Star Wars holds a certain near-gravitational pull for a particular–generally male–cohort of the population. This is a fandom with an intensity that perhaps only Yankees fans can rival for fervor and longevity. For decades, Star Wars has sold billions of dollars of movie tickets, Legos, and branded memorabilia, in spite of the fact that even fans admit that Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, was not that good. True to form, The Last Jedi, brought in more than $220 million in its first weekend. The box office receipts are expected to top $600 million by Thursday. Clearly, the movie has been widely viewed. Is that the same thing as saying it is any good? Curiously, the answer for critics seems to depend to a surprising level on politics.
On the left leaning side of the media spectrum, Rolling Stone could barely contain its enthusiasm. “The Last Jedi – Episode VIII of the Star Wars saga – is simply stupendous, a volcano of creative ideas in full eruption,” writes Peter Travers. Although he grudgingly admits that the film ran long, he was on the whole impressed by Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, who he calls “a portrayal that cuts to the core of what Star Wars means to a generation of dreamers looking to the heavens.” For Travers, the film is both nostalgic and new, a solid addition to the franchise.
Other critics concur. According to the New York Times‘ Manohlia Dargis, The Last Jedi is “a satisfying, at times transporting entertainment” with “visual wit and a human touch.” Her review praises the film for opening a new chapter in the intergalactic saga even as it bids farewell to classic characters including Princess Leia and Han Solo. Although she admits that “the story is a tangle,” she praised the movie for not feeling burdened by the legacy of the past.
Toward the conservative side of the media spectrum, Ben Kerstein, writing for the Federalist, calls the movie “the worst Star Wars movie ever,” writing that it was poorly written, badly directed, and lazily acted.
“To name a few of its many flaws: The script is laden with clichéd dialogue that is, at times, simply excruciating,” he writes. “The plot is further degraded by its pointed failure to follow up on the various story points set up by its predecessor, the wonderful “Force Awakens.”
John Podhoretz, writing for the Weekly Standard, agrees. After confessing that he was guilty of having written a positive review of Phantom Menace nearly 20 years ago, he writes that The Last Jedi is “excruciatingly boring and startlingly devoid of any meaningful plot.”
“This is a movie whose story literally centers on how much gas is in a spaceship’s tank,” he says. According to Podhoretz, the boredom is only relieved at the end of the movie, with a bang that “comes at the cost of betraying all kinds of Star Wars mythology.”
Perhaps unintentionally, the critics have described two different attitudes towards the past and the so-called canon of the original series. To right-leaning critics, the rules of the Star Wars universe that were established in earlier films should be respected. Meanwhile, more left-of-center critics lauded the series for letting go of the past to embrace a new future. Unlike in Rogue One and The Force Awakens, this appears to be a progressive future.
Writing in Wired, Angela Watercutter suggest the film is only bothering people because it shows diversity, which was not as prevalent in previous films. The quality of the film making and the pointless plot taking up roughly one-third of the film, which have been noted by the conservative critics, seem less relevant to her review: “The Last Jedi Will Bother Some People. Good.”
“The Last Jedi is more or less a metaphorical depiction of the baby boomer generation (a generation that featured a lot of white dudes — good and bad — in positions of power) handing off leadership roles to younger generations, particularly millennials, who tend to be more racially diverse and to advocate having more women in positions of power,” writes “The series’ millennial good guys are a young white woman, a black man, a woman of Asian descent, and a Latino man, while its millennial bad guys are two white dudes.”
Critics and fans often have very different tastes, though, which is why sites like Rotten Tomatoes include both professional and user reviews. An online poll by the gaming site IGN found that on the whole Star Wars fans are rather consistent with their preferences. The Empire Strikes Back was the runaway favorite of the series, garnering 53 percent of the 23,200 votes casts, with the rest of the original trilogy following in a statistical dead heat. Only eight percent of respondents said that The Last Jedi was their favorite Star Wars film.
Which makes it all the more interesting that 13 percent said that it was the worst Star Wars movie. It seems safe to say that it is a polarizing film. On the whole, audiences seem to have given The Last Jedi middling reviews. Rotten Tomatoes’ low reviews have even begun to attract conspiracy theories.
According to HuffPo, an alt-right group called “Down With Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys” might be to blame. HuffPo alleges that the group, angered by the movie’s depiction of men, created bot accounts to give the movie one-star ratings. However, Rotten Tomatoes’ vice president Jeff Voris says that it is unlikely that bots were able to trick the site.
Instead, one-half star and one-star user reviews on the site called The Last Jedi “a really bad movie” and “not fit for the franchise.” Where critics had praised the film’s additions, these viewers were bothered by its inconsistencies–and far less willing to sit through a slow second half with poor CGI (including Chewbacca), weak dialogue, an irrelevant side mission (adding time to a very long movie), and violations of long-held understandings fans have had of Star Wars through film, cartoons, books, and video games.
So, should you go see The Last Jedi? It might depend on what you think of the idea of canon–and not necessarily the western one.