Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A Review (Review #993)


There are going to be spoilers here, so skip down to the end for the final decision.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, seems to have split people all over.  Most of my fellow critics worship it almost as The Second Coming.  Some fans, on the other hand, don't want it to be Canon to the epic Star Wars mythos.  The most obvious example of this divide is on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews from critics, 52% negative ratings from 'average' people. 

For myself, I'm splitting it down the middle: not the monstrosity some of the rabid hardcore Star Wars fans bemoan it as, not the unimpeachable Citizen Kane of Star Wars my brethren insist it is.

Picking up from pretty much where Star Wars: The Remix left off,  The Last Jedi has about three stories going on.  There's the story of Rey (Daisy Ridley) a young girl infused with great power from The Force for reasons still unknown who has found Master Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).  She goes to him to help the "not Rebellion" (The Resistance) do battle with the "not Empire" (The First Order), especially against their "not Darth Vader" (Kylo Ren, also known as 'Emo Vader').  Luke believes the Jedi should now die out, but he shows her a few things about the Jedi and The Force, albeit reluctantly as she goes through her own "not Dagobah" (Ahch-To).  Something in The Force allows both Rey and Emo Vader (Adam Driver) to have communications with each other in what I like to call 'Force Skype', down to where they manage to meet despite being in wholly other words.

The connection between Emo Vader, formerly Luke's nephew Ben Solo, and how they came to be at odds has a Rashomon feel, as the stories about his turning to the Dark Side don't quite gel.  Having the Jedi temple set ablaze echoes Revenge of the Sith, but why quibble?

Meanwhile, hotshot pilot "not Han Solo" (Poe Dameron) keeps disobeying orders from Princess now General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher in her final role) and while he does get results, he also has no problem with getting many others killed to meet them.  Everyone is alarmed when the "not Empire" manages to follow them into hyperspace, where they begin destroying the "not Rebellion" with ease.  Alarmed at this, and with Leia having semi-magically survived the bridge getting a direct hit by floating back from space onto another ship, eventually they realize they need to disable a tracker that is on board the "not Empire" ship.

Now we get into Story Three: reformed Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and low-level mechanic/Finn fangirl Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) need to find a codebreaker to disable the tracker.  Travelling to Canto Bight and their casino, they find the codebreaker they are looking for, but plot reasons make them join with another codebreaker, DJ (Benicio del Toro).  He does help them, but there's a 'shocking' twist.

More shocking twists are when Emo Vader brings Rey to "not Emperor" Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who taunts Rey.  With Snoke dead at one of their hands (guess who),  Emo Vader takes command and with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), takes the final battle to the "not Rebellion" to the actual Rebel stronghold of Crait, where Emo Vader and Luke Skywalker have another, final confrontation.  Rey saves the day, channeling her great Force powers to provide an escape to the "not Rebellion", and the "not Rebellion" continues.

Has anyone ever noticed how few people actually finish Jedi training?  Luke didn't, Rey didn't, those kids at the Jedi temples they're always burning down don't, not sure about Anakin.  Sometimes it's a puzzle as to why they even bother.

What is so impressive about The Last Jedi is how unimpressive it is.  For all the Sturm und Drang it belts out, there's remarkably little here.  Writer/director Rian Johnson is certainly well-impressed with himself, but at times The Last Jedi, like another beloved sci-fi franchise (Doctor Who) seems more interested in being meta than in being timeless or from 'a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away'.

There's the opening scene where Poe taunts Hux by continuously saying he's 'on hold' for the General, making snide remarks about asking if anyone there has seen him.  "You know, pasty skin," Poe ridicules at one point, while the increasingly campy Hux keeps replying that it is him.

The audience laughed, which I figure they were trained to do, but I couldn't help think this is something that would have appeared in Spaceballs, not Star Wars.  Do people really 'hold' in outer space (or drop bombs rather than fire them)?  These incessant calls for comedy and quips (I think I heard at least twice 'need a lift?' whenever someone was stranded and another ship came in) are a bit too 'now'.  Having Yoda tell Skywalker with regards to the sacred Jedi texts, "Page-turners they were not", again sounds a bit too much like Johnson wanted something only for contemporary audiences.  Who is to know whether these terms will still be in use fifty years from now.

As a side note, I am a total loss to understand how the ten seconds of silence when we have a suicide run could so confuse people as to require advanced notification that there will be no sound.  Are modern audiences that out of tune with filmmaking techniques?

The story is also ridiculously and needlessly long.  The search for this 'master codebreaker' led not to the one they sought but to DJ, whom they found by mere chance.  It seemed to be a thorough waste of a bloated 2 hour 30 minute running time.  Why not just search for DJ in the first place?

What were the odds Rose and Finn would get thrown into the same cell as he?  For that to happen, the First Order would have had to have planned for things that they might have been able to predict (they land in a particular spot, they be captured, they know what they were looking for).

I think a lot of The Last Jedi depends on things going in a certain way when there is no guarantee that they should go in a certain way.

Unless Johnson wanted us not to take Hux seriously as a villain, there was no reason to have him behave as he did: all camp theatrics.  Gleeson is probably the worse one in The Last Jedi, though probably not because he set out to play a spoof of a Star Wars villain.  He was missing a mustache to twirl, but he was as menacing as goat cheese.  Del Toro wasn't too far behind as DJ, adding a stutter for no real reason, though I suspect it was for 'representation'.

After all, this new series has made much of how multicultural the galaxy is: female lead, more women, more minorities.  Why not one with a speech impediment?  One scene with Isaac, Boyega and Tran stood out not because it was particularly good, but because I can almost see people checking off boxes.

Fisher did not have much to do except look pensive, but I put that more to the script than to her abilities.

As a side note, I'm still puzzled about that 'Leia Floating in Space and Living to Tell the Tale' bit.

Tran seemed almost like a fangirl who found herself in all this craziness, but again I put it to the script than to her.  For what her role was (the chipper and downtrodden Rose), she did well.  Boyega did well too, though as with Tran and a purple-haired Laura Dern, nothing spectacular.

I think the two standouts are Ridley and Driver, their scenes working rather well when they're on Force Skype (though I'm surprised Rey is so prudish when Emo Vader is seen topless, her insistence of putting something on sounding rather peculiar).  Again, it's the script that fails them and pretty much fails everyone.

There was no reason for The Last Jedi to be as long as it was.  The entire casino scene (which is the one that I think upset conservatives the most), could have been cut out entirely, as if the "not Rebellion" didn't buy arms either.  What, were they donated?  Does the Resistance manufacture them themselves?

As someone who is not vested in the entire Star Wars universe, The Last Jedi is neither this epic my fellow critics tell me it is nor this blasphemy fanboys tell me it is.  It's OK, longer than it should be, with a bit too much fan-service and teasing (Emo Vader taunting Rey about who her parents were teases audiences while still not giving answers).

At least I can agree with Snoke on one thing: Kylo Ren is no Vader, just a child in a mask.

He didn't know it was a trap...


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