Monday, December 25, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

The STAR WARS saga continues in Episode VIII, THE LAST JEDI (2017).

I managed to slip away from work a few days ago to catch this latest installment, though I was so busy at the time I wasn't able to write about it immediately. Perhaps that's just as well, as it gave my reactions a little more time to crystallize. (Funny thing, I never did review THE FORCE AWAKENS; as a huge STAR WARS fan I think I was overwhelmed trying to process my thoughts at the time. Perhaps I'll write about it next time I watch it.)

I feel compelled to say at the outset that while Episodes IV through VI are among my all-time most favorite films, I feel differently about all the recent STAR WARS films, which I have liked but don't necessarily love. (I love parts of them...) A bit curiously, I found the prequel ROGUE ONE (2016) to have more of an "original STAR WARS feel" than either THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) or THE LAST JEDI, despite the presence of original cast members in the two sequels. (Well, there were original cast members in ROGUE ONE...kind of sort of.)

The newer films are quite good yet don't have the indefinable magic of the three original films, particularly THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980), which I consider one of the best movies ever made. It's everything a movie should be and more.

So, THE LAST JEDI. I found it had some substantial flaws, yet at the same time it was a solid film which I'm still contemplating days later. Given how many films I see in a year, I give a lot of credit to a film which causes me to spend that much time thinking about it and analyzing it.

Following the cycle of the first three films, as the second film of the new trilogy begins the Rebels are falling back, at a desperate moment in the battle against the First Order. Leia (Carrie Fisher), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega) are among the Rebels fighting for survival as they attempt to escape and regroup.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) meanwhile, is where we left her at the end of THE FORCE AWAKENS, attempting to get help from Leia's brother, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Luke lives a hermit-like existence, much as Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) did in the original STAR WARS.

Rey is also developing her Jedi powers and feeling a strange pull across the miles from Leia and Han Solo's errant son Ben (Adam Driver), aka Kylo Ren, who continues as a member of the First Order.

I'll leave the plot there as anyone interested will either have seen it by now or want to be surprised when they do watch it!

Things I liked: Ridley's Rey is a more than worthy STAR WARS heroine, compelling and admirable at every turn. It's also heartwarming to see her relationship with Chewie developing, reminiscent of a young Leia and Chewie; with Han gone and Rey an orphan (as far as we know), they fill a void in each other's lives.

There's some wonderfully iconic imagery (photographed by Steve Yedlin), again chiefly involving Rey; a light saber battle in the middle act called to mind Luke's battle with Darth Vader near the end of EMPIRE, though the set design was a different color. The action and visuals were extremely compelling.

I felt that we got more of Williams' original themes than in THE FORCE AWAKENS, which probably makes sense given that Luke is involved this time around. That aspect alone made me quite happy, as for me the music might be the most key ingredient which makes STAR WARS what it is.

I was also glad to see the character of Lt. Connix expanded in this film; she's played by Fisher's real-life daughter, Billie Lourd, whose hairstyle is a scaled-back tribute to Leia's (in)famous hairstyle of the original STAR WARS (aka A NEW HOPE). At the time THE LAST JEDI was made no one had any idea it would be Fisher's last STAR WARS film, and the presence of Lourd's character will provide a nice sense of continuity next time around.

In fact, one senses this film was a goodbye to the past on multiple levels...the final film of the trilogy will be focused on the next generation.

As I see it, THE LAST JEDI has three main flaws, all related to the writing; the screenplay was cowritten by George Lucas and director Rian Johnson.

First and foremost, Finn and mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) are charming characters yet their storyline is completely extraneous to the rest of the film. We didn't need to follow them on their own (pointless) battles on behalf of the Rebels. Their talents would have been better used elsewhere, in something more directly related to the story focused on Leia, Poe, and the rest of the Rebels. Instead their plotline must have added half an hour to the too-long 152-minute running time. (For that matter, a brief early sequence with Rose's sister, played by Veronica Ngo, also adds to the running time.)

Secondly, Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo is parachuted into the film and we're expected to immediately trust her, when the audience has no connection with her; honestly, though she was among the Rebels, her annoyingly smarmy attitude was such that I wondered if she were a First Order double agent. I've read commentary from some that her character reflects women's workplace struggles, having to fight for respect to get the job done, but I can't agree with that; after all, Leia is the head of the entire Rebellion, honored and respected by everyone. The audience can't be expected to simply trust a new commanding character who appears out of the blue. Holdo only proves her worth in her final minutes in the film, which is a shame.

And then there's Hamill's embittered Luke, who is not really the Luke Skywalker we all know and love. We would expect him to be weathered by a lifetime of difficult experiences, but not this different. Indeed, Hamill himself was troubled, and has volunteered the thought that "He's not my Luke Skywalker." I'll leave it at that but there were a couple of startling moments which made me uncomfortable, and I wish the filmmakers had found a way to convey all Luke has been through without having his personality be so radically different.

Despite that disappointment, when Luke and Leia finally reunite (or do they? I was left confused...) it's a powerfully moving moment for those of us who have loved the characters for the past four decades (gulp).

All in all, an imperfect yet simultaneously worthwhile film. It's going to be interesting to see where the next installment takes us.

Parental Advisory: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is rated PG-13. It's STAR WARS, just about what anyone who knows the films would expect, with many light saber and space battles.

Trailers and more are available at the Official Star Wars Website.

Update: A review of STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019).


Blogger Tom said...

Hi, Laura. I enjoyed reading your review of The Last Jedi; I watched it last week. Agree with you on the film's flaws. Benecio del Toro's codebreaker character didn't seem to need to be involved, either. But what distracted me most of all were the humorous bits which seemed a bit much.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

I'm not even a big fan of the original films, but it strikes me as unconscionable of Kennedy and Johnson to have such utter disregard (or contempt?) for the foundations of their franchise and the expectations of half their fanbase. That picture of Dern's purple-haired 'smugger' is a great warning sign for people like myself to stay away.

10:58 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

You are far kinder to this movie than I have been. :-D This film seems to have changed the fundamental personalities of every single character, except Kylo Ren, who is the only one who seemed to be in line his Force Awakens character. Where I loved Rey, Poe, and Finn in Force Awakens, I did not like any of them in this movie. And don't get me started on the plot and the so-many-things that don't make any sense in context of the Star Wars universe up to this point. I don't mind things being shaken up, but you can't do it in the middle of an established series (though that obviously works for some viewers). This movie seemed to deliberately smash everything that came before, but for no apparent reason. We're not left with anything cooler or more amazing at the end of it. Just profound dissatisfaction.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to all for your comments! I was interested to hear your takes. Tom, I agree, del Toro was completely superfluous.

Deb, it's funny, I have so much negative to say about it and yet can't stop thinking about it and am interested in seeing it again. I wonder if over time the flaws will overtake the things I liked about it... (PS I saw the comment on your site that you're scared of the upcoming HAN SOLO movie. Me too...there's still no trailer!)

I saw a brilliant bit on Twitter that the big moment for Dern's character should have gone to Admiral Ackbar instead, with him whispering "It's a trap" just as it happens...why didn't the filmmakers think of that?! It would have been an iconic moment; instead he got short shrift and Dern was pointlessly dropped into the story.

Best wishes,

9:51 PM  

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