As I've been talking to various people and reading various articles around the various internets, I've noticed a theme emerging in regards to The Last Jedi, and it's this: The older you are, the angrier you are about this movie. There are things about it that aggravated me, but there were a lot of things I really liked as well. Friends of mine that are just five years older than me, however, are furious, and a lot of it is directed toward one scene in particular. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Last chance to stop reading if you haven't seen The Last Jedi, because we're gonna talk now about what Luke does when first handed his lightsaber by Rey. For the last two years, we've been wondering what Luke is gonna do when presented his father's old laser sword and as you saw in the film, he chucks it over his shoulder, off a cliff. Many people had issues with this, not least of which being that it seems very dismissive of J.J. Abrams' set-up of this as a climactic moment.
Well, Rian Johnson was asked about this moment by Collider, and he offered up an explanation that starts by him saying he wasn't trying to be a dick...
“It wasn’t coming into it and thinking, ‘Okay, they’re expecting this. Let’s have him toss the lightsaber. Ha, ha, ha.’ The reason he did that was because I can’t imagine any other honest reaction from him to that moment.”
From there, he goes into a little more detail about Luke's mindset at that moment...
“So, if you think about where Luke is at the beginning of this movie—and by the way, the cracking for me where Luke is at in this movie was the first big thing I had to do coming into it, where his head was at here, and there were fewer options than you would imagine. The thing we know about him from The Force Awakens, the big thing, is he’s taken himself out of the fight. His friends are fighting the good fight, he’s exiled off to an island alone. Knowing that Luke is a hero, knowing Luke from growing up, I know he must think he’s doing the right thing by taking himself out of the equation. And because he’s the last Jedi, by taking the Jedi out of the equation, by saying, ‘I’m taking the Jedi out of this fight,’ he must think that’s the best thing for the galaxy.”
Much like the film itself, Johnson takes a while to get to the crux of his argument, but it's coming up in this paragraph. I promise...
“So, that leads you down a really specific path in terms of where his head is at. And if he’s done that and if he’s made this huge Herculean effort to pull himself out of the fight, to hide in, like he says, ‘The most unfindable place in the galaxy,’ it took an entire movie for the most heroic, smartest people in the galaxy to even find him, he’s put himself away. Then some kid shows up that he doesn’t know and shoves this thing that is everything that he has made this huge effort to step away from into his face with this look in her eyes of expectation like, ‘Here you go,’ and what is he going to do? Take it and say, ‘Great. Let’s go save the galaxy.’ He’s made this choice. He’s there for a reason. I knew it was going to be shocking, but I did it because it felt like, obviously it’s a dramatic expression of it, but it’s an expression of honestly the way that he is going to react to that moment.”
It's one of about a dozen different possible reactions all under those same circumstances, any writer can tell you that. What makes people angry isn't that it's not what they thought was going to happen—which is a lot of what people dislike about it—it's that it's obviously played for a laugh. He could've just put his hood back up and walked away, or he could have said, "Keep it, I don't want it." I think the reason I'm at least partially peeved by the moment is that he obviously shot it and played it for a laugh.
To circle back to my opening discussion about the differences in opinion on this film in its first week of release, here are two perfect examples. Red Letter Media, home to Mr. Plinkett's Prequel Reviews, are all guys around my age: late 30s, grew up seeing at least Jedi in the theater, if not Empire as well. Their summation of the film is pretty close to mine, and you can view it here. The very best bad movie podcast, We Hate Movies, are younger than me, being born after the original trilogy left theaters in 1983. Their take on the film is that it's great and people who dislike it need to get over their own expectations. You can check out their mini-sode on the film right here.
Both present great arguments for their side and I highly recommend you give both a listen. They also prove, pretty conclusively, that it's going to take time to render a final verdict on the film. It just came out, and whereas most of us have never lived a day without the various Star Wars movies in our lives, we need to give this one time. It took a while for us to realize that the prequels were actually rancid piles of garbage, so it's gonna take a while for us to reach a consensus on where this belongs in the canon.
Don't be surprised to find it near the top some years from now, but you should also not be surprised to find it near the bottom either. It's a bold movie, and bold movies either hit the bullseye or miss wildly. Only time will tell.