Star Wars: The Last Jedi is currently rocking a 90 percent “Fresh” rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s the fourth highest among all live-action Star Wars movies (The Empire Strikes Back tops the list with 94 percent), but Rian Johnson’s film also sports the lowest Audience Score. That’s right: in the eyes of the average Rotten Tomatoes user, The Last Jedi (49 percent) is worse than The Phantom Menace (59 percent) and even Attack of the Clones (57 percent).
Somewhere, Dexter Jettster is smiling.
Why is there such a discrepancy between critics and the audience? Is it because The Last Jedi subverts the tropes people have come to expect from a Star Wars movie? Is it the trolls? Or is it because Johnson didn’t force-feed fans the same versions of the characters, especially grizzled Jedi Luke Skywalker, they’ve been following for decades? That’s Kevin Smith’s theory, at least.
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While speaking on his Fat Man on Batman podcast, the Clerks director explained the reason he believes The Last Jedi is so polarizing. “I think at the end of the day, audience expectation plays into that,” he said. “Like when, you know, you’re like, ‘Alright the next movie is going to be all about Luke and I’ve seen Luke in the trailer and I know exactly who Luke Skywalker is and now he looks like Obi-Wan so he’s going to be like this version of Obi-Wan,’ and then they give you a version of Luke that even Mark Hamill reportedly was like ‘I don’t know, is this really supposed to be Luke Skywalker? He’s not the one I remember.'” He added, “Some people, it hit them the wrong way in a big way. I’ve seen, it’s not just people going like, ‘Oh, I didn’t like it,’ when they don’t like it. It’s vitriolic, as if somebody f*cked up their childhood.”
In some ways, The Last Jedi had an even tougher task than The Force Awakens. Episode VII only had to be better than the prequels to be considered a success (which it is); Episode VIII had to build on that, and work as a bridge between the beginning of the new trilogy and the end, with Episode IX. It’s the least complete story, because it’s wedged in the middle. So, between that and, according to Smith, Johnson taking creative risks like an unrecognizably grumpy Luke, it’s no wonder many fans prefer The Force Awakens.
“With Force Awakens you get the nostalgia rush, like, maybe we weren’t as judgy about that movie as people are being about Last Jedi because like… we’re going to make three Star Wars movies, here’s the first one and there ain’t a hint of Jar Jar in it, enjoy, and so the audience is, ‘Oh god it’s f*cking back,’ and now that they’ve had that moment, the next one had a tall order because you lose the joy of surprise and like your childhood is back and sh*t and now you just have to tell a real story.”
To hear more of his thoughts, check out Fat Man on Batman.