Sunday, 17 December 2017

Review: Star Wars - The Last Jedi (fourth-pass)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (fourth-pass / 2D / SPOILERS!)
Cert: 12A / 152 mins / Dir. Rian Johnson / Trailer

Previous reviews: 1 | 2 | 3

This is your spoiler-break. It's the chunk of text which prevents page-previews and RSS feeds from displaying details you might not want to read if you haven't seen The Last Jedi yet. That stops you accidentally clicking on a link and then accidentally reading the first paragraph discussing the return of Jar Jar Binks in the film. And now you're thinking that Jar Jar definitely isn't back, because otherwise I wouldn't have mentioned it in this first paragraph. Aaaahhh

So what follows isn't as much of a review this time (they're linked above), more thoughts and observations as we go through the film. Think of it as a director's commentary, made by someone who isn't the director and has only seen the film for the first time three days earlier, so it's largely just pointing at stuff and saying "I like that bit". For obvious reasons, plot-spoilers follow…

Last chance: Spoilers ahead!

Still here? Smashing...

Battle of D'Qar (that's the Resistance Base planet)

• I'm not getting the same sense of scale with the First Order's reach that came from the Galactic Empire. The thing is, we saw Stormtroopers in Mos Eisley, and got a feeling that they were already an accepted (if begrudged) presence everywhere. But so far, we've only seen the First Order in relation to their highest command-chain, where the story is actively occurring. We're told the First Order seized control of the galaxy, but don't forget they lost an entire planet's worth of personnel when Starkiller Base was destroyed. All we see in The Last Jedi is Snoke's ship The Supremacy, a dreadnaught and fewer than a dozen Star Destroyers. In practical terms, that's barely even enough to occupy a single planet, let alone the entire galaxy. Are the forces we see in The Last Jedi all of the 'spare' resources the First Order have? Do they really have the heft to carry this off, or is it a game of Snoke and mirrors? (do you see what I did, there?)

• Not content with having Screaming General Hux really ramp up the nazi-comparisons in the last movie, they've only gone and recruited Eddie Hitler! Cheap gags aside, I absolutely adore how much Ade Edmonson is in this film. Most other 'cameo' roles are for one, two scenes max. Captain Peavey (for 'tis his name) is in this for the long-haul. Fantastic work.

• Johnson's direction is throughout this movie. The battle sequences are breathlessly paced and naturalistic as hell, with total buy-in from the cast.

• I think the WIlhelm scream is here when the first Resistance ship gets taken out. It's cut-off and only the very start of it is heard, but that seems to be the case with Star Wars movies these days. If not then I think it's used later on, anyway. But we'll get to that.

• So, how come the B/SF-17 bomber-ships just open the hatch and hit the release mechanism to release their payload? There's no gravity in the surrounding environment, so presumably the ship has an artificial grav-generator which pulls the bombs out of the bottom (assuming that's shielded to stop the atmosphere being sucked out), then momentum does the rest providing nothing pushes them off-course? But they're not actually fired/projected out, only coming at the enemy with the speed they'd built up dropping towards the hatch? It seems like a risky manoeuvre to pull in zero-G, and I've got no idea why so many bombers were in the squadron, considering it only took one to get the job done in the end. Dameron's recklessness really is apparent, here.

Ahch-To (that's Luke's Craggy Island planet)

• The cloud-cover on this world changes from shot to shot. Seriously, it's blue skies from one angle then completely overcast after the next cut. If it's noticeable to me, I can only imagine how infuriated the director of photography must have been.

• Blue milk, get in! Mind you, Luke gets that milk all in his beard, and a minute later you see him carrying a huge dead, stabbed, fish over his shoulders. Even with the frog-chorus doing his laundry, I reckon the years of no social-contact means Luke Skywalker absolutely stinks...

• This movie has serious ramifications for what is possible using the Force. I love that for all the newly discovered tricks we see, The Last Jedi basically explains none of them.

• Am I the only one who's slightly concerned that the Jedi Library isn't actually concealed or protected in any practical way? I mean, over "a thousand generations", those books being exposed to the air alone on that coastline means they'll basically have crumbled to dust, surely?

• From the instagram skies soaking into the fabric of Rey and Luke's outfits, to the satin-sheen on C-3PO's plating which helps prevent the film crew showing up, to the oil on Rose's hands when she's worrying her half of the medallion on the Raddus' the lower decks - this film looks absolutely gorgeous. The depth and texture in the wardrobe, sets and (yes) even the CGI is breathtaking.

The siege of Crait

• Laura Dern is both great and greatly underused in this movie. And for reasons I'll go into further down, this will (most likely) be the last we'll see of Holdo, in the cinema at least. Damn.

• The active-tracker that the First Order are using - that's a very unsubtle reference to the Flux Capacitor, isn't it?

• Maz Kanata, the master strategist here: 'As you're against the clock, go to a planet you've never been to before and find someone whose species I'm not going to tell you. They're definitely going to be at a gambling table (which narrows the search, at a huge, swanky casino) because they don't ever need to eat, sleep or go to the toilet, apparently. I imagine they'll be wearing a badge, if that helps.'


• There's some fantastic eyebrow-acting from Daisy Ridley in the 'reach out' scene.

• I like how Skywalker has developed the same sarcasm, obstinance and playfulness that Obi-Wan and Yoda did, after years of isolation.

Canto Bight (that's the casino city on Cantonica)

• Okay, other than planting the seeds of future-heroes, the whole Canto Bight sequence feels like an extravagant detour that neither the plot nor characters have time for. It seems like a Fifth-Element interlude to show off new aliens with no real context. There's no narrative reason for this to happen, they could just as easily have pulled a DJ-type hacker out of the brig on the Resistance cruiser Raddus. I like character's stutter - it's indicative of characterisation that the screenplay fails to capitalise upon. For example, since DJ can hack his way out of the cell whenever he wants to, why is he even there? It just feels like a setup for a 'cantina' scene which adds nothing to the story, unless Del Toro's due to come back as a 'Lando' type character. Speaking of which, wouldn't it have been neater for the stolen ship's holo-display to reveal it belonged to Calrissian, rather than some anonymous arms-dealer that the script has already taken a broad swipe at? Most pertinently, the whole casino sub-mission is successful due to no skill or ability of either Rose or Finn. Just blind luck.

• In the racing-stables, Finn falls over next to a pile of steaming manure and there's not a poodoo joke to be seen. Say what you like about Rian Johnson and the film's increased humour here, but the man's got restraint.


• Rey there, rushing off to stick her oar in with the dark-siders rather than staying to complete her training. Meanwhile her master is left on his own talking to a sarcastic ghost. Nice!

• Puppet-Yoda, though. Not sure how I feel about that. If looks great, but very much like a puppet, and the Clones / Sith CGI Yoda was fantastic at being a living, breathing non-puppet. Is nostalgia a strong enough reason for taking a step backward like this? Plus it's interesting that this force-spirit has the blue glow but isn't translucent at all (he blocks out the fire when he stands in front of it). Although this could be part of the reason he's able to clock Luke on the head with his walking stick. Will we find out that it was at this point in the film when Yoda taught Luke about the projection he goes on to use?

• And just like in Empire and Jedi, Hamill's acting here is superb when you consider he's doing it against a puppet and/or tennis ball on a stick.

• Let's not forget that the wisest dude in the galaxy just set fire to a library. It puts the old Star Wars Reads logo into a new light, at any rate.

The Supremacy (that's Snoke's mega-class Star Destroyer)

• The Falcon's escape-pods remind me of the vintage AST-5 mini-rig. Nice!

• How come the scar on Kylo Ren's face is far deeper in the docking-bay than it is in the lift three minutes later? And then in the throne room it's all puffy and red again?

• The steam-iron joke is a reference to Hardware Wars, isn't it?

• It's Finchy! Probably just back from betting Eddie Hitler he could throw his shoes over the other side of a reactor shaft.

• Snoke is fantastic here, rounded and real. And now he's (in all probability) sitting on the same cloud as Amilyn Holdo for the rest of the timeline, save the inevitable comics and novels to flesh him out. Seriously though, how does Snoke's facial animation look so great twelve months after Tarkin's didn't?

• And what's the deal with that lightsaber? It spikes through the middle of Snoke and is then pulled forward, so how does his top half just slither forward and off the chair? Surely all the guts and flesh 'behind' the blade would either tear noisily and messily across the floor, or the joined-bit would drag the abdomen and legs over with it? I've thought about this too much, haven't I? Still Maul came back. That said, we didn't see Maul lying motionless at the bottom of the reactor shaft for a long old time, the way we see Snoke here. He could have gone into dark-side hibernation, I suppose*1?

• That fight scene, though. That. Fight. Scene.

• Out of their impressive array of weaponry, the final standing Praetorian Guard is using a halberd like the old Royal Guards used in Crimson Empire. Nice!

• Remember in 2012, when concerns were raised in the fandom that the sale of Lucasfilm to the Disney Corporation would result in the series becoming sanitised? Well if only I'd thought to go out and put a tenner on that company overseeing the first Star Wars movie to have the word "bastard" in its script. Not entirely sure about it, to be honest. It's supported by the surrounding context and pacing of the script, but it still feels strange. Is it coincidental that this is the same episode where Luke Skywalker chides Artoo for his bad language during an exchange where we don't get the beeps and whistles translated?

• I'm not buying Kylo Ren's line about Rey's parents being drunks on Jakku. While I'm aware that my theory about her being the secret daughter of Han and Leia is now on very shaky ground, I don't believe that this film would focus on the subject as much as it does (to the point of installing a Harry Potter mirror underneath Craggy Island) just to brush it aside like that. Apart from anything else, since when has Kylo Ren been a paragon of truth and wisdom? Every other opinion and action of his is either wrong or misguided. I'm not necessarily saying Ren's lying to Rey, but I think he's pulling on the wrong cord.

Crait (that's the salt-planet)

• Explain to me again how taking on a line of AT-ATs and a battering-ram cannon by driving at them in a dozen motorised wheelie-bins is going to help?

• I mean seriously though, Finn flies right into the beam of the big gun and somehow neither he nor his ship are instantly atomised?

• I love Rose's line here: "That's how we're going to win; not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love". It's a moment of raw sincerity at the height of battle which no other character could have delivered as well. That said, someone needs to tell Rose that's not actually how you win wars…

• I love that the clues for Luke's sudden appearance on Crait are telegraphed to the audience so firmly before the eventual reveal. On the journey, he's managed to have a haircut, beard trim and a quick once-over with the Just For Men. Then to cap it all, he ignites the same lightsaber that we saw Rey and Kylo Ren pull apart just ten minutes earlier. Speaking of which (and skipping forward a little), Rey will now have to build her own saber from scratch, unless she fancies rootling around on the island for Luke's green Return of the Jedi one (assuming he hasn't thrown that into the sea as well).

• So Luke walks into the base, and like Yoda on Ahch-To, his shape blocks the light as he comes in. He holds hands with Leia, so his projection clearly has some sort of physical presence. But there's an unspoken visual exchange between C-3PO and his former master that suggests the golden droid is the only one in the room who can tell that something's not right here. When Threepio addresses Luke he's almost uncertain, and gets just a quiet wink in return.

• I'm loving Skywalker's shoulder-flick after Kylo Ren's artillery barrage. I've seen people moaning about this online, but it's supposed to be an ostentatious move - he's baiting Kylo Ren to come and face him.

• When Ren makes his first-pass attack at Luke, who ducks under it, is that a modified Wilhelm scream that plays?

• Luke's final line here is absolutely priceless; understated and triumphalist at the same time. Basically 'come back when you're worth me facing in person…'

• I've seen The Last Jedi four times now. That shot of the twin suns brings a tear to my eye. Every time.

• Although we get the story's coda on Canto Bight, Leia has the last line of the film in Basic (English); as she did in The Force Awakens. And Return of the Jedi*2.

• Although it was originally Snoke who connected Rey and Ren telepathically, they learn how to continue it without him, like an unlocked skill. This means one or both of them will be able to teach it to other Force-sensitives.

• And I see Leia left the dice behind, real or otherwise. Charming.

Canto Bight

• It wasn't until the second time I watched this that I noticed the boy that Rose and Finn find in the stables uses the Force to bring the broom to his hand. Wearing the ring (presumably) given to him by Rose, he doesn't know yet that not only is he the future of the Rebellion's existence, but also of the Jedi*3. It's this that makes me get Something In My Eye™, too.

And finally…

• The packed, Saturday-morning family audience I watched this with applauded at the end of the film. In a cinema. In 2017. People clapped. Remember that the next time you see some smartarse on Twitter complaining about Star Wars…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The Star Wars.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's strong.
It's very strong

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
That all depends on how wrong you are.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 "This is an ex-supreme leader! He is dead! Passed on! Ceased-to-be! If you 'adn't nailed him to the throne, he'd be pushin' up the daisies!" etc.[ BACK ]

*2 Although I have no issue at all with the DVD Edition of the film, I'm referring to Leia's "he's my brother" rather than the 2004-inserted "Weesa free!!". Plus that's technically Gungan, not Galactic Basic (English). [ BACK ]

*3 And I'm wondering if Rian Johnson's next Star Wars trilogy might centre on the three kids from Canto Bight. That said, it's already been confirmed that those films will go to new places' in the GFFA and we've been to Cantonica now. So maybe the youngsters will just come back in time for Episode IX..? [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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