Tuesday 26 December 2017

The Last Jedi review

I think Star Wars is played out. There is simply nothing else that you can do with this universe that hasn’t been done already, and zero effort is being put in to creating new and compelling stories. Or at least this is the feeling I got viewing The Last Jedi…. Episode VIII is a disappointment. It carries over all of the things that were a let-down about The Force Awakens, and adds little to the greater Star Wars mythos.

Spoilers ahead!

The Last Jedi Logo


Main Premise is stupid

The main plot is a contrivance that makes absolutely no sense.

Ok, so the Rebel fleet is running out of fuel and can’t make a light speed jump because they can be tracked and would then be unable to escape when they reach their destination. They can accelerate outside of the range of the perusing First Order fleet, and can then stay out of range, using sub light engines because the Rebel ships are smaller, and can accelerate quicker. The clock is now ticking to find a way out of the situation before fuel runs out.

Star destoryer keeping up with Leia's Corellian corvette.
Star destroyer keeps up with Leia's Corellian Covette
I call bullshit. Even  ignoring the fact that star destroyers had no issue keeping up with a Corellian corvette at the beginning of A New Hope, or catching up with the Millennium Falcon in Empire, and so should have easily kept up with a lumbering Mon Calamari cruiser, the First Order had heaps of options to catch the fleet.

Launching a wave of TIE bombers? There would have been several squadrons available. Firing torpedoes?

Or how about just going faster? The resistance fleet is running out of fuel, but the First Order Fleet isn’t… How about making a light speed jump to simply catch up? Or hell, what not use some actual tactics and hyperjump a star destroyer on either side of the resistance fleet, one ahead of the fleet to slow it down, and Snoke’s ship directly behind, and then open fire with a massive concentrated volley on all sides?

Ok, they wanted a cat and mouse scenario. But there was no tension. The whole premise felt really forced, and really unbelievable. It was literally just waiting for the clock to run out.

And not to mention this is the Rebel fleet we are talking about! These same admirals, capital ships, and star fighters stood against a massive fleet of star destroyers and a death star at Endor, AND WON. They were feared by the Empire to the point that they scoured the galaxy to wipe them out, and stood up to everything the Empire threw at them. The same fleet that was so effective at guerrilla tactics and subterfuge that the Empire committed the last remaining Jedi to hunt them down as his primary mission.

This heroic fleet didn’t go down in a blaze of glory - capital ship versus capital ship, in a battle of tactics, standing until the last in a heroic showdown protecting what was left of freedom in the galaxy.

Nope… Instead the freaking Rebel fleet was defeated because it literally ran out of gas. 

And why would the entire fleet run out of fuel at the same time anyway? Do the resistance refuel all their ships at exactly the same time to share a discount coupon or something?

What we got was boring and a let-down.

The First Order Strikes Back…

The Empire Strikes Back is perhaps the best sequel ever made. Clearly Rian Johnson agrees, as The Last Jedi is once again a remake. It’s not a blatant retelling like The Force Awaken was of a New Hope, but it hits all the major points. Zero effort was put into tell a new story.

The education of Rey as a Jedi is the prime example.
Luke faces Vader in the Dagobah dark side cave.
Luke faces his dark side trial on Dagobah
  • The protagonist has to enlist the help of a reclusive Jedi master who has put himself into exile in what is a difficult environment that hides their location.
  • The purpose of this exile is partly as a penance for a wrong they feel they committed.
  • The master is reluctant to take on the protagonist as a learner, feeling they are undisciplined and perhaps already influenced by the dark side.
  • The protagonist enters a cave strong in the dark side of the force that tests their resolve. Both encounters end with the protagonist seeing a reflection of themselves in the dark side.
  • After failing to control their emotions, and failing to prove their rejection of the dark side, the protagonist leaves the training without having completed it to help their friends. 
  • After the protagonist leaves master is visited by the ghost of an old ally.

Meanwhile our hero’s, having become separated from the Rebel fleet, have decided to enlist
the help of a gambler and criminal who is a major player at an upmarket establishment. They end up being double crossed and captured.

And it goes on. Both films begin with the Rebels scrambling to evacuate their base while under fire from the Empire / first order. The Hoth AT-AT walker ground attack is reproduced, complete with frontal assault by atmosphere based fighters with defence handled by entrenched ground troops….

And, once again, this film is king of the call backs. Luke’s submerged X-wing. Yoda. “Rebel Scum”. Blue milk. Emperors guards. Jedi master sacrifices himself for the others to escape. Luke looks longingly at the twin suns. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Still nothing is explained

My biggest complaint about The Force Awakens was that it lacked a lot of exposition to bring the audience up to speed with the state of the Republic in this new trilogy and, as a result, felt confused and out of place with the established Star Wars universe. The Last Jedi doubles down on this, and makes no real attempts to explain anything of the premise.

A key example; assuming that the resistance is a direct continuation of the previous rebel forces – and it almost certainly is, being that they employ all the leadership of that organisation, many of the ships, and they outright drop the ‘resistance’ moniker by the end of the film in favour of rebellion – then  why is the fleet so small?

Assuming that the rebel fleet did not replace its losses at all after the Return of the Jedi (and we know they in fact did replace their losses being that Poe’s X-wing squadron is a new model and they have a new class of bomber) then the rebel fleet should still be comprised of several Mon Calamari cruisers and other frigates, escort vessels, and several squadrons of fighters and bombers at least. Yet all that is left at the beginning of The Last Jedi is a single Mon Calamari cruiser, a couple of Nebulon B and B2 frigates and a handful of other frigates. And by the end all is left is a couple of dozen people.

What happened to the Alliance fleet?  I guess that the First Oder could have whittled it down to this remaining force as it moved through Republic space taking planet after planet. But The Last Jedi takes place immediately after The Force Awakens – when did such a campaign take place?

Rebel Alliance Fleet at the battle of Endor.
Part of the Rebel Alliance fleet at the battle of Endor.

And while we are at it – why does the Republic not have its own military forces for defence?

It kind of makes sense the new Republic wouldn’t have a centralised military. It was the formation of the clone army under the direct control of the central government that led to the rise of the Galactic Empire, so I can see the member systems of the New Republic being very weary of giving that sort of power over to the central authority again. That’s probably why the Republic was financing the private military of the resistance in the first place.

But the prequels made it very clear that individual systems and organisation have their own militaries for defence. Even the peace loving Naboo had at least one squadron of star fighters. This is also implied in the makeup of the Rebel Alliance fleet in the original trilogy – with each of the rebelling systems adding parts of their own military forces to the cause, giving the Alliance fleet its eclectic collection of ships from various systems.

The Trade Federation private army attacks the Gungan military
In a New Republic that doesn’t have a standing army I could see this being even more the case. Especially after the years of turmoil that undoubtedly happened in the power vacuum after the Empire ended, and the paranoia of not being able to defend themselves should the central government try this again. I could see some of the individual systems that make up the New Republic being armed to the teeth, like, ahem, Corellia…. home of the Republics largest shipyards. The ones that built star destroyers...

Even without a central military, surely the First Order would have had a long slog to take over the New Republic system by system.  Even a token defence like that of Naboo would slow them down. But they appear to have just rocked up and taken it unopposed. Yes, destroying  Coruscant would have made the Republic’s defence much less organised, at least in the short term. But taking out Washington DC wouldn’t make an invasion of America easy by any means…

Why was the Republic such a cake walk? Was their entire defence strategy really in the Resistance fleet?   If so why was it so small and underfunded? Where is everyone else? What happened to the existing Rebel Alliance fleet? What was the state of the republic following the fall of the Empire?

And of course nothing gets answered from The Force Awakens. Who the hell was Snoke? Why didn’t the Republic deal with the First Order when it first became apparent that they were becoming a threat? Where are the Knights of Ren?

Rey the Wunderkind

This wasn’t something that bothered me all as much as some in The Force Awakens, but holy hell they’ve taken it up a notch this time. In the original trilogy the graduation of Luke from a force sensitive nobody to a Jedi knight was a slow process. Luke was only just coming to terms with his Jedi abilities by Empire Strikes back. During the Bespin light sabre duel Vader was only toying with Luke, who was barely able to keep up. But Rey has not only mastered moving things with her mind, but defeats Luke outright in combat! Then takes on a room full of Snoke’s guards.

It’s too much too fast, and completely blew away immersion.

Such a slow story

Ultimately it’s the pace and presentation of the story that really lets this film down.

There are never any real stakes. Finn and Rose heading off to find the thief? It was a non-issue all along. Luke’s fight with Kylo Ren? Luke was never in any danger.  Finn was never actually going to sacrifice himself. The Rebels are in danger of being wiped out? Luke Skywalker deus ex machina to the rescue.

In Empire there was a genuine risk of Luke turning to the dark side. He’d already failed his trial in the dark side cave, and he was letting his emotions push him towards the confrontation at Bespin. And Yoda even stated that he wasn’t the last possible saviour of the galaxy. “That boy is our last hope”. “No. There is another”. But Rey had already rejected the dark side during her trial in the cave, and was heavily invested in saving Kylo Ren. It never felt like there was ever any real threat that she could be turned.

Vice-Admiral HoldoThe big climax of the movie of the vice-admiral sacrificing herself was poorly presented. A completely new character that for most of the movie has been portrayed as an incompetent bitch. And now we are supposed to be emotionally invested in her sacrifice?
The main characters have no soul. The actors themselves are great, but the characters are written so one dimensional. They lack that spark that existed between Luke, Leia, and Han. And Poe is presented as a cocksure idiot the whole movie.

And, with the exception of Leia, no respect is given to the characters from the original trilogy. Yoda lies to Luke to trick him into confronting Kylo Ren. Admiral Akbar is named dropped as he is sucked into the vacuum of space.

Luke Skywalker gets the worst treatment of all. After all his training in the original trilogy,  overcoming the temptation of the dark side, and becoming a fully fledged Jedi knight and saviour of the galaxy, Luke gives into his fear and emotions, succumbs to the darkside, and a attempted to cowardly murder Ben Solo in his sleep. REALLY?!? The same Luke Skywalker who risked his own life to redeem Darth Vader, a full fledged sith lord responsible for countless deaths and atrocities, because he could sense the good in him, went straight to murder when one of his own padawan learners had leanings towards the darkside? And not just any padawan - his own nephew, and the son of his best friend. REALLY?!? 

And Luke's fall to the dark side was addressed in a freaking flashback!

Then to end it all, Luke Skywalker, a decades old cultural icon, and a hero to generations of Star Wars fans, dies sitting on a rock on a distant planet out of harm’s way. What the hell killed him anyway?

The original characters are only in these films for the purpose of killing them off.

The verdict?

Star Wars is out of ideas. With the entire expanded universe to draw inspiration from the only thing they could come up with was to remake The Empire Strikes Back. Poorly.

Little effort is being put into making a coherent story that actually adds to established canon, or even fits into the narrative of the previous films. The tone of the original films is gone. Where The Empire Strikes Back had genuine tension and suspense, interesting locations, believable story lines, and ground breaking special effects, The Last Jedi has slapstick comedy , re-hashed stories, re-hashed visuals, and zero tension.  But hey, at least it has ‘splosions right?

The Last Jedi is long and tedious, and feels like the tail end of a far more interesting story.

But I’m sure that is by design. It’s obvious that Disney wants to milk that cash cow for all it’s worth. The core movies are giving us the absolute minimum story so that there is plenty of headroom for novels, comics, games, and standalone films to fill in the gaps, forcing you to spend big if you want the full picture.

The Disney team has very little respect for the source material, and that sucks.