The Last Jedi (Review)

The Last Jedi (Review)

This movie did not go the way I thought it was going to.

I’m a nerd, if that wasn’t clear enough.  I love Star Wars.  I’m always quick to point out the prequel’s faults but I’m just as quick to point out the prequels strengths and what they did right (which are few but they are there if you pay attention).  I remember my heart soaring when I heard the John Williams score booming in my ears when The Force Awakens started.  While I enjoyed that movie, I also recognized that it tried too hard to stay close to the Original Trilogy instead of trying to be something new.  I could understand the reasoning – after all, the last time someone did something new with Star Wars we got Jar Jar Binks –  but at the same time, this was a brand new trilogy of Star Wars films.  They needed to be different.

The Last Jedi is a very different film.  At the beginning, it starts to feel like The Empire Strikes Back, portraying the Resistance as on the run and on their last legs trying to regroup from an unending force of destruction.  Towards the second act, though, it starts to feel different.  Emphasis on emotion and loss become more prevalent as Daisy Ridley’s character Rey explores why Luke Skywalker went into exile.  Then John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran have to go to a planet seemingly ripped straight from the prequels to move the plot along.  Things get more desperate as Oscar Issac disagrees with Laura Dern with how to run the Resistance.

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but feel like the film was meandering around from plot line to plot line.  Even when the film finished, I left the theater still thinking about the film.  There was so much about the film that felt familiar but turned on its head and sent in a different direction.  This is ultimately what has divided fans so much about the film.  It’s a film that knows your expectations and then willingly subverts them.

Questions that were raised in The Force Awakens are not only left unanswered but also made to feel unimportant, like they were not the questions you should be asking.  So I left the film wondering what questions should I have been asking?  Eventually, I stopped wondering what questions I should have been asking and instead wondered what exactly was the film trying to say.  I could go on about my thoughts on the film but in the end, this is a review so I should step away from spoiler territory.

The film does meander but it all comes together in the third act.  The seemingly multiple themes spread throughout do merge into one idea that the film does portray rather well.  It is a very well put together film, but it is definitely a film that is intentionally subversive.  Rian Johnson knew fan’s expectations going in and decided to toss them on their heads in order to force the audience to think.  To think about what, well that’s up to you.  All I know is that this is a very amazing but very different Star Wars film than I was expecting.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Review)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Review)

Ah, Star Wars.  One of two iconic sci-fi properties to ever grace our cultural mind.  Regardless of how you view the Prequels or the changes made to originals, you can’t deny that Star Wars, as a phenomenon, is here to say.  And now with the return of Star Wars last year with Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it seems we are going to be getting more and more Star Wars in the years to come.  This year, we got Rogue One, the first of the Anthology series of Star Wars films, covering side stories and the backgrounds of famous characters.

Rogue One is the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a career criminal who is taken and forced to join the Rebel Alliance to find her father, the unwilling architect for the Death Star.  She is forced to accompany career Rebel Alliance Soldier Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and repurposed Imperial droid, K-2SO.  Along their journey, they are joined by recently defected Imperial Pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), blind warrior and believer in the Force, Chirrut Imwe, (Donnie Yen) and his partner, Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).

The first thing I have to give props for is the diversity of the cast.  Not just diverse in the sense of their racial background (I’m still very happy about their casting choices), but also in how different the characters are.  Although I was not able to remember their names (not because they were unmemorable but because they were in no ways as easy to remember as Han, Luke or Leia, this being set in a galaxy far, far away), I could instantly recognize each character.  When the camera flashed to a shot of one of the characters, there was no way I was going to confuse who it was.  I knew exactly who it was.

This just makes it even more of a shame that character development really took a back seat to the plot.  There is a lot of pathos going on for these characters that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere.  Things do come to a head in the film between two characters, but it never really feels resolved.  It just happens and then you’re off to the next set piece.  This happens to Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera, an extremist who has been broken by the war.  His whole character appears to be to show just what a war can do to a person but in the end, we can’t spend too much time on this without sacrificing the rest of the movie so what we’re left with is a character with a weird rasping voice.

Speaking of, there are quite a lot of references to previous films.  Either characters that appeared in previous films (like Grand Moff Tarkin in a CGI role that is a little hard to get used to for the first few minutes), or places that are revisited (one location actually made me go “oh, hey, we’re back here again” in the theater).  There are so many references that I started to wonder if any of them were actually necessary.  Where do you draw the line between a reference that is there because it would make sense story-wise for them to be there, and a reference that is there just for the sake of a reference?

One thing that I will appreciate is that this film is by far the darkest Star Wars film of the franchise, because this is absolutely a war film.  People die, sometimes not for victory but for the chance of victory.  This is not the time frame of A New Hope because in this time frame, hope doesn’t exist yet.  This is the edgier side of Star Wars that hasn’t really been seen in a while, and I appreciate that.  It makes the franchise feel more alive.

I truly enjoyed the film.  From start to finish, I really did enjoy it.  With that said, I can’t help the more I think about it, the more problems I find.  The characters aren’t as developed as I would have liked, though this is a much larger cast than in previous films.  Everything just moves from set piece to next set piece.  Having said all of that, at the end of the day, it was truly a story worth telling and I’m still glad I went to see it.  Plus, the final scene with Darth Vader (it’s not a spoiler to know that Darth Vader is in this movie, the trailers showed that he was) was well worth the price of admission.