Note: This post contains minor plot points from The Last Jedi.
Because it’s 2017, and because the internet exists, the backlash to The Last Jedi’s overwhelmingly positive reviews began seemingly eight seconds after the very goodwill it was reacting against. (Given the way the past 12 months have gone, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is just part of some curse operating on this calendar year.) Despite a 93 percent positive critic ranking on Rotten Tomatoes (and just about everywhere else), the audience ranking on the site puts it at a lukewarm (Luke-warm?) 56 percent, implying very split opinions. The fact that audience rankings on other sites, like IMDB, are much higher suggests a concerted effort to tank the rating from a small but dedicated group of haters.
And why is that? Judging from the opinions offered by people using #thelastjediawful hashtag on Twitter, you can pretty much take your pick of reasons. Digg rounded up a taster’s choice of tweets excoriating the film, and the causes of the outsized loathing ranged from daring to portray Luke Skywalker in a negative light to being mad at the message of not needing special parents to be special oneself:
While these reactions are clearly in the minority—and in the case of that second tweet, flying directly in the face of what this site specifically called out as being one of the best moments of the new film—they do speak to the larger issue of fandom as increasingly being claimed by its loudest members as an all-or-nothing proposition. It was more than a year and a half ago when film critic Jesse Hassenger took self-proclaimed fan culture to task for its bizarre and increasing sense of entitlement: Namely, the idea that fans’ personal feelings should be taken into account when continuing the stories of franchise properties (or rebooting them altogether). And while such misguided senses of ownership over beloved films have gotten stronger and had their worst impulses reaffirmed thanks to online communities ratifying the idea of fan service masquerading as artistic license, there’s a much more mundane problem appearing in tandem with the my-feelings-matter-the-most approach to narrative.
These loudest and most abrasive fans (many of whom often sound like they hate the thing they profess to love, or at least any part of it that’s not frozen in the amber of their cherished memories from youth) tend to share one trait: that reception to pop culture is an all-or-nothing proposition. You either love it or hate it, take it or leave it, and never the twain shall meet. Part of this is the result of a Reddit-ification of the internet as a whole, where only the most strident of hot takes gain any attention, and people are just as likely to engage with an opinion they find diametrically opposed to their own as one with which they unequivocally share. In either case, it’s the most extreme and passionate responses that generate a response. That’s a larger issue for another day. For now, perhaps a milder, The Last Jedi-specific proposition will do:
Jesus, people, cool it. There’s room for good and bad in one movie.
The impetus to jump to one extreme or another is understandable. (I distinctly remember walking out of Dredd and informing a friend, “That was a perfect film,” which, come on, me.) Our feelings tend to get the better of us in the immediate aftermath of an emotional experience, and for many people, there are few pop culture experiences as emotionally button-pushing as a new Star Wars film. So yes, take a few minutes, absorb what senses and ideas are flooding your system as the lights come up in the theater, and then, after you’ve had a chance to cool down, just do some thinking. We’re willing to put good money on the fact that you’ll find things to like, love, dislike, find endearing, and find annoying, all in one film. The Last Jedi probably won’t tick every possible box of critical evaluations or emotional responses, but given the discussion here in The A.V. Club offices of what people thought about various aspects of the movie, you’re going to at least get a mixed bag, perhaps along the following lines:
- Some people enjoyed the movie but disliked Luke’s shoulder-brush response to the First Order essentially trying to vaporize him with lasers.
- Another person liked the shoulder brush, but didn’t like Laura Dern’s “godspeed rebels” bit.
- Yet another staffer loved the movie but was incredibly irritated by Benicio Del Toro’s hammy thief.
- Another loved Del Toro’s character, but hated the choice to give the thief a stutter.
And so on. This is the problem with these loudest of “fans”: They’ve forgotten that a big part of fandom is the ability to hold multiple opinions on the same material all at once. If you don’t care for Finn’s trip to the casino, well, then, fuck this movie! That all-or-nothing mentality does a disservice to fans and films alike, by reductively lumping pluses and minuses into one indiscernible stew of love or loathing. Hell, you can even claim that Rey is a one-note Mary Sue, if that’s your particular (wrong-headed, in my estimation, but to each their own) beef, but does that mean you discount that fantastic opening bombing-run battle? The confrontation with Snoke and subsequent fight against the Elite Praetorian Guard? The charming exchange between Luke and Yoda? I mostly loved the movie, and suspect it will eventually be seen as of a piece with the original trilogy, quality-wise, but I’m also happy to make my case that it’s about 10 minutes too long.
And that’s as it should be. Perfection is a rarity in any medium; if you can count on more than one hand the number of perfect films that came out this year, I would be deeply suspicious of your critical faculties. Most things we love aren’t flawless: In fact, it’s because of their flaws that we love them all the more. The little odd asides and strange idiosyncrasies are what connect us to works of art, and register our affection in ways that may or may not hold for others. When something like Star Wars comes along that connects on a mass scale, that love is splayed across multifarious causes, but it’s inevitable that the more Star Wars films there are, there more disparity there will inevitably be in the sources of people’s love and frustration. There are plenty of valid reasons both to love and be critical of Rian Johnson’s film. But if you’ve gone to the point of creating a petition to have it removed from the canon, it’s time to reexamine your priorities, and reconsider your so-called fandom.