Movie Review: The Last Jedi

[The post (which is a no-draft babble like all my visual media things) has no spoilers but, if you haven’t seen it yet and are dead set on doing so and want it to be as unspoiled as possible, you probably don’t want to read this, which isn’t 100% abstract but discusses elements of the movie in a general way.]

I saw The Last Jedi over a week ago and have been mulling it over without discussing it much. (It’s quite likely I’m adding nothing new to the conversation but it’s just my take.) While The Force Awakens and Rogue One didn’t fill me with unalloyed joy, I did really like them both, overall, and was basically sold on this “new Star Wars” thing. I even got The Force Awakens on DVD last Christmas and had already put Rogue One on my list (and got it this Christmas). So then I went to see The Last Jedi with high hopes that it would be at least as good as the others and less derivative (or homage-filled) than The Force Awakens.

I’d been really afraid that The Last Jedi would be a remake of The Empire Strikes Back just like The Force Awakens was of Star Wars. They partially avoided this by making it a remake of The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi at the same time. Luke is a sort of anti-Yoda and Rey is a sort of off-beat Luke. Later, “Snoke” (ridiculous name even for Star Wars) and Rey and Ren replay most of the Emperor/Luke/Vader scenes of the third movie. What is so disheartening is that neither recap is remotely as good as the original. The special effects are even richer and the action is even more frenetic but the comparison of ideas and characters and interactions and emotional power of the scenes reveal the new movie’s inferiority.

Perhaps worst of all is the Disneyfication of the franchise. I was pleased that The Force Awakens felt like Star Wars. I was initially uneasy but ultimately pleased that Rogue One felt a little different (primarily in a grittier way). But The Last Jedi is a Disney film. Star Wars has always had cute weird critters (the worst offenders being the Ewoks, of course, who had redeeming resistance fighting features, at least) but this movie was chock-full of extreme examples ranging from good Disney ice foxes to horrible Disney “porgs” – the fat bird-like “comic relief” critters. Worse, the poor child-labor urchins with their brooms fell out the utterly wrong kind of stereotypical Disney movie. Again, this isn’t unprecedented in the sense that Luke was a poor farmboy but this was extreme. Perhaps worse still was the “humor.” Star Wars has always had cynical, smart-alecky humorous dialog (generally very successful) and even sometimes direct “humor” like the critters eating other critters outside Jabba’s palace (with mixed results). But this movie attempted to be funny, having the characters “do comedy” in a way that worked in the abstract (because so conventional in moviedom terms) but failed utterly in a Star Wars context, pulling the dramatic rug out from under every scene in which it was employed.

If all that wasn’t the worst, the worst was probably Rey. The character has so much potential and Daisy Ridley can be so magnetic that it’s obvious she’s the star. But she was a mere component of this movie which was as interested in Finn and his gratuitous new love interest and Dameron and all his infighting with the rebel leadership. Which, again, forcibly makes one realize that this movie can’t do the “Han and Leia in the asteroid field” storylines. (But it’s worse. In the originals, even aside from my enjoyment of all the disparate lines, they all served purposes. You could cut the Han and Leia line from Empire and just recap what happened while they were away from Luke before they all get to Bespin – or cut Luke and Yoda the reverse way – but that would be worse than removing a kidney or a lung “because you can get by with one.” On the other hand, the storyline of Finn and the new girl could have been cut entirely with no loss at all and arguably multiple gains.) Obviously a core part of the movie was Rey and she obviously did get a lot of screentime but it was relatively little and she’s starting to feel separate from the Rebellion and a mere adjunct to Ren. Vader was always a big draw but Luke and Han and Leia more than held their own. Worse, Ren doesn’t remind me of Vader so much as – and here I will mention the trilogy which doesn’t exist for the first time – young Anakin Skywalker. Ren has none of the cinematic power of Vader but the script is writing him almost as though he’s the actual point of all this. Rey has more cinematic power than Luke and they’re sidelining her. And Poe and Finn together, however generally likable, don’t make a single Solo.

Not that this movie was all bad – far from it. Allowing for some debatable elements, Carrie Fisher has a good final role and performance, which is very important. And, except for some stray cartoon critters, this movie looked very good. It was reasonably well paced. They did nice things such as with Ren’s mask. The fights and battles were very exciting and, again, good looking. Some of the Force elements weren’t bad. I was initially mostly happy and only got very uneasy as the looong, two and a half hour movie wore on and, even at the end and for several days later, I couldn’t make up my mind exactly what I thought. So, “there is some good in” it. But I believe the new movies have turned to the Disney side.

Perhaps the most telling thing is the “see it again” test. I really feel like I ought to see the movie a second time. Perhaps my reactions would change, at least somewhat. But, while not violently opposed to the concept, I don’t really want to cough up more money to do so. And that’s certainly not the reaction I had to the other five movies.

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