I need to go into the cinema tomorrow prepared for the possibility that this may be another bad Star Wars movie, even if I'm hanging onto the fact that I've disagreed with reviews before. Notably for The Last Jedi, which critics raved about almost universally. Before I can face The Rise of Skywalker, I need to be honest finally, and own my emotions surrounding The Last Jedi.
I came out of the cinema after that film feeling... confused, bordering on bereft. More so even than the prequels. There was a weird disconnect for me; it was a well-made Star Wars film - I could see that - so why did it leave me feeling so empty and annoyed?
It's a question I've spent two years trying to answer, when I haven't been trying to make the film click for me. It's time to admit that I've failed. Reading the early reactions to The Rise of Skywalker last night, my wife tried to make me feel better by saying "Maybe you'll just get an average film... it's not like you hated The Last Jedi..."
And then she saw the conflict in my face. It was the first time I'd considered that I might actually, truly, hate The Last Jedi.
I'm not that guy though... am I?
I don't hate on films, because what's the point? I don't want to be one of Those People. I don't attack actors online, I don't spread hate, I don't hide away on Reddit slagging things off. I don't just hate for the sake of hating... I mean, let it go. It doesn't matter. That would be pathetic! I love Star Wars. How can I possibly hate a film anyway? It's just a film... it's just a film...
But... maybe - all those things aside - maybe I do love Star Wars, but hate The Last Jedi...
God, I actually do hate The Last Jedi.
I literally hate The Last Jedi. And - Jesus! - I don't even hate the Prequels.
Here's a thing.
When people talk about The Last Jedi, they talk about it in terms of bold choices, and doing things differently. They're wrong though. Everyone is wrong about that, and every single time I read that Rian Johnson's film took risks I feel like screaming.
For me, The Last Jedi wasn't bold; it was boring and unsatisfying. I've tried so hard to love it. I watched it again only last week, and once again came away with my gut clogged with the same brick of cognitive dissonance.
It just feels to me like a series of scenes reheated from the classic trilogy - throne room temptation/battle scene... AT-AT walkers in the "snow"... a former Jedi master now living as a hermit on some remote planet... the bad guys pursuing the good guys across space for much of the duration...
I forgave the 'rhyming poetry' in The Force Awakens, because that movie served as a necessary reminder of what the world originally loved about Star Wars before the prequels took it all away. Plus at least Abrams found new twists on the original beats, even if it was to just make everything the same - but bigger.
In The Last Jedi, the familiar was done in a way that was less surprising and less visually interesting than anything we'd gotten before. I don't see these bold choices, beyond choices that are just kind of dull and undramatic. Less "Woah!" and more "Oh..."
Is that bold? Is it? Really? What's bold about it?
The throne room scenes - despite the lovely red curtains - lacked the shock of seeing the Emperor for the first time... the AT-AT battle had none of the ingenuity of bringing them down with tow cables... the Jedi master scenes were undermined by the sight of a childhood hero rendered impotent... the slow space chase thing had none of the thrill of the asteroid scenes, or the space slug, or the emotional investment offered by the romance between Han and Leia.
And that's before you even get into the utter pointlessness of Finn's adventure on Casino Planet, or Poe's go-nowhere mutiny, or the most visually dull lightsaber battle in the series' history (a flat, endless, salt lake... really? In which one of the combatants doesn't land a single blow, because he's basically just a hologram?).
Then you get into the other notion that Last Jedi defenders and detractors alike often cite; the idea that it opened up the Force to people beyond the Skywalker bloodline. Which was nonsense; there were once thousands of Jedis, as seen in those justly-maligned prequels. The Star Wars saga focuses on the Skywalkers because it's their story; literally the story of the last Jedi bloodline.
"The Force is strong in my family" is what Star Wars is all about. Some people have it more than others, and it's hereditary. What's so wrong with this idea that you have to go and say "Er, actually, anyone can do it, and you don't have to be special, and you're not, and here's a kid with a broom"...?
Sorry. This is deep nerd stuff. I feel dirty, and know it isn't really important, but you may want to move on.
If The Last Jedi was bold, it was only bold in that it cast aside questions posed by The Force Awakens at the risk of pissing people off. If that was the intention then yes... it's certainly bold.
Here's where I get into dodgy territory, because I don't want to be aligned with the risible "The Fandom Menace" - the Gamergate-like faction of Star Wars fandom that drove poor Kelly-Marie Tran into therapy.
I don't want anything to do with them, and it's why I've shied away from saying too much publicly about The Last Jedi over the past couple of years; I don't want to be lumped in with that quagmire. My issues with The Last Jedi aren't because it's too "woke" - for one thing, I certainly didn't notice it being particularly overtly woke. I would've been all-in to see Finn and Poe being a couple, and for Rose Tico becoming a kick-ass hero.
Nonetheless, owning this... I can't deny how the film made me feel. I'm not one of them, I'm not a Russian bot... I'm just somebody who grew up with Star Wars, for whom those movies have been a constant in my life. They matter to me, and I've spent the past two years struggling to process why The Last Jedi made me feel the way it did.
I'd argue my feelings aside; it's just a film.... what does it matter? Stop being a crybaby. Only bad people dislike that film, remember? You're not a bad person. It doesn't matter... it doesn't matter... it's fine... it doesn't matter...
But it did matter to me, and - seemingly - many others. Denying that, pushing it down, because I wanted to be one of the "goodies" and feared being labelled a Star Wars extremist, got me nowhere.
I've no agenda beyond the personal when I say that I didn't feel heard by Rian Johnson's film. I did feel slighted by it. All the things The Force Awakens had set me up to expect satisfying answers to were dismissed with the most undramatic, underwhelming, reveals.
We never got proper Luke Skywalker moments that I'd been so excited for when the movies were first announced, no real reunion between him and Leia, with the character at the heart of events. Since the all-too-soon passing of Carrie Fisher, and the hope of that disappearing entirely, I actually felt angry about it.
Literally angry; we had one chance to see the characters we'd fallen in love with, on screen, together again for the last time... and now it'll never happen. Star Wars has a wider cultural context, partly as a result of the order the movies were made in, and it's impossible not to view the storytelling choices from within that context.
In the past couple of years I've tried to process why I felt so slighted over a film - mostly to understand my own reactions, but partly to also understand the backlash against Lucasfilm and Johnson.
It might be a controversial thing to say, but I don't believe all of it was simply down to people being trolls (though many were, no doubt). There must be others who felt the same way as me; those who do want a more inclusive Star Wars, who basically just didn't like The Last Jedi.
In dismissing everyone who didn't like it as being part of the risible "Fandom Menace" all that was achieved was to cloud honest debate, get backs up, and to make people like me feel "wrong" for feeling how we did.
The trouble for Lucasfilm is that the poisoned chalice they took on with Star Wars is that they're not just films.
I mean, they are - that's precisely what they should be - but they aren't, whether we, or they, like it or not. To consider them on that level is to dismiss the millions for whom Star Wars has meaning in their lives. It's to downplay the cultural significance of that original trilogy, and the massive impact it had on so many people.
THE MEANING OF MY LIFE
Star Wars was my life growing up. It was a refuge from bullying, and tough times at home. If it never had the same significance for you, then good. Fine. Keep it to yourself. But it was there for me as much as either parent.
I know that's probably way too much importance to place on any film series - and certainly not what George Lucas intended - but it happened anyway. When that "parent" turns around and appears not to listen to what their kid wants, or dismisses their needs, it really bloody hurts.
Nothing hurts more than not being heard, and I didn't feel heard by The Last Jedi. That's ultimately at the heart of this.
It isn't something I've wanted to admit, due to the utter ugliness of the debate. I want to be aligned with the light, I don't want my feelings to be misconstrued or misinterpreted. I'm just trying to be honest.
Upon reflection, I understand the choices Rian Johnson made, and I respect them. It's not his fault that so many of us "manbabies" have this attachment to the Star Wars saga. In fact, it might've been wiser if the Disney-owned Lucasfilm had stayed away from the Star Wars Skywalker saga entirely, and just started with a new story set in that universe. There would've been less baggage.
Perhaps they should've ditched the episodic numbering, and just forged ahead without any characters from the past. Stick to the side stories, like the excellent Rogue One, the underrated Solo, and the brilliant The Mandalorian. But that didn't happen, and I totally get why that didn't happen, but look at where we are now as a result.
Ironic that for a film series where there's light and dark and nothing in-between that it has become equally polarised.
Star Wars, like so much debate in this modern era, has become about extremes. There's no middle ground, and adopting a centrist position - as The Rise of Skywalker appears to have done, perhaps by way of an apology - appeases nobody, and upsets everyone.
What I do know is that I'm going into The Rise of Skywalker with no baggage but my own. If I like it I'll like it for my own reasons. If I hate it, it'll have nothing to do with any wider cultural schism.
And, if I'm honest, if that happens I'll be fine if they don't ever make another Star Wars movie. Stick to the TV shows and theme parks. The alternative has too much riding on it now.
If you love The Last Jedi... good for you. I don't offer this to spark debate, or be told to "get over it", or whatever. Unfortunately, emotions don't work like that; denying them, or trying to get somebody to deny them or feel guilty for them, or telling them that those feelings are wrong, doesn't work. It hasn't worked.
Equally, this isn't about the wider conversation. This is about me, and my relation to Star Wars, and the fact that - like it or not - I'm lumbered with it.