The Last Jedi

December 19, 2017     ARTS

Wow. Never heard so much criticism of a Star Wars movie so quickly. It took months for the hate against Episode 1 to surface, and 2 and 3 were (relatively) warmly received as being better. Nevertheless, I also remember the harsh takes against “Return Of The Jedi” for its creaky script (“What I told you was true, from a certain point of view”) and apparent emphasis of marketing over believability (ewoks). The IMDB user reviews will no doubt be updated, but the day after the preview showing, some thirty or more 1 or 2 star reviews (out of 10!) were posted - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2527336/reviews

IMHO - it’s ok to like TLJ, and it’s ok to hate it. I guess I have some experience with this as I am not a prequel-hater and so have to endure pitying remarks and blank stares when mentioning all the good stuff in TROS, AOTC, and yes, TPM. (Apologies but I’ll be using galactic standard movie abbreviations herein: TPM, AOTC, ROTS, ANH, TESB, ROTJ, R1, TFA, TLJ, SOLO, and EIX for the next episode (see glossary ).

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For me, the first viewing was pretty overwhelming, so much stuff crammed into the movie which was already 2-1/2 hours long. And with the ending of Luke’s physical story along with knowing that Carrie Fisher would not be returning, it was all pretty sad. After reading various posts, mostly negative, and after two more viewings, I’ll say that the better parts of the film far outweigh the bad, and it’s gets a lot easier to forgive the bad stuff.

Some have criticized Luke’s behavior, but having young, innocent farm-boy turn in to grumpy old man doesn’t seem like a stretch to me. The main character arc seems to have been in mind since TFA (we see Luke watching his new temple burn down in Ray’s vision). So, after a failure that enabled Ben to become Kylo, makes sense to have him get a little depressed and hide somewhere. If fans were expecting Luke – as he says – to recover his cheery disposition and fight the bad guys at the end of TLJ like the old days, that’s a little naive. Luke’s sacrifice makes sense, and certainly done in a novel and dramatic fashion.

The problem of course, is that we’re left with a gaping hole in how to handle Episode 9. About which it seems that JJ Abrams can either straighten out the plotting of TLJ, or we’ll hate EIX even more.

The odd thing about TLJ is the decision to subvert fan expectations - why, exactly? Disney/Lucasfilm goes to all the trouble of making the first new episode (TFA) a practical copy of ANH, with all the stock characters and the Falcon, and made $2 billion (and more). Now they bring in a new director/writer whose job it is to say, No, we actually don’t want to answer questions or follow on with Star Wars conventions. If they wanted to go their own way, they should have done that with TFA. Pretty odd to set up expectations that this trilogy will be like the old days just to say, ha, fooled you and your simple preconceptions.

At the risk of falling to the dark side, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll just ascribe most of the bad plotting decisions to the new director: no need for Snoke backstory, no reveal of Rey’s parents, and let’s add a meaningless sub-plot excursion to a weird cantina - I mean casino - shoe-horning in some current political points of sticking it to the 1%. Ye gods was that heavy-handed crap. (And missed out on connecting with the prequels nice nod to “Dune” with the banking clan, techno-union, and other guilds). I’d disagree that the Geonosian mosquitos that built the Death Star were either part of the 1% or the down-trodden. And not to keep bashing the casino, but it didn’t even look-and-feel much like a Star Wars environment.

The main throne room showdown was great and, especially on subsequent viewings, I’m not too worried about the lack of explanation about Snoke. Still, can’t see the point in not mentioning even with one sentence something about his rise to power. I presume and hope against hope that Kylo’s jab at Rey - you’re nothing, you have no part in this story - is just a lie. It’s not a problem if Rey’s parents or backstory isn’t Dickensian coincidentalist (Oh, Plo Koon/Dooku/Uncle Owen happened to have an illegitimate child….). But there better be a story there. Again, talking about one’s heritage is basic Star Wars practice, and meanwhile, we’re paying lots of money for tickets to be told a story, so figure out some sort of story!

It’s more than bizarre to get in to Star Wars theology - yes, it’s all made up folks. That said, it’s one of the facts of the series that we keep getting some heavy-handed musings thrown around including the Prophecy of the Chosen One. So, interesting to hear Luke say that after ROTJ there was a balance in the force for a while. This may well confirm that the prophecy did indeed come true, that the balance in the force happened only when there were no Sith or Jedi left. If so, does this indicate where EIX will head? For the prophecy to be true, there will be no more Jedi, or more likely, Rey will meet Kylo again but rather than some sacrifice or victory, they’ll just live happily ever after, some merging of the dark and the light into “grey” Jedi? Yet, Luke did say as his final words that he would not be the last Jedi. Hmmmm.

In summary, seeing the film again (and again) makes it much easier to skip over the lapses and mistakes and hope for some plot cohesiveness in EIX. Seems to be our lot in life with this and so many other episodic franchises to hope against hope that we’ll get some satisfying resolution to myriad plot points in the final episode. I’m not sure of any original tv or film franchise that managed this well. Granted it’s tough to balance fresh takes with keeping true to the spirit, but I’ll be damned disappointed if we end up with grey or even no Jedi’s at the end. Disney, you spent $4 billion for this franchise about light sabers and rebellion; can you keep it going for a few more pictures, please?

The lack of an overarching vision may be a problem with the current corporate structure. A recent note mentioned that JJ Abrams pitched his script to Disney. Yikes - except for ANH, Lucas never pitched his ideas to anyone; they were, effectively, the highest budget (and highest grossing) independent films ever by a couple orders of magnitude.

On the other hand, if the film wasn’t any good, would I have written this much about it :-?

Random points…..

Solo: A Star Wars Story - It’s going to be interesting to see how this fares at the box office coming so soon after TLJ: it opens just five months from now. Even I have my limits to Star Wars immersion. (just kidding). Back in the day we had to wait 3 years between episodes!

Kylo - Loving Adam Driver’s work. Did you notice his mention of ‘force projection’ to Rey on their first or second ‘connection’ - “You’re not doing this, the effort would kill you”, which effort does kill Luke at the end.

Casino - ‘Nuff said. But note there’s a small John Williams music cue from The Long Goodbye in the scene. And also a riff on the brilliant 1927 Wings party scene.

Porgs - No problems here. From the trailer, I think we were all worried they’d be Chewie’s new sidekick or something. But they’re just set decoration, not a character or plot point (so far). Fine to have them around as the ‘tribbles’ of the Falcon. And the island Caretakers were fun.

Phasma’s death - I can understand those that thought Phasma got short shrift, but honestly the character got a lot better treatment than Boba Fett did in ROTJ - Phasma had a real fight and we even got a glimpse of the character and the character’s fear.

Poe - Oscar Isaac really shined as the blow-something-up flyboy. Also nice to see crazy great pilot skills which were never really shown in the previous trilogies.

Finn - Joh Boyega shows lots of charm but Finn does almost nothing of importance in the film. I’d guess that that’s why they threw in another time and plot-wasting moment at the end of the film with his thwarted sacrifice. Just plain dumb turning that moment in to a flirtation and yet another script subversion, “we win not by fighting what we hate but by saving what we love” - sounds nice but the movie is called Star Wars.

Droids - Lucas original idea with ANH was to show the story through the eyes of C-3PO and R2D2 (see The Hidden Fortress). He carried that on to a lesser degree in the original trilogy (C-3PO’s God moment and plot re-telling were great parts of ROTJ), was a small part of TPM, and not much thereafter. BB-8 is fine, but seems to be just used for throw-away jokes and randomly saving the day. Sad to see C-3PO just doing cameos and R2-D2 relegated to one little scene here.

Leia ‘skywalking’ - silly but I enjoyed it a lot. My simple take: She was knocked unconscious, woke up, and Force’d herself back. Almost makes sense but emotionally very satisfying. And, in a way, important to finally show that the other Skywalker twin did indeed have some strong force powers. Many of us have been waiting to see Leia’s powers for 20-some years.

Holdo’s Sacrifice - Loved the ultimate hyperspace bombing of the First Order Fleet, but of course, why couldn’t that have been autopiloted, or done by Ackbar or, best, Leia. The “silent” treatment works great, though diminished because Johnson used it a couple of times in the movie. As many others have pointed out, given Carrie’s death, don’t know why you just don’t swap out the Holdo for Leia - Leia’s sacrifice would jolt Luke to come back; Luke comes back and reluctantly takes on the mantle, saving his sacrifice for EIX (and then we see Holdo take over Generalship in EIX).

Luke & Leia - Amazing to see them together again. And with better writing this should have been worked out to a couple more scenes, again, we’ve waited decades for this.

Plotting - The lack of lightspeed jump by First Order ships to get in front of Resistance was pretty ridiculous and really should have had some other techno-babble explanation. It was bad enough in A New Hope, with the Death Star out of range of Yavin, but that only lasted 10 minutes or so (of real time). Here they actually say it’ll take dozens (30?) of hours for the Resistance to run out of fuel; another dumb plot hole.

Kids ending - Nice scene, especially with the subtle force-grab of the broom. I would have had the kid explicitly play light-saber with it; that was the point of the scene, why not go with it. But a lousy non-Star-Wars ending to an episode. Sure the formal group portraits are cheesy - and they work. Any hope for something correct for EIX ?

Music - didn’t hear much new here. Of course, the original Empire score blew the doors off of the already fantastic Star Wars music with The Imperial March, can’t expect every episode to match that.

Chewie - not sure why new Chewie is thinner and more well groomed than the ‘real’ Chewie. And the new guy doesn’t have the jerky quirkiness of the great Peter Mayhew.

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