weapons and racing junky hovering cars. Risks like killing off Liam Neeson after one movie. And finally, risks like green milk straight from the udder, weird stutters, porgs, shirtless bad guy, and an island full of miserable alien housekeepers.

It’s weird, wacky, off-putting, fun, risky, and all around nuts and people love to hate it and hate to love it and yet they still keep coming back to make it one of the most successful franchises of all time.

Alright enough about the weird stuff, do you think my tangent is completely off base? And should we get to discussing, you know, the actual movie?

Jesse: Taking risks and trying new things is kind of what Rian Johnson is all about. Whether it’s unique movies like Brick and Looper or the TV episode Ozymandias, which is quite possibly the most gutwrenching and destructive hour of Breaking Bad, Johnson is all about challenging the status quo and shaking up everything we think we know about our favorite characters, franchises and genres in a quest to create drama. Per his own words, he wasn’t trying to divide all the Star Wars loyalists so much as he wanted to help the saga grow by taking it away from what’s comfortable and familiar. And of course, some people are highly opposed to being taken out of their comfort zone, so that’s going to create division regardless of your intentions.

I think you were on to something in regards to fans having a sense of ownership over Star Wars, as many had a checklist prepared for what they wanted to see from The Last Jedi. When the film opted for a different direction than what they were anticipating, they likely felt betrayed that the filmmakers took something that is so near and dear to their hearts and deviated so sharply from the past. To eagerly await something for so long only to receive a story that, as you so astutely pointed out, is weird and wacky, that’s just not going to sit well with everyone. Especially when they feel that this is just as much theirs as it is Disney’s.

So, in short, no. You’re not completely off-base and are actually hitting the nail rather squarely on the head. But enough about the backlash. To me Last Jedi was refreshing, engaging and one of the best Star Wars films we’ve ever had. I would need to see it again to fully process where it ranks for me, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t near the top. What say you Kevin? Are you ready to assign Last Jedi with a specific spot in your hierarchy, or do you need to see Rey and Kylo throw down with Snoke’s red guards (always with the red guards) a couple more times before you know that for sure? And are you mad that Snoke isn’t going to be joining the party for a third time?

Kevin: Well I mentioned earlier that it was probably my second favorite in the series. I may need to reflect on that but I firmly believe it’ll be in my top three at the very least.

Then again it fills a different need for me than other Star Wars films. I love The Force Awakens because it fulfills a simple and mindless need for a straight forward and modern Star Wars film. It’s just a bunch of fun. Meanwhile The Last Jedi requires my full attention for me to fully enjoy it. Which is exactly why I love it.

Then again I haven’t rewatched the entire franchise in quite some time. I do know someone who binged the whole series (including the animated Clone Wars) prior to The Last Jedi though. Do you know who that is? That’s right, it’s you Jesse. So give me your definitive rankings and at least speculate where this film might fall.

As for Snoke, I’m not so much disappointed as much as I am confused. He premiered in The Force Awakens as this larger than life Tupac esque hologram and then he comes back in The Last Jedi as a guy sitting on a throne and ends up getting mauled (Darth Maul’ed that is). On the surface it seems pointless but I’m sure it was important for Kylo Ren’s development or something. I’m not sure because, well we aren’t suppose to be sure? He was just a distraction from some really great characters so I am okay with losing him.

Besides you giving your rankings I also wanted to ask you about something that has come up quite often in my life when discussing The Last Jedi. It seems that nearly everyone’s opinion of the movie has landed at, “it was good but very Disney“. I’m not sure I feel that way. I’m struggling to come up with the definitive Disney distinctions outside of it being a larger than life franchise. To me it actually felt like Disney let Rian Johnson run with creative control which is very un Disney like. What do you think? Was The Last Jedi one Mickey Mouse short of Disneyland?

Jesse: I’m probably going to piss off more than a few people with this, but if you insist…

  1. Empire Strikes Back
  2. A New Hope
  3. The Last Jedi
  4. The Force Awakens
  5. Revenge of the Sith
  6. Return of the Jedi
  7. Rogue One
  8. The Clone Wars (mini-series)
  9. The Phantom Menace
  10. Attack of the Clones

So I probably have some explaining to do. For me, the first two Star Wars movies are practically untouchable. I doubt I will ever like another film in the saga as much as those two, and that’s okay. But while there is a very large drop in terms of quality when you get to number nine on my list (yep, those two prequels are still trash), the middle of the list is full of good but not great installments. Yes I am a huge fan of Anakin’s fall to the dark side, his redemption three episodes later, how Rogue One cleverly validates a couple of plot holes in A New Hope and how a freaking series of animated shorts on Cartoon Network blew the two live-action films that came before it completely out of the water. I’m just not madly in love with any of those movies from start to finish.

But I love The Force Awakens for reminding me why Star Wars is so important to me to begin with. And I think I love The Last Jedi even more for proving that this franchise can be more than just a nostalgia trip. I’ll have to see it one or two or ten more times to be certain, but I’m pretty sure that’s where I’m at right now.

And no, we definitely aren’t supposed to know for sure. That’s why I don’t understand people who want all the answers to every question in the trilogy right freaking now. There’s still one more movie to go. That’s why it’s called a trilogy! And like you said, Kylo Ren is an infinitely more interesting villain than Snoke ever was. Good riddance I say, and now they can go so many different ways in part three. That’s exciting!

As for as the Disneyfication of Star Wars goes, if you hadn’t told me that Rian Johnson got all his funding from the house of the mouse, I would’ve never guessed that that’s where it was made. So we’re in agreement on that too. Sorry I’m not challenging your points more or playing the devil’s advocate like I usually do. You’re just making a ton of sense right now.

So take us home, Kevin. Got anything left to say about Last Jedi? Any last rises you want to try and get out of me before we wrap this up? Or do you feel content knowing that we both think that this was a damn good film?

Kevin: I wanted to quibble about your rankings just to get a rise out of you but overall it’s pretty solid. I might personally bump Rogue One above Return but that opinion might be wrapped by recency bias.

Overall I would like to say you are the only Star Wars fan I see eye to eye with about this film. Therefore you’re the only Star Wars fan I respect. Which is unfortunate because these posts are usually better when it ends with me yelling at you but I digress. I’m happy we agree and I can’t wait to rewatch The Last Jedi eight to nine times before the final chapter.

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