After defending the much-maligned Rian Johnson-directed eighth installment of the Star Wars’ Skywalker saga for months, superstar producer and director J.J. Abrams made an off-hand comment this week that has sparked blowback from diehard defenders of “The Last Jedi.”
Abrams directed the seventh episode of the Star Wars Skywalker trilogy, “The Force Awakens” (2015), allowed Johnson to direct the eighth, “The Last Jedi” (2017), and then took back over as director for the ninth and final installment, “The Rise of Skywalker,” which hits theaters on December 20.
In an interview with The New York Times published Wednesday, Abrams addressed some of the larger criticism driving down fan response to Johnson’s Star Wars film. The Times frames the criticism of Johnson’s film as faulting it for repeatedly dismissing key questions and themes raised in Abram’s “Force Awakens”:
[E]ach time [“The Last Jedi”] addressed one of several cliffhangers left dangling from “The Force Awakens” — what would happen when Rey returned Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber to him? who were her parents? who was the nefarious Supreme Leader Snoke? — Johnson’s movie seemed to say: the answers to these questions aren’t as important as you think.
While Abrams praised Johnson’s cliffhanger-dismissing film as being “full of surprises and subversion and all sorts of bold choices,” he also echoed fans’ overarching complaint.
“On the other hand, it’s a bit of a meta approach to the story,” said Abrams. “I don’t think that people go to ‘Star Wars’ to be told, ‘This doesn’t matter.'”
Abrams added that even though the previous film discarded questions and themes central to his first Star Wars film, “The Last Jedi” effectively laid the groundwork for the final episode, which the director described as “a story that I think needed a pendulum swing in one direction in order to swing in the other.”
Despite surrounding his criticism of “The Last Jedi” with praise, as multiple outlets have reported, including Complex and Showbiz Cheatsheet, defenders of Johnson’s film were livid that Abrams would publicly criticize the film. A few examples:
“This is f***ing bullsh**. Throwing Rian Johnson under the bus to please some crazy fanboys when he made the most interesting and ambitious Star Wars movie since Empire”
“[R]ian johnson would be well within his rights to swear off star wars forever after the sh** he took. instead he’s been nothing but gracious while his collaborators throw him under the bus”
“TLJ was praised by critics *and* by JJ Abrams when it came out, and Rian Johnson is allegedly still making another Star Wars trilogy… but they’re promoting the new movie with talking points that play into the hands of TLJ-hating trolls? A bad look.”
As The Daily Wire reported, ten days after hitting theaters in December 2017, “The Last Jedi” found itself enjoying strong support among critics but failing miserably among fans. “While it has a surprisingly good 92% among critics on the Tomatometer, it’s getting bad reviews from fans, currently at just 52% on Rotten Tomatoes,” The Daily Wire reported at the time. Among the most common criticisms of the film was its decision to “burn it all down”:
As Daily Wire editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro highlights, it becomes clear by the end of “The Last Jedi” that Kylo Ren’s call to kill the past is actually the theme of the Disney sequels. Not only does the film literally endorse book-burning—the destruction of the collective wisdom of our forebears—it also methodically tears down and then needlessly murders the characters “Star Wars” fans love.
Han’s murder at the hands of his own son in “Force Awakens” is a meaningless sacrifice, serving no purpose in helping the Resistance and having no positive impact on his son, whom Solo clearly did a terrible job raising. Like Han, Luke has retreated from the world, allowing the boy he badly trained run rampant murdering millions while he sulks in self-pity and deconstructs the “hope” his character once embodied. His bizarre life on the island with the fish-nuns and the alien sea cows comes off as pathetic and cowardly, not the austere life of a monk trying to attain further spiritual enlightenment. In fact, Luke has gone apostate, so what exactly is he doing hanging around the books he eventually tries to burn, other than being a coward? When he fights Rey, he loses to a novice in a way that diminishes him.
Luke’s final confrontation with Kylo Ren at first appears like true heroism, but Johnson burns that down too. We learn at the end of the showdown that Luke isn’t even there, only astrally projecting himself, thus facing no actual physical threat. Sure, Luke fades away at the end with a beautiful parallel to the powerful moment on Tatooine from Episode IV (still the best moment in the franchise), but that feels more like his fated time coming than having bravely sacrificed himself. Like Han, Luke’s portrayal (which Mark Hamill hated, by the way) feels mean-spirited, as if Disney wants to show its audience that these old, classic embodiments of heroism need to go the way of Old Ben.