A Theory: Why People Are So Freaked Out By “The Last Jedi”

30Dec17

“The Last Jedi” is out. It has been largely considered a critical success, and many of the fans I’ve spoken to tend to agree. However there is a very vocal collection— and it doesn’t seem to be a majority share — of people complaining about “The Last Jedi.” Some are calling it the worst “Star Wars” movie to date, which may represent the truest form of pop culture amnesia we’ve ever seen. The main complaints have to do with the characterization of Luke Skywalker, the odd pacing, unsatisfactory resolutions to teases from the prior movie, and one of the sub-plots seemingly going nowhere. While I cannot argue against someone’s opinion, I have a theory as to why these angry feelings are being expressed so strongly by fans (and it’s not just because it’s Star Wars; these seem to be especially strong even for that franchise). The theory is: “The Last Jedi” is not like any other Star Wars movie, and that freaks some people out.

I believe most of these upset fans are, like me, fans of the original trilogy. And like me, they may have watched those movies one hundred times each. They have thought about them, digested them and made them part of their lives. They have also allowed the original trilogy of movies to inform the way they believe stories should work. As a writer, I have recognized this in myself, and it’s been difficult to fight off its influence. “Star Wars” is so universally popular, that you can explain most things by using its general story structure. In that popularity, the story structure has now become The Story Structure. This is partly by design, with Lucas pulling many important elements of popular myth and Joseph Campbell and all else to create something foreign yet familiar. And while adults who watched the original movies may have seen the references to Westerns and Samurai movies, we younger fans saw only “Star Wars.” It was central and Starting Point A, as far as we were concerned.

Young minds absorb things and often commit them to a simple “That’s It” kind of finality. So for super fans of this series, their brains (our brains, I’m not off the hook) may have taken these story beats and techniques and said “That’s it.” We compare all other stories, movies and everything to these things.

This is where “The Last Jedi” makes a bold choice to NOT follow that mold, and therefore makes itself a target. People use “break the mold” a lot, but with “The Last Jedi” we can all clearly explain what the mold to break was, and how it was broken. The previous seven “Star Wars” movies have years between their in-movie events. They contain twists and turns based on established characters and their families. They do not contain flashbacks. And when you get down to it, we’re really talking about the way the original trilogy unfolds: introduce characters with a series of adventures, have a meditative and moody middle chapter in which there is a major twist, followed by a tidy resolution. “The Last Jedi” teases itself as if it will fit into this established mold, then loudly rejects it. And it teases so much (with trailers and expectations and the enjoyment had by “The Force Awakens”), that the fanboys went in expecting to see “Empire.” They may have gone in looking for something that contains not only the twists involving family revelations, but also the same film structure.

That’s my theory anyway. One crew of viewers (“Star Wars” fans) who come to expect certain techniques and elements in what they see in a “true story,” and another crew of viewers (the rest, including critics) who might be more willing to accept something different.

Or maybe they just hate it. Either way, it’s kind of fascinating to see this play out. Everyone is trying to convince their opponents that they’re right, which always works great and everyone changes their minds.

For a video version of how I see things, I defer to this guy:

THE LAST JEDI: Backlash is Missing the Point

 

 

 

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