Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Movie Review: Star Wars the Last Jedi

I am struggling to figure out the motive.

How and why could they make such a stupendously awful Star Wars movie?

The film is a masterclass in anticlimax. The vast majority of what you see on screen is of zero consequence. Hour-long subplots about infiltrating enemy ships go nowhere. The return of Luke Skywalker, a character that we just spent an entire movie building up, turns out to be almost totally pointless. The much teased mentorship of Rey by Luke ends with him teaching her nothing. (like she needs to be taught anything anyway...) The great mystery of Rey's parents turns out to be irrelevant, doubling down on the Mary Sue criticism of her character. The enigmatic Snoke, a powerful Force user able to throw lightning and use telepathy across light years, is tossed away with zero payoff. If you were at all excited about any of the mysteries and questions raised by the previous film, The Last Jedi does a thorough job of both disappointing you and insulting you for caring in the first place.

The Last Jedi is methodical in its deconstruction of the franchise. The Force, that mystical thing that required both a natural affinity and years of study to master, is now just a random super power. Luke Skywalker, the great hope of the galaxy who risked his own life to redeem his genocidal father, is a useless hermit who considers murdering children in their sleep. Just as The Force Awakens cheapened Han Solo by making the former hero into a bumbling old smuggler shown up by Rey at every step, The Last Jedi continues sullying all of the good elements of the previous movies. Some have argued that the purpose is to push a feminist agenda.

I don't know that I agree with that theory but it is true that there are no competent male characters in the story. Not a single male character achieves the goals they pursue. Finn spent the last film being shown up by Rey. He spends this one being shown up by a no-name pudgy Asian chick. Kylo Ren, the only decent character remaining, is completely neutered as a threat as he is again bested by Rey and then later by a Force hologram. Luke has nothing to offer Rey and offers nothing to the rebellion except five minutes of stalling time before keeling over and dying on a rock. A wondrous sendoff indeed for cinema's most famous hero of the past forty years. Ace pilot Poe is a reckless fool who gets most of the rebel fleet destroyed senselessly and wastes an a chunk of the movie's runtime on a cockamamie plan ending in a failed mutiny. Snoke and Hux of the First Order are also both miserable failures.

Honestly I really hope female empowerment was not the goal here since all it takes is a moment's reflection to see that the women are just as dumb as the men in this movie. The purple-haired commander gets most of the rebels killed by simply not telling people her plan. Leia, revealed to be a Force user of near godlike power, does nothing of value. The previously mentioned Asian chick (I refuse to be bothered to remember her character's name or look it up) fails at disabling the First Order's tracking system and then helps the bad guys break into the rebellion's fortress by suicide ramming Finn's ship. She does this to save his life by the way in spite of the fact that this move should have killed them both. The only female of real talent is Rey but she barely counts as an actual character. Apparently women are supposed to feel empowered by a young girl who never makes mistakes, never needs to learn anything, and never fails. Were I a woman I would find this insulting.

There's a cynical flippantness to the film. The joke's don't feel like the old Star Wars movies where they helped develop characters and had an air of optimism. The humor instead feels like Reddit. Spiteful, forced, self-aware, and unfunny - eager to undermine any sense of reverence. The incredibly powerful moment when Rey hands the lightsaber to Luke is played for laughs with Luke petulantly tossing it away. The First Order are shown to be bumbling fools unable to defend themselves from a single small fighter, overtake a single rebel ship, destroy a single rebel base in spite of overwhelming military might. Oh, and light-speed kamikaze ramming is a thing now. A single ship can destroy an entire enemy fleet by just using warp drive. Why this was never done in the seven other films is inexplicable. The rebels could have crushed the Death Star with a single warp speed fighter had they wanted.

I could go on for days about all of the plot holes and stupid details that ruin earlier Star Wars movies. Not one scene bears scrutiny. Here's the thing though: They know all of this. Disney, Rian Johnson, all of the producers, writers, actors - they are not idiots. It's not like they would gasp in surprise if you pointed any of this out to them. They know how dumb all of this stuff is. They know the implications for the previous movies. They know how thoroughly the older characters have been destroyed. Believe me, they know.

With all the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and films like Frozen and Moana, it should be obvious that it is well within Disney's power to make simple crowd-pleasing films. There was some effort in that direction with The Force Awakens. That film was basically a copy and paste of the original Star Wars movie. Derivative as it may have been there was at least one clear goal: They wanted to please the fans.

You can't say that about The Last Jedi. The entire film is basically Disney spitting in the face of anyone who has been invested in the franchise for a long time. So again, the question is: why? Why do this to a flagship franchise that you spent billions procuring? Surely they knew it would be easy enough to buy the needed critical acclaim. Surely they knew they would make tons of money no matter what dreck they put out. But I would have happily taken cliche-ridden schlock over this. The Last Jedi is worse than just a bad movie. It is a bad movie that goes out of its way to drag down other good movies and good characters. It is a film that proudly soils one of the most iconic franchises in all of modern culture. Worse still, it doesn't even seem to have any profound reason for doing this. There is no big dramatic twist. No grand idea or challenging theme. It's the cinematic equivalent of an artist tearing up a beautiful hotel room and vomiting all over the walls and then proudly showing off his work expecting praise for being bold enough to "break conventions," and not give the fans what they want.

The Last Jedi is the worst movie I have seen in a very long time. It is the last time I will ever spend a penny on a Star Wars movie while Disney owns the property. It is, quite simply, a shameful film.

So the question remains: why?

Grade: F