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December 23, 2017

Movie Review || Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a visual feast. From the opening scenes of gigantic spaceship battles to the final red-as-blood-spattered salt plains of Crait, Star Wars has turned into a full-scale, awe-inspiring digital production that certainly does justice to George Lucas' original vision for the film series. I liked the movie, but believe there was really too much going on for the film to have been entirely effective. It has made this fan (mostly) happy.

I have to agree with Huffington Post reviewer Matthew Jacobs when he called the film 'bloated' and trying to do too much in a small space of time. There were too many focal points; too many ineffective new additions; too many characters but only a few developing; too many motives; and sometimes the humour seemed strained and forced.

The rest of my review below is full of SPOILERS, so if you don't want to have the film SPOILED before you see it, you had better leave - STAT!

At first, I believed the writing wouldn't satisfy hardcore fans, feeling there's something missing, some purpose, along with a plot flow. Taken at face value, overthrowing the First Order is too large a context to be the purpose of the film, since we don't know what is at stake. Without knowing how the First Order is bad, aside from being ruled by a Sith Lord, we cannot invest in the rebellion as we could in the first trilogy, or in The Force Awakens.

One of this film's drawbacks is its dependence on what we know of the Empire. What is the First Order's endgame? What is the Resistance's? Rey doesn't know why she was sent to find Luke, aside from the Resistance looking for him and her own needs. Furthermore, what exactly is the Resistance fighting for, aside from their lives? There is a lack of overall purpose and the steps heading toward the endgame overlap and intertwine, and it feels like ants whose pathway has been destroyed.

However, I finally realised there is a purpose and R2-D2 replaying Leia's original call for help in the film points to it: the spark of a new hope. It is the need for hope to be resurrected and sustained that holds all the Star Wars movies together, and is indeed the essence of this film, particularly with regards to Luke and his own redemption.

Hope is an abstract concept though and does not make the film better on the surface as you are watching it; I suppose it is the same for all good films: they improve with retrospection.
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Luke Skywalker watching the remains of a Temple burn
I wish there was a better focus in this film. Perhaps on Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke to learn more about their pasts, or even a focus on the Resistance so we could learn more about the background of the First Order and how it came about. I mean, where did Snoke come from? How did the First Order come about after the destruction of the Empire? Filmmakers should not depend on book-based or even series-based canon to fill moviegoers in and I really enjoyed The Force Awakens because the story flowed well and made sense without dipping into canon. I think its use of A New Hope helped it along as there was a basis for how a successful story should flow. In addtion, the First Order killed an entire village of people for a USB stick and stole children to train them as Stormtroopers, so we knew why they had to be defeated. We were introduced to new characters but they were growing together. They had one quest.

The Last Jedi's story development is not based on any of its predecessors, and it crammed as much story into it as possible. We have a bunch of new characters building new relationships with old characters who are attempting multiple quests at the same time, and only some characters develop and grow. I think the separate stories would have been more effective in two films. There could have been more time to learn about the First Order, about Luke's journey after Return of the Jedi, Rey could have been trained for a longer time, the search for the codebreaker wouldn't have felt so rushed, we could have seen more of Captain Phasma and perhaps even Finn's history... But there again, I have no idea how the story will progress into the third film of the trilogy and maybe the story will be smoothed out later.
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Kyle Ren preparing for battle
It was intriguing to me that on one hand it appeared that the Force was simply something people used but on the other, it also worked of its own volition, calling to Rey on the island, for example. Is it too much of a stretch to believe that it has a plan? Snoke's admission that it was he who connected Rey and Ren was disappointing because I want Ren to be good in a way I never wanted Darth Vader to be good - for that I just wanted Luke to be right, to redeem his father. Maybe it's Adam Driver's sincerity, or maybe it's because he was unmasked in The Force Awakens - he's been humanised, for me and for Rey, which allows her to invest in him and move the story forward.

What I'm going to say next is controversial, because it agrees with director Rian Johnson's seeming attempt to leave the past behind. I kind of wish there was a last Jedi and the Dark and Light fought no more. This would be following the original prophesy of balance that Qui Gon Jinn believed in. When Luke begins to train Rey he calls the force the balance between everything, but with constant battles between the Sith and the Jedi, there will be no balance. That's why I was so excited (and for other obvious reasons) in the scene where Rey and Kylo Ren are fighting together - the Dark Side fighting alongside the Light Side. Perhaps this is the plan for the last part of the trilogy, because Kylo Ren is still in conflict about which side he's on, and perhaps the pair will eventually foster the Grey Jedi. Despite Snoke claiming he had connected them, they still shared this connection at the end of the film, with Snoke dead. Does this mean the Force has a greater plan after all? Does it also desire balance?

But this kind of balance would destroy conflict, and where would Disney make its money then? Furthermore, I have to admit the plot of Rebels, Resistance versus Empire, First Order is getting a bit tired.
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Luke Skywalker after Rey hands him his light saber
I enjoyed Mark Hamill's performance: he is clearly not the Luke Skywalker I knew, nor Hamill's. He has lost hope. He is a man simply waiting to die. It's his regret and failure in creating Kylo Ren that sent him into exile, as it was Yoda's failure to defeat Emperor Palpatine that sent him to Dagobah. I am glad he faced up to his failure and redeemed himself by accepting his failure and facing Ren before he joined the Force but I can't help but feel there should have been more to his story. Luke Skywalker deserved more than 20 minutes of sulking and a five-minute, though thrilling, battle with Kylo Ren. Also, I can't reconcile Luke's overall mood of defeat with the fact that The Force Awakens was focused on finding a map that led to him. Why leave a map if he truly wished to die alone? Maybe there was a change in the ultimate plan for him with the change in directorial vision.

At the end of the film, there is a scene where children are playing with an action figure of Luke Skywalker, and this does him some justice as a legend and inspiration who has sparked a new hope and imagination in what the world could be without the First Order, albeit whose purpose is elusive to me (much like Darth Maul was to the Jedi).
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Rose and Finn
The film has earned accolades for its inclusion. There are noticeably more women, both in leadership positions and at the sidelines, and people of colour. I have to say it felt weird to see so many women in the film - I'm so used to seeing men everywhere I look in the Star Wars universe. Sometimes the placements seemed a bit forced, though, or perhaps that's just my programming. Many of the story arcs involve women showing up men in positions of knowledge, skill, and capability. Take: Poe, who is not only sidelined by Admiral Holdo and stunned by Leia for mutiny, but also forced to reconsider his original perception of a female leader; Finn, who talks over Rose at one moment only to have her force her way back into the conversation as the expert; and even Kylo Ren, as his offer to allow Rey to rule the galaxy by his side is rejected.

But...considering this is a film set in a galaxy, where are all the freakin' aliens!
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Rey before meeting the Force
Many fans are disappointed that there is nothing special about Rey's parentage. In a galaxy that has been filled with Skywalkers destined for greatness, Rey's humble roots are a let-down. But I didn't mind this plot change. This is exactly what makes Rey special. You don't have to have a legacy to change the world. You can rule your own destiny and Rey has no one to determine her future but herself. Besides, who's to say she does not have a destiny separate to that of the Skywalkers or the Kenobis or anyone from the past? Maybe the Force has a plan after all. Or maybe Kylo Ren was just lying.

So what were my favourite parts of The Last Jedi? Well, Leia using the Force to escape death in space was pretty darn awesome. It's a pity this may be the only and last time we'll see her employ her skills with the Force, but it was quite a spectacular way to go and I'm pleased Carrie Fisher got to see her character's power. It was especially moving considering Fisher's death earlier this year.

Kylo metaphorically shedding his mask - and his past - was telling, especially as it came so near to the first of Kylo and Rey's one-on-ones. Then their battle against Elite Praetorian Guards after several scenes fraught with tension - seeing the pair fight back to back was incredible.

After that, Luke walking out of a crater of enemy fire completely unharmed, and then his final battle with Kylo Ren - it was wonderful to see Luke so confident and Kylo Ren so irate. I loved the return of puppet Yoda - long live puppetry - and then the salt foxes on Crait were beautiful (I liked them more than the ridiculous Porgs).

Finally, Admiral Holdo sending her carrier through Snoke's ship at light speed: the silence and stop frames were art.
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Crait
Despite my misgivings, I feel overall it was a successful rendering of the Star Wars universe, albeit a breakaway from tradition. It was filled with stunning visuals, entertaining characters, left me and many fans with many questions about the nature of the Force and where the story may be headed, and tipped its hat to the legend of Star Wars while breaking new ground for fans. With regards to the latter, we must remember that The Empire Strikes Back was in the past slated as the worst of the original trilogy, but is now a favourite among many fans. I'm certain that this film will also become more endearing as it is watched over and over again, mysteries are solved, and characters develop further. This is what fans upset with the new direction the film takes are missing: Star Wars at its heart is not really about the Skywalkers or the Kenobis or the Resistance/Rebels or even the Jedi, but about the hope that good will prevail, that the spark of light will never die. After all, it is hope that carries resistance, and it is hope that inspires the boy on Canto Bight, hope that wakes the Force, and hope that imagines a galaxy of infinite possibilities. So, here's hoping that coming Star Wars films will learn from bloat and become slim and streamlined!

Credit for all images: Facebook/StarWarsAfrica

Further Reading:

Alt-Right Group Ruined 'The Last Jedi' Rotten Tomatoes Score Because It Was Too Feminist
Just How Seriously Should We Take This Star Wars: The Last Jedi Backlash?
Of Course There Was A Secret In That Big 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Cameo
Five Things You Probably Missed in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
10 burning 'Last Jedi' questions we need answered in 'Star Wars: Episode IX'

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