In Part 1 of their sprawling The Last Jedi review, Shawn Eastridge and Richie Pepio discussed their overall thoughts on the film and its pros and cons. This time around they dig deeper to discuss the film's divisive twists and how fan reactions on both sides of the spectrum need to have some time to settle before we can judge Rian Johnson's effort on its own merits. They'll also offer up their final ratings and series rankings. Of course, this conversation is OVERFLOWING with **SPOILERS** so proceed at your own risk.
A Surprise To Be Sure, But A Welcome One: On Those Big Twist
RICHIE: I’ve been trying to pass the time while I wait for the Red Letter Media review (at the time of this conversation, it hadn't yet been released, but it's out now!) so I was listening to this podcast where they talked about how they were very disappointed that Rey ended up being a nobody and they spent two years of their life obsessing over her background. Is she a Skywalker? Is she a Kenobi? Which, by the way, the Kenobi thing is a cute fan theory, but I don’t see how she could be a Kenobi.
SHAWN: How could she even be a Skywalker?
RICHIE: The Skywalker lightsaber is calling to her. But with Kenobi, that wasn’t his lightsaber and the idea that he could be her father is just overblown fan-fiction.
SHAWN: I don’t know if I want to spoil this, but I want to bring up Blade Runner 2049...
RICHIE: Well, we’re already spoiling TLJ…
SHAWN: Right, so why don’t we just spoil Blade Runner 2049 and every other movie while we're at it? (And this has got to be a spoiler for most people since, judging from the box office numbers, nobody saw it. Shame on you people.)
**BLADE RUNNER 2049 SPOILERS AHOY**
SHAWN: One of the things I loved about Blade Runner 2049 is that Ryan Gosling’s character K is set up to be Harrison Ford’s son, like he’s the missing link between replicants and humanity. Then he finds out he’s not, that he’s just another replicant and he’s not significant in the way he thought he was. But he ends up paving his own destiny as a result. He makes his life meaningful. And I love that. I love that it doesn’t matter where you came from or who your parents were, you can still paint a meaningful life for yourself. That’s what I’m hoping they set up for Rey as well. Maybe her parents were nobodies, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t be something more.
RICHIE: And the whole thing with Snoke... Look, I don’t need Snoke to be Palpatine or anything like that - I kind of like him being nobody. I don’t feel like he’s as essential to the plot or anything, but couldn’t there have been something connecting him to the bigger story? Otherwise these movies feel more like add-ons as opposed to essential installments.
This brings me to my main gripe about the movie: if he’s no one and Rey is no one and they’re rehashing the same battles between Dark Side/Light Side/Empire/Rebellion, then what’s the point of these movies? What about this struggle is so profoundly different? The Last Jedi (TLJ) introduces some very interesting ideas about heroes being able to rise up from even the humblest of beginnings and how the new generation needs to decide whether it wants to seize its moment by burning down what came before. Yet, if these main saga movies are supposed to tell the Skywalker story and Rey is no one, what is the point of this new trilogy? Could this story have been told easier as a new Star Wars trilogy without the fan servicey bits and the original cast?
On another note, Rian Johnson and ALL the reviews make a huge stink about all the twists in this movie and how they change the way we think about Star Wars. And that annoys me if only because TLJ's twists only change the way we think about Star Wars going forward. Like you said before, the character actions only have an impact on what happens in this movie and by the end their progress seems to backtrack to where they were at the end of The Force Awakens (TFA). Rian Johnson made such a big deal about how he was influenced by the twists in, say, Empire (with Vader being Luke’s father) and even Return of the Jedi (with Leia being Luke’s sister). In interviews he made a point of saying he’s influenced by the bold decisions that “recontextualized” the overall story - the ones that rearranged everything you thought you knew, that changed your entire experience, and forced you to re-evaluate everything from A New Hope onward...
With that in mind, the Snoke = Nobody, Rey = Nobody and Luke-considering-murder were exciting twists in the moment, but they only impacted our perception of events in TFA.
There’s an interesting arc in the new Expanded Universe: several years before TFA takes place, it was publicly revealed that Leia’s the daughter of Vader, permanently changing her political career and her relationship with her son. It made her move behind the scenes and develop the Resistance as a faction within the Republic to counter the growing First Order. Early on, I heard Dern’s Holdo character was a potential “rival” to Leia and I was expecting to see Holdo possibly exploit Leia’s Vader connection to push Leia out of power, forcing Leia to lead a resistance within the Resistance. And based on the editing of the trailer and the look of some posters, I was predicting a rift between Luke and Leia that would place the super twins on opposing sides. Again, by “recontextualizing” the story, I was thinking (hoping) they were going to potentially hint at unknown things that might have happened during the Original Trilogy, challenging our thoughts about characters and events from then too. Instead they killed Luke, destroyed many of the obstacles in place from TFA, and kept a lot of the newer characters in a holding pattern despite the changing scenery around them.
SHAWN: While each film in the Original Trilogy was made by a new filmmaker, Lucas was the one guiding the story back then. He let other people come in and play in his world, but ultimately he was the decision maker. This time around it feels way less cohesive, and I think part of that is because there is no overarching story and no one to guide it like Lucas did. With the new trilogy Abrams did TFA with Kasdan and then Johnson clearly got to do whatever he wanted with TLJ – he said as much in interviews that Lucasfilm didn’t step in to course correct him or anything.
This Is A Democracy, The People Are Decided!: On Fan Reactions
SHAWN: At the time of this conversation, it’s the film’s opening weekend. A lot of people have seen this movie and there’s been a strong line in the sand amongst Star Wars fans as far as where you fall. It’s gotten to the point where the Rotten Tomatoes user score has come up in a bunch of articles because it has been such a divisive film. I think it’s lower than the Prequels as far as the user ratings go.
RICHIE: That’s insane. But it has a CinemaScore of ‘A,’ right? Which means that people liked it.
SHAWN: Yeah, all that RT user score really signifies is that Star Wars fans are up in arms against it and that Internet trolls with nothing better to do than manipulate user scores have devoted themselves to lowering it for some reason. So, why do you think that is? What is it about this movie that is pissing people off so much?
RICHIE: I don’t know. I don’t know how Kathy Kennedy and the investors reacted to it. Personally, I think Rian Johnson should be proud of himself. With the love of the critics and half of the fanbase, he made a movie that could appeal to a ‘Joe Schmoe’ moviegoers as well as an audience member seeking a fuller experience. He was able to create an emotional experience out of a 40 year old saga that sometimes feels like it only exists as a moneymaker for bigtime corporations.
Number one, it’s a heartfelt and uniquely made installment, so good for him. Number two, The Empire Strikes Back was incredibly divisive when it came out and now it’s regarded as one of the best movies ever. I don’t think this film will reach Empire’s artistic peak because of some of its story choices, but time will be kind to TLJ.
SHAWN: I think a lot of these insane reactions have to do with people not being able to get over the fact that all their theorizing meant nothing, but it’s more fun to have your expectations messed with. Now, to be fair, I think you could argue that Rian Johnson went too far in his decision to say, “Okay, I have to do these things because it’s the least obvious answer.” It’s almost like his main goal was to subvert all expectations, sometimes to the detriment of what had been set up previously.
The great fantasy author Brandon Sanderson said storytelling is all about fulfilling your promises. If you promise something to your audience at the beginning of your story, you’d better fulfill that. Sometimes you can fulfill those promises in different ways than what the audience expected, but you still have to fulfill them. I think the audience is reacting strongly to the lack of promises being fulfilled. To promise there’s something about Rey that we need to know or there’s something about Snoke we need to know, and then say, ‘J/K!!’ without any real payoff, in a way you're breaking those promises and that trust. The thing I don’t understand is why certain fans are so upset about Luke exiling himself.
RICHIE: But it makes sense. 30 years is a long time. These characters are not going to be exactly who we remember them. We haven’t even checked in with them. People change. He’s been through a lot. He watched people die, he watched his trainees die. Of course he’d take on the guilt of that tragedy and run away.
SHAWN: There are a lot of complaints about the humor as well, which is stupid because the humor felt organic to me. The Poe stuff at the beginning, his conversation with Hux, maybe it was a little too Marvel, but I don’t know, it worked for me. It’s the opening of the movie, it’s a fun way to get us back into this world with these characters.
RICHIE: Star Wars felt like a fresh, modern take on westerns and fairy tales when it came out in the 70s. And if that was modern then, this is modern now. The Marvel sensibility is what’s hip and happening.
SHAWN: And Marvel is using the template Star Wars set up back then by using its characters to tell jokes every so often. I don’t think people quite understand that the reason the DC and Marvel films are fundamentally different is not because Marvel is funny and DC is dark and serious, it’s that Marvel recognizes that humanity comes through humor and that’s something Star Wars really brought home because in a movie full of weird, other-worldly things you instantly connect to a character who can make you laugh. It’s a very human thing and it works in these new movies.
RICHIE: It’s entirely reminiscent of the scene in the detention center in A New Hope where Han is speaking to the operator - “uh, had a slight weapons malfunction. But, uh, everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?”
SHAWN: Exactly. I mean, come on, the gag in the trash compactor, “One thing’s for sure, we’re all gonna be a lot thinner.” Who is that line for except the audience? Why would you say that when you’re about to be smashed to death?
RICHIE: It makes us love Han Solo more and Poe is the Han Solo character in these movies.
SHAWN: And because the fan reaction has been so divisive, I wonder what will happen with Johnson’s upcoming trilogy. I think the box office will be okay but Kathleen Kennedy has been a bit fickle and has removed interesting filmmakers from this franchise before.
RICHIE: Fans can be more fickle with their little Borg hive-mind. Because after TFA came out everybody loved it, then the tides turned a bit. When Abrams signed on to direct Episode IX, we started hearing about this petition to remove Abrams directing Episode IX. Now people are like, “Thank GOD Rian Johnson isn’t directing IX, thank GOD we have J.J. Abrams coming back.” Come May of next year, people are going to be saying, “Get Ron Howard to direct Episode IX! Solo was AMAZING and we need him to direct every Star Wars movie!”
SHAWN: Yeah, but on the flip side of things, you have the Borg hive-mind that is the positive side of fan reactions, people who are unabashedly praising this as the greatest thing since ‘Empire.’ (Has a Star Wars film been released this century that hasn’t had this quote heaped upon it? I feel like even Revenge of the Sith got that) I have intelligent friends, quick to condemn a great movie for minor flaws, that are going APE-S*** over TLJ. And all they’re doing is pointing fingers at the people who didn’t like it and saying, “You don’t appreciate true art like we do! Rian Johnson changed EVERYTHING. You just want it to be the same.” And I’m sitting here in the middle thinking, well, I don’t agree with anyone about any of this. TLJ is certainly not ‘true art,’ but it’s also not terrible just because the truth about Snoke and Rey’s parents wasn’t what you wanted.
It’s like no one can have a reasonable reaction to a Star Wars movie until we’re two or three years down the line, and even then people still can’t have a reasonable reaction. More than any other franchise, Star Wars has to contend with all the baggage its audience brings in with it. Where do you fall on the spectrum?
RICHIE: Obviously any Star Wars movie is more than just a movie. It’s an experience that sticks with you for your whole life. Part of that has to do with the complex ideas we project onto George Lucas’ original story. Part of it is our love of the characters that the original cast created. Then there’s the years of anticipation between the announcement of a new movie and the release of the trailers, the news from the conventions, the spy reports from the set, the struggle to avoid reading spy reports from the set, the lead-up to opening night and then the evolving feelings we have about the episode long after it comes out.
These movies are always going to get huge reactions, good and bad. But a lot of the gripes about TLJ seem like an overreaction. We live in an era where the big production companies are listening to the fans more than ever before, but if we keep crying wolf or crystal fox, starting petitions to remove successful directors and programming bots to impact Rotten Tomatoes scores, we’ll probably end up seeing less movies with a clear vision and more muddled movies made by committee to please everyone that end up making no one happy.
Only Now At The End Do You Understand: Final Thoughts and The Future of the Franchise
SHAWN: I really thought I was going to like this more than TFA, but at this point in time I like TFA more. That being said, I appreciate what Rian Johnson did with TLJ. I think as more time goes by and more fans get all offended by the story twists and turns, I’m going to become more staunchly defendant of this movie and the things it chose to do and the risks it took. It’ll be interesting, once I see it again and bring balance to the Force of my expectations, to find out how it holds up.
RICHIE: Yeah it kind of closes out the story in a way. I feel like J.J. Abrams either doesn’t have a lot of work to do with Episode IX or he has too much work to do. The guy either has to restart the things he already introduced and re-introduce villains/obstacles or he has to do something else completely. We either need an incredibly personal story or an independent adventure that somehow sums up everything great about Star Wars and introduces some reality to these characters. I don’t know what he’s going to do. That’s both exciting and nerve-wracking because I really want to care about these characters by the end of this trilogy and I want it to feel as impactful as the Original Trilogy felt.
SHAWN: Even Return of the Jedi, as weak as it tends to be at times, gets by on the emotional connection we’ve built with the characters in the first two movies. We love them so much that we care about the outcome even when the final chapter isn’t as strong as it should have been. With this new trilogy I don’t have that. I left Episode VII feeling like, “Oh, man, I can’t wait to see where they go next;” I left Episode VIII thinking, “Wait, where do they go next? And do I even care?”
RICHIE: And while it’s exciting to think that we’re going to see a final battle between the Resistance (or Rebellion or whatever it is now) and the First Order, when I think about it, I don’t really want to see another big battle like we’ve seen in every third part of a trilogy like Return of the Jedi and Return of the King. I don’t need another ‘big finale.’ I want to see a personal story that really takes these characters to new places. And since TLJ only did that for a couple characters, Abrams has a lot of work to do. To play sceptic for a second, I’m not yet fully convinced that J.J. is the best choice for the big finish. At least a finish that fixes this trilogy’s unique set of problems. The fanbase is lashing out at Rian but the particular problems we’re facing now, like underdeveloped characters and repetitive story beats, have been there since TFA. They just weren’t so noticeable at the time.
I’m really interested to see where J.J. takes Rey – because Abrams didn’t chime in on Johnson’s decision of who Rey’s parents would be. I’m fascinated by his choice to leave the parents reveal to Johnson and I want to know where it’ll all end up. He just pitched his arc for Episode IX to Bob Iger and Disney, so we’ll see how it comes up in two years.
SHAWN: You know, as much as I like Abrams, and as good as he is at kicking off franchises or revitalizing them, he’s never been as strong at finishing them. That’s one of his biggest struggles as a filmmaker – finding satisfying ways to answer the questions he sets up. So with Episode IX he has to confront that fault head-on, and I really hope he succeeds. I love him as a filmmaker. I think he gets a lot of crap, but frankly it’s a thankless job trying to make the first good Star Wars movie in over 30 years…
RICHIE: And the first good Trek movie in a decade…
SHAWN: Exactly. Everyone’s going to hate you. No one will appreciate what you accomplished once they realize they like it. They’ll just be like, “It could have been better.” Yeah, maybe, but it could have been a lot worse too.
RICHIE: It’ll be interesting to see how they handle Carrie Fisher’s death too. The filmmakers talked about how they saw each installment being an original cast member’s movie, and I guess I wasn’t sure whether they were going to kill Luke off – so I’m hoping against hope that he’ll come back as a ghost to be kind of a guiding force. Mostly, though, I was looking forward to the payoff for Lucas’ decision to make Luke and Leia brother and sister in Return of the Jedi.
A lot of fans probably think that’s how it was always supposed to be but it wasn’t. Luke’s sister was supposed to be found and discovered in Lucas’s original version of Episode IX when he was working up rough drafts back in the late 70s. The original plans was for the Star Wars saga to be this unending parade of movies but Lucas was burnt out and divorced by 1983 and ready to close out the saga with a trilogy. The decision to make Leia that character seemed like his attempt to just finish the story with ROTJ. But I’ll be interested to see how they deal with that decision. I was looking forward to Leia getting a chance to tap into her Force powers that were kind of tossed by the wayside and I expected Episode IX to be anchored by a theme of, like, it’s never too late to find greatness within yourself. How great would that have been? Having Leia be an active and Force-sensitive partner in Rey’s quest to save Kylo. That would have closed out the story in such a good way.
But we’re not going to get that. They’ll probably do a time jump or maybe they’ll make use of Leia in the same way they treated Dumbledore in the final Harry Potter book/movie; Leia may be gone but there’s still a legacy she left behind and perhaps any number of traps or tricks or holograms or a secret weapon she had hidden on a planet somewhere. I’d just love for her presence to be felt even if she’s no longer around.
SHAWN: That would be a great way to pay off her character.
RICHIE: I love so many individual moments in TLJ so much that they overshadow the weaker points. I gotta take the good with the bad and the good was so good for me, it overshadowed a lot of the disappointments I had with The Force Awakens. Mainly that there wasn’t a reunion between the three main characters. TFA spends so much time and money and storytelling capital on reminiscing and fan servicing that I was pissed off they didn’t bother to give me a reunion with Luke, Han and Leia. The originals had groundbreaking special effects and art design. It was a visionary look at a fantastical “used future,” BUT the thing I love most about the original Star Wars movies is that original trio. Their chemistry was the key to its success.
Final Scores and Ratings
SHAWN: After a single viewing, I’d give TLJ 3.5 out of 5 Force Hallucination Reys. It’s going to be interesting to see how my relationship with this film changes over time and as I watch it more. As much as I appreciate Rian Johnson’s gusto and risk-taking, it doesn’t change the gaping story flaws and lack of character development for some of its leads. I also wish I was more emotionally invested in this story, especially considering we’re two-thirds of the way through the new trilogy and I don’t feel like much is at stake. Overall though, it’s a solid Star Wars film, a fun blockbuster and it has enough going for it that I’d call it a success. As for my series ranking, it goes:
(I think TLJ could top Return of the Jedi, but I have to see it again before I know for sure.)
RICHIE: A New Hope is the perfect Star Wars movie and Empire Strikes Back is the perfect movie-movie. They’re flawless in my eyes and the runners-up are imperfect but lovable films, taking the saga forward in unique ways or harkening back to the series’ former glory. In the #3 spot, it’s a tossup between Return of the Jedi (for the Luke/Vader redemption storyline), TFA (for it’s breathless first act), or TLJ (for the Luke, Kylo, Leia moments). And call me a heretic, but TLJ’s handling of Luke’s arc just might allow it to edge out the others. TLJ makes some unfortunate oversteps regarding the Finn and Rose storyline and some severe missteps in the development of virtually every character not named Luke or Leia, but it respectfully closes out the stories of our heroes from the Original Trilogy without being too precious about it. Kylo Ren remains the MVP of the new cast and I only hope his journey in Episode IX will conclude with unexpected results.
Thanks for reading, everybody! And if you’re into these two fans’ transcribed takes on the other installments in the most beloved, hated and GIF-ed about space opera saga in the known galaxy, then check out these other reviews…
On the Prequels -
On the Original Trilogy -
On Rogue One -