Disney’s So-Called Shade at The Last Jedi Is Actually an Ingenious Act of Spin

Dept. of Nattering and Newspeak


Forgive me if this reads like so much conspiracy theory. But there’s been an interesting line of discourse being put forth by the cast and crew of the new Star Wars movie in the lead up to its mid-December premiere. The lot of them seem to be getting somewhat candid with regards to their feelings about The Last Jedi – the previous and somewhat divisive instalment of the franchise.

In case you missed all the hoopla, The Last Jedi, which was a triumph with critics, was nevertheless hit by a wave of hate from a group of very vocal fans. While it’s difficult to distill their collective backlash to just one or two things, the main cause of fan disaffection can be attributed Rian Johnson’s apparent irreverence toward the source material. To them, his flouting of franchise conventions had come across as insulting. Now, two years on, it appears like it wasn’t just the fundamentalist fans who had a problem with Johnson’s choices. As everyone from the top-down over at Disney seems to be coming out with their own gentle critique of The Last Jedi

Cue the Internet, which has been all aflutter with tweets and think pieces (hello!) about this seemingly unposed moment of contrition on the part of those involved. Rian Johnson apologists are accusing Disney of throwing their man under the bus. While the rabid fanboys and fangirls are celebrating the fact that they were right all along.

In The Last Jedi, Rey finally finds out what Luke's been up to all this time.

It really is quite a brilliant act of public relations.

This seeming shade at their own billion dollar product is, instead, laser targeted messaging aimed at the hardcore and incredibly vocal Star Wars fanboys and fangirls who felt hard done by Rian Johnson’s complete and utter disregard towards all of the time and effort they spent coming up with theory after theory on who Rey’s parents were, and how much of a badass Captain Phasma actually is, and what Luke was doing hiding on that island.

The strategy was simple. First of all, Disney would pay tribute to how important the fans are and acknowledge their concerns. Then, they would indirectly promise a return to what you liked the first time. (You know, before this young upstart came along and told you that nothing matters, not the guy you thought was the big bad, not Rey’s parents, not even the Jedi.)

The Millennium Falcon and Tie Fighters dogfight above Crait in The Last Jedi.

Here’s how it played out. (Emphasis is mine.)

The long game began, back in September, when Disney CEO Bob Iger admitted to Maureen Dowd that he might have “put a little bit too much [Star Wars] in the marketplace too fast.” He then went on reaffirm his belief in Disney by adding that he thinks “the storytelling capabilities of the company are endless.” Two lines from a 4000-word feature in the New York Times, passed off as a throwaway confession, but was really the foundation for what was to come.

Fast forward to November, to an interview that Lucasfilm head honcho – and First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, Lord High Admiral, Archbishop, Lord Mayor, and Lord High Everything Else of Star Wars – Kathleen Kennedy gave to Rolling Stone

When asked about the controversial choices made by Rian Johnson in The Last Jedi, she began by saying: “I think he’s an extraordinary filmmaker. And I really appreciated the bold moves that he did make.” She then went on to add: “I love that we have these amazingly passionate fans who care so much. And I know sometimes they may think we don’t listen, but we do, and I thought it was fantastic that people got that engaged. It just showed me and everybody else how much they care. And that’s important for all of us that are doing this. We really look at them as the custodians of this story as much as [we are]. We look at it as kind of a partnership.”

 A month later, on December 7th, when speaking to the Times, director J.J. Abrams credited The Last Jedi for being “full of surprises and subversion and all sorts of bold choices.” He went on to say that he thought Johnson took “a bit of a meta approach to the story.” And that Abrams didn’t “think that people go to Star Wars to be told, ‘This doesn’t matter.’”

In the same interview, Daisy Ridley admitted that she cried when she heard the news that Abrams was coming back to direct the final instalment because she felt it brought a level of comfort and security to the production. 

Two days later, in a feature on HYPEBEAST, John Boyega looked back on his time as Finn with a not-so-subtle swipe at The Last Jedi. “The Force Awakens I think was the beginning of something quite solidThe Last Jedi if I’m being honest I’d say that was feeling a bit iffy for me,” Boyega said. “I didn’t necessarily agree with a lot of the choices in that and that’s something that I spoke to Mark [Hamill] a lot about and we had conversations about it. And it was hard for all of us, because we were separated.”

A tease poster for The Rise of Skywalker. Will it be better than The Last Jedi?

The choice of words (refer to the bolded text) used in these interviews is telling. Kennedy and Abrams both pay tribute to Johnson’s efforts and are careful to not criticize the quality of the movie but instead claim to understand how and why the fans feel the way that they do. Boyega and Ridley, on the other hand, by ascribing words like “solid”, “comfort”, and “security” to both J.J. Abrams and The Force Awakens are indirectly implying that this next movie is an unthreatening return to the Star Wars you know and love. 

Disney’s control over Star Wars messaging is absolute. There isn’t a single piece of official information out there about The Rise of Skywalker that isn’t carefully considered, crafted, and curated. This isn’t just the biggest movie franchise in history, it is also the most regulated, and it is absurd to think that they would allow such loose lips within their ranks.

And so to thee I say, bravo Disney. On an unexpected but brilliantly executed through line before dropping the most make-or-break movie in the franchise since The Force Awakens. Then again, maybe don’t pander to a rabid vocal minority because, as Iain McNally pointed out in our recent podcast, that’s how Brexit happens.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

Darth Maul is one scary mojo.
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