Friday, December 29, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

The way things have been going lately, I've been feeling like the fates have been conspiring to keep me from watching this movie: on one day it was a website wrongly listing their showing as 2D (when it was in fact 3D), which messed things up; on 2 other occasions, there was just mad traffic on Ngong Road - and surprisingly slow drivers - that kept frustrating me. Well anyway, finally got to watch it today, so now I can add my 2 cents to the mix.

This is one grand chase of a movie; I don't think Princess Leia Organa has been pursued this much by the Supreme Leader since Episode IV (A New Hope). It helps that she has Poe Dameron on her side to bring the fight to the First Order; fleeting victories aside, the First Order is making most gains this time around, and bringing the rebels to their knees (pretty much the way they did in The Empire Strikes Back). Since his previous loss, Kylo Ren isn't having the best of times and Supreme Leader Snoke is ever so eager to play his own mind games, kicking his apprentice while he's down. This is pretty much Snoke's mentorship style, and you get the feeling that Kylo Ren's not the only one facing this cruel and unusual punishment.

This episode then picks up where the last one ended: with Rey encountering Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. That last shot might have hinted that Luke was ready to get into the fray, and to take up a new apprentice that could undo what his very last one had seemingly irreparably damaged (a la Obi Wan). Turns out Luke is tired of all the things he's seen, and probably just waiting out his time on that distant island so that he can pass into memory, taking the Jedi ways with him.

The movie is a really tight knit story blending these two overarching arcs, and we have one separate side mission sprinkled in which is a sort of "Hail Mary"move to save the resistance.

I was deeply engrossed in this movie from start to finish and I fail to see why it was polarizing at all. I'd dare say that this is a better movie overall than The Force Awakens. There's a myriad of characters here, and I feel like this time everyone has something to do. This movie is beautifully shot: Luke's island getaway is a scenic craggy outcrop that you feel might be a little more sinister than it looks; and there is nothing more beautiful than the salty barren wasteland of Crait, with its white salt surface, which is gently raked to reveal the fiery red salts below.

With the exception of Capt. Phasma, every character feels really well fleshed out. Kylo Ren benefits the most from an added storyline. I don't know if it was Adam Driver's or J.J. Abrams' decision to make him seem like a spoilt child, but seeing him trash a console in The Force Awakens made him seem more like a tantrum-prone child than an adult seeking to emulate his grandfather (Lord Vader); we have less tantrums at play here, but more of measured outbursts. He is still conflicted, but even when he's being evil, you never get the feeling that he's the consummate baddie.

The relationship between Luke and Rey mirrors his own short lived time training under Master Yoda. Luke is jaded, but also very guilt-ridden, hoping to play out life in a familiar routine until he meets his demise. It is the lost-yet-seeking Rey who prods him, forcing him to re-examine his values and come to terms with the role he can still play in the resistance. It helps that his doubt helps bring forth a mythical character whose screen presence lights up and serves one of the best dramatic moments onscreen. For her part, Rey is still seemingly innocent and lost in her thoughts; but her hold on good is concrete, and stands in stark contrast to Luke's loss of faith, and ends up being his saving grace.

There's also a beautiful dynamic between Princess Leia and Poe Dameron; this time around, we see more of Poe and his heroics; however, his heroics are more in the line of "be-triumphant-or-die-trying," or as he would put it, "Jump in an X-Wing and blow something up." To paraphrase one lesson that Leia gave him, "that's how dead people end up being heroes, but not leaders." Leia, reflecting the wisdom of age, and the reluctance to willingly sacrifice her troops (a trait notable in those battle-hardened warriors who've experienced many a loss in war), is a steady anchor in this fight, and pulls some surprises on of which includes her up until now minimal use of the force. Poe ultimately helps orchestrate the splinter arc that sees Finn and Rose sneak off undercover to another beautiful setting that seemed like Tuscany under moonlight (Canto Bight).

Rose is a new addition, but her stake in this fight is clearly elucidated from early on in this movie. The trip to Canto Bight is a further glance into her history. Having Finn along for the ride is something that organically develops, with him being initially thwarted from following an earlier plan, but ends up being used in a scheme that may or may not save the Rebels. His motivation is clear: all he does is meant to safeguard Rey and to give her a chance at survival.

A Star Wars movie wouldn't be complete without a roster of  special animal friends and machines. Chewie, R2D2, BB-8 and C-3PO deliver their usual cinematic flair, with all of them providing some levity in this drama heavy affair. The Millenium Falcon is also in full force here, providing yet more grief for a new generation of First Order fighters. Rey and Chewie as co-pilots provide that wonderful Han Solo/Chewie dynamic that's a throwback to the previous trilogy, and the hunk of junk still flies like a beauty.

I really loved this movie, and consider it a worthy addition to the franchise. After the turns made in this movie, as well as an inescapable real life event as Carrie Fisher's death, the final part of this trilogy promises to be something wholly new. However, if it's left in the hands of Rian Johnson, it'll still turn out great.

I give this movie a solid A, and would recommend that you check it out in all its cinematic glory on the big screen.

God Bless

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