Synopsis: The Resistance fights for its existence — and amongst themselves — while Rey learns hard truths from a broken Luke Skywalker
• The most original of the franchise, while still bouncing off the films that came before it.
• A controlled chaos of a film that works to bring something new from the old, and the most realistic psychologically. It was simply beautiful to watch at times.
• Mark Hamill delivered the performance of his career, while arguably applying his own frustrations of where the director/writer, Rian Johnson, brought the character.
• Seeing Leia, Carrie Fisher, one last time …
• The entry seemed designed to not care about the opinions of the long-time fans, particularly the more conservative ones.
• Though it does flow better on subsequent viewings, it is a very harshly toned film, with enough location bouncing that might turn off some viewers.
• Some characters were underdeveloped, including overconfident Snoke and that shifty code breaker.
I decided to post this first due to it being the most recent release, as of this posting, and of the notable elements beyond the film itself (the rest will largely be discussed in production order). As some background, Disney largely deprecated the licensed spin-offs from the cannon, including books, video games, etc, after the company purchased the franchise in 2012. There was a whole written continuity past the original films, and that included a whole history of legendary Jedi Luke Skywalker. There was a whole set of classes of continuity. Long story short, the films were considered top level, while anything contradicting in the spin-offs were not considered part of the true continuity. So, if a book stated Luke to be on Devaron one day but the films clearly established he was still on Hoth that same day, he was on Hoth. It is easy to see that this might have gotten complicated to keep track of after a few decades.
I never got into the spin-offs to a serious degree (played some of the video games, read some of the more mediocre comics), but it might be reasoned that the spin-off deprecation is similar to Doctor Who. Without going into its fifty year history, the show was unofficially canceled in the late 1980s, and except for the TV special with Paul McGann in 1996, spin-off materials technically continued the story. However, continuity broke down, essentially leading to overlapping incarnations of the titular face changing antihero. It was decided by the new head producer, Russel T. Davies, in the early 2000s to simply take only the televised continuity as cannon, while later addressing the confusion through the chaotic Last Great Time War story arc. Removing the Star Wars spin-offs similarly would have cleaned the slate of any such continuity issues, while more easily writing a few surprises.
So, JJ Abrams made The Force Awakens, which certainly begins that divergence from that fan-accepted, spin-off oriented continuity. One could even still go by the original continuity classes with films being the final say. It was overall well received, but was arguably a bit derivative and predictable. It was almost too Star Wars in its way of introducing the sequel series. Indeed — perhaps this comment won’t be well received — Star Wars has always been a bit derivative. George Lucas, to paraphrase, once described the first film as Buck Rogers with the budget of 2001. Just about everything up to Force Awakens can be seen in old Sci-Fi into the 1950s, particularly the old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordan serials.
Enter Rian Johnson. He is the kind of filmmaker that looks to see what he thinks is wrong and have the characters themselves fix the problem — see Looper (2012). His story fully embraced the clean slate created for the sequel trilogy, and simply did not care whether long-time fans would like it or not. He liked the fan polarization that occurred. Now, was much of that polarization enhanced by the internet megaphone? Probably. It seems that a good portion of the negative fan reaction came from internet trolls and bots attacking the enhanced diversity and broken Luke. It is indeed unusual for critical and user averages to be so different on Rotten Tomatoes (91% vs 47%). Still, of the Humans, many of the more conservative fans certainly attached themselves to overly wishful theories and long deprecated continuities. It was objectively amazing how everything the hurt fans said would happen or did happen was wrong.
The bottom line is that Star Wars is an old franchise with a diverse and always shifting set of fans. Looking back, there was similar fan-polarization with the prequel series, which I’m sure overruled some spin-off materials and fan-theories at the time. Doctor Who continues to have such polarization as well, particularly with the new incarnation being a woman (all prior were men, longish hairstyle or no). Ultimately, franchises are more interested in the bottom line. The producers run a for-profit enterprise. So, they have no problem with shedding fans that thought they had control over something they never did, as long as the franchise overall grows the fan-base. Right or wrong, that is how it is.
Re-enter JJ Abrams. He is much more a fan-pleaser, and likes to write more optimistically. It will be interesting to see the reaction to Episode IX after the polarization of Last Jedi.
Update 8/4/2018: The Last Jedi will not be the last we see of Carrie Fisher. In a bittersweet move, it has been confirmed that Abrams will be using unreleased footage of Carrie Fisher from the prior sequel films.
Star Wars Frachise
Articles discussing the bots, trolls, anti-Disney backlash
Carrie Fisher and Episode IX