You might be thinking, “Another article examining The Last Jedi? Are you kidding me? Isn’t the fanbase toxic enough already?” Or you might be saying, “Yes, another article confirming my hatred for that piece of crap!”
That being said, this type of polarized reaction in the Star Wars community reveals something critical about the franchise, because chances are you either walked out of the Last Jedi pleased or disgusted(although there certainly are a lot of people somewhere in between those two reactions).
I believe the key reason for that is a difference in values: mainly how one “values” the past.
For those who value the past greatly, they want to see it restored, or they at least want to see it treated respectfully. This includes fans of the original triology and the prequels. They saw something in the Star Wars world, in the Jedi and in Luke that they intensely valued. Perhaps it was Luke’s undying courage and faith. Perhaps it was the Jedi’s refusal to give up even as their order collapsed around them. Or it could just be they loved lightsaber tools.
Enter The Last Jedi: a movie with no real lightsaber duels, a broken Luke, a movie that showcases the danger of reckless pilots and kills off Luke after a false fight. More than that, the movie dismisses the past as “legends.” Even Luke himself says, “You think I’m just going to pick up a laser sword and beat the entire First Order.”
The obvious answer of those who love the past films would be, “Umm. yeah!”
Rey in this way, is a surrogat for this audience. She knows the stories of Luke, and is disappointed to see this old nasty man, who doesn’t even look like the hero she heard stories about. She struggles to reclaim the past throughout the movie, only to end with Anakin’s broken lightsaber.
For those who loved the past Star Wars movies and all their plot points and characters, this movie felt like an utter betrayal…but.. another group loved this film.
This other group generally speaking loved the movie’s exploration and deconstruction of key tropes in the Star Wars universe. They appreciated the fact that Luke was not some bigger than life hero, but a broken human just like you and me. They praised the movie’s deconstruction of the lone wolf pilot, and the movie’s overall theme of needing to carve a path forward by yourself, regardless of the mistakes of the past.
For this group, the past had some good elements, but it was also deeply problematic such as the light/dark forced dichotomy; the cycle of endless war; lack of representation of women; and other issues.
Some loved or hated this movie for political reasons, but I think deeper than that, the real divide comes down to how you interact with the past.
Do you view it as an age of paragons, with flaws for certain, but still worthy of respect? Or do you view it as a problematic time that we must move beyond?
It is important to note that for some people, this can apply only to the Star Wars past directly…but it also might point to a different longing. A longing for a golden age, separate from all the trash and prejudice of the history of our world.
Ultimately, time will tell if we remember The Last Jedi as a necessary change or a bizarre roadblock.