dir: Rian Johnson
So, yeah, I didn’t care for it.
Not my cup of tea.
Maybe I’m just burned out on the whole Star Wars saga. It’s possible. I’ve consumed more of it on a daily basis than any doctor outside of George Lucas’s doctor would ever recommend without receiving corrupt money directly from Disney.
But something, or rather many somethings, just didn’t feel right about this movie.
I don’t get where it’s coming from. I don’t really get why the characters do most of the dumb things they do, and where the actions aren’t dumb and maybe seem kinda cool it doesn’t feel like it belongs in a Star Wars flick, or this flick specifically.
It seems more like it belongs in a Rian Johnson flick. Sure, I know he’s the director, and had he not been able to superimpose his stamp over such an entrenched property like Star Wars, it would have just seemed like generic work-for-hire stuff that anyone could have produced (anyone other than Lucas). But there’s a sometimes distracting cleverness to Rian Johnson’s stuff, as seen in his flicks like Brick, Brothers Bloom, Looper and in several Breaking Bad episodes that he had a hand in.
The best example of what I’m talking about – distracting smartarsedness – is not even from Last Jedi. It’s from Brick. Bear with me, I swear it (might) make sense in the long run.
There’s a sequence in Brick where the protagonist played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is running away from someone who wants to beat him up or shoot him or ask him for a donation or something. What follows, in this very low budget movie, especially compared to a goddamn Star Wars film that uses up the GDP of a medium sized nation just for glossy posters at tram stops and train stations from Melbourne to Mianzhu, is just the kind of goddamn smartarse thing that Johnson does.
So he’s running down a corridor being chased, and you suddenly hear the loud clomping of his shoes, and then the shoes of his opponent. Clomp clomp clomp, and then a different tone of clomp clomp clomp to indicate the different people running. It’s crude but effective. Combined with the way it’s edited, it’s an effective sequence that builds to a ‘clever’ resolution as the protagonist quick-thinks a way into tricking the guy chasing him, and messes him up.
It’s entirely dependent on sound, in that the absence of sound is how he gets the drop on his opponent, and it’s cathartic and satisfying and wonderful and then you think about it for a second and it entirely falls apart.
The important thing, though, is that Rian Johnson got to be clever for a few seconds in a sequence that probably took him months to plan, just so he can feel clever about himself, and yet they don’t really make much sense or really justify themselves other than the “cleverness” of the result.
Like, why is it other than necessity / convenience that we can suddenly “hear” protagonists shoes so loudly, when we never heard them before? And why does the trick that the protagonist pulls (being taking off his shoes and hiding low out of sight) to trick the other guy work at all, considering that the other guy *not* hearing his prey’s footsteps would alert him to the fact that the other guy isn’t running anymore?
The truth is, though, I’m being a bit of a dick about it. The scene is possibly great, and too clever for its own good by half, but it’s also perhaps deliberately meant to be like a Warner Bros cartoon from yesteryear, with the rabbit or the road runner or whoever – take your pick.
There are a fair few moments in Last Jedi just like that. They’re clever, in that they maybe make Johnson feel clever about himself, but what precedes those moments and what follows those moments doesn’t always, or, I have to say, often connect in any meaningful way.
I will be the first to admit that I found long stretches of this flick baffling and bewildering. It just didn’t feel like a Star Wars flick. Even the bad ones, though there really aren’t “good” and “bad” ones really, they’re all just the same crap with different interest levels. They all tell a recognisable story, no matter how samey – banal it might be at times.
There’s an aspect I’m reluctant to go into, not because it’s spoiler material, but because it sounds like I have an idea in my head of what an 8th or 9th or nth Star Wars movie should have been like, instead of being able to just watch the story presented here and deal with that. The thing is, while I don’t doubt the instincts of the people involved, in that they’re trying to go in new directions while having enough callbacks and fan-service to keep the faithful buying merchandise like there’s no tomorrow. But the fact still is that I can’t really figure out where they’re going with this stuff and why.
In the last film, The Force Awakens, the Empire is the same as before, just as powerful, but it calls itself the First Order, and is lead by a supremely ugly being of some description. The good guys of the New Republic were all somehow magically blown up by the Super Duper Ultra Death Star, which blew up a whole solar system. So now, in this flick, the ‘good’ people are the underdogs again, and the First Order are in the ascendant.
Which basically means it’s back to where things were like 40 years ago their time when Empire Strikes Back happened, which is either one of those concepts about the circularity of time or just an open admission that every effort in the interim was a waste of fucking time. The Rebels are on the back foot, could be they’ll even be wiped out, who knows? And the poncy and genocidal First Order are even more poncy and homicidal.
When the film begins, the Rebels or the Alliance or the Goody Two Space Shoe jerks are fleeing somewhere, but Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) wants to blow up a really big ship of theirs called the Penetrator or the Defenestrator or some such hypermasculine name. He does this in pretty much the only funny part of the flick by pretending he can’t hear the First Order jerk as he gets all flustered and spittle flies freely as he tries to be heard over the din of explosions.
It can be hard when people won’t listen to you. It can feel very disempowering. The two things that stuck out for me the most, though, were the obvious importance of the ‘sacrifice’ that one nameless character makes during this suicidal bombing run, which will obviously play a role in someone’s motivation later on, and, secondly, how exactly does dropping bombs in space make any sense? As in, they drop them like regular dumb bombs and then do they make that World War II whistling sound as they fall?
Whatever. It doesn’t ultimately mean anything, because the spaceship they blow up is immediately replaced with a new one, who brought some mates with him. Tables have turned again, and the most boring chase in movie history begins where the Resistance tries to juuuuuust stay ahead of the bad guys, who for some reason are impeded from wiping them out straight away just because they want the ending stretched out for two and a half goddamn hours. Of course, thinking of reasons why none of this section makes any sense (like, if the Resistance vessels only have enough fuel for one jump at light speed, and they fear they’re being tracked, why don’t the, let’s say, twenty vessels jump to twenty different coordinates, nineteen survive while one bites the big one, rather than watching them be picked off one by one, or why the First Order ships don’t just jump ahead of them and then wipe them out) is an exercise in futility. Why? Because just because you’ve figured out what the flaw is in something doesn’t mean you get let out of the cinema earlier.
It’s not like finishing an exam early because you know all the answers. I have to assume that the people making something see the flaws just like I do, but that they just either wave those issues away or figure it’ll be worth it anyway because no-one will care if it’s executed in a cool way.
If it was executed in a cool way, that’s for other people who aren’t me to decide. I feel like I’m incapable of being able to tell at the moment. Such a jumble of stuff is involved in this flick, so many odd things happened that I can barely… where was I again?
In this early bit, the most baffling moment comes from General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, in her last role, gods rest her beautiful soul). A TIE-fighter blows out the windows on the ship she’s on, and she ends up in the cold vacuum of space. The cold vacuum of space is unforgiving.
Luckily, she has space magic, and somehow saves herself and floats down somewhere in order to keep on living. Space Magic, you may ask? Yes, really, the Force moves in mysterious ways. The Force does or doesn’t do whatever they want, but now you’ve seen something even more magical than the other stuff, like manipulating people’s minds or making stuff float or purple lightning and such. Now it’s a “Get out of Death Free” card that can almost literally do anything that a mediocre screenwriter can ever imagine.
So… we have the one story about the fleet fleeing the forces of First Orderliness, then it splits to Finn (John Boyega) and the sister of the woman who died to bomb the ship at the beginning (Kelly Marie Tran) go on a trip to a casino planet to find a guy, and then of course we’ve also got Rey (Daisy Riley) on some water planet that has one island on it, seeking out help from what we think is the last Jedi living, being Luke (Mark Hamill).
And goddamn is he old. Old and crotchety. Always whining and complaining, and living a very pointless existence on this rock, just waiting to die. Rey doesn’t know what to make of any of this, so she’s a bit confused. She’s wondering, like we are, why they’ve gone this way with the character.
She wants him to help the Resistance. He tells her to bugger off. She wants him to train her. He doesn’t want to. It’s hard to convince old people to change their minds about anything, whether it’s gay marriage or to chew with their mouths closed. She follows him through his mind-numbingly awful daily routines. The daily routines are something to behold.
He milks some kind of land manatee walrus cow that sits upright, and gets some of its blue milk on his beard, and gives her possibly the creepiest facial expression of endorsement I’ve ever seen (it’s very funny, I hope intentionally). He clambers across rocks and then harpoons some aquatic creature and eats it. All the while Rey keeps looking at him like “what’s with this demented faux-Yoda routine? Stop being boring and start training me already!” She looks like she can’t believe it either.
Eventually we assume that he’s going to do something meaningful, but he’s too old, and too ashamed of himself for some terrible thing he once did.
Man, I know how that feels. Sometimes all you want to do is to hide at the edge of the galaxy and just let the universe pass you by. Disney, however, is not going to let a character like this retire with grace, though: No, there are too many billions to be made, and they’ve got to get them all.
Hamill is genuinely off-putting and unpleasant in this flick. The direction where they take the character, though possibly “interesting”, is not that satisfying for me, at this stage. It possibly makes a lot of sense, but I didn’t enjoy watching it. Perversely, though, it’s probably his best performance in any of the flicks.
Rey struggles with a lot of things in this flick. The weirdest thing she struggles with is not knowing what happened to her parents, or not knowing what happened to them, and, in the grand tradition of insecure women dealing with family abandonment issues, she totally falls for the wrong kind of abusive guy. Well, “falls for” is perhaps over-stating things, but she certainly has a strange connection to father-killer Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) that spans star systems, such that they can have these Facetime chats whenever they have a spare moment. She talks to him about stuff, and he, like any abusive ex-boyfriend, keeps negging her, and telling her that no-one else understands her like he does, and how they should get back together and other manipulative bullshit.
I guess one of the positives with this flick is that the path it was going to take wasn’t often in any way something I could easily predict based on how these flicks generally go. So much of A-B-C stories are pretty much deliberately frustrating failures. They’re red herrings and wild goose chases, meant to make us realise that whatever happened in the other flicks, whatever seems important about these characters or these types of characters, isn’t really that important compared to the fact that most of them are just going to die.
We learn the terrible secret of why Luke cut himself off from the Force, but its only purpose is to get Rey and Kylo together in Snoke’s deeply red throne room.
Who or what is Snoke? What the fuck is Snoke? Well, it’s one of those circular arguments – Snoke is the Supreme Leader of the First Order, and the Supreme Leader of the First Order is Snoke. Care to learn a thing about him? Nah, he’s gone before it matters in another one of those stunts that makes Rian Johnson make himself feel so fucking clever, and maybe gives you a bit of a laugh, but then you think “Eh?”
During all of this, Finn and Rose and the cute little BB-8 search for a master codebreaker on a planet that’s meant to look like a sci-fi Monaco casino-like planet with a horrible underclass of oppressed children and animals. The point of all of this is not lost on me, since obviously I side with the children and the animals and not the spoiled 1 per centers, but I only really understood the purpose of these sequences right at the very end, for two different reasons.
The first and most perplexing reason is that I didn’t realise in this sequence that we were meant to be seeing that Rose and Finn were growing closer. Like, you know, romantically. The reason I say it that way is that when at the very end of the flick, when Rose does something to save Finn, and then tells him she did it out of love, I was as perplexed and confused as he seemed to be. As much as I enjoyed their scenes in the flick, and they’re some if not most of the decent dialogue scenes in the flick, I did not think there was or needed to be a romantic angle at all.
At All. But what do I know? When they get their big showdown with Captain Phasma (the great Brienne of Tarth Gwendolyn Christie) who gets three seconds of screen time, we’re meant to care and cheer, but I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t care. Not One Bit. Like with most of the boo-hiss villainous characters in this flick, other than being told we should hate them, they didn’t really exist as characters for me, at all. They might as well have been holograms.
There’s so much more going on, but I really don’t know how I felt about it all, or whether it justified the price of admission. For all the problems I might have had with the films from Phantom Menace through to Revenge of the Sith, for all the terrible horrible moments including lines about sand being itchy or wishing one could wish one’s feelings away, I generally walked away from those films feeling energised. I walked away from this one feeling irritated, and like someone had swindled me out of some money in a game of three-card Monty where they were only using one card and I still didn’t see the trick.
Maybe the next one will be more satisfying, and truth be told it wouldn’t take much. I just … I just wish they’d excised two-thirds of the bullshit with the fleet and the casino stuff, and fleshed out the Rey story more. She gives so much more than the flick asks of her here, and yet it still doesn’t resonate as much as her work in Force Awakens.
There are sacrifices in this flick, so many sacrifices, so many deaths, and yet, really, it didn’t seem to matter that much. The Resistance is down to like twenty people, and it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. The one death that really resonates is a real world one – that of Carrie Fisher – and seeing her be magnificent and talk shit at Poe and anyone else within earshot brought tears of gratitude to my eyes. And yet they keep her character alive (With Space Magic!), when she can’t really be in the next flick, can she? Unless she’s all CGI like in Rogue One, who knows.
I – I am deeply conflicted about this flick. My initial instinct is to say it’s not just a bad Star Wars movie, but a bad movie, but I don’t think I’m being fair to it just yet. Maybe, like with all of them after watching them a bunch of times, Stockholm Syndrome kicks in and you just accept that they’re just like that, like racist comments from older relatives, or public transport always smelling like that.
The Last Jedi – won’t be the Last Jedi – because m m m m money. Look in to your heart. You know it to be true.
6 times I hope the Porgs play all the main roles in the next flick out of 10
“You are no Vader. You are just a child in a mask.” – ooo, sick burn, guy with a strange bread roll for a face – The Last Jedi