Why Star Wars fans hate The Last Jedi

I saw The Last Jedi last night. I liked it. I liked it a whole lot. I might even go so far as to say that I loved it. A lot of people didn't love it. A lot of Star Wars fans seem to absolutely hate it with a burning intensity that I initially found baffling, but which I think I now understand. If you're one of those people, here's a spoiler-filled post where I explain your own thought processes to you in a mildly condescending way.

And do stick around to the end of the post, where I unload my space-guns on some parts of the movie that I also didn't like.

So picture this scenario. There's this franchise that's really popular, with books and toys and video games and collectible urology kits and theme parks; but it starts out, back in the day, with just a small number of original stories (they can be books or movies or comics, it doesn't matter for the sake of the argument). When the original stories are coming out, the creator or creators have a free hand to do whatever they want. It's a wide-open canvas. Characters can go in any direction, the world and setting are being revealed piece-by-piece; a big part of why the franchise clicks with people to begin with is this shared sense of discovery. There's no limit, no horizons.

Then years pass. The original stories end. The fans create their own stories--hundreds, thousands of them--and over time, the sense of discovery fades. Every corner of the imaginary universe is meticulously mapped out, and over decades the fans impose limits on it. Ideas crystallize about what does and does not acceptably fall within those limits, and the most egregious trespassers are publicly ridiculed for the entertainment of the fandom. 

Decades after the original stories end, someone decides to make new ones. The fans watch closely, rankled that someone would even dare to do such a thing without their permission. These are sequels, or maybe prequels. They're ostensibly new stories, but something is...odd. They feel more like remakes or reboots, even though they're not replacing the original canon. They seem more concerned with calling back to the original stories than with telling their own, new tales. And they're constrained by the limits of the established canon, as though the franchise is trapped in a box that it can never grow out of. Fans debate endlessly how close the new stories come to matching the quality of the originals; the idea that they could ever exceed them is unthinkable.

You get where I'm going with this by now. But I'm not just talking about Star Wars. We've seen a wave of these reboot-sequels recently, and all of them fall into the same flaw of endlessly recycling the past, afraid to step beyond the boundaries set by their predecessors. Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is one of the worst examples I can think of, even though it was written by the original creator and came out less than ten years after the original stories ended. The Force Awakens was firmly in the same camp, creating a sequel built largely on call-backs and nostalgic references to previous stories.

The Last Jedi is not one of those sequels. It behaves as though it's coming out hot on the heels of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi, during the time when canon was still molten and unset, and therefore has free license to do whatever it wants. Its casual invocation of new Force powers--one of the things that's gotten the Star Wars fandom the most steamed--would be right at home during the era of the original stories, when all Force powers were new and there were no hard limits on what Jedi could and couldn't do. Coming forty years later, after fans have strictly codified Force abilities into D&D-like tables and graphs, it feels like heresy.

If the movie had stopped there, it might still have been embraced by the die-hards, but it uses this freedom to go several steps further, radically altering the focus of the world and the franchise. Early on, there's a scene where Admiral Ackbar--meme-generating, fan-favourite Admiral Ackbar--gets literally throw out the window, unceremoniously and with zero fanfare. It feels like a mission statement. The calcified shell of fanfiction and wikis and in-jokes and theories that's built up around the franchise--the thing that many people now think of as Star Wars, rather than the three original movies--is going to be swept away. The pillars of what you thought Star Wars was supposed to be about are going to be kicked down. 

Even worse, the movie has fun doing it. The scene where Yoda giggles while the first Jedi temple burns is another mission statement. Luke throws his lightsaber (his green lightsaber! Remember his green lightsaber, from back when you were a kid???) away as a joke. His climactic scene of badassery, the moment of ass-kicking that fans have been dreaming of ever since a new trilogy was announced, is revealed to be a sham, cutting away to an old man sweating on a rock. Not only does The Last Jedi kill Star Wars, it doesn't take Star Wars seriously. And that, to the hardcore fandom, is an unforgivable sin.

And of course, we have to look at what it's replacing the old order with. If Star Wars isn't about ancient orders of space wizards and familial legacies and rebel military alliances and evil Empires (that we secretly think are really cool and badass)--and the movie is very clear and firm in stating that it is not--then what is it about? 

Populist movements. Weirdos and outcasts on the fringes of society. Nobodies. The poor and downtrodden fighting back against corrupt power.

Whoo boy. That seems a bit...political, doesn't it? Don't want none of that SJW stuff in my fun space fantasy, thank you very much.

Given all of this, it's completely unsurprising that some sections of the fandom are now rapidly rehabilitating the prequels. For all their flaws, those movies took Star Wars deadly seriously. In the prequel trilogy, the Jedi order is serious as balls, and the Sith and the dark side are more serious than the most serious thing that has ever happened, and the Skywalker lineage of self-insert Chosen Ones really is the fulcrum upon which the history of the galaxy turns. With a few notorious exceptions (eg, midichlorians), the prequels stick to the fandom-proscribed limits of Star Wars, in many cases even codifying fan ideas like Jedi wearing robes into central canon. Given an entertaining trilogy of fun stories that "disrespects" The Sacred Canon and a trilogy of boring snooze-fests where people sit around talking about how very, very serious indeed The Canon is, it seems a distressingly large contingent of Star Wars fans are opting for the latter.

And ultimately, I think you can boil this down to the oldest fandom conflict in existence: Us vs The Normies. All fandoms take jealous possession of the object of their fandom; many Star Wars fans have never accepted that Star Wars is and has always been a mass-market product consumed by all people, and chafed at Disney's recognition of the fact by deliberately diversifying the brand's characters. Now, the latest canon installment basically burns down their super-secret nerd clubhouse in front of their eyes. In their secret heart of hearts, they wanted a big-screen version of this bullshit, and The Last Jedi is really, really not that.

But it wasn't the best movie I've ever seen or anything. What didn't I like about it?

Well, it suffers from what I refer to as the "blockbuster suite" of flaws, or the problems that pretty much all big blockbuster movies seem to have for whatever reason. It's too long by about fifteen minutes, it's over-stuffed both narratively and thematically, and as a consequence several moments that are meant to be climactic and story-defining get lost in the shuffle.

A lot of the stuff with Rey and Luke on Jedi Island has some pacing issues. In particular, Rey's about-face on Kylo Ren from "He's an irredeemable monster" to "No he can totally be redeemed and I'm going to bet the survival of the Resistance on this assumption" happens a bit too abruptly. The following scene with Yoda also could have been given more time to breathe.

And oh, about those themes of rebellion and scrappy underdogs fighting back against the rich...let's just say it's the height of irony that Disney became the largest, richest media corporation in the history of the world mere days before this movie came out. 

Overall, I have a feeling The Last Jedi is going undergo a sort of reverse Phantom Menace reaction. The fans will whine and gnash their teeth for a few years, then they'll get over it and realize that it's the best Star Wars movie and I'm right about everything, and the world will finally know peace.