Monday, December 18, 2017

The Last Jedi review (SPOILERS)

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I wasn’t going to review “The Last Jedi,” but what the hell, it’s polarizing and opinions are like… well, you know how the saying goes. Rather than spread my thoughts out over random Facebook posts or what not, I decided to put them here. I don’t review a lot of movies like this – usually just the ones that involve Superman— but because of the cultural significance of Star Wars, the fact it’s everywhere right now, the fact good friends of mine are die-hards and just because I feel like it, I’ll tackle “The Last Jedi.”

I mentioned in my review of “The Force Awakens” that I used to be a big Star Wars fan. While superheroes are my first and one true pop culture love, and I can honestly say I actually prefer Trek to Wars, I loved Star Wars up until the prequels. I did it all, the games, the expanded universe, the toys. I loved it. But the prequels just sucked the love of Star Wars out of me. Not so much “The Phantom Menace” – which I actually recently rewatched and holy crap, that’s a poorly written movie – but “Attack of the Clones” was the one where I lost much enthusiasm for the franchise as a whole.

I’ve never really come back… I’ve wanted to come back, but thus far, I haven’t and I just keep feeling exhausted with Star Wars. I thought “The Force Awakens” was okay. I gave it a 7/10 (I don’t like the number scaling so much anymore, but I stand by it, though it might have been too high). I was and still am completely indifferent to “The Force Awakens.” There’s a lot I like, a lot I don’t. Contrast that to “Rogue One,” which I didn’t do a full review, but I think it’s the second best Star Wars next to “The Empire Strikes Back.” I’ll never forgive it for not including Kyle Katarn, or having even an easter egg reference to “Dark Forces,” a pivotal Star Wars game of my youth, but I love “Rogue One.”

The thing that works best about “Rogue One” is that it’s a movie that you know the outcome going in and it still takes you for a ride. The characters are so likeable and the stakes are so high that there’s genuine suspense and thrills that you otherwise wouldn’t expect. It’s a damn good movie. Compare that to “Revenge of the Sith” – which is the best of those prequels – you know how it ends and after a while, maybe because of the bad acting or the fact you’re just all in at this point – finishing “Revenge of the Sith” is a chore.

Final preface: I still like and participate in the Star Wars lore – not religiously, but enough to know what’s going on. After initially not liking it, I picked up “Battlefront 2” and I actually really dig it thanks to the campaign. I was also a fan of “The Force Unleashed” and still think the secret apprentice has a place in the Disney canon. But I don’t have anything invested in the franchise other than, “hey, I’d love to love Star Wars again.”

Now don’t get me wrong, “The Last Jedi” isn’t a bad movie. It’s not a great movie. It’s decent. For me, it doesn’t push the needle past “The Force Awakens” all that much, if at all. It makes some bold decisions that redefine the saga – some work, some don’t – and some outright kind of make things from “The Force Awakens” a bit pointless.

As usual, there are spoilers here and I’ll do my “Yay, Meh and Nope” scale for what I did and didn’t like about the movie.


Kylo Ren – I was indifferent to Kylo Ren in “The Force Awakens,” he was a petulant man-baby who didn’t seem all that imposing. There was much more to the character this time around and you could genuinely sense the conflict. It’s also interesting to see his distaste for male authority figures. I mean, he did kill his dad, he tries to kill his uncle, he kills his Sith Lord and he makes Hux his bitch. However, he doesn’t kill Leia and he continually tries to work with Rey. The whole anti-male authority thing is especially interesting during the shirtless scene, I think that was a deliberate choice by Rian Johnson. The character development for Ben Solo was also much more involved beyond some kid who worshipped his evil grandfather. He works much better in this movie.

Rey – I still really like Rey. I kind of don’t care who her parents are (Kylo is totes lying to her), but if she is a “nobody,” it does create an interesting dynamic with huge franchise implications going forward. She’s just some rando who is strong with the Force. No midichlorians, no “selection” by the corrupt and lazy Jedi Order, she’s just a badass.

Killing Snoke – One of the bolder choices in the film. I actually thought it worked, especially when you read into the whole male authority thing about Kylo Ren. It’s surprising as hell that it happens (kind of predictable during the actual scene), but it creates an interesting dynamic going forward.

Rey and Kylo fighting together – After Kylo kills Snoke, he and Rey fight the Praetorian Guard and this scene was the best part of the movie, hands down. Really, this was awesome. There really aren’t stakes involved, but the scene was cool. I have two theories about Kylo and Rey, I’ll get to them later.

Empire Yoda – Yoda showing up was nothing but fan service and a way to get Yoda into the movie. However, I kind of loved that it was crazy-ass Yoda from “Empire Strikes Back.” The completely senile, real matter-of-fact old man that has no problem calling you an asshole… that’s the best kind of Yoda. Also, it was puppet Yoda.

Luke vs. Kylo – I thought this was a cool sequence, even the reveal that Luke wasn’t really there, (once again some questions about the Force). But there are some moments here that are just great filmmaking (Johnson makes a point to show Kylo’s footprints in the ground, but Luke’s aren’t there).

Leia – I miss Carrie Fisher. With the exception of her space dive, I loved pretty much everything about Leia and the way she was portrayed. It’s too bad Fisher is gone and she can’t give the Princess a proper send-off.

Rian Johnson's aesthetic – I don't think this is the best written Star Wars movie ever, but it's 100% one of the most beautifully shot. There is some superb direction and cinematography throughout this entire film.


Benicio Del Toro’s character – Was Johnny Depp busy? Del Toro’s existence in this film is weird. He’s not the droid Finn and Rose are looking for, but he’ll do and he’s conveniently hanging around in a cell until Rose and Finn need him, and they escape! That said, I rather enjoyed his philosophy and the commentary on the war machine, something that is entirely relevant to the real world today.


Killing Snoke, part 2 – So I do applaud the decision to kill Snoke. It was unexpected, it creates a wild new dynamic, but it was kind of a let-down for what could have been a more interesting character. Thus, I can see why some fans would be annoyed by the decision I know there’s an argument out there, “well, the Emperor didn’t have a backstory in “Empire” and “Return,” so why does it matter with Snoke?” Precedent, that’s why. Had there not be six movies in this saga before Snoke first appeared, this wouldn’t be an issue, but there are so many questions regarding Snoke and where he was 30 years ago when Palpatine and Vader were killed. Where was he during the rise and fall of the Empire, how did he manage to consolidate power? Star Wars is often a political beast. In “Empire” and “Return of the Jedi,” there’s not much history fleshed out to the Emperor, you just know he’s the guy that rules the galaxy with Vader as his sword, but with Snoke there’s much more history to Star Wars fleshed out that I can’t help but be a little let-down they didn’t really go further into explaining him. This is one of those instances where you can’t rely on moviegoers reading all the books and other media that explains what happened between “Return” and “TFA” because casual audiences don’t necessarily dive that deep. Also, how did this all-powerful Sith Lord not sense that his punk ass apprentice was using the Force to turn on a lightsaber and slice him in half?

Rose and Finn – My feeling that the entire Canto Bight nonsense could have been avoided aside, I didn’t mind Rose and Finn. I don’t really buy into the love story that seems to be the end result, but they were fine overall.

Chewbacca Why are you still here?

Force Skype – The Force skyping between Kylo and Rey is interesting. I’m putting it under “Meh” because I thought it needs more behind it and it plays into my questions about the Force. Also, I think it plays into one of my theories about Kylo and Rey.

Overall story structure – At it's core, the main plot of "The Last Jedi" is mostly fine. But when you start breaking it down, there are some pretty large plot holes and odd story beats. But I guess that comes with Star Wars and big space operas, yeah? I mean how else is Rey going to rebuild the Jedi Order with the texts but no training?

Between MEH and NOPE

Finn – Finn was one of, if not THE strongest character in “The Force Awakens.” His arc was clear and had a sound resolution – he defied the First Order and nearly sacrificed himself to stop Kylo Ren. In “The Last Jedi,” he and Rose are sent on a quest. On said quest, they make a really bad judgment call that gets a lot of people killed. I just didn’t care for Finn much this time around, and that was kind of disappointing. He also kind of doesn’t grow as a character, he’s just committed to the Resistance now and follows nearly the same path as “The Force Awakens.”

Poe Dameron – I liked Poe a lot in “The Force Awakens.” I like my infallible, morally righteous characters. However, in “The Last Jedi” I was indifferent to him, which is a bit disappointing. It didn’t help that it was his overconfidence that nearly crushed the Resistance to begin with, but his arc both did and didn’t work for me. He kind of takes on the personality of a guy on Twitter who replies to females with “well, actually…” (you know, mansplaining), which plays into the overall story-arc. It also plays into the male authority idea, but I don’t know if I buy it coming from Poe. It’s an interesting way to go for a character that is generally well-regarded, but there are moments that are genuinely sexist which kind of seemed off for his character, given his admiration and relationship with Leia. If Poe learns from his blunders and applies them in the next installment, then it’s all for the better.


Poe Dameron is an idiot – Poe’s defiance of Leia and insistence of bombing the Star Destroyer should go down in history as one of the greatest military blunders of the Star Wars. He gets a ton of Resistance fighters killed, and his actions drive part of the movie (the dragged out chase), thus even making him (and Finn and Rose) responsible for the deaths of the people in the escaping Resistance transports. For someone who was so likeable in “The Force Awakens,” this whole thing didn’t do much for his character. My favorite reactions to Poe’s idiotic strategy have been from real military personnel I follow on Twitter. They have all been completely baffled by the entire affair. 

Captain Phasma – What a waste.

Hux – Hux is pretty lame.

Canto Bight – This entire thing was boring and kind of pointless, save for the stable boy at the end. I guess they had to give Finn something to do. While I rather enjoyed the political commentary and found it to be rather prudent, it could have been done in less time and with something much more interesting.

Admiral Holdo’s sacrifice – I had really no problem with Holdo overall, might have been better if she was introduced in “The Force Awakens,” but the sacrifice play she made carried less weight because she was expendable, and that’s why it didn’t work for me. If you really wanted to go for the emotion, her play should have either been Leia’s sacrifice or – bear with me – Admiral Ackbar’s. The good Admiral is a cult icon of Star Wars and he unceremoniously meets his demise when the bridge of the ship is ripped apart. I actually appreciate it sometimes when characters don’t have big deaths and they just kind of go with little to no fanfare, but I feel like Ackbar could have added more weight to the sacrifice.

Luke Skywalker – The one thing I despised about “The Force Awakens” was the treatment of Han Solo. Luke’s treatment isn’t as terrible as Han’s, but it’s definitely a mixed bag. Overall, I didn’t like how Luke was handled. This seems to be a common criticism of the film. I get the idea that Luke came to realize the Jedi Order was a sham, but he’s a little too over-the-top in his being a hermit. There are so many questions about the 30 years between “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens” that Luke’s whole story just begs for some to be answered. I also don’t think Luke needed to become one with the Force just yet. I think it’s pretty obvious he’ll be back as a Force ghost in Episode IX, but his story-arc could have been stretched out a bit more. I think many of the criticisms of Luke’s handling, including from ark Hamill himself have some relevance. I can understand sending Han off after one movie (despite how much I hated the way he went), but Luke – who once embodied EVERYTHING about Star Wars from the Rebels to the Jedi – deserved more. Hamill’s performance was just fine, weird milking scene notwithstanding, I just felt like one of the absolute main characters of the franchise deserved more.

Leia in space – A few months ago, Disney had a genuine and iconic comedic moment born when Yondu exclaimed “I’m Mary Poppins, ya’ll” and floated in “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2,” in an actually enjoyable moment of corporate synergy. “The Last Jedi” took it one step further when Leia gets sucked out of her command ship, you know, after the bridge is ripped apart, doesn’t die in space and uses the force to float (or fly) back to the ship. It’s a neat idea on paper with the Force being used as a plot device, but I just couldn’t help but think about Mary Poppins, ya’ll, and that’s part of why it didn’t work for me here.


I have this same criticism of “The Force Awakens.” Star Wars is no longer about movies. It’s about an experience. The fervor over spoilers, the polarization of the movie between old fans, new fans, diehard fans, casual fans, etc., these things are not about the movies themselves. They are about the experience that is Star Wars. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but at some point experience begins to take precedence over film and I think we’ve crossed that line. I have zero interest in ruining your Star Wars experience, I have more interest in critiquing the film though.


While I like that everything you know about Star Wars was kind of shaken up, it creates a number of conundrums that I think do need answers. For example, Yoda shows up and he really isn’t a ghost. He interacts with Luke and summons lightning to burn Luke’s Force library (Rey has the texts, so okay…). Where is Yoda to appear to Kylo Ren and Force lightning him? The Force is presented as far more powerful than ever before in “The Last Jedi,” which opens up some potential possibilities, but it also creates a firestorm of questions.


What’s old is new again – I’ve seen this argument that Star Wars fans were annoyed by how “The Force Awakens” does a lot of rehashing, whereas “Last Jedi” does too much risk-taking. The argument here for the choices in “Last Jedi” is that Star Wars takes these risks to shoot adrenaline into the franchise, to go to new places and toss away the old stuff. That’s a sound argument.

Here’s the problem: In “The Force Awakens,” The First Order is more a cult than anything else. In “Last Jedi,” they are very much the Empire. They did wipe out the Republic’s seat of government, so it’s kind of a natural progression, but they are the Empire. By the end of “Last Jedi,” the Resistance has also evolved. Once again, they are the Rebel Alliance. That’s fine and dandy, especially for branding purposes, but it kind of flies in the face of the “bury the past” themes both in the film and in the analysis. It’s also ironic that the next Star Wars movie slated for release is “Solo,” a movie about the past and a dead character. The franchise as a whole is kind of moving in place, which I think overall adds to my Star Wars fatigue. 

What I also found weird was the way Luke reacts to the blue lightsaber. He tosses it over his shoulder like a piece of junk. Given the choices Rian Johnson makes throughout the film, it’s kind of hard to think he’s not a fan of “The Force Awakens” and wanted to change some stuff. This ultimately is symbolized by Luke tossing the very laser sword that drove the plot of the first film. That’s not really how I read it, but the more I thought about it, it was something worth thinking about again.


I have two theories about Rey and Kylo. 1) Kylo is totally lying to Rey about her parents. It’s a deliberate plot choice to make her believe she is “nobody.” It may very well be the case, but part of me still thinks they are brother and sister or somehow related. (The Kenobi theory is still my favorite. Speaking of which, where were you during all this, Obi-Wan?) 2) Rey and Kylo are totally going to be lovers and rule the galaxy together. Not as evil people, but as the balance. (Or hell, they do it as brother and sister).


Rian Johnson kind of goes all-in with “Last Jedi.” It doesn’t feel like the middle part of a trilogy, it felt like an ending. That’s a problem. I’m sure the Lucasfilm story team will find their way out of it in time for J.J. Abrams to lens flare his way back into our lives, it’s just going to need something beyond the mortal rivalry of Kylo and Rey, especially with all the characters involved that had story-arcs more or less existing for this one movie and tied up by the end. It doesn’t really build to anything except… where we started all those years ago.

It may seem like I disliked the film, I didn’t. I feel about the same as I do with “The Force Awakens.” Kind of indifferent. I enjoyed it overall, but I don’t think it’s the best Star Wars movie by any stretch. It’s got a lot of great moments, and a lot of not-so-great moments, but I wasn’t demanding money back. I think when the dust settles and the Star Wars haze fades, this movie won't hold it's own weight. Ultimately what matters is enjoyment, I thought enough of it to write this long ass review, but it’s easier to write this than to constantly explain my feelings on this pop culture phenomena. If you disagree and enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than I did, that’s awesome and really all that matters.

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