Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” - I’m not sure either side should win.

As much as I look forward to many movies every year, none of them do I anticipate as much as Star Wars. Since writing movie reviews does not pay the bills (or anything but movie admissions, for that matter) and advanced screenings of Star Wars flicks are always in the middle of a weekday, I’m forced to decide whether or not to take a day off to see the movie. Since my dream of being a professional baseball player died a long time ago, the decision to ditch a day of work for Star Wars is easy. The only down-side is I have to hold my tongue the next day or two so as not to spoil the movie for anyone within hearing distance of my cubicle. And for Star Wars, we at the screening got an extra reminder that we shouldn’t ruin the movie for others with spoilers. But, you know how I feel about spoilers in reviews. Reviews are spoilers by their very nature. If you don’t have some level of spoilers, it’s not a real review. Hence, the obligatory spoiler warning I always include. So, to meet my extra obligation for Star Wars, here is your warning.





(Seriously. I’m going to include a few SPOILERS.)


(Are you still with me?)


(Are you sure you want to keep reading?)


(Last chance. SPOILER ALERT)


(There’s no turning back now.)


(Okay. I think I’ve made my point. Here we go. SPOILER ALERT, but nothing huge.)

This picture contains zero spoilers.

The Last Jedi picks up where we left Rey (Daisy Ridley) standing on an island facing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). But, really it picks up showing us the Resistance fleeing their base before the First Order shows up to destroy them. Apparently, there were a whole lot more First Order guys than were on the destroyed Starkiller Base. General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), commanding a fleet of star destroyers, shows up at the Resistance’s planet to kill them all and we are treated to a scene straight out of The Avengers. I think Joss Whedon snuck into the writer’s room to add a can-you-hear-me-now gag in the opening space battle scene and I’m still conflicted on if it works in a Star Wars film. It’s not that I didn’t laugh (I did), but that exchange turns the EVIL FIRST ORDER and General Hux into the silly first order and General doofus. Do you know how hard it is to believe that the First Order was able to take over the entire galaxy after watching them fall for a crank call to their battlecruiser?

The opening space battle also made me realize how terrible every faction in this universe is at military strategy and tactics. On the First Order side, they have a dozen star destroyers that never fire a single shot at the fleeing force or the planet below them, opting to wait for a dreadnaught to show up that carries four gigantic guns. Incidentally, this was exactly how the Empire lost in Return of the Jedi. The Empire had a whole fleet of star destroyers that never fired a single shot because they were waiting for the Death Star, even after the rebels began to specifically target the star destroyers. Anyway, on the Resistance side, they’ve hatched a plan to take out the dreadnaught, led by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), despite Leia (Carrie Fisher) verbalizing the cost wasn’t worth the mission. Not only does she okay an obviously tiny-odds mission, she tries to back out of it when all the assets are already well past committed, then lays all the blame on Dameron for disobeying a retreat order that was nonsensical. It’s no wonder the wars never end in the Star Wars universe. Both sides are militarily dumb.

(Side note: The star destroyer thing is really nagging at my brain. Seriously, what exactly are they for, if not triangle shaped transports? Their name implies they can actually destroy things, yet we rarely ever see them fire a shot at anything in any movie. But, they sure do crash a lot.)

Nobody in the galaxy can actually read that map.

After this, the movie spends time jumping back and forth between the First Order fleet pursuing the remaining Resistance ships and Rey trying to convince Luke to rejoin the Resistance and train her to be a Jedi. If this sounds an awful like Empire, at least no one gets frozen in carbonite. Though, speaking of frozen (and here’s the one sorta-real SPOILER), Leia survives being blown up and blasted into space without a spacesuit. Remember in Guardians of the Galaxy when Gamora and Star-Lord both survive being in space without a spacesuit? Yeah, it sucked in that movie too. Watching frozen Leia open her eyes and magic herself back to the ship was possibly the worst moment in the entire franchise, and this franchise includes Jar-Jar Binks. I get that it can be explained away by the Force and Skywalker DNA, but it undercuts any danger she is in, will be in, or has ever been in. We all know that Jedi are not invincible and most definitely cannot survive space. Plus, Leia isn’t even a trained Jedi, making this scene even more ridiculous in the context of this universe. She should have just been found in the wreckage of the area of the ship that was blasted and nobody would have questioned her survival.

How about a little positivity, since I liked this movie despite its flaws? The scenes with Luke and Rey are easily the highlight of the movie because we get to learn a bunch of stuff about the past and reunite with one of the all-time movie heroes. Hamill plays a grumpy old Luke as if he’s been practicing 35 years for exactly this moment. He’s surly and cynical and you are screaming at Rey to whack him over the head with her staff because we want to see some Jedi stuff, dammit! Ridley slips effortlessly back into Rey, delivering a character that grows exponentially while on the island, despite Luke’s efforts to drive her away. There are also some really cool new Force concepts that we get to watch develop, not the least because these scenes involve Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his current mindset. Speaking of Kylo Ren, man is that guy a mental wreck. Losing a fight to Rey has caused Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) to lose faith in his apprentice and Kylo is trying desperately to prove his worth. I love that Hux keeps poking at him, despite the fact that Kylo is an unstable bomb that could kill Hux with a thought. This plotline is the heart of the movie and the space chase is just a distracting side story meant to give screen time to Dameron, Leia, and Finn (John Boyega), and deliver most of the action we all want to see.

Can't you train me just a little you old crank?

This brings us to Finn and a bunch of extraneous stories that end up muddling the film. If writer/director Rian Johnson had stuck with just those two story threads, the movie would have been far tighter. Instead, a third story is tossed in where Finn and fellow space janitor Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) embark on a desperate mission to a super-rich city to find a guy who might be able to help them save the fleet from annihilation. This sub-plot is far more social commentary on income inequality, child slave labor, and the military industrial complex than fantasy space opera with laser swords. It’s preachy in a way that brings the movie to a screeching halt rather than delivering a subtle, but powerful message dressed in droids and blasters. I really love Finn as a character, but he felt almost forgotten in this film.

But, oh, that action and special effects. Mmmmmmmmm. I know film snobs love to criticize the very existence of CGI, but CGI has allowed us to see things beyond our wildest imaginations. Everything is this movie was visually stunning (with the exception of the stupid little porgs - penguin-like creatures on Luke’s island that exist solely for Disney to sell merchandise to children. I’m not exaggerating, these things literally do nothing in the movie outside of being on the Millenium Falcon in some poorly conceived homage to the rightly-derided tribbles of Star Trek fame). One shot in particular near the end of the film was spectacular to behold (which I won’t spoil) and made even the porgs worth putting up with. Oh oh oh, and the last planet we see them on? Just, oh wow. Even if I did try to describe it (which I won’t), you’d have to see it to understand. I know I’m big on providing evidence to support a claim (hence the entire reason SPOILERS are necessary in a review), but on this one I’m just going to ask you to trust me.

Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.

If you’ve stuck with me through the previous 1500 words, let me reward you with the answer to the question you really want to know. How good is The Last Jedi compared to the last two Star Wars movies? For starters, it definitely has way too much crammed into it (while the other two are very streamlined), but I can’t get enough Star Wars so I’m not really complaining. I wish they had made some different decisions with a couple of the minor subplots and characters (like with Laura Dern’s vice admiral Holdo, for one). I wish Finn wasn’t quite so slap-sticky, or the rest of the movie, for that matter, but at least there weren’t any fart jokes. On the flip side, spending time with Luke was fantastic, Rey and Kylo’s connection is developed sublimely, and the crescendo at the end of the film makes up for all of the minor problems in the film. All in all, it’s not as good as the previous two films, but it’s still a pretty good Star Wars film. In other words, we still win.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, but I’m saying that far less emphatically than the last two movies.

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