“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” opened Dec. 15 to mixed reviews. Critics loved the film for the bold choices it made from a narrative perspective, reflected by a 91 percent rating on the popular “Tomatometer” of Rotten Tomatoes (indicating the percentage of certified reviewers that gave the film a positive review score).
However, a large group of previously loyal fans felt betrayed by the film, with claims that it was not “Star Wars” enough. While portions of the film are undeniably terrific, the film was certainly not perfect, leaving fans and critics alike with valid arguments. The problem for the movie industry as a whole, however, lies in the response of the fans and what that means for storytelling in the future.
Following the release of the previous movie in the episodic saga, “The Force Awakens,” the most prevalent criticism from fans was that the movie played it too safe, relying on themes and plot points from the original trilogy far too often. Perhaps as a result of said criticism, Lucasfilm produced “The Last Jedi” — a film that was thematically and tonally quite different from any of the previous eight films released in the “Star Wars” galaxy.
To Lucasfilm’s (and owner company Disney’s) dismay, “Episode VIII” was then criticized for taking risks and shaking up the Star Wars saga by killing Snoke — the “big bad” of the sequel trilogy — and by portraying the previously heroic Luke Skywalker as a broken man with no hope for the Jedi.
This criticism was reflected in the box office as well, with “Episode XIII” pulling in less money than “The Force Awakens” each week for its first five weeks in theaters. With the reaction to “The Last Jedi” being significantly more harsh (48 percent user score on Rotten Tomatoes compared to “The Force Awakens’” 88 percent), Lucasfilm is left in a bit of a conundrum in terms of how to handle the “Star Wars” saga moving forward.
What alternative does Lucasfilm really have other than to continue to produce familiar movies in order to ensure that its films are a hit in the box office? If it makes a film that feels familiar, it may be chastised for not being adventurous enough, but at least it will be assured that the film will be a massive financial success. Yet, when it takes risks on the big-budget films in the hopes of providing a more narratively enriching experience, fans find issues and rebel against those types of films. In a movie industry that is severely lacking original concepts and relying far too heavily on sequels in long-standing franchises, this precedent set by fans is alarming.
Numerous movie fans and movie analysis sites claim that the movie industry will die if the current lack of original film concepts continues. Despite this widely-held belief, film franchises such as “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” continue to pull in millions at the box office each week. If moviegoers are okay with seeing the same thing annually or biannually, then there isn’t much that should be done. However, if many are claiming that movies need to be more original and take more risks, they need to speak with their wallets.
They need to show that they care about keeping the industry fresh and full of creativity by supporting films that take risks and don’t rely on past tropes. They must stop supporting films in franchises like the ones previously mentioned or, at the very minimum, provide more support for films that are lesser known and cover topics that have not really been touched upon before in the history of cinema.
Whether the damage has already been done with audience reaction to films like “The Last Jedi” remains to be seen. The next “Star Wars” film, a spinoff entitled “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” will reflect whether or not Disney and Lucasfilm will continue to push the boundaries of storytelling or whether they will stick to what works. With rumors flying around that “Solo” may feel more like a heist film than a “Star Wars” film, there may still be hope for the future of creative and bold storytelling in the galaxy far, far away.