December 31, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Old and The New

Posted in Pop Culture at 2:50 pm by chavalah

WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW

“It’s time for Luke Skywalker to have lines again.” 😛

I thought that I’d written a public review of “The Force Awakens” two years ago, but it turns out that I did not. Suffice to say…it left me cold. I realized, after I’d sussed out all of my feelings, that perhaps I now have greater empathy for the disappointment that “The Phantom Menace” inspired in so many fans. This was NOT where I wanted to see Star Wars go. I wanted to see Leia in political power, with perhaps Han by her side, and Luke training a new order of Jedi. I wanted the antagonistic threat to come from the fringes, rather than the new trilogy re-tooling old ground with the rebels still rebels and The First Order still the Empire. I wanted something more akin to the Expanded Universe novels (I know that some folks even wanted to see Thrawn as the big baddie) though I also respect that J.J. Abrams wanted to create something original. Insofar as “The Force Awakens” is original, that is. >:D #TeamShade

…actually, having watched “The Force Awakens” for the third time ever this weekend, I’m a little more forgiving of it. I suppose this is largely because after “The Last Jedi,” I feel more affiliation for the new characters. “The Last Jedi” on it’s own is–something else. It largely follows the same path as the originals. Overwhelmingly powerful bad guys have the beleaguered good guys on the run, but with a last minute infusion of hope the good guys can win…the battle if not the war. Some of the dialogue in Rey’s storyline is definitely lifted from Return of the Jedi. (Though no “I have a bad feeling about this.” 😮 What’s happening here?! :P) But there are parts of this movie that are different than anything we’ve ever seen before, too. The Resistance is more fractured than ever was the Rebel Alliance. And then there’s Luke, and his controversial story arc.

Below, I’ve divided the episode into two rough plotlines. Here’s one of very few structural problems with the movie—it was too long and a bit too convoluted to shift between that many people all of the time. I also found most of the visuals to be underwhelming. I know I’m not supposed to believe this, as a Star Wars fan, but man did the worlds of the prequels feel more alive to me. But hey—at least with this sequel trilogy, the humor actually lands, so. 😛 Oh, Jar Jar. We shall not speak of you again.

The Resistance Runs from The First Order

Plot objectives: show the Resistance as beleaguered underdogs, running from and falling to the menacing First Order fleet. Set up tension between Poe and leadership about how best to resolve this. Transitioning to Finn and Rose’s secret mission to find a code breaker, which ultimately fails but leads to a subplot about war profiteering. With their backs against the wall, reintroduce hope and a spark to inspire oppressed people everywhere.

A lot of this plot is similar to the original series, just magnified. We’ve seen, before, how the rebels are martially outnumbered, but little distinct attention has been given to the idea of oppressed peoples. It’s certainly something that is very resonant, and often talked about in today’s political climate. “The Phantom Menace” actually touched upon the issue of slavery, too, but it was much more of a footnote.

But we also see the rebels as more fractured than ever, too, with a stunning change from protocol. In “A New Hope,” “The Return of the Jedi,” even “The Phantom Menace” and “The Force Awakens,” it’s standard procedure for the good guys to throw everything they have at a baddie ship, even when they lose most of their fighters along the way. Yet when Poe attempts to do it here, he gets shafted. 😮 Wha?? I mean frankly, I kinda agree with Leia on this one, but it’s certainly a change from her younger, more brash behavior. Maybe growing older, and living a life that seems rife with conflict, she’s grown more wary. I’ll always regret that we didn’t get more time with her character.

Instead, Leia is taken out of commission and Poe gets a new superior adversary, Admiral Holdo. I can only imagine that this is because the movie wanted to sow doubts in our heads about her trustworthiness. If it was Leia, we might tell Poe to stop acting like a cocky flyboy, but with Holdo it’s like…who is this lady? We, as the audience, know Poe better; perhaps we should stick with him.

And so Poe sends Finn and new character Rose to find a something something to save the day, yadda yadda, the real point is to take a look at the gauzy scum who got rich off of war profiteering, and for examples about how those in power abuse those without. Rose explains how she and her sister grew up on a mining colony that The First Order exploited for their military. Frankly I think this had more heart than Poe and Holdo arguing futilely, but we needed a reason to get them there.

A final new, and perhaps disquieting aspect of the Resistance–people actively decide to become suicide bombers. True, several people across all of the movies have died in the fight, and now we have “Rogue One” where Jyn and her allies are pretty much backed into a corner of self-sacrifice. It seems like a far more conscious choice, if not with Rose’s sister then definitely with Holdo. I suppose that until we see rebels aiming their bombs at First Order children, Gale Hawthrone style, I should just shrug it off. But then it’s like “The Last Jedi” is trying to have it’s cake and eat it, too, with Rose stopping Finn from doing another suicide run. Suddenly, it’s about how, paraphrasing, “we have to save what we love, not fight what we hate.” A-whaa? It’s a little late to take this particular high ground! Will Episode IX be focused less on military clashes and more on community building? At the very least we should get more character moments between folks, and I’m on board for that.

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa…the feels. :/

Jedi Dramaz

Plot objectives: explain why Luke has turned tail and run. Begin Rey’s training anyway. Open a connection between Rey and Kylo Ren so that they can test their backstories and intentions. Have Luke come to terms with things and pass on the reigns of the Jedi.

Some of the most originals-heavy material comes from this section. Rey tracks down Luke, the hermit Jedi Master, officially to bring him back into the fold, but really to learn about her affinity for the Force. She has a cave vision, kinda having to do with her parental drama, though I found it to be underwhelming. Worked much better in her scenes with Kylo Ren. And speaking of Kylo Ren, Rey leaves her training to go and rescue him. Now, in “An Empire Strikes Back,” Luke leaves his training to physically rescue his friends, Han and Leia. It takes awhile longer for him to try and save his father from the dark side, and frankly I felt that the Kylo/Rey stuff was a little rushed. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver have great chemistry, but they weren’t ready for The Crosswalk/Elevator Scene. 😛

Possibly unpopular sidenote–I never really liked explaining the draw to the dark side as “just because.” The struggle between your good and bad impulses should come from within yourself, not some external force. I think that’s what annoys me most about Kylo Ren’s journey; some of his dialogue about being pushed and pulled is way too esoteric. He needs more exploration of his interior motivations. Might I suggest something like this scene? Haters to the left, but I love it.

But my main issue with this plot is Luke. He’s always been my favorite character in Star Wars and–I’m ambivalent, feeling pushed and pulled myself. On the one hand, I love how he ties things back into the prequels, and points out that the Jedi grew corrupt under their own power. I also appreciate that he still has things to learn as a teacher. But there’s something so cynical about him running away because he thought that he failed. Maybe he could’ve been biding his time on that island, like Yoda but less kooky. 😛 Another ridiculous nitpick for me is that I kinda like how Mark Hamill plays the cranky, disillusioned old man, but also like Mark Hamill, I’m not sure how well it works for Luke Skywalker. Surely he could find a middle ground between “the Force should only belong to the Jedi” and “the Jedi need to end.”

And I’m also not sure what I think about the Jedi being so mythologized. If Luke’s been absent for so long, then why would he be the one to motivate the troops? Ultimately, he was largely a diversion—Rey saved the rebels while he took on his Obi-Wan mantle to be struck down and, presumably, brought back as a ghost in the next movie. (Sidenote—his death scene was pretty visually stunning. /feels) Apparently he’s regained his faith in what Jedi can be again, and he also repeated an annoying teacher line with both Rey and Kylo about how “everything you just said was wrong.” 😛 To me, I suppose this physical transition between Luke and Rey was the most visceral in showing how hope works. Otherwise, I think they were pretty heavy-handed about it in the dialogue, with Luke needing to restore the spark of hope, yadda yadda. I feel like they let actions speak for themselves more in the other movies.

…now I must eat crow, because the final conversation between Luke and Leia, which was purely philosophical, is what made me cry. :/ Granted, a lot of that had to do with the fact that this will be the last time that we see the actors, as well as the characters, together. Mark Hamill surely had no idea how poignant his “no one ever leaves us” line would be when he said it. None of us did, but in light of what happened to Carrie Fisher, may her memory be for a blessing, it’s what we needed to hear.


Stray observations:

  • I’ll always be bummed by how little we got to see Leia use the Force, and that’s why I’m giving a complete pass to her space walk. Also, that scene where Luke re-connected himself to the Force and they call out to each other…THE FEELS!
  • I’d kinda love for Finn and Rey to be very close friends without being lovers (though this is Star Wars, and romance has always been part of it.) Either way, I’m expecting Kylo Ren to attack start attacking Rey through her relationships.
  • Man am I glad that Snoke (who I always want to call Snopes) is dead…talk about BORING! Though he did lay down what sounds like a prophecy–big time dark force user (Kylo) vs big time light force user (Rey.) I’m not sure where they’re going with this because the movie is also keen on saying “let go of the past”–er, mighty strong words for the 9th Star Wars film in a never-ending franchise. 😛 But since the actors have chemistry, I’m here for it. I expect that this will replace my Skywalker family drama feels. 😦
  • Kylo Ren and General Hux have the feel of two emo fanboys competing to be lead guitarist in a Linkin Park cover band. 😛 I’m slowly growing to enjoy the comedy, but in terms of imperial scariness, it’s enough to make a girl miss Admiral Tarkin!
  • Billie Lourd better be in Episode IX (I’m sure she will be) and man do the cinnamon buns look good on her. 😛
  • Holdo, shockingly, tells the Resistance “god speed” rather than the traditional “May the Force be with you”—a-whaa? I’m assuming they’re not gunning for a message about religious diversity in Star Wars, so I guess it was an oversight. That’s what took my dad out of the story the most.
  • I feel sorry for Poe’s situation, but I don’t really like him as a character. It’s that cocky flyboy bit…in all honesty, *awkward, unpopular opinion cough* I’m not much of a Han fangirl, either. It’s always been a bit about Luke and Leia for me. I suppose, despite my other issues with “The Last Jedi”, it’ll stick with me for that.
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