Friday, April 20, 2018

Why The Last Jedi Is So Divisive


Star Wars: The Last Jedi is remarkably divisive, generating more polarized feedback than any other Star Wars film to date. Discussions have often devolved into shouting matches, shaming the other side for their perceived biases.

Photo by Radovan on Unsplash
It's taken me a while to express my thoughts on The Last Jedi. What more could I add to what little true discussion had already taken place?

But the more videos I've watched about the film, the more I've realized that few people are talking about an important aspect of The Last Jedi: not its characters or pacing, but why it's so divisive in the first place. T B Skyen references it in his video “The Lie of Vice Admiral Holdo,” but only for one minute out of twenty.1 Patrick (H) Willems did some excellent work deconstructing what the typical Star Wars fan sought in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi,2 but he didn't even touch on this particular topic.

So what's causing all the dissent regarding the newest Star Wars film?

People have different opinions and values.

That's it. That is, what I believe, the main cause of all the controversy. People place different values on a story's aspects due to their varying tastes.

For example, I care a lot more about how a character is written than I do about, say, the cinematography. Not that I don't care about cinematography; I just don't value it as highly. I can get over boring camera angles if I find the characters' arcs compelling.

I'd never even heard of this concept until I'd watched a video by Digibro a few years ago.3 In this video, Digi explained that what bothered him about a show he was about to review might not bother other people. It was all a matter of different priorities placed on different aspects of a story.

Every story (especially those in visual media) is composed of many different elements. What elements we value most, and to what degree, is one of the key factors that determines whether we'll enjoy a story overall (there are other factors, but this is the one that plays the most prominent role in The Last Jedi's controversy). For example, while I might not like a film because I feel it has a break-neck pace, you might enjoy that film because you prefer a quicker-paced story than I do.

In the case of The Last Jedi, I highly value character development and interactions, so I was really looking forward to watching Luke train Rey. This resulted in disappointment when I discovered how much of The Last Jedi was dedicated to content unrelated to them. This, coupled with the fact that the B-plot got almost nothing done (as writer Matt Colville pointed out in his video Star Wars & The Last Jedi),4 left me feeling frustrated with half the film.

But for people who understood Vice Admiral Holdo's purpose (her “lie,” as T B Skyen called it)5 and highly value the element of surprise, the entire film was a delightful and clever subversion of expectations.

Again, a person's overall perception of the film was based on the value they place on certain elements of a story.

What seemed particularly strange to me, however, was that after I'd talked to a group of friends, most of us had agreed that specific elements of The Last Jedi were good or bad. Still, our overall impressions of the film varied greatly.

But how could this be? How could we agree certain specific elements of the film were good or bad in and of themselves, yet have different opinions on the film overall?

My brother and I talked to a collection of friends the day we saw the film. And all five of us agreed that we'd enjoyed Kylo Ren and his relationship with Rey. We'd all loved Mark Hamill's performance, even if some of us hadn't cared for how his character had been written. We'd all enjoyed the spectacle of Holdo's stand, even if we hadn't cared for the build-up to that moment. And almost everyone had agreed that the casino scene felt strange and out-of-place for a Star Wars film.

But while three of us disliked the film overall, the other two actually adored it—despite the parts they'd acknowledged were poorly done. The value we'd placed on each of those individual elements meant more or less to us, resulting in our overall better or worse impressions of the film.

And this is the biggest reason why The Last Jedi is so divisive. It all boils down to one question: do you place the same value on things that director and writer Rian Johnson does? If you do, you probably do (or will) love this film. If not, then you probably won't!

For those of you who have seen the film, what were your thoughts on it? Did you enjoy the film or dislike it? What parts did you enjoy or find lacking, and why? Did you find yourself torn about your overall impression of the film, or did you find yourself with a very strong feeling one way or the other?

If you haven't seen The Last Jedi, what are some of the things you value most highly in a story? What's one thing you can't stand in a story you've really hated, or what's one thing you always look for before determining what you saw was good?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

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Notes and References:
  1. T B Skyen, “The Lie of Vice Admiral Holdo,” YouTube video, 20:36, January 3, 2018.
  2. Patrick (H) Willems, “What Do We Want From a Star Wars Movie?” YouTube video, 19:55, Feburary 16, 2018.
  3. Unfortunately, after searching through many videos, I was unable to find which video Digibro said this specifically. If anyone knows which video it was, please let you know!
  4. Matt Colville, “Star Wars & The Last Jedi,” YouTube video, 44:46, December 27, 2017.
  5. T B Skyen, “Admiral Holdo.”
Star Wars and all related names and terms property of LucasFilm and Walt Disney Studios. And, unfortunately, I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him

7 comments:

  1. The divisiveness is so crazy. I thought the backlash against the prequels was bad, but this takes the cake. Over the past few days, I've been getting furious with the nerd community for so many things with the petty drama being one small aspect of it. One news story I heard today only made me angrier and proved some points. Seriously, people just need to grow up.

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    1. I don't know if it's a matter of needing to grow up or needing more self-awareness to take a step back and look at the situation more objectively. I know I've been guilty of it too: focusing more on the negative parts of the film rather than reminding myself that there were plenty of parts I loved, as well! I guess as with many things in life, we should be seeking balance. It's okay to talk about what we didn't like with something, but it should be constructive, and we shouldn't ignore the things they did well.

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    2. Yeah, I'm not sure. Maybe it's both. There are times where I've felt that way. It can be nauseating when people bash something without evidence and get fueled by their own emotions.

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    3. I don't even mind that as much; I can generally brush it aside if someone didn't like something that I liked (apparently for no reason). But maybe that's because I tend to be that person who gets fueled by her own emotions... Oopsies!

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    4. Is that so? There have been times I wanted to verbally retaliate against people who don't like what I like for no reason, but I guess I was too restrained or too chicken to fight back.

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    5. I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of. There's no reason to pick fights with people who have a different opinion.

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    6. That's good. I just have to pick my battles.

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