Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Last Days of Luke Skywalker

I've held off writing this post long enough.

The year 2017 has come to an end, and as such, I feel it is my duty as a Star Wars fan with a blog (i.e. no one of any real consequence) to speak my peace on the most polarizing, and quite honestly awkward, of the franchise's films to date...The Last Jedi.





MAY THE SPOILERS BE WITH YOU


I really don't know what to say that won't send me on some kind of rant. That's not what I want. It's not a fan ranting situation that I want to convey here. 

I didn't hate it, let's be clear. At the same time, I don't think it's a good movie.

Additionally, it isn't a great Star Wars movie. 

Having seen it twice, I feel like a few of the criteria that make Star Wars what it is were not met. This is separate from my particular feelings on what 'would have been cool', or how I think some of the characters should have acted. Those are my personal opinions, and don't effect whether, or not this was a well done film, or a solid entry into the Star Wars franchise.

The things I am addressing here are things of a cinematic nature, and things that make a good Star Wars, well, good. 

OK...

A Good Star Wars Movie is Fast Paced, And the Fast Pace Has Meaning

Star Wars isn't Science Fiction. Its not about what ifs. It has nothing to do with the ethical, social, or political applications of science and technology. It's, at best, Space Opera, but really more of a Space Fantasy. At it's heart, it is an Action/Adventure film.

Action/Adventure can definitely have moments of suspense, and tension, and they certainly benefit from scenes with character development and interaction. These must be placed carefully however, less they take energy and momentum away from the action that drives the entirety of the film. 

Here, the film largely revolves around the slowest, most tedious chase scene in cinematic history. The good guys move like tiny herd of wounded deer, followed by the world's laziest wolves. It was pathetic, sad, and drained the sense of urgency right out of the sequence, and because of its prominence, many of the sequences that followed. 

While there were some fast paced scenes in the film, many were self contained, and did not effect the overall narrative (more on that below). A starship battle right before the slow crawl through space simply highlighted how dreary the subsequent space slog scenes were. The awesome battle in the Supreme Leader's throne room against his personal guard was great, but had no bearing on the larger chase, the decisions of the participants, or anything. Police speeders chasing heroes on escaped animals did nothing to help the Resistance escape (though it may help them indirectly in the future).

Fast Paced Scenes are needed to generate and maintain excitement, and momentum. Those same scenes should have a direct impact on the overall plot.


Heroes in a Good Star Wars Movie Do Heroic Things - Successfully

Character need hardships to overcome, opponents to defeat, and be defeated by, and obstacles of all sorts to challenge them at nearly every turn. These are not merely things that bar their way on a path. By besting these challenges, we get to see what a character is made of. We learn how they act and think. Do they use their heads? Do they give up until reminded of a loved one, or friend in need? Do they throw caution to the wind, and use their physical abilities to barrel through because, hell, no one lives forever right?

In the end though, they succeed. They win, or at the very least they best their challenge and prove that they have what it takes to see the situation through and maybe, just maybe, save the day in the end.

No one accomplishes anything in this film. No one makes a difference, or proves they're special. Even when it seems like perhaps they do, they don't, because something detracts from their success. 

Luke does not truly train Rey. Rey does not learn very much. Rey does learn who her parents are but it doesn't matter. Rey doesn't turn Kylo Ren to the side of good. Kylo Ren doesn't turn Rey to the Dark Side. Neither does Snoke. Luke sees Leia before he dies, but not really. He gives her Han's dice from the Falcon, but not really. Finn, smitten with Rey and wanting to help her, never does.

Finn teams with Rose to deactivate the poorly thought out First Order device that can track the Resistance through Hyperspace. They fail. They look to contact the great Codebreaker. They don't. They instead get swindled by Benicio Del Toro (whose character is named Stuttering Benicio Del Toro as far as I can tell - he actually accomplishes something).

Poe proves himself a bad leader (somehow), then a mutineer, then an idiot. Admiral Holdo (who, am I to understand commands her vessel and fleet in a fashionable evening dress? No uniform? Because...?), is a great leader...or a coward. I couldn't tell. I also couldn't tell what the movie wanted me to think of her. Was her move a brilliant one? No. The defenseless transports were largely shot down going to the only planet in the area they could be going to. Many moviegoers complained that she should have told her team what her plan was so there wouldn't have been a mutiny. I disagree. The mutiny was Poe's fault for being an impatient jerk. She could have said, "Don't worry, I have a plan", but wasn't obligated to do so. No, my problem was that it was a terrible, terrible plan that ended up reducing the entire Resistance to no more people than could fit on the Millennium Falcon.

"Wait, Adam!" you say, "But Kylo killed Snoke, Finn defeated Phasma, and Rose saved Finn!"

OK, let's look at those instances...

Kylo did indeed kill Snoke, who seemed rather powerful, so yes I will happily admit he accomplished something. Unfortunately, it ended a character that had yet to be developed, which is a problem this new trilogy has across the board. There are too many characters that come from nowhere, and go nowhere. For example...

Finn defeating Phasma was incredibly anti-climactic. Because she is a very 'Boba Fett'-like character (cool looking but doing little to show that she is bad ass), his defeat of her isn't very satisfying. They have but one battle, and in it she is done in as much by the exploding ship she's on as by Finn's combat abilities.

Finally, Rose saves Finn before he flies directly into the Beam Drill thing...and potentially destroys it and saves the day. Rose may have stopped Finn from being killed, but she also stops him from being a hero. His character serves so weak a purpose in the second film, and not much of one in the first film. Going from renegade Stormtrooper, to Guy who takes down the First Order's weapon and enables the Resistance to escape would've been a great character arc. Don't misunderstand, I like Finn. Heck, he's my favorite character in the new trilogy! The problem is that I am starting to realize he's my favorite not because of anything he's done in any of the movies, but because I like the actor, John Boyega. Finn the character is, like most of the characters in The Last Jedi, largely ineffectual. 


Characters Develop A  Lot More When They Interact, Less When They Are Alone

In the first film, Poe Dameron never meets Rey. Rey and Poe don't have a scene together in The Force Awakens. In this film, they have one tiny scene together at the very end. Rey never meets Rose. Rose never meets Leia, Luke, Chewie, or Han. Finn, Rose, and Poe have a handful of very short scenes together. Finn and Rose have more scenes together than pretty much any two other main characters (maybe even Luke and Rey!), and yet very little of it is spent getting to know each other. A little maybe. Finn knows about Rose, but what does she know about him? Then at the end of the film, she loves him. What?!? When did they happen? Screw that, when did it start, build, develop, and...what the hell happened to that entire subplot?

These people are all fighting for a united idea. That I get, I like, and it makes sense. They are not, and could not, be fighting for each other, or battling the enemy on a personal level with a scant few exceptions. Rose lost her sister. Finn lost (in a fashion) Rey. That doesn't feel like enough. I saw no sign that these characters were truly connected to each other. 

Poe's goofy taunt of Hux for example is funny, but doesn't really make sense. It doesn't motivate Hux to hate Poe personally, nor does Poe view Hux as his nemesis. Why didn't we see Poe in his X-Wing go up against Kylo Ren in his Tie Silencer? What a waste of both characters, and both vessels. 

***

In conclusion, I felt the movie was a lot like...soup. Not good, homemade soup, but mediocre restaurant soup. There were a few tasty chunks of meat, a couple nice vegetables, but it was all held together by a thin broth. It was served so hot you had to eat it slowly, but the next thing you knew it had turned cold, and wasn't even appetizing. 

I hope the next film is better. I hope the characters start to work together, and start to matter to the story. I hope we get to see a war in the stars in the final Star Wars movie of this trilogy. 

I hope Luke didn't die in vain.

AD
Barking Alien




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7 comments:

  1. I think your review is spot on. I liked Luke's part (and the one First Order captain that didn't want to be another buffoon), but everything else was bland and slow. Now everyone is panning JJ (and rightly so), but directing in the previous movie was much better than in this one. To give just one example, the execution of Rose and Finn was dragged for so long that it become unbelievable and broke the tension, at least for me.

    And then, there is again the lack of a villain's arc. The hero beat her nemesis in their first encounter. Here, he is beaten again two times, and has yet to achieve a victory.

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  2. So my big take was that they were cleaning up what they didn't like from The Force Awakens, especially the rather derivative portions:

    Scarred, bald, evil Sith overlord? Nope.
    Complicated Skywalker family tree for Rey? Nope.
    Yet another Death Star? Nope.
    The "there's good in him, I can feel it" redemption storyline? Nope.

    In fact, they burned almost everything down. The not-really-Rebel Alliance, aka "the Resistance" is gone. The Jedi Order is gone. Really any and all connection to the previous movies is largely eliminated. Rey gets to be a nobody from a backwater planet who saves the galaxy, much like the original Luke Skywalker does before they made his dad the immaculately conceived Midichlorian uberkind.

    In the process they do allow for a totally new story to develop, which is what a lot of people who are Star Wars fans do not want. Or perhaps think they don't, and might be surprised by something new.

    I will say that the plot was chock-full of social commentary. Poe's "mansplaining the Rebellion" to two female authority figures, one of whom dresses in a non-conventional manner and as a result causing most of the Resistance fleet to die seemed like a heavy handed way to rebuke the "cocky rebellious guy does something crazy and wins the day" trope.

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    1. So what exactly is the theme and the message of the film?

      Work hard, face down the toughest odds, and you Rey may learn the ways of the Force.

      Rey: (In the Force Awakens) YES! I made it!

      Luke: Eff you kid. Eff your hardships, and eff the fans who went on this journey with you. I don't care about any of it.

      Rey: I feel a struggle within Kylo Ren!

      Kylo Ren: I feel indecision and a need to know more.

      Together: So, it was nice meeting you and helping you defeat these useless red dudes. We should see each other again some time, have lunch, or ya'know, maybe try to kill each other.

      Rose to Finn: Don't sacrifice your life as there are people who love you.
      Holdo sacrifices her life. Does no one love her?

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    2. Call me crazy, but I'm not the kind of guy who has a hankering for my favorite ice cream and so I head over to the local bookstore. I go to the ice cream shop for ice cream.

      I also never walk into the ice cream shop and order a steak. If I wanted steak I wouldn't be at the ice cream shop. Weirdly enough, I go to the ice cream shop expecting, hoping even, that I'll be able to get some ice cream.

      I go to a Star Wars movie to see an evil Sith Lord, possible one in a helmet, a story of good vs. evil with the option for redemption, and big space battles.

      You can sell me a different flavor of ice cream than the one I normally get, but I came for ice cream...so give me ice cream.

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    3. I did want to say to Holdo, "you mean you don't have a droid who can fly this thing?"

      I'll just this--in The Last Jedi the creators put a lot of metaphorical money on the table betting against the Star Wars traditionalist sentiment in hopes of going in a new direction. The third movie had better be a pretty damn good one if they want the Last Jedi to have any sort of credibility.

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  3. I've held off commenting because I really didn't like this movie and I agree with everything you posted here but I don't want to pile on. I'll keep it short.

    #1 - Hated the Luke story it doesn't it doesn't fit with his earlier character story at all

    #2 - The most boring chase in the history of film as the rebel fleet very slowly runs away from the even slower imperial fleet and we keep checking back in to find the situation is exactly the same as in the prior check-in scene.

    #3 - In the end the resistance runs to it's last hideout and sends out a distress call, setting up something potentially akin to the Rohirrim showing up on the ridge near Minas Tirith ... and no one shows up. No one shows to help the legendary Princess Leia! No one! If the people in their own galaxy don't care about these people, why should we?

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    1. That last one particularly bothered me. I understand this is supposed to show the heroes, and their Resistance/Rebellion, in its darkest hour, but even The Empire Strikes Back had moments where you pumped your fist. The Rebels DO escape Hoth with most of their forces. Leia DOES hear Luke's call, and returns for him. He DOES get a new hand.

      In this film, the few victories are anti-climatic, and don't feel meaningful. I would've loved it if a collection of a dozen, or so assorted starships popped out of Hyperspace at the last moment to cover the Falcon's escape from Crait. This would let the characters, AND the viewers know that Leia has major clout across the galaxy. People love Leia, and will drop what they are doing and go against practically insurmountable odds to rush to her aid.

      THAT my friend, is Star Wars.

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