Couples Review: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” by Alex Aebly and Nate Blake

Nathan:

It is hard to think of another recent franchise film that has been so loved by critics and yet so maligned by fans. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is out on streaming now and is soon to make its Blu-ray/4K disc debut, so we are taking some time to re-evaluate the film.

Alex:

Full disclosure: I have seen all of the Star Wars films. However, I am not as versed in the universe as well as others I choose to associate with. So, my part of the review will be focused on The Last Jedi, whereas I am sure Nathan will draw plenty of connections to the other films in the universe. With that being said, can definitely spend some time tearing this film apart because my god was this an experience.

Let’s begin with the opening sequence of the film. First of all, the cheesy humor. I am not opposed to a Star Wars film being funny. “The Force Awakens” did a great job at integrating humor into the dialogue. “The Last Jedi” on the other hand definitely fell into the Marvel camp of humor. It was cheesy, didn’t serve a purpose, and was obviously going for the cheap laugh. The bad humor coupled with the over produced fight sequence made this a very disappointing start to the film. It is obvious that Rian Johnson was more interested in character and story development (though not much more) than the action sequences in this film. The Star Wars franchise is built on great action sequences. This film though does not live up the rest of the franchise in that way.

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Nathan:

I also noticed less than ten minutes into the film how much it doesn’t so much recall older Star Wars chapters as it does earlier Marvel entries. It’s as if Disney told Writer/Director Rian Johnson to repackage gags from “The Avengers.” When Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) cuts off General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) mid-sentence and uses the force to sweep the floor with him, it is neither funny nor intimidating. It’s just a tired reworking of The Hulk redecorating Tony Stark’s apartment with Loki’s body (which was actually funny).

Alex:

Instead of the lame humor, I wish more time had been spent on character development. I was really disappointed with the way that they wasted Finn (John Boyega) in this film. He was so interesting in “The Force Awakens.” It was unbelievable that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) almost killed Finn at the end of episode VIII and then within the first ten minutes of “The Last Jedi” he wakes up. We know that this film happens immediately after “The Force Awakens” ends, unless Rey has been waiting a really long time for Luke to take hold of his old lightsaber. The fact that Finn woke up so quickly after getting his backside roasted by Kylo Ren’s lightsaber seemed unrealistic even for this franchise. On top of all of this, the directionless story line that they gave Finn in this film was disappointing. His relationship was with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) was not something that I enjoyed. It felt forced. It developed quickly and for no reason. Their relationship was the part of the film that I probably enjoyed the least.

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Nathan:

Since you brought up Rose, I’m going to jump to Canto Bight. It sucks. Having the film take this ridiculous half hour detour in order to set up the thirty second scene at the end with the future generation of Jedi is maddening. Because for that half hour, Benicio Del Toro is wasted. Finn is wasted. Rose is a waste of screen time to begin with. No one in this film except for Luke, Rey and Kylo are given storylines that seem like they will matter beyond this entry. We know Leia won’t be in the next film for obvious reasons. Poe and Finn are not any further developed in this film than they were by the end of “The Force Awakens.” Vice Admiral Holdo is dead. Admiral Ackbar is dead. Phasma is dispensed with. These are big developments that just happen hastily because the rest of the film’s pacing suffers thanks to Canto Bight.

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Alex:

The sequence was unnecessary. It did not serve enough purpose in the larger plot of the film. It felt disjointed from the rest of the story. The transition in and out of the scene was odd and it introduced characters that meant nothing elsewhere. There was no character development and I was so disappointed in the way that Benicio Del Toro was used. He could have been really great in this film but the character that was written for him was useless. The only thing I can fathom is that this scene was a set up for Rian Johnson’s upcoming trilogy. If that is the case, the scene should have still been much shorter.

I do need to backtrack a bit. There was one more scene that happened before Canto Bight that I despise more than pink moscato. Just ask Nathan. I allow myself three rants a week. One about how disgusting pink moscato is and two about the Leia floating in space scene. Personally, when the ship was attacked, I think Leia either needed to die or not be in danger. First of all, it looked like some cheap ass over produced Marry Poppins bullshit. Second of all, it has never been established that this is something that can be achieved through the use of the force. Finally, Leia should have been trained as a motherfucking Jedi. Apparently, there is sexism in space too.

Nathan:

I didn’t want to talk about flying space Leia, but since you brought her up and it’s sadly the most memorable thing Carrie Fisher was given to do in this film, here it is. I’m not opposed to the choice to have Leia use the force this way. I am, however, pissed that it was written in a matter that has it just happen with no setup, no exploration into how Leia learned to use the force this way, no discussion as to whether or not any other jedi have been able to do this. It just happens.

Alex:

Ok, I need to lower my blood pressure now and talk about my love for Adam Driver. I have been a fan of Adam Driver since his days on HBO’s “Girls.” I overlooked Lena Dunham’s existence for years simply to watch Adam Driver on screen. He played such a terrible fucking person, but he did it so well. His character in this trilogy is no different. Kylo Ren is such a terrible person, but Adam Driver plays him so well.  I am not going to lie, I was skeptical when I read about him being cast for this trilogy, but his casting is the most brilliant thing about this film. He goes through the classic struggle of light versus dark. We all knew we was going to choose the dark side, but it was an interesting struggle to watch on screen.

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My love for Adam Driver though does not overshadow the existence of Snoke. I have so many questions about this character that I literally don’t know where to start. Who is this guy? Where the hell did he come from? Why does he have such power over Kylo Ren? This was definitely a character that needs more development. He is an obvious placeholder until Kylo Ren takes over. I will say the one great thing about Snoke was his death and the fight that followed. Snoke’s death scene was followed by the best shot action sequence in this film. Kylo Ren and Rey (Daisy Ridley) really compliment each other in this fight and it almost feels like Kylo Ren will join Rey in her mission. I should have known better than to fall into this trap, but the action scene was so convincing that I couldn’t help it.

Nathan:

Sitting through these two and a half hours, I had to wonder if “The Last Jedi” is Rian Johnson’s “Rebecca.’ For those of you who aren’t familiar with the reference, “Rebecca” was the only Alfred Hitchcock film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. However, producer David O. Selznick notoriously stepped on Hitchcock’s toes throughout the entire production, making demands that resulted in a film that has as much of the studio heads’ mark on it as Hitchcock’s, if not more.

Maybe it is wishful thinking on my part to assume Disney is to blame. I’ll never stop lamenting that Johnson didn’t make a better film. But so much of it is typical of Disney/Marvel fare in tone that I just have to wonder how much creative control Johnson had over the final product. There are moments of visual genius. The fight scene in Snoke’s throne room is one of the more impressively shot lightsaber scenes of the entire franchise. The revelation, if it ends up being true once J.J. Abrams’ conclusion to the trilogy is released, that Rey’s parents were nobodies, is also great in my opinion. What better way to do something new than to flip the expectation of some big reveal about lineage and have Rey not be a Skyalker, a Solo or a Kenobi but just the daughter of some drug addicts?

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I loved that moment, yet even it reminded me of a Marvel movie. Remember when The Mandarin in “Iron Man 3” just turned out to be no one, a stooge, an actor/puppet for Aldrich Killian? Fans had expectations for years that there would be a showdown between Tony Stark and The Mandarin, and when their expectations were not met, they left the theater seething. Star Wars fans expectations for Rey were also at a point where they thought they knew how everything would turn out. I liked the twists in both cases, but given how Disney tossed out the expanded universe, one has to wonder if it is really the Shane Blacks and Rian Johnsons of the world making the choices to subvert fan theories, or if some dastardly mouse is pulling the strings.

The Mandarin comparison also works in terms of Snoke, who fans thought was going to be a key character, only to be shocked when Kylo cuts him in half. I also enjoyed that twist, and see it as a correction of one of the flaws with “The Force Awakens.” Snoke was never a compelling or even necessary character. His entire purpose is to serve as a figurehead for the dark side that beckons to Kylo.  Having Snoke die as part of his apprentice’s ploy to get Rey on board with his plans was one of the better parts of the script.

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Alex:

I will admit that I was really excited to see where Luke and Rey’s storyline was going to go and it did not disappoint. As always, Mark Hamill as Luke was great. It was really interesting to watch his inner turmoil play out on screen. His hesitation and anger fuel this story so well. While we are at it, let’s talk about how awesome it was that Yoda made an appearance. As always, he was a delightful little smart ass. It was also great to see how connected Luke and Leia still are. It was a nice call back to the original trilogy. Rey’s story line with Luke was also great. It was awesome to watch Luke with a lightsaber again and the twist about him almost killing Kylo Ren was unexpected but also made so much sense.

Nathan:

I am a fan of Rian Johnson.  From “Brick” to “Looper” and his work on “Breaking Bad,” he has repeatedly given us some of the most intense and thought provoking slow-burns in recent memory, and part of this film reflects that gift. Aside from the sloppy absence of Luke’s third lesson to Rey from the script (which I at least hope will appear in the next episode), the story between Padawan and reluctant Jedi Master is great. I really enjoy watching jaded Luke. His transition from the hero of “Return of the Jedi” to an antagonist in “The Last Jedi” makes sense based on what is revealed about Kylo Ren in “The Force Awakens” and, in more detail, in this film. The most Rian Johnson thing about this film is how the climactic fight between Luke and Kylo ends up being trickery. I really enjoyed this departure from the typical end of a Star Wars film lightsaber duel in which lightsabers clash, limbs are lost, scars are created, etc. “The Last Jedi” is far from my favorite Star Wars film, but Luke’s arc here is among the best points of the series. If only the rest of the film around it was better.

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Alex:

I feel like I could keep writing about this film for days. However, I have a job and a wedding to plan, so I promise to wrap it up soon. Let’s talk about the last scene of the movie, because again I have questions. The action scene between Luke and Kylo Ren was pretty cool especially when you realize that Luke isn’t actually there. However, in my opinion, that is where the good things about this ending die. There is little implication of what is going to be in a third movie in this trilogy at this point and the ending did not give me a reason to desire a third movie. I honestly don’t know if this is a popular opinion or not, but I think Leia should have died at the end of this film. I know they were done shooting before Carrie Fisher died, but I think they could have come up with something. The only conclusion that I can come to is that the third film will take place some time after Leia’s passing.

Nathan:

I appreciate that Johnson wanted to avoid falling into the middle installment trap of having cliffhangers for every character. But there is nothing left at the end of this film to leave me eager to return to this galaxy in two years. Nothing. It’s not because, like some fans are saying, this trilogy has killed off Luke and Han and their childhood. It’s because all those really interesting new characters that were introduced in “The Force Awakens” are given very little here that makes me want to see where their stories go in the next film. At the end of “The Force Awakens” I really wanted to learn more about Rey, Finn and Poe. It didn’t have to be stuff about lineage. I wanted to see where they are going more so than where they came from. This film mostly didn’t bother to do either one of those things. Poe (Oscar Isaac) spends two and half hours learning that it’s not always wise to rush into battle. Fine, but it’s not compelling enough for the run time of this film, at least not the way it is handled. Seeing Leia shoot him is kind of fun though.  But even the relationship between her and Poe is rushed. She spends the whole film trying to teach him an important lesson, but two scenes after she spoon feeds it to him, makes a gesture that suggests he is the leader of the rebellion now. Whatever.

Alex:

Now please indulge me while I impart all of my random thoughts that did not make the cut for this piece. First, I think we can all agree that Laura Dern is a fucking bad ass. Second, this film completely ruined the character of Poe. Finally, porgs don’t serve a purpose, but they sure are cute. All in all, I did not enjoy this film. I think it is one of the weakest of the Star Wars films up until this point. The new characters that were established were unnecessary and the returning characters were not any further developed. The editing in this film also bothered me. Every time it was the potential to get good, they cut away to a B story line that leads to nothing. I had really high hopes for this, but the force was not with this film.

Nathan:

After my fourth viewing, I am still having a hard time deciding what to make of this film or where I would rank it in the series. It’s beautiful. It’s a mess. It has compelling moments. Other parts of it approach Chancellor Valorum levels of boring. John Williams’ enthusiasm for scoring this series clearly peaked before Daisy Ridley auditioned for her first role.

I recall seeing an article from WIRED where the author put Disney’s plans for the franchise this way: “If everything works out for Disney, and if you are (like me) old enough to have been conscious for the first Star Wars film, you will probably not live to see the last one. It’s the forever franchise.” When I first read that, it made me sad. All criticisms of “Revenge of the Sith” aside (and I have many), I recall how much of an accomplishment it felt like just to be able to finally see the last chapter. Lucas was so adamant at the time, although his words ended up being something akin to a lawyer’s dodge, that this was the end of it. Seeing the conclusion of the saga was a big deal.

I think the reason this new trilogy is deteriorating so quickly is that Star Wars was not meant to go on forever. It was always something that had a finite arc. It was about the Skywalker family. Of course, more lore and mythology eventually sprung up around it. But the films themselves were best when they had a narrow focus. If Disney’s plans work out, I probably won’t see the last Star Wars film, but that doesn’t bother me anymore.

 

References

Rogers, Adam. “Star Wars’ and the Quest for the Forever Franchise.” WIRED, n.d. www.wired.com/2015/11/building-the-star-wars-universe/. Accessed 20 Mar. 2018.

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