Spoilers under the fold.
So, Friday I saw Star Wars 9, Episode 8: The Last Jedi. It was…really uneven. Some parts were among the best things I have seen from the franchise (one sequence was among the best I have seen on screen period). But then there were the other parts – the parts that left me confused and wondering what the hell happened. Those parts include some of the worst moments of the franchise, yes, worse than the oft-hated Jar-Jar1As an aside, I like the idea that Jar-Jar was intended to be a hidden villain / Sith and not just the racially insensitive clown he wound up as. The evil Jar-Jar theory redeems Lucas some, and makes the character watchable..
So what did I think overall? I liked it, of course. Look, even a bad Star Wars movie (looking at you, Star Wars 4, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace) is still a Star Wars movie. And this was far better than TPM. The acting continues to be better, the effects usually better, and the continuing resolutions for the original characters is still well done, even if not as well done as it could be. What this movie did wrong can be summed up in the below screenshot from IMDB:
Here’s a hint – it’s Lucas.
Look, George Lucas deserves a lot of credit – he created this amazing universe of characters we all know, love, and wish we could be part of. That’s all Lucas – he did this. The problem is that he forgot the parts that made this work in his rush to embrace the newest technology. And in doing so, has messed with those kids – adults now – childhoods by adding needless nonsense to the original series, and losing track of what worked so well there. Namely, tight storytelling with relatable characters. TLJ has that, but not where they are needed or wanted. Lucas did a great thing, and now others have taken up the banner – he needs to let them. He told his story, it’s someone else’s turn now.
So, with that addressed, let’s look at the pros and cons of The Last Jedi. Spoilers ahead, click at your own risk!
- Bombers! The obvious continuation of WWII influences was great – the whole look of the bombers (less the actual bomb bay hanging like a giant target under the ship) was very B-17. And I appreciated that a lot. The bomb bay shot with the message on the bomb was also a cool WWII reference. Sadly, as was the casualty rate. Overall, though, very cool visuals.
- Adam Driver & Daisy Ridley. Really, these two play well off each other, and with neither being impossibly perfect, you can see emotion there. This was perfect casting, and their scenes are well written. There is nothing bad to say here. They are perfect in these roles.
- Hyperspace ramming. This. This was one of the most beautifully shot moments I have seen on screen. The silence, the majesty, the whole scene was so perfect it was jaw dropping. So much good here, just…perfection.
- Luke & Rey, Training Day 1. So Yoda. In a movie with far too many quick takes and too much slapstick, the ‘reach for the Force’ was perfectly done. And very much the kind of training someone who suffered through Yoda’s questionable sense of humor would do.
- The kid at the end. Just calling the broom to him like it’s no big deal. Subtle, perfect, and very Star Wars.
- Luke vs Kylo. Even though it wasn’t what it looked like, the duel was incredible. So very Jedi. Well shot, with a visual callout to Dark Horse Comics’ Dark Empire (Luke v AT-ATs). The callback to Vader vs Kenobi was also nice.
- Crystal Foxes. Cool critters, useful, but not overdone. They are what they should have been. Unlike some others…
- Bombers! What. The. Fuck. Who designed these? Slowpoke Rodriguez2Speedy Gonzales’ cousin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slowpoke_Rodriguez? Look, I get it, they are slow because they are bombers. Gotcha. But I could walk faster than those things. Who had the bright idea to make bombers slower than a modern hot air balloon, and then not give them decent shields? Or better armor? Or, IDK, speed! So annoying.
- Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Hoda Lostmyuniform. Or whoever – seriously, could she be more forgettable? I have no objection to Laura Dern in this part, or her costume (but really, what happened to the uniforms?), or hair, or whatever else. I do object to the totally dead portrayal of the character – she was flat and seemed completely disconnected from everything. Further, her suicide run was emotionally empty – the way she was written and directed made her death no more interesting than the third extra from the left being chomped in a Jurassic Park movie. She was only a tiny bit more ‘real’ than an extra. So what could have been a great moment, as an emotionally important character gave all to save the rebellion was instead rendered with as much emotion as that one Stormtrooper getting shot in that one scene. Less, really. It just wasn’t done well at all.
- Super Space Flying Leia. This. This scene was the worst thing SW has ever shown me. Ever. Space Flying Leia just made me sick. Look, the movie should have addressed Carrie Fisher’s death at some level – and chose not to. But, had they the guts to actually do so, the scene where the bridge gets blown out would have been it. It lets Leia die in action, without what is sure to be bad CGI in Episode 9, without what is sure to be a horribly done play to emotion, etc. It is an honorable death, it moves the plot forward, it would have been good. Instead, they decided to have Leia suddenly develop telekinesis, and use it to pull herself back to the ship. Somehow. So, the first time we see her use the Force, she has been blown out into space, and is dying quickly. And she just flies back to the ship. This was not only a nonsense scene, and not how the Force has ever worked before, it looked like shit. The effect was just beyond awful. If you are going to fuck up, at least look good doing it, so there can be some redemption. This had none.
- Starfighter CGI. When it was announced that TFA would use practical effects as much as possible, I was thrilled. Even with as good as CGI can be, practical looks better. So, when I saw the initial scenes with Poe and company in the fighters, it made me sad. The CGI was awful. It was DCEU-level bad. What happened? I would blame Lucas’ CGI fetish, but he only wrote it. It was just fake-looking. Rushed. CGI provided by EA (loot boxes have a 33% chance of dropping the good CGI version!). I hope when Abrams returns for Ep:9, this is corrected.
- That wasn’t a Force power last week… Ugh, illusions (tactile, no less), conference calls…this isn’t how the Force worked ever before. I am not too upset about the Ren/Rey chats – those were pretty nifty, and built on the established long-distance Vader/Luke relationship from the Marvel Star Wars comics of the 80s. But the projections of solid reality? That was neat, and cool, and just off in hindsight. But if you can do this, why not do it all the time? And would Luke’s lightsaber have cut Ren? He was able to touch Leia, and she didn’t seem to know he wasn’t there. It just raises a lot of questions that need answering to make it work.
- Rey’s background. All that buildup, and her origin is ‘sold for beer money’? The fuck? Hope that’s a lie, but it seems like a thing that Sith don’t actually lie. They mislead, but never lie. So, all the fan speculation over Rey, her accent, her power levels, etc. is all for nothing, because her parents were nobodies who sold the kid for booze. Damn. That’s just bad writing.
- Every non-human on Luke’s island. Literally (ok, not Chewie or R2, you know what I mean). The Porgs were cute, but too much. They did a good job of being comic relief, it was just too many trips to the well, and too many slapstick takes. The caretakers existed only to be used for jokes. This all could have been dropped, and the movie would not have suffered in the least. In fact, the caretakers could have been dropped, and the movie would have been improved.
- Captain Phasma’s ‘death’. Another WTF moment. After pumping expectations to the max for her in the marketing run-up to TFA, fans were rightly disappointed at her lack of screentime. And that she didn’t matter one whit to the plot, and could have been played by an extra. The excuse was that she would see more in Ep8. And she did – her screentime nearly doubled. To just under 5 minutes or so. And then she falls into the explosion. So, you promoted this character like mad, made her look like a major new character in the universe, then after maybe a combined 10 minutes of screen time over nearly 5 hours of movies, you kill her. In a lame ‘fall into the fire’ scene. How stupid is that? And yes, I know she could, in theory, make it. But at this point, not looking likely. Star Wars is also big on if you look like you die, you die.
Unsure About These:
- Rose. Well acted, and given good scenes. Just not sure about the character herself. She felt forced.
- The original codebreaker. And this wasn’t Lando why? Seriously. Someone explain why this wasn’t Lando. And ‘so Benicio del Toro could betray them’ isn’t the answer.
- Evil BB-8. Again, like Phasma, BB-9E is given way more promotional time than the screentime justifies. Mouse droids get more screentime, and less marketing love.
So, I guess it boils down to a good movie, almost ruined by a sub-par screenplay. And then I read Disney has handed nearly-rookie director Rian Johnson a trilogy of his very own. So, more over-long, poorly written, dodgy Star Wars movies in the pipe! Of course, their responses were based on early versions. The response of the older fandom, especially if it translated to a large fall-off at the box office, could change that.
I liked this movie, despite the problems. I really did. it was fun, funny, and dramatic. It just wasn’t a strong Star Wars movie. So, if you are a SW fan, see it. You won’t regret it. You may wonder what the hell happened here, but I expect you’ll have a good time.