Following its long-awaited cinematic reprise in the wake of its Disney acquisition, Star Wars made its return to theaters in 2015 with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. The space epic reintroduced itself through a three-part arc that would keep in stride with a trio of central heroes who were determined to take on the First Order. A new wave of Star Wars was determined to find its success by identifying the exact intersection between nostalgia and innovation. The Disney conglomerate was the crux in the Star Wars renaissance that held such an omnipotent draw to lifelong fans and curious saga-newcomers alike.
The evident, yet unfortunate, disdain for the Sequel Trilogy was arguably not a product of favoritism of past Star Wars trilogies. Additionally, the easy, almost unfair, scapegoat of comparing one trilogy to another was not to blame. Instead, the internet encouraged the open rejection of the Sequels after the concluding piece of the trilogy resulted in overwhelming backlash. The Sequels were consequently subjected to internet vitriol. Above all, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi has succeeded in becoming one of the most divisive entries into the Star Wars canon. Its individuality and deviation from expectations should credit The Last Jedi as being the Sequels’ best work, compared to its current reputation, but its very nature of being different was the fundamental reason for its negative reception. The movie, of course, is not without its flaws, but The Last Jedi deserves recognition for daring to go where no other movie in the franchise had gone. Here’s why Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is the best of the Star Wars sequels.
Luke Skywalker’s Character Change was Necessary
Disgruntled discussions contest if Skywalker is truly still Skywalker in The Last Jedi. Denial over Johnson’s character treatment still sparks debate far after the film’s release. There’s the difficulty to accept the final on-screen version of the character because of how sharply his behavior is changed. In order to demonstrate the understanding of a character past a one-dimensional interpretation of them, they must show other sides of who they are. Skywalker’s resentment, anger, self-grief, and exhaustion are brought to the surface during The Last Jedi, causing a rejection of his outward angst.
Throughout the Star Wars canon, Skywalker has been asked to remain undefeated; his attitude and resilience appeal to his unwavering determination have only allowed his character to develop to a certain extent. The moral ambiguity that is introduced contradicts Skywalker’s belief that there is genuine goodness found in everyone, despite their past. In The Last Jedi, there is a retraction of such an outdated personal naivety. It was later that Skywalker came to his final conclusion that hope can be restored and that evil cannot truly be defeated. He grapples with the repercussions of the Dark Side and its unshakable impact left on Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and understands that he cannot save him from himself.
Johnson took the liberty of challenging the binaries of “good” and “evil.” Through an alternative perspective of one of the series’ flagship characters, he proves that in order to experience growth, there must be discomfort. Skywalker’s drastic shift in personality was an unpredictable, uncomfortable component of the film. It provided a necessary outlook on a character that needed to have their entire personality explored. Skywalker was allowed to truly grieve the loss of himself while reflecting on whom he once was. His bitterness can be justified when considering the scope of his character arc. Mental health and post-traumatic stress aren’t popularly discussed in Star Wars, and The Last Jedi reminds itself that saving the galaxy comes with a mental toll. Having Skywalker cast a final forlorn look at the twin suns of Tatooine while dying, drenched in the warmth of them both, is an incredibly heartfelt conclusion to the character’s legacy.
The Last Jedi Celebrates Individuality
Johnson’s grand tonal shift and unorthodox interpretation of The Last Jedi finds its strength when standing on its own. Instead of forcing itself to include Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega) to band together on one central adventure against the First Order, Episode Eight divides itself enough where each central protagonist is given a genuine, organic storyline to follow. Rey, under Skywalker’s guidance, is determined to discover her true lineage. Her persistence to trace her heritage back to her roots ultimately reminds her that being “nobody” is priceless. Star Wars continues to obsess itself with tangled family trees and overlapping relationships between primary characters; with Rey accepting her label of “nobody,” it promotes self-identity. The Last Jedi advocates for the fact that people can control their own fates or destinies without needing to credit their bloodline for social capital. Ren’s verbal barrage often targets Rey’s status as “a scrapper from Jakku” as an attempt to belittle her, though she learns to overcome these taunts. She learns to overcome her identity crisis, and instead, embrace who she is. The Last Jedi defeats the idea that labels are indicative of who someone is. It breaks past the constrictions of certain characters can only achieve so much.
Finn is treated as more than just an ex-Storm Trooper, just as Dameron is appreciated more as a leader. Their character arcs are both insightful as they are nuanced. Individuality, they are both given more to do rather than existing for the sake of being disposable characters. Johnson is ready to appreciate the on-screen growth that he can give to them, and is determined to keep either of them involved. By keeping Finn and Dameron busy with their own missions, Johnson reminds the audience that they, too, deserve an equal amount of attention. He views them more than their occupations or as their assigned roles, looking past the box that they were once placed in. The pair is set into their own spotlights where they can become more comfortable with themselves while facing their own challenges. Each strength and weakness is underscored, drawing out more about the character’s personality as an individual. Compared to past characters that are banded together without further exposition, The Last Jedi prides itself on spending time with the Sequels’ main trio, though on their own. It instills the belief that individualism is to be appreciated without having to use group association as a personality trait.
Rian Johnson’s Direction and Vision Were Fresh
For as innovative as Star Wars is, it sometimes catches itself in an endless formulaic loop. Johnson was prepared to approach the franchise from a new point of view, and his diversity in Star Wars storytelling allowed the franchise to push itself to new lengths. There was the acceptance that morality is fluid and not as rigid as it was once presented. There was a deeper study of character motivations that set overlooked the textbook definitions of “right” and “wrong.” Johnson crafted a screenplay that was willing to take chances and exist outside of expectations. He was unashamed to trek into uncharted thematic territory that was only a “what if?” lingering from past Star Wars entries. The Last Jedi was responsible for sacrificing tradition for progression in retrospect to the Original and Prequel trilogies.
J.J. Abrams was criticized for not “having a plan” when approaching the trajectory of the Sequel trilogy. It kept itself bound to what would be viewed as acceptable by a general audience. There was a distinct absence of originality that was substituted for nostalgia when The Force Awakens as it was strikingly similar to A New Hope. It became a glaring concern that Abrams would settle with gratifying a collective fandom over refining Star Wars into a more analytical piece of commentary. With the franchise working as an observation of the non-fictitious world that influences it, Episodes Six and Nine failed to be seen as provocative. Johnson’s frame of reference acted more as an introspectively inquiring installation in the series. It wanted to overcome the obvious by applying more unexpected, nearly intrusive themes. The writer-director’s disruptive approach to Star Wars was what the franchise was in dire need of.
Episode Eight avoided enforcing the crowd-pleasing tactics employed by Star Wars in order to captivate a dedicated fan community. What allowed The Last Jedi to earn its reputation was that it wanted to be recognized as an outlier. Johnson’s nonconformist vision was what generated such strong, polarized reactions to The Last Jedi. There was the intention of creating a Star Wars film that left a lasting impact and questioned the overall redundancy of themes in the series. The significance of The Last Jedi being continuously subject to debate over its quality satisfies Johnson’s ambitions for the film. It generates conversation over “good” or “bad,” the exact subject that Johnson sets out to destroy. The Last Jedi raised the question “why?” while leaving the answer open-ended for personal interpretation. He enters the Star Wars universe knowing that living beings do not stringently experience life through a single point of view, and are shaped by their experiences. The concept is not alien to the franchise but was only truly invited to influence the series in its Prequel series. Johnson authorizes himself to rework this concept into the Sequels through The Last Jedi.
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