| January 13, 2020
Just to lay down a sense of my standards for Star Wars… I am a fan, not a fanboy. I have seen all the previous films multiple times. I saw Star Wars on opening weekend 42 years ago. I didn’t hate The Phantom Menace, but I do find Jar Jar and “Anni!” irritating. I didn’t dislike, but didn’t love J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, mostly because I found his directing marginal at best and didn’t love the whininess of Kylo Ren. I think The Last Jedi is easily the best directed of the entire series, I loved a lot of choices that Rian Johnson made that others disliked, and I would place the film right after the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back on my overall list.
All that said…
I kinda hated Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The stuff that Abrams walked back from the Rian Johnson film was slightly irritating, but isn’t keeping me up tonight. (There is one exception that I will have to wait for a spoiler review to get into.)
And the first sequence of the film screamed “Star Trek” at me, which I wasn’t happy about… though it settled down after a while.
What made me crazy while watching this film was three-fold. First, the obnoxiously relentless fan servicing. Second, the unnecessary complication of EVERYTHING. And third, the inability of the film to allow the drama to breathe without cutting it off with a cheap gag. Some of the gags are very funny, don’t get me wrong. But it reminded me of a nervous kid on a date, trying to charm with humor, and then when the making out begins, continuing to try to be funny when the tone of the moment is something else. (Laughing in bed can be great… but you get my point?)
The fan servicing is something that I am not usually bothered by. Really, let people have the stuff they love. I don’t judge that. I don’t hate franchises or Disney IP obsession or any of that. If the movie is great, I am a happy boy. I don’t see a bit of fan servicing as piss in the broth.
However… good GOD! It felt almost like there was a meter on the J.J.’s desk that let him know that if he hadn’t made a reference to the other films or created a new toy every 2.5 minutes, he had to go back and fill the void. Again, details are going to have to be discussed elsewhere. But it is exhausting.
I expect to see a new trick or two or a new creature or four in every movie. But the relentless indulgence of both in this film… too much. Add to that, what is specifically fan service (though I consider both the new tricks and new creatures to be that too on some level) is way out of control. Just try to think of something that was left out and BOOM!, it will arrive. Bad magic.
And some of it really feels like trying to add a new skew to the Star Wars product line. There is one elaborate effort to put the pieces of a particular important prop back together… and what is the result? The same old thing but with red lines all over it where the pieces came back together. What kind of welders are these? Don’t they have black in their toolkit? Irritated me every time I saw it the rest of the way.
And if someone can tell me the actual need for D-0 in this film, I will pay you money. Yes, it functions (why is it called “he?”), but It is not only superfluous, it supplants R2D2, who barely appears in the film.
Something as sensitive as dealing with Princess Leia without Carrie Fisher alive is not badly handled, generally. But J.J. makes many of her appearances even more uncomfortable by adding an actor who makes it a little maudlin.
After 42 years, you may think you know what the powers of The Force are. WRONG!
A lot of people were ticked off by the mental connection between Rey and Kylo Ren in the last film. Well… you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
Star Wars is not about Jedi’s being superheroes. And the problem with superheroes, discussed so many times before, is that power needs a boundary to allow for humanity. ‘Nuff said.
And then the story… you will read a lot of critics who complain that it is too complicated. But the horror of it isn’t that the story is complicated, but that a pretty simple story is loaded down with overly complicated ideas that, with few exceptions, are worth the effort.
For instance, there is a tracking device that turns up… very Star Trek… and just so, WHY?!?!
It doesn’t do anything special. The audience isn’t given insight into how it works or why it is so special.
This kind of thing happens a lot. One of them, involving a character, got a giant laugh from the audience… but I don’t know if that means they actually liked it.
Also, why are they adding celebrities in new roles in this film. They know it’s Star Wars, right? I love Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell and Dominic Monaghan… but what the hell are they doing turning up for the first time in the final chapter of a 42-year movie saga? Greg Grunberg may be J.J.’s pal, but he remains a distraction… unlike some cameos from actors who we know from the past but haven’t seen in a while. But he is given even more screen time in this film than the others.
By the third act, it feels like J.J. doesn’t want to end the film. Elements of the series that we are all really familiar with are multiplied beyond logic or twisted comedically.
One example I can offer without spoiling anything is a line said to Rey, as she continues to struggle with her origins. “Your parents WERE nobodies… (long pause)… because they chose to be.”
What. The. Fuck?
That would be like Darth Vader in Jedi saying to Luke, “Well, I’m not actually your father… but I was very involved in your childhood and your parents asked me to look after you if anything happened to them, so…”
One of the core things about Star Wars has been that if a fact was laid out, it stayed a fact. Not so here.
And the comedy… oh, the comedy.
There really isn’t a lot more to say about this, except… CUT IT OUT!
Poe and Finn are cute together. But sometimes, the audience just wants to absorb the moment.
Without spoiling, there is a beat in the film where Billy Dee Williams, who I love to see, has grin on his face that is way too big considering what else is happening in the sequence. For me, this was a symbol of this problem throughout the film.
There were two moments, late in the film, that hit me emotionally exactly as they were meant to. One is a callback from within this specific film. And the other is a beat where Finn shows real emotion, which John Boyega doesn’t get called on to deliver very often. There was also a kind of summing up that I wanted to melt for… but didn’t.
But the ending… including the last big battle… not so thrilling… not so emotional. And amazingly, not even as fun as the end of Jedi. Nor was it as deep or emotional as it wanted to be.
By the end, I was thinking that J.J., knowingly or not, was taking the posture of making his Return of the Jedi following Rian Johnson’s legitimate claim to having delivering the The Empire Strikes Back of this new trilogy. Whatever issues I have with The Force Awakens, it was great compared to this thing. There are things I would have liked better, but I got why audiences were so satisfied with what it was.
And this thing services fans so aggressively, maybe there will be a love fest in some quarters. We know it will make money.
But I found it endlessly frustrating. If they had just decided to get from A to B directly instead of loading up on A1, A2, A3, A4, etc, it would have been improved. Less new stiff distracting from the story… better. Don’t tell every joke you think of… relief. These things would not have made J.J. Abrams’ taste level higher or his directing skills greater than they are. It would not have given the film a truly original idea (of which Last Jedi had a number). But mediocrity would have been better, for me at least.
Spoiler review to come…
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"Remember that every time a man commits a violent act it only takes one or two steps to figure out how it’s a woman’s fault, and that these dance steps are widely known and practiced and quite a bit of fun," writes Rebecca Solnit. "There are things men do that are the fault of women who are too sexy, and other things men do that are the fault of women who are not sexy enough, but women only come in those two flavors: not enough, too much, and it is the fate of heterosexual men to endure this affliction. Wives are responsible for their husbands, especially if their husbands are supremely powerful and terrifying figures leading double lives and accountable to no one. But women are now also in the workforce, where they have so many opportunities to be responsible for other men as well."
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“If I’d stayed in Hollywood, I don’t think I’d have a career right now. I don’t think I’d have my voice. So I’m happy that I chose that, to come through basically 10 years of slugging it out in New Zealand. By the time I made Thor: Ragnarok, I was still sleeping on my friend’s couch here in L.A., and by then I was very sure of who I was and very confident in the stories I wanted to tell and how to tell them."
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