Sunday, 17 December 2017

Star Wars Episode VIII - The Last Jedi



Kylo And Stitched

Star Wars Episode VIII - The Last Jedi
2017 USA Directed by Rian Johnson
UK cinema release print.


Warning: I’m not even going to attempt to write a spoiler free review of this movie because I believe to do so would remove any elements worth talking about in a series of films which have gone on this long. So... yeah... spoilers right from the outset. If you don’t want to know then don’t read. You have been warned.

Okay... so The Last Jedi, the latest film in the Star Wars franchise, is not what I was expecting. Which is not necessarily a bad thing at all except... I was kinda expecting something a little more lively and satisfying, truth be told. I actually really like Rian Johnson’s work as a director (especially Brick) and this is not a terrible film, by any means. There are some truly nice moments in here but there are also a fair few things that got the blood boiling and, neither of those sets of issues has anything to do with my main takeaway from this movie which... I’ll get to a little later.

Okay... so let me highlight the good stuff here first.

The performances were all pretty good although, after she was so good in The Force Awakens, I was kinda left with the feeling that the wonderful Daisy Ridley didn’t really get too much of an opportunity to shine here as she could have been given. That’s okay, though... I suspect the next movie will really need her to carry things so it’ll be an interesting role progression for her, I think.

Mark Hamill was truly excellent. I know he was critical of the direction in which they’ve taken Luke but, given the ‘history’ of events as we know them to have depressingly panned out from the previous chapter, it actually makes a lot of sense. And, as it happens, the Luke Skywalker who has a ‘visitation’ to help out the rebels at the end is now very much the old Luke who is played just as he was in Return Of The Jedi and also... and I think some people may have missed this or just not had time to process the information as yet... now very much believing in the spirit of the Jedi again after the events at the temple burning scene, where Yoda basically finishes what Luke went there to start.

And then we have Kylo Ren... I didn’t know who Adam Driver was before the previous film and I initially hated both his performance in The Force Awakens and, as it happens, the character. However, after having seen him in a few other things and understanding just how great an actor he truly is, I’ve looked back on that last Star Wars role and found there was more going on there than I had previously realised. The pay off to the character comes in this film, where Driver gives a superb performance and the character he plays almost but, not quite, redeems himself in a truly appallingly telegraphed moment where you know he is going to kill the ultimate bad guy, Snoke. However, the punchline to that is, where he appears to shift allegiances, he just creates a new villain by inheriting the mantle, kind of, of Snoke. And he’s finally got rid of that silly helmet in this one so... that’s a good move too, I think.

Okay, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Kelly Marie Tran were all good in their roles but their story line felt a bit like it was made up to take out time... just something to do while we kept cutting back to the real character work going on elsewhere in the film. I think Isaac, especially, was very much short changed in his part of the movie where he just felt like a second-hand Starbuck from the 1970s incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, to be honest. I’m wondering just where the heck they are going to go with this character in the concluding chapter of this final trilogy.

Carrie Fisher, though, was very good here and she also gets to ‘use the Force’ in a way we’ve not seen before. It was a nice performance and it was a shame it was relegated to one of the story strands, such as they were, that I was least interested in because... it just all felt like it was filler, to be honest. Although, I have to admit, I think the comedy in this one works very well and I especially, for instance, loved the moment when Chewbacca is trying to eat a Porg. That was nicely done, like many scenes here.

My last good thing was the music by the great John Williams. I need to hear some of it in isolation but it was a beautiful and appropriate score. That being said, I don’t think it was anywhere near as great as his work on The Force Awakens (and I’m only saying this after one viewing so I might change my mind here). It did feel kinda like a ‘greatest hits’ album in some ways and, though I certainly admired the way he was able to catch some of the orchestrational style of the very first film in some of the new music here (especially in the quieter and reflective moments of the story), there were some things I found questionable. For example, unless it was the speakers in the cinema I saw this one in (ODEON Leicester Square in London), the main title crawl seemed somehow a bit clunkier than some of the versions we’ve had over the years. Also, I couldn’t work out why the piece of music directly following that over the first shots of the film was pretty much the dead spit of the equivalent musical moment in the very first movie. I think this is the first time the post-crawl intro has been, effectively, repeated in a Star Wars movie. Also, the cue from the very first film originally known as Ben’s Death And TIE Fighter Attack is used here and it seems to have become a leitmotif building block for the Millennium Falcon in these new films... which is interesting but puzzling since it was used in a scene in Return Of The Jedi in an entirely different context during the sail barge rescue (although, admittedly, it’s use in that sequence was an alternate rescore from what Williams had originally written for it). Also, the thematic hits seemed less subtle and more ‘in your face’ on this one. The moment where it suddenly goes into the Luke And Leia theme from Return Of The Jedi and then quickly transforms itself into the Han And Leia motif made me frown at one point.

Okay... so that’s the, mostly, good stuff. Onto the not so good stuff...

If you’re going to have a Force manifestation give Princess Leia some ‘dice’ from the Millenium Falcon as a remembrance of Han then... well, they’re going to disappear pretty quickly and are not much of a remembrance at all, are they? They’ll just wink out of existence pretty soon. Not cool.

The big fight scene with Rey and Ren fighting back to back was a truly nice beat or the film but the choreography seemed a lot less interesting than some of the sabre fight choreography in the previous films. It almost seemed like the two actors were either not capable of doing a more challenging choreography and the camera was just cutting from shot to shot to make it feel like there was more going on or... the editing was just plain bad and hurt the scene in general, perhaps? I don’t know which, if either, of those conclusions is correct but I found stuff like the Darth Maul battle in The Phantom Menace to be much more exciting.

Also, a lot of the intriguing set ups like Rey's 'classified' status and the way Luke's original light sabre was recovered were either solidly turned into an anti-climactic red herring or just plainly ignored. I felt betrayed by the direction this film took after investing emotionally in those kinds of elements, to be honest. I also found it kinda weird that, after so many episodes, Luke uses the throw away term 'laser sword' instead of light sabre. Star Wars fans have been correcting casual viewers' use of that term since 1977 so it kinda felt like a sharp jab in the face, to be honest.

The timelines also didn’t make sense but that’s not necessarily the director's fault. He presumably wanted to open on an action set piece and he did (a particularly non-interesting one, as far as I’m concerned) but that scene seemed to be taking place weeks after the end of The Force Awakens... we then cut back to Rey confronting Luke at the end of that film and... it just didn’t make sense. I met a friend who had just come out of the screening before I saw the next performance and he made a comment about the timeline that seemed a lot more critical of it than something I would say (although he liked the movie a lot more than I did, to be fair) but I think the problem was that, as far as I’m concerned, the last chapter should have finished with Rey flying off in the Falcon. Luke really didn’t belong in that last installment, I think. I understand that J. J. Abrams may have got lynched by fans if he hadn’t put Hamill into it but... no, I just don’t think that helped the art of the story line and this movie is kind of left trying to work around that decision. I don’t think it works it out too well.

One last thing...

Finn was wounded at the end of The Force Awakens. So in that relatively long period of, what, a day or so after the final battle, it makes sense that his two best friends Poe and Rey would have visited him in hospital. And they certainly would have come into contact with each other in the room with the map reveal by R2 and BB8... so why are we being asked to believe that Poe and Rey are only just laying eyes on each other at the end of this one. That makes no sense and really stretches the credibility of the film more than a lot of the other bad stuff here, I would say.

Now all of this and the next thing I’m gong to say is going to come with a caveat that I learned when I first saw and reviewed The Force Awakens. I hated that film when I first saw it but, as soon as I saw it a second time, I really loved it. Now that didn’t happen to me with Rogue One (which I still think is a fairly weak film) but it has happened with other films too (Avengers - Age Of Ultron, La La Land, Ant Man) and so there’s a good chance that this one will grow on me very quickly. As it is, though, I’ll get onto my main take away from this one which is... it just felt like a very dull, slow film and I felt the same thing with Attack Of The Clones when that was released. I’m more used to my Star Wars movies moving from one scene to the next at a blistering pace, just like the old 1930s serials they aspire to be... but I found myself getting really bored with this one. Again, that will hopefully change on my second viewing where I hope I will appreciate things a little more but, for now, that’s how I felt about this one. If I was going to recommend a jumping on point for any Star Wars first time watchers it certainly wouldn’t be The Last Jedi and, as it happens, without knowing the back story here you’d probably be lost anyway. Not my favourite of the Star Wars saga, that’s for sure but... not my least favourite either.


Star Wars at NUTS4R2

 Episode 1: The Phantom Menace 

Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones

Episode 3: Revenge Of The Sith 

Rogue One 

Episode 4: A New Hope

Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back

Episode 6: Return Of The Jedi 

Episode 7: The Force Awakens 

Episode 8:  The Last Jedi


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