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Rian Johnson stands by ‘Last Jedi’ as new ‘Star Wars’ film reignites old criticism

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
(Disney / Lucasfilm)

Director Rian Johnson’s knives are officially out as the release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” continues to reignite old hatred for “The Last Jedi.”

The “Knives Out” filmmaker, who also helmed the penultimate movie in the beloved franchise’s nine-part Skywalker saga, took to Twitter Thursday night to shut down a “Star Wars” fan’s attack on his work. Heated debate has been swirling around Johnson’s controversial addition to the Lucasfilm canon once again amid reports that J.J. Abrams’ latest installment dismisses much of his setup.

“This is the best written explanation I’ve seen of how [Johnson] completely destroys the character of #LukeSkywalker and almost derailed the franchise,” the fan wrote, sharing a breakdown of Luke’s narrative in the original trilogy versus “The Last Jedi.” “Thank goodness for [Abrams] coming in and cleaning up Johnson’s mess. #TheRiseOfSkywalker

Reviews are officially in for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the highly anticipated finale to the Skywalker saga. Here’s what the critics are saying.
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“The Last Jedi” polarized audiences in 2017 with its unconventional approach to “Star Wars’” trademark good-versus-evil formula, earning Johnson praise from most critics, while purists turned up their noses.

One particular point of contention was the way in which Johnson handled Luke’s (Mark Hamill) arc, daring to tarnish the Jedi hero’s squeaky-clean legacy by complicating his backstory.

“I understand that point of view but I completely disagree with it,” Johnson replied to Thursday’s tweet. “In fact I think it disrespects the character of Luke by treating him not as a true mythic hero overcoming recurring wounds & flaws, but as a video game character who has achieved a binary, permanent power-up.”

While the skeptic’s sentiments echo those of others insulted by Johnson’s creative license, critics generally remained loyal to the auteur in their reviews of “Rise of Skywalker.” Many journalists used “The Last Jedi” as a point of comparison in their critiques, accusing Abrams of rejecting the innovations Johnson served him in a desperate effort to appease the series’ notoriously finicky fandom.

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“I suspect that more than a few fans who were incensed by ‘The Last Jedi’ and its refusal to pander to their every expectation will be grateful to see Abrams re-ensconced in the director’s chair,” The Times’ Justin Chang wrote in his review. “The more accurate way to describe it, I think, is as an epic failure of nerve. This ‘Rise’ feels more like a retreat, a return to a zone of emotional and thematic safety from a filmmaker with a gift for packaging nostalgia as subversion.”

Despite his spotty track record with “Star Wars” disciples, Johnson has enjoyed a healthy relationship with critics and audiences alike this year. His new star-studded whodunit, “Knives Out,” has slayed both the box office and the awards circuit, scoring three Golden Globe nominations and plenty of Oscar buzz.

If its critical reception so far is any indication, “The Rise of Skywalker” likely won’t pick up many awards, though the highly anticipated finale is positioned to do just fine at the holiday box office.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” hit theaters Friday.


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