Art, Taste, and The Polarized Opinions of The Last Jedi

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| March 31, 2022

Ever since Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out, I have feared my status as a Star Wars fan. My birthday is May 4th, aka Star Wars day. I grew up with the originals AND the prequels. I’ve watched most, if not all, the shows. This fandom isn’t exactly something I can leave. I was literally born into it! But I don’t know if I want to participate in a fandom where I will be labeled and judged simply because of how I experienced ONE movie. And I want to understand why.

Any time another Star Wars project releases, people across YouTube, Twitter and Reddit bring up Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And I am so tired of it. I don’t understand why we are still in a stunted “discussion” of this “controversial” movie. From what I’ve seen, the main trend is that people LOVE it, HATE it, or just love to hate it. And the trending response is that anyone who disagrees with their take is WRONG. 

Nowadays, opinions are easily shared and nearly impossible to validate or accept, especially in regards to Star Wars. But here I’m going to break down the idea of “opinions” and use The Last Jedi as a basis. I’ll take an objective point of view based on my own reasoning. So, without further ado, strap in and bear with me.

Let’s start with art and movies. Based on Google definitions, “art” is the expression of human creative skill and imagination. Google also defines “movies” as stories or events recorded by a camera as a set of moving images. Imagery is used heavily in artwork like books and paintings. These each tie in to storytelling, which is one of the oldest art forms and has evolved wonderfully through time. From campfires to cave walls, stone to paper, words to paints, songs to dances. If movies are a form of storytelling, and storytelling is an art, then movies themselves can be considered works of art, right? 

Movies are a form of storytelling, which is a form of art. Movies are works of art. (Artist: James Jean)

Now let’s look at a quote from Arthur Fleck in the 2019 film Joker about comedy, but I will replace “comedy” with the word “art”: “Art is subjective, isn’t that what they say? All of you, the system that knows so much: you decide what’s right or wrong the same way you decide what’s funny or not.”  Keep that in mind as we move on.

Next, let’s talk about taste. The first definition Google provides refers to the sensation and perception of flavors. Other definitions regard “taste” as a liking or disliking of certain flavors or aesthetics and world views. But all forms of taste are taught.

Our preference in taste is affected by the environments we live in, including the womb. (Image by Arsh Raziuddin for The Atlantic)

Science and psychology provide examples of how we develop our own taste in food. During my research, I found this article: The Development of Food Preferences. It delves into the varying factors that create our taste pallets. Much like social skills, we can develop our tastes based on the environment we’re raised in. “Preferences detected by the sense of smell are generally highly affected with learning early in life, even in utero… In one study, infants whose mothers drank carrot juice during the last trimester of pregnancy enjoyed carrot-flavored cereals more than infants whose mothers did not drink carrot juice or eat carrots.”

The main takeaway is that our tastes can be different. Not just in food, but in art as well.

So how do art, movies, and the science of taste correlate to The Last Jedi? Well, it is a movie, making it a work of art. And it has been critiqued by many in various ways. So, if it is art, is it objectively “good” or “bad”? The only facts attached to art are in who made it, how it was made, and that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to create or interpret it, even when the artist specifies the inspiration (in this case, the Star Wars universe).

This movie, like many others, “tastes” different to everyone. If you asked two people what they think, even if they’re born from the same mother, you will probably get two different answers. This is the same as when you explore new foods in life— naturally, you compare them to familiar or favorite flavors. So it’s understandable when an audience member might compare a new movie to a nostalgic one.

Although comparison is seen as the thief of joy, it’s in our nature, and we can’t help it.

The audience is as divided as this beautiful poster from artist Bella Grace.

About those other definitions of taste I mentioned, they’re just another way of saying “opinion.” When I researched “taste,” I never thought that judgment, discrimination, culture, decorum, and propriety would match as synonyms. When I see people sharing their opinions for The Last Jedi, “taste” is often used like a label to discriminate for or against, not as a means of being open and respectful of our differences. 

I find all this ironic since one of the things The Last Jedi teaches is that the Jedi and the Sith were wrong. They were both so passionate and absolute in their ways, yet they both failed in their ideals and died out as a result. In The Last Jedi, we are shown the same story many times from two different characters’ points of view before understanding what really happened. Did those that hate/love the movie decide which unreliable narration matched their own? I’m still wondering at what point while watching this did thousands of people decide, “I will fight people who didn’t watch this movie through my eyes?”

I could have broken down The Last Jedi itself, listing pros and cons from my point of view. But I didn’t want to. Like I said in the beginning, I can hardly discuss this movie with Star Wars fans because many don’t understand what I now understand: Art is subjective. There is no right or wrong way of expressing ourselves. Taste is a development, and not just for food, but for clothes, connection, and, of course, movies. Comparison is natural but not preferred. If life had the same flavor for everyone, it would become flavorless.

So, it is okay to see things differently. Conflicting opinions are good to have. Otherwise, engaging conversations would be rare. But the best way to connect and accept stories/humans is by recognizing the flaws AND the beauty. The worst way is to treat contrast as an illness and your single point of view as fact. 

And finally… The Last Jedi is a MOVIE. So let’s all calm the hell down!

Thank you for attending my TED Talk. Good day, and may the Force be with you!

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