Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"The Last Jedi" (With Spoilers)

There's a scene early in the film that I feel is a good test of how a viewer is likely to react to "The Last Jedi." Princess Leia's has just been ejected from her ship into space, and is floating in the debris field, appearing to be dead. Then suddenly she revives and appears to fly with the use of the Force until she's safe onboard the vessel once more. It's a somewhat ridiculous visual out of context. However, the sight of Carrie Fisher seemingly coming back to life, backed by John Williams' immortal theme for Leia, left me teary eyed.

And so did the throne room fight scene. And the return of the puppet Yoda. And Luke Skywalker fighting Kylo Ren. And the glorious binary sunset leading into Luke fading away into nothingness. I know that the film was overlong, had a lot of weaker material, and really didn't do right by some of its characters, but the parts that were wonderful were so wonderful that I'm willing to forgive it more than I probably should. Frankly, this was the "Star Wars" film that I needed in order to stay invested in this universe. It answered all the questions I had, gave me nostalgic callbacks that were actually meaningful, and realized some pretty damn ambitious filmmaking. We got new Force powers! A kamikaze hyperspace jump attack! And Rey and Kylo Ren fought those sinister looking elite guards in the red armor, who always looked way too cool to just be background extras!

Clearly there were things that didn't work, or weren't developed enough to pass muster. Just about everything in Canto Bight fell into that category, which was a shame because what little we saw of the planet made me want to see more. Rose and Finn's romance was very awkwardly put together, but I still like both characters and appreciate what the filmmakers were trying to do. Much more problematic was the material with Poe Dameron and Vice-Admiral Holdo, one of those dreaded extended conflicts that could have been sorted out if people were communicating properly. I don't think it would have taken much to improve that storyline either. As memorable as her exit was, this still felt like a waste of Laura Dern in what could have potentially been a very strong role. I suspect that the writers simply weren't as invested in these characters and their stories as they were with others.

These are many of the same issues that cropped up in the other post-Disney "Star Wars" movies, particularly "Rogue One" in its deeply flawed first and second acts. There's been a lot of chatter online about how the film was actively trying to subvert the fanbase's expectations related to a lot of the little mysteries that were set up in "The Force Awakens," like Rey's parentage. I think the issue was really that there were a lot of clever ideas that weren't handled well, not everything fit right, and the film gave some answers that people didn't like. It also had no end of tonal clashes and pacing problems. At 150 minutes, this was the longest "Star Wars" film and it certainly felt that way. Even with the bigger climactic moments sprinkled throughout, "The Last Jedi" is often a slog, and exhausting to watch.

However, it still got enough right that I'm plenty invested in where the story is going next. I expect that JJ Abrams coming back will mean a much more restrained final film, but also one that will have a lot more room to expand into new territory since "The Last Jedi" provided such a strong, definitive conclusion to Luke Skywalker's story. I'm looking forward to Rian Johnson making more "Star Wars" films, and maybe some of the problems he had here might be alleviated by being able to tackle a whole trilogy from the beginning. Another writer or two in the mix would also help. Johnson's got solid filmmaking fundamentals, but could use a little more finesse with the dialogue.

I'd expected to be much cooler on the movie after all the sturm and drang about it being such a disappointment to a certain segment of the fanbase. Instead, I'm absolutely delighted. Sure, the movie has flaws, and big ones. However, it was also made with love and care and more guts than I would have thought possible. And if it's got so many people this upset, it probably did something right.

"Star Wars" is dead. Long live "Star Wars."


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