Thursday, February 01, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: A Disappointment

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Version: Theater ticket purchase

I have had some challenges writing a review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Having enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, my wife and I had looked forward to this new release. Yet, sitting through the film, even in multiple short bursts of conversation afterwards, we kept coming to the same conclusion: The Last Jedi was a disappointment. It fell short of expectations.

As I wrote to a friend on Facebook, “Wish I could say we enjoyed it, but we were both unsettled with what we felt was a less than satisfying story and presentation. If this is as good as J.J. Abrams' crew can do, maybe The Last Jedi should be the last Star Wars. I've heard J.J. himself will direct the next episode to try to save the franchise. Maybe he will be our last hope.”

Let me explain.

Last Jedi is full of plot holes, inconsistencies, and flat out missed opportunities. It was a franchise sequel that sold its soul for a holiday blockbuster.

Here’s an example. There are multiple cameos for the sake of cameos. The appearance of C3PO and R2D2 serve no function except to hang a consistent thread through all the Star Wars films. In The Last Jedi, they never do anything that advances the story. But the appearances of Leia and Luke could have done the same thing, so there was no need for these useless droids.

Here’s another. Pilot Poe, a hit in The Force Awakens, makes his second appearance in The Last Jedi. Apparently he was so popular in the beta views of Awakens, when he was killed off in the early scenes they had to add scenes to revive him. So they brought him back in this film. But he is more intense here than he was in Awakens, bothersomely so, and there is no thematic justification for it. His role here seems like an odd justification to keep him in the film, because he’s just a pilot, yet they have him challenging the generals and disobeying orders, which wasn’t like him in Awakens.

Still another. The general who appears in the opening scenes of The Last Jedi is an embarrassingly parodic version of every evil general of every past Star Wars episode. Was this an attempt at humor? At what cost to the serious tone of the film? He’s bumbling and mumbling and inept in a cringely pathetic way. The other generals were scarily evil autocrats.

Yet another. Snoke, the Supreme Ruler, who usually towers above his students as a dark and menacing holographic phantom with unlimited telepathic Jedi powers, appears in person in The Last Jedi. Once individually before Kylo Ren and once before Rey in the company of Kylo Ren. In person he isn’t nearly so imposing, although apparently his imposing Jedi powers are intact. He manages to telepathically seize Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber from Rey’s hand and set it at his side. After it’s apparent that Rey won’t turn to the dark side, Snoke confesses to the pair how he can read everyone’s mind and has been telepathically manipulating everyone. As he brags on, trying to telepathically force Kylo Ren to kill Rey, Ren uses his own Jedi skills to turn on Skywalker’s lightsaber and rotate it at Snoke’s side to slice through Snoke and kill him -- without Snoke-the-mind-reader noticing. You get how ridiculous this is, right?

One more. Kylo Ren comes off as a mentally ill manchild with daddy issues. This isn’t some evil dark lord pursuing the throne for the sake of power and glory, this is a kid who can’t get past some weakly implied -- never fully explored or explained -- disagreement with his father, certainly, and apparently also with his mother. And when Rey won’t go along with his need for revenge against mom and dad, he goes beserk. Throughout this film, Ren is a powder keg ready to explode. If Snoke was the father he always wanted, Snoke’s pointed verbal displeasure at his failures brings Ren’s daddy issues right back into focus. Where is the editorial justification for this explosive anger?

Plotus Holus Magnus. The resistance is running for their lives, chased by this enormous powerful dreadnought and a fleet of destroyers by The First Order. The resistance has a small fleet, led by a large ship, and one by one the dreadnought picks off ships. The weird, odd, unaccountable thing is, with all its power, the dreadnought can’t quite keep up with or get a speed advantage on any of the ships in the resistance fleet, even though they’re running low on fuel. The resistance ships are always just far enough out of reach that the dreadnought can only take pot shots at them and keep them running for their lives. Come on!

There are others. These are just the most egregious seeming.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, here is the gist of the story. The Republic survived The Empire but now The Empire has resurfaced as The First Order and it’s pummeled The Republic. The Rebel Alliance has become The Resistance, and they have been decimated by attacks from The First Order. The Jedi Order has also been decimated, and its final Jedi master, Luke Skywalker, has gone into hiding on a remote planet. As the film opens, picking up where The Force Awakens left off, Rey finds and confronts Luke Skywalker for help saving The Resistance. But Skywalker has gone into hiding after suffering a huge personal failure training a future Jedi, Kylo Ren, and Skywalker’s plans are simply to live out his days until death on the hidden planet. Rey asks him to train her but he refuses. Meanwhile, awaiting Rey’s return with Skywalker, leaders of The Resistance flee for their lives from attacks by The First Order, led by a nervous general in charge of a powerful dreadnought and a fleet of destroyers and Supreme Ruler’s (Snokes) highly emotional Jedi trainee, Kylo Ren. The Resistance makes its final stand on a deserted Rebel Alliance outpost, where The First Order will ram the front entrance to capture the remaining rebels and Kylo Ren will face his last remaining powerful foe, a recalcitrant Jedi Master Skywalker.

The story is full of half-baked Jedi mind tricks and overly sentimental references to past characters that don’t do them justice. Even the ending is an emotional cliche. The Luke Skywalker of The Last Jedi just isn’t the Luke Skywalker of Star Wars lore (actor Mark Hamill has said as much) -- the J.J. Abrams crew seem to have a fetish for killing off canon characters, just as they did with Han Solo in The Force Awakens. Han Solo didn’t seem like the same Han Solo in that episode, either. The only character who seems like the same ol’ same ol’ is Chewbaca. How can you fake a wooky?

So the uptake is this. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a deeply flawed movie. We didn’t like it. The more we thought and talked about it, the more we couldn’t shake that indictment. And when we talked to others about it, we discovered that’s what they thought, too.

Should you see The Last Jedi? Sure. See it on the big screen on discount day. Or wait for it to come out on DVD/BlueRay and borrow it from the library. But just be warned: It has enough rough patches to wear the treads off a tire.

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