Skip to main content

Review: "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi"

There was something electric in the air when that first teaser for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens premiered back in 2014. A sinister voice on the soundtrack asked, "There has been an awakening...have you felt it?" Then there was a barrage of clips teasing something familiar for Star Wars fans. That familiarity was the style and look of the original trilogy's western frontiers, with a kick of space cowboy bravado. It was void of the prequel trilogy's green screen approach and cutting edge technological risks (though I will defend those jubilant George Lucas entries til the end of time). Unfortunately, J.J. AbramsThe Force Awakens ended up being a pleasantly mild carbon copy of A New Hope, recycling tropes and story situations from that film as some gesture of assurance for a new generation of fans; if anything, it was setting up a dutiful cover song trilogy. So when it was revealed that writer/director Rian Johnson was going to helm Episode VIII, I have to admit that it shot to the top of my list of anticipated films. I believe Johnson's Looper to be one of the best sci-fi films ever, so the fact that he was taking over the reigns of sci-fi cinema's holy grail was more than promising.

I saw Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi yesterday afternoon and I can tell you that it boasts some unpredictable action sequences, plus some of its most frustrating shortcomings and silly moments. They add up to a finished film that shouldn't be as long as it is in running time, and one that fails to resonate as soundly as the lean, focused and ultimately more emotionally moving Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In short, Rogue One ends up being the best entry out of these recent Star Wars outings.

The Last Jedi picks up right after where The Force Awakens left off, with the evil First Order hot on the trail of the remaining mobile formation of the Resistance. Johnson wastes no time into throwing us into a dazzling space battle between several X-wing Starfighters and TIE fighters. At the front of the Rebel star fleet again is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who is more than trigger happy and defiant of his leader Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) as he whizzes his comrades into battle. This first half hour of the film is the strongest because of this tense action spectacle and because it also gives us our first clear engagement with Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, doing spectacular motion capture work even though he's mostly sitting down). In a wonderfully written scene, Snoke basically pisses on the consistently dull villain that is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) for essentially being a pussy in all of Episode VII. It's devilish in its wording and you can almost hear Johnson pounding away on his Macbook keyboard as he wrote this scene, echoing what so many of us have been internally saying this whole time.
But less than an hour into The Last Jedi, we're given the first of the film's *here's where a certain character dies but wait! it turns out they didn't die* moments. Such narrative devices tend to deflate the drama in stories and unfortunately The Last Jedi does this more than once with VERY major characters. It's a flip flop rhetorical ploy that proves as frustrating as Kylo Ren's ever-growing indecisiveness on whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. That indecisive schtick gets old quick and it cements Kylo Ren as the first Sith who is a self-entitled Millennial, which is a shame because Driver can be an interesting actor with the right material.

The rest of the narrative jumps back and forth between Rey (Daisy Ridley) trying to convince Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to train her in the Jedi ways on his secret island and the aerial conflict of the Resistance trying to flee from the First Order before running out of fuel on their main ship. There's also a really bad subplot involving Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) on a casino planet trying to find a master codebreaker, that doubles as a PSA against horse racing tracks. It's here where Benicio del Toro shows up as a crook named DJ, whose accent is a mix between Tom Waits and del Toro's Fred Fenster character from The Usual Suspects. We also get a momentary glimpse of Justin Theroux on this planet. Considering Theroux's appearance and Laura Dern playing Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, not to mention Snoke's spaceship lair covered in blood red walls, I mused on what a David Lynch Star Wars film might've looked like.
Look, I love Star Wars. I own all the films. I grew up with the original trilogy on VHS. I'll own this movie too eventually. These films are critic-proof not because they're big, intimidating productions but because it's the "idea" of Star Wars that people respond to and come back to, time and time again (including me). Am I disappointed in The Last Jedi? At some of its parts, yes. I could've done without the broad Disney comedy sight gags, like Luke milking the tit of alien island creature just to get blue milky shit in his beard. Also, as a fan of the lore within the Star Wars universe, I found it kind of cruel to reveal who Rey's parents were in a mere throwaway line, sans any visual representation or backing. But I love hearing those lightsabers turn on and it's always exhilarating seeing that beaut of the Millennium Falcon soar through the skies and fly through explosions. The appeal of it all is losing a little bit of magic, sure, but that happens with franchises emptying the tank on nostalgia and its weaponry of franchise motifs. We saw the same thing happen with the less-than-spectacular second season of Stranger Things on Netflix. When you try to please all targeted audiences with different renditions of the same film, you end up not pleasing any one of those audiences wholly.

The Last Jedi is going to make a lot of money and everyone and their mom will have seen it in less than a week after I've published this review. There will be fanboys forever bitching on Twitter about spoilers and what not. I think Johnson is a terrific filmmaker and he took on a huge task by pulling off a middle entry that people will wrongly compare to The Empire Strikes Back (even though this film's second climax takes place on a snowy planet like Hoth, but one where the snow literally bleeds red). And Johnson can forever boast that he pulled off a key kickass lightsaber fight, though not with the parties you might expect. (I also liked Johnson giving Rogue One director Gareth Edwards an embedded cameo if you look closely towards the end.) Ultimately, the one striking aspect of The Last Jedi is that it marches to the beat of its own drum, for better and for worse. 


Popular posts from this blog

VIDEO ESSAY: Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master"

"He's making all this up as he goes along." NOTE:  I was fortunate enough to attend a rare 70mm screening of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master on Thursday August 16, 2012 at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. In attendance were writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson and one of the film's actors, Kevin J. O'Connor (both of whom are pictured with me here ). --   The key to the success of Paul Thomas Anderson 's The Master doesn't come in its mammoth achievement of being shot on 70mm film or its carefully constructed parallel origin story of L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology practices. Rather, that success is embedded in an intimate scene: a single shot close-up on alcoholic war veteran Freddie Sutton (an unforgettable Joaquin Phoenix ) during a "process of time" session with Lancaster Dodd ( Philip Seymour Hoffman in prime Hubbard form). Up until this scene, the character of Freddie dutifully performed the task of delive

Winnie the Pooh Mashup Trailer: "Christopher Robin & Ted"

"Sooner or later, your past catches up to you." That's the tagline  Disney is going with for their live-action Winnie the Pooh movie Christopher Robin , starring Ewan McGregor . While watching the teaser trailer (which debuted today) and getting my first look at a real life Winnie the Pooh talking bear, I couldn't help but be reminded of  Seth MacFarlane 's Ted , the R-rated comedy which featured a protagonist who's a foul-mouthed talking teddy bear. Ironically enough, MacFarlane's talking bear Ted has a much more cuddly and lovable look to him. Disney decided to give Winnie the Pooh a crude and homely-looking appearance -- not exactly what you'd expect for their intended child audience. So I decided to create this mashup trailer, which rewrites Christopher Robin's (McGregor) backstory to suggest that Ted was his original bear and he just sewed up the teddy bear's parts to look like Winnie the Pooh. Talk about your past catching up to y

#InformedImages: “There Will Be Blood” and “Narcos: Mexico”

#InformedImages is a Free Cinema Now series that studies and brings to light influential films and other examples of moving images that informed and inspired specific visuals in later works. I remember the exact the moment it clicked together for me. It was about half an hour into episode 2 (directed by  Josef Kubota Wladyka ) of Narcos: Mexico on Netflix . The camera crept across the dry, desert landscape toward a hole in the ground, where Rafael Caro Quintero (a.k.a. Rafa, played by Tenoch Huerta Mejía ) was digging furiously, in an attempt create a makeshift aqueduct to help grow his field of marijuana. It recalled images from the earlier sections of Paul Thomas Anderson 's masterpiece T here Will Be Blood, when Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis ) was digging for oil underneath the rocky ground. Then, as I continued to watch Narcos: Mexico , a more striking visual parallel to There Will Be Blood began to emerge. For example, as Rafa and his boss Miguel Ángel F

Watch: ALL OF VENOM: Mashup of “All of Me” and “Venom”

Venom , the latest Marvel (anti) superhero film, limps into theatres this weekend with an unimpressive 30% on Rotten Tomatoes . However, I'm sure that won't prevent it from making boo koo bucks at the box office. What I'm more interested in is how Venom will fit into the annals of film history -- because it does! While this isn't my first Venom mashup video (see my The Venom Drop teaser trailer), I do think that my new mashup, All Of Venom , really speaks to what Venom  ultimately will be remembered for:  Tom Hardy 's committed physical performance and how it plays as a companion piece to the 1984 romantic fantasy comedy All of Me starring ( Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin ). In Venom , Hardy's character Eddie Brock gets possessed by an alien symbiote and must learn to share his host body with said being. In All of Me , Martin's character gets possessed by the soul of the recently deceased Edwina Cutwater (Tomlin) and -- yup, you guessed it -- must lea

Watch: TOM & CHERRY (Mashup trailer of CHERRY and TOM & JERRY)

Two big movie releases are available for streaming this weekend: Tom & Jerry on HBO Max and the Tom Holland -starrer Cherry over at Apple TV+. I couldn't decide which want to watch so I spent my evening editing their trailers together.  This is TOM & CHERRY:

Watch: Errol Morris' 1991 Documentary on Stephen Hawking, "A Brief History of Time"

Yesterday we learned that the brilliant and world-renowned theoretical physicist  Stephen Hawking  passed away at the age of 76. In the early 1960s,  Hawking developed an early form of motor neurone disease, debilitating and paralyzing him throughout the decades. However, he did not let such a devastating physical disability stop him from becoming a truly iconic figure, thinker and leader in the sciences, and in specific, cosmology. Hawking's built a legacy of scientific works, breakthroughs and publications throughout his academic career but it was his best selling book "A Brief History of Time" that caught the eye of acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (Oscar winner for  The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara ). Morris' doc A Brief History of Time  looks at the impressive life and work of Hawking, told in the signature way that only Morris can, all scored to a soundtrack composed by  Philip Glass . While the film is ava

Video Essay: Mare of EATStown

  Not since Brad Pitt 's performance as Billy Beane in Moneyball have I been this emotionally invested in what a character was always eating or drinking onscreen.  In HBO's Mare of Easttown , Kate Winslet plays Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan. (Winslet is brilliant in the role.) Like Billy Beane, Mare's approach and understanding of her immediate environment or dilemma is translated through what she's consuming; it's as if the food or drinks become company players in her stage drama. And it's not just food either; Mare vapes and smokes too. Anything she consumes becomes important in the moment. My ears are listening to the dialogue and my brain is processing the plot, but my eyes and salivary glands are licking up the drops of condensate beading down her bottles of Rolling Rock.  The foods become so integral to the Mare experience, to the unfurling of her character, that at one point she's even attacked by a full gallon of milk (it's thrown through

Star Wars: Licorice Pizza

  If we were living in the the movie Minority Report , Paul Thomas Anderson 's latest film Licorice Pizza would get arrested for "Precrime." At least in the court of (some) public opinion . Anderson's film -- which I think is pretty great -- has come under criticism for the age gap between its two lead characters (15-year-old Gary and mid-20-something Alana), who go back and forth between friendship and playing flirtatious footsie. At no point in Licorice Pizza do they do anything sexual. Their feelings are sincere and the physical attraction is sometimes there, but it's all never acted on. Does that make the movie immoral? I don't think so. Could Gary and Alana some day end up together? I could see that. And Gary would (presumably) be of age by that point.  This age gap controversy had me thinking about a similar George Lucas ' Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace . In the Star Wars films, we know that Queen Padmé Amidala will eventu

The 21 Best Films of 2021

Will movie theaters ever back to what they once were? The ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) pandemic tore a hole into the fabric of theatrical exhibition. I streamed more movies this year than any other. A lot of people did. The one constant is this: Whether you watch them on the big screen or on your phone, good films rise to the top. Here go my picks for the best films of 2021. (And some other notes too.) Biggest Disappointments: The Matrix Resurrections Candyman (2021) Don't Look Up Special Citation : Kanye with Special Guest Drake: Free Larry Hoover Benefit Concert Seanne Farmer (director) // Niklas Bildstein Zaar (creative director) Kanye West Free Larry Hoover Concert GIF from Kanye West GIFs Best Needle Drop: "Light House" by Future Islands in Titane Best Supporting Actress : Olga Merediz, In The Heights Best Supporting Actor : Simon Helberg, Annette Best Actress : Alana Haim, Licorice Pizza Best Actor : Alessandro Nivola, The Many Saints of Newark Before w

Watch: Gaspar Noe's ENTER THE CATS

It's been quite the day for trailers. Ad Astra . It Chapter Two . Top Gun: Maverick . But I don't think anyone was REALLY ready for the promised "digital fur technology" of Tom Hooper 's Cats . The trailer is pure nightmare fuel. While watching it, the first thing that struck me was how dark and dreadful the film looked. Like physically and literally. I started thinking about how the film would probably be enjoyable while on some drugs. Then I started fixating on a shot of Idris Elba on top of a multi-colored lit building and the poster for Gaspar Noe 's Enter The Void  suddenly popped in my head. And after that, there was no turning back...