In case you’ve missed it, the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker press tour is well underway, in advance of next week’s release, and perhaps in response to the ridiculously overblown controversy over The Last Jedi’s bold story choices, everyone be dumpin' on The Last Jedi. John Boyega referred to the film’s creative choices as “a bit iffy,” craving more story for Finn and a stronger dynamic between the various new lead characters. Director JJ Abrams softly criticised Rian Johnson’s “meta approach” to the film, saying “I don’t think that people go to Star Wars to be told, ‘This doesn’t matter.’” Mark Hamill has gone on the record many times about Luke’s journey, often mentioning that he wished Luke had more scenes with the other original-trilogy characters. Everyone seems to have thinly-veiled criticisms about the last film (or two, in Hamill’s case), the implication being that no, this one will be better.
Honestly, it’s a shitty look.
In a way, it is to be expected that some of the actors would be disappointed in The Last Jedi. One must look at it from their points of view. When working as an actor, you’re constantly thinking of your character’s arc. You’re also - and few actors will admit this - constantly thinking of ways in which your character’s role could be bigger, or have more input into the story. That’s not a bad thing - often great ideas come out of that process - but it’s important to remember that the actor is one part of a large team. It’s natural for John Boyega to wish he had a bigger role, after having more screentime in The Force Awakens. It’s understandable that Mark Hamill wanted to work directly with Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher again. It makes sense that Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Daisy Ridley wanted more scenes together, as opposed to separated (a la The Empire Strikes Back). All of that would have made production more enjoyable for them, brought their characters closer to their ideals. But actors don't get to make those calls. Point is: take all this with a grain of salt.
Saying you wish you got to do more in a movie is fair. Saying that as a judgement on the movie, however, is not. It’s actually unprofessional. After all, the cast and crew of a movie are colleagues, and in dissing the prior film they’re dissing their coworkers in public. That wouldn’t be tolerated in most workplaces, and it shouldn’t be tolerated within a cast. Furthermore, when promoting your work, it really helps to at least appear to be proud of the work that directly leads into what you’re promoting. Criticising a film is different when you worked on the film to when you’re an audience member or critic, and whether or not the actor cares about the work, they should at least pretend to when promoting it. It’s literally part of the job. Can anyone really claim that, say, Bruce Willis' disinterested press interviews made them more excited about whatever film he was promoting?
In some cases, these criticisms even seem mean - not just to the people who made the choices in question, but sometimes to unintentional targets as well. Many people leapt upon a John Boyega quote that seemed to imply Kelly Marie Tran was “weak” (specifically, “not mentally strong”) to be affected by the immense volume of racist and misogynist attacks she received in the wake of The Last Jedi. Boyega has since come forward and apologised for his “badly worded” comments, but the whole scenario really speaks to how perilous it is to go negative in public. Better to move on and promote your damn movie.
The other way to read this kind of carry-on is that even worse than unprofessionalism: it’s cynicism. Taking massive public shits on "the last one" has become de rigeur for many franchises these days, and the behaviour generally seeks to reassure people who hated the last one that this one will be different. We’ve seen it happen for film after film in the Transformers and Terminator franchises, and unfortunately, those PR campaigns so routinely overfluffed their present projects that when new films came around that actually were better - Bumblebee and Dark Fate, respectively - audiences were turned off, burned by too many broken promises and bad movies. Even then, the PR rhetoric felt cynical, mean-spirited, and tired - even when it was accurate.
In Star Wars’ case, the film people are dumping on wasn’t even that widely hated. Sure, there’s a vocal group of people who despised it, and plenty of people ambivalent about it, but it did enormous business and scored a cool 91% on the Tomatometer (its 43% audience score was largely gamed downward by bad actors). Say what you want about the film, but it's nowhere near the disastrous level of Terminator: Genisys or Transformers: The Last Knight, neither of which scored well with critics or audiences. All this backward-facing negativity around a movie almost fanatically devoted to moving forward and avoiding violence just feels like a metaphorical middle finger to the film and to the franchise.
The worst thing about all this - for The Rise Of Skywalker, and for the atmosphere around it - is that it makes everyone tired of The Discourse. Criticising your own films in public creates negativity around the very idea of those films, and though it might give a few haters vindication, it’s not going to get the general public excited to go to the cinema. Even if the actors disliked choices made in The Last Jedi, if they want to promote The Rise of Skywalker, they should really pivot their answers toward The Rise of Skywalker. The pullquotes thus far have dragged us back into the dreary 2017 mire of Last Jedi anger, which will only mean that we go to the new film with that weighing on our minds. John Boyega can say the ongoing intra-fandom conflict is “the most stupid thing in the world,” - and he's right - but in doing so, he’s only feeding it. If Lucasfilm wants Star Wars to succeed - if it wants to avoid permanently ruining the atmosphere around its franchise - it needs a PR strategy that rises above that. Anger, after all, leads to the Dark Side.
Star Wars fandom has been a warzone for years now, and it’s showing few signs of changing. It seems the only thing that could unite everyone at this point is if The Rise of Skywalker somehow does the impossible and satisfies everybody. That’s unlikely, and I say that with full respect to JJ Abrams and his team. Finishing not just a trilogy, but a nine-film saga, and attempting to tie up all the loose ends and satisfy millions of fans from multiple generations, is a creative challenge that would surely daunt most storytellers - especially if the’ve “never been good at endings,” as Abrams admits. We’ll just have to see how that pans out.
In the meantime, let’s all just simmer down a bit, whatever your feelings on The Last Jedi might be. Nobody wins in this fight. Take press interviews with a grain of salt, rather than treating actors (actors!) as the final word in taste. Look forward to what’s next, instead of stewing on what’s past. And try to save what you love, not destroy what you hate.