Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Yeah, I decided to skip the cute title.

So, I saw the new Star Wars movie, and like everyone else on the internet, I happen to Have Opinions about it.  I'll keep things spoiler-free up front and then move on to specific spoiler stuff later.  The very brief review is: I liked it.  I'm not entirely sure where it fits on the list of movies, it'll probably land squarely at 4th.  It's not as good as original trilogy, but it's better than the prequels, better than Force Awakens, and certainly better than Rogue One.  So... yeah, I guess it's fourth.

No, I'm being serious here.  I think much of the hate is more fan anger than anything.  It did things differently, so it's bad.  I think it's fair to remember that not all reviews of Empire Strikes Back were especially glowing at the time.  I think time will tell here and it'll settle into its place.  The zeitgeist for Force Awakens seems to have downgraded its quality and appeal, and I think time will elevate Last Jedi.

For one, I believe that Last Jedi has done a better job echoing its predecessors.  In Force Awakens, it felt more like a weird remake of A New Hope.  On a bad day, you could say it cynically aped A New Hope to try and cash in on fans' dissatisfaction with the prequel movies.  In Last Jedi, it feels more organic, more honest.  Instead of copying or "homage", it feels more like a motif; the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Hell, they all but directly say that at one point, but I'll leave that for the spoilers.

But it's not all sunshine and roses here.  The movie is too long.  Way too long.  Frankly, there's an entire scene that could have been completely excised with absolutely no impact on the plot that would, conveniently, also cut about 30 minutes from the movie.  Unfortunately, it would also remove the only thing two characters have to do, and it would also eliminate a hamfisted message about war profiteering (or capitalism in general if you're feeling salty).

The other major problem is bathos.  Bathos is something we all know about, but I only recently learned the actual name for it.  While it has a few definitions, but the one we care about here is where you undercut a dramatic moment by making a jokey-joke.  You ruin your dramatic build up, you dispel any tension, and you demonstrate that you have no confidence in your material.  In some movies it fits.  It's fine in Guardians of the Galaxy, because those are comedies with sci-fi action in them.  In Star Wars?  Not so much.  Just imagine the scene in Empire where Luke is below Cloud City, his hand has just been cut off.  Vader leans in...

"Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father."
"He told me enough! He told me you killed him!"
"No. I am your father."
"Well, thank the Force I got my looks from mom!"

Personally, I blame Joss Whedon.  He started this nonsense in his Buffy show and it's just been a long, slow slide ever since.    Regardless, that's irrelevant to my central point.  Comedy is fine.  Light-hearted moments are fine. Han Solo on the Death Star is basically one joke after another; "We're all fine here, everything's fine.  How are you?  Boring conversation anyway."  But he wasn't saying, "Saves on funeral costs!" when Obi-Wan sacrificed himself.  No jokes about Vogons when Alderaan was destroyed.  The jokes were in the appropriate place.

So... at this point... I think I'm going to get into spoilers.  Ahem, I mean...


I think I'll continue with the bathos, but giving specific examples here.  There were many examples of really bad jokes undercutting drama, but the worst was towards the end.  Luke has finally returned and is meeting with Leia before walking out to what will likely be his death.  He sits with the sister he hasn't seen in twenty or thirty years since his self-imposed exile.  She smiles sadly at him, saying, "I know what you're going to say... I changed my hair."  Who talks like this?  Who does this?  Who thought that was in any way appropriate?  It's not a funny joke.  It completely takes you out of the movie.  It's a wink at the audience.  "Whew!  We almost got serious for a minute, there, but don't worry, everything's okay, folks!"

Again, jokes are fine.  Rey's comment to Luke about the Force being "making people do what you want and... lifting things" is fine.  It's kind of a lame joke, but it's also in character.  It's pretty much all she's seen of the Force.  The ending call back where she mutters, "lifting rocks" is also fine.  It's amusing and it kinda fits.  Her training specifically told her that the Force wasn't about lifting rocks and yet... here she was.  Lifting rocks.  A nice payoff.

But new hair?  No.  Stop it.  Bad writer.

Speaking of callbacks, the circling back to previous movies were (mostly) well done.  Aping Empire with the last stand wasn't very good (even though the red salt made for a neat visual), but other times were very well done.  The previously mentioned part with Luke going out to meet Kylo was Obi-Wan meeting Vader playing out all over again (albeit with more sfx).  In fact, you get the feeling that Luke has made this connection as well, even before he all but quotes Obi-Wan at the end of the fight.

Likewise, earlier in the film, the scene with Snoke, Kylo, and Rey is Return of the Jedi replaying all over again.  The lone, not-fully-trained Jedi going to meet the ultimate evil while attempting to save the soul of the ultimate evil's enforcer with whom the Jedi has a link with.  The cuffs, the final confrontation, the unexpected betrayal.  It was remarkably well done.  Again, much bigger special effects budget, but well done and felt more honest than, say, Starkiller Base in Force Awakens.

But let's deal with the elephant in the room.  That casino scene.  Oh boy.  That's bad.  It's almost hard to know where to start with this mess.  I suppose we can start with the fact that it is completely superfluous.  The whole point was to get a slicer to get onto Snoke's ship to disable the tracker to let the fleet escape.  But they fail.  They don't disable the tracker, the fleet doesn't get away, and the slicer betrayed them.  I mean, I'm all in favor of Benicio Del Toro being in more movies, but I'm sure we could find a better way to use him.

So, aside from giving Benicio another chance to act rings around everyone anywhere near him, why do we have this casino scene?  I have a few theories: 1) "We gotta give Finn something to do!"  2) "It'll show character development!"  3) "We gotta set up that kid at the end!"  4) "We just pointlessly introduced this Rose character and we gotta explain her falling in love with Finn."

"We gotta give Finn something to do!"  Yeah, you probably do.  And sure, I guess it was nice seeing Cpt. Phasma come back, but pointlessly Boba Fetting her didn't do anyone any favors.  Part of the problem, honestly, is character bloat.  In this movie, as major characters, we had Rey, Luke, Finn, Poe, Rose, Kylo, and Leia.  That gives us seven characters and four major plotlines in this movie.  Yes, Finn needed something to do, but this wasn't it.  Again, had he never done it, the outcome of the chase would have been exactly the same, especially since escape wasn't the intention in the first place!

"It'll show character development!"  Sort of?  But did Finn develop much during that?  Didn't he really just retrace his arc from Force Awakens?  He was craven in Force Awakens and then found his courage.  Why did we have to go through this again?  The very first thing he does is try to jump ship.  Maybe if we'd kept character development from the previous movie, we wouldn't have had to do this song and dance all over again.

"We gotta set up that kid in the end."  No.  No you do not.  In fact, not setting him up might have worked better.  The scene would have worked just fine if all we saw was him walking out the door, Force-grabbing the broom and so on during the voice over.  Show that yearning to be free spreads across the galaxy, not just to those who have a direct encounter with members of the Resis^H^H^H^H^HRebellion.  Let him watch a double sunset and you could have shades of Luke in A New Hope.

"We just pointlessly introduced this Rose character..."  Oh man, Rose is just a whole bag of wrong.  Being the sister of the bombardier in the beginning?  That's good.

Hold on, an aside that I've gotta go on.  What is wrong with the First Order if a single fighter can completely destroy a Dreadnaught's point defense system leaving it completely helpless against the payload of a single bomber.  Furthermore, why that massive flat area with a huge "kill me zone" in the middle?  How on earth are they "fleet killers"?  And if they are, then most any loss would be worth it.  And why in the world did the bombers arm so early?  And if the loss of a single bomber could effectively destroy the whole wing via chain reaction, why the hell are they in such a tight formation?  I can handle bombs falling in space (at least B-Wings were more like missile-boats in that the bombs were guided and powered as opposed to dropped), but just about everything else in that scene makes very little sense the more you think about things.  I'm sorry, I just couldn't help it.  That scene was just chock full of fridge logic.

Anyway, back on topic.  Rose would have been fine as a side character.  As a central character, she was awfully lacking.  In many ways, her nameless, dead sister had a deeper character than she did, largely because she was just, "the dead bombardier's sister".  Sure, she was, apparently, good at her job, and dedicated to the cause, but not much else.  Furthermore, she's a pretty disturbing voice for mindless obedience.

Okay, let me unpack that: during much of the movie, Poe is the hotheaded pilot (in Force Awakens he was cocky, but not a headstrong lunatic).  He makes rash decisions that are dangerous, risky, and often fatal.  Towards the end, with the, sigh, "battering ram gun", he becomes the voice of reason, having been taught humility by the whole casino debacle (which could have been entirely avoided had the Vice-Admiral not been Hellbent for mystery and just told him the plan, especially after he said she was going to kill everyone).  He realizes that, sometimes, personal heroics aren't the best for the greater good.  Thus, he tells everyone to break off the attack when it's looking to be an abject failure.

Finn, however, wasn't around for that lesson, so he decides to suicide the gun.  This is actually in character for him and his arc.  He's been exceptionally selfish for two films and has finally come to the point where he's willing to give everything to the cause, even if that means dying.  He's willing to lay down his life to save everyone he cares about.  It's a noble idea, and seeing him flying into the beam, his ship falling apart around him, seeing the determination on his face, and seeing that he was at peace with himself and his place in the world, was one of the points in the movie that gave me chills.  It was wonderfully done.  It was great.

And then Rose slams into him, almost killing them both to save his life.  Apparently, you're only allowed a noble death (ie: her sister) when Those In Charge order you to do so (ie: Poe).  But since the authority said not to, a heroic sacrifice is not allowed.  Nevermind the fact that the gun was about to fire, destroying the blast door.  Nevermind the fact that they still believed there was no back door.  Nevermind the fact that they didn't know that Luke was about to show up and be Captain Badass.  Nevermind the fact that she almost killed them both.  No.  The heroic sacrifice is bad because they were ordered to peel off.

Oh, and nevermind the fact that they just might be killed going back to the base, or the fact that while they were laying there in the salt, one of those goofy ass walkers could have blasted them into ash.  Just... just absolutely awful.  Rose kept Finn from running away (which he shouldn't have been doing in the first place, as mentioned above), then she became his tour guide in the casino for... reasons.  Then she almost killed him and herself keeping him from... potentially saving the life of the remaining rebellion.  Good job, Rose.

What a worthless character.

So, as mentioned above, the only reason Poe hatched this stupid plan that involved the casino (which, apparently, was quite close, since they had less than a day, round trip) because he didn't know about the abandoned rebel base.  He didn't know that the plan was to use the cruiser as a stalking horse for the transports.  So once again, we have an entire subplot solely because people won't just explain things.  Perhaps operational security would have prevented it at first, but when he's starting a mutiny, perhaps an explanation is in order, hmm?

And speaking of this whole tracing thing.  It's never well explained.  We know that Snoke's ship is doing it, but I really don't understand how.  And why they couldn't block it from the ship.  And while we're at it, what's with the cloaked transports?  Is cloaking technology been micronized at some point between A New Hope and now?  After all, "no ship that small has a cloaking device!"  And once the transports are discovered, how are they being shot?  The cruiser was out of range, but they weren't?  The movie doesn't do a good job giving us the geography of that section of space.

Wow.  Looking over all of that, it seems like I really didn't like this movie.  But I did.  It felt like Star Wars.  I like the echoes of the earlier films (for another, the Dark Place on the island was very similar to the Dark Place on Dagobah).  I like the stupid physics in space: the shots from the capital ships arced in flight like artillery.  I loved the reveal of Rey's parents.  I liked the additional emphasis on the mysticism of the Force in the movie.  I really did enjoy it, and my serious problems were largely about a few small things.  Eliminate the entire casino scene and most of my complaints (undoing Finn's development, Rose's idiocy, movie length, the Poe/Vice-Admiral nonsense) will likewise evaporate.

So it's a good movie heavily marred by one really bad idea.  And considering where in the film the casino is, it's fresh in your mind when you leave the theater.  Excise the casino, dial back the bathos, and make the dreadnaughts make sense, and you'd have a fantastic movie.  As it is, you just have a pretty darn good one.

But who knows?  Maybe some of the shine will come off on a second viewing.  Or maybe I'll see the brilliance of the casino.  But I doubt it.

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