Watson Reviews Star Wars: The Last Jedi (SPOILERS!)

I have always wanted to get a tattoo, but never did because you have to pick something you will always love to memorialize it for life.  For me that is either my kids or Star Wars!  So how did I enjoy the latest installment in the Skywalker saga?  (Major Spoilers of the film follow)

Let’s just say my tattoo options are starting to look limited to the boys, because Star Wars is looking shaky.  I did not like The Last Jedi at all; which is surprising since the critics loved it and I am usually on the same page.  Look, I am ok with a more artistic Star Wars movie (unlike Ryan, I watched and enjoyed a slower film like The King’s Speech), but this film was really a disappointing turd.  I don’t get WHY they though the Last Jedi was sophisticated.

It was so bad that, at times, I thought I was watching a Prequel.  I even have this film behind one of the Prequels (Revenge of the Sith) in my all-time Star Wars rankings.  That’s a serious charge in the geek community and I stand by it.

It is not to say there weren’t things I liked in the film.  Hell, I even liked the arena lightsaber battle in Attack of the Clones; my least favorite movie of all-time.  Let me get to what I enjoyed before I rip the film to shreds.

WHAT I LIKED:

OLD SCHOOL CAST:

  • Mark Hamill was excellent. Hamill flat out saved the film from utter shambles with his strong performance. (NOTE:  a series of words have never been crafted in that order in the history of the English language).  He was cranky, funny, and sad.  Hamill had nice chemistry with Daisy Ridley’s Rey and their exchanges were the only scenes I kept wanting to come back to (Ridley even helped Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren deliver a better performance). Overall, I believed Hamill’s angst, his frustration, and his fear.  In the final battle scene, he managed to be part maudlin Return of the Jedi Luke and part “I’m not such a bad pilot myself” Luke.  Nice exit to the series!

  • Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Leia was good, even though she was central to the film’s worst plotline.  It was very difficult to see Leia in peril given what happened to Carrie and I wonder where they take the character from here.
  • Yoda was best Yoda since Jedi.  The prequels diminished him so much that it was nice to see him back with a sly sense of humor instead as a mouth piece for Lucas’ weak philosophical trappings.

VISUALS:

The only thing good I will say about Rian Johnson is that he created a beautiful visual style.  From the first space battle (the bomber dreadnaught scene created some serious false hope that this movie would nail it for me), to the lightsaber battle in Snoke’s, throne room,  concluding with the final battle on Not Hoth, Johnson delivered some striking imagery.

But here is the thing: Lucas created great scenery in the Prequels.  It is not enough to paint pretty pictures; you need solid story,plotting, and dialogue to get out of the Prequel neighborhood.  Rian Johnson failed miserably in this regard.

Which brings us to the negatives.

WHAT I DISLIKED:

CHOPPY STORYTELLING

I am a known hater of television, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of a few TV series when watching Last Jedi.

  • From a story perspective, I feel like you could have taken much of this script, changed “First Order” to “Cylons”, and had the plot to a season of Battlestar Galactica.  Much like Speed 2 was orignially a script for a Die Hard film, the plot felt generic and not like it was written JUST as a Star Wars script.  I’m pretty sure they even had the high speed/slow speed chase plot in Season 2 of BSG.
  • From a character perspective, I was reminded of the flaws in the 7th season of Game of Thrones (no spoilers for Jimmy).  Season 7 received fair criticism for having its characters make oddball decisions sending them in “convenient” directions for no better reason than to tell the stilted and choppy stories crafted out of desperation.  I sat there most of the movie asking why certain events were happening, when everything we’ve seen up to that point indicated the characters would have made different choices.
  • I was also reminded of Lost where the viewers are intentionally set up with the idea that there is some BIG MYSTERY out there, only to see it go nowhere (Rey’s parents, Snoke’s history, Kylo’s connection to Rey, Maz finding Luke’s lightsaber).  I don’t CARE that they didn’t want to have mysteries (the big reveals in SW history have come out of nowhere), but like with Lost, JJ set them up anyway.  If Rian Johnson didn’t want to deal with them, he should have just ignored them instead of painting over them.  It felt like one comic writer coming in and writing an expositional comic book to paint over continuity gaps.  Oh man.  It was also like modern comics.  No wonder I didn’t like it.

  • Finally, I was reminded of the Fly episode Rian Johnson directed for Breaking Bad.  While that episode worked because it was one of many in a long series, and had Brian Cranston (Cranston solves a lot of problems not related to Power Rangers), in one of only nine Star Wars films, the slow, plodding pace failed.
Ok, there are two things Cranston could not                                      save…

BIG PLOT POINTS

The film’s battle strategy/science was also disappointing.  Chief among the film’s many flaws in this area was the slow speed police chase.  Much like the worst police chase scene of COPS, a pursuit always ends when the pursuers call in reinforcements.  Because space is not two dimensional.  Instead of every ship pursuing the Frigate,waiting for them to….ahem…run out of gas… half of them could have jumped ahead in light space and intercepted them.  A lightspeed pincers movement.  When most of the film’s plot is based on the “they are just out of range of our blasters”, this glaring flaw ruined all the drama.

I also question the military tactics of the Battle of Not Hoth.  Why not just destroy them from space like we saw the Empire do in Rogue One?  But if you DO need to land and attack, why have a battering ram cannon that requires you to drag it with mechanized oxen like it is a medieval siege vehicle?  Sanjiv Sarwate can add this battle to his AT-AT criticism…

EP 7& 8 CHARACTERS:

Oh how the series misses Han Solo already.  Or maybe they miss Harrison Ford since the solo Solo movie next year is looking rocky as well..  The point, I understand, it to hand things off to a new generation, but other than maybe Rey the characters introduced in the Force Awakens OR THIS FILM have failed to pick up the baton and run with it.  Let’s look…

  • Snoke was killed off without ceremony (ok…it WAS funny how…), Hux is not a formidable foe at all, BB-8 didn’t charm me like last time, and Phasma took the Boba Fett course on being a cool design with nothing to back it up.
  •  A pair of Oscar caliber actors were introduced in Episode 8 and were wasted entirely.  Who doesn’t love the work of Laura Dern and Benecio Del Toro, but they were given nothing to work with here?  Dern’s master plan just made her a mcguffin and Del Toro’s oddball character felt like someone that wasn’t interesting enough to make the cut for Rogue One’s dirty dozen.  Hell, I liked the Porgs better than these two, and I didn’t like the porgs at all…

But it was Finn and Poe who killed the movie.

  • Finn’s side quest was about as bad as one crafted by the guy in your crew that you always had to talk out of being the Dungeon Master.  The “Finn Goes to Vegas” plot felt tacked on, made no sense, and every time they cut to him, it killed the pacing in a film that already had pacing problems.  That’s hard to do!  Hell, I’m convinced they brought Lucas back to direct the second unit.  Compounding the dreck of his scenes (Boyega is, if nothing else, charming), was the presence of the new Rose character.  My heart will not go on for THIS Rose, as she was a terrible character portrayed by about as strong of an actor as Jake Lloyd.  In a feature on NPR, the reporter noted Johnson “plucked her from obscurity” to be in Episode 8.  Can we please send her back!?!  It feels like she was a proxy/stand-in for the fans, and reminded me of Carlo and Nikki from Lost.  No thanks…
  • I save most of my ire for Oscar Isaac’s Poe, however.  I love Oscar Isaac and thought he could do no wrong, but I was wrong because he did much wrong. And it was sooooo wrong.  I would include a gif of Trump saying wrong here, but even Trump is better than the Poe storyline.  Poe Dameron went from being a cocky millennial take on Han Solo, to the Long Time Ago equivalent of Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island.  Every move he makes is wrong, hurts the cause, and distracts the team from fighting the real villains.  Instead of making him the leader at the end, they should have put him out of an airlock.  How do you go from committing treason and getting shot by Leia one moment, to deserving leadership duties the next?  So bizarre….
I ruined the franchise…

I leave Last Jedi very worried about Disney’s stewardship of the franchise.  The fact that we need a fresh start for franchise in middle of the first trilogy (this really felt like a soft reboot) then Disney is returning the keys of the kingdom back to the guy that directed the first installment requiring a reboot is… perplexing.

We will see how things go for the Episodes, as well as Johnson’s announced Stand Alone trilogy, but I am not optimistic…

Overall, I give Star Wars: The Last Jedi 4.5 Unnecessary Vegas Road Trips out of 10.

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