Thoughts on the Last Jedi

With the holidays, it’s taken me a while to get this down. To date, I’ve still only seen The Last Jedi once, so this is still based on my first take of the film. Maybe I’ll post an update after a couple of more viewings. 

First, the non-spoilers review:

Unlike The Force Awakens (TFA), Lucasfilm creators appear to have given director Rian Johnson much more creative control over The Last Jedi (TLJ), and in a lot of ways, The Last Jedi is what The Force Awakens should have been: a fresh take on the Star Wars franchise without George Lucas at the helm.

The Last Jedi isn’t without its flaws, but overall, with the exception of the lag about midway through the film and maybe just a tad too many attempts at humor, Rian Johnson delivers on giving us a fresh take on the Star Wars universe that’s both visually stunning and entertaining. 

After reading some of the complaints on the internet, I suspect The Last Jedi will become one of the most polarizing films among fans, who seem to be equally divided between loving it and hating it. I don’t think there’s one right answer, and it’s impossible to look at the new movies with the same childlike wonder that I watched the original trilogy (which naturally biases me towards those three movies).

I watched The Force Awakens last weekend, and I despise it more than I did before, mainly because of the complete rehash of A New Hope (the original Star Wars). I’d rank it just above the prequels. I’d probably place The Last Jedi just behind the original trilogy. 

!!!END OF SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

If you’re reading this far you’ve been warned. Spoilers will be rampant in 3…2…1…

TURN BACK IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LAST JEDI!!!

SPOILERS BEGIN NOW!!!

There’s plenty to like about The Last Jedi. Here’s a decent list of things that I enjoyed:

  • I like that they tried to give the three major characters story arcs, even if the arcs were not complete hits. 
  • I loved some of the humor – The “do you feel it now” scene with Rey and Luke still cracks me up just thinking about it. 
  • I like that the ending illustrated that “spark of hope” for the rebellion even though they’re at their lowest point by the end of the film.
  • Mark Hamill was amazing and did an enormous job of portraying Luke’s guilt and hesitation in training Rey
  • I loved the fight between Luke and Rey
  • I loved the appearance of Yoda
  • I actually like that the story didn’t follow the conventional Star Wars formula
  • I liked the new twists on Force abilities and the connection between Rey and Kylo
  • I liked that despite everything the rivalry between Kylo and Hux is ongoing, which could have major repercussions for the First Order
  • Despite the twist, I actually really enjoyed the final conflict between Luke and Kylo.
  • The “chase” sequence – Although the set up was kind of dumb, I liked where they were going with it. 
    • My take on this whole thing is that, yes, the First Order could have guessed where the ships were heading and radioed ahead to have other ships fly in to intercept the Rebel ships. But, I think the idea was Hux is a major asshole, and, knowing the Rebels were out of options, wanted to simply drag things out. He’s like a cat playing with its prey. 
  • The reunion scene with Luke and Leia. It was hard not to tear up, especially with the meta of Carrie Fisher’s death and knowing that she and Mark Hamill treated each other like brother and sister in real life.

As I’ve said, the movie is not without its flaws. Here’s my list:

I loved some of the humor, but in other places, it felt forced or awkward. Unlike Thor: Ragnarok, I think maybe they strayed a bit too far down the humor trail in TLJ.

Porgs. Meh. I just want a picture of Chewie with that one on the skewer with the caption: Porg: It’s What’s for Dinner.

The “Epic” Chase

I think this could have been set up better. I don’t think they explained why there wasn’t a tracker on one of the resistance ships. The set up was the First Order has tech that can track ships through hyperspace. The first response in the Star Wars universe should have been: Oh, they’ve got a tracker on one of the ships. Instead the characters quickly jump into a convoluted plot to “hack” the main First Order’s ship’s shields into order to slip on board and disable the tracker from that ship. 

The “tracker” story could have been interesting in its own right. If they found a tracker, then there could be a mole on one of the ships. That could have fed into Poe’s distrust of Holdo, eventually suspecting that she may be the mole.

Plus, no one on the First Order ships asks the obvious question: Why not bring in other ships to intercept the fleeing Resistance ships and shoot them all down in a crossfire. The answer, I think, is that Hux is a major asshole, and being such, opts to simply slowly continue the slow pursuit. He knows full well that the Resistance ships can’t run forever, so he wants to make his final victory last. 

A simple conversation between Hux and a junior officer could have made that clear. 

The awkward setup sticks out because this is basically the end of Act I, and the chase  is what triggers everyone else’s actions from this point, from Holdo’s secret plan to Poe/Finn/Rose’s ridiculous plan. 

The “WTF” Moment

This is the moment that made no sense to me, and it sucks because I don’t see an easy way to fix it. The hacker DJ sells out not only Finn and Rose but the Resistance as well by telling the First Order the good guys have cloaked? transports. Holdo was keeping this info on a need to know basis. She didn’t tell Poe, which drives Poe’s arc, and it drives the need for Finn/Rose to go off on their adventure. If Finn/Rose don’t know about this plan, how the hell does DJ know?

Again, it’s a problem because it sets everything up for the third act. It’s just sloppy storytelling. 

Leia Innnn Spaaaace 

For me, I really agonized about this. My first thought when this started to play out was “Oh come on!” On the one hand, I thought it was over the top, but on the other hand, I really liked seeing Leia, at the moment of nearly dying, finally connecting with the Force and saving herself. I didn’t want to see Leia go out that way, so I’m going to let it pass.

Canto Bight 

It bites. Really. I liked some of the ideas Rian Johnson introduced here, that there are people who are profiting from the war and there are people/creatures suffering because of it. It feels too much though like “let’s give Finn & Rose something to do.” It bogs down the movie and really messes with the story timeline as well. The resistance ships have mere hours before they run out of fuel, but it’s fine that Finn/Rose go off on their marry adventure. Since this introduces DJ, but Finn and Rose ultimately fail to stop the First Order, this entire arc feels out of place. 

Luke’s Bad Decision

A lot of fans are upset about Luke deciding, if only briefly, that he’s lost Ben to Snoke, and he should kill Ben while he has the chance. I agree with argument that the “Luke we knew” probably wouldn’t go there. He wouldn’t give up on Ben. 

But – the “Luke we knew” was from Return of the Jedi. At the point this happens in TLJ, we’re watching a Luke Skywalker 20 plus years after ROTJ. We don’t know what’s happened to him in that time. Luke having doubts about losing influence over Ben and ultimately being betrayed by him is the beginning of the end for Luke. 

It’s that moment that consumes Luke with fear and doubt and guilt that drives him away from everyone he loves and places him in isolation on Ach-To. 

It’s a hard moment to see. To me, it’s much like finding Han basically running from Leia and going back to smuggling in TFA.

These characters were our heroes in the original trilogy, and it’s hard to see them 30 years later to find out that they’re human after all. 

At the same time though, these movies are also about passing the torch to a new generation of characters that have will bring with them a new legion of fans to the Star Wars universe. 

I hope, though, that Lucasfilm allows someone to publish a novel or two that further explores the adventures of Luke and Ben/Kylo and their relationship, including Ben’s eventual betrayal.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Knights of Ren were a no-show.

Luke’s Last Stand

I have to see the movie again, but I don’t know if they really explained why Luke’s projection was a one-time deal. I read somewhere that Kylo says something about this, but I missed it. Outside of that, I fully expect to see a Luke ghost both helping Rey and (hopefully) taunting Kylo.

Poe’s Arc

I really liked Poe’s arc for the most part. I didn’t mind that he’s left out in the cold by Holdo. I wished there was a moment of reckoning after the mutiny between Poe and Leia. I liked that he’s learning in the battle of Krait that maybe there’s a time to back off and not sacrifice forces. The problem, though, is at this point of the movie, there is no Plan B. This is a “last stand” moment, and Poe should have been all for helping Finn sacrifice himself in order to help buy them time.

Finn’s Arc

Again, Finn had a pretty decent story arc, but it felt cheated at the end because Rose kept him from making a heroic sacrifice. I would have liked to see him eject at the last second or something where he’s able to survive but still succeed in destroying the weapon. Let’s say the ship hits the weapon but doesn’t destroy it; at least it still completes Finn’s arc and it adds to his own mythology. 

Rey’s Arc 

I’m more bummed that we didn’t see Rey get more training than I am about her parents. Sure, Kylo could be lying, but I don’t think any of the other “theories” would have been better. If she’s Luke’s daughter, then we turn Luke into a deadbeat dad. Same with her being a Solo. Making her related to Obi Wan or Palpatine would only be interesting because it ties her to characters in the other movies. 

Hey, at least they skipped the “immaculate conception” this time. Making her parents irrelevant opens up the idea that anyone could be Force sensitive and evolve into a Jedi or Sith (or something else). I’m okay with that. 

Rey, though, has had less training than Luke did, and that may or may not be a bad thing. She may? have the Jedi Order books, but I think the main point is that because she’s not completely indoctrinated in either the Sith or the Jedi, Rey may ultimately become something else – a person truly balanced between the light and the dark.

Not Enough Snoke

Alas, poor Snoke, we hardly knew ye.

Maybe this will be covered in a novel, but it’s a shame that for all his power, Snoke doesn’t get enough screen time, so his eventual death feels a bit meaningless. The final confrontation between Rey, Kylo and Snoke kind of echoes Return of the Jedi, but it feels off. By the time the scene happens in ROTJ, Luke has faced Vader once, and he’s come to terms with the fact that Vader is his father. The stakes are much higher there because of the connection between Luke and Vader. The Emperor still wants to turn Luke, and catching his friends in a trap with the new Death Star, he hopes to push Luke to the dark side. 

In TLJ, Rey senses Kylo’s conflict, and like Luke with Vader, hopes to lure him back into the light. We know Snoke wants to kill Luke, but it’s never clear why. He also doesn’t seem to be as interested in converting Rey, who, with little training, should be susceptible to Snoke’s influence, just as Ben was. 

Snoke has also created a trap, but he seems to be singularly focused on killing Skywalker. Although the twist here is great, Snoke’s death doesn’t have the same impact as the Emperor’s.

I can’t place my finger on it. Maybe seeing it again will help. I like the overall sequence of events here, but it seemed to lack the same emotional impact as ROTJ.

Too Many Woman

Ugh, the dumbest thing I’ve seen in the last week or so is the political “far right” having fits about too many women in positions of power in TLJ. I honestly thought it was great to see more than one strong female character in these movies, and I think the “far right” can just crawl back under their rocks. 

Moving On 

We will always have the original trilogy of movies, and the memories of seeing those and playing with the toys and reading all of the theories about how Vader could be Luke’s father will not simply disappear because we may or may not like the direction the new films are going in. 

Note, that does NOT include the prequels, which were bad on so many levels. They didn’t destroy my childhood, but I don’t have to bother to watch them, either.

While it has its flaws, I have to give props to Rian Johnson and the Lucasfilm folks for taking chances with The Last Jedi. They’ve opened up some new ideas about what it means to be a Force-wielder (either Jedi or Sith), and they’re trying to take the world of Star Wars into new directions. The Skywalker saga is ending, but the Star Wars universe will be stronger than ever.

I only wish they had started this with The Force Awakens, because there’s so much crammed into The Last Jedi, I almost wish they had made two movies (or had simply introduced some of these things in TFA). 

My biggest worry at this point is whether or not JJ Abrams will be open to the direction that TLJ has gone, or will he backtrack and turn Episode IX into a re-hash of Return of the Jedi. 

Star Trek: Into Darkness Review

The challenge with saying anything about Star Trek Into Darkness is to say anything about it without giving away any spoilers. 

Overall, I think if you look at the movie with the re-boot of the series in 2009, Into Darkness is a great summer action movie. The movies capture the spirit of the characters in the original series and re-creates the dynamics (and creates some new ones) between the main characters.

It was cool to see Uhura get something to do in the movie, but it would be nice to see a woman with more of a commanding role in one of these films. I think it would be fun to have Kirk have to deal with a female captain that’s almost a mirror reflection of himself. 

Benedict Cumberbatch was a great addition to the movie cast as well. I thought he was excellent in the BBC’s recent Sherlock series, and he’s a great presence in this movie. 

The story, though, is still part of the re-boot, and this one focuses on building the friendship between Kirk and Spock. It also calls to question whether Kirk is really ready for the responsibility of “the chair” – being captain of Starfleet’s flagship vessel. 

Although fascinating, seeing the “origin” part of that story between Kirk and Spock is a bit hard to imagine. If you’ve been any fan of the Star Trek series at all, these characters and their relationships have long been established in our heads. 

Yes, the movie has a few glitches (technical and story-wise) and one scene you may either really enjoy or find super cringeworthy (I fell into the latter group). For the most part, they aren’t a major distraction to the overall story.

Die-hard Trek fans may pick apart aspects of the story and the technology with regards to how things don’t fit in with the original canon. I can easily understand how that can be disturbing to fans. I used to watch Smallville and had to spend a lot of time just shaking my head as the show’s producers played drastically fast and loose with Superman’s canon. 

If there’s one nagging thing that still bugs me in these new Trek films is all the freakin’ lens flare. To heck with 3D or IMAX or whatever, let me pay for a version of the movie with 70% less flare. 

But, here’s the interesting perspective that I read about – and it may or may not help you going into the movie.

Remember – this is a continuation of the 2009 re-boot of the Star Trek movie universe. That movie involved a time-travel plot, and because of the actions in the first movie, the timeline for this version of Star Trek has and will continue to change as repercussions from elements of history changing in the previous movie.

Basically – This ain’t your father’s Star Trek. It’s hard, but try to set aside the history  from the original TV series and original movies before you see Into Darkness.

I didn’t do that, and it kind of affected my perspective on the movie.

I’ll have to go see it again with that in mind now to see if I enjoy the movie more with that in mind.

Bottom line. Give Into Darkness a chance. It’s a very entertaining movie.

Disneyfying-Star Wars Part Two

Ok,
After reading this post by Harry Knowles of AintItCoolNews, I’m feeling a bit less pessimistic about Disney owning Star Wars.
Harry Chimes in on Star Wars
My biggest fear is that they’ll stay the course like Lucas did with the first three films and try to specifically target an 8-to-10-year-old audience.
(Of course, strangely, Lucas says he was targeting that age group, but the plot – what plot there was – really didn’t play to that age group)
The other concern was that Disney would take some of their Disney TV shows and churn out a bunch of kid-friendly shows set in the Star Wars universe. For example, they have a “sitcom” about a bunch of kids studying karate. Take that same show, cast them as padawans, put them in the Star Wars universe, and BAM! – new show!
But…
If Disney takes a more open-minded approach and opens up the Star Wars universe to both family-friendly content and more “grown-up” content, then there could be some potential for some very cool stuff. It’s certainly something Lucas would have never done.
It will be interesting to see regardless.

Disney-fying Star Wars

So, ol’ George has finally admitted defeat…
He’s finally gotten tired of finding new ways to milk more money out of the Star Wars franchise.
So, let’s sell it off to the one corporate entity who is even better than Lucas at licensing the crap out of their creations and putting them on anything and everything…
Disney!!!
Last week’s announcement was shocking enough – that Lucas was selling Lucasfilm to Disney. Then, they also announce that they’re going to kick things off by releasing a new Star Wars movie (Episode 7) in 2015.
Ugh…
I’m dreading what Disney will do with the series. On the one hand, Lucas will only be a “creative consultant” on the new films, and NOT writing or directing the films.
So, there’s a chance they won’t completely suck.
On the other hand… It’s Disney, and I’ve seen enough of the bad television shows that my nieces and nephew watch on the Disney channel to dread what they could do with the series. It seems to me like – because it’s Disney, and they lean heavily towards family-oriented fare – that any darker tones of the story would be limited if not completely filtered out. That means no “Empire” type of movie, and there would definitely not be any execution of “younglings.”
Episode 7 implies that they’re going to pick up the story where things left off at the end of Return of the Jedi (otherwise they could have just said a “7th Star Wars movie”).
The biggest challenge there will be where to pick things up. Will they borrow from the existing canon like the Heir to the Empire books? Did Lucas remember writing rough outlines or notes about the last three films that he keeps saying never existed?
The other problem – The cast. They’ll more than likely have to re-cast the roles of the major characters (Han, Luke, Leia, etc). Hopefully they won’t pull some type of “generations” type of movie (re: Star Trek).
After seeing what Lucas did with the second set of films, I personally would rather they would just let it go.
Or, if they must make a new Star Wars movie, go back to the Old Republic days and make a film with a completely new cast of characters.
Let the story of Luke Skywalker and friends end with Return of the Jedi.

The Dark Knight (Mostly) Rises

(Note: Although I was at one of the marathon Batman screenings on Thursday evening, I didn’t learn about the tragedy in Aurora until late Friday morning.  My deepest sympathies go out to the families of those who lost their lives.)

 

I went into The Dark Knight Rises with medium hopes. I’d hoped it would be a very good movie, and it would be a brilliant ending to a great movie trilogy. I really didn’t expect the movie to complete with The Dark Knight. 

Getting a chance to see The Dark Knight just before the midnight showing did nothing to change my mind. 

Is “Rises” a good movie? Yes, it’s a very good albeit very long movie. For me, though, it could have been better. 

I’m not going into a rant here about what I didn’t like about the story because I don’t want to give away aspects of the movie. Also, this would become a novel instead of a post.

What worked in the movie? 

Christian Bale is still great as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Michael Caine has some great moments as Alfred.

I was actually surprised by Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. I think she did a great job even though I’m not entirely sure why the character was in the movie.

Even with the voice cleanup, there were still moments where I wasn’t entirely sure what Tom Hardy’s Bane was saying. I was pretty “meh” about Bane in the movie. I understood why they picked him as the villain, but I also knew it was very unlikely anyone who played any villain in this movie would surpass Heath Ledger’s legendary Joker in the Dark Knight.

Ok. I will say this. I swear I’ve seen that mask of Bane’s from somewhere before.

Try to sit through the entire 2 hours and 45 minutes without wanting Bane to say “Luke, I am your father.” 

For me, there were more than a few holes in the story. There were a few “Wait, what?” moments as well, and I think they could have been more daring at the ending (but wasn’t surprised they didn’t go there).

There was also one name uttered near the very end that made me cringe. 

Then again, I’m a reader of the Batman comics and I’m more familiar with how things played out in the comics. There were some bad points in the comics, too, but overall, it was a very good series.

My verdict? Go see it. It’s a very good movie that wraps up the trilogy decently, just not brilliantly.