The last weeks of the year were cluttered with the howls of internet drama. Forums and Facebook posts filled with disappointment and rage- why? The Last Jedi is why. The latest installment in the Star Wars movie franchise proved its worth in record breaking sales and glowing reviews, but some fans were… less than pleased with the film. A lot of reasons come up, but it’s usually come down to three things: a different style of plot, a different direction with characters, and a different direction with lore. Different than expected, and unpredictable when compared to the previous seven Star Wars films.
Fan outrage is nothing new (indeed, we could argue that it’s become worse and/or easier to spot with the internet), but the question remains: why are some viewers and readers so adverse to change? Vocal push-back emerged when Avatar: The Last Airbender’s sequel series took a new direction, Star Wars fans never seem to be happy with new additions to the franchise, and every time a remake or new retelling is announced, there is an associated outrage attached.
Sure, we could argue that Hollywood’s run out of ideas, but are we prematurely judging something instead? Some push-back for The Last Jedi has been summarized with the fact that Star Wars is a modern myth or fairy tale, meant to be happy and heroic… And this ignores that folklore and myth was made to grow, and made for us to grow with it.
Let’s talk retellings for a bit. Disney recently started rebooting their animated properties into live action films, earning their share of sighs and groans. Nevertheless, some of these movies have tried to do something unique: Cinderella was a subtler, Grimm’s-based story when compared to its animated counterpart. The Jungle Book film integrated a few familiar scenes from Kipling’s original book- something the animated movie dodged. Maleficent, for all its flaws and silliness, explored a completely new angle of its main character and her relationships with others. Likewise, Disney’s theatrical release of the musical, Into The Woods, turned out to be a morally challenging fairy tale that outright ignored most of their canon.
And these are modifications on their own retellings, but let’s not forget that Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and The Sleeping Beauty are much, much older stories that Disney themselves retold many years back. I often wonder if people in the 40s, 50s, and 60s were rolling their eyes, complaining about more fairy tale retellings? I wonder if they were defensive of the original (much darker) stories now whitewashed for Disney’s growing public?
Likewise, when Disney’s young audiences discovered the original stories, did it change their perception of the movie? I know this happened to me as a child, after stumbling upon some of darker, more violent versions of Cinderella and the original story for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Not only did I find these versions better, I began to resent Disney for missing the original point of the stories.
These days, I still don’t like these movies very much, but… I see why they exist, and what audience they were for. Maybe not for me, but they were for someone. A retelling’s point, I suspect, is to offer incite to the original work. Interpretation and context that may have been missed once, and while we might roll our eyes at the trivial nature of these stories, we forget that the exchange of stories sometimes means those stories change.
Star Wars itself has gone through a few retellings, whether it be deep in the extended universe, which changes every time a movie revises the canon, or in the very tone of each trilogy. The originals came out to a young Generation X, starry-eyed and full of that 1980’s hope. The prequels released to young Millennials, a darker yet sillier galaxy far, far away to open up the franchise (notably, the only PG-13 entry to the prequels released right as most kids turned tween and teenaged. Hmm). The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, Rogue One, and the remaining unnamed films are probably, as is the pattern, meant for the young Gen Z. But they’re also for the older generations, who can connect with callbacks through Luke, Leia, and Han Solo, now aging adults with real problems, real flaws, and real shortcomings. Millennials can come in for the dynamic, relatable characters in Rey, Poe, Finn, and Rose (or Kylo, depending on your preference- no judgement). These elements have upset some viewers though, citing that they hate watching heroes fail and act “out of character.” Akin to learning that our parents aren’t perfect, or that or favorite celebrities are awful people.
But isn’t that true of life? Don’t these depths and shades exist? It would be a disservice to Luke or Han if they didn’t change after forty years, because that will be what happens to all of us as well. Perhaps we are resistant to change of quality in a series, but deep down, it’s worth wondering whether we resist it in face of something that’s different, or too honest, for our liking. “Witches can be right, giants can be good,” comes as a lyric from Into The Woods, stating well that our assumptions can be wrong about heroes, villains, and the norm.
One of my favorite scenes in The Empire Strikes Back is when Luke trains with Yoda, and enters the Dagobah Cave to meet his biggest fear. At first, he’s faced with Darth Vader, but upon defeating this phantom visage of a Sith, he discovers that what he truly fears is the evil within himself. This is paralleled in The Last Jedi with Rey, when she enters an undersea cave and faces herself against her greatest fear: her own loneliness reflected back at her for an eternity.
These are incredibly powerful scenes, but also summarize beautifully why we fear change. We don’t just hate that Luke Skywalker is flawed and old, we hate that we now see ourselves in him. We don’t resist retellings and sequels just because of faltering writing, but we resist them for defense of the status quo. We long for the moment when the cave confirms that Darth Vader is our worst nightmare, because anything more challenging will require thought, and inner effort, and reflection.
Caitlin Jones is an author, film editor, and lover of all things Victorian and fantastic. Please check in for information on her upcoming series.