Cards on the table: I hate The Last Jedi. It is a cynical mess that commits the ultimate sin of being boring while leaving the viewer wanting no more. Despite The Force Awakens managing to rekindle the spark of the original trilogy, Rian Johnson’s effort brings back nightmares of those prequels-that-shall-not-be-named.
While I have no desire to recount the film’s numerous missteps again, I have begun to observe a curious phenomenon amongst my fellow Last Jedi sceptics, which I feel the need to push back on. Like me, they’re hurt, they’re upset, they feel betrayed, and they need someone to blame. The question is – who?
Not the cast – even the most vitriolic Last Jedi hater can see that the actors did the best they could with the inept material they were given.
Not the studio either – Disney/Lucasfilm gave the production an appropriately huge budget and blitzed the marketing.
So then it comes down to two individuals: Rian Johnson, who single-handedly created the story, wrote the script and directed the film; and Kathleen Kennedy, who signed off on the whole enterprise (which is more-or-less the same thing as signing off on Johnson himself).
Once the first “oh God, it’s a stinker” reactions started to appear, blame was aimed squarely (and fairly) in Johnson’s direction. However, as the dust settled, disappointment turned to anger, and fans bitterly picked over the corpse of the franchise - a new, bigger target emerged: it was all Kennedy’s fault.
I understand the line of thinking that leads to this (incorrect) conclusion, which can be summarised as:
“The Last Jedi is proof that the whole direction of the franchise is wrong”
“Kennedy is a ‘social justice warrior’ [ugh] who cares more about political agendas than storytelling”
“Kennedy is the boss of Lucasfilm so it’s ultimately all her fault”
Of these arguments, only the last holds any water.
To see why, we need to dig a bit deeper. First of all, what elements of the film did work? The direction for one. Johnson directed the movie with style, visual inventiveness, and also extracted terrific performances from his cast. (Imagine what he could’ve done with a decent script.)
Similarly, I find it hard to criticise Kennedy for appointing Johnson and signing off on his singular vision. She took a risk and it backfired – spectacularly. But I’m glad the boss of this multi-billion dollar franchise is prepared to take risks by hiring – and sometimes firing – talented young directors. It was this instinct that led her to bring in J.J. Abrams, who righted the Star Wars ship after George Lucas had almost scuttled it. Abrams is not some director-for-hire who can be pushed around and forced to produce a bland corporate product. Nor is he a Michael Bay type, happy to turn in empty, brain-dead, special effects-driven blockbusters. If I praise Kennedy for handing the keys of the kingdom over to Abrams, I can’t condemn her for doing the same with Johnson.
No, the problems with The Last Jedi boil down to story and script, both of which were Johnson’s doing, and his alone.
I’m also certain that Kennedy is aware of the fan backlash and yet hasn’t chosen to throw Rian under a bus, as well she could. That speaks to a certain integrity under fire.
My greatest hope is that Kennedy will learn a lesson from the Last Jedi debacle, rather than bury her head in the sand. I wouldn’t be surprised if (behind the scenes) Johnson was under much closer scrutiny developing his new trilogy than he was on Episode 8, but meanwhile Kennedy, and Star Wars will keep moving on.
It just won’t be moving on with me. I hated it that much.