It is a magical moment at the movies. Sitting with my sister, my best friend, the Leia to my Luke, the person who I saw Star Wars for the first time with, seeing something we had waited our whole lives to see. The return of Luke Skywalker. The Jedi Master takes his sister’s hand and my sister takes mine. I am one with the movie and the movie is one with me. As a jaded “older” Star Wars fan in my thirties, it’s harder and harder for me to suspend my disbelief these days. And yet there I am, fully transported to a galaxy far far away. It’s not a perfect movie. With the exception of The Empire Strikes Back there is no such thing. And yet opening night of The Last Jedi is about as close to a perfect movie-going experience as I can imagine.
On the way home I check Twitter and am truly shocked. Some hard-core fans hated it. The Last Jedi has a lower audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes than The Phantom Menace. There’s a petition on Change.org to have it removed from Star Wars canon. Some douche on Instagram burnt his own Star Wars t-shirt and declared that Star Wars is dead. I don’t think these guys represent all fans or even a majority of them. They are simply the loudest voices, the “alt-fans” of geekdom, the “Make Star Wars Great Again” contingent of whiners. And it’s time to shut them the fuck up.
I’m sick of hearing about how Return of the Jedi “should have ended” or listening to some wannabe without a single IMDB credit “totally destroy” The Force Awakens. If I wanted to hear “everything wrong” with Rogue One I would have asked and the next time an “honest trailer” pops up in my feed promising an “epic takedown” of The Ewok Adventure I’m honestly going to lose my mind. There is a toxic obsession with trying to ruin other people’s enjoyment of popular films and with the intense “fan” backlash over Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I’ve finally had it.
The guys raging on Reddit and Rotten Tomatoes about The Last Jedi being worse than The Phantom Menace are not really fans of anything except their own sanctimonious opinions. I don’t think they’re even Star Wars fans. The overwhelming fan backlash over the prequels was understandable. There was some fairly thoughtful criticism of The Force Awakens, much of which I agreed with. But this snarling anger over The Last Jedi is nothing but a frothing frenzy of self-aggrandizing madness. This mean-spirited side of Star Wars fandom is not a sudden development and even the beloved original trilogy of films are starting to feel its rage.
It used to be the general consensus that the prequels were crap and the originals were unimpeachable. But then Return of the Jedi started getting hate among hard-core fans. The opening act is slow, Han Solo’s character is weak, the Ewoks are stupid and how is the Empire defeated by a bunch of teddy bears? Okay, valid points but I still love this movie. Then the original Star Wars started getting a brow-beating! The film slows down on Tatooine, there are pacing issues in act two, Mark Hamill is a bad actor, there are two climaxes, blah blah blah. Well, at least we have The Empire Strikes Back. Not only the best film in the series but one of the best movies period. Surely that classic is safe from the wrath of fandom, right? Well apparently there’s a huge “plot hole” regarding Luke being trained by Yoda in only a couple of days, the Millenium Falcon wouldn’t be able to get to Cloud City so quickly, and C3PO’s whining “ruins” the film. So when all is said and done, according to hard-core fans, there are really only about 47 minutes of Star Wars that’s actually any good. I honestly think that the average person likes Star Wars more than the average superfan. I don’t know what these guys want. They long for the old Star Wars yet hammer those films for their weaknesses. The Force Awakens was too much like the old movies but The Last Jedi is too different. Disney has been desperately trying to figure out how to please these idiots and I think it’s time to just ignore their bullshit. These fucks would probably complain about getting a backrub from Slave Leia while Yoda tickled their balls.
The Last Jedi is a bold attempt to move on from what we expect from a Star Wars movie. It’s weird, it’s different, and it’s occasionally jarring. But guess what? So was Star Wars. As conventional as the original trilogy seems, that’s because they established those conventions. In reality, the original Star Wars was an extremely bizarre, experimental and daring picture in its day. The best moment in the otherwise very safe The Force Awakens was the vision Rey had when she touched Luke’s lightsaber. The scene was unlike anything we had ever seen in a Star Wars film. The Last Jedi is a whole movie of that scene. It is the end of everything we thought Star Wars was and a promise of everything it can be. In that way it captures the revolutionary spirit of Star Wars by being unlike any Star Wars film in the past. Our villain Kylo Ren spells it out. “Let the past die,” he tells Rey and the audience, “kill it if you have to.” Our hero Luke Skywalker literally casts aside the past by tossing his own lightsaber away like Prospero’s staff.
The Last Jedi succeeds by challenging our assumptions about a universe we thought we knew so well. As the second entry in the new trilogy, we all assumed the film would contain a shocker as epic as “I am your Father” and Star Wars fans became obsessed with “calling” what the twist would be. Most of the theories revolved around our new protagonist Rey. We all assumed she had to be related to someone we already knew — a Skywalker, a Kenobi, a Palpatine, hell even a Binks! But the real “twist” of The Last Jedi is that we were all wrong. Rey isn’t a Skywalker, she’s nobody. The legendary Skywalker lightsaber is nothing. The Star Wars universe is much larger than we ever thought we knew. After decades of cloying “fan service” it was a huge “fan fuck you” and I loved it. Everyone obsessed with “calling it,” everyone who thought they were so smart that they figured it out was dead wrong. But, like, isn’t that what a twist is all about?
And what a twist indeed. It deserves a place in the pantheon of “Rosebud is a sled,” “it was Earth all along,” and “Tyler Durden is the narrator.” It is a colossal meta-mash to the balls of fandom like we’ve never seen and it had me laughing with glee as I clutched my own crotch. What a fucking ride. What a risk. What a moment in cinema history.
But that doesn’t seem to be the biggest cause of rage directed at The Last Jedi. The true coup de gras behind the hate was the portrayal of Luke Skywalker, whose appearance has been awaited since before I was born. Yes I was brought into a world desperate to see the return of the great Luke Skywalker. We got glimpses of it in comics, novels and video games. Luke Skywalker finally wearing the traditional robes of the Jedi of yore. Master Skywalker overseeing the glorious return of the Jedi Order. The mighty Luke toppling AT-AT walkers with the flick of his wrist. Luke Skywalker, savior of the Galaxy in his clean white robes, lightsaber at his side, standing toe-to-toe with entire armies, defending the New Republic. We sat on the floor of our bedrooms, carpet strewn with action figures playing it out again and again. We knew this was the destiny of Luke Skywalker.
We were wrong. He’s a sad old man living on milk and fish in a crumbling ruin with a bunch of frog babushkas, spacecows and fuzzy penguins. Everything we knew Skywalker would accomplish, he failed at. He failed to re-establish the Jedi Order, he failed to protect the New Republic, he failed his own family and the entire Galaxy. No! No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!!!! Nooooooo! Nooooooooooooooooo!
And then relief! Another twist! Luke has arrived! A glorious Deus Ex Machina for the history books. Clad in the Jedi Robes, beard and hair trimmed to perfection, lightsaber at the ready, defying the armies of evil! YES! SEE! We were right! This is what became of the great Luke Skywalker. He looked just as he did on the covers of all those books and comics. It was happening just like we played it out on that carpet with our toys. We were wrong about Rey but we were right about this!
And yet, the real twist was it wasn’t the return of Skywalker at all. It was what everyone thought his return would be — both in the audience and the Star Wars Universe itself. It was an illusion. He was a galaxy away, manipulating the minds of everyone. Moving himself across the battlefield like a kid playing with his action figure. And then he disappeared. After over 30 years of waiting to see the return of Luke Skywalker, we learned that he would never return at all. Eat your heart out Citizen Kane. This is a twist for the ages.
The fans took to Twitter. “This isn’t Star Wars! This isn’t Luke Skywalker! Star Wars belongs to us! You don’t understand Star Wars! We do!” But here’s the thing. No one owns Star Wars. Not us, not George Lucas, not even Disney. No one truly understands it either. The lasting appeal of Star Wars is as mysterious as the Force itself. Luke spells it out for us. The Jedi were hubristic. They thought the Force belonged to them. They thought only they understood it. As the old Star Wars fans we were the Jedi. We thought it belonged to us. We thought we understood it. We were wrong. If anything, it belongs to the children now. The young padawans in the audience. It’s hard for us old fans to pass on the series to the younglings like a treasured heirloom and in some ways The Last Jedi is a beautiful pang of that heartache. The ghost of Yoda tells Luke that the hardest part of having students is that “we are what they leave behind.” I think that a lot of the rage against The Last Jedi is from those who feel as though they are being left behind by their favorite franchise. In the end of The Last Jedi we see a young boy playing Star Wars on the floor with his friends, telling the story we just saw with a crudely-made Luke Skywalker “action figure.” It’s a bit on the nose but it’s a genius moment. He is both the old and the new generation of fans. He knows what happened to Luke Skywalker and so do we. Now it’s time to find out what happens to him. The biggest Galaxy in the Universe just got a little bigger and I’m excited to explore it with the old generation of fans, my own generation and the next. Luke Skywalker is dead. Long live Luke Skywalker.