The Last Jedi divides

Fans hate the Star Wars film's comedic tone and character arcs, but critics love its ethnic diversity and fresh direction

There is a disturbance in the Force - and it is caused by the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, possibly the most divisive instalment in the intergalactic franchise.

Basically, hardcore Star Wars fans hate it. And the reviewers love it.

And so the lightsabers are out. Some viewers are so riled up that more than 50,000 of them signed an online petition to Disney to strike "the travesty" entirely from the Star Wars canon.

But critics are raving about the film. Some reviewers, such as those from news sites Vox and eFilmCritic.com, are even calling it one of the best Star Wars movies of all time.

On reviews aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, the divide between the fans and the film reviewers could not be more apparent: While the movie is "certified fresh" with a 91 per cent rating from critics, it has only a 51 per cent rating from general audiences.

The backlash has received such a high profile that the people behind the film have also weighed in on the issue.

John Boyega, who plays former Stormtrooper Finn in the movie, referred to the debate when he tweeted earlier this week: "You know guys... people like things you don't... like it's a really big planet. In case you forgot..."

The movie's director, Rian Johnson (Looper, 2012), saw the chatter as a good way to talk about where Star Wars would go in the future. He tweeted: "The goal is never to divide or make people upset, but I do think the conversations that are happening were going to have to happen at some point if Star Wars is going to grow, move forward and stay vital."

Who has the last word on The Last Jedi? The box office, of course. The movie, despite controversy, has been dominating box offices worldwide since its release in cinemas two weeks ago. It is on track to cross the coveted US$1-billion (S$1.34-billion) mark in time for the new year, say analysts.

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What fans are unhappy with

NOT OUR LUKE SKYWALKER

Many fans are taking issue with how hero Luke Skywalker is portrayed in The Last Jedi, saying that everything he does in the new film feels so out of character compared with previous depictions, he could not possibly be the same person.

In the new movie, Skywalker has completely lost faith in the Jedi - he is even seen tossing away his precious lightsaber - and is also reluctant to join Rey in fighting the bad guys. That is almost a 180-degree change from the noble hero he was formerly portrayed as.

American actor Mark Hamill, who plays Skywalker, has said in interviews that this new Luke "was not my Luke Skywalker".

In an interview with Spanish website SensaCine, he said: "I almost had to think of Luke as another character. Maybe he's 'Jake Skywalker'. He's not my Luke Skywalker. But I had to do what Rian wanted me to do because it serves the story well." Rian Johnson is the director.

Earlier this week, however, Hamill retracted his words, tweeting: "I regret voicing my doubts and insecurities in public. Creative differences are a common element of any project, but usually remain private. All I wanted was to make a good movie. I got more than that - @rianjohnson made an all-time GREAT one!"

DISNEY-FIED

Movie critics are lapping up all the jokey one-liners in the film, but fans are less than thrilled.

An article by entertainment news website Digital Spy, which collated fan comments it received on Twitter about the new movie, had this one from a viewer: "Don't touch my Star Wars okay! Humour is okay, but Star Wars was and will always be an action drama genre, not action comedy."

Star Wars fan James Pao, 32, says the new movie is so light and playful that it "feels like a Marvel movie instead".

He adds: "For me, the old Star Wars movies always had a bit of seriousness to them, so the tone of this just did not feel right."

He is not the first person to compare The Last Jedi to a film by Marvel, which makes films such as Iron Man and The Avengers. Both Marvel and Lucasfilm, which produces the Star Wars movies, are owned by Disney.

IT specialist Ashley Ho, 34, says: "Disney makes everything more fun and family-friendly, and this movie was a prime example of how they did that. The Last Jedi is totally Star Wars, Disney-fied."

TOO MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Another issue that fans have with the movie is the myriad holes in the storyline.

Things that director J.J. Abrams set up in The Force Awakens (2015), such as the truth behind heroine Rey's parentage or the identity of supervillain Snoke - the one responsible for turning Kylo Ren to the Dark Side - have simply been thrown out in one fell swoop.

Rey's parents turn out to be just "nobodies", while Snoke, supposedly one of the most powerful villains around, is killed too easily and with little fuss and drama.

Both points irk fans who, for the past two years, have come up with all sorts of theories of their own about their identities. For example, some fans speculated that Rey may be a descendent of Snoke.

Actress Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, is a tad confused by the obsession over her character's family ties. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, she was quoted as saying: "For me, this whole thing is not necessarily about where any of us come from. It's about where we're going."

Similarly, director Johnson is not too perturbed by these questions.

He told Entertainment Weekly: "Similar to Rey's parentage, Snoke is here to serve a function in the story. And a story is not a Wikipedia page."

• Star Wars: The Last Jedi is showing in cinemas.


What critics are raving about

DIVERSITY RULES

Critics love how The Last Jedi is so inclusive, both in terms of ethnic representation and girl power.

Other than heroine Rey (played by English actress Daisy Ridley) and black hero Finn (played by English actor John Boyega), who reprise their roles from The Force Awakens (2015), the new movie sees the addition of Vietnamese-American actresses Kelly Marie Tran and Veronica Ngo, Hispanic actor Benicio Del Toro, as well as American actress Laura Dern in the crucial role of Admiral Holdo.

 

Tran and Ngo in the roles of Resistance fighters Rose and Paige were especially celebrated, as they are the first Asian stars to play major roles in the Star Wars franchise.

Lifestyle news site Bustle says that Tran's role, in particular, represents "a major step for Asian Americans moving away from being 'the other' in Hollywood".

Nanyang Technological University assistant professor Liew Kai Khiun, who researches pop culture, says he is "pleasantly surprised" by how big their parts are in the film and plans to watch the film a second time.

On her role in the film, Tran says it was both "an honour and a responsibility".

In an interview with entertainment trade rag Variety, she said: "A lot of Star Wars fans who are specifically Asian never had a character they could dress up like, or they would and people would always call them 'Asian Rey' or 'Asian fill-in-the-blank'.

"I get very emotional when I see people who are able to identify with this character. That means a lot to me and I don't think it will ever get old."

NEW DIRECTIONS

Many Star Wars fans hate director Rian Johnson's movie because everything - from the tone to the character arcs - feels like too much of a departure from the old films.

 

From reducing the legendary Luke Skywalker into a flawed and bitter human being to even daring to question the point of the Force or the Jedis, Johnson ticked off many fanboys, whose entire fandom was built on revering all of these things.

But the choice to dismantle the old saga is widely celebrated by critics, who are ready for the franchise to go in new directions, especially as J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens (2015) was mostly a rehash of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope (1977).

Peter Sobczynski of eFilmCritic.com points out how the later Star Wars films "tended to become weighted down by their own mythology", but that "Johnson has made the right decision" by trying new things.

Jake Coyle of the Associated Press writes: "By breaking down some of the old mythology, Johnson has staked out new territory. For the first time in a long time, a 'Star Wars' film feels forward-moving."

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine says: "Rian Johnson's middle chapter in the current Star Wars trilogy is the epic you've been looking for.

"Capped by Mark Hamill in the performance of his career, it points the way ahead to a next generation of skywalkers - and, thrillingly, to a new hope."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 31, 2017, with the headline 'The Last Jedi divides'. Print Edition | Subscribe