So it’s finally out…Episode 8. “The Last Jedi”. And fan reaction to it has been…well…all across the board.
There’s no denying that the movie is different. It does not progress in the way you would expect a traditional Star Wars film to progress. It does not do the things you would expect a normal Star Wars movie to do. And some people loved it. Other people hated it. I found myself in the former category. I liked it because it was different. But some people didn’t, and that’s perfectly okay.
However, I do think it highlights the importance of taking creative risks every once in a while.
In North America, “The Last Jedi” opened with a box office of roughly 220 million dollars. By contrast, “The Force Awakens” opened with 248 million. I bring this up because I know some people are going to point to it and use it as proof that “The Last Jedi” is a weaker movie than “The Force Awakens”. But that’s not really accurate. The amount of hype surrounding this movie was unreal. People were going to see it regardless. It’s highly doubtful that the film’s quality or perceived lack thereof would have much of an impact. They could have made a movie that mirrored “Empire Strikes Back” in the same way that “The Force Awakens” mirrored “A New Hope”, and it probably would have had a similar box office result.
On the contrary, I think that “The Last Jedi” being different is what will make it stand the test of time better than “The Force Awakens”. That’s not to say the movie is perfect by any means. “Last Jedi” certainly has its flaws. But when compared to “Force Awakens”, “Last Jedi” feels like an actual progression of Star Wars rather than a nostalgic rehashing.
First off, the obvious: “Force Awakens” cribs from “A New Hope”…and it shows. Many of the story beats are nearly identical, down to the “orphan on a desert planet” routine and the massive planet-destroying battle station. I mean they even have a character call it the “Death Star 3”, to which another character essentially says “but this time it’s different because it’s a planet…see?” There’s nothing like fake self-awareness as an attempt to cover up lazy writing. And that’s to say nothing about Rey being almost impossibly good at everything, almost to the point of being a Mary Sue (an idealized or perfect fictional character that is often seen as a form of wish fulfillment).
In that sense, “Last Jedi” feels like the stronger movie because it isn’t bound by the relics of the past, but instead informed by them. In some ways, it takes the tropes of Star Wars and turns them on their heads. I hesitate to say any more for fear of spoilers, but it definitely does not follow the standard Star Wars format. I don’t think “Force Awakens” is a bad movie, and I see why they had to make it the way they did, what with “A New Hope” being nearly forty years old. But there’s a difference between using nostalgia to bolster a film and using it as a crutch. “Force Awakens” tended toward the latter in my book.
If “Last Jedi” does end up performing better than “Force Awakens” (which it very well could), then it’ll stand as a testament to the value of taking risks, especially within an already established franchise. Think of it this way: if Marvel had never taken the risk to try creating a massively interconnected cinematic universe, the way we see storytelling in movies wouldn’t have evolved the way it had. Sure, nowadays Marvel movies often feel like factory regurgitations of the same old tropes, but at the time creating such an interconnected series of stories was unheard of. And if anything, the stylized “Thor: Ragnarok” proved that taking risks can pay off, as the movie was one of the most well-liked comic book movies of this year.
Let me put it another way: remember the craze with alien invasion movies back in the early 2000’s? Why do you think they eventually died out? Because people got sick of seeing the same old characters, the same old stories. It got too predictable and mundane. We can only see so many movies about the undaunted human spirit triumphing in the face of superior alien technology before it becomes rote and dull. In that sense, the main Star Wars series was due for something different.
Whether it pays off in the long run remains to be seen…
Thanks for reading. Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.