Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Salem Watches Star Wars: On The Last Jedi Weekend

OK, there's actually spoilers in this one... for a month-old movie.

I saw it. So, after my trepidation last week, how did it measure up?

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is... a movie. Goodnight, everyone!

[Salem's attempt to sneak out has been intercepted with Erin carrying a very large shotgun.]

Thanks, Erin. That brings to mind the perfect metaphor. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is what would happen if you took a bunch of Star Wars, dropped it down the barrel of a very large shotgun, and fired it one-handed without aiming at a theatre screen. Minus the monetary damages and police inquiry, of course. Now please put the shotgun down?

There's a lot to love here. There's a whole lot of things that work really, really well, but there's also a lot that either doesn't work at all or could have been easily avoided (and made for a tighter, more focused film). Let's talk about the good, shall we?

I have found my spirit animal, and it is Grumpy Luke. Grumpy Luke, living on his own on an island, surrounded by the bones of an ancient religion and waiting to die. Grumpy Luke, who so casually tosses his (and his father's) lightsaber over his shoulder and stalks away. Mark Hamill may have voiced reservations about how his character was handled, but I think he did a magnificent job with what he was given, and I feel what he was given wasn't all that bad. I've heard complaints about how he wouldn't have tried to kill Ben, given his choice to save Vader, but in the context of the scene, he faltered for a moment and that's what caused the whole thing. "Just one faltering moment causes catastrophe down the line" seems to be a running theme with Jedi, as what created Vader was Obi-Wan's cockiness and underestimation of Darth Maul that caused a worthier teacher to die. The entire sequence with Rey and Luke on the island is really great, and I wish the movie would have focused more on this.

And speaking of Rey, she has finally grown some kind of character with the revelation of her parents being absolute nobodies that sold her for beer money, and is starting to earn what she was given in the first film now that her defiant self-image has been shattered. Something seems visually off about her, though, and I can't put my finger on it; given that it's been 2 years between movies but mere seconds on-screen, the difference is a little jarring.

Most of the rest of the cast does well. Leia, Finn, and Poe are well done, Poe especially getting a lot of character arc, and you can't screw up Chewie and R2. I've heard complaints about Leia's "Mary Poppins" moment, but given we saw her Force sensitivity first flare way back in Empire and it's been 30 years, I'm more than okay with her having a strong Force moment.

Kylo Ren finally becomes interesting, with a more fleshed-out backstory and real personal vulnerability. His moments of flirting with the Light really make me hope that by the end of the next movie he and Rey switch places, with Rey falling to the Dark side and Ren redeemed, but having to live with the atrocities he's committed. The throne room fight scene, with the most hilarious red herring of the entire series, is fantastic. Hands down, the best fight scene in all of Star Wars, topping my previous of Chirrut taking apart a squad of Stormtroopers in Rogue One. When I try to explain what I like about fight scenes to people, I always point to Liam Neeson in Rob Roy. Swinging a sword for more than a few seconds turns into hard work, and Rey and Kylo take a real beating from Snoke's guards, nearly losing several times.

Now onto the things that don't work.

Admiral Holdo. Look, I was going into this biased, as Holdo herself is a meme already, but I'm going to look past the joke of Vice Admiral Gender Studies and criticize her by her actions and her words. From the moment that Poe first speaks to her, she takes every opportunity to be insufferably smug and snide. I understand that Poe was recently demoted and has a reputation as a hothead, but I've been in a position of leadership. I wasn't the admiral of a military, but even I know that if you have a recently disciplined hothead under your wing, you let him know that you're aware of that, but you keep him at least somewhat informed and you give him something to do. Holdo basically blows him off and at no point even drops a hint that she has a plan other than "Keep flying that-a-way." All she had to say was "Thank  you for your input, Commander, there is a plan, and this is what I need you to do" and then tell him to go make sure all the ships are properly fueled or something in case we need them. Holdo reminds me of those Civil War generals that were promoted because they contributed monetarily and became war heroes, but were absolute disasters when it came to actual leadership.

Which brings us to Canto Bight. If Holdo had told Poe there was a plan, there would have been absolutely no need for Finn and Rose to go there. There would have been no need for a Disney film to bash rich people, no need for an alien horse race, and no need for us to pretend that Finn and Rose have any chemistry whatsoever. And no need for Benicio Del Toro's squinty, stuttery face to show up and be absolutely pointless. The entire casino planet subplot was unnecessary, and only served to distract from the opportunity for more quiet character moments and training sequences between Rey and Luke, or the opportunity to maybe make the already tech-savant Rose the one that breaks the security on the Imperial ship.

I'm torn on the salt planet. It was a neat idea, and those crystal foxes are adorable, but there were parts that worked and parts that didn't. The face-off between Luke and Kylo Ren was hilarious, as the movie turned into an absolute anime by the end of that sequence with Luke's casual "See you around, kid." The salt-speeders were terrible, though. They had no guns, no offensive capabilities on display, and couldn't even fly, instead just sort of skimming on a single ski. They weren't even really big enough to damage anything they crashed into, despite how bad of an idea Finn had.

Also, let's stop fooling ourselves. Captain Phasma is not a good character. Captain Phasma is a waste of a character. She shows up, looks cool, gets smacked down in a humiliating way, and exits the movie ingloriously. I give up. They're not going to do anything with Phasma.

There was a good movie in there, somewhere. The Force Awakens was a better movie, even if it did play it safe, but I'd have left a good third of this movie on the editing room floor, as it's so incredibly uneven in its current state. This is still worth a watch to keep up with the Star Wars mythos, but it's a hard sell.

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