December 17, 2017

Movie Review #48 Star Wars The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi-So J.J. Abrams did a great job getting us excited about Star Wars again (See 2015 review of Force Awakens below), but he also left the galaxy far far away a little messy. Questions and storylines that were left open ended left the fan base (and we are a crazy fan base) theorizing endlessly about everything. Rian Johnson had a tall task with The Last Jedi, take these new characters advance their stories, pay homage to the old characters, and steer clear from the speculation machine as best as possible. To me The Last Jedi does a noble job as a Star Wars Sequel. I didn’t love all the writing; I didn’t love all the editing, and certainly didn’t love all the choices Rian Johnson made (maybe he could’ve used some help from frequent Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasden), but I did at least appreciate the risk Johnson was willing to take telling a story that he must’ve known was going to be very polarizing, and it is. There is great risk in how Johnson chose to answer all the pertinent questions and he did not shy away from taking em. I was one of those crazy fans that watched youtube videos talking about who Snoke could be and what will Luke say to Rey, and so on, so I know that what Johnson did was original and not really what people were expecting, but that said I kinda wanted something more expected I guess (I didn’t realize that until I saw this film). I think seeing Last Jedi was just another example of me discovering I’m old (that is a big theme in this film, aging, time, and how we change). The truth is as much I love Rey and Finn and sort of like Kylo, I really like the old characters, so for me there is no forgiving Kylo for killing Han Solo, and there is no being ok with characters like Luke and Leia eventually departing the series. I understand that now, so given that I wanna be fair to The Last Jedi and even being fair, I didn’t love it. There are some very odd storylines that really don’t go anywhere. Benicio Del Toro and Lupita Nyong’o gotta be scratching their heads at this final cut and wondering wha what? Laura Dern has a nice little arc and Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher do get moments to shine, but overall this story is a mess. I can’t help but feel that they are storyboarding this thing as they go and the movies are suffering from lack of a clear vision. There is this mission that leads Finn and newcomer Rose (a delightful Kelly Marie Tran) to some place called Canto Bight that makes almost no sense, and even though there are cool aliens and nice shots there, I kept asking wait why are we here again and what are they trying to achieve? The actions taken by Kylo are almost just as nonsensical, clearly this is a bad guy that doesn’t really think things through. The movie is filled with in your face dialogue like “let the past die” and “you’re not part of this story”. It isn’t all bad though the actors really deliver. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is still captivating and John Boyega is a special actor that does the best he can with what he has to work. Carie Fisher has some great moments and Mark Hamill is just awesome, it takes a while but he becomes Luke again. There are also some great cameos which I will not spoil. When the credits come and the John Williams music rolled I was left with an uneasy feeling, this is not my Star Wars anymore, this is someone else’s Star Wars and I am going to have to get used to that…It may take awhile. SEE IT, because you have to. Lower your expectations and keep your mind open though. 

The Shawshank Scale (1-10) I give it solid 6.0 currently, but maybe in more viewings it will grow more on me, for now instead of seeing it again right away I'm gonna head down to Canto Bight and roll some dice, even though I have a bad feeling about it.  

Star Wars: The Force Awakens-I had to start with one of the biggest films of all time, after all I stood outside in the cold on opening night to get in like so many others. Here is the thing with a movie like this is more than just a movie (don’t snicker), it really is a cultural phenomenon. I know this is true because during my 2nd viewing of this film (some 9 days after its release in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday) people were still giving standing ovations. Even more so than that, almost every time I’ve been to a theater since its release, someone in line behind me is talking about it (and get this they are usually young and diverse). This film didn’t need to be great (and it’s probably not great), it just needed to be good (and it’s better than good). J.J. Abrams does a nice job bringing back what made Stars Wars fun to begin with (and not just talking about the original cast). Like an Onion the film peels back layer after layer of nostalgia, however none of that would have really mattered if he didn’t get the new characters right…and he did, big time. I think it is wonderful to see a female lead, I can’t tell you how fresh the character Finn is (Reluctant hero, traitor, and cool leading man), Poe Dameron (who was supposed to die in the first script) is also great, I’m happy they are keeping him around. The returning cast does a nice job as well, Han Solo leads the film very well, Leia is sharp in her limited but effective role, and Luke delivers in his brief but smart ending sequence. The locations they used, and real sets really make the difference and improve upon the prequels (which get a bad rap, but are pretty good). Now it isn’t all great in a galaxy far far away, there were moments this year that I flirted with the idea of having this film as #1 on the Top Ten List (See Sidebar), certainly all said and done I will rewatch this film more than any other film this year and that holds a lot of water on the Shawshank Scale, but despite that this film has problems. For starters it is fair criticism that the beats of this film feel awfully familiar (another Death Star, was that really necessary?). In addition to that the film feels incomplete, I know some of that is done on purpose, but not all of it. The film really feels like they were writing, shooting, and guessing as they went along…there is probably like 4 hours of additional footage that takes the film in all sorts of other directions. To me they could’ve waited to get the story right instead of trying different things and piecing it together. Several times in the film it feels cut and pasted, now we don’t care because it is so much fun, but still. I was surprised it received an Oscar Nomination for editing given that some of the edits are abrupt and out of place. I didn’t love, understand, or care about the Bad Guys. Who is the first order, Snoke, or what the hell are the knights of ren…who cares. That said it is a great ride, it bridges that old with the new in a fun way. I’m not sure anyone (including Lucas) could’ve done a perfect job with a film like this and J.J. deserves credit for taking on such a daunting task and not failing. Kids are excited about Star Wars again, and adults love that…because they’ve always been excited about it!