Hate This Film, We Did – The Backlash Against The Last Jedi

A not-so long time ago right here in this galaxy, Disney bought the rights to Star Wars and all of Lucasfilm lock stock and barrel. Devoted fans were almost instantly skeptical of the company’s intentions for the proposed future trilogy, and seeds were sown for a very vocal outcry following the first Star Wars sequel in 2015, The Force Awakens. But while that film was a success both critically and (largely) by audiences alike, the Rian Johnson-helmed follow-up, 2017’s The Last Jedi was met with an unprecedented fan backlash that not only used the internet community of deep fandom, but a surprising amount of politicizing to address not only Disney’s new take on the Star Wars universe, but their apparent “progressive” signature upon the universe’s familiar characters and plotting. Many online commentators were divided in their assessment on both the film and that very backlash—spearheaded by a loose community of superfans calling themselves “The Fandom Menace.” In her review and breakdown of the film and its backlash, YouTuber Grace Randolph from Beyond the Trailer explained that the fans’ reaction was also met with a counter-backlash of industry professionals who were not only adamant that political messages were absent from the family-friendly adventure film, but were somewhat terrified that bad press could doom the franchise—as had happened with the recent offerings with the DC Extended Universe:

What’s also been interesting is there’s been an immediate backlash against the backlash. Again, a number of people associated with the film—from professionally with Star Wars, to fans—have tried to push-back against this DC-like narrative, saying, ‘I don’t want that anywhere near Star Wars. I saw what happened to the DCU’ … It became click-baity for a number of websites to put out negative headlines against the DCU.

Randolph continued that the counter-backlash could hold as much potency as the fans’ own response to the film—at least as far as how Disney presented the new story and characters. She added:

Now Vanity Fair [magazine] said that ‘This is an SJU backlash—that’s one of the main reasons.’ And I think that’s—well, listen, they said it’s because people don’t like female heroes and heroes of color, and I think that’s incorrect. I think the problem is the lack of balance and poor representation—basically, tokenism.

Some of the most outspoken figures within the realm of The Fandom Menace was Jeremy at Geeks and Gamers who, while not taking credit as a leader of this apparent resistance, hated The Last Jedi for various reasons and often sided with the legions of fellow angry fans. His response, however, was not so much due to the film itself, or the praised performances of Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, and John Boyega—but what he likened to a form of cyberbullying that—in his view—attempted to paint Fandom Menace participants as anti-progressive hate-mongers:

Again, I’ve said this a thousand times … You can make a bad movie and we can accept a bad movie. What we can’t accept is that you, in your faults, tried to call us racists and sexists and misogynists because we called your shit movie out—and you didn’t want to accept that you made a bad movie. You tried to blame the fandom. This is where the problem really lies … This is where the misconception about The Fandom Menace is out there on the internet. The Fandom Menace is not angry about a bad movie; the Fandom Menace is angry that we were called names and we were marginalized.

Once that point is made, Geeks and Gamers does not shy away from its criticism of The Last Jedi itself, citing numerous examples of the film’s elements that their YouTuber community took particularly offense to:

It is utter garbage in the context of the Star Wars saga universe. So again, if it’s a one-off sci-fi movie, if it’s an isolated Star Wars movie that has no impact on the past or the future, then this is a fantastically entertaining Star Wars movie. The problem is that it does have ramifications from the past and for the future—and for that reason, it is a garbage Star Wars movie.

While Geeks and Gamers’ Jeremy claims rightly so that there is no definitive “leader” within The Fandom Menace movement (and that, while The Last Jedi is very deserving of his wrath, he loved smaller elements of the film franchise’s recent offerings, such as its action sequences and for Ashoka Tano and Clone Wars), his opinions are shared by many, many other Star Wars devotees. During a roundtable discussion, the YouTuber commentators at Half In The Bag cited their own reasons for disapproving of The Last Jedi, including the film’s pacing and apparent inclusion of subplots that didn’t seem to answer any leftover questions from the previous film:

I don’t want to say it’s a mess, but it’s messy. I think that’s the best way to put it … The most obvious thing to me is that it probably ends about half an hour later than it should have ended … The length is an issue, the structure is an issue, and the pacing is an issue.

Like many other online commentators, Half In The Bag took particular ire with the lengthy sequences involving recent character additions Finn and Rose Tico—portrayed by John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran, respectively—whose not-so-romantic onscreen romance took up a good third of The Last Jedi’s runtime—as well as the missed opportunities to see older characters reunited:

Like Luke and Leia on-screen together—that was the moment that we didn’t get in The Force Awakens, or Han and Luke. We also don’t get Luke’s reactions to Han’s death. Very strange editing, very strange pacing, very strange dialogue.

Half In The Bag went concluded:

…That sequence that was the climax of the film, thirty minutes before the other climax of the film? Like Finn and Rose’s adventure having no bearing on anything that happens in the movie.

At Schmoedown, YouTuber Kristian Harloff found many elements to love about the film, but was in agreement with many commentators that the Finn/Rose romance seemed forced and out-of-place, given the pacing of The Last Jedi’s multiple-climax structure. He added:

Even though I loved both the performances of John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran, I thought that their relationship was kind of pushed on us, and I think that the stuff on Canto Bight—which is the Las Vegas planet, if you will—didn’t work at all … It felt so out-of-place, it felt like a totally different movie.

YouTuber Jeremy Jahns agreed heavily, citing the Finn arc one of the most confusing plot turns within the new Star Wars universe. In his own review, Jahns commented:

I’m just saying, the moment they flipped that thing from a completely useless storyline arc in the movie to a completely terrible romance, I was thinking, ‘Was that the worst romance I’ve seen in Star Wars?’ Possibly.

As YouTuber The Cosmonaut Variety Hour summed up, this plot structure is, indeed, one of the biggest points of contention among Star Wars fans. In his own review, the Cosmonaut stated:

This is the subplot that everybody basically agrees could have been skipped entirely. Even people like me who like this movie don’t really like everything that’s going on here.

In Jeremy Jahns’ view, however, the most controversial elements of The Last Jedi—not only according to him, but echoed in the reviews of numerous fellow YouTubers and commentators—was the way in which writer-director Rian Johnson presented the behavior of certain characters, while seemingly contracting things within the Star Wars universe that ran counter to fan theories and long-held beliefs. In particular, Jahns was disappointed—like many other fans—that Rey’s origin was not only of Skywalker nobility or as the descendant of a legendary hero but, rather, was that of a common “nobody.” He continued:

I would argue that The Force Awakens sets up Rey (‘Oh, my family? They’ll be back.’) It puts the question in fans’ minds, ‘Well, who is her family?’ Then, you see a Force flashback of the ship flying away and she’s a little girl getting dragged away. The Force Awakens set up the question of ‘Who's her family?’ And now it’s like, ‘Oh, your parents were garbage. They were just junk traders who traded you for some money.

At Schmoedown, YouTuber Kristian Harloff concurred, citing his disappointment that Rey’s parental lineage did not contain a proper explanation for her “heir apparent” status among the Jedi Masters, adding:

Now, the thing that I will say that I have a problem with, in this movie also with with Rey, is they didn’t really explain how she’s as powerful as she was…

YouTuber Tyrone Magnus had similar sentiments, built on his own disappointments that what had initially seemed to be sound fan theories were thrown out, making a case for an illogical story trajectory. In his own disappointed review of the film, Magnus claimed:

I did not like the feel of the movie, I did not like certain key things that happened in the movie. Snoke was not the badass I thought he was. Things didn’t go, in the story, the way I thought they would. There are certain things that I didn’t find out that I wanted to find out within the movie about Rey and about Kylo.

Truly one of the most controversial elements of The Last Jedi was that of Luke Skywalker himself. While nearly all fans championed the return of original trilogy star Mark Hamill, even Hamill himself was vocal in his confusion over the direction the new film took his beloved hero. Now a curmudgeonly, aging former Jedi Master, Skywalker even admits to Rey his fleeting wish to have killed his own nephew, the future Sith Lord Kylo Ren. Fan reaction to this revelation was mixed, at best. The YouTubers at World Class Bullshitters were particularly disturbed by this character turn, commenting:

Twenty years ago, or thirty years ago, when he felt the Dark Side taking over his nephew, he would not try to kill, especially that it’s his flesh and blood, you know, and it’s Han Solo’s—one of his best friend’s kids—he’s not going to just be like, ‘Dude, your kid was bad, um, I had to throw him out.’ No!

While not defending the more controversial elements of The Last Jedi, YouTuber Chris Stuckmann did agree with many of his fellow commentators that the pacing and unforeseen plot “twists” led to the eventual undoing of the film in the eyes of devoted Star Wars fans.

Let’s talk about the Force in The Last Jedi because they play with things that they’ve never really gone into in a Star Wars film before, and I am positive that it will anger Star Wars fans because there are specific things that happen … And I’ll admit, when I first saw it, I was a little taken aback because I thought, ‘Is this going to be a thing? Can Jedi do this?

Stuckmann, however, found numerous redeeming qualities with The Last Jedi, citing the action sequences and cast performances among the high points. He continued:

Other than that, I think that this is an extremely exciting and unexpected Star Wars movie with a great, unique original vision and some of the best action of the entire saga. I had a really good time with this movie and it’s positioning characters in a very intriguing way.

And while YouTuber The Cosmonaut Variety Hour never gives The Last Jedi a pass for its apparent shortcomings, he does make it a point to remind fans that previous installments in the original Star Wars trilogy were, at the time of their own respective releases, equally innovative with pacing and characterization—and contained some of the very elements for which The Last Jedi now finds itself under fire. He wrote:

People have complained that the story is dumb because the First Order should be able to catch up to the Resistance and just blow ’em up. They’re upset because it’s basically a long chase scene. And that’s the movie—just one big long chase scene. But, I’d like to remind you guys that Empire was also one big long chase scene.

In perhaps one of the more forgiving assessments that The Last Jedi reviewed from the YouTuber community, the Cosmonaut summed up his final thoughts on the film, concluding:

This movie changed concepts that audiences found comfort in—infallible heroes, big evil villains, and a big lightsaber fight at the end. None of these things are in the movie, and I guess it makes sense that a lot of people are upset by this—but, if you ask me, that is exactly what Star Wars needed.