Monday, January 15, 2018

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI -- My review

Okay, first of all I’m not a STAR WARS fanboy. I couldn’t recite the legend. I don’t remember if Chewbacca is really Princess Leia’s nephew or R2D2 is Darth Vader’s life coach. I just go to enjoy a rollicking space adventure film. I know who Luke Skywalker and the gang from the original STAR WARS are. And I know that family trees are important and everyone is searching for their father and when they find him they cry. Since we already have Ancestry.com and STAR WARS is in the future, you’d think it’s just matter of signing up for the six months free subscription. But I digress.

Point number two: I loved the original STAR WARS, clunky dialogue aside. I saw a preview screening before it was released and knew nothing at all about it. So I went in with zero expectations and was just blown away. No episode since has had the same affect, but that’s to be expected. So I don’t go into a STAR WARS movie ready to be knocked on my ass.

Point number three: These latest chapters are not targeted to my demographic. They throw us a bone by including Luke Skywalker and Leia and our favorite droids, but this is STAR WARS 2.0. It’s Rey’s world and Adam Driver has graduated from going backdoor on Lena Dunham to the new Darth Vader. Supporting rebel fighters prove that the Resistance now embraces diversity. And creatures in rubber masks round out the players. So if I don’t walk out of the theater with my world rocked, Disney is not going to give a shit.

But I do go into these movies wanting to like them. I want thrilling action scquences, swashbuckling lightsaber duals, space dogfights, overcoming incredible odds, dazzling special effects, heroics, villains dying horribly, magic, cliffhangers, exotic planets, comic moments, betrayal, mythology, advanced technology, a club scene featuring bizarre benign-looking aliens, combat, force fields, laser beams, explosions – and THE LAST JEDI had all of those. Every one.

And I was soooo bored.

Everything was expertly executed. But it was like watching ROCKY 17. The same tropes, the same storylines, the same jeopardy, the same goals, the same everything. They could have cut up the last two STAR WARS movies and reassembled them in a different order and I’d be hard-pressed to know the difference. Sorry. On it’s own or if it had been the first STAR WARS chapter I might have been completely awed. But all I could think during the movie was “why am I so bored? Giant alien ostriches are stampeding through an enormous casino sending space creatures flying while Rey and Adam Driver are using their lightsabers to chop down red storm troopers on a set left over from BARBARELLA and John Williams score is blaring and I’m checking my watch.

The movie was also bittersweet because of Carrie Fisher.

Disney will keep making these chapters until they drive the franchise into the ground.  And for now they make still take in big bucks although a new STAR WARS movie is no longer such a big event.  And as well-crafted as these new chapters may be, to me they still feel a little, well... forced. 

39 comments :

Peter said...

"Since we already have Ancestry.com and STAR WARS is in the future"

The future? It's "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away"!

The movie certainly didn't need to be 2 and a half hours. Cutting 30 minutes would have made it a tighter, leaner and more enjoyable ride. I liked it for the most part, but there was too much of a jokey tone to some scenes.

JJ Abrams now has a huge responsibility on his shoulders to knock it out the park with the final chapter.

Daniel said...

I actually liked "The Last Jedi" quite a bit, but I completely understand where you're coming from. The Star Wars story was completed in 2005. It was the rise and fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker told in six chapters. It had a very definite ending with "Return of the Jedi." My problem with the new movies (I liked the most recent one but really disliked "The Force Awakens") is that there's no story left to tell. The universe has been saved. How do you top that? You can't, you just end up repeating what came before. I equate it to "Ghostbusters II." They saved the world in part one, so any sort of encore is just going to be repetitive and feel hollow. American media companies (and I include television in this too) need to know when to let a story come to its natural conclusion. But there's too much money to be made so they just keep extending these properties past their expiration dates.

David Dreger said...

Ken,

I couldn't agree more. I was so bored. It is as if they (the director and movie execs) through in all the necessary elements into a giant mixer and dumped out this movie.

There is no heart to the movie. I didn't care for any of the new characters.

I'm now re-watching the original Star Wars just to get this bad memory out of my head.

Thanks for your review.

Brian Phillips said...

I liked it more than you did, but I don't disagree with your viewpoint. I also thought that there were 2 or 3 endings in the movie, making it go on too long.

FRIDAY QUESTION: Which characters did you find it hardest to write for? This is not a question about difficult actors, this is solely about the character.

Kim T. Bené said...

So true Ken so true.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I'm a huge Star Wars fan.
And this was not a good film.

It's all about the Storyline.

Yes, several generations of us were bored watching it.

Storylines that went nowhere? Characters that said ridiculous things? Not believe premises?

Check, check, check.

AND THE WORST SIN?
It didn't create excitement for the next episode. At least the Force Awakens did.

Tom said...

Regarding "a long time ago," I think it was Roger Ebert who pointed out that the time frame of the movie could have been far into OUR future, so the events in the film could have taken place in the past -- from the movie's point of view.
My thoughts on this film were that way too much of it seemed like a parody of Star Wars films and it went on a half hour too long. The entire casino subplot could have been deleted and some other way of getting the codebreaker onto the ship could have been figured out.

Gary Conrad said...

YES. Thanks Ken.

Mitchell Hundred said...

To be honest, the biggest disappointment for me was that Domhnall Gleeson didn't have any robot-related disasters. What with the events in that Black Mirror episode he was in, and Ex Machina, and then The Force Awakens, I've come to view his entire career as depicting an escalating series of robot-fueled mishaps.

Other than that, though, I thought it was very good. I've heard someone remark that the new trilogy works best if you view it as a sort of meta-commentary on the franchise as a whole and its effect on our culture, and in my opinion that's about right. If it all seems familiar, that's presumably because the filmmakers were trying to evoke that kind of recognition while putting the same things in new contexts.

Brent Alles said...

Tough but fair, Ken. As a Star Wars fan since around, oh, age 3 or so (back in the 70's :) ), I personally loved it. I loved that they were willing to take chances and do things differently. I wasn't thrilled with all of the choices that Rian Johnson made, but for the most part, I thought this was an interesting new direction to take. We'll see what JJ does with the 9th one, I guess.

Peter said...

I don't know, Tom. I'd like to believe there are alien civilizations out there who already have technology far advanced to ours. Maybe not having laser battles in space, but able to traverse vast distances in the universe. Maybe they've observed earth from afar and decided we're too primitive to be worthy of visiting.

BobinVT said...

The low point for me was Laura Dern as an admiral, who shows up in a formal ball gown with perfectly coiffed purple hair. This from one of the leaders of the "rag tag" rebels. She then pilots her ship on a kamikaze mission, blowing up an enemy star destroyer on which two rebel heroes are held captive. Cut to interior of the star destroyer after admiral Laura does her thing. Everything is death and destruction inside. All the storm troopers guarding the heroic rebel duo are dead, but they themselves are unscathed. Too much stuff like this, there has to be at least a sniff of believability even in a space fantasy.

Phil said...


You went to the preview screening of the original Star Wars before it was released !!!

Please tell us more Ken.

Wiki has a big article on Star Wars and its making. How no one was enthusiastic and all.... But no one talks about the preview screening and the how it was received by the audience.

Please tell us more about your experience and audience reaction. Was George Lucas there?

Surely it should be a post. no no .... a podcast episode :)

Pat Reeder said...

I commend you for your diligence in sitting through another 2-1/2 hours of this endlessly reshuffled deck of space malarkey just to review it. I decided this had become boring, stupid and repetitive and told all the story the makers had to tell about 1/3rd of the way through watching "The Phantom Menace." I jumped off the "Star Wars" ride at that point and never looked back.

YEKIMI said...

I would have LOVED to have seen a preview screening of Star Wars before it had hit the screens back in the 70s. When I started managing a theater off & on [between radio gigs]in the early 80s the film companies used to show previews to theater owners/managers to entice them to book the film into their theaters. The fun part of that was seeing some scenes that did not end up in the movie when it was finally released [a scene from one of the "Porky's" movie which almost made me wet my pants laughing wasn't in the final release.] No previews are shown anymore, at least in my area.
Back when Star Wars was released, and before anyone knew it would be a huge hit, only one theater in my area was playing it. They ended up running it for over 6 months. That's unheard of nowadays. Now the film companies demand you play it for at least two weeks and very often four weeks or longer. I know we passed on a couple of films because they wanted us to play it for 12 weeks! Most films today are good for an opening weekend and then that's it. We played the Star Wars: The Last Jedi [3D one screen, 2D the other] and by the 3rd day it was down to one screen. The theater didn't even come close to selling out. Our other theater in a larger town was even worse. By the third week you could have thrown a bowling ball around in the theater and not have come close to hitting anybody. I'm a special effects geek so I watch the movies first as a fanboy geek. Then I'll watch it again and start noticing the errors, plot holes, etc. There were a LOT of them in The Last Jedi. Overall the film left me feeling "meh".

Yawn said...

May the "forced" be with you. But not me. How people still get excited about lightsaber CGI battles is beyond me.

Pete Grossman said...

On another note - I remember you mentioned you believed David Letterman did not retire, rather, he was fired. Letterman confirmed that you were right, stating twice, on his new Netflix show, "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction" with Barack Obama. Ah, showbiz.

tb said...

I agree with BobinVT. Everyone's dead except our two heroes who get up and dust themselves off. It was all I could do not to scream out "OH COME ON!" in the theater. And I'm done with 3-D, it's just as stupid a gimmick now as it was in the freakin' '50's

Max Clarke said...

Good review, pretty much what I suspected about the movie.

This will be the first Star Wars movie I've skipped. The next one will be easier, like skipping some of the James Bond movies.

One reason is that I've lost interest in space warfare.

Early in the Star Wars episodes, they seemed to be about something more. But now it's clear so long as they make Star Wars movies, it will be like watching the military-industrial-intelligence-terrorism complex fighting in space. Kids growing up will never know what life was like before the United States entered a state of perpetual war, invading countries at will. The episodes Disney will deliver for the rest of their lives will simply reinforce the feeling that war is normal.

Can Disney ever make a Star Wars movie in which there isn't war? Would Disney ever develop a screenplay for an episode which lacked battles and planet-killing weapons?

I'm not waiting.







J Lee said...

Rian Johnson did sort of take the mythos of the original trilogy's characters and go through them like Anakin Skywalker did with the younglings in Episode III. Which is why the most hardcore fans of the series are the angriest, while more casual watchers (including movie critics) gave Episode VIII higher marks -- if you've invested 30-40 years in caring for the characters, their denouncement here, following Han's death in Episode VII, makes the hard-core fans think all their past connections with the series were meaningless, because Johnson's downgraded the importance of the original cast and in Luke's case, made his motivations go against who fans had thought he was (from the perspective of the blog's host, it would be like giving some writer-director a chance to update 'MASH' with the characters 30 years older, and revealing that Hawkeye's a bitter crank who's lost his license for malpractice after a series of patient deaths, Radar abandoned his mother in Iowa, and Father Mulcahy was arrested for pedophilia).

The series will still make money for Disney. But the $750 million drop from Episode VII to Episode VIII is well above the normal decline for second films, and shows "Last Jedi" isn't getting the multiple viewings from hard-core fans that the earlier episodes (even the not-very-good prequel episodes) received.

Peter said...

"Can Disney ever make a Star Wars movie in which there isn't war?"

Assuming your question is serious, it's a bit like asking will there ever be a Batman film in which there isn't Batman.

MikeN said...

I saw Thor 3 last week, and the showing was sold out, two months after release. Star Wars is empty.

The ending of Last Jedi should not have worked, because the enemy ships should not have been in a single block, but spread out vertically too. This mistake is made way too often in space shows and movies.

I thought it would have been good if they did a Back to the Future 2 ending and just stopped when Luke steps outside. Excellent final shot.

MattP said...

Ken your review of this latest Star Wars instalment isn't far from my own. I left the movie feeling unsure how I felt about it. Now, weeks later, I still am unsure. My review can be summed up in a word I never hoped to utter in relation to a new Star Wars movie: "Meh".

Donald Benson said...

The original film was a snappy, self-contained adventure that hinted at a larger universe: It opened with a Flash Gordon serial-style recap, and showed the villain surviving to fight another day. The two sequels fleshed out the original premise, and had the advantage of knowing there'd be two sequels.

The prequel trilogy was a misfire. Where the original trilogy was straightforward and iconic, this was packed with intricate politics and even offered a mock scientific basis for the Force. It would be like a prequel to Errol Flynn's "Adventures of Robin Hood" focusing on Sir Guy of Gisborne running a complicated takeover of the mead market. There was a weird determination to make Real Serious Movies, which translated into gratuitously dark and unpleasant story elements. Also, too much CGI -- whole sequences might have only a few actual actors, and even those might be stunt people or CGI creations. There was no chance to suspend disbelief with such outsized "sets" and impossible camera moves.

The new films are launching an open-ended franchise, a lot like the Marvel superheroes (and what Warner is trying to do with the DC superheroes). Mobs of characters and backstories to support not only sequels but park attractions, TV shows, and a galaxy of products and content for other media. They're not dependent on a single star or two; Stars Wars itself is the draw. The next film may wrap up a few characters' journeys, but it will also be about introducing elements of the next wave.

Perhaps the best movie "saga" was Harry Potter. In addition to everything else, especially a cast of child actors who grew up talented and sane, it had a clear end point. I'm sure Warner would have loved to follow Potter into adulthood with a parade of Other Guys Who Must Not Be Named and full-grown sorceresses, but Rowling had clout and probably excellent lawyers.

Chris said...

Yeah, I was rolling my eyes so hard I actually missed a major plot reveal. The bit where it turns out that Rey swiped the ancient tomes of Jedi wisdom or whatever. I had to be told about it later because I was just... not... engaged.

But I shouldn't have been that surprised at my reaction. When I saw Thor Ragnarok, the trailer for Last Jedi played before Black Panther. Last Jedi? AT-ATs and light sabers and storm troopers and.... I honestly felt I'd seen it all before. Meanwhile, Black Panther featured a high tech African city, a chase scene that involved running up a building, slashing out tires... and sure there were some parallels, obviously, I felt excited. I was on the edge of my seat.

Oh yes. Will our heroes escape from... did it matter... no it didn't... oh well... back to the drudgery.

Mike said...

@J Lee: following Han's death in Episode VII
Well, that's saved me a couple of hours watching that film. Or any that follow, I suppose. Thanks for nothing.

Mike Doran said...

The following has absolutely nothing to do with Star Wars or any of its progeny, about which I couldn't care less.

Call it a Friday Question, if you wish.

Did any of you who read this happen to see this past Sunday night's (1/14/18) episode of Madame Secretary?
And if so, how did you react to it?

I know, Ken - you don't want to do politics anymore, and I don't blame you a bit.
But since this was the first time that an American dramatic show dealt with the implications of the 25th Amendment, and since I haven't seen any reaction whatever on the 'Net to this show (correction welcomed if necessary) - well, I am curious ...

Rob D said...

MikeN, I don’t doubt doubt your observation that The Last Jedi screening was almost empty at your local multiplex while Thor 3was sold out, however, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, Thor 3 pulled in an average of only $1600 per screen this past weekend compared to $3900 for The Last Jedi.

Kaleberg said...

I remember the Star Wars preview in Boston. There was an invited showing the night before the opening. Half of the MIT AI Lab went, and everyone who saw it raved about it. As a friend of mine put it, "It was realistic. Everything was beat to s--t." I had seen a television ad a few weeks before that, so there was no way I was going to miss the opening. I was very impressed with what I saw.

Movies had worked themselves into a rut in the 1970s. Westerns were dead. People didn't believe that stuff anymore and some of their racial attitudes were repulsive. With jet travel and television it was harder and harder to make adventure movies that made any sense. No one was going to buy a handsome American crusader seducing the queen of Samarkand and helping her fight Genghis Khan. (That was a real movie.) Movies needed a new Graustark, a new setting for adventure stories and a new ethos regarding the exotic.

So, Lucas made a fairly good World War II movie, the kind inspired by those old Mickey Roonie, hey kids, let's put on a show things, except with an impossible raid instead of insane musical production numbers. It was set in a fantasy galaxy, sort of Flash Gordon but with much better special effects. It worked. It was the prototype movie of the future.

I rather liked The Last Jedi. Carrie Fisher isn't going to live forever. They needed to introduce a new cast of characters, and they didn't want to do a Star Trek: Next Generation. They wanted a more direct link to the old franchise. Maybe that was a tactical mistake. They've introduced some interesting new characters and set up a rather hopeless situation. It's much more like the first X-Men movie or the first Avengers movie rather than the set up for a trilogy. It's more a set up for an anthology.

That said, one thing I liked about the original Star Wars movie was its short running time. The Last Jedi could have been edited a bit more tightly. Unlike the original Star Wars, it wasn't just copying a feel good World War II movie. It felt more like the movie equivalent of a pilot introducing a new series. Pilots tend to run longer than the typical episode because they have a lot more to do, and this movie sure had a lot to do.

P.S. Evening gown and purple hair seemed perfect for a kamikaze move. Hey, let Deanna Troi have the command for once.

Sean MacDonald said...

I'm not a Star Wars fan, but I watch the movies. The parts of this latest movie that I liked were all of the scenes with Luke.

What I didn't like: This movie suffered from "middle chapter" syndrome. Because it was part two of a three-part sequel, nothing major could happen. The heroes couldn't win any significant battles (they closest they come is at the beginning of the movie which is a very Pyrrhic victory). And so, the movie became about failure. The heroes come up with one elaborate plan after another, and every time, they fail. And so, they have to figure out how to cope with failure. That could have been an interesting premise for a movie, but maybe not for this one.

Andrew said...

Nothing about flying Leia aka Mary Poppins? Comedy gold.

Peter said...

Mike said...
"Well, that's saved me a couple of hours watching that film. Or any that follow, I suppose. Thanks for nothing."

The movie came out over two years ago. You can't seriously expect spoiler alerts.

Is it too soon to reveal Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father?

cleek said...

"Nothing about flying Leia aka Mary Poppins? Comedy gold."

ugh. i had managed to block that from my memory.

Ralph C. said...

I didn’t see it. Now I don’t have to. Thank you. :-)

RF Burns said...

Mike D:

I watched "Madame Secretary" this past Sunday. I enjoy watching the show most of the time, if for nothing else the interplay between the characters, especially SecState and her husband. The plots, on the other hand...

I'm getting weary of the "we must save the world in 48 minutes" business every episode, and the plots are getting more unbelievable every week. I think they are running out of stories to tell. The most recent show was so on-the-nose, I halfway expected the reveal to be that it was all a training exercise. The ending sequence where the President gave his "oops I have a brain tumor, sorry for acting out" speech, with the stirring shots of Washington monuments, Statue of Liberty, etc. was just flat out corn.

About the only thing that rang true in the episode was the clandestine meeting of the Cabinet to vote on invoking the 25th Amendment. That sequence actually had some suspense.

In these times, I understand the appeal of doing a show about removing a President because there are questions about his sanity. If you are going to take a shot at the current POTUS with your TV show, you will need to do a better job than "Madame Secretary" just did. That was a clean miss, if that was indeed the intent.

ADmin said...

So you raise an important point, Ken. At least, as far as I'm concerned. This movie was definitely NOT aimed at my demo. Which is fine... except really, it's not. It FELT like it was grandfathering me in or, more accurately, OUT of their concern. It was like someone giving me tickets to a Rolling Stones show and seeing Mick & Keith introduce Katy Perry and walk off.

MikeN said...

24 already did the 25th Amendment angle. They solved it with having the inexperienced President bring in the predecessor black President in for advice, then he tells him to leave the room to show he's in charge. Secretly, he is letting the predecessor run things, it was all for show. Even more secretly, he is the bad guy behind the entire plot, colluding with the Russians, and ends up arrested.

cadavra said...

I did enjoy the film. No one goes to a Star Wars movie expecting much depth--by Lucas' own admission, it's just a high-tech "Flash Gordon." Should they stop making them? Sure--as soon as people stop going to them. It's still show business, folks.

David G. said...

Between "Force Awakens" and now "The Last Jedi", I challenge any movie goer -- ANY movie goer -- to explain what the purpose is of Finn being in these movies.

Take him out, and nothing changes in the story of either movie. And, in the case of this most recent installment, eliminating his ultimately meaningless ship-to-planet-to-other-ship side story would trim down the running time by around 25 minutes.