In 2017, Lucasfilm released Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, the second entry in the sequel trilogy of Star Wars films and the eighth mainline film in the franchise overall. The film was directed by Rian Johnson, known for his work on movies like Looper and Brick, and starred an ensemble cast including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Mark Hamill. Critics loved the movie, calling it one of the best of the year and easily one of the best Star Wars films ever made.
The fan reaction online wasn’t as cut-and-dry, though. While some fans grumbled about The Force Awakens rehashing plot points from the original Star Wars, and others would later give Solo a muted reaction for its unusual premise and recasting, fans had plenty of bad things to say about The Last Jedi. This discontinuity between critics and the community has baffled some of the film’s biggest fans and led to particularly heated discussion online.
However, these arguments often lose sight of an important factor: the movie rules. Of course, I’m speaking from my personal opinion, but it’s not an unpopular one among critics. While some fans get themselves lost in discussions of what hyperspace can and can’t do and whether Snoke was fleshed out enough to be killed off in the third act of the movie, the fact remains that TLJ is the most masterfully-made Star Wars movie, and it’s not a close contest.
I know I’m in the minority by asserting this. Even my own co-workers disagree! But today, I’m going to tell you why the Last Jedi is the best Star Wars film.
“Ah, Skywalker… Missed You, Have I”
The movie’s biggest sin, according to some fans, is how it “mishandles” the character of Luke Skywalker. Many outlets made a real meal out of how Mark Hamill reportedly disagreed with director Rian Johnson over his vision for the character. However, these statements seem to be largely taken out of context, as Hamill reportedly came around to this grizzled, grumpy old version of Luke in the context of protagonist Rey’s journey.
In the film’s opening scene, Luke dismisses Rey’s pleas to help fight the First Order, tossing his lightsaber over his shoulder and mocking the very idea that he could face down the entire villainous group with a laser sword. Throughout the film, he roundly dismisses the Jedi Order and expresses a defeatist attitude that many fans felt was a betrayal of his character from the original trilogy.
There are two problems with this view. For one, it’s not a betrayal of Luke’s character: he expressed hesitation to follow Obi-Wan and Yoda’s advice that he should kill his father, Anakin, during Return of the Jedi. He dismissed their pleas to leave his friends to their fate in The Empire Strikes Back, abandoning his Jedi training to save Han, Leia, and Chewie. He repeatedly clashed with the remnants of the Jedi Order, both of whom lied to him about Vader and Leia’s identities.
Let’s face it. People change. Thirty years is a long time. Many people dismiss things they found important thirty years ago, even things as fundamental as a religion and way of life. It’s not hard to picture an older Luke, disillusioned with the state of things in the galaxy, reading the history of how the Jedi Order squandered their role as galactic protectors and allowed Darth Sideous to rise to power under their noses. It’s not a stretch for him to decide the Jedi Order is an exercise in vanity.
The other problem with the view that TLJ betrayed Luke’s character is that his final line in the film is “I will not be the last Jedi.” He understands that the galaxy needs protectors and that a new generation of Jedi can fix the mistakes of the past. In the end, he’s the same optimistic farm boy we met back in the first movie.
“The Greatest Teacher, Failure is”
The other issue that some fans level at TLJ is that its middle act seems circuitous. Some fans feel that Rose and Finn’s journey to Canto Bight to find a master codebreaker is a bizarre narrative dead-end. After all, the two slip away from an armed conflict, encounter roadblocks every step of the way, and even fail to meet the codebreaker they were sent to recruit.
Instead, they meet the morally ambiguous slicer DJ. DJ (wrongly) equates the Resistance to the First Order, claiming that the galaxy is ruled by a cycle of violence. “They blow you up today, they blow you up tomorrow,” DJ cynically observes. But while the slicer’s pessimistic attitude leads him to sell out the Resistance, it teaches the heroes a valuable lesson about failure.
Throughout the film’s middle act, Admiral Holdo continuously tells Poe and Finn that they need to trust her leadership. She has a plan to stop the First Order from pursuing their fleet, and they need to leave the details for her. The film plays with audience expectations by making Holdo seem ineffective and leading some viewers to cheer for Poe as he stages a mutiny.
Naturally, as soon as Poe discovers Holdo’s plan, he blabs it over an open comms channel, and DJ overhears. The very outcome Holdo wanted to avoid comes to pass, and the Resistance loses even more people because the heroes didn’t understand the consequences of failure.
“Time it is for You to Look Past a Pile of Old Books”
Online discussions aimed at belittling the sequel trilogy and its fans often slip into a bit of revisionist history. Many fans insist that the prequel trilogy, comprised of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, are masterful films that were deftly directed by the visionary George Lucas.
Here’s the thing: those movies were critically reviled and extremely divisive among fans. Many people who have grown up with them have fond memories of the prequels, but the reaction at the time was overwhelmingly negative. There’s a reason Lucas was comfortable selling Star Wars to Disney: he was likely sick of hearing how terrible his recent outings were.
It’s not a controversial statement to suggest that no one hates Star Wars as much as Star Wars fans. The franchise elicits strong emotional responses from some viewers, many of whom have crafted much of their adult personalities around the space fantasy films they watched as children. As such, when new films in the franchise don’t live up to expectations, these fans react viscerally. When Luke Skywalker isn’t portrayed as a one-man army worthy of worship, some people have their internal expectations thrown off.
“Page Turners… They Were Not”
It’s also time to face another hard truth: the prequels aren’t great, but neither are most other Star Wars properties. The first entry in the series is exhilarating for its bold style and limitless potential, but it’s a pretty shaky film in terms of narrative. Hamill and Carrie Fisher are out of their depth next to Harrison Ford and Peter Cushing, and the film’s plot is hard to follow at points. Of course, The Empire Strikes Back is an unmitigated cinematic triumph and easily the second-best movie in the franchise.
Then you’ve got the mountain of extended universe content that Disney jettisoned into “Legends” status when it bought Lucasfilm. Most of these novels, comics, and games are glorified fan-fiction, while roughly ten percent are stone-cold classics. Of course, fans that grew up with this vast sea of EU content grew to view it as sacrosanct, the true accounting of events that took place outside of the core trilogy of films.
“We Are What They Grow Beyond”
The Last Jedi, in contrast to most other films in its franchise, is a stone-cold work of art. That’s not to say the other entries are bad! They’re wonderfully entertaining pulp films, and they’ve been beloved for decades for a reason. However, The Last Jedi is in a league of its own.
It’s beautifully shot, arresting in every scene. Rey’s meditation with Luke is one of the most beautiful scenes in the franchise, and Luke’s final battle against Kylo Ren is visually stunning. At every turn, the movie hits audiences with the staggering beauty of the infinite galaxy. The Force feels like palpable energy in the film, propelling the characters to their destinies.
While some fans walked away from The Last Jedi feeling like it betrayed the vision of Star Wars they’d drawn up in their minds, others like myself saw the movie as a love letter to everything great about the big, goofy space franchise. Luke speaks reverently of the Force throughout the film, offering the best illustration of what makes it such a cosmically important element of the galaxy.
When Rey soundly rejects Kylo’s call to join the Dark Side, she embraces everything that makes the Jedi great. She’s selfless in the face of temptation, brave in the face of danger, and steadfast no matter the odds. Her determination softens Luke’s heart and shows him that the Jedi stand for something worth protecting. Likewise, The Last Jedi makes a compelling case that Star Wars stands for something fundamentally good and worth talking about. It’s not supposed to be a franchise where “guys you know show up and you clap.” It’s modern-day myth-making that can delight kids and inspire adults at the same time. If it’s not your thing, then, okay, fair enough. But for me, it’s the best Star Wars movie, and it always will be. Like Finn, I guess I’ll always just be Rebel scum.