Star Wars: The Last Jedi (D)

BenicioL&D attended a special preview of The Last Jedi Thursday evening, and – we aren’t making this up – they waited for us to show up before starting the movie!   We entered to a packed house and a blank screen, and when we sat down they got things going.  Our charmed lives continue.

The movie is actually more of a movie than a commercial and cultural obligation that we often see, with a plot about a zillion times better than the galactic trade tariff squabble nonsense that stupefied an entire generation of fans.  There is also a brazen effort to beef up the moral ambiguities that pervade warfare that involves large-scale killing of the other side and its people.  There are moments where the film heads toward moral nihilism, though it generally puts on the brakes before it gets there.

The action is pretty good, but there is no drama to it.  There isn’t much left to be done with the star fighter dogfight that we didn’t see in the first eight movies, but it’d be hard to have a Star Wars movie without these scenes.  The film makers seem to acknowledge this by opening with a comedic twist and somewhat unconventional blasting away, though it quickly devolves into a full-scale dog fight that looks increasingly awesome, but has all the suspense of watching a dog eat a bowl of food in the morning. The film is replete with Star Warsian Boilerplate:  The pod race is now a horsie chase.  The bar scene is a casino scene (has anyone ever written on the pervasiveness of gambling in the Star Wars universe?). The walkers are back, not nearly as deadly, but with some sort of big cannon thingie with them (where do those bad guys store all this hardware? Damn).

The action isn’t great, but we do get some drama.  The big story here, is that maybe, just maybe, the Jedi aren’t such good guys after all.  This has been a rather obvious dissenting view for some time now (even among us non-Straussians) but the dissent in Episode VIII comes from none other than Luke Skywalker questioning the whole Jedi order.  It wouldn’t take much to forward some “what about” hypotheticals that are far worse than what is purportedly bothering Luke, but that’s probably unfair, since at least 15 years of the series was all about trying to sell action figures to pre-teenage boys.  I liked the Rashoman sequences, which explored the idea that heroes aren’t without their flaws.  Well, I liked the idea better than the execution, but it was still a big plus here.

The main plot pairs intertwining stories concerning the Rey character (Daisy Ridley), who we last saw tracking down Luke Skywalker and get him to rejoin the rebellion.  With Mark Hamill back as Luke this line of the story certainly pays homage to the great western, Unforgiven.  The other part of that story is the weird interface of Daisey with Kylo Ren, and this one seems to have the legs that will carry us through Episode IX.  Ridley is pretty great in her role and the movie would pretty much suck if she hadn’t been.

My biggest beef is that the villains are weak, and the writers just dropped the ball here. The enormous head of Snoke is bigger and wrinklier than the now-deposed Emperor, but his motives are as transparent as they are uninteresting.   His masked red henchmen lack the intrigue of, say, Darth Maul (the most grotesquely underutilized asset in the history of the series), though the Reds do have these cool, bendy light sabers that are seen but not heard, really.  Indeed, the whole Snoke angle is so underdeveloped that you wonder why they bothered. Oh, man, is that guy evil!  That leaves Kylo Ren to take up the mantle of this generation’s Darth Vader, but Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader (then again, who is?).

A couple of other notes:

  • Benicio del Toro gets to play an unrepentant mercenary, and he is exactly as good as his script allows.  The film makers would be fools to leave him out of the series finale.
  • Wait, isn’t Carrie Fisher dead?  You wouldn’t know it from watching this film.  There is definitely something weird going on with that.
  • Laura Dern is dashing and decisive as the next in command, though she didn’t get the best the script had to offer (although she did use the term “cockpit”, emphasis on the first syllable, to malign testosterone-fueled bravado).  The yin to her yang is the Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) character, and this plays out tolerably.
  • The story line involving Finn and Rose was disposable, and the would-be bromance between Finn and Poe Dameron will have to wait if it is to blossom.  Finn was the big loser as far as the script goes.
  • The days of non-humans as principal characters has mercifully come to an end.  There are smatterings of non-humans, but mostly they are relegated to the more traditional status as non-humans.   Chewie is the big exception and he is a very bit player here.
  • And, keeping up the great westerns, there is even a homage to the final scene Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  
  • This is probably the funniest Star Wars yet.  Not a high bar, but still

The verdict is good, but not great (see L’s review for the same verdict).  If you see it you will probably enjoy most of it, though it’s at least 20 minutes too long.  Maybe 30 minutes too long.  Maybe more.  It’s way too long.  The story winds up pretty much exactly where you think it will, but not quite in the way that you are expecting.   There are also a couple surprises a long the way that will cause even the most hardened among us to crack a smile and shed a tear.

Well, maybe not, but it’s still pretty good.

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