Episode Ache: The Last Jedi
Since The Mouse House is going to be giving us at least a new Star Wars movie a year, we may as well have a whole column devoted to the subject, especially since I am a huge Star Wars aficionado and can easily fill half my day chatting about the franchise.
Well after seeing The Last Jedi last night and trying to process it with little sleep I can safely say, like I said right after leaving the theatre was that this is a turning point in the whole franchise. This is the Star Wars film that basically says to the older generation of fans, the ones who grew up with the Original Trilogy, that we can no longer carry along with what you expect from a Star Wars film with the old characters or the themes you remember from the old films. The torch has finally been passed to the new generation and either you adapt to the new order or you will end up growing more and more disillusioned with the franchise. While I see the point to cutting the cord so to speak, I lament the loss to what I see as better storytelling and filmmaking.
I feel that Star Wars may have lost its audience and how it lost its audience is two-fold. One, it’s not easy for younger fans to watch these movies, and I don’t say that because A. the long running time or B. the PG-13 rating—I say it because the themes herein are not as simple as the OT or the prequels were. It’s not as black or white with good vs. evil. These movies are becoming more gray which is fine for my older sensibilities but I’m not sure it’s for little children. And two, it’s losing the older fans for a multitude of reasons but the reasons may differ from fan to fan. I saw this with 4 friends and we all were somewhat shocked, dismayed and bewildered at what we just watched. That says something that four 40-somethings are struggling with a beloved franchise they grew up with. I’m still trying to figure this all out in best to understand terms but I’m not one to say that “They are destroying MY beloved franchise and I wish Lucas was back!” No, I’m more or less struggling with growing up and moving on and adapting to these new changes. But I’m also struggling with poor storytelling choices. But I guess even a 40-year-old franchise will still have to reinvent itself and thats TLJ in a nutshell.
But you’re probably asking, “Well, did you like it or not?” That’s not an easy answer for me right now after just one viewing. I guess I can’t say I loved it or hated it. But it didn’t wow me or bore me either. At times it made me emotional—which is mainly nostalgia’s fault when Luke and Leia have their little scene with the old Williams’s themes and motifs playing in his new score. There’s a lot of call backs that made me long for the golden days of 1983 which I can either thank the movie for or condemn the movie for. This movie is a hard pill to swallow.
On the one hand I guess I can congratulate Rian Johnson for giving us, probably the most unique Star Wars movie to date and without the tether of the OT’s characters in the future films, this could be a great development for the franchise. However, the storytelling was lacking and I’m left wondering if they really know what they are doing.
The last scene in the film, which is very unlike every other Star Wars finale since it doesn’t feature any of the main characters at all. It’s the little ragamuffin kids on the casino planet speaking non-English and using crude dolls to tell the tale of the last heroic battle at the finale. They are interrupted by some large, crazy-looking, screaming alien that shoos the kids away. One of the kids grabs a broom and goes outside and sees a ship, possibly the Millennium Falcon, go to light speed in the far distant sky and he then pretends that the broom is a lightsaber.
If that’s not the perfect metaphor for what this franchise has become then I don’t know what is. As long as these movies get made, it’s the younger generation, the little kids, who will use their imagination and be in awe of these characters. The yelling alien is the older generation just making a stink and complaining about the changing times. It’s the kids who will go outside and dream beyond the stars and pretend a stick is a laser sword.
While I liked TFA enough in my review 2 years back, I had a lot of trepidation to the state of this new trilogy and the direction they were going. A lot of the criticism to the film, generally and not just from myself was too much reliance on A New Hope. But that was chalked up to reintroduction to the franchise—fine with me. It’s still a decent flick and I can still enjoy it. However, now that we have TLJ, I feel like TFA was a slight hiccup in some cases and a lot of things don’t much matter. Most of this is on Snoke’s character. I can’t tell you how many fan theories revolved around this new mysterious villain. Was he Darth Plageius? Was he a clone of Palpatine? Was he Rey’s dad? Countless ideas and wonderment on this new character. Welllll, it doesn’t much matter now since he’s dead. He has two scenes where he was basically The Emperor Lite spouting out the tired ol’ Sith villain drivel and died slumped in his throne by Kylo Ren. Will we ever know who he was or why he was the supreme leader? It probably doesn’t matter anymore. So why was he a giant hologram in TFA again? To beef up mystery and throw us off a scent and make all the fans confused? This reeks of Abrams and his phony-baloney “mystery box” bullshit. Same goes for Phasma. Phasma also means nothing. She was basically either General Grievious or Boba Fett. But I argue that she is neither. Grievious was integral to the ROTS‘ plot. Boba Fett also had something to do to drive the plot from Empire to Jedi (and he just looks awesome). Phasma does nothing, says nothing or makes something to the plot. She’s just a chrome-plated stormtrooper with a cape. If she wasn’t in TLJ no one would’ve much cared. Oh Maz Kanata makes a cameo. A weird one. Finn, Poe and newcomer Rose contact her for information and she’s on a videophone fighting a group of, well I don’t remember if they even told us who she was fighting but she’s talking and fighting at the same time via a hologram. How they knew to contact her is a good question. How she had the information they needed is another good question. But that’s a minor nitpick which seems to include this character for a brief scene in a movie already crammed with plots and characters.
Speaking of, the pacing is totally crazy in this flick. It is crammed with many plot points to keep up with and at times they are convoluted. It’s not a simple story to say the least. Basically it harkens back to Empire a tad with Rey off to a place to train with Luke while the Resistance is being pursued by the First Order who has they basically beat. They figure out that Snoke’s ship has a tracking device that works even in hyperspace. So they want to infiltrate the ship to disable the tracker so the Resistance can escape. That’s simple enough except they need an expert code cracker to get in the tracking device room and disable it. So, Finn and Rose have to find a cracker (Maz told them of one in minute detail and where to find him) on a casino planet (?!) This is where the plot really gets convoluted. Poe is basically causing a mutiny by sending them off on this mission to find the hacker. so a half hour is spent or wasted trying to covertly leave the resistance and fumble around on this casino planet to find the Lando of the film, DJ, played by Benecio del Toro and struggle again to leave the casino planet and struggle to get on board Snoke’s ship in disguise and struggle again to get to get to the tracking device room. So many obstacles to cover. That’s a movie’s worth of plots! Why couldn’t they just cut this whole thing out and just have DJ already a part of the resistance fleet? Would make for a more uplifting character arc to have a young, possibly scared rebel try to save the day for them. Not have Finn and Rose commit a mutiny to get outside help that ends up betraying them. Plus, the betrayal by DJ doesn’t really advance the plot much so really why is it there other than to give Finn and Rose something to do and develop their characters. By the finale, Rose expresses her feelings for Finn and it’s as FORCED a romance as you would think.
But this film is the longest Star Wars flick at 2 hours and a half so if you need a bathroom break take it while Finn and Rose are on Canto Bight, the casino planet (seriously a casino planet?!) Unless you care about the freeing of racing aliens or the ragamuffin children or BB-8 shooting gold coins like a machine gun at guards. I would also like to comically mention that Finn and Rose get in trouble at Canto Bight for a parking violation. Yeah, just cut out this whole sub-plot.
Let’s get into Luke and Rey for a bit. This was easily the most questionable plot point in the film. Now, I always liked the way that Luke is a flawed Jedi. Hastily trained in the OT, he defeats evil basically by using emotional therapy to get to his estranged dad to save him and kill the emperor. Luke’s light side wasn’t necessarily stronger than Vader’s but Vader’s dark side wasn’t strong enough to stomach watching his son get murdered. Anyway, Luke is a flawed Jedi. 40 years later he basically abandoned his religion after his failed attempt with training new jedi. He even tells Rey that the Jedi need to end. He sees the flaws in this religion and struggles with the weight of it all. Is this a metaphor for Luke being an agnostic or atheistic Jedi? He is questioning everything he has learned from his elders. So on the one hand I applaud the decision to make Luke more human and question his beliefs and his role in the universe. It adds to his sacrifice at the finale. However, his character is revealed to be a charlatan and a coward. Our noble hero of the OT tried to kill his pupil because he sensed some darkness in him. Instead of trying to retrain him or get to him in a “Jedi” manner he tries to murder him in his sleep. Luke is basically responsible for creating Kylo Ren and establishing a new evil in the galaxy in this new trilogy. Then instead of fixing his mistake he recluses himself in a hidden island. What message is this supposed to give? This harkens back to what I meant by losing its audience. The big picture here isn’t the simple “good” Luke Skywalker but a very gray area flawed hero. It’s not an easy answer if he redeems himself by the end. He never really trains Rey either. He is her foil like Kylo is.
Rey is just as complicated in this story as Kylo and Luke are. Rey wants answers. How she fits in all this and where does she come from and where should she go. She gets no real answers in this installment. She wants a teacher with Luke but he fails her. Kylo only wants her for his own nefarious purposes. When she goes to the dark side pool she also gets no answer to her role. Again, what message is this giving us? I take it as if you want answers you have to find them on your own and no one’s going to help you. Or don’t bother kid, you’ll never find the answers. Rey’s arc is not as simple as Luke’s was in the OT. Simple good guy vs. the simple bad guy. Rey’s character arc is just as gray as Kylo’s. We are lead to believe that Kylo has some good in him but I’m not sure that that’s what this new trilogy is going for. With Vader there was an emotional weight and tie to his son by the third chapter and we rooted for Luke to redeem him. Kylo and Rey have no tie or connection really by the conclusion of this flick. In a few scenes of “force-linking” they speak and even touch each other and maybe bond a bit about the force and their emotions but it’s not enough. And by the end it looks like Rey even gives up on Kylo. In the beginning, Kylo almost kills his mother, Leia, but stops himself. That was an indication of him having some good in him but after he kills Snoke to take control of the First Order he’s basically the one-dimensional bratty Vader wannabe again. He’s still irrational, deluded, impulsive, hot-headed and prone to fits of rage and failure. Not much development to his character at all from TFA. In fact, his arc boomerangs from some development back to how he started in the first movie. Rey on the other hand questions herself and struggles with her identity throughout the film. However, again, gray area; I’m not sure how she fits or what her ultimate role is in this trilogy. She saves the resistance in the finale but I wasn’t expecting her to do any less. She’s a good person, but she’s also really not a Jedi either. And herein lies a problem for the next film.
Both our main hero and villain are not fully developed yet. And they are grossly undertrained in their abilities. Kylo is not a great Sith Lord. And Rey gets a fraction of Jedi training compared to what Luke got from Yoda. You can even argue that she got zero real Jedi training. I’m assuming Kylo is more skilled and more trained from Luke and Snoke but as he’s portrayed in both films he’s not very good at the Force, not compared to other masters like Vader or any other Jedi or Sith. He was nearly defeated by Rey at the end of TFA. After killing Snoke both he and Rey struggled to kill Snoke’s guards. That action scene went on way too long for a lightsaber battle against simple unnamed and faceless minions. I could just be nitpicking here but if this is how Kylo is going to be shown as a warrior then call me not so enthused. So in the next movie we have basically neophyte warriors that have to meet for a final confrontation. Not sure if this is baked long enough for me to get excited for.
And the reveal of her parents if believed from Kylo Ren is pretty comical and sad. She’s not a Skywalker, or a Kenobi or even an Ackbar (rest in peace Admiral—wish they gave you a better send off) but apparently her folks are alcoholic space junkers who sold her for booze money. I’m not kidding. Again, whether this is a lie from Kylo to get her to join him is to be seen. But still. That’s the best they can come up with? Again, what is the message here for Rey’s character? She’s just a nobody? Luke was a nobody too but we find out that he was the son of a powerful Jedi Knight that he now has to defeat in some way. Which gave the OT a lot of emotional weight. Rey not having any tie or real connection to anyone weakens the narrative drastically.
I will give a ton of accolades to Poe Dameron though. I think he was my favorite character in this movie. Brash, cocky, but a leader in the making for the resistance. He had a lot to do and was better fleshed out in this movie. He’s essentially Han Solo but loyal and wants to help the cause but he’s also willing to go rogue and do his own thing. I liked how he took command and questioned authority but also made mistakes to learn from. The only thing that was questionable about him is his out-of-place sense of humor. While his prank call to Hux was funny, it was ill-timed for that level of comedy and it also made Hux out to be a complete idiot.
Speaking of Hux, let me just say that the First Order are run by complete tools. These movies either don’t care much for military tactics or strategy or they want to show them as morons. Hux at one point ask one of his lieutenants why they are slowly pursuing the resistance ships. He’s in charge mind you. And Kylo also makes a few blunders and is winging it strategically. But not just the First Order the resistance is also very flawed. I think part of the problem is these movies are trying to adapt 20th century warfare to outer space sci-fi battles. The beginning battle has Resistance bombers trying to maneuver over First Order ships so they can drop bombs on top of it. Actual physical ball shaped bombs. In a film franchise that has laser guns why is this necessary? Plus the bombing ships are apparently made out of fiber glass because the simplest shots from TIE fighters cuts them down like paper. I chuckled at the end battle because the First Order has a weapon to open up the mine doors where the resistance is hiding in with something called a “battering ram cannon.” Seriously? It was just a huge heat ray that burned up the giant steel door. It was neither a cannon or a battering ram. That name was what a little kid would name a huge weapon playing with action figures. I reminded me of Dr. Evil “I want sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their heads!”
Laura Dern was also great in this. Alas she’s dead so don’t get too attached. However, her sacrificial move was an awesome scene. However, thinking how Carrie Fisher is dead and her role in the next installment unknown she should’ve been the one to light speed ram Snoke’s ship. That would’ve been a very fitting end to her character and the rest of the series would’ve handed Dern’s Holdo the torch of being the new resistance leader. So now they have to either figure out what to do with Leia in the next movie (CGI her like Rogue One or recast her) or forget her completely.
Speaking of Leia, she was just OK in this movie. Part motherly presence (slapping Poe for being a bad boy was a great scene) and part inspiration she did have some decent moments. I already mentioned the later scene when she’s reunited with Luke. I also got the feels when R2 plays the “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” message for Luke—but again both were good (or bad) for nostalgia reasons. I’m still on the fence if her using the Force to save herself was a good idea. On the one hand it was finally great seeing her actually use the force but was it a too little too late moment? Also she uses it to save her life from the vacuum of space (didn’t Galaxy of the Guardians do this in both movies already?) and then never uses the force again. So did she always know she had the power of the Force and never used it? Because you would think that her having this new ability would be a new revelation to her when she wakes up from her long sleep for the middle of the film. Sorry Carrie, I will miss you tons but I’m not sure where they are going with your character in this new trilogy. I still think you should’ve rammed Snokes ship would’ve been a much better fitting end to your character.
It was also nice seeing Yoda make a cameo. My only problem is the way he looked. I thought he was CGI but apparently that was Frank Oz doing the puppet! But it looked like the puppet had to be salvaged from being run over by a Ford pickup. Something was just not right. But again, a nitpick for what was a great cameo. I can also question how a force ghost can control weather as Yoda commands lightning to destroy the ancient Jedi tree. As my friend said after the movie, why didn’t they have Yoda show up at the final battle ti destroy the First Order army if he’s that powerful even as a force ghost?
I should wrap this up by now since I’ve written over 3,000 words so far. This is a game changer Star Wars installment. I’ve already read a ton of tweets and Facebook posts about how divisive this film already is and how many mixed feelings it’s giving the fanboys & girls. I’m not bitter as my criticisms probably dictate, just wish the story was a little better written and fleshed out. Abrams waved that shiny object in our faces and teased us with TFA and Rain Johnson pulled the rug from out underneath us. I didn’t believe the hype that this was the best installment since Empire. I’m sorry, even today Empire is tough to beat and to most fans will be the pinnacle to the creativity and great storytelling and filmmaking of not just the saga but of movies in general. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the new installments are basically million dollar fan-fiction films that’s too harsh and detrimental to the art form. There’s going to be highs and lows in any franchise (see: James Bond, Star Trek) so we should all take this one for what it’s worth. Sure it’s vastly different from what we were expecting, but in the long run, I rather the bold changes to the same ol’, same ol’ and if that means our beloved characters have to perish, then so be it. Maybe I’ll still be a fan down the line or they may continue to write mediocre sci-fi and further make me grow out of it.
A buddy of mine put some of this into perspective by saying that our beloved heroes of the saga are now shown in such a terrible light. Luke is now a failed teacher who tried to kill his pupil and a reclusive reluctant warrior and Han Solo became a deadbeat dad who reverted back to his smuggling pirate ways. They both abandon the fight and leave their sister and wife all alone in this battle. I think he’s mostly right in that for a capping of a highly influential series of films, this probably shouldn’t be the way to end these characters. Sure, both Han and Luke tried to redeem themselves before their deaths but they should’ve never have strayed from good that far to begin with. And I think that’s why we older fans are being rubbed the wrong way with these new films. Everything we were taught and learned from watching the OT’s heroes and villains is basically for naught now. In a way, I feel like we deserve a little better.
Score: 4.5 Chugs of Green Milk From the Teet of Some Slumping Creature on the Side of a Mountain.