As we prepare to blast off to that galaxy far, far away once again for J.J Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it’s time to head back into the franchise’s ever-expanding world and look at the often maligned Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The critics sharpened their pitchforks and came in all guns blazing for Rian Johnson’s 2017 movie, but here’s why everyone needs to take a trip to Hoth and just ‘chill’ when it comes to The Last Jedi.
Only recently, Abrams himself fired shots at Johnson’s vision in a pointed interview with The New York Times. When The Last Jedi first came out, stars like Daisy Ridley and John Boyega publicly voiced criticisms of Episode VIII. Similar to HBO’s controversial final season of Game of Thrones, there were even calls for Hollywood to remake the film.
Most of all, Mark Hamill spectacularly claimed he disagreed with almost every decision Johnson made when it came to Luke. Naysayers claim Johnson tossed aside the questions Abrams put in place in The Force Awakens, dispensing with the mystery of Rey’s parents as casually as Luke threw away his signature lightsaber.
No one was buying that Ridley’s character was simply a junker orphan from Jakku, what with George Lucas setting a precedent that kids in Star Wars usually have a villainous overlord somewhere in their the family tree. Ridley herself has already teased that there’s ”more to the story” of Rey’s parentage, meaning many are setting themselves up for a twist on a par with Vader’s “I am your father” reveal in The Rise of Skywalker.
Theories are swirling that Rey is everything from a secret Skywalker to Kylo Ren’s sister, a clone created from Luke’s severed hand to the illegitimate offspring of Emperor Palpatine, but any of the above would rob The Last Jedi of one of its biggest moments. As Rey dived into the murky depths of Ahch-To, Johnson didn’t need to deliver his own Empire Strikes Back moment – instead, in a genuinely surprising reveal, he went with the simplest answer.
But The Last Jedi had its strengths beyond just its innovative twist on Rey’s origins – it also did some serious footwork when it came to character development. Having Princess-turned-General Leila use her Jedi powers after 40 years of waiting was a triumphant piece of fan service for the ages, and even if Hamill doesn’t agree with the evolution of ‘Grinch’ Luke, it was unquestionably another bold and surprising move from Johnson.
Luke’s boyish hope was replaced by a bitter cynicism that added another layer to his sometimes simplistic character as Rey took on his optimism from the original trilogy. Speaking of which, who could forget the climactic duel between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker? Rarely has cinema delivered as dramatic a middle finger moment as when the enraged Ren swung his lightsaber through the Force-projected version of Luke.
Then there’s the emotional swansong for Luke. While some thought Johnson would set the stage for Leia’s exit following Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing, we instead got the jaw-dropping moment Luke and Leia said their goodbyes and it became clear it was her brooding brother that was the one bowing out.
Not since Attack of the Clones has a movie divided the Star Wars fandom so much – but while there was a definite change of tone from The Force Awakens to Episode VIII, with a colourful cast of characters (including newcomers like Rose), trips to foreign lands, that signature flare of comedy with those adorable Porgs, and some genuinely surprising twists, The Last Jedi contains all the ingredients you’d expect from a Star Wars outing.
Some may think the return of Abrams as director makes Episode VII – IX the ‘Abrams Trilogy’, but instead, fandom should think of his two movies as bookending Johnson’s game-changing second chapter. Only once The Rise of Skywalker has landed will fans and critics alike be able to look back and judge how important an important piece of the tapestry The Last Jedi really was, but it’d be doing the film a disservice to pretend it never happened.