Walking out of The Last Jedi, sometime past midnight, I had a moment of clarity. I was done with Star Wars. The emotional investment I’d made, kept making, through horrific prequels and then through better, though blander recent Star Wars, had been extinguished.

The enduring hope each new film would live up to the sense of promise of the original two; the desire to see beloved characters done justice in their pasts and futures; to see new characters attain those same heights; a longing for a sense of awe, so long missing from the franchise: all this, crushed, under the heel of the Empire.

(Click on PDF icon, upper right, if you prefer to read this as black print on a white background)

First, the movie itself. As all the great coaches say, it was one of two halves. One half was excellent. The Kylo Ren – Luke Skywalker – Rey storyline was well acted and written, had me on the edge of my seat. Adam Driver showed again why he is the best actor in the entire Star Wars franchise

Ren is the moral centre of The Last Jedi. By this I mean, he has genuine moral choices. His character has depth, ambiguities, conflicts. He is the only main character this can be said of (except Luke Skywalker, now relegated to minor character, who gives the best performance of this career to convey his own demons, his errors). Ren and Rey have excellent chemistry, and their confrontation of Snoke in his throne room was one for the ages.

Which is to say: half the film was as good as Empire Strikes Back.

The other half was abysmal. A cringeworthy, illogical, embarrassing b-plot completely wasteful of the talents of John Boyega, whose character Finn has apparently been relegated to the function of comic relief for the series. I had hoped they would do something meaningful with Finn, one with the dark and complex back story of child-soldier for the Empire.

But no. Instead they managed to shoehorn him into a casino caper with heavy lashings of anti-capitalism and save-the-whales. Reader, as a committed socialist and vegetarian I can say – after watching the nihilistically stupid CGI-heavy exposition of these themes –  I wanted to put a T-bone on the barbie and vote for Trump’s tax cuts.

The Last Jedi even went so far as to have the exploited child-labour kiddies of the Phantom Menace, an issue handled without about as much deftness as George Lucas discussing white slavery.

Which is to say: half the movie was as bad as any of the prequels.

So, the movie is half-bad, half-good. This could be forgiven, right? This is not reason, it itself, to give up on Star Wars?

No. And these aren’t the reasons. The reason is I’ve come to accept the bleeding obvious: the series, now and forever more, is dictated by the central planning committee of Disney Corporation. The Empire now runs the franchise.

When I watch the next film, I will inevitably ask myself: how much of the film is the director’s, and how much it is Disney’s? Recall, since taking over the helm, the Empire has fired four directors from three Star Wars projects, and ordered significant reshoots of Rogue One.

To me it felt like half was the film Rian Johnson wanted to make, while the other half came straight from the marketing department. Indeed, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a craven addition to a film – any film – as the Porg. A creature that serves no narrative function whatever, that exists only to replicate itself in the outside world as a popular teddy bear to be sold to children as we indoctrinate them into the Star Wars universe.

The series will never again surprise. It will never again take risks. It will never again change cinema. The reasons for this should be obvious: there is a formula, now, that generates a billion dollars per film, so why alter it?

Except for art, originality, and a sense of wonder, there is no good reason whatever.

Which brings us to JJ Abrams*. He, perhaps, perfectly represents what Star Wars has become. He helmed the Force Awakens, produced Last Jedi, and will write and direct episode nine.

feminist icon

Why? Well. JJ is an intelligent film maker who knows completely, down deep in his bones, what the company wants. He is the master of ‘sigh of relief’ cinema: he takes a franchise struggling under the weight of several bad movies (Star Trek, Star Wars), and rejuvenates it by doing a perfectly adequate job. On first viewing, the long-suffering fan thinks they’ve seen something very good. But as the days pass, as the unremarkable focus-group-driven movie passes out of their long-term memory into oblivion, there is a realisation: shit. That wasn’t very good. That wasn’t really…anything.

JJ Abrams has been called the new Steven Spielberg, and certainly, he wears Spielberg’s influence on his sleeve. But there’s fundamental differences between the two: Spielberg changed cinema forever, Abrams wants to keep it exactly the same. Spielberg’s genius created the blockbuster, Abram’s cold calculation only ever tweaks the same formula, over and over.

George Lucas, on the other hand, was like Vader. When he started out, young and idealistic, he did some amazing things. As he got older, and the call of his own hubris became too strong, he turned to the dark side. We got Ewoks. Then Gungans. And Midichlorians. And: “NOOOOOOOOOO!” But even then, at his worst – and his worst was terrible – at least he was still capable of originality. Lucas, like Vader, and unlike the Empire, could be redeemed. Just stick him in his toy room in Skywalker Ranch, pew pew pew! And let someone else write and direct his intellectual property. You know, like they did with Empire Strikes Back.  

No more. I’ve given up on Star Wars because my people, the Rebellion, are making independent movies like Moonlight, or Whiplash, or The Rover, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or Memento, or Animal Kingdom. At the bigger end of the scale, they’re taking risks with movies like Blade Runner 2049.

There will be no more risks taken with Star Wars. There’s just the brand and its components, rearranged by filmmaking algorithm, once per year, forever. Kinda takes the magic out of it all.

As some bloke at Variety said: “Forty years later, we’re still talking about ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Empire Strikes back’. Decades from now, are will still going to be talking about “The Last Jedi”?

Fuck no, mate, fuck no.

2/5 stars

(before documenting the abysmal logic and character flaws in this movie, I should mention excellent geek reviewer, Alachia Queen, and her far more brutal review than mine, here)

Logic Problems

Remember that planet-sized plot device of the first film? Then you will recall the rebels (resistance, whatever) were aligned with the dominant New Republic in episode 7, and the Empire had been reduced to a smaller – if more fanatical – force. The rebels then destroyed the Death Star Starkiller Base.

The Last Jedi starts, literally, as this as just happened. Rey is still handing Luke his lightsabre as the film starts. Yet, the rebels are immediately a tiny nub, being pursued by a gargantuan Empire fleet. Wait, what? No time has passed, the resistance has destroyed the primary military facility of the resurgent force order. And now that same resistance is on the run. Sigh.

The new Star Wars sequels have serious logic problems with looking out the window. In Force Awakens, you could look out the window and see, apparently, the entire solar system as it gets hit by the Star Killer ray. In The Last Jedi, the problem is the opposite: they can’t see a damn thing. 

The fantastically stupid plan hatched by new Admiral Purple Hair (Laura Dern) is to lead the First Order right to the doorstep of their ‘last resort’ base. I mean: it’s right fucking there, the planet. And then – more brilliance – fly the escape ships down to the surface in plain sight. The ships are ‘cloaked’ they say (which I don’t ever recall seeing in Star Wars before), but they’re not Star Trek cloaked – they don’t disappear. They are just radar cloaked. We know this because we can see them, right there – big long fucking line of them going down to the planet.

So, the question is: of the tens of thousands of Empire troops and officers pursuing the rebels, did not one of them look out the window and say: “Hey guys – you seeing what I’m seeing?”

Finn is a toilet cleaner who can’t fly a ship (recall he had to get Poe out of jail in The Force Awakens in order to pilot the TIE Fighter he wanted to escape in. Recall also TIE Fighters, always a one-man ship, suddenly became a two-man ship in dickhead Abram’s version). Rose is a maintenance worker.

Yet Finn and Rose lead the final salt-dragger ship charge at the end. And then, Rose the pipe engineer rams Finn’s ship with the intent of saving his life. I’m not sure how one, precisely, rams a ship in order to save another pilot’s life. All I’d say is this: there’s got to be some goddamn Poe Dameron type flying chops there, and I’m not sure even he’d try something so risky (the Mensa-like explanation from Rose for her action is glorious: “you can’t sacrifice yourself to save numerous rebels, Finn, and I’m going to sacrifice myself to save you, one person, to prove it. Also: Love!”). 

There’s no gravity in outer space, but sure, let’s line up for a gravity-assisted bombing run on that dreadnaught.

Character Problems

Why the fuck couldn’t Admiral “It’s a trap!” Akbar, beloved of the franchise, light-speed the Rebel Flagship into the First Order Dreadnaught at the end, and at least give the character a worthy death? Why did we need Laura Dern, great actor but one of the worst commanders in rebel history, to be introduced and dispatched? A character with, in all seriousness, the most diabolically stupid plan ever. No wonder she refused to tell any else about it – she was too embarrassed to say it out loud.

As reviewer at the Alternate Ending put it: “it’s an Idiot Plot. Like, a pure-blooded, absolutely flawless version of an Idiot Plot: there is not one good reason for Holdo to withhold the information she withholds, there is even less reason for Poe to withhold information he withholds.” Seriously, if she’d just fucking told everyone, we could have been spared an hour of the save the whales subplot on planet Foo Foo (I hope you noticed they saved the giant Llamas, but didn’t give a shit about the child slaves).

I needed a couple of days to think over the demise of Luke Skywalker, whether my reaction (throwing my hands in the air and swearing) in the cinema was an emotional one, or a reasonable one. Well, I’ve thought about it, and it was both. The astral projection/self-sacrifice gambit is, on first and second reflection, really fucking dumb.

Firstly, how did he know there was a back way out of the cave? Secondly, if he did, why didn’t he just say, “okay guys, I’m going to distract them – go out the back way?” Thirdly, if he did know there was a back way out, he would also have known it was caved in. Did he expect a) Rey to arrive in the nick of time and b) have sufficiently mastered her rock-moving force skills to open it?

And fourth, did we really need the most important character in the Star Wars universe to die via exceeding his astral-projection bandwidth in aid of an extremely poorly thought-out bid to give the rebels slightly more time to escape? Such a dreadful waste. Even if, like me, your favourite character of the original three was Solo, or – like many others – yours was Leia, we all still understand the central importance of the moisture farmer’s kid from Tatooine.

With the tragic death of Carrie Fisher, and therefore Leia, there was no reason for Disney to kill off the last of the big three. Yes, I get it nerds – Skywalker will come back as the ghost of Mark Hamill’s future. Yeah, sure. But they didn’t have to go Obi Wan with him. They didn’t have to give into this apparently insatiable need to echo every, single, fucken, event of the original three. Luke Skywalker could have gone out fighting in the third for something that really mattered, light sabre at hand. Shit, he could have lived.

Chewbacca is a shadow of a once-loved character. He was always, to an extent, comic relief. But there was more to him. His reaction to tragedy – including Han’s death in the Force Awakens – was one of the ways the audience could feel, through their empathy for this giant walking shag pile. He doesn’t even get to mourn Han, anymore, but rather agonise over eating a Porg (again, as I vegetarian I would happily eat a fucking Porg).

Snoke looked like a force-capable Hugh Hefner in his gold lamé pyjamas. Magnificent.

Captain Phasma – honestly, they haven’t had a clue what to do with this character, and it shows. Better off dead.

JJ Abrams*: “I’ve got a brilliant idea: a FEMALE stormtrooper in CHROME ARMOUR.”

Yes-Man: “Wow, great idea boss. So. What’s she like?”

JJ: “FEMALE.”

Yes-Man: “Ah, Brilliant. But, um, what motivates her? What’s her back story? Where are we taking her?”

JJ: “Did I mention the armour?”

Yes-Man: “Yes sir.”

JJ: “Then get the fuck out of my diamond-encrusted trailer, I need to take a giant dump on the hopes and dreams of true fans everywhere.”

Yes-Man: “Yes Sir!”

Finn. Urgh. As mentioned above, potentially the most complex character, wasted. I had hoped Rey would go to the dark side with Kylo, and Finn, discovered to be force sensitive as well, became the Jedi to face off against the two. Setting up a weird love triangle, Rey-Ren, who have a strange – not attraction, but fascination with each other, let’s call it. Then Finn, on the other side, still in love with Rey.

Other times I wished they’d merged the Poe and Finn characters (the story suffers from trying to fit in so many character arcs). Thus, Finn was an ace pilot for the Empire, who changed sides, and who worked his way up the ranks of the rebel forces. Thereby creating narrative tension – the rebels can’t trust him. Until they do, until he takes over from Princess Leia as leader of the rebels.

But as it stands, they’ve reduced John Boyega to mugging for the camera and chasing down idiot plot strands.

Benicio Del Toro: Chalk this one up to great actors that have had their talents burned by this bullshit franchise (Ewan McGregor, Laura Dern, Samuel L Jackson, John Boyega, and so on).

R2-D2 and C3PO: Again, wasted.Cutesy, head tilts sideways BB-8 seems to have taken all the duo’s screen time, which will make glue-sniffers and lead paint eaters deliriously happy. Go buy yourself a Porg while you’re at it.

Rogue One Review

Force Awakens Review

*Am I the only one to notice that a film written and directed by wealthy, American men in service of a multi-billion dollar megacorporation has somehow become a paragon of feminist thought? Great work pulling that one off, Disney marketing department! I especially love how a vanguard of numpties have arisen on social media to scream at dissenters for expressing any sort of reservation about the film. Because you can’t simply in good faith disagree, even about popular culture, anymore. God no. Every opinion must be recruited to one side or another of the toxic US culture wars, and denouncements made of perceived thought crime against either side.

 

 

Categories: Reviews

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  1. […] (18) RESIGNS FROM THE EMPIRE. T.R. Napper says no more Star Wars for him – “Glory to the Empire”. […]

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