This article contains spoilers. Only two main pieces of plot information are given over below, but if you really don’t want to know anything at all about the film, turn away now.
“The Last Jedi” has received a mixed reaction so far. Critics, by and large, love it; hardcore Star Wars fanboys, for the most part, seem to deeply loathe it. Having seen it last night, I think there are two main reasons that the Star Wars obsessives dislike the film so strongly. One, it kills off Luke Skywalker. It doesn’t even do it with him getting run through with a laser sword by a guy in a mask; Luke just merges with the force while meditating. Having killed off Han in the last one, the Star Wars fanatics are getting annoyed with all this liquidation of the last generation stuff.
The other reason I think they dislike the film is rather less pleasant. The hardcore Star Wars fan base in America is, for the most part, very right-wing. Like, Tea Party right-wing. I found this out years ago while doing some research for the large media company I worked for at the time. The backlash from this contingent around the new Star Wars movie thus makes perfect sense: it’s a film in which the women are in charge and make both valiant and informed decisions, while the men are either well-meaning but hot-headed and unintentionally destructive or outright evil bastards. The bad guys are uniformly white while the good guys are multiracial. There is a scene in which those selling arms to the First Order are seen in their natural element – and its clear we’re supposed to think they are amoral pricks. I suppose if I was a Trump supporting guy who thought feminists and black people were ruining my life, I’d have found “The Last Jedi” a lot less enjoyable than I did.
The irony is that what I really loved about the movie is something the fanboys should be completely down with. Because what has stuck with me about “The Last Jedi” was how it has saved Yoda.
Many Star Wars fans complain about things the prequels supposedly ruined: their childhoods mostly, but also Darth Vader. I’ve never bought into either of those ideas, but one thing the prequels really did properly ruin was Yoda. I’ll try and avoid regurgitating arguments made a million times already, like why Yoda fighting with a lightsaber was a bad idea. Except to say that the most George Lucas-esque thing the man himself ever did was respond to complaints about how the Yoda puppet looked in “The Phantom Menace” by CGIing in a Yoda that looked almost identical to the stupid puppet.
No, what Lucas really screwed up about Yoda was everything else. For a start, the way Yoda talks. In “Empire”, Yoda came across as a very thought out character, and the way he spoke was highly idiosyncratic. I always figured Kasdan must have based Yoda’s speech patterns on a European relative, or someone he knew well otherwise, as it seems very much a riff on a real person. In the prequels, Lucas has Yoda speak in a horrible parody of this, akin to someone taking the speech patterns of a foreign artist who speaks English as a second language and reducing it to a crude stereotype. Worse, everything Yoda says in the prequels is absolutely appalling. It’s either idiotic, cod philosophy (“Hate leads to suffering”) or Lucas just uses him as a sort of Basil Exposition (“Good rapport with the Wookiees have I”). Even worse, Yoda in the prequels is a moron, constantly getting out thought by his foes.
This has led to the awful prequels version of Yoda becoming the archetype. It is used in adverts and various Star Wars spinoffs, and the image of what Yoda actually is has become so debased as a result, one can say that the prequels might just have ruined the poor little guy. Despite Hayden Christensen, everyone still has an image of Darth Vader that is straight from the original trilogy; meanwhile, Yoda has been reduced to a funny green foreign man who is very easily confused.
Although it is limited to one scene, “The Last Jedi” actually manages to save Yoda. Once again, Yoda looks like Yoda – a big help. His speech patterns are back to what they were in “Empire”, as in the character speaks how he was originally conceived to speak once again. And even better, Yoda is the smartest guy in the room, showing Luke Skywalker what’s what. Yoda has been given his genius back.
The result of all of this is that I find myself not being enough of a Star Wars fanboy to be able to empathise with all those out there who hate the new movie because it lets Luke Skywalker die in his sleep, yet I’m enough of one to find the first decent portrayal of Yoda in over three decades brings me almost to tears. It’s complicated, this Star Wars thing.