Critics vs Fans: The Last Jedi Backlash

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The Last Jedi has proven to be divisive among Star Wars fans despite getting rave reviews from critics. Many fans seem to have taken umbrage at the direction Rian Johnson took certain characters and storylines. Johnson’s vision was different from that of many fans and the film is being unfairly criticised for this. I’m not saying that The Last Jedi is perfect. It isn’t. There are a number of issues with the narrative, the pacing, and some of the humour is ill-judged. But it’s bold and surprising and compelling. Check out my full review here.
In this article I’m going to take a look at some of the divisive moments in The Last Jedi (consider this your spoiler warning) and take a look at why some fans might not have liked Rian Johnson’s vision.

Standards

The fan outcry has been bizarre and at times, obnoxious. The very worst people seem to be the ones getting their opinions heard and it’s lead to this horrible mob mentality. Twitter users have let Rian Johnson know exactly how they felt by posting pictures of burning Star Wars T-shirts or letting him know that he’s destroyed their childhoods. I’d argue that if you feel the need to express your opinions in such a way, your childhood is still well and truly intact. 
There’s even now a petition asking Disney to wipe The Last Jedi from Star Wars canon.
This outcry has raised some interesting questions about fandoms and the standards they expect.
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The awfully bland Justice League was defended to the death by DC fans. It was not given good reviews because, objectively speaking, it is not a good film. Being a fan of DC made me like that film less if anything. I’m a DC reader and I felt those characters deserved better. Why didn’t other DC fans? I’m still perplexed as to why DC fans defend it. They have Nolan’s masterpiece, The Dark Knight, as a benchmark, to which none of these films even come close to. 
Despite my disappointment, I wasn’t burning my Batman T-shirts and posting images of it on social media. I didn’t tweet Zack Snyder or Joss Whedon for ruining my childhood (they didn’t, by the way). Sure, you can dislike a thing but I think most people reading this will agree that it’d be nice if we could drop the vitriol.
Perhaps there is a lack of nostalgia for DC characters and therefore a lesser sense of ownership. Everyone has a different Batman. Keaton. Bale. Affleck. There are different versions of these characters in the comics so perhaps we don’t mind differentiations from our own ideas of who thy are. I’d argue that Justice League wasn’t ambitious enough to give us any interesting character arcs but maybe that’s why fans were happy with it. It conformed to what they expected. 
Having said that, The Last Jedi is a better film than Justice League.
There is a disparity between Star Wars fans and DC fans. There is a backlash to the critical response but in opposite directions. Perhaps Star Wars fans have a greater sense of ownership of the characters or perhaps Star Wars fans have certain expectations based on childhood memories.
However, I’d suggest that most of us Star Wars fans look at those original films with rose tinted glasses. 
The original trilogy is part of Hollywood legend and for good reason but they’re not perfect films. Just ask Harrison Ford about some of George Lucas’ dialogue. It’s bad and it’s cheesy. C3PO is supposed to be comic relief but is often just annoying; much of the plot didn’t exist until after A New Hope so some of it doesn’t quite add up; Yoda was silly and childish and Return of the Jedi is structurally a bit all over the place. But it works because Lucas’ original films are more than the sum of their parts. The journey the characters went on was far more important that delivering a water-tight plot or Oscar worthy dialogue. The Last Jedi is in the same mould.

The Same but Different?

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Rogue One got away scot-free for being one-dimensional, bland and generally uninteresting. It didn’t strive to do anything different. It didn’t mess with the lore or advance the universe in any way. It was fan-pandering at its worst. Turns out though, that’s what some fans want. The Vader scene at the end was a prime example of this. It was ‘cool’ and therefore enough to please fans despite the film failing to explore any interesting themes or do anything interesting or unexpected with its characters. Perhaps then, fans would rather be subjected to drab additions to the universe as long as there’s cool space fights and some pretty visuals that remind them of the 1980’s. As long as nothing changes, we’re fine. 
But didn’t fans hate that The Force Awakens was too similar to A New Hope? They sure did, reader. I’m not going into that hypocrisy here because it’s so obvious and I don’t want to waste words trying to explain idiocy. 
Perhaps in Rogue One it didn’t matter what happened to the characters because they were entirely new. Also, they were so bland that it was impossible to be offended by any of them but for argument’s sake let us say they were interesting characters. There’s no canon for these characters so in a way, there was nothing to mess up. No characters to take in unexpected directions. Nobody’s childhood heroes to ruin. No expectations. 

Expectations and Fan Theories

While The Last Jedi is flawed, the overwhelming majority of complaints that have led fans into an Anakin Skywalker, sand-in-pants-esque angst is the direction that Johnson took many of their beloved characters.
Based on anecdotal evidence from social media the backlash is based on these character choices rather than a critical analysis of the filmmaking. Because these characters are so deeply imbedded in some peoples’ childhoods, seeing their heroes being depicted differently has left some up in arms.

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We’ve had two years since The Force Awakens and hence, two years of fan theories. What has Luke been up to? Who is Rey? Who is Snoke? Some questions undoubtably were set up by the filmmakers but surely they can’t be faulted for the extent at which fans speculated. 
Fans had expectations for Luke, having only seen him for thirty-seconds in The Force Awakens after a thirty-year wait. People weren’t keen on his depiction as a flawed character, mistaking this for poor story-telling. It was important for this film and for its characters that Luke had these flaws. 
Rey’s parentage was the main issue that left fans scrambling for an answer. Is she a Skywalker? A solo? A Kenobi? The reality is much more satisfying. The Last Jedi is about moving forward. It doesn’t matter what your past is. Rey is not more or less important if she’s a Skywalker or a nobody. It’s her choices that define her, not her parentage. 

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Fans feel like their theory needs to be the one out of thousands that has to be the correct one. Again, it’s this weird sense of ownership. Ownership of the character and ownership of their own theories. In some ways it’s nice that characters mean so much to people but when it turns to vitriol it’s just a bit sad. Perhaps it is the feeling of being lied to or duped in some way that’s rubbing fans up the wrong way. 
Snoke was another example of a character fans had built up in the two year wait. Despite neither The Force Awakens nor anyone making the film teasing Snoke to be in anyway linked to Star Wars cannon, fans took it upon themselves to assume as much. So when we was despatched rather unceremoniously by Kylo Ren, fans were left expecting more. But why? It’s not his story. It’s far more important that Kylo Ren killed him than where he came from because it’s Kylo’s story, not Snoke’s. 
Do fans want something new or not? Do they want character arcs and development or not? Or do they just want the same old hits on repeat? Or do we just want the filmmakers to make exactly the same film we’ve imagined in our heads for the past two years?
Star Wars is unique in that it has spanned four-decades and now three generations. These characters mean a lot to people of different ages and for different reasons. There’s nostalgia and love there but there is also ownership and selfishness, like a jealous ex hating ‘the new you’. People are perfectly within their rights to not enjoy a film, of course, but the hatred is coming from a very dark place. It’s a shame for these fans and it’s a shame for Rian Johnson for delivering a fresh take on Star Wars. 

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