Monday, December 25, 2017

'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Review

I'm late to the party, but I had a good reason: work and life. And I frankly did not care if I saw this on opening weekend. Possibly due to my "meh" review of 'The Force Awakens.' I didn't feel a strong need to go out and see this one. Instead I waited until work died down, I had a day off, and could watch the movie without being heavily influenced by the audience or media. I haven't seen a single trailer. I've installed a few browser add-ons to hide any and all text referring to Star Wars, The Last Jedi, and Porgs (I'm just as surprised as you are that I had to add that to the keyword list). So what's the final verdict?

...eh?

Here's my review of 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi.' Please keep in mind that this will be full of spoilers and if you care about that, then stop reading and we'll see you tomorrow. If you don't care, the review is below. Or if you want the TLDR version then here you go:

TLDR: 'The Last Jedi' is an HD version of Episode 5 and 6, but not as engaging, more disorganized, and kind of dull. The best parts are Mark Hamill being Mark as Luke Skywalker. Or Mark being Luke Skywalker trying to act like Mark. The verdict is still out on that.

Long review: Like 'The Force Awakens' I don't know how to feel about this movie. On the one hand it did try to be a little different from Episodes 4-6. It still copied a lot of things, but it tried. The movie looks nice. There's a great scene towards the 5th act (I honestly lost count at how many acts this movie has, there's probably 20 unique plots) when the Rebels (Note: This is The Rebellion - However it should be noted that multiple times in the movie, both the Rebellion and The First Order call them "Rebels." It's easy to be confused) turn their ship against the First Order. It is beautiful to watch. I appreciate that more content was given to Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. We got some new characters. We got a little bit more desperation with the Rebellion.

So why do I think the movie is "eh"?

Let's start off with my TLDR comment that 'The Last Jedi' is ripping off of Episode 5 and 6 so hard. The story focuses on the fleeing Rebellion and Rey trying to convince Luke Skywalker to come back into the war. The First Order has found the last contingent of the Rebellion. Now Leia, Poe, and Finn are doing their best to outrun them in a very long 2 hour chase - which is not at all like the Millennium Falcon attempting to get away from the Empire in 'The Empire Strikes Back.'

Even with all their ships and firepower, The First Order really sucks at their attempt to destroy 1 cruiser, a medical frigate, and a transport ship. Good job guys. Way to make the Empire look like geniuses.

It's a very long, very slow chase sequence. Finn runs into a character, Rose, who thinks she knows how to escape The First Order. They come up with an insane plan to infiltrate the lead First Order ship to disable a tracking device. To do so, they need a legendary "codebreaker" to help them on because no one else knows how to break into a First Order ship. Finn and Rose leave to go to a Hutt-like casino planet (sadly not Nar Shaddaa) to find this person while Poe practices a ton of mutiny.

While this is going on, Rey is harping on Luke to get his head out of his butt and help the Rebellion again. Luke is in hiding believing he has failed Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. He wants to die in peace as the last Jedi. Rey wants to learn how to be a Jedi too. So there's some Yoda teaching moments (Yoda even pops up at one point and all I could think of is Mark Hamill's inner-dialogue going "30 years later and I'm still acting with puppets"). Apparently Rey is not at all freaked out about seeing what is hidden in the Dark Side and travels there without abandon. Which of course freaks out Skywalker because Jedi's don't do that. And then there's some bullsh*t telecommunication thing between Rey and Kylo where Rey is trying to turn him back to the light. But Kylo isn't sure. And they can see each other but not their surroundings. It's a long-winded call-back to Luke and Vader's talk on Endor in Episode 6. "There's still good in you!" "It's too late for me." And all that jazz. Rey thinks she can turn Kylo back so she leaves to confront him. Luke gets a lesson from ghost Yoda.

Meanwhile Finn and Rose return with a codebreaker, played begrudgingly by Benicio del Toro. The trio get on the lead First Order ship. They get caught. Poe does some more mutiny on the Rebellion ship and gets some of his own people killed.

Rey meets Snoke (we didn't forget about him). Tries to get her to release info about Luke's location. Kylo turns against Snoke - and we're still not sure if this is Rey's influence or something Kylo has planned all along. But instead of following Rey, Kylo takes over as the Supreme Leader. That's one thing Vader didn't do so...points to Kylo?

The 2 hour space chase is finally at it's end and you think everyone is going to die. But through the magic of Star Wars, the main characters find a way to escape...to a planet that looks a lot like Hoth. They even do the damn 'Imperial Walkers looming in to break down the big door' sequence. It's 100 shades of "why?" They also have a mix of the trench run from Episode 4 and the climax Death Star fight from Episode 6. "Look Rey! Your Rebellion is failing." It's dumb and will cause your eyes to roll. But of course Luke shows up to save the day so the Rebellion can escape again.

What's the theme of this film? Hope. Or at least I assume that it is. Because the last scene of the movie is about how the strength of the Rebellion, even with their few numbers, can combat The First Order. So the last segment of the movie is with some kids in a stable playing out the battle on not-Hoth. One of them uses the Force to pick up a broom, and we see him looking off into the sky as a future Rebel.

It was a silly ending that provides a lot of uncertainty on what's going to happen with the next movie. All I can assume is that we have to do a 20 year gap to wait on the next generation of Rebellion initiates to grow up before we can continue fighting again...that's what I got from that ending.

Did you follow all of that? Good. I left out a lot of subplots because it got really convoluted. The story was full of so many holes, it's difficult to know where to begin. I didn't even talk about Space Leia.

The two biggest problems with this film is lack of interest and pacing. Because there are so many sub-plots, mini stories, and lack of probability (there is no way a ship from the Rebellion can make it to a planet lightyears away, find the "codebreaker" in a crowded city, bring him back, break into The First Order ship, disable the tracking, make it out without getting caught within 16 hours) your attention wavers. A lot. The pacing is ridiculous. It's either too fast or too slow. The casino scenes are the best example of this. When you first see the planet and run through the casino itself, it's quick. You get a brief glimpse of what's around you and understand where you are. And then it instantly comes to a halt once Finn and Rose start talking about what life is like under The First Order. It's distracting and doesn't help with the flow of the story.

The space chase is the worst with pacing. It starts out as high action, dies off, then attempts to look active in-between the drawn-out plot by having fighting within the factions. I'm fairly impressed with myself for not picking up my phone to look at missed messages during this movie.

The problem with these weird speeds throughout the movie is that characters are not given the care that they deserve to fully flesh out their stories. Snoke is a prime example of this. All we know about Snoke is that he is the Supreme Leader of The First Order and the big bad of Episode 7/8. That's it. We don't know who he is. We don't know how he rose to power. We don't know what he is (apparently the producers are claiming he's not a Sith but has Force powers...). He's there to be the bad guy for the sake of plot. At least with Emperor Palpatine we knew how he came into power, how he turned Vader, and his fascination with the Force. He had a story to make him a worthy bad guy. Snoke is the bad guy because plot demanded that a big bad guy exist. Even his lair looks like an Episode 6 rip-off, but with Disney-den red walls like you would see in a theme park. When Snoke is killed in this movie (spoiler), the payoff is not rewarding. It feels trite. We knew NOTHING about Snoke. Why do we give a crap if he's killed? He provided no real conflict to the overarching narrative. That's all on Kylo Ren's shoulders.

That's what annoys me about this film the most. There is no care given to the characters or the plot.

I didn't care what happened to these characters. I didn't care about Rey, or Poe, or Finn, or Kylo, even Leia or Luke! This movie didn't give me a chance to care about Luke or Leia. How dare it. How. Dare. It.

The rest of the film is trying to re-use parts of Episode 5 and 6 but not make it blatantly obvious as to what they are doing. Luke Skywalker has turned more into hermit-Yoda and becomes Rey's teacher (5). Rey enters "the forest" to fight with a version of her Dark Side self that makes no sense, but whatever (5). Rey surrenders herself to the First Order try and turn Kylo Ren good (6). There's a battle where Kylo kills Snoke (6). The remaining Rebellion soldiers barricade themselves on a planet to try and fight off The First Order (5) that looks like Hoth (5) and Imperial Walkers show up to bust through (5) and they must escape on the Falcon (5). I could keep going, but the ties between the movies are so obvious. I legitimately considered walking out to go to the restroom during the not-Hoth scenes because I knew what was going to happen. I guessed everything frame by frame, and I was right! I even figured out the "twist" ending the moment the character showed up on not-Hoth! /sigh It's aggravating.

I'm not going to act like I had a lot of hope on 'The Last Jedi.' I was trying to go in with a clear mind and no expectations. Which probably helped me to not hate this movie. But I still dislike it. 7 and 8 rank on the bottom for me when it comes to Star Wars movies.

My other big problem is the lack of alien diversity. Sure there are human characters with multiple ethnicities (one thing they did well). But what about the aliens? The Rebels were always a hodge-podge of multiple cultures throughout the galaxy. With the exception of Admiral Ackbar, we don't see it. The casino scenes would have been perfect for showing off some cool aliens with make-up or CGI. But nope. We didn't get that. It's a lot of humans or aliens that look like humans. Not even a Twi'lek! What the flip happened to Twi'leks? (By the way if there is one and I didn't see it, please point it out to me. I was so bored at that point in the movie I may have overlooked the 'one' that existed). Instead we got Porgs. Thanks Disney and your ever-thoughtful merchandising team.

There are also a lot of nonsensical plot holes that are easily justified by "The Force" to help make them feasible. Leia getting shot out into space and lives? The Force! Poe knowing to contact Maz, though the two never officially met in the last film? The Force! Mary-Sue character figures out the ways of the universe after one Jedi lesson? The Force!

I understand the Force is used for a lot of past plot devices, but in this film it feels extra dumb. The Force is not going to prevent you from suffocating in space.

A number of the side characters needed better direction. Benicio del Toro acted like he phoned in the entire experience. He's usually pretty good in the roles he plays, but this one felt sad. He didn't play the role of "charming thief" well. You knew from the moment you saw him that he would double-cross the Rebellion. He always acted like he was playing both sides. I'd much rather have had Daniel Craig in this role, instead of his First Order Trooper cameo in Episode 6. This would have fit his acting chops so well.

And then there is Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo who is unnecessarily secretive. It adds a level of "why" to this character that didn't need to be there. If she were honest from the start on what the plans were to help the Rebellion escape, it would have prevented so many of the bad sub-plots in this film! And the thing is there was no reason to keep the plan a secret. People are dying. There are so few in the Rebellion left. Leia and the other admirals/generals were open with the crew. So why not her? Why make this a sticking point for her character? It's aggravating that characters will be secretive to make plot happen. In the end it made her self-sacrifice feel vain. She wasn't trying to do the right thing. She was making the sacrifice to become a legend. Thanks plot.

Okay so I've talked a lot about how many things are wrong with this movie. Are there some good stuff? Yeah. I do think visually it's a lovely film. Good cinematography all-around, even in the scenes that are blatant rip-offs of Episode 5 and 6. The CGI isn't bad either. I'm still impressed by the sequence with the Rebellion lead ship fighting back against The First Order's fleet.

More content is given to Leia and Luke, especially Luke, this round. They have been pivotal characters to the rise of the Rebels and deserved to have their time in the spotlight. Leia in particular needed to have her leadership shine more. Also Mark Hamill. Gotta love Mark. I think this is his portrayal of Luke trying to act like Mark Hamill, which is always a good time.

The music is better. It's John Williams so you know you're going to get a good score. But I felt that Episode 7's soundtrack was lack-luster. None of the pieces were memorable compared to Episodes 1-6. 8 had a couple of pieces that I can still recall, so that's an improvement.

While I'm still not all-in on the new characters, I do understand why some people are quick to attach to them. Rey, Finn, and Poe are likeable in their own ways. Poe provides more of the comedic moments to make the movie slightly tolerable. Finn as well, but more wayward. Rey is the nearly perfect character that people want in an epic space story. The collection of characters could be worse.

The movie is mindless fun. If you don't want to think about things and see space fights, then there you go. And again, it looks nice. Can't go wrong with good cinematography.

...that's all I've got. Sitting here and trying to think of what was enjoyable about the movie was rough. My problems with the film have less to do with Star Wars canon and more with the structure of the narrative. The story is a mess. The reasoning behind everything (see the ending) feels trite and doesn't lead well into a 9th film. Worst of all, I stopped caring. A Star Wars movie got me to stop caring about Star Wars. What the crap?

For as much as people rip on the Prequels, at least they provided substance. The story, while sometimes convoluted, had more cohesion and unique characters. I was invested in what happened next. Even knowing full well that it was the story of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader, I wanted to see what happened.

Episode 8 did not do this for me. I don't care what happens with #9. I don't care if the Rebellion wins or loses. I don't care about any of the characters. Episode 8 caused me to stop caring about the future of Star Wars. This is not a good movie. Don't waste money to see it. Wait until it's out on Netflix and use your already-paid subscription to watch it.

Note: I know this movie is polarizing for a multitude of reasons. While I did not like it, I'm not one of those fans that will chastise you if you don't agree with me. I enjoyed the Prequels. Episode 3 is probably my favorite of all of the Star Wars movies. I got a lot of heat for that over the years. I'm not one of those fans that will insult you for the movie that you like, or for how you got into Star Wars. So please don't start a flame war in the comments. You can like this movie, dislike it, or something in between. At the end of the day we're all Star Wars fans. Please be kind and remember that.

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