Anghus Houvouras on Rian Johnson’s perplexing relationship with Star Wars: The Last Jedi critics…
When forging our opinions, we spend a unnecessary amount of time worrying about being on the ‘right’ side of an argument. When it comes to cinema, there is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. There are only widely varying feelings of the entire human population and the vigor to which they are defended.
Star Wars has always elicited strong feelings. It’s the cinematic franchise that generates the most passion. Like the middle-aged fans that have been obsessed since Star Wars since they saw the original in 1977. Or the fans who tirelessly defend George Lucas’ flawed prequels. How about the deeply invested fans who spent decades exploring the Expanded Star Wars Universe before Lucasfilm declared it inert.
Star Wars generates a crazy amount of passion, opinions and feelings.
The Last Jedi is a fantastic example of the kind of crazy passion generated by the events occurring in a galaxy far, far away. There are very vocal opponents of Rian Johnson’s polarizing parable. Those who claim his choices sullied Star Wars and utterly invalidated the heroic legacy of Luke Skywalker. Claims that Rian Johnson was playing fast and loose with the Jedi canon. Arguments about the pointless story arcs for Finn and the utter ridiculousness of Rose Tico.
And there were those who passionately defended Rian Johnson’s story. Fans who loved the bold and challenging choices and pleased that the most popular movie series in history was still capable of surprising them. The fact that Lucasfilm and Disney allowed Johnson to deliver a divisive blockbuster free of corporate micromanagement is absolutely stunning.
Some people love The Last Jedi. Some people (like me) think it’s kind of terrible. We’ve established that there is no such thing as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it comes to enjoying movies. There’s no point in digging in and fervently defending a position that when boiled down it’s most basic component are simply your unsubstantiated opinion.
As a writer, I’m always looking to find the interesting angle. Interesting both to me and hopefully the reader. I didn’t find the conflict interesting because, let’s face it, the internet is 44% conflict. And if you consider pornography aggressive, you could probably up that number to the mid 60’s.
What I did find interesting is director Rian Johnson, who has spent the better part of two months addressing every single criticism to anyone willing to listen. An endless parade of bullet points where Johnson dives head first into the occasionally shallow pool of criticism amassing in the cinematic grease trap known as social media. Here’s a list of recent stories featuring the controversial director:
- Rian Johnson addresses the controversial Princess Leia scene
- Rian Johnson explains the absence of the Knights of Ren in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- Rian Johnson has explained the thought process behind Rey’s parentage in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- Rian Johnson explains the ‘let the past die’ theme of Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- Rian Johnson on why he didn’t explain Snoke’s backstory in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- Rian Johnson explains why Luke’s lightsaber was blue and not green in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
When I first started reading these stories, there was part of me that admired the guy for taking the criticisms head on. This was a guy with passion who was defending his choices. How do you not admire that? Why I still didn’t like the movie, I can respect the guy for being willing to openly address these passionate opinions. It’s not like he’s Michael Bay shitting out another Transformers movie and grinning at you atop a pile of hookers and cash while you futily cry about how they got the design of Optimus Prime wrong.
As more stories came out, my admiration turned to confusion. This one in particular was puzzling.
- Rian Johnson offers brilliant Twitter response to Star Wars: The Last Jedi force projection criticism
In a series of tweets, Rian Johnson references a book that reveals Luke’s use of a force projection was, in fact, accurate. In as far as a reference book about a fictional religion based in a fictional universe can be accurate.
At best, it came across like a whimsical retort to the nit-picky nerds challenging the film’s integrity. At worst, it kind of looked like the guy who got to direct a Star Wars movie telling a portion of the fans to go fuck themselves at their earliest convenience.
I can’t remember a director who has taken so much time and so much pleasure in addressing the criticisms levied against their movie. Johnson seems to greatly enjoy this back and forth with the people who thought The Last Jedi was an utter abomination. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I found his obsession with dissenters rather strange. Like a weird window into the psyche of Rian Johnson.
It’s weird when the director of a mega-huge blockbuster bothers to descend to the level of his most ardent critics and continue to chuck stones looking for a reaction. Most filmmakers have no issue with defending their choices. Certainly when the subject is broached the filmmaker has the opportunity to push back against what he believes to be unfair gripes. But most don’t go to the depths Johnson has, nor the frequency.
The sheer volume of criticisms Johnson has had to address validates that the movie is inherently flawed. These aren’t the same broad criticisms that J.J. Abrams was struck with: The Mary Sue contingent and those who found the soft-reboot approach of the original Star Wars to be lazy and ultimately uninspired. The criticisms of The Last Jedi are more about specific choices for characters or plot threads that Johnson was handed before deciding to chuck the baton over his shoulder like an old lightsaber.
Johnson’s devotion to not only defending The Last Jedi is admirable, but his attempts at riling up disappointed fans seems odd. The Last Jedi is a movie that has generated a lot of passion, and not the good kind. Audiences were baffled. Hardcore fans had their feathers ruffled. And the movie is going to end up making 750 million dollars less than The Force Awakens.
Imagine being an executive at Disney or Lucasfilm and watching as the writer/director of the next trilogy of your most valuable franchise taunting fans for his amusement. The guy who made a franchise film that agitated an unhealthy number of viewers and ended up leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table is a little too interested in a flame war with fans.
And just like that, I’m back to admiring the guy again.
Rian Johnson has no parallel in the world of franchise filmmakers. There’s this sense of swagger to him. It’s almost like the character of DJ (Benecio del Toro) is an avatar for Johnson. The split opinions of the audience are represented by the Resistance and The First Order. In the middle of it all you have the guy who cuts through all the posturing about right & wrong and rightfully declares that both sides are a little too invested in the others destruction.
Maybe this would all seem less bizarre if Rian Johnson was handling Star Wars like the Presidency of James Polk i.e. get in, accomplish your goals and get the hell out. But with Johnson helming an entire new Star Wars trilogy, this feels like it could be six to eight years of constant confrontations and epic battles that will make what happens on-screen pale in comparison.