Filmgoer’s Flamethrower #3 – The Last Jedi

Posted: December 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

How do you create a movie in the Star Wars canon that does what Empire Strikes Back did without getting caught relying exclusively on Empire’s plot outline as much as Force Awakens did with New Hope? Depending on how much snark you want…very carefully or shut up and just watch The Last Jedi already. Actually, snark either way…sorry.

As seems to be the new trend in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, ten minutes at most have passed since we last left our heroic Resistance folks whooping it up that Poe’s proton torpedoes just farted on Starkiller Base and the Resistance fleet (such as it is) makes an under fire evacuation ahead of the First Order fleet. We get to see the sequence only implied in the three-year in universe gap between New Hope and Empire Strikes Back and it’s not going well. Cool.

Pretty much the bad guys in Star Wars-land do better when they distribute their impressive firepower amongst a fleet instead of building the Big Bad Space Gun, but then these guys never shoot straight at heroes unless the Force (and/or screenwriter) wills it so. General Huxs and Kylo Ren harry the dwindling Resistance fleet. Lasers, particle beams (I think) and probably a little bit of Monty Python-style French invective – “I fart in your general direction, Rebel Scum!” – pass between the fleets pounding the shields on the Resistance ships. The shields will hold for a little while…

Meanwhile, Rey from Nowhere (her name for herself) nanny nags Luke Skywalker on the holy island in the Irish, er…Ahch-To Sea (I like and feel safe with not breaking the Fourth Wall, usually). She wants understanding of her place in the galaxy as a Force user, which isn’t the same as the training. Basically, Rey trains herself for all the mundane details like saber moves and lifting rocks and just needs an explanation of her purpose. Unlike Luke’s Dagobah Sojourn there isn’t time for more. Luke has lost his spark as a Jedi…

Truthfully, the only way I don’t like Star Wars: The Last Jedi is if the filmmaking team trips over its own feet and gives us something better ghettoized with Episodes 1-3, something chock full of should’ve been brilliant political insights, acting to make one laugh or cringe (intoxicants help avoid cringe) and on-paper casting that should’ve worked but fell on its nose. None of that has been part of Third Trilogy Star Wars, so far. Why paying $4 billion to the former management makes sense. And Last Jedi represents the franchise hitting a good stride.

The first noticeable thing about this movie is that the famously overwrought dialogue that tried to harken back to old Flash Gordon serials has been successfully extirpated. Everybody speaks a regular version of their native English speaking voice standing in for Galactic Common that expresses character and mostly gets to the point. Refreshing doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Additionally, this installment represents a team finally embracing the logic of the material on the page, especially the characters. A big winner in the cool sweepstakes is General Leia Organa who has a General moment instead of the many Princess moments (look good in white, try not to have a Brussels sprouts face contemplating the golden slave bikini, strategically kiss either Luke or Han to ensure compliance with the rest of the narrative and inspire others to do the dirty work) throughout her tenure in the franchise.

What is a General moment? During the extended chase that defines the whole narrative for the Resistance forces, Poe Dameron defies Leia’s interpretation of their impending doom pressing an attack that wipes out a junior version of First Order Big Bad Space Gun at the cost of too many people. General Organa slaps the shit out of the insubordinate SOB and demotes him from Commander to Captain (Star Wars fighter pilots use blended Navy and Air Force ranks). A few minutes later, she has a Should Have Been a Jedi moment demonstrating that mere vacuum is nothing before the Power of the Living Force.

Another interesting feature of this movie is that we finally get to see what the Force actually does more than “lifting rocks,” as Rey mistakenly thinks upon her arrival on Ahch-To. People talk to each other across the galaxy with a physical presence that allows them to shift actual stuff across the light years. This includes the dice from the Millennium Falcon that were only a thing in one scene from New Hope, an homage to American Graffiti. And a set of books from the First Jedi Temple on Ahch-To thought destroyed earlier in the story that we’re not sure if Rey knows she’s has been entrusted with their care. And Luke pulls off a big Force trick to help defeat the bad guys.

So I pretty much like the writing, except where I don’t. I can’t pick out who the best actor is because it’s all good, though if we were to judge from the quality of Leia’s various moments it’s her movie to steal. Following the logic of the best moments will more often than not create the best acting.

As always, the filmmaking team has found all the interesting places on Earth that can double for new locations in the Galaxy Far, Far Away without a single Star Wars desert planet in sight. The cinematography of the “make sure to get the scenery in its best light” variety serves as a travel ad for those places, especially Dubrovnik, where if Game of Thrones wasn’t going to make me go then seeing it used again as the beachside casino planet hiding several characters of later importance to the Jedi mythology definitely will. The saltpan speeder chase juxtaposing white salt and a brick red under layer of dust says to me that the location scout will stay gainfully employed for years.

And now for the medicine that needs sugar to go down easier. I’m going to assume that the theater in which I experienced this generally great bordering on superlative movie turned the audio down just a notch too low. I heard the dialogue, sort of, and grooved to composer John Williams’ exceptional score that, except for common themes and leitmotifs that need to carry over, was almost completely new even allowing for Force Awakens. I’m guessing that I will either get the audio I think I deserve on my next viewing in a different theater, or I’ll just have to monkey with the audio on my TV when the Blue-Ray/DVD hit market in about five months.

You did hear me say I liked the script…until I didn’t? Here’s what I mean. We have a large story to tell that fills up two and a half hours, something that has never happened in a Star Wars movie, including Return of the Jedi that even in the form given to us needed twenty-five more minutes to finish the Original Trilogy properly. During the beginning, middle and early parts of the end, we are treated to fun moments of characters sassing each other, feeling genuine emotion and keeping up the danger of the evacuation chase, great moments of a Resistance proudly shifting back to being the Rebellion and f*&^king proud of it and tearful moments of self-sacrifice.

But, all of this nutrient-dense storytelling has the cost of requiring what feels like up to six false endings where we expect to cut to the traditional star field with blue text for the credits and John Williams best theme from the movie. It’s as if someone from the Star Wars shop had one too many coffees with a similarly titled employee from the Marvel shop that we assume is headquartered across the hall on the Disney lot. Star Wars doesn’t do mid and post credit sequences like Marvel does that might have helped these false endings.

The false endings listed: deal with Rey’s moment including show the books thought destroyed on Ahch-To, deal with Finn’s ending, deal with Poe’s ending, skip over a shot of the Millennium Falcon in hyperspace that might have ended any other movie in the franchise, deal with Leia’s ending, thrill at Luke’s massively important ending, reveal a character on the casino planet important for Episode 9, show us Kylo Ren’s transition ending. Pretty much it’s an extremely noticeable amount of – “but wait there’s more!” – that I haven’t seen since before Billy Mays died.

All in all, fans of the franchise will be pleasantly surprised by this movie, especially since I think the team strategically released spoiler information in such a way as to create the wrong impressions over the previous year. Almost nothing in the Facebook speculation came out exactly as assumed. They will form teams around which character did the coolest (I’m Team Leia for this one, but there is justification for all the other partisan sub-units so chill) and except for the false endings no one has any reason to be snotty or hate a character or be pissed off. See you at the movies.

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