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.
John Chandler says
I really enjoyed it, but then I was happy with The Force Awakens too. I’ve yet to meet anyone that has seen the film who doesn’t like it, yet all I mostly see is negativity online (what are the odds?). The most hardcore Star Wars fan I know saw it three times on the first day, and plans to see it again.
Disney had no way to win with TFA: if they deviated from the original film, they would’ve been roasted alive by everyone for copying the prequels in wrecking the established backstory. Instead, they got panned for keeping things the same as the originals.
With TLJ, they had a bit more freedom and took a Rogue One-like (I loved that film) approach, smashing up the world at the same time as keeping well within the spirit of the originals. I thought it was great, and agree about Yoda – his return was spot on.
Nick, seldom have you been more wrong about anything than this. I wish we had been able to discuss it in the pub before you sat down to put this line of thinking on the record. You are, quite simply, wrong. Very wrong.
So, I am a Star Wars fanboy. No arguing with that. I saw Star Wars in 1979 aged four and was hooked. I grew up with the characters in the films and the figures on my bedroom floor. The first trilogy taught me a lot. But, the issues start with the obvious statement that the films have always been aged at ten to twelve year-olds and I, like all those who started the journey at the same time as me, are no longer that age.
Most of the films have been good, but on their own terms, not least their intended audience. TLJ is no different. It romps along, has a lot of explosions, but it is not a strong film. And here is where you needed the help… it has nothing to do with the women being strong leads (thank goodness someone is strong) or the multiculturalism (how has that changed – from the beginning one of the lead heroes was a Wookie?!).
TLJ is fun but it is not the best of the movies and deserves to be criticised for good film reasons. I may not be the target age group any more, but the character development is poor, the script and dialogue is lousy in places (Luke: “Everything you just said is wrong”… used twice as a hook, FGS!) and every act is a pick-up-and-drop from a previous film, including the Hoth-like finale, which comes after the rerun of the Death-star scene already used twice in the original trilogy, and before that the repeated Jedi-training-in-a-tree… Was there an original scene in there? The whole thing skips along and is certainly not dull, but do we grow with the characters? Not really. We just expect to see them in the game on the PS4 that will no doubt take us through the same scenes-as-levels that we have just watched.
It’s fine, it’s fun, it’s enjoyable. But it is in the bottom half of films in the franchise.
And I liked Yoda with a lightsaber.
Dear God you are an awful bugman.