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Monday, June 11, 2018

Movie Review: STAR WARS - THE LAST JEDI (2017)

star-wars-the-last-jedi-movie-review

Director: Rian Johnson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Andy Serkis, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro
Runtime: 152 min
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Purchasing Links: DVD, Blu-ray

Read the review after the jump.



STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Review by Popa Razvan


"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is the second installment in Disney and Lucasfilm's new sequel trilogy, and possibly the most controversial "Star Wars" film ever. "Looper" writer/director Rian Johnson stepped in at the helm and tried to steer the franchise in a new direction, which was pretty much what was expected of him after J.J. Abrams essentially remade "A New Hope". He still somehow managed to attract the ire of hardcore fans. Let's dive in and see what went wrong.


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The film pretty much picks up immediately from where "The Force Awakens" left off. The Resistance is on the run after winning a huge victory by destroying The First Order's Starkiller Base, and Rey (Daisy Ridley) arrives on the planet Ahch-To, where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is living in self-imposed exile. The story branches out into several parallel strands. The Resistance fleet struggles to survive the chase from The First Order while in danger of depleting their fuel resources. Rey struggles to convince Luke to return and help them fight the evil First Order and defeat both Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Poe (Oscar Isaac), being the hot-headed hotshot that he is, struggles with the Resistance's leadership, specifically Princess/General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and new character Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern). Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega) joins forces with another new addition to the cast, Resistance member Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and together they travel to a Casino planet where they hope to find the help needed to save their fleet.

There's a lot more going on in this sequel than in "The Force Awakens". Not all of it good, however. The danger of running so many parallel narratives is that it's very difficult to maintain good pacing, and the film eventually succumbs to its weaker parts. Subplots like the Casino planet excursion add little of relevance and only slow down the plot, while the whole space chase bit ends up far more convoluted than it needed to be, with twists that don't make much sense, the occasional awkward moment, and an underwhelming payoff.


Star Wars The Last Jedi Image 1


After browsing through a ton of online comments, it seems that the fuel plot device certainly annoyed a lot of fans. While the whole concept of the chase feels a bit too similar to the "Battlestar Galactica" episode "33", fuel is not actually a strange concept in the "Star Wars" universe, although perhaps not often mentioned in the movies. I remember some of the older video games from the "Jedi Knight" franchise, always had a fuel station or two to explore. My main issue with the whole chase is that it lacks tension and its pacing is badly managed. At one point in the story, it turns into a "Crimson Tide" rip-off, but again, with none of the tension, or character depth. By the end you're left wondering what was the point of it all, except to pad out the running time. "The Last Jedi" is the longest film in the entire franchise. Fuel is the least of its problems.

And then we have Rey and Luke trying to probe the depths of the Force together. Kind of. Rey's already pretty powerful, and Luke reluctantly agrees to train her. He's become a bit of a grouch in those missing 30 years. Their scenes together echo Luke and Yoda's training in "Empire Strikes Back", with a twist or two along the way. These are perhaps the film's most interesting scenes, and its most profound - at least up to a point. Luke is supposed to have more depth to him than ever before, but I couldn't feel it. His evolution in this film has been much maligned by fans, and while I can see their side of the story, it's not quite what troubled me the most about the character. Johnson's ideas are not without potential, but the brutal transition from the old films to the new feels so jarring.


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It's that 30-year gap that makes it so difficult to pick up a beloved character and give him a meaningful progression when there's so much missing from the story. Much like the events of "The Force Awakens" feel so meaningless because there's no proper backstory to them, the same can be said for Luke's development here. It also doesn't help that "The Last Jedi" rushes things while trying to juggle too many narratives. While it's true that the original "Star Wars" placed the viewer in the middle of an on-going conflict without much explanation, the same doesn't apply to these sequels. There's too much invested in these characters and this universe from the previous films to just throw a half-baked story at the audience. Luke's story required more screen time.

The acting has its ups and downs. Ridley, Boyega, Driver and Isaac are more in control of their roles, but don't get much to work with as their characters are simply servicing the plot without any real development. Hamill is a standout, delivering what is probably his best performance in the franchise, in spite of the spotty writing. Newcomers Kelly Marie Tran and Laura Dern do the best that they can with their bland characters, but their presence in the story doesn't add up to much. Kind of like Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), whose picture should be in the dictionary under WTF. Benicio Del Toro somehow gets squeezed in between all the madness as an unsavory new character, which he plays well, but only functions as a plot device. And in case you missed his uselesness in the previous film, Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is back, and still the lifeless drone. I wonder if the character will ever evolve into more by the end of this trilogy. If not, a painful death will suffice.


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The attempts to infuse humor into the action fall flat most of the time, and the dialogue features the occasional cringe-inducing moment. It's not a big deal, though, as the franchise is filled with similar patterns of shady writing, but somehow they stand out in the wrong way with this new cast. The filmmakers still haven't found the right balance between the light fun and silly writing and the self-important story beats. It also seems like the story isn't really going anywhere. I have no idea what further revelations are reserved for the final installment, but so far, there isn't much I find worth waiting for. The story hasn't evolved. It's been set on rails for a final confrontation that may, or may not be, a total disappointment.

The art direction is once again efficient, but not necessarily memorable. There are plenty of new creatures and worlds, but the new series still hasn't quite reached the superlative in terms of imaginative content. The Porgs and crystal foxes look more like product placement, intended to help Disney sell a lot of toys.


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Like "The Force Awakens", the visual effects and John Williams' score remain the only constants throughout. As I said before, the production values were never a problem for this particular franchise, and the high standard is still upheld here. As for the action, there's enough spectacle to entertain the viewer, with lots of space battles and a pretty nifty lightsaber scuffle towards the final act. Nothing mind-blowing, and often undermined by bad pacing and some iffy story decisions, but for the most part it gets the job done on the action front.

In the end, it feels like Disney was far more concerned with repackaging the franchise for a new generation than trying to create a continuation for Lucas' original trilogy. Which is probably why the fans were so upset with "The Last Jedi". Johnson tried to come up with ways to make the story different from everything that came before while giving future spinoffs and sequels room to breathe. He also tried to infuse the script with connections to our present-day social climate. However, the writing has too many issues, from the pacing to its bland characters, and it falls flat whenever it tries to build an emotional connection. While "The Force Awakens" drew its strength from the power of nostalgia, this sequel doesn't even have that in its arsenal. At its most basic level it's a fun, colorful space adventure for the kids, whch can be enjoyed if you don't think about it too much.



TRAILER





THE VERDICT

THE GOOD:
  • Plenty of action
  • Solid visual effects and overall production values
  • John Willliams' score
  • Some interesting attempts to move the franchise in a different direction

THE BAD:
  • Uneven writing
  • Terrible pacing
  • Pointless subplots
  • Not much of a set up for the final chapter
  • Too quick to do away with the old to make room for the new
  • A few more pointless characters added to an already disappointing roster of new characters


ENTERTAINMENT FACTOR SCORE: 60%





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