Here’s a little curveball for ya. A movie review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Why the F not. If I wanted to, I could write about quilting. That’s the cool thing about blogging, right?!?
But don’t worry, folks. I won’t stray too far afield. I just have some stuff to get off my chest on this latest installment of my favorite childhood (slash manhood) saga.
NOTE: SPOILERS APPEAR FROM THIS POINT FORWARD. DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU’RE PLANNING TO SEE THE FILM. ALSO, DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU’RE EXPECTING ANECDOTES ABOUT EARLY RETIREMENT.
(Update 4/10/18: The punchline is this: I thought this movie stunk. And months since my last screening in December, my perception is swung back to my original opinion. Let’s hope that J.J. can pull this reboot from galactic trash compactor with Episode 9!)
What I liked about the film
First off, there’s an appearance by Yoda. And to boot, it’s the puppet Yoda from the original trilogy! Score one for hand-crafted film-making over lazy digital effects! Even better still, Yoda LAUGHED. I think we got one little giggle out of him in the overly serious prequel trilogy.
Second, I enjoyed the bombing run sequence on the First Order’s dreadnought in the opening sequence. That was somewhat new territory for Star Wars. Lo and behold, cluster bombs a la World War II actually work in space! As a total Star Wars geek, I was happy to see a new and interesting way for spaceships to get blown to smithereens.
Third, I thought it was effective how Kylo Ren’s character continued to develop through many twists and turns. You leave wondering if all of his toying with Rey was purely a manipulation on his part to help him off Snoke. Probably?
Fourth, there was a solid plot line that stitched the theme of the film together. Boiled down: Failure is the best teacher. Learn from failure and improve. Luke had to hear it from Yoda so he could start to put his failures with Ben Solo behind him. The Resistance will have to learn from its trouncing in this film if they’re to make any progress in Episode 9.
Finally, that last scene with Luke pulling a cross-universe telepresence? Not bad.
Where it went wrong (in my humble opinion)
Cinematically, George Lucas had a knack for making his special effects pop on the screen. With the first trilogy, he took his time showcasing cool scenes. The best example is the first time we hear the Imperial March, with a long, drawn out sequence of what I like to call, Star Destroyer Porn. The Empire Strikes Back will never be topped.
Also consider the simple sandcrawler sequence in A New Hope. A showcase of John Williams music with no dialogue. Instead of the MTV sound and fury we get in today’s movies (thank you, social media induced lack of attention span), time was taken to draw you into another world. To me, the sandcrawler sequence is pure Star Wars.
Sadly, The Last Jedi settles for the modern approach to the now standard ADHD film experience. The only sequences that come close to tone-setting and pulling you in are the overdone board of tourism pans of the island of Ach-to. Snore.
I could’ve slept through the Canto Bight casino sequences. I sort of appreciate how the film tries to make a subtle political point about the haves and have-nots. Basically, the one-percenters are First Order types and everyone else is the Resistance. It’s a bit of a reach, but I get it.
Sadly though, these little political notions distract from the Star Wars ethos that is less nuanced. It’s simple “Space Nazis vs. The Good Guys.” Sadly, the action scenes with Finn and Rose felt like pure filler. The casino setting itself didn’t present anything new or interesting to the Star Wars universe. They even ripped off the cantina music from A New Hope.
Much of the humor fell flat. There were moments that stood out, like when Luke offered his green milk to Rey (after milking a walrus of some sort.) In fairness, I did enjoy the accidental crushing of the caretakers cart, courtesy of Rey. And Chewbacca roasting a porg like a game hen in front of its whimpering friends was cute.
But then there’s the opening sequence of Dameron Poe tooling with Hux. That was over the top. In fact, making Hux the punching bag of the movie seemed like a cruel devolution of his character from The Force Awakens. I also thought the imperial steam pressing sequence was a prop best left for a Mel Brooks film. And Finn walking around with tubes of leaking saline? Droid, please!!!
Is there anyone in the First Order we should be afraid of?
Any bad-asses besides maybe a whiny and unstable Kylo Ren? Captain Phasma ended her run in the series with a thud. I guess she’s the new Bob Fett – looks cool, but otherwise completely inept.
The reason the Empire was so scary as a kid is they reminded us of the principal at school (or military school.) The Empire were disciplined and cocksure. Even if stormtroopers never scored a hit, their officers were pretty frightening and merciless.
The First Order is apparently a bunch of keystone cops. I really can’t comprehend how they wind up coming off so underwhelming, despite their success in grinding the Resistance into a band that now fits into one Millennium Falcon by the end of the film.
What made the film “less than” for us fan boys
So you’re going to kill off Snoke that easily? Okay. How about giving us some nugget about his origins? Or, should we expect another prequel trilogy to lay it out for us? I know a lot of people thought the hologram Snoke in The Force Awakens was cheap. But I thought it made him menacing. What is his agenda? Is there something about him we need to care about for the next episode?
Maybe I’m just projecting too much original Star Wars on this dud. Maybe Rian Johnson deserves some credit for short-circuiting our preconceived notions of how we think the plot should work. Still, killing off the most powerful dude in the neighborhood that early in the second act just simply took the wind out of the movie’s sails.
Another dagger was the scene with Princess Leia pulling an outer space Lazarus, using her force powers to fly back to the ship after being exposed in space long enough to check your latest Facebook posts. Crazy shit. I think it’s cool that she has force powers, but seeing her fly/float back like Mary Poppins was pretty cheesy.
The final battle scene with the new, impressively huge walkers could’ve been better, but it felt rushed. I guess in Johnson’s mind, if the sequence appears at the end of the film, it’s completely unique from the snow battle in Empire. Nope. In fact, it was another wasted opportunity. Nothing menacing about those machines. They just stop and stand there.
The comical part was how the Resistance figured some cheap old pod-racers on skids stood an iota of a chance against those oversized walkers. Why not spend that time looking for the backdoor exit, when the odds are clearly not in your favor? I was really hoping Finn would complete his sacrifice, to add a just a touch of gravitas to this sad middle chapter. But in a very cliche way, he’s saved by Rose.
Benicio Del Toro’s character “DJ” was tiring and cliche. ’nuff said.
Wrapping it all up
Ultimately this is a film that falls short when stacked up against the offerings in the Star Wars universe that came before. It’s better than Attack of the Clones, but at least Clones had some sweet Jango Fett sequences to fall back on. The Last Jedi had few, if any clever, crafty, or memorable sequences. The movie score was seemingly missing. Only familiar themes, like Rey’s, stood out.
Should you go see it? Yes. Will you want to see it again? I felt a little better after seeing it the second time. I’m such a geek that I’ve been known to go three or four times to see a Star Wars movie in the theater. This one just doesn’t elicit anywhere near the same level of magic.
Since Disney acquired the franchise, we’re in for an overdose of Star Wars. Now that we get a new installment every year instead of once every three, fatigue might be setting in.
I will admit to watching Rogue One after my first viewing of “Last Jedi”, just to try to clear my brain of all the shortcomings. Or, maybe I was subconsciously still geeked cuz, well, it’s still Star Wars!!! Regardless, I’m already looking forward to J.J. Abrams’ return to the helm for episode 9.
Postscript: Some are suggesting that the spate of negativity against this move is from viral “bots” employed by a few haters. There’s even an Alt-Right moron who has admitted to being behind some of the backlash.
This movie fell flat for me based on its merits, and I’m a progressive supporter of the diversity and empowerment that Star Wars has finally brought to the screen. But even diversity can’t help make up for all the missing parts that made a few of the previous chapters magical.