The Problem With Critiquing Star Wars

9.5
  • Science Fiction
2017-12-15
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The Star Wars problem. Lucasfilm

I enjoyed The Last Jedi quite a bit. I think. It’s too early to say. Star Wars films are fortified behind this unyielding wall of iconography and nostalgia. You leave the theater inebriated off of fanfares, the return of familiar faces and a machismo sense of hope only our most enduring work of escapism can offer. Unless it’s abjectly awful, tie fighters and lightsabers are usually enough to at the very least recommend any given Star Wars picture.

But the backlash is never too far behind. You can set your watch to it, especially as it applies to the newer Kathleen Kennedy-helmed films. Fans are hysterical for the first couple of weeks, typically chorusing things like “best film since Empire Strikes Back .” Every new Star Wars movie is always the best one since Empire at first. But then the vlogs appear. You know the ones—Guy perched in ire in front of a camera, with a backdrop of nerd posters and figures, with a Snake Plissken bust proudly abreast his mantle. The vlog will usually be titled something absurdly inflammatory like, “5 reasons the new Star Wars film gave my dad Cancer.” And so the division begins…

You can separate the fans and detractors into two regimes: The Star Wars Purist, and the No Jar Jar, No Complaints Party. The former is pretty self-explanatory. The latter, which is the camp I fall into with some caveats, describes the fans that will forgive a lot from a Star Wars movie as long as it hits all the iconic beats and steers clear from anything resembling the prequels. But the two positions create a sort of impossible middle ground the new movies struggle to achieve: the purists want a Star Wars film that takes a page from the imagination and tone of the original trilogy, but does things new or, more accurately, without digging up characters and places they love and putting them in new awkward contexts. Admirable, but Kathleen Kennedy and company have no monetary incentive to try anything new and, I imagine, they won’t for many years to come. As for the “No Jar Jarers,” they will eat all this hokey space shit up until they’re dead. For them, the series of callbacks, references and familiar narrative beats are enough to sustain a feature-length film.

While I identify with that persuasion in the most rudimentary terms, I acknowledge that it’s certainly the least sound of the two. Here’s the hard truth about the new movies: there isn't really a good reason for them to exist, and thus far, the filmmakers behind them haven’t made a compelling case for the contrary.

The original Skywalker saga ended. Masterfully. Return of The Jedi was a perfect bookend that Rey’s adventures can’t help but feel anticlimactic. The bigger story has already been told. There’s no sense of exigence. The majority of the tension in the new films are rehashes of elements from the earlier ones. This is no fault of the writers, but you simply cannot create characters as charismatic and enduring as Leia, Han, and Yoda in the Star Wars universe, or a villain as thematically and visually compelling as Darth Vader.

But here we are. Disney plans to release one Star Wars film every year until we’re all dead so you have to decide whether or not mediocre films set in the most intoxicating canon cinema has ever known is enough to keep you coming back or if the real saga ended back in 1983.

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