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I was 5-years-old when The Phantom Menace came out so I am used to enjoying Star Wars films that others have been critical of. That being said, I suspect nostalgia might play a role in my countless rewatching of the Star Wars prequels. Years later I am an “adult” who cannot attribute the fondness I have for The Last Jedi to youthful ignorance. So I am using this article as an opportunity to contextualize why I like Episode 8 and address many criticisms against it.
I like to think a lot of the choices made in Episode 8 are a response to common criticisms of Episode 7. However, The Force Awakens seems largely responsive to the hard feelings toward the prequels creating a multi movie ripple effect. Without getting into specifics, a lot of fans of 4, 5 and 6 were disappointed by the prequels. This led to Episode 7 attempting to return to form by being very similar to the original trilogy. For some fans, it was the sequel they were desperate for. Others claimed it did nothing new and covered old territory. This set the precedent for Episode 8 to take more risks and Rian Johnson took many risks that some fans were not ready for.
The portrayal of Luke Skywalker might be the largest point of contention for Episode 8, especially considering how his return was teased in Episode 7. The safe direction would have been to make Luke wise, powerful, and waiting to assist Rey in the fight against The First Order. Instead we have a Luke that is bitter, ashamed, and unwilling to help. This would have been difficult for me to get past if it wasn’t so well-justified. Luke’s moment of weakness that made Kylo Ren feel betrayed enough to switch to the Dark Side felt right to me. This twist was surprising, compelling, and made this take on Luke believable. It also made Luke’s final sacrifice a strong moment of redemption, even if it stung to say goodbye to another beloved character. Portraying Luke in this way might seem like a risk but characters failing and redeeming themselves is not unheard of for the series. Luke fails to defeat Vader in 5 and Han refuses to help the rebellion in 4 but both characters redeem themselves later. Similarly, Anakin’s character arc is largely him failing to be a proper Jedi until he finally kills Darth Sidious at the end of Episode 6. With this in mind, Johnson’s choices with Luke were surprising but not a negative aspect of the film in my eyes.
Of all the criticism The Last Jedi receives, I think the negativity towards the Rose and Fin scenes are the most justified. Aside from giving Fin another opportunity to square off with Phasma, I did not find that storyline very enjoyable. As for Canto Bight itself, I thought it was a clever piece of social commentary. This locale traded Episode 4’s “scum and villainy” for “lousy beautiful.” I appreciate the depiction of an immoral upper class similar to one that exists in the real word. However, I wish the events that took place there were more interesting. To an extent, I agree with the criticism of this storyline but not enough to undermine the film as a whole. On that note, no amount of fan disappointment can justify the disgusting hatred and racism towards Rose actress Kelly Marie Tran.
Snoke and Kylo
Another controversial aspect of Episode 8 is Kylo killing Snoke. While this makes me nervous we will not be able to find out where Snoke came from within the films, it sets up an interesting dynamic. As mentioned earlier, Johnson seems determined to break the series away from convention. This choice stops Kylo and Snoke carrying a Vader and Sidious like relationship into Episode 9. If Kylo really is the new Vader, it will be interesting how his leadership plays out without an overbearing master.
With all this considered, I feel that The Last Jedi is certainly not perfect but still a great film. However, I would love for Episode 9 to be something all Star Wars fans will be satisfied with.