500th Review Special – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

For my 500th Review, I’m doing the one movie I swore never to touch.

SUMMARY

There are wars! In the stars!

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The First Order reigns… because they blew up five planets? That’s it? Wow, conquest is easy.

Right after the end of the last film, the First Order attacks the Resistance base. General Leia Organa (Carrie “on, dear wayward space mom” Fisher) orders the base to evacuate. It turns out that the First Order can track them, so the evacuation doesn’t do much more than buy time. Leia gets shot into space, but manages to save herself through Force Pulling in Zero Gravity (any other explanation is terrible). Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura “I Kissed Ellen” Dern) takes over while she recovers. Running out of fuel, the rest of the fleet tries to outrun the First Order.

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There are more ships, I promise.

Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy “Not Peach” Ridley) attempts to talk Luke Skywalker (Hey Kids, It’s Mark Hamill) into helping the Resistance, but he declines to aid and believes that the Jedi Order needs to end. He ends up agreeing to give Rey some lessons in the Force. Rey finds herself communicating with Kylo Ren (Adam “I’m trying harder than everyone else” Driver) using the Force despite not really understanding how. It’s revealed that Kylo Ren betrayed Luke after Luke contemplated killing Kylo after Snoke (Andy “Bread and” Serkis) started speaking with Kylo (how close he actually came is debated). Rey thinks she can save Kylo from the dark side, so she leaves. Luke is counseled by the spirit of Yoda (Frank “Miss Piggy” Oz) to learn from his failure. 

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Jedi tend to work best in neutral tones, but there are no Gray Jedi (dang it).

Meanwhile to the meanwhile, Poe Dameron (Oscar “The Grouch” Isaac) sends Finn (John “You ship them” Boyega), Rose the mechanic (Be nicer to Kelly Marie Tran, internet), and BB-8 to find a way to deactivate the First Order’s tracking device. They’re told that there is only one person in the Galaxy with the skills. They head to Canto Bight, the space Las Vegas, and don’t find that person, instead meeting a hacker who also has the skills in prison named DJ (Benecio Del Toro). Finn, Rose, and DJ infiltrate the First Order flagship and get captured by Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), the only Stormtrooper with the budget for useful armor. Rey finds Kylo who brings her to Snoke, who claims he connected Rey and Kylo to find Luke.

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This guy’s all about connections.

Vice Admiral Holdo plans to evacuate the Resistance. Poe, thinking that’s the cowardly act, leads a mutiny that ends when Leia shoots him. Holdo stays on the main ship and tries to buy the evacuation time, but DJ betrays the people who he just met while in prison and tells the First Order what’s happening. The First Order blows up a bunch of the small ships that they’re using to evacuate. Snoke orders Kylo to kill Rey, but he kills Snoke instead. Rey and Kylo fight together, then against each other. Holdo sacrifices herself by accelerating to light speed and destroying the flagship, crippling the First Order fleet. Kylo takes over the First Order. Finn, Rose, and BB-8 kill Phasma then rejoin the Resistance survivors on planet Crait. Finn prepares to sacrifice himself to buy time, but Rose stops him. 

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No, it’s not snow. It’s salt, because planets can be anything as long as they’re only one thing.

Luke Skywalker appears before the First Order and confronts them, buying time for the Resistance to escape. Despite an army firing at him, Luke appears to be unscathed. Kylo Ren challenges him to a duel, but discovers that Luke is just a Force projection. Luke then passes away. On Canto Bight, a group of stablehands who helped Finn and Rose escape talk about the Resistance, and one uses the Force to move a broom. It never gets brought up again, but I’m sure the figurine for that kid sells for a lot.

END SUMMARY

So, I acknowledge that I was poisoned against this movie before I saw it. One of my family members called me after seeing the premiere and said “White. Ford. Bronco. Chase.” I knew it was a reference to the OJ Simpson police chase, but I didn’t understand what he meant at the time. Unfortunately, once I saw it, I couldn’t un-see it, because that’s what a lot of this movie is: a low-speed chase where the parties conveniently always maintain an enforced distance that doesn’t make sense. The focus on this element led me to join a bit of the crowd decrying this as a terrible film. However, I also disliked most of the groups of people that were crapping on the film, so I decided this would forever be the one film I would not give an opinion on.

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Also, I will not comment on OJ’s guilt or innocence.

Then, I had to think of something special to commemorate the 500th review, so congratulations to all of you for getting to hear my opinion about a movie that is now 3 years old and completely out of the zeitgeist. So, let’s get to it:

I once said that the closest thing I could get to my feelings on this film were contained in my review of the Breaking Bad episode “Fly.” That episode, also by Rian Johnson, is amazingly well-shot, contains some of the best interactions between the leads in the show, is perfectly performed, has some of the best dialogue in TV history, and completely destroys a lot of what the rest of the series built up. This movie is the same: It’s a great movie, but a terrible Star Wars film. 

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Yeah, this episode.

First, let’s say why this is a good movie. 

Artistically, this is the best-shot Star Wars film. One of Rian Johnson’s strengths is his grasp of quality cinematography and this movie is no exception. Since its inspiration was in the Republic Serials of the 1930s and ‘40s, the franchise often had relied on the same kind of straight-forward camerawork with most of the beauty and art coming from the scenery and matte work. This film, instead, makes use of more dramatic framing and shot progression. Some of the scenes, particularly the fight scene in Snoke’s throne room and the silent shot following Holdo’s maneuver, are nothing short of beautiful. Even the scenes of the speeders on the salt plains are more visually stimulating than most of the settings of Star Wars.

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Everything about this scene is amazing.

In terms of dialogue, this film has a lot of great exchanges. The style is energetic, like The Force Awakens, but also has more willingness to play with itself. Rey and Kylo Ren’s exchanges are particularly well-done, with each using a linguistic style that represents their position. Rey uses emotional language while Kylo is blunter and more aggressive. It also has a lot of decent jokes that, if I wasn’t so blinded by rage during my first viewing, probably would have elicited a chuckle. Now, does it have any lines as good as The Empire Strikes Back? Well, no, but neither does most of the Criterion Collection and they’re still considered art.

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There’s a gag reel for a reason.

In terms of performances… well, that’s tough. Star Wars is not Shakespeare and it’s not supposed to be (unless you read the Star Wars Shakespeare books). It always is meant to have a pulp feel, with characters who are more wildly expressive, like Han Solo. In that sense, everyone does a great job except for Adam Driver, who unfortunately thought he was in a much, much more sophisticated film. Seriously, he has a level of subtlety that is generally overlooked by these kinds of films, and while it’s impressive, it’s also somewhat jarring. However, that’s what Alec Guinness did for the original trilogy, so there’s precedent and therefore it’s okay.

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Fun fact: This whole movie is just a pitch from his character in Marriage Story.

Really, from a critic’s point of view so far, this movie has all of the basics down solidly. Unfortunately, we have to shift from my position as critic to my position as Star Wars fan.

Interestingly, one of the things that actually makes this a solid film is the exact thing that makes it bad as a franchise movie: Subversion of expectations. This movie thrives on trying to avoid giving the audience what they think they deserve and instead tries to give them something new and challenging. Since The Force Awakens was mostly a retread of something that even the movie pointed out had already been done twice, this really wasn’t a bad idea. The problem is that this film attempted to subvert EVERYTHING and it came off less as challenging the audience and more as profaning the franchise it was supposed to continue. 

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Guys, we already knew it was the same scheme, no need to remind us.

Some of the things this movie challenged really deserved to be subverted. Star Wars has always been a big example of a cultural submission to the “Great Man” theory of history and societal progress. In all of the original films, and even the prequels, great Galactic conflicts largely boil down to a few personalities that end up doing almost all of the work and they’re almost all from the same family. As opposed to saying “there are chosen ones in this lineage which basically decide the fate of the masses,” this movie takes the opposite position and says that the masses themselves ARE the power and that lineage means nothing. That’s why at the end of the movie they suggest that Force users can come from anywhere and that’s why it was so important for Rey to actually have parents who were nobodies (to be undone in the next film for reasons I’ll cover below). This is a great subversion that is representative of how Western society has shifted since the Republic Serials which inspired the original film and supports the more diverse casting in the film. The movie contains a number of scenes which debate whether the past should be destroyed in order to create something better and whether revering the past as an ideal leads to replicating the mistakes. This is a great theme that challenges the nature of a franchise and, if that were all the movie did, I think it would have made this the equal of every Star Wars film except maybe Empire

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She’s no one, but also everyone.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing that it did. Instead, Rian Johnson also decided to highlight some things that, while they may have been dumb, were parts of the franchise that everyone had already accepted. A large part of the film is dependent on the fact that the fleet is short on fuel, something that A) makes no sense considering they’re a rebellion that had long been based on the planet and B) has never really been an issue in Star Wars to begin with. This was likely supposed to be a shot at creating arbitrary new rules to heighten tension that seem illogical, like forcing the X-wings to do a trench run rather than just shooting at the Death Star from the outside. Similarly, Finn and Rose run into the single person who is capable of doing the job they need by complete coincidence, a shot at how characters in Star Wars will coincidentally be in the same place as the person they need to find (like Luke landing near Yoda despite only being told to go to the Dagobah System). Most famously, and perhaps insultingly, Holdo accelerates to lightspeed and, using relativistic physics, proves that to be an incredibly powerful attack that devastates larger enemies, something that apparently no one in Star Wars had ever thought of doing. These are all just exaggerations of elements that were already in the series, but they were elements that we had already accepted as part of our suspension of disbelief in this universe. By trying to subvert or attack them, this seemed less like a “commentary,” and instead more like an assault on the people who liked the previous films. 

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If this is an option, why isn’t this just the plan all the time?

Then there’s how the film treated some of the previous characters. I’m willing to ignore Leia’s flying, because I refuse to acknowledge the difference between that and a Force pull or Force jump in zero gravity. However, I’m less willing to ignore the fact that when Leia awoke to find that Poe Dameron was literally leading a mutiny, that she basically just knocks him out and says “okay, well, lesson learned.” She’s a General and should know better than that how you handle failures to follow chains of command. It undermines her position as leader. Also, not telling Poe the plan in the first place is ridiculous and unnecessary. Luke Skywalker’s self-imposed exile is selfish and born out of his own shame, but that’s not actually crazy given that he spent an entire trilogy overcoming his anger and impulse issues only to falter and give in when facing Kylo’s power. While Luke denies the version of the night where he attacks Kylo first, the fact is that he may be deceiving himself, something that actually explores interesting new paths with the character. Unfortunately, at the end of the film, rather than see Luke actually try to correct his error, we instead see him play an elaborate game to buy time and then die from the effort… somehow. It undercut most of the progress that Luke made in the original trilogy and denied him another opportunity.

LastJedi - ELuke
… Maybe he could just have come closer in person and not died?

If the film had only done a few of these things, this would probably have been an amazing experience, having enough familiarity to feel loyal but also challenging the status quo. However, since it decided to do all of them, it felt like a rejection of the franchise and of the fans who support it. As someone who spent a LOT of their childhood, teen years, adulthood, and probably future on this franchise, that makes me naturally opposed to it. On the other other hand… This didn’t do midichlorians, so let’s not pretend it’s the worse thing.

If you made it all the way to this part of the review, thank you for reading and thank you for supporting me through 500 reviews. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The third Star Wars trilogy has ended and I’m finally agreeing to review one of them.

SUMMARY 

THE DEAD SPEAK!!! By which I mean that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) sends a broadcast into the galaxy in order to apparently draw in Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). It turns out that Palpatine created Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) in order to draw Ren to the dark side. He reveals that he has a fleet of planet-killing ships called the “Final Order” that are set to launch soon and promises Ren a place at his side if he kills Rey (Daisy Ridley). Naturally, the good guys find this out with about 24 hours to stop it. Rey is training under General Leia Organa (Carrie “I love you, Space Mom” Fisher), but upon finding out that Palpatine is back, she joins Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and BB-8 in order to locate a wayfinder to the planet where Palpatine is. 

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Chewbacca considers their existences to be but blips in his extended life.

The group heads to desert planet Pasaana where they meet Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee “F*cking” Williams), who helps them find a dagger that contains Sith writing. Rey and Kylo Ren fight and Rey accidentally blows up a ship that she thinks has Chewbacca on it. C-3PO can translate the dagger, but he can’t divulge the translation, so they have to take him to another planet where he gets his memory wiped and Poe sees his ex-girlfriend Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell). Rey finds out Chewbacca’s still alive, so the group rescues him and they find the location of the wayfinder is… on the second Death Star. Or what’s left of it, rather.

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Given what happened to the real-life Death Star, this seems minor.

When the group gets there, they meet Jannah (Naomi Ackle), a former stormtrooper and Rey and Kylo Ren fight again. Leia dies calling out to Kylo Ren, allowing Rey to strike a lethal blow, but she heals him. Rey leaves, alone, but finds the wayfinder after speaking with a dead Luke Skywalker (Mark “The Best Joker” Hamill) as Kylo Ren turns good after speaking with a memory of the dead Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Also, Rey’s Palpatine’s granddaughter, because sure. Rey heads to Exegol, the hidden planet of the Sith, while telling the rest of the Resistance how to get there. The Resistance is short on manpower, but Poe believes that the rest of the galaxy will show up to fight when the chips are down. Kylo Ren, now Ben Solo again, arrive at Exegol and kill the knights of Ren, but get their asses kicked by a literally crippled and blind Palpatine, who incapacitates them both. Rey, empowered by all the Jedi from the series so far, uses two lightsabers to reflect Palpatine’s force lightning back at him, killing him until the plot will require otherwise. Rey dies from her injuries, but is revived by Ben Solo who dies in her place. Lando Calrissian does most of the Resistance’s heavy lifting and brings reinforcements to destroy the “Final Order.” Rey goes to Tatooine and buries Luke’s and Leia’s lightsabers,  presumably because Alderaan is harder to bury stuff in, and changes her name to Rey Skywalker.

END SUMMARY

Star Wars has been a big part of my life, as I’m sure it has for almost everyone from my generation. I was too young to see the original films, but I watched the VHS copies at more than a dozen houses when I was growing up, because I was friends with nerds. Since then, I’ve been with it through the good and the bad. I was there when Han stopped shooting first. I was there when Shadows of the Empire gave us that awesome Hoth level. I was there when Midichlorians were suddenly how the Force worked rather than, you know, space magic. I was there when Captain Rex ran the last flight to Endor on Star Tours. I was there when Ahsoka Tano met the completely different Captain Rex. I read the Thrawn Trilogy and still consider the character to be one of the best contributions to the franchise and I was there when he finally became canon. I owe a ton to this franchise and, even when it’s had its low points, they’ve always been worth it for the highs. 

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Including this omega-level high from The Force Awakens

And that’s this film in a nutshell: A bunch of lows that you can ignore to get to the highs. 

I assume after suggesting that this film has lows that several of you are going to attempt to leap through the screen and murder me, so I can only respond that I love Star Wars and part of loving it is accepting that it isn’t perfect. Love requires accepting flaws, otherwise you’re just lusting after an ideal… of Star Wars

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No one lusts after Ewo… oh, right, I guess some people do.

The biggest problem with the film is that Carrie Fisher died and everything is worse for it. Not just in the movie, but in the world. Watching the film try to shoehorn in whatever unused footage they had on the cutting room floor and make her into a central character was painful on a lot of levels. They had to write constantly awkward dialogue in order for her responses to make sense, or, at one point, literally have another character give exposition about what she’s doing. It reminded me of Bela Lugosi’s “performance” in Plan 9 from Outer Space and that bodes well for no one. 

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Life is hard and unfair, but she proved you can get through it anyway.

Another problem for me came from the fact that the film tries to retcon parts of The Last Jedi that people didn’t like, rather than just accept them and move on. Not that there weren’t things in that movie that needed to be addressed and perhaps corrected, but a lot of the stuff could just have been ignored rather than overwritten and seeing that kind of forced correction in a film can get distracting. I mean, they did have to talk about the “Holdo Maneuver” (and WHY EVERYONE WOULDN’T JUST CONSTANTLY USE IT), but the response that it’s just “a one-in-a-million shot” makes Holdo’s actions in the previous movie completely ridiculous. There were a bunch of moments like that where I kept hearing Abrams screaming “F*CK YOU RIAN JOHNSON” through the camera. 

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Which includes a loud incidental “F*ck you” to any characters introduced in TLJ.

The film refuses to explain a lot of things, even by Star Wars standards. (How is Palpatine alive? Why would he broadcast his plans to the rest of the galaxy? How did he get to Exegol? How did he build and staff all of those ships in 30 years? Who developed the technology to destroy a planet with a Star Destroyer? If you had that technology, why not just give it to the First Order? Since when does the Force allow people to teleport stuff? When did Palpatine have a kid and how and why?) Since it’s Star Wars, most of that stuff can be ignored as being a tribute to the series’ origins in Republic Serials, which rarely explained anything, but I do understand why some people might be annoyed by it. 

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Your space throne is cool, but how has no Jedi found it in several millennia?

Also, there are a few weird fanservice moments, like Chewie finally getting a medal, which don’t completely make sense within the movie even if they were sweet.

However, all of those things are offset by all of the things that this movie did well. It gave us some of the best lightsaber battles in the series which weren’t marred by the overused acrobatics of the prequels. It managed to connect more of the franchise together than any previous film (except maybe Solo) by including references to the prequels, original films, spin-offs, cartoons, and of course the current trilogy. It had some great emotional moments and some beautiful shots, as well as the happy ending that we needed.

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Star Wars does sometimes just shoe-horn in stuff for nostalgia and, well, that’s fair.

What it did best was remind us of all the great moments that we’ve had because of Star Wars. This movie finally gave us sequences of the whole current team together after a movie of being constantly split up and reminded us of how well the series always handled personality interplay. That’s been true since watching Obi-Wan, Luke, Han, and even Chewie interact in A New Hope. We got to watch Billy Dee Williams show us what an old Lando who has had some hard times would look like, but we also got to see him bring hope to everyone.  Seeing Han Solo have a real heart-to-heart with his son was beautiful, even if it was clearly supposed to have been Leia’s scene. It’s something that can only work so well because we spent years with these characters and we know how they got to this point. People may complain that some things are just fanservice, but seeing Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson) back behind the controls of an X-Wing is an experience that no other series can really give you, and there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of that to deepen an emotional moment. 

This isn’t the best Star Wars movie, but it did provide me with an experience that no other movie could and I have to give it credit for that.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.