Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a great film, but it still ended up ruining the franchise's fandom. As difficult as this may be to believe, a year has now passed since Rian Johnson's installment in the Skywalker saga opened in theaters. Continuing the story established in the record-breaking The Force Awakens, many viewers were excited to see how the narrative would continue, spending two years formulating their own theories about what the future held for Rey, Kylo Ren, Luke Skywalker, and others. Few would have predicted what Johnson had in store - for better or worse.

Debates about the director's bold and ambitious creative choices rage on to this day, with many feeling they either necessarily moved the series forward in exciting ways or killed the movies by blatantly disregarding what came before. Based on The Last Jedi's critical reception, $1.3 billion box office gross, and Kathleen Kennedy green lighting a new Star Wars trilogy from Johnson, it's safe to say Lucasfilm like how things turned out with what ended up being a polarizing film. But for all its merits, Episode VIII still broke the fandom (though that isn't entirely the film's fault).

The Last Jedi Is A Great Star Wars Film

One of the most common criticisms about The Force Awakens was that it felt very safe in some respects. Yes, there were some risky decisions (hinging the entire first act on the new cast of characters, limiting Luke's return to a single scene at the end), but it was quite intentionally a soft reboot of A New Hope, designed to remind audiences why they fell in love with Star Wars in the first place. The results proved that approach worked, but even those who loved The Force Awakens knew the next episode couldn't simply be an Empire Strikes Back redux. People wanted to see something new that pushed boundaries and broke new ground.

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The Last Jedi was certainly that. While there were some noticeable parallels to the previous movies in the saga, Johnson looked to help the franchise evolve with a story that both honored the past and subverted many expectations viewers had going in. In many ways, Episode VIII was a challenging film that strayed far from the confines of the typical blockbuster. It was a movie about our protagonists dealing with the consequences of failure and the difficult choices they have to make in trying times. It was a movie that returned Star Wars to its roots by shedding the franchise's over-reliance on all-important bloodlines and told the audience a hero could come from anywhere - even if they were born to two junk traders who sold their child off for drinking money. The Last Jedi also - smartly - subverted expectations with some ingenious twists (like the Snoke death) that pushed the narrative forward in a way where anything can happen in Episode IX. Johnson didn't entirely wipe the slate clean, but J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio have numerous possibilities at their fingertips.

It should be noted that The Last Jedi isn't a great film for the simple reason that it was different. That's part of it, but The Last Jedi was also an incredible sequel to The Force Awakens. Johnson took his responsibility seriously and built off what was introduced in Abrams' film. Every character arc in The Last Jedi can be traced back to its predecessor. Poe Dameron is the hotshot pilot in need of a lesson in leadership. Finn selfishly wants to fly off with Rey instead of aiding the Resistance's cause. Rey and Kylo Ren are still trying to figure out their respective places in the universe and how that connects to their past. And, of course, the controversial Luke storyline is rooted deeply in Force Awakens concepts. Skywalker intentionally removed himself from the fight during his friends' time of need. The only good explanation for that would be if he endured something horrifying and traumatic - like his absolute failure of Ben Solo. If Luke gallantly picked up the sword as soon as Rey arrived, then his exile would have been exceptionally contrived and meaningless. Viewers needed to meet him at his lowest point in order for the payoff of his sacrifice on Crait to connect.

In the aftermath of The Last Jedi, many accused Johnson of retconning numerous elements Abrams set up, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Besides Luke, Johnson also stayed true to The Force Awakens' dialogue about Rey's parentage. Remember, it's Maz Kanata who tells Rey that her family is never coming back and she needs to look ahead for the belonging she so desperately desires. Even the disappointment surrounding Snoke's murder stemmed more from the plethora of fan theories about the Supreme Leader's backstory than anything that was concretely presented in The Force Awakens. Snoke was positioned as some sort of Emperor surrogate, but there was nothing that said he had to be the sequel trilogy's big bad. Killing him allowed Snoke to fulfill his true purpose (to this story, anyway) of being a red herring and a stepping stone for Kylo Ren's journey. If Snoke were still in the picture, Episode IX would almost have to be Return of the Jedi redux where the all-powerful dark side user is thwarted. But now, Kylo Ren (the most interesting character in the modern films) can have even more of the spotlight in an enhanced role.

Page 2: How The Last Jedi Broke Star Wars Fandom

The Last Jedi Broke Star Wars Fandom

Johnson knew he didn't want to make a "conventional" Star Wars movie when he got the Episode VIII job. He wanted to craft something that he would like to see as a fan - something that would thrill, entertain, and even surprise viewers. In a way, that's what The Empire Strikes Back did in 1980, receiving polarizing reviews as viewers left the theater seeing their favorite heroes fail (sound familiar?), trying to make sense of the open-ended finale, and reeling from the Darth Vader twist. Today, decades after its release where fans have had plenty of time to marinate on Empire, it's hailed as the best entry in the entire franchise. But at the time of its release, it was divisive like The Last Jedi is right now.

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And it's one thing for a movie to be divisive. Especially when something as massive as Star Wars is involved, it's impossible to please everyone. Individual tastes are subjective, and the millions of Star Wars fans around the globe had their own ideas for what they wanted to see in The Last Jedi. Conversations and debates about a film's happenings are commonplace and quite typical. However, a case can be made things went a bit too far in the case of The Last Jedi. The discourse was particularly toxic, going well beyond intentionally sabotaging the film's audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Extreme instances of distaste for the movie boiling over included constant harassment of Johnson and star Kelly Marie Tran (who ended up deleting her Instagram after numerous attacks), the call for Kathleen Kennedy to be fired from her position as Lucasfilm president, and even a petition demanding The Last Jedi be removed from Star Wars canon. There's also a case to be made the Last Jedi discussion had (some) negative impact on Solo, as evidenced by Ron Howard retweeting praise for the spinoff that simultaneously bashed The Last Jedi. Overall, it was a nasty few months that highlighted the worst the fandom had to offer. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of the film, obviously, but there was no need for things to reach this point.

In many ways, it bore resemblance to the reaction to the prequels - only amplified due to the presence of social media. Instead of George Lucas ruining childhoods, it was Johnson ruining all of Star Wars. It speaks to a larger fundamental issue with the fandom; everyone has their own ideas of what Star Wars "is" and what they want to see happen. There's a strong sense of ownership over the property Star Wars fans feel, virtually unlike anything else in the film industry. Yes, all major franchises have passionate fandoms, but Star Wars arguably leads the pack in that department - and it affects conversation about the movies. Rather than talking about the actual content of the film, it becomes more about how it lined up (or didn't) with expectations. Some people became so possessive of Rey and Snoke theories that they found it difficult to accept anything that diverged from that path. When The Last Jedi deviated from their idea of Star Wars, things boiled over. It didn't matter how compelling or fascinating Johnson's ideas were. They angered certain circles of the fan base because viewers couldn't compartmentalize and accept there was more than one way the story could go.

And, honestly, The Last Jedi was doomed to this fate from the very beginning. As stated earlier, fans had two years to ruminate on The Force Awakens and develop hypotheses (however farfetched) for what would happen next. Last Jedi would have been just as divisive if Rey turned out to be Luke's estranged daughter from a broken marriage or Obi-Wan Kenobi's granddaughter (which would have required retcon acrobatics to explain in convincing manner). In that case, the people who loved Johnson for breaking from tradition and freeing Star Wars would have blasted him for rehashing tired tropes. If Supreme Leader Snoke was really Darth Plagueis, it would have appeased corners of the fan base who yearn for everything to be connected, but wouldn't have sit well with others. All Johnson could do was put his head down, cancel out all the noise, and make the best film he felt was possible. He was never attempting to insult anyone or deliberately prove popular fan theories wrong (he was writing the script well before The Force Awakens opened in theaters). Like any director on any film, he was just trying to do a job.


It's also worth pointing out that the worst of the Last Jedi dissenters are not wholly indicative of the Star Wars fan base at large. In a recent social media post, Johnson thanked viewers for the past year and has repeatedly said many of his interactions with viewers have been positive. That said, there's no denying the fan community is in a less harmonious place now than it was a couple years ago, riding off the highs of the nostalgia-driven Force Awakens and Rogue One. Hopefully, Episode IX will be able to soothe things over next December and end the saga on a high note. After all, part of the reason why Empire was so divisive initially is because audiences didn't know how the story ended. The same can be said about The Last Jedi, and its final reputation has yet to be decided.

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