There’s a lot riding on Rian Johnson now that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theaters.
[Warning: The following contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.]
Johnson has the near impossible task of continuing the Star Wars legacy after this current trilogy comes to an end but without any of the original, main characters attached. Luke Skywalker is dead; Han Solo is dead; and General Leia Organa will be written out of the story following actress Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016. Rey is not a Skywalker and, though Kylo Ren technically is, he’s not the image our minds conjure up when we think of that all powerful surname.
The Last Jedi isn’t just another addition to Johnson’s IMDB page, it’s his audition for millions of Star Wars fans around the world, who will watch The Last Jedi and make their decision about whether they think he’s the guy for the job. The good news is that movie shows how ready he may be.
Johnson brings emotional intelligence to The Last Jedi that was lacking in Rogue One, and spends more time with the idea that no one is pure good pure evil. He turns Kylo Ren into an empathetic figure; it’s hard to know whether you’re supposed to be rooting for him near the end of the film.
Johnson also teases the concept of a greedy Rey, one who can learn to harness the full power of the force and exact that power over people if she really wants to. You understand how she got there, and why that aspect of her power is so attractive.
Johnson’s take on Star Wars allows the audience decide for themselves who these people are. The Resistance, based on the Rebels from the original trilogy, aren’t always the smartest, or the most selfless, people.
Finn is getting ready to desert the team and flee to a safer, hidden planet at the beginning of the movie. Poe Dameron is willing to sacrifice the majority of his team to succeed in one mission, and the other characters repeatedly point out his failures as a leader. Luke Skywalker, the most heroic of all the heroes, has turned into a bitter, old man who wants nothing to do with the Resistance. He’s not just scared, he’s disconnected himself completely from the force. You can’t be a hero if your ultimate goal is a peaceful death while the galaxy burns around your oasis.
We’re told the story of how Kylo Ren fell from multiple points of view, and each one builds on the memory before it until we understand exactly what happened to him and why. This allows him to shift from an evil force to a misunderstood, lonely kid who was seen as a threat, not someone who needed guidance and love. His anger makes sense. Johnson turns Kylo Ren into someone that needs to be saved, not killed, and then continues to pivot as more characters attempt to salvage what’s left of his soul.
Johnson brings subtlety to Star Wars, and introduces a number of debates that will keep you thinking past the credits.
This approach isn’t universally loved, however. The Last Jedi has a 93 percent rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but general moviegoing audiences were much harsher, giving the film mixed reviews and lowering the average score to 62 percent. Audience reviews call out the film for being “total garbage,” or noting that it’s not “consistent enough to be considered a great movie.” On Google, trending related searches for The Last Jedi include words like “sucks” and “sucked” as people seek out other reviews.
The Last Jedi managed to do something that everyone else, including The Force Awakens’ director, J.J. Abrams, failed to do: innovate the series. The Last Jedi doesn’t feel like a clone of The Empire Strikes Back in the same way that The Force Awakens felt like a modern retelling of A New Hope. There’s individuality in The Last Jedi, that I’m sure will carry through to Johnson’s new trilogy, giving Star Wars a fresher tone. It calls back to the past while turning the act of letting go into one of the film’s most blatant themes. Star Wars is changing, and it’s changing for the better.
Based on the early box office reports, fans are ready for Star Wars to look and feel different, and it’s now clear that Johnson is capable to handle deliver on that promise.