Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Movie Review & Discussion: Star Wars - The Last Jedi

Wellsir, my colleague Dan Moore and I have each seen the latest Star Wars epic, which has strangely proven a very divisive film with the fanbase (critics have near-unanimously praised it) due to its flouting so many of our expectations of where the saga was going.  Say what you will about this film, director Rian Johnson and his team definitely did not play it safe; where The Force Awakens was a comfortable, satisfying return to the Star Wars mythology, The Last Jedi was downright subversive.

Daniel, your thoughts on The Last Jedi?


Dan: Probably the most anticipated movie for me since...The Force Awakens. I was very much looking forward to this one. And I was left a tad disappointed. As usual, I took my seat and got all hot and bothered when the STAR WARS title hit and the music swelled (as did my pants). I got annoyed right away, as Star Wars dropped a "YOUR MOTHER" joke. In a galaxy far, far away, they seem to be getting old episodes of Def Comedy Jam transmitted to them. The humor in this flick felt more like a Marvel movie and less Star Wars. I thought they tried way too hard to throw in jokes that didn't belong.

We are then treated to a pretty badass space battle. It's got bombs, it's got explosions and then it's got...the longest, slowest chase scene in movie history. As the good guys are in their ships going 14 miles an hour, the bad guys chase them in ships that can only go 12 miles an hour. That's the rest of the movie. It's RIDICULOUS. You're telling me the entire First Order can't scrounge up a ship that can catch up to them? It's beyond absurd. It's such a lazy plot point. They're not capable of destroying ONE cruiser that is JUST outside of firing range? That reeks of incompetence.

Justin: My overall first impression was "Wow, that's a lot to unpack."  This film took so many unexpected turns I'm still not sure what to make of it all.  It'll take multiple viewings to digest, but my initial reaction is decidedly positive.  This wasn't the warm & fuzzy film The Force Awakens was.  Instead Johnson turned everything on its ear, which has made a lot of people very uncomfortable.

I forget the "Your mother" joke, but I agree some of the humor in this film felt like Marvel's antics.  Overall it didn't bother me, but the one bit of forced humor that did get my goat was Luke looking forlornly at his lightsaber.....and then chucking it over his shoulder like an empty beer bottle.  This moment struck me as just completely wrong, like it belonged in a Mel Brooks movie.  I have to think they did numerous varying takes of this shot, and managed to pick the exact wrong one.  Luke should've looked down sadly at the lightsaber for a moment and then defeatedly let it drop to the ground at his side before walking away.  That would've fit the tone of this broken character.  I hope for the Blu Ray release they change that take.

That aside, the extended chase didn't bother me all that much.  Yes it was odd that the First Order would just continue following them, but a) they know the Resistance cruiser can't go anywhere without being followed and b) they know it'll run out of fuel eventually.  Plus I get the impression a character like General Hux would relish the final chase a while before killing the Resistance dead.  Could the screenwriters have come up with something more creative for these characters to do while Rey, Kylo, etc. do the main stuff?  Sure.  But this didn't bug me really.  It's not all that different from the Star Destroyers chasing the Millennium Falcon for half of Empire's running time.

Dan: The slow chase scene just bothered me so much because I cannot envision a scenario where an admiral would have told Vader "Yo, boss, they're like 90 feet away, we have no idea what to do" and that they'd just keep following slowly.  It's a dopey plot contrivance. You can do this sort of cat and mouse thing with a space ship avoiding another space ship quite well, actually. It's called Wrath of Khan. But watching these bad guys chase along at a steady pace is boring.

I agree with that lightsaber toss over his shoulder. Just doesn't make sense for that scene. Some of the choices they made for Luke I just didn't care for. I hate that he was away from the main cast and conflict for the entire movie. I hate that we didn't get more info about his last 30 years. I liked how he was depressed and basically done with the world after realizing the Jedi did more harm than good. But I wanted more Luke. I wanted a kickass fight scene with him. Maybe a bit more than a 10-second conversation with his sister. And for fuck's sake, why didn't he hug Chewie when he saw him?

Justin: Yeah but Vader ain't here.  General Hux is a man of hubris and false confidence, and clearly far less tactical experience than a Jedi master like Vader.  Along those lines I was glad to see Domnhall Gleeson's rather over-the-top performance in The Force Awakens pay off here the way it did.  Hux is all bark and no bite, as his sloppy strategy and eventual subservience to Ren demonstrated.  Also I got the impression both ships were going at their top non-light speed.  I don't think it was supposed to actually be a 30mph chase down a freeway.

They could've done more with Luke, but this series really isn't about Luke, or Han, or Leia.  It's about the new characters and about how they run with the torch that's been passed to them.  I liked that Luke was a broken man who had come to realize his entire belief system was built on an exaggerated sense of nostalgia.  The Jedi have been long revered as the ultimate force for good, when in fact they were a flawed, morally questionable body.  It was a clever way to acknowledge the prequels while exploiting their writing flaws.  I liked the shattering of these tropes, the idea that both Rey and Kylo Ren have to find their own definitions of good and evil (not to mention the blurring of the lines between those two sides).

As for a kickass Luke saber fight, did the film really need to include him engaging in yet another lightsaber duel?  He's above that sorta thing at this point, like Yoda was.  His big scene toward the end was, I thought, a fitting way for him to confront and outsmart Kylo, plus it was something we haven't seen before.  It was possibly the ultimate demonstration of what the Jedi order was supposed to be about - "knowledge and defense, never attack."  Kylo in that scene represents unbridled aggression, where Luke shows him just how fruitless that mindset is.

Dan: I mean, he's been in two lightsaber duel in six movies (Yeah, I'm counting his birth). I don't think a third would hurt him. Yoda wasn't about that sort of thing, he's flying all over the place in the prequels. By the time Empire shows up, he's 900 years old. I don't think I'd compare a 900-year-old lizard monster to a 60-year-old guy in terms of spryness.

I liked how he outsmarted Kylo as well, but it was horribly telegraphed. Luke was old and grey for the whole movie and then he showed up all Just For Men'd all of a sudden. Nice trimmed dark beard with a haircut. It was far too obvious it wasn't actually him at that point. I get what they were going for, that he wanted to project himself to Ben in the last way that he remembered him, but it was too jarring to see him all of sudden look completely different than he did for the entire two movies. Just an odd visual choice. Took me right out of the moment.

And that fucking casino planet side plot...HOLY SHIT that was brutal. Finn and some...girl go to a planet, run into Fenster and rescue a bunch of rabbit dogs. Wow. Awesome. Why the FUCK was I watching that? it was BOOOOOORING. It was as if Rian Johnson called in sick for a few days and PrequeLucas showed up to write/direct in his absence. BRUTAL.  Not to mention the whole goddamn thing wouldn't have had to happen if Laura Dern just told Poe her plan to save the rebels. She tells him that, and they don't get get fucked by Benicio Del Toro. But nope...I gotta watch some awful CGI and ZERO chemistry between two characters who all of a sudden fall in love.

Porgs rule, though.

Plus, the major thing in this flick that pissed me off: At the end the First Order brings their giant laser tank to blow open the Rebels door (I like how they have a giant battering ram weapon just to take down armored doors but they don't have a ship that can go 4 mph faster). Finn is in his ship with the training wheels and he's about to sacrifice himself to save his Resistance friends...and then Rose crashes into him and he doesn't. What an awesome moment that woulda been. It really would have completed his hero arc. Going from a stormtrooper to saving what was left of the Resistance. And it's derailed by some contrived love story that doesn't feel earned at all.

And don't get me started on floating Mary Poppins Leia. Again, I get what they were going for, but holy shit did that special effect look silly.

Justin: Yes, but for Yoda 900 years is his lifespan.  So yeah I would compare 900yo Yoda to 60yo Luke, just like I'd compare a 12yo dog to a 60yo human.  My point though is that at 60 years old, and having spent the last ten years or whatever in isolation, Luke isn't about lightsaber duels anymore.  He's above that now.  His final act was a completely pure use of the Force.  Yoda as portrayed in the prequels was all wrong as far as I'm concerned.  A 2-foot guy shouldn't be engaged in lightsaber duels at all, because the Force is supposed to transcend the physical.  But Yoda in a lightsaber fight is inherently at a physical disadvantage, hence all the flipping.  It undermines everything he was trying to get across in Empire ("Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.").  Yoda's powers should be about everything that is not physicality.  Some bad guy tries to cut Yoda with a laser sword, Yoda should instantaneously be able to make his heart explode.

I agree the Just For Menned Luke was a weird choice.  He should've just appeared as his 60yo self, with his green saber.  Also, to the people complaining that Luke didn't just fly to that planet in his X-Wing, the goddamn ship was submerged in water for a decade or so; I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have flown anymore.

The point about Laura Dern not telling Poe about her plan is kinda double-edged.  Yes, it would've saved everyone a whole lotta time and energy if she just told him, but a) she didn't know he was gonna set up this unauthorized heist mission and b) she probably deemed Poe beneath needing to know her every strategy, and probably also didn't trust him.  But yeah, Rian should've come up with something better for Finn to do.  Also I agree Rose saving Finn at the end was a pretty glaring contrivance, since it allowed the First Order to break through that steel door.  They should've just had someone else fly into the giant laser first, proving that it wouldn't work, or like you said, just have Finn sacrifice himself.

Eh, the floating Leia thing didn't bother me.

I think we can agree that, while rather messy, the film did have its strengths.  The development of Kylo Ren and Rey was the meat of the story for me.  Kylo Ren is probably the most complex Star Wars villain to date and I found his nihilism in this film a pretty interesting twist - he was a Darth Vader fanboy essentially, whose illusions of replacing Vader were completely shattered when he was bested by a lowly junk trader and humiliated by his boss.  It made him strip away whatever beliefs he once held and adopt a new mindset of just burning everything down.  I'm hoping we see more of that in Ep9.  On the flipside, Rey was convinced she must be a person of some importance and that her parents abandoned her on Jakku for a reason.  She thought she'd find her existential answers in Luke.  But as it turned out there were no answers to be found.  Luke was not the all-knowing, benevolent, elder statesman she expected to meet.  Luke was a disillusioned, broken old man who'd gone through his own crisis of belief and morality and had no real wisdom left to offer Rey.  And Rey's parents were no one of consequence - she was the child of junk traders who didn't want her.  It all fit into the theme of shedding the past, forgetting what we think we know, and building who we are from the ground up.  Maybe the First Order and the Resistance are both wrong and it's time to try something new.  This stuff was all pretty fascinating I thought.  How well it works narratively will really depend on how JJ Abrams follows it up in Episode 9.  If 9 is a great conclusion I think this film will age pretty well.  If they totally botch the landing, everything they explored here will be for naught.

As for the films weaknesses, the script definitely could've used some tidying.  There were too many story threads (the Finn/Rose subplot being the least effective and the most disposable), some dialogue lifted word-for-word from Return of the Jedi (in the Rey-Snoke scene), and maybe one too many instances of the story going somewhere unexpected, to the point that it felt like the rug was being pulled out.  This might be one case where multiple screenwriters were called for.  Rian Johnson ostensibly wrote the entire script himself, but perhaps could've used an Abrams or a Lawrence Kasdan to rein in a few of his ideas.  I give him props for taking so many risks but maybe he went a little too far in a few places, to quote George Lucas.

I'm not sure where I'd rank this movie in the saga, and I won't know until I watch it a few more times.  Right now I think I like The Force Awakens more.  The Last Jedi probably ranks roughly next to Return of the Jedi.  But my overall feeling about it is a positive one.  It was well-acted, visually stunning, and contained enough thought-provoking ideas to keep me interested, while potentially paving the way for a truly groundbreaking conclusion.

I'm gonna give it *** out of ****.

Dan: There's defintily good parts to this flick.

Moving forward with Star Wars focused on Rey and Kylo is great, 'cause those two characters are awesome.
The space battles are truly magnificent as well.
BB-8 is fucking awesome.
YODA!!! Holy shit, I was so happy to see him.

But the bad...I mean...the bad....

The choice to make Luke a character you want to hate...that's not the Luke I was looking for.
The goofy humor that doesn't belong in these movies.
So Captain Phasma is essentially Boba looking, but very bad at her job...and dead.
Luke milking that walrus thing and drinking the milk...what the fuck.
A casino planet with space rabbits.
And also...this movie took place in like 18 hours, according to the dialogue.  Rey is essentially as strong as Skywalker family member Kylo Ren already? COME ON.
I liked parts of it, I hated parts of it but it makes me curious to see what's gonna happen next.

I'm gonna give it ** out of ****.

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