Friday, December 22, 2017

Non-Spoilery Advice for Watching The Last Jedi

Normally I think people are way too obsessed with avoiding spoilers. I can usually enjoy watching how something unfolds even if I know some of the key plot points (if all you care about is plot points, why not just read a plot summary on Wikipedia?).

But The Last Jedi is about thwarting expectations. As Luke Skywalker says, “This is not going to go the way you think.” I can report that knowing little about how it was going to go really did enhance my enjoyment of seeing it the first time, which was a set up to loving it even more the second time.

So, while my non-spoilery reviews of The Force Awakens and Rogue One were mainly a courtesy to the throngs of spoiler-hating fans, this non-spoilery review is out of my genuine feeling that The Last Jedi is best watched unspoiled. With that in mind, think of this as my non-spoilery advice for watching The Last Jedi.

1. First of all, don't be scared off by the vitriolic nerd hate The Last Jedi has sparked. I can’t guarantee you’ll love the movie. I do love it myself, but there are some aspects of it I didn't love and areas where I can understand reasonable disagreement. But for the life of me I don’t understand the sheer level of hate that would lead people to sign a petition to remove The Last Jedi from the Star Wars canon or to organize a campaign to deliberately ruin its audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes (apparently the person who started the petition now regrets it).  Some of this comes from the same dismal denizens of fandom that gave us Gamergate and Rabid Puppies. I don’t want to waste much time on that whole can of fetid worms, but seeing The Last Jedi the second time only deepened my bafflement about the hate. Again, I understand that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s no reason to throw all the tea in the harbor and break all the china. What’s the point? Besides, were they not paying attention when Yoda said that hate leads to suffering? My advice: see it and decide for yourself.

2. Seeing Carrie Fisher as Leia was bittersweet. It made me happy. It made me cry. And her role is phenomenal: a wise, competent older woman respected and loved by those she leads. You don’t see that enough in Hollywood movies, or for that matter, in real life (this was in fact one thing the Gamergate/Puppy types hated…). If you liked Carrie Fisher as a person, cultural icon, author, dog owner, or actor, I advise seeing this movie.

3. Most of the old favorites from The Force Awakens are back. Get ready to see some old friends (at least a little bit).

4. There are some great new characters. I particularly love Rose. A word of advice: don’t trust your initial judgments about the new characters. The Last Jedi even tries to upset expectations it itself just gave you.

5. After 34 years we finally hear Luke Skywalker speak. I won’t say much about what he says, but the way his character developed makes perfect sense to me. Mark Hamill gives a moving performance. More tears for me. This was an emotional experience for me as a life long Star Wars fan. Maybe it will be for you, too. Be prepared.

6. There’s a lot of whining about “plot holes" or “pointless detours,” but a lot of this can be explained if you remember that the very idea of what counts as a plot hole or a detour is set by an audience member’s expectations (and maybe not all of it can be explained – what if that, too, is the point?). If a movie has a goal of thwarting your expectations, you’re going to have to rethink a lot of the very framework you use to interpret that movie. This is a big part of what I love about The Last Jedi. Again, I can see grounds for reasonable disagreement on these points, but you should be aware that The Last Jedi is best enjoyed with an open mind.

7. We get some of the deepest philosophical explanation of the Force. Granted, it’s a big budget movie, not a philosophy treatise. Don’t expect a comprehensive metaphysical system. But I think if you watch carefully, you'll see that attending to the philosophical lessons about the Force will allow you to enjoy the whole movie and what it’s trying to do at a much deeper level. I also recommend getting some help from Earthly philosophical sources as varied as Buddhism, Stoicism, Aztec philosophy, but above all Daoism. You can trust me, I’m a philosophy professor and an ordained Jedi Knight (seriously, this is a thing you can do!).

8. Did I mention that The Last Jedi is also pretty funny at times? Star Wars has never been completely serious. Do yourself a favor; be prepared to lighten up a little bit.

9. I love the porgs. I don’t care what you think.

10. Lastly, be prepared to open your mind: The Last Jedi may not be the Star Wars movie some fans want, but it might be the Star Wars movie we need.


  1. Having read now a plethora of - let's call them "complaints", not a single one makes much sense if one steps outside their own expectations and attempts to empathise with the characters in the film.

    Speaking very broadly, it feels (to me) as though there is a general inability or even unwillingness by some viewers to place themselves in the position of the characters and attempt to understand their inner world, and why they make the decisions witnessed in the film.

    The decisions undertaken by most characters felt very consistent to me, and thus made the story seem equally engaging. Which is ultimately what a good plot actually is - an organic development of good - and consistent - characterisation.

    And any excuse to watch Laura Dern take charge is welcomed by this viewer!


    1. Thanks, Unknown! That's a great point. The lack of empathy is mixed, I think, with a sort of nostalgia that demands that nothing ever change. Seeing old characters change is hard for a certain kind of fan. But why wouldn't they change? Between her appearance in this movie and in the new Twin Peaks, Laura Dern has been doing some great stuff this year!