I finally got around to seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi on DVD. I checked it out from my local public library because, if I ended up hating the film, I could say that I didn’t waste a penny on it, or give up my hard-earned bucks to Disney.
I have to admit that I didn’t have the best attitude as I slipped the disc into my PC’s DVD player, because J.J. Abrams went on record as saying anyone who didn’t like “Last Jedi” were threatened by women, as if there could be no other possible reason for not liking the film. Both director Rian Johnson and producer Kathleen Kennedy have gotten some heat as well, but in the latter’s case, it was mostly over the Han Solo movie, which I am surprised to find is still playing at some local theaters.
Since “Jedi” has been out for roughly seven months now, I’ll assume almost everybody (besides me) has seen it long ago and I’ll load my review with spoilers.
First off, the obviously stupid/disappointing stuff.
Poe Dameron’s (Oscar Isaac) attempt at humor in his “I can’t hear you” radio communication with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) may have been funny to some, but it didn’t seem like “Star Wars” funny. Yes, the original three movies (“Star Wars, “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi”) had humor, but there was a certain quality to it I didn’t find reproduced (let alone improved upon) in this film. The same for Finn’s (John Boyega) leaky biosuit, or whatever he was wearing when he woke up and started wandering the corridors dripping water everywhere.
Next were the “bombers.” While large aircraft carrying many explosive devices that, when dropped, fall because of gravity onto targets on the surface of a planet makes a certain amount of sense, in space it is totally ridiculous. And yet, the writers of this film found it necessary to produce bombers to take out the dreadnought ship that was on the verge of destroying the last resistance base as our band of noble heroes were trying to escape.
Yes, I know Star Wars is more space fantasy than science fiction, but you have to include a few basic rules, such as no gravity in space and bombers in space are stupid.
Exactly how did the First Order ships track the resistance spacecraft? I thought that somehow they were homing in on Finn, since he used to be a Storm Trooper. It would have made sense that he had some sort of tracker inside him so the First Order could monitor the location of their soldiers. But then, the instant he left the ship to go to planet Las Vegas, that threat would have vanished.
Oh, I don’t get how the resistance fleet (of only three ships) could stay out of range of the Star Destroyer weapons. I’ve seen those big rockets mounted on the back of Star Destroyers. Why didn’t they just fire up those babies and overtake their adversaries who were low on fuel anyway? Or just jump a few light seconds ahead, turn around and come at them from the other direction. Nothing about that sequence of events made sense.
I get that “Planet Casino” was supposed to be a playground for the rich people who became wealthy selling weapons, but it seemed pretty dumb.
Also, the resistance plan to hide out at a planet their enemies could see until help could arrive from wherever (and if these few hundred people are the last of the resistance, then who’s left to rescue them?) seemed rather lame, even if the idea was to escape there on cloaked ships.
I haven’t even gotten to the Luke/Rey sequences yet.
In the 2015 movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) abilities suddenly sprout in a breathtaking way, and with no training whatsoever, she becomes incredibly powerful, sort of “feeling” her way through experiences and battles, especially with the much more experienced Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver).
Now she needs lessons, and after a lot of complaining from a very unheroic Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she gets exactly three.
Luke. What can I say about Luke? Okay, I get it. Like Obi Wan Kenobi before him, Luke believes he has failed because his apprentice Ben Solo turned to the dark side of the force, killed the other apprentices (except those who joined Solo/Ren), and burned down Luke’s Jedi temple.
However, after all that (and much worse) happened to Kenobi (originally played by Alec Guinness, and later by Ewan McGregor), he didn’t become a whiny complainer let alone a quitter. When he found Luke and rescued him from the Sand People, then heard his story, Obi Wan took up the quest to train Luke and help get R2-D2 to the Rebels in the hopes of somehow destroying the Empire’s greatest weapon.
What does Luke do? Mope around like a grumpy old man and worse, running away like a coward after he realizes just how much raw power Rey possesses.
Obi Wan’s force ghost must have been very disappointed.
One of the really good parts about this sequence was the interaction between Luke and R2-D2, and I thought it was a brilliant move to have R2 play Leia’s original message to Obi Wan from the very first film. That was when the real Luke came out of hiding for a few minutes.
But it took Rey and Chewie leaving, and then a visit from Yoda’s force ghost (and why didn’t he appear years ago to straighten Luke out?) to put some starch back in Luke’s spine.
In spite of my earlier complaints about the “Las Vegas” planet, I generally liked the sequences involving Finn and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). She wasn’t the “hot babe” you’d normally expect in an action/adventure film (although Star Wars has a reputation for using “ordinary looking” people as supporting characters), and I liked her perky but competent personality. Of course, a lot of that was played for comedy, but I found it really touching (though stupid) when she saves Finn from his suicide run near the end of the movie because loves him. It’s left ambiguous as to whether she survives, but I hope she does. I think a Finn/Rose romance would be a good thing, and I was never convinced that Finn and Rey were a good match (I see her hooking up with Kylo Ren in the end).
I haven’t talked about General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) yet. Part of the reason I watched this movie was because it was her last performance before her death, the last time we’ll ever get to see Fisher play Leia.
I know she lost her son, lost her husband, and lost her brother, and was in the process of losing the last of the resistance, and she’s gotten older and more experienced, but she just didn’t have the same spark as her younger self, not even a little. Between her and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), they pretty much castigated Poe, who was about the most “Star Wars” character in the movie, given his determination and daring (and instead of keeping Poe in the dark, all Holdo had to do was tell him what the plan was, including the cloaked ships rather than treating him like an idiot).
I know I mentioned before that Abrams said (more or less) that anyone who didn’t like “Last Jedi” was a raging sexist, and I know that the entertainment industry is currently in full “equality” if not “superiority” mode relative to how women and other disadvantaged populations are depicted, but it was as if one of the missions of this movie was to make women look heroic while making men look impotent and dumb. Really Disney, that was your big move?
Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but not by much.
There was one shot with Holdo in the foreground when the people occupying the various control consoles in the background were shown to be all women. My first thought was that in all statistical probability, a few of them would have been men, so I figured this was a deliberate attempt at social justice. But then, not all events result in an even distribution, so in this case, all women running the show could happen (given that there have been plenty of stories where mostly men were in charge).
Chewie was about to eat one of those cute, little, furry creatures on Luke’s island when a bunch of live ones showed up looking all pathetic. Eventually, the Wookie decides to go on a fast or become a vegan or something, and even brings one of the critters on board the Falcon (a pet?). Why?
The cool “crystal cats” in the last hideout of the resistance were pretty likeable, but if they knew a way out, why didn’t C-3PO’s sensors detect it?
Rey and Kylo
They developed some sort of relationship I didn’t see coming, but it was eventually revealed that Snoke (Andy Serkis) arranged it all.
This whole part of the movie was pulled straight from Return of the Jedi, including the battle in Snoke’s big chamber (which given the predominant color, looked like a 1960s Go Go club…I even expected the guards to start dancing the twist or something). Ren did to Snoke what I always wanted Luke to have done in “Return.” In both movies, the hero’s light saber is sitting on an arm rest right next to the villain. All Luke had to do in “Return” was use the force to turn the “business end” toward the Emperor and press the activation stud. This is exactly what Ren did in “Last Jedi,” killing Snoke.
Of course, he did it to take over, not turn to the light side, and I did appreciate that the film convincingly portrayed Ren as possibly going light (and Rey going dark).
Assuming Ren was telling the truth and Rey was a nobody sold into slavery by her parents for drinking money, then where did she get her force powers? After “Awakens,” I thought she might be Luke’s daughter, but Luke, in spite of his Force abilities, had no idea who she was (although it was revealed that Luke had cut himself off from the Force, so for most of the movie, he wasn’t aware of much).
The Rest of It
Luke finally pulls his head out of his butt and gets back in the game, but in an unexpected way. At one point on Luke’s planet, Rey sees his X-Wing sitting in shallow water, so Luke could leave the planet any time he wanted, which is what I thought when he showed up at the film’s climax.
I really, really loved the brief scene between Luke and Leia. There as a sort of closure between them, since in the end, they’d both lost just about everything. But the whole point of heroes is that you can lose everything and still go on being a hero, and in fact, that’s exactly what makes them heroic. It’s the whole point of Star Wars.
In the original Star Wars film (no, I won’t call it, “A New Hope”), Luke lost everything, stopped being a moping brat, and joined Obi Wan on a noble quest. Obi Wan had previously lost everything (except Luke), but kept going, finally getting back into the game and facing Darth Vader because that’s what heroes do.
So Luke finally becomes a hero and faces down his greatest failure, Kylo Ren.
Ren, for his part, continues to be a sissy, and instead of initially going mano a mano with his former master, orders him obliterated by cannon fire. For a second, I thought it worked, and I was ready to be completely disappointed that Luke came to such an abrupt end. Then, when he survived, I thought, “Wow! This guy really is strong with the Force. A light saber’s never going to even faze him.”
However, Luke never left the island and it was just a projection, a trick to give Leia and a handful of survivors time to escape on the Falcon.
Luke didn’t have to die. I know, the probable explanation is that he expended so much energy projecting himself that far, he drained his lifeforce and expired. Well, that’s because it was written that way, not because it was inevitable.
Of course, he could always return as a force ghost.
Which brings up an interesting issue. It seems only Ren and Rey are “force-capable,” the former being a Sith and the latter a would-be Jedi. But Luke’s dead, and according to the film, there are no more Jedi. Who’s going to train Rey? It takes years to become a fully operational Jedi, and even though Luke’s training was fast tracked, he spent months with Yoda. Rey only had three lessons.
Without the Jedi, it’s not Star Wars, I don’t care what you call it. By killing off Luke, Disney may have very well killed the franchise.
Another question is whether or not the “B-team” (Driver, Ridley, Boyega, and Isaac) can carry the franchise forward. George Lucas cast a bunch of unknowns (Hamill, Fisher, and Ford) in the 1977 movie and magic happened. Lucas took a pretty big gamble, and Star Wars might have died right then and there (like Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind which was released the same summer, and while successful, was definitely a “one-shot wonder”). However, audiences fell in love and the franchise was born.
Part of what made the original films successful is that the heroic saga spoke to an audience of ordinary people, transporting us to a legendary universe where we all got to be Luke Skywalker (or Han Solo, or Princess Leia).
Now the giant mouse machine has their claws firmly planted into the Star Wars legacy, and after four films (including the aforementioned “Solo” and 2016’s Rogue One, which was a huge disappointment), it remains questionable as to whether Star Wars even exists anymore.
Is “Last Jedi” a good film and is it Star Wars?
In spite of my numerous complaints, in the end, the movie was generally entertaining, if massively uneven. As I said before, I loved the Finn/Rose chemistry, Poe was everything I’d expect out of an action hero, and my heart melted during the single Luke/Leia scene.
Is it Star Wars? Barely. I can say that unlike all of the newer incarnations of Star Trek (anything more recent than Star Trek: Enterprise, which was massively flawed, but still possessed “Star Trekness”), there was a tiny, tiny bit of “Star Warness” left in “Last Jedi,” both attributed to the presence of Hamill and Fisher, and frankly, because of Isaac’s performance as Poe (Okay, Chewie, C-3PO, and R2 helped). That said, it’s fading fast.
In my opinion, there are only three of the eight main Star Wars movies that are truly Star Wars, the original trilogy. After that, whatever mojo Lucas had in producing the franchise died, and I don’t think Disney has the creative chops to resurrect what Star Wars really is. In the end, it’ll take more than marketing and branding to keep the franchise from going extinct.
I’ll probably watch the ninth movie when it ends up on DVD, just to see what the mouse decides to do, and whether or not it finally listens to the Star Wars fan base, rather than playing social justice crusader and blaming their failures on the audiences, who they need in order to turn a profit.
J.J. Abrams, among others, needs to wake up and smell the coffee and start making a Star Wars that’s creative and entertaining first. We want good storytelling, which is the strength of the original trilogy. Save the moralizing for some other movie. It doesn’t belong in Star Wars.
What I Absolutely Loved
The final scene where the children on the casino planet are telling the story of the resistance’s battle (I have no idea how they found out those details), and then one little boy goes outside and stares up at the stars was absolutely fantastic. It was young Luke Skywalker all over again, a boy growing up impoverished and with no future other than his dreams.
Addendum: I just found out that utilizing previously unshown footage of the late Carrie Fisher, she will appear one last time as Leia. Thoughts?