Friday, December 29, 2017

The Last Jedi... Meh... But With Spoilers!

For those who want a spoiler-y version of my thoughts on The Last Jedi... for whatever reason... here it is... It's not a deep or detailed analysis nor is it a review - AW HELL NO, SON - but it is very spoiler-y and will address things that I both liked, didn't like, and just wondered. Suffice it to say, those who would prefer a spoiler-free musings on the film can just scroll down and read my thoughts on the previous post. 

(Note: I bounce around a lot and there's a somewhat in-coherency to the whole ramble. But hopefully, whatever thoughts come to mind go through clearly, and if not... well, I tried.)

As you can probably surmise from the header, I thought the Last Jedi is kinda meh. In fact, if I may be so bold, this was the first time that I was rather underwhelmed by a Star Wars movie since Attack Of The Clones... although in all fairness to Clones, at least stuff was happening in that movie to move the story forward, even if we had to endure two hours of a shitty romance coupled with action bits that lack anything resembling a soul.

With The Last Jedi, the whole thing was two and a half hours of nothing happening and going back to business as usual; the First Order is now the new Empire after having snuffed the Republic and the remaining Resistance forces are now Rebels once again. This isn't me just throwing terms around; this is actually brought up when Luke and Leia both say the Rebellion is reborn. It's almost as though the whole thing was engineered so that JJ Abrams can take over the reins of Episode IX and produce another "homage" to the original Star Wars... only this time the First Order has a superbase that destroys entire galaxies and our band of Rebels jump to our galaxy and end up joining forces with the Guardians of the Galaxy so that they can take part in future Marvel movies or something.

Hell, at this point, why not? Disney owns both of them.

I didn't go into this movie with high expectations, but hoped for the best that, at the very least, it wouldn't be rehashing Empire Strikes Back as many had feared would be the case. One of the common complaints to be had with The Force Awakens (and for what it's worth, I thought it was a fine movie and still do) is that it felt like a homage or remake of the original Star Wars (yeah, I call it Star Wars, not A New Hope; piss off.) And I can't disagree with that assessment;

But what The Force Awakens also had that The Last Jedi lacked was a scope and vision. Yes, it was a very safe, very familiar film, but for the time, that's what this new Star Wars "era" or "trilogy" or whatever you want to call it needed in order to assure audiences that "yes, this is Star Wars" before they went in all sorts of directions. But at the same time, it does the "Star Wars" thing of establishing our characters, their journey, and leave little nuggets for future entries; something that Star Wars never did since there wasn't any intent to make another movie, let alone a trilogy, let alone of a franchise.

Despite this, Star Wars ("A New Hope" for younger fellows) did leave several interesting plot threads open for future exploitation; Luke's journey to learn the ways of the Force and the inevitable encounter with the man who murdered his father (only to later find out that the two are one and the same, but that's another move), the Rebels' continuing struggling against the evil Empire, Darth Vader searching for the pilot who destroyed the Death Star.

The Force Awakens did the same thing; who are Rey's parents, what's the deal with Snoke, what happened with Luke Skywalker, etc. And so a lot of these little interesting tidbits that The Force Awakens put out there - all these questions that would've set up the whole trilogy and give it some common threads - are all either discarded or just given really underwhelming answers. 

So what happens in that scene where Rey presents Luke Skywalker with his father's lightsaber that he lost in Bespin? He takes the saber and tosses it over a cliff before walking off to his hut. Got a couple chuckles from the audience - probably because he already had a nicer green one that he prefers and we only see in one flashback scene - but oh boy... let me touch on this later.

What's the story behind Rey's parents and why they abandoned her? Junk dealers who needed booze money and sold her off to slave labor. Well, that was underwhelming... or it could be a lie that gets addressed in the next film? Honestly, the "rags to riches" angle where Rey isn't really anything special and the only reason she feels that way is because she's our main protagonist is not something I'm opposed - it makes for a much larger universe that way - but it does feel a bit... meh... in the long term.

Captain Plasma, Chrometrooper Lady who is supposedly a big deal or something? Killed off during a duel with Finn. And this is supposed to be the "badass" of this new trilogy? She gets "ambushed" and tossed (off-screen) into a garbage bin in The Force Awakens and then after her one big fight scene, she gets killed off? Even Boba Fett did something worthwhile before he got fed to the flippin' Sarlacc.

But what about Snoke, the mysterious Sith lord who manipulated Kylo Ben Ren Solo to the Dark Side and his fifty foot hologram? Turns out he's a skinny guy in a gold bath robe who gets killed off fairly quickly... so much for that, I suppose. (Though I did like his all-red throne room; that's kinda cool looking.)

People want to talk about the "red herrings" throughout the film - Finn and Rose go after the "Codebreaker" on the Casino Planet, only to get arrested for illegal parking... fuck me, I feel much stupider just writing that shit... and then they find a guy in a jail who could pretty much do the same thing and they take him instead, but he sells the Rebels out to the First Order... and then they escape the exploding Star Dreadnaught and head for the Rebel planet and stuff.

The thing about red herrings is that they're supposed to detract you from the important bits. Here's stuff happening while something big and major is taking place in the background. And so while Poe is instigating this mutiny and while Finn and Rose are on the Casino Planet talking about inequality, animal abuse, and child slave labor under the pretense of looking for this codebreaker character, something big and major is going on in the background and it turns out nothing is happening in the background.

The Resistance ditches their capital ships, flies off to the salt planet to hide out in a Rebel base, and they would've gotten away with it if it wasn't for those kids or something. So... really, nothing happens.

While the Force Awakens was content with borrowing the plot of Star Wars, The Last Jedi is content with borrowing character flaws from the Star Wars prequels; the dominant character flaw being that everyone in the Resistance is stupid. Basically, Palpaltine in the prequels was the smartest guy in a room filled with dumbasses and he was able to play them like a fiddle to get to where he needed to be. The Last Jedi takes that a step further and gives EVERYONE the stupid pills with a side order of green titty milk.

Admiral Hobo takes charge of the fleet due to the attack that left General Leia in a coma after being blasted into space by a TIE Fighter attack and yet somehow being able to use the Force to fly back to her capital ship... whatever, just go with it, I suppose. So Hobo suggests fueling the transports and sending them off. And when Poe asks why, Hobo doesn't tell him... which sets off Poe and has him stage this mutiny, which probably would not have happened if Hobo told Poe that they were going to some old Rebel outfit to make a stand there.

But because Hobo doesn't tell Poe this, Poe assumes the whole thing is an act of cowardice and stages his own plan to mutiny against the crew and send Finn and Rose on a mission to find a codebreaker - THE Codebreaker - to break into a Star Destroyer and sabotage the thing that's tracking the Resistance fleet's hyperdrive capabilities or something... and then they get arrested and they find some questionable fellow who does the same thing, they trust him, and they get betrayed by this guy. And... well, they fucked up big or something.

Poe learns a lesson from this, going with the general theme of failure being the great teacher, and that helps build him up to be the big Resistance or Rebel leader that they now need him to be for the next movie. But the thing is none of that would've happened if Admiral Hobo (the pink-haired lady played by Laura Dern, who deserves better than this) had told Poe, "Look, dude. We need to fuel these transports so we can sneak off to some old Rebel base and find cover." And Poe might've been cool with it and we wouldn't be wasting time with that whole casino planet thing where Disney tries to force real life issues into this space fantasy with laser swords and planet killing superweapons.

But because Hobo is a bit of a dick, she doesn't tell Poe and we get that whole thing that tips off the First Order and then Hobo does the "heroic sacrifice" to drive the last cap ship into the big Star Dreadnaught thing to give the transports a fighting chance or something... but if she had told Poe the whole plan and maybe convince him this was a good idea... but you know military types; they expect all officers to follow orders and not question them and well, they don't expect mutinies or anything like that and so they're stupid too.

On the note of Hobo's sacrifice, it probably would've resonated a little more if it were someone we were more familiar with. Like an Admiral Ackbar (who was killed during the bridge explosion thing because he couldn't use the Force) or perhaps retool it so that LEIA is the one to make the noble sacrifice and write her off in the wake of Carrie Fisher's passing instead of trying to figure out how we're going to write her out of Episode IX. Admiral Hobo doing the big heroic sacrifice means nothing to me because it was a character that I had no connection with, I didn't care one iota about, and was just a dick for the sake of being a dick because that's what military types do.

Honestly, the off-screen death of Admiral Ackbar affected more than Hobo's sacrifice did... in that I openly wondered now who was going to pick up the slack and let everyone know it's a trap? Maybe if Hobo was around in The Force Awakens, I might've cared slightly more. As it is now, it's just another female character introduced for the sake of having another female character and now we get to stuff another woman in that refrigerator that's starting to stink a bit.

The Disney Mantra: Introducing Female Characters For The Media To Praise... And Then Kill Them Off
Also, of special note, when the big sacrifice takes place and you see the Star Dreadnaught's wing explode, there's about ten seconds of silence which was obviously an artistic take and didn't need any notices from the movie theatre letting you know that it was an artistic take by the director and not an audio glitch. People praise this one bit for being innovative, forgetting that a similar bit was done (on a shorter scale) in Attack Of The Clones; during the dogfight in the asteroid field over Geonosis, Jango Fett deploys a couple seismic charges and each charge had a second or two of silence before exploding and sending debris all over the place for Obi-Wan to dodge and maneuver around; it's probably my one favorite scene in that movie.

Rose is a character with an interesting backstory - her sister was killed during a bomber run (yep, joining Admiral Hobo in the fridge) and she wants to contribute in her own way by pairing up with Finn - but she's also very stupid.

Case in point; she saves Finn from making the big heroic sacrifice that would've seen him crash into the big super laser thing and potentially damage the thing to give the Resistance something resembling a chance at surviving or something. Maybe it would've worked, it wouldn't, but the point is Finn was saved by Rose who decided that winning is saving things you love rather than destroy things you hate... because there's nothing stopping things you hate from trying to kill things you love the second or third or umpteenth time around.

If this movie were done 20 years ago, we would've had the typical sexist snark comment about "women not being able to do anything right" and there wouldn't be the political holocaust that such a comment would cause today in the current climate. Rose is a character from an era when "women can't do anything right." She decides to put her own feelings ahead of the survival of the Resistance, which boiled down to a single rundown Corellian transport that's pushing 50 (assuming you believe the one little cameo in Sith to be that very same ship.)

Also, this whole thing came about AFTER Admiral Hobo sacrifices herself to give the fledgling rebels a chance to escape. So really, when you think about it, it either makes Rose look like even more of a selfish idiot or maybe she didn't love Admiral Hobo enough to save her from making the big sacrifice. (Or maybe she was on the ship that Hobo crashed into.)

And then there is Luke Skywalker.

There is a quote in regards to Mark Hamill telling director Rian Johnson that he fundamentally disagreed with the direction he was taking the character. And even in recent interviews, Hamill had stated that the direction that the movie takes with Luke wasn't necessarily the direction that he would've gone with Luke. The idea of Luke's failure with the Jedi Academy being the catalyst in becoming an old hermit cut away from the Force is something that I could possibly buy into. He was the last hope in establishing a new generation of Jedi, he failed, and went into hiding.

Then Rey shows up, gives him his father's saber, and he tosses it aside because he wants nothing to do with the outside world. Rey finds the Jedi tree with the Jedi books and now Luke's interest is piqued and he teaches her the ways of the Force in an effort to show why the Jedi must end. The interplay between Luke and Rey is actually interesting, with Rey still romanticizing the Jedi as this greatness personified while Luke rightly casts a harsher light on the Jedi Order for allowing one man to undermine them all.

The idea that the Jedi had to end was an interesting plotpoint and one that I thought would've been a bold move to cut away from the old ways that clearly were not working. It took one guy to undermine a whole Jedi Order and reduce it to almost nothing back when it was at its strongest and CLEARLY, trying to bring that back to the way it was before was doomed to fail... expanded universe notwithstanding. It was an angle that could've been a launching point to a new kind of Force philosophy or a different approach to the Jedi ways that would've been a step above or at the very least, an evolution of a way of thinking that worked once and then collapsed under its own hubris.

The way Luke was portrayed here didn't really bother me perse - except for the bit where he had a hand in bringing about the destruction. The bit where he almost contemplated killing Ben Solo because of the darkness, an act that I simply couldn't register with Luke because this is the same guy who wanted to bring Darth Vader - his father - back into the light despite the misgivings of Obi-Wan and Yoda, who believed Vader was beyond salvation. Luke managed it and acheived the balance in the Force that was prophesized or something.

But then years later, that same Luke sense darkness in his nephew - the child of his twin sister and best friend - and rather than try to purge the darkness or bring him back into the light, he contemplates killing him. Yes, he resists the urge, but he still had a foot in door. Not stepping into the Dark Side, but rather into the old Jedi thinking that someone with an ounce of darkness is one to be snuffed out rather than be saved or swerved back to the light. Rather than be a new kind of Jedi that would succeed where the Order failed, Luke Skywalker became one of those old Jedi that failed the first time around and he paid the price.

And that's why he decided to go to this planet, live with Porgs, and drink titty milk. That he would cut himself off from the Force and become a recluse who wants to wither away and die in peace... sometimes a failure that catastrophic can drive a man to do things he wouldn't normally do. But is that something Luke would do? Or is this, as Mark Hamill suggested, some other Skywalker who looks like Luke and thus calls himself Luke? Maybe the real Luke Skywalker moved back to Tatooine and finally got around to picking up those power converters he always wanted?

Honestly, I couldn't tell you what I would've done because I honestly don't know what I would've done.

So what changes Luke's mind on the whole thing? Not Rey, who leaves the planet upon learning that Luke was responsible for Kylo Ren's birth. Certainly not Chewbacca, who's more interested in playing with Porgs. Sure as hell not R2-D2 despite a cheap shot playing the message Leia recorded for General Kenobi generations ago. Instead, it's the ghost of Yoda - played by a puppet - who is able to summon lightning with his stick. Some fans might question this, but there's a Star Wars game where you fought Obi-Wan's ghost, so this isn't beyond the realm of probability for me.

Luke never leaves the planet; he appears as a ghost to face off against Kylo Ren. People shit on this because they were expecting, but I thought it was a great little moment that served the purpose of setting off Kylo Ren while distracting him from the escaping rebels. There's little clues that you catch on to that something is amiss such as the gunfire barrage that lasts forever, only for Luke to emerge unscathed; or the fact that his lightsaber is blue despite THAT saber being in Rey's possession and split in half. The death that followed was peaceful, it probably made no sense, but it was a touching moment at least.

And so Rey is the "last" Jedi because she has all the Jedi books from that tree that Yoda's ghost blew up. At the end of the movie, one of the slave kids on the Casino Planet picks up a broom with the Force... so I guess the next movie is going to be about him. So when does he go to some equivalent of Toshe Station to pick up some power converters? That should be the plot of the whole movie.

The copious amounts of humor in this one was also pretty obnoxious. The "phone conversation" between Poe and Hugs, topped with a "yo mama" joke that actually had me cringing a bit, was only the beginning. The one-liners, the Kylo temper tantrums, the bad jokes that millennials will find funny because they were raised on Channel Awesome where bad jokes and referencial humor are good for easy laughs. It's something I don't mind with the Marvel movies, but when you start spreading that stuff everywhere... it becomes tiresome and it was indeed that here.

Now all things considered, there were bits that I liked in The Last Jedi. The space battle at the beginning of the movie was pretty good, the battle on the salt planet wasn't too bad save for Rose The Idiot saving Finn Balor, I enjoyed the brief character interactions between Rey and Luke and the pseudo training and deconstruction of the Jedi lore, the cast in general does the best they could with the material given and almost (but not quite) makes me believe in it, and then there was seeing Luke Skywalker in action for the briefest of moments, even if it's just a ghost doing the work.

Questions that have been set up in the previous episode are either brushed aside or given rather underwhelming resolutions, there are plenty of uninteresting characters that I absolutely don't care about, some of the character motivations are pretty goddamn stupid, the humor (with some exceptions) was overbearing to the point of obnoxiousness,

All of this would've been forgiven if the story was worth a damn and unfortunately, that isn't the case here. Say what you will about The Force Awakens, but that had a sense of scope and opened the door to many new possibilities and interesting takes. It's a pity that The Last Jedi chooses to ignore or even discard these new things and just bring things back to business as usual. I daresay that the movie is more interested giving us random characters who only exist to check items off the diversity checklist that the media likes so much, rather than give audiences a story that's worth a damn.

The Last Jedi didn't ruin nor kill my childhood; that is happily preserved in print, VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and other ancient media formats. It is not a terrible movie that has ruined Star Wars for me; even the worst aspects of the prequel trilogy or seeing the much-eviscerated Holiday Special couldn't get the job done. And no, I am not wishing that George Lucas would buy back the franchise for pennies on the dollar; last I heard, he was happily retired. Let him stay that way because the sumbitch deserves to enjoy the fruits of his labors rather than the whining of fanboys and whatnots.

And while The Last Jedi wasn't the greatness personified that the hipster media and moronic mainstream press would have you believe by beating you over the head with it, I have no desire to swear off any future Star Wars films; I have subjected myself to far worse Star Wars things than this movie could even hope to scratch and no matter how bad it gets, it's a thing that I look forward to because it's one of those things I get to watch with my older brother and that's a reward in and of itself.

At best, it is an alright movie where nothing of note happens and it's business as usual. At worse, it is a very underwhelming entry in the Star Wars franchise where nothing of note happens and the whole thing feels like filler. Perhaps more than anything, it does not inspire hope that Episode IX will be more than something that is being made to complete a trilogy for the sake of completing a trilogy because after that ending, where do you go from there that serves as an appropriate "final act" in the trilogy? The third act that is supposed to close out your story is not the place where you have a "clean slate" or whatever the excuse is. The clean slate comes around in the first act of a story and then you build from there. And after the Last Jedi, there's nothing to build on beyond the Rebel struggle or whatever the case may be.

Episode IX could very be the reverse Phantom Menace; an extra movie exists for the sole purpose of making a two-film story a trilogy, except instead of being a needless first act that could've been spent on something else, you have a third act that has to try make people care about anything that happened in this middle chapter, even though there's nothing moving forward.

Actually, thinking about it further, that ending feels less like a "cliffhanger" to a final chapter and more like the basis for a continuing television series, which perhaps feeds into my own headcanon/theory/dread that Star Wars is going episodic from this point forward. With all the old guard having died - Han's dead, Luke's dead, and with Carrie Fisher having passed away this past year, there's no way they're bringing back Leia and making a habit of CGI'ing dead people - there's no reason why they can't turn Star Wars into another "thing" to make a "Cinematic Universe" out of... because we're not that far off with the side-movies and stuff.

So... yeah. That's my musings on The Last Jedi.

An okay film with nothing of note happening. And another nothing of note happening is not a movie that's as good as Empire. Hell, it's not even as good as Clones.

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