I completed my Last Jedi podcast marathon earlier this month, crossing the finish line with The /Filmcast‘s Rian Johnson interview. It’s a fascinating listen, in addition to being a credit to how good Dave Chen is at maintaining connections over the years. One aspect of the episode struck me as particularly distracting, though, and that’s how Chen and co-hosts Devindra Hardawar and Jeff Cannata return to their habit of picking a film’s nits.
On the one hand, this is admirable for the internet age. It would be all too easy to heap praise and lob softball questions at Johnson. Instead, the co-hosts cheerily throw some of the more vocal criticisms of the film right at its creator. Why has nobody attempted the “Holdo Maneuver” before? What would have happened had the cannon fired at the Resistance base? And why does Luke’s hand disappear, too?
If something pulls you out of a movie, that impulse is no less valid than a moment that draws you in. By the same token, isn’t this missing the forest for the trees? Why do we feel the need to pick nits like this, particularly in a franchise that’s given us mystical frog puppets and retconned sibling romances.
I think part of it is driven by the current journalism model we’re experiencing as a culture. Rather than having weekly issues or monthly editions in print, digital media is a constant churn. The same Monday morning content will be relegated to the archives come Friday. That’s the nature of the click bait beast.
Not to mention the current Hollywood storytelling model is obsessed with cinematic universes. And not just Star Wars. Marvel is the OG of course, and DC Comics has been flailing about in recent years to start its own. Transformers is getting a spin-off. Even — for Christ’s sake — Universal’s still-possibly-happening “Dark Universe” fits this bill. Studios have far greater confidence in throwing hundreds of millions of dollars behind familiar IP.
The temptation to overanalyze is encouraged by both of these paradigms. We’re now constantly reflecting on tie-in novels and in-references and past films. Or think about it in the inverse: Print journalism isn’t conducive to easter egg listicles when you could be waiting an entire season for the next quarterly to arrive in your mailbox. Imagine American Film running “How Yoda Ruined Star Wars” in their Fall 1980 issue.
Immediacy is driving “call-out culture,” even when applied to the comparatively lower stakes of media consumption. Twitter especially opens up an easy channel between creator and consumer. Whether that’s for earnest conversation or self-gratification is beside the point. Why shout into the void when one can fast-pitch their Guardians 2 issues with Kurt Russell’s character directly to James Gunn? He might even respond! The problem is that directors and their respective audiences often aren’t thinking about the same things. As /Film‘s interview revealed, even when they are, they approach the same beats from different perspectives. Where Dave Chen and Devindra Hardawar might object to Luke’s metal hand vanishing with him when he becomes one with the Force, Rian Johnson wants to avoid interrupting a poetic binary sunset with the clanging echo of synthetic fingers.
Is there a violation of internal logic here? That’s a subjective question, and this isn’t a backwards defense of sloppy storytelling. Star Wars is in an awkward spot right now, where a once-complete “Skywalker saga” is bumping up against wars of infinity and the expectations of serialized multimedia storytelling. But the value of asking about the finer details is also up for debate. I would argue that, for now, The Last Jedi is ultimately a silly space fantasy, not some rigorous encyclopedic document of a galaxy far, far away. You don’t go into a Star Wars movie for a physics lesson in the same way you wouldn’t ask Bruce Banner about urban planning. What this episode made clear is that some of the best storytellers are less focused on crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s and more focused on the proverbial sentence.
Put another way, as Johnson happily points out, it’s not like he’s the first Star Wars director to make this stuff up as he went.