Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Movie Review

The first half of this review will reveal no specific spoilers.  I will offer a warning and then a page break before I get into specifics situations.  However, I will generally address the tone and plot devices in the beginning of this review.  If you do not want any sort of preconceived notion before seeing the film, I suggest you to do not read this review.  Sound fair?  Okay, let’s go …

 

The Force Awakens got everything just right.  It introduced new, charismatic characters while allowing the established favorites to shine.  It utilized an action-packed pace while jumping from location to location to location as it revealed a plot that tickled our fancy in all the right — albeit familiar — ways.  It gave us spaceship chases involving, well, our favorite spaceships, lightsaber duels, witty banter, and real emotional stakes.  It focused on old relationships rekindling, new relationships bonding, and teased future relationships to come.  Best of all?  It set the scene for major revelations.  What would Luke Skywalker’s role be in this story?  Who are Rey’s parents?  Is Kylo Ren as evil as he would like us to believe?  Will Poe and Finn be the best new duo in Star Wars lore?  Will Captain Phasma have a defining moment?  How do Leia and Chewbacca move on after Han Solo’s death?  And just who is this Supreme Leader Snoke?  At the end of The Force Awakens, I not only felt extremely satisfied, but genuinely excited to discover all of these things with the next installment.

If I could choose one word to describe The Last Jedi, it would be “anticlimactic.”

The Last Jedi starts off with a bang, but then just kind of fizzles and fizzles and then disappears.  I actually found myself a little bored for quite a bit of this movie, which is something I thought I would NEVER say about a Star Wars film.  There’s so much talking.  Soooo much talking.  But nothing is really ever happening — nothing that felt substantial, at least.

And when something monumental did seem to be happening, it quickly turned out to be nothing.  It fizzled, like I said.  The Last Jedi would raise out hopes time and time again only to laugh in our face and run away.  It got a bit offensive, honestly.

Perhaps the greatest offense of all?  It did not get me excited at all for the next episode.  Just the opposite.  Again, I won’t get into specifics in this space, but The Last Jedi seemed intent to crush every cool thing The Force Awakens teased while leaving us with nothing to replace our anticipation.  The Force Awakens had me counting down the days until the next installment.  The Last Jedi left me ambivalent and, frankly, disappointed.

Want to know exactly why I feel this way?  Scroll past the below image and keep reading …

Image result for the last jedi movie poster

Spoilers coming in …

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Let’s run through my long list of grievances …

Kylo Ren – Is he good or evil?  Is he a plant by the Resistance?  Is that why he had such difficulty killing his father?  Is that how he got overpowered by a novice, the great new hope of the Resistance?  Yeah, he’s evil.  Or, at least, that’s what they tell us.  Because, you know, they mostly tell us stuff in this movie.  I really don’t buy him as this supremely evil person.  Worst of all?  He wore his mask for maybe five minutes.  Kylo Ren with the mask and voice?  Awesome.  Could watch him all day.  Kylo Ren without the mask?  No thanks.  Adam Driver’s face does not scream the kind of evil they would like us to believe.  Exactly the opposite.

Leia – Spent most of her time talking.  They showed us an amazing display of the Force.  Then she fell into a coma.  Then she talked some more.  Then she faded into the background.

Finn – Virtually no interaction with Poe or Rey, which, I think, were the crowning moments of The Force Awakens.  No background revelations.  He’s honestly not in the movie much at all.  On a mission to accomplish a goal that seemed forced.  No longer the fish out of water trying to make good.  Just kind of there.

Captain Phasma – Showed up for about three minutes near the end of the movie.  Fell down a hole.  On the plus side, we learned one of her eyes is blue.  Yes, that’s sarcasm.

Poe – In quite a bit of the movie, but now depicted as a mutinous, trigger-happy lunkhead.  No longer the selfless, hotshot pilot with awesome one-liners.  Now spends most of his time questioning leadership as he’s apparently being groomed to be the next leader of the Resistance.

Chewbacca – In maybe two total minutes of the movie.  Does not address his dead partner at all.

Supreme Leader Snoke – Killed in perhaps the most anticlimactic fashion in the history of movies.  Absolutely nothing revealed about his past.  We never find out who he is, where he’s from, or even if he’s Jedi, Sith, or something else.  Why did I care about this guy again?  Why did they put so much effort into making me care about this guy?

Rey – Given virtually nothing to do as she spends most of the movie on Luke’s island being ignored.  No real “heroic” moments to speak of other than moving some rocks.  Has one cool lightsaber fight that proved pointless.  Got to see Finn for the first time with only five minutes left in the movie.  Oh, and her parents?  Apparently, they were nobody.  Just sold her off as a slave.  They wasted so much potential with Rey’s character.  So much potential.

Luke Skywalker – Return Of the Jedi gave us perhaps the perfect sendoff for Luke Skywalker.  He rescued his friends.  He made things right with Yoda.  He got closure from Obi-Wan Kenobi.  He turned his father, the supposedly irredeemable Darth Vader, back to the good side.  He got to see all three of his father figures reunited in peace and harmony as the Empire fell at last.  If you bring him back for The Last Jedi, you damn well better outdo Return Of the Jedi.  They didn’t.  He spends most of his time actively trying to ignore Rey, being cranky with Rey, or being sarcastic with Rey.  He does not train her as a Jedi at all beyond a philosophical lecture about the Force.  However, at the end of the movie, he makes his lone stand against The First Order.  Kylo Ren faces him one-on-one.  We’re prepared for an epic lightsaber battle as Luke stalls so his sister and her Resistance can escape.  Perhaps he’ll gain a grand death, one that will make movie-history.  Or maybe he survives to team up with his sister and lead the Resistance for the next movie?  Nope.  He evades Kylo Ren’s attacks, and then it’s revealed he’s simply an astral projection of the Force, an illusion.  He wasn’t really even there at all.  The real Luke is sitting on a rock, sweating, back on his island.  And after his friends escape, he falls off the rock.  And then he gets back on the rock.  And then he dies.  So, yeah, that felt like a slap in the face.

Those are just the highlights of my disappointment, by the way.  I could go on and on.  But I won’t.  The creative minds behind The Last Jedi seemed to take into account everything we loved about A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return Of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens, and then do the exact opposite.  I don’t understand this rationale at all.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

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Lost Stars by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

I’ve read the majority of the new books and graphic novels promoted as “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and this one is, by far, my favorite.

Lost Stars accomplished something that doesn’t happen very often – I could not wait to read it.  I looked forward to getting in bed at the end of the day and diving into this one.  I love to read, don’t misunderstand, but I do so more out of habit than a daily burning passion.  Believe me, I felt authentic excitement for Lost Stars.

The story follows a man named Thane Kyrell and a woman called Ciena Ree.  Though from very different cultures upon the same planet, they befriend one another as children due to their shared passion for star ships.  In fact, after the Empire annexes their world, they cannot wait to join the Imperial Academy in order to navigate the stars.  They both believe in the law and order the Empire provides to the galaxy and want to be a part of the greatness.

Once old enough, they attend and graduate from the Imperial Academy.  Both are standouts and on the fast track to success within the Imperial Fleet.  Before long, they begin to realize their friendship may not be as simple as they thought, and each also realizes their impression of the Empire may have been incorrect.

What happens, though, when one of them decides to leave and the other wants to enact change from within?  What happens when one is a traitor and the other is an Imperial Officer?  What happens when these bitter enemies want nothing more than to save each other’s life, even when it puts them at odds with their respective affiliations?

I loved this book first and foremost because the pacing is masterful.  It starts off a little slow as we get to know the characters as youngsters, but as they age, their situations become far more complex, and by the end of the book I couldn’t read fast enough as their story reached a crescendo.  The various levels of conflict between Thane and Ciena is absolutely riveting.

Furthermore, it proved unique because it provided a previously unrealized perspective in that we see the destruction of the Death Star, the battle at Hoth, and even the conflict of Endor primarily from the Empire’s point of view.  Before this book, it never dawned on me that Luke Skywalker killed thousands of people on the Death Star when he blew it up.  I never even considered the loss of Imperial life.  Our two characters make us care about those loss upon the space station, those who they considered friends.  They make me think of the average Imperial as a person rather than a faceless, evil monster.

And that’s really the magic of Lost Stars.  It made me think about familiar things in a new light.  It made me consider duty versus loyalty.  It forced me to reflect upon the murky middle ground between good and evil.

At 551 pages, this is not a short read, but it pulls you in so fast and so deep that you won’t even mind the length.  In fact, if you’re like me, you won’t want it to end.  Thane and Ciana are now two of my favorite Star Wars characters forevermore.

… I’ll say it: I hope they adapt this book to film.  I’ll be the first in line.

An Idea About the Plot of The Force Awakens

I’ve floated the following idea by some friends, and since they received it well, I thought I’d commit it to writing.  Though I haven’t yet read anything similar online, I’m sure I’m not the first to think of it, so my apologies if this trail has already been blazed.

Needless to say, spoilers abound regarding Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

…  I think we all noticed about three-fourths through The Force Awakens that the plot seemed, well, familiar.  I won’t go through every intricate similarity, but I absolutely believe the creators knew what they were doing and those similarities were not by accident.

Now that the film has literally made more than a billion dollars, they were very smart to give the audience what it wanted.  The film and the comparable plot obviously resonates with people.  They wanted a classic Star Wars movie, and that’s what they got!

But I believe the recycled story beats are working to do more than simply please the fans.  There’s was a saying in the Old West (and professional wrestling), that to be the best, you have to beat the best.

Rey is clearly one of the most powerful potential Jedi to have ever lived.  Within moments of her power’s awakening, she executes Jedi mind tricks, levitates objects, and wields a lightsaber like she’s trained her entire life.  She battles an adept villain to a standstill, assists blowing up a new “death star,” and offers solace to General Leia.  Heck, Chewbacca even even takes her on as a co-pilot before she personally finds and faces Luke Skywalker – heretofore considered “the best.”

I suspect Rey has great things in store for her.  But for us to take her seriously as a contender to Luke’s greatness, she must do everything Luke did in near equivalent circumstances, but do them even better.  In our first encounter with Luke, he never piloted the Millennium Falcon, he never came near mastering the Force, and he certainly never faced a villain close to Darth Vader’s caliber.

I love Luke Skywalker.  (It should be noted I am 39 and he was my childhood hero along with Indiana Jones and Batman.)  But I also love Rey.  She is very relatable and charismatic.  They set her up brilliantly within one movie to be the new hero of the franchise, a hero both worthy of Skywalker’s legacy and even proven capable of surpassing it.

To be the best, you have to beat the best.  (Feel free to “woo!”)

Star Wars: Moving Target by Castellucci and Fry – A Book Review

Set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Moving Target is a Princess Leia adventure showcasing her bravery, intelligence, and selflessness.

Han Solo has been frozen in carbonite, and though Leia yearns to rescue him, her loyalty to the Alliance must come first.  She volunteers to act as a decoy in order to distract the Empire as the rebels need time to plan their next move.

Unfortunately, her ruse may cost uninformed rebels their lives, and that’s something she just can’t live with.

Though this fast-paced book is aimed at a younger audience, I very much enjoyed it because it delivers  fresh aspect of Leia.  This Leia is not a damsel in distress nor regulated to a mere love interest.  This Leia is a politician, a strategist, a leader, and a warrior.  This Leia very much made me believe she could be the face of a rebellion and inspire thousands to join the fight.

Though appropriate for a young readers, I think Star Wars fans of any age will find this book riveting.  It also serves as a nice bridge between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi while offering a glimpse at the Leia of The Force Awakens.