To say that Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi has had a mixed reception among fans would be dramatically underselling the issue. The film remains massively divisive nearly two years after its release. Fans either love it or hate everything about it and have declared Johnson to have ruined the entire franchise. It's a reaction that is, in many ways, not dissimilar to how another entry in the franchise was received when it hit theaters long ago -- The Empire Strikes Back. That film, widely considered by many as the best in the saga to date, didn't go over well during its initial release and it's something that Johnson finds similar to the situation with The Last Jedi.
In a recent interview with Uproxx, Johnson was asked about the similarities between reception of the two films and the filmmaker explained that he, too, remembers initially being disappointed by Empire only for it to become his favorite. It’s a situation that many fans of the franchise at the time have found themselves in.
"That's the thing," Johnson said. "But, as a kid, I distinctly remember being disappointed by The Empire Strikes Back."
"I think my dad took me when I was really young to see A New Hope," he continued. "Yeah, no, I remember, especially in the context of Return of the Jedi, which as a kid I adored. And so, yeah, I remember very vividly. But then Empire slowly became my favorite one."
To sort of explain just how The Empire Strikes Back was received back in the day, we need to actually see some of those responses ourselves. When the film was released, sci-fi magazine Starlog was one of the popular sources for geek news and fan wrote in with their thoughts about things, kind of like how people take to social media today. In 2017, the website A Critical Hit compiled some of those responses to The Empire Strikes Back -- and the mixed response has quite a few parallels to the responses to The Last Jedi, particularly when it comes to matters of parentage and the approach the film takes to larger mysteries.
Is Luke related to Vader? Most think so now that Vader came right out and said it. Well, I say, do you believe everything you hear? Vader may have lied just to enlist Luke to his side. Vader would then dispose of Luke once he got what he wanted. - Robert L. Beedy-Scarola
I know they wanted to leave something to settle in the other sequels, but they left a little too much. For instance, Han Solo’s predicament. The movie should not have ended until Han was either killed by Boba Fett or Jabba or rescued by Lando Calrissian or Chewbacca, the former, preferably. Also, the fate of Bespin is not told. Was it taken by Lando’s troops, taken by Imperial troops or destroyed by Vader? I like Lando Calrissian and Billy Dee Williams was very good playing the part. - Sean Bernard
There were even responses that declared The Empire Strikes Back to be offensive, something that there are echoes of in certain pockets of the viewing audience's response to the more central role for women in The Last Jedi, though the ones related to Empire were complaints that the film was racist and sexist, not the other way around.
Ultimately, as time went on the division over The Empire Strikes back gave way to the film being highly regarded and much-loved by fans, which is something Johnson noted when talking about the passionate following of the franchise on the whole.
"Yeah. It sticks. That’s why that’s the one that, even though at that time I had that reaction to it, it stuck in me and it resonated with me," Johnson said. "I remember the Prequels, that acrimony of the prequels. I think people forget exactly the tenor of the danger. We remember because we were in the thick of it. So, I mean, I don’t know. I think that anything with a passionate following always has a passionate following and Star Wars is that, even more so. You can’t be angry at one side of it when it’s also the reason the positive is so passionate, you know? It’s all part of the same thing and it always was like this basic thing. That’s why I love it."
The Star Wars franchise will continue with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on December 20th.