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Addressing Criticisms of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), part 1

A large number of people hate Star Wars: Episode 8 - The Last Jedi (2017). It's not a horror film, per se, but given the horror stories people tell about it on YouTube and other media outlets, you wouldn't be remiss in thinking otherwise. It begs the question, is the movie really that bad; furthermore, if it is, how far down the rabbit hole does it go? While I've been wanting to review The Last Jedi for awhile to answer these questions, that will have to wait a little longer. For this three-part piece, I wanted instead to address its criticism—chiefly the vitriolic, virulent sort that's arisen during its theatrical run, and following its home release. There will be spoilers concerning the movie itself, here, but largely I'll be discussing the franchise as a whole.

This is part one; read part two, here, and part three, here.

Concerning this internet backlash, we have a war on our hands—one waged between different fans of the same titanic franchise, and its current boss. One must remember, the series has existed since 1977 and consequently has had forty-one years to garner a world-wide fan base, spanning multiple generations. It's not simply films, either. Merchandise like toys and videogames—I especially enjoyed Dark Forces (1995) or Shadows of the Empire (1996)—have reliably helped push the franchise forward, contributing towards a massive global empire.

Any empire will experience changes in leadership as time goes on; it will be beset by moments of relative peace and unrest, obedience and rebellion. In Gladiator (2000), Richard Harris' Marcus Aurelius wondered aloud, "How will the world speak my name in years to come? Will I be known as the philosopher? The warrior? The tyrant...?" Just queries. Concerning Star Wars, George Lucas ran the show for decades. Oddly enough, regarding the classics he only directed the first movie. Originally it was simply called Star Wars (1977). Later, in 1981, it was re-billed as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, following the release of The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Irvin Kershner directed that film; Richard Marquand would take the reins for Return of the Jedi (1983). Presumably Lucas signed their checks, but don't quote me on that.

My uncle owned the 1995 VHS box set of the original trilogy. Those tapes contained their own advertisement, which concluded with the announcer dramatically stating, "Own it on video... One. Last. Time." He wasn't kidding: 1997 signaled the remastering and theatrical re-release of the Star Wars classics, in anticipation of Lucas' upcoming prequels. This project was relatively ambitious, with Lucas inserting new content or changing old scenes. His infamously revisionist approach lasted until 2012, when he sold the rights of the franchise to Disney.

Some changes were small and cosmetic, comparable to the sort Ridley Scott performed on Blade Runner (1982) with his titular, 2007 "Final Cut" (although the changing of the line "I want more life, fucker" to "father" really bothered me, mostly because I like White Zombie). Others were fairly destructive, including one involving Jason Wingreen, the original voice actor for Boba Fett, being replaced by Temuera Morrison, in 2004. Morrison was the actor who played Jango Fett, in Attack of the Clones (2002); Jango sired a number of clones, including his own son, so it makes sense, in hindsight, that Boba would sound like him. Hence the change. What's odd is Lucas did it for his director's cut, and then took the original, theatrical cut out of print.

This practice is unusual. For example, Ridley Scott had his own director's cut of Alien (1979) that he supervised the release of, in 2003. The big difference with his movie and Lucas' is that both versions of Alien remained in print. Take Brian Helgeland's Payback (1999): the director's cut, Payback: Straight Up, was released in 2006, and felt like a completely different film (mainly because it was; if you think Lucas was extreme, watch both versions of this movie). Like with Scott, both versions of Payback are commercially available.

The same cannot be said for Lucas; only the newest, canonical, revised versions are made available to new generations. This was all planned (though how much before Lucas was interviewed by Leonard Maltin, for the 1995 VHS box set, I do not know). I'm not sure why they couldn't have printed both versions, but they stuck to their plan as closely as they could. To this day, the original versions of the classics aren't commercially available in stores, or online, and finding an old copy is nearly impossible; their initial DVD release in 2004 only had the revised versions, as has every re-release since. As a result, official commercial versions of the unaltered classics can only be found on VHS or Laserdisc. Eventually no one will remember them except as curios of a bygone time. Star Wars will forget itself to become what it now is. In a way it already has.

I will entertain the idea that this approach arguably helps unify fans, as consumers. Conversely it also makes them rather volatile when they think their franchise is being toyed with (take it from me: canon is bullshit). The irony here is that the franchise has been, for years—changing in ways that piss off fans,  according to the current persons in power. Lucas wasn't King Midas, and not everything he touched turned to gold; many older fans were annoyed by his treatment of the original films. Their vexation only continued to grow with the financially-successful-but-critically-panned prequels. In other words, feelings towards Lucas were never, ever constant. Plenty lambasted him for doing whatever he pleased with sacred material. In spite of this, younger audiences turned out in droves (though not for the right reasons).

By the time Attack of the Clones (2002) hit theaters, it was no secret that The Phantom Menace (1999) was a less-than-stellar film. In response, a famous re-edit surfaced in 2000 called The Phantom Edit, by Mike J. Nichols. Oddly enough, Lucas and those under him condoned the edit, allowing its unofficial distribution. In any case, the fact that it existed at all (at a time when articulating and disseminating such a project would have been logistically far more difficult to do than it would be, nowadays) is proof that certain persons weren't happy with Lucas' work. He pissed everyone off, including those working under him. Fans were divided, but the new movies proved reliable cash cows.

What's important to remember here is that this doesn't mean the prequels were well-made. They weren't. No, the prequels were generally dismissed or torn apart by critics, in spite of their financial success. As family-friendly space operas, parents took their kids to see these movies. Word-of-mouth flew in the face of critics, landing butts in seats. Adam Sandler movies accomplish as much. Should this be proof that high turnout automatically translates to cinematic craft? I think not.

It doesn't stop people from attacking The Last Jedi, though, declaring it worse than the prequels, even calling it the worst Star Wars film ever made. Call me a skeptic, then—especially when I hear Lucas being venerated alongside his less-than-stellar latter-day work. One, I know the man's own track record is largely checkered; the greatest works in his canon weren't even made by him, not to mention the choices made by him, later as franchise overlord, adequately show the dangers in simply kissing the ring. People give the man far too much credit, and celebrate the prequels for being what they've not. Yes, they were marketed well (the box office numbers speak for themselves) and no one should accuse Lucas of being a poor businessman; he's a billionaire for a reason. Beyond that, what praise do the prequels actually deserve beyond simply being acknowledged as infamously sub-par, but lucrative entries in the Star Wars canon?


About me: My name is Nick van der Waard and I'm a Gothic ludologist. I primarily write reviews, Gothic analyses, and interviews. Because my main body of work is relatively vast, I've compiled it into a single compendium where I not only list my favorite works, I also summarize them. Check it out, here!

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