Saturday, December 16, 2017

First, Last, and Always a Jedi

I might've enjoyed Star Wars: The Last Jedi more if I hadn't been sick. I've had this flu for about a week and it feels like everything's sort of at a distance. Maybe that's the reason at the end of the movie I didn't get that elation I associate with the end of a Star Wars film. I just thought, "That was fine." There were some things I thought were definite flaws but I thought it was better written than Force Awakens and it was generally an agreeable way to spend over two hours in a comfortable chair.

Spoilers after the screenshot

There's a long article on Vulture about how this is the most populist Star Wars movie yet. There's plenty of support for this argument--Luke (Mark Hamill) schooling Rey (Daisy Ridley) on the arrogance of the Jedi Order, the focus on working class characters, the reveal that Rey's parents aren't royalty. On the other hand, one could point to plenty of instances where the film argues we should give up a measure of our freedom to authority figures. The whole point of the Holdo (Laura Dern) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) plot was that sometimes it's best to trust your superiors even if what they're ordering you to do seems completely ridiculous. And after all his pissing on the Jedi, Luke seems proud at the end to say that he definitely won't be the last one. If this movie were in any way meant to be a comment on the 2016 U.S. election, then Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) offering allegiance to Rey on the grounds that her lack of pedigree is immaterial to him, with Princess Leia representing the wise establishment, one can argue it's downright anti-populist, at least as far as the Donald Trump brand goes.

Though I like Kylo Ren a lot more than Donald Trump. The strongest part of the movie for me was his relationship with Rey. I wasn't one of the people who thought Rey basically being Superman in Force Awakens was a flaw, for the character or the movie, but the fact that she's more vulnerable and fallible in Last Jedi makes her a lot more interesting. The fact that she seriously begins to question the simple, straightforward hatred she has for Ren is a nice way of opening the character up for the audience, because the questions she's struggling with become the same ones the audience is asking. Can Ren be saved? Is it okay to start kind of liking him after he killed Han Solo? The fact that physical attraction is involved makes these questions unexpectedly sexy. It's like the relationship between Han and Leia in Empire taken to far more serious levels--Ren really is a scoundrel.

But things are nicely complicated by the two sides of the story, from Luke and Ren, about why Ren destroyed the Jedi temple. With all the echoing of things from earlier movies, I was surprised neither said, "So what he told you was true . . . from a certain point of view." Luke standing over Ren with his lightsabre is something that has vastly different meaning depending on whose point of view you're seeing it from.

Snoke's (Andy Serkis) biggest mistake is not having the imagination to see things from Ren's point of view. He can use the Force to read his motives but he fails to appreciate how his manipulation of Ren, connecting him with Rey to exploit Ren's inner conflict, would make Ren feel.

The fight scene in the aftermath of Snoke's death was my favourite part of the film. Suddenly all the cards have been tossed up in the air and who knows where they'll land. Rey and Ren fighting back to back is one of the nicest frenemy team-ups I've seen. I'm not even going to question why these red stormtroopers are so loyal to a dead Snoke.

I liked how Rian Johnson spent time cleaning up some of Force Awakens' flaws. One of the best is in Johnson's treatment of Hux (Domhall Gleeson). He was a joke in Force Awakens but we were meant to take him seriously--here, the movie knows he's a joke and Snoke seems much smarter for treating him that way. Last Jedi has some of its own flaws, though, mainly involving the casino planet and the new character, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), who's incredibly dull. John Boyega, in my opinion the strongest performer of all the new trilogy actors, is sadly wasted. His much more natural performance makes the budding romantic relationship between him and Rose seem totally mismatched. It's like shipping Spike Spiegal with Princess Toadstool.

That's primarily why the casino planet plot doesn't work, though the surprisingly generic 1940s look to the place didn't help. It almost felt like Star Wars Holiday Special territory. The war profiteer stuff was interesting but has been handled much better and with more complexity on Clone Wars. On the other hand, I thought Benicio De Toro was great. It was like he was reprising his role from The Usual Suspects and he completely dominated every scene he was in. I really hope he's back for the next movie.

Another standout performance was from Mark Hamill. This guy deserves a "Most Improved Over the Course of a Lifetime" award. He's come a long way from the one note whiny kid from A New Hope and Corvette Summer. But I knew he had this in him when I heard his performance in The Killing Joke, really, by far the best part of that adaptation. Killing off Luke was a really big mistake. Hamill has so much vitality and skill and there's no real narrative need to have him gone. Well, obviously there's the whole subtext about the old passing away for the new, but I really hated that scene with Yoda (Frank Oz).

Luke didn't bother to read the Jedi Texts because they were boring? Really? They're not even big books. Even if they're boring, fuck, man, it's your job. Work isn't always supposed to be easy. I might be accused of reading too much into it but knowing how much college students rely on cliff notes and Wikipedia summaries I was really not enthusiastic about a scene depicting book burning.

Luke was also at the centre of another of my least favourite parts of the film, his climactic battle with Kylo Ren. How did Ren not notice Luke was using the lightsabre Ren and Rey had just destroyed? How did it not occur to him that Luke survived the AT-AT blasts because of some kind of hologram or projection? I sincerely doubt there were many people in the audience who didn't pick up on it right away. And why would Luke give Leia phantom dice? Why would she leave them behind?

I did like the look of the salt planet though I suspect the guy deciding to taste the dirt some other guy had just walked on will end up being the butt of many a joke. I like that Johnson was trying to expand the sensory palette in giving the audience a literal taste of what they were seeing but who licks weird red dirt from someone's footprint?

But the movie had much more good than bad for me. I didn't like it as much as Rogue One but I liked it more than Force Awakens. If I were to rank the movies now, the list would probably be 1. Empire Strikes Back, 2. A New Hope, 3. Revenge of the Sith, 4. The Phantom Menace, 5. Rogue One, 6. Return of the Jedi, 7. The Last Jedi, 8. Attack of the Clones, 9. The Force Awakens.

No comments:

Post a Comment