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Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been in theaters for over a month now and at the current rate, I imagine we will be analyzing and arguing about this film until Episode IX and beyond. The latest chapter in the Star Wars saga has proven to have been divisive among fans, and that's OK. Art isn't science, it's subjective and different opinions have merit. One person who saw the film and felt the need to express his opinion is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The actor penned a lengthy essay defending the film against its critics and praising it for its daring and complexity in the age of safe and simplistic blockbusters, saying:
That a big Hollywood studio would take such risks on such a big property--again, to present their central hero in a drastically different light than ever before, to unflinchingly deliver the ominous message that even the most pure-hearted idealists can struggle through darkness and doubt--these are not the kinds of decisions that get made when short-term profitability is prioritized above all else. These are risks taken in the interest of building a world that is not only good for selling popcorn and action figures this year, but that thrives in the long-run on a bed of literary substance and artistic dignity.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is hardly an impartial observer. The actor starred in two of Rian Johnson's previous films, Brick and Looper and he cameoed in The Brothers Bloom and considers the director a friend. Joseph Gordon-Levitt actually makes a voice cameo in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, playing Slowen-Lo, the alien who rats out Finn and Rose to the Canto Bight authorities. He acknowledges this as a potential source of bias in his essay on Medium, but feels he needed to speak out about the movie anyway.
The actor's feels that the movie succeeds because of how it challenges viewers with nuance and forces them to look at their heroes as less-than-perfect paragons. Joseph Gordon-Levitt appreciates how willing The Last Jedi was to kill its heroes, literally and metaphorically, a choice that creates a layered story on which to build on. This stands in stark contrast to a safer approach that would eschew complexity in favor of four-quadrant appeal. So a big part of his praise is specific to what the film does as a big-budget blockbuster.
Though lengthy, Joseph Gordon Levitt's essay mostly addresses the film's treatment of Luke Skywalker. He doesn't touch on what I would argue has people the most upset, the film's complete disregard for and failure to deliver on the mythology building done in The Force Awakens. This is a trilogy and the parts are supposed to fit together, so there is a valid argument that not doing so was a disservice to the audience.
Unfortunately, the complexity of the film, which is embodied in its treatment of Luke Skywalker, is the very thing that many people don't like about it. Much of the discussion I have seen about The Last Jedi is a less about whether or not it is a good movie and more about whether or not it is a good Star Wars movie. The very thing that Joseph Gordon-Levitt cites in The Last Jedi may be exactly why it doesn't feel like Star Wars to some fans. Complexity and daring are great and something we should hope for in our blockbusters, but there is a question of: Can that daring go too far?
While Star Wars: The Last Jedi is still in theaters, we will hopefully have a look at Solo: A Star Wars Story soon and maybe we can move on from this myriad Star Wars arguments.