Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Review: "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Earns Love, Draws Ire

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 3 (of 2018) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Running time:  152 minutes (2 hours, 32 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi action and violence
DIRECTOR:  Rian Johnson
WRITER:  Rian Johnson (based on characters created by George Lucas)
PRODUCERS:  Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Steve Yedlin (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Bob Ducsay
COMPOSER:  John Williams
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Frank Oz (voice), Billie Lourd, Joonas Suotamo, Amanda Lawrence, Jimmy Vee, and Justin Theroux

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a 2017 science fiction-fantasy action film written and directed by Rian Johnson.  It is the ninth movie in the Star Wars film franchise, which began with the 1977 Oscar-winning film, Star Wars, created by George Lucas.  The Last Jedi is also a direct sequel to Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and the eighth Star Wars “episode” film.  The Last Jedi focuses on a young woman who takes her first steps into the world of the Jedi and tries to unlock the mysteries of The Force and the secrets of the past.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi finds the wannabe galactic rulers, the First Order, and its Supreme Commander Snoke (Andy Serkis), ascendant.  The First Order moves to destroy the main base of its enemy, the ResistanceGeneral Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) struggles to keep the Resistance one step ahead of the First Order.  Heroic Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac),  leads the charge that gives the Resistance vessels the time they need to jump into hyperspace to escape the First Order.  However, escaping the First Order will not be so easy, and now stormtropper turned Resistance fighter, Finn (John Boyega), and mechanic, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), must execute a dangerous mission to allow the Resistance to really escape the First Order.

Meanwhile, budding Jedi, Rey (Daisy Ridley), is on the planet, Ahch-To, where she has found the long-missing Jedi Knight legend, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).  However, Luke refuses to initiate Rey into the ways of the Force and also declares that the Jedi Order must end with him.  Frustrated, Rey also discovers that she has some kind of psychic connection to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Luke's former student who turned to the Dark Side and now serves Snoke and the Resistance.

I found Star Wars: The Last Jedi to be as entertaining and as well-made as Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  It is quite thrilling at times and kept my on the proverbial edge of my seat hoping our heroes could survive the overwhelming First Order odds against them.  The Last Jedi is not exactly a “non-stop thrill machine,” but it is thrilling.  But neither The Last Jedi nor The Force Awakens are as good as 2016's Rogue One: A Star Wars film.

I thought about why I feel that way.  I thought about it, and I think that The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi both suffer because Star Wars creator George Lucas did not have direct hand in making them.

For all the criticism leveled against Lucas by critics and fans over the decades, especially because of the Lucas directed “prequel” films, (Star Wars: Episodes I to III), Lucas is a wildly imaginative and inventive filmmaker and storyteller.  Each prequel film had enough subplots, characters, settings, worlds, ideas, and creatures to power its own film trilogy.  Lucas' weakness (relatively speaking) seems to be in the execution of telling a  film story via screenplay and directing (especially in directing actors).  Visually, Lucas' films seem almost too big for even the biggest movie screens, but that size and scale comes at the cost of the narrative.

The Force Awakens (Episode VII) and The Last Jedi (Episode VIII) are disciplined and narrow in focus, in terms of plot.  The Last Jedi focuses on (1) the struggle of the Resistance to escape destruction at the hands of the First Order and (2) Rey's quest to discover the secrets of the Jedi and the Force.  The Last Jedi is so focused that it looses the sense of wonder that permeates the original Star Wars films.  Instead, The Last Jedi references and remakes scenes from Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983).  Some people complained that The Force Awakens was a kind of remake and reboot of the original Star Wars film, but The Last Jedi does not do that as much.  [Strangely, I find that Rogue One, which is a side story connected to Star Wars 1977, comes across as a fresh, new take on Star Wars, while being true to the work of George Lucas.]

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a Star Wars movie, and I will likely always love all Star Wars movies, to one extent or another.  [Every time one is on TV, I try to watch at least some of it.]  So I love The Last Jedi and will give it a high grade.  However, this final trilogy (Episodes VII to IX) is starting to seem like fan fiction, created by writers and directors who cherry pick ideas from their childhood Star Wars favorite moments.  Maybe the current owner of Star Wars, The Walt Disney Company, and the filmmakers it hires to continue the “Star Wars saga” are really afraid of new ideas or too many new ideas.  Maybe, Disney got the message; the prequel trilogy looked too different from the original trilogy and audiences, at least the vocal part of it, were pissed.  Well, the Disney-produced Star Wars films will suffer for playing it safe.

Let me summarize my thoughts and feelings this way.  If Disney replaced the title, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with something else, say Alien or Predator, I would give this film a rating of 5 or 6 out of 10 at most.  This 8 out of 10 is the kind of love you show family.

8 of 10

Sunday, December 17, 2017
Edited:  Thursday, March 15, 2018

2018 Academy Awards, USA:  4 nominations: “Best Achievement in Visual Effects” (Ben Morris, Michael Mulholland, Neal Scanlan, and Chris Corbould), “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures-Original Score” (John Williams), “Best Achievement in Sound Editing” (Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce), and” Best Achievement in Sound Mixing” (Michael Semanick, David Parker, Stuart Wilson, and Ren Klyce)

2018 BAFTA Awards:  2 nominations: “Best Sound” (Ren Klyce, Michael Semanick, Matthew Wood, David Parker, and Stuart Wilson) and “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects”

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