Posted by: bkivey | 3 April 2018

Taking a Look at “The Last Jedi”

A friend recently acquired The Last Jedi (or if you’re keeping score at home: Episode VIII), and graciously allowed me the included redemption code so I could watch the movie. I didn’t see it in theater (although it’s still playing locally) because it’s 2 ½ hours long. That’s about an hour longer than I’m prepared to sit through a movie unless I’m really interested in the subject matter, or it’s a really good film.

I like Star Wars well enough: been watching the films since 1977, but I’m not what you would call a fan. I’ve seen the first three, and the last two. The Force Awakens was entertaining, but had some film making short-comings that were also evident in the most recent effort.

Just for fun I watched the movie in Spanish the second time, because everything is more exciting in Spanish. Let’s go to the tape.

The Opening

The opening is the standard Star Wars crawl with John Williams’ rousing score, and

STOP THE MOVIE

A band of rebels out to defeat the dominant political and military force in the galaxy has a plan. The plan is to convince one guy whom they haven’t heard from in years to come save their butts.

I’m smellin’ a lot of ‘if’ comin’ off this plan.”

Jayne

Firefly

That’s not a plan, that’s a faint hope on which to pin the lives of (presumably) thousands and an entire movement. Okay, back to the movie.

The First Order has taken the place of the Empire, but still business as usual. Find the rebels: blow them up real good. And they are doing a great job of that as the movie opens.

I have seen good SF movies that don’t have sound in space. Even more amazingly, sound carries through a vacuum and through blast-grade windows and why are there large, expansive windows on warships? In these movies this is about the least egregious science error, and I’ve been resigned to it for a while. That and spaceships maneuvering in vacuum as if they’re in atmo.

There’s a scene where a transport leaves the planet surface and reaches orbit in ten seconds (I checked the timer). Assuming a planet similar to Earth, nominal orbital velocity is about 17,500 mph. A little math shows that to achieve that velocity in the time shown would require a craft capable of 80g acceleration from a standing start. Assuming the ship stayed intact, the people would be reduced to lumpy red puddles on the aft bulkhead. By way of comparison, the surface gravity of the Sun is 27g.

I understand that no one watches these movies for the science, but it’s hard to look past some of these things, and while it all looks cool, it’s not necessary to tell the story.

Moving on.

The rebels deploy a fleet of bombers against the aggressors, and we’re back over Germany in 1942. The dialogue in this scene could have been lifted from any WW II movie set in the European theatre. The situations are similar, so you might reasonably expect similar dialogue, but for $200M we could maybe expect some writing effort.

The bombing run would be familiar to the US 8th Air Force prior to the virtual elimination of the Luftwaffe: it’s not a good day at the office for the Rebellion. Has anyone considered the orbital debris problem even one sci-fi battle would create? They do manage to get one ship through to drop bombs, and the First Order loses a capital ship, but the rebels lose pretty much their entire fleet, as in, there ain’t no more. It’s not a good trade.

Hey Skywalker, What Have You Been Up To?

Back in Ireland Ahch-To (bless you) Rebellion emissary Rey finds Luke Skywalker. This actually happened at the end of the last movie, and here the film picks up right at the moment. Skywalker is a bitter old man, but Mark Hamill is 66, so maybe not an acting stretch. The film stretches credibility here by depicting a sunny day in Ireland, and Luke wants nothing to do with Rey or the Rebellion or anything else.

Back at Supervillian Central

We get our first look at Supreme Leader Snokes and Assistant Supervillian Kylo Ren makes the scene. Are there no plastic surgeons in the Star Wars ‘verse? Ren receives a scathing performance review, but there aren’t any other management trainees, so he keeps his job.

Hey! Over Here!

Rey mopes around after Skywalker for awhile (Why doesn’t he notice me? Should I change my hair?) until he busts out with some Jedi exposition.

Bad News for the Rebellion

What’s left of the Rebel fleet is on the run, and they find that the First Order has developed a way to track ships FTL. This is unhappy news, because now they can’t get away. While this is clearly a contrived plot point to create tension, it’s OK. It’s a movie, and a film about the First Order searching for the Rebels for years (“Welp, not in this system.”) would not sell $1.3B in tickets.

Apparently there is no chain of command in the Rebellion. Any random person can gain access to the bridge and hold casual conversations with the commander. No wonder they’re having problems. Organa gets ejected into space, but somehow regains consciousness and is forced back to the ship. No explanation in the movie on how this miracle occurs, but I’m sure the fans have this covered. Does Leia do this herself, or does Luke (maybe Ren) help her?

Skywalker reunites with R2-D2, and in a moment of utter predictability, when he utters the words

Nothing can make me change my mind.”

What you expect to happen, does.

At this point all the pieces are in place: dominant evil opponent, a band on the run with no escape, and possibly maybe perhaps a glimmer of hope.

The Coach Gives a Speech

Things aren’t going well for the home team, so the Admiral in command rallies the troops. Perhaps there is a chain of command, or maybe she just wandered onto the bridge. As speeches go, this one is lame. It amounts to “Don’t get killed.” without any explanation as to how she plans to accomplish that. It turns out there is a plan, but it isn’t shared.

This part of the movie is pretty well done. There are very good security reasons not to reveal the plan, because the rebels already know they can be tracked, and the First Order knows how much time they have to get somewhere. If the admiral lets slip that they’re headed for a planet and their adversaries find out, they have the fleet to render every planet in range unusable. On the other hand, the First Order knows the Rebels have to land somewhere, so they could employ the same strategy whether or not they know the Rebel’s plans. It’s a bit of a plot hole.

For the rest of the movie there’s the classic tension between command and the lower ranks (exemplified by Poe and Finn) as the rank-and-file want information that, admittedly, has life-and-death consequences for them, and command’s struggle to manage both internal and external conflict.

I noted about the last film that layers of tension were added at regular intervals until the denouement. The same formula is used here. It’s good, effective story-telling.

A Couple Meet Cute

The commander isn’t the only one with a secret agenda. Former First Order soldier Finn tries to sneak off the ship, and is stopped by a maintenance worker. It looks like he’s trying to desert, but he Has A Plan. Unfortunately the plan amounts to mutiny, as no one bothers to tell command. So the lesson here is you can do whatever you want as long as you think you’re right? That can’t be true.

They have to go to a casino and find . . . James Bond? Except here he’s a super-hacker rather than a super-spy.

I Feel Ya

Back to Rey, and we (and they) discover that she and Kylo Ren can Skype each other through Force Telcom. There’s a fair amount of this the rest of the movie, and adds significantly to the development of both characters as well as serving as an information delivery vehicle for the audience.

Rey and Kylo and Luke spend most of the next half-hour coming to grips with themselves. We learn why Skywalker never opened a Jedi Temple in a strip mall, and we see Yoda destroy priceless cultural artifacts.

Finn and Rose don’t get James Bond, but they do come away with an apparently serviceable replacement. Because if they don’t, the movie’s over. Most of the hacker side quest comes off as filler, and doesn’t exactly put Our Heroes in a good light.

Slavery is common in the Star Wars universe, and there are slaves at the casino. I understand there is some time pressure, but these people think nothing of invading the most powerful ship in the First Order fleet. Busting a few slaves out should not be a problem.

Things Heat Up

Poe decides to take the mutiny public, but it doesn’t last long. You know you’ve screwed up when someone comes back from the dead to shoot you. Rose, Finn, their hacker, and a droid gain entry to Ren’s ship, and Rey shows up at the front door.

Rey meets Snokes in The Exorcist oh, wait. It just looks like that movie. Snokes dies a suitable super-villian death, and then there’s some lightsaber action as Rey and Kylo take on his bodyguards.

While Satan Snokes has his way with Rey, the hacker has sold the Rebellion out, and First Order gunners find themselves in a target-rich environment. Rose and Finn are about to be executed.

Things Get Hot

Rey and Ren engage in a battle of wills over a lightsaber (pre-nups, kids!), and the rebel admiral rams a cruiser at lightspeed into the enemy dreadnought. This is one of the cooler effects I’ve seen, and illustrates how completely the Star Wars franchise ignores physics.

I noted in the previous movie that if you brought a ship the mass of the Millenium Falcon out of lightspeed anywhere near a planet, you’d blow half the atmosphere away. E=MC2 , and all that energy has to go somewhere. In the Jedi scenario, you’d absolutely destroy everything for a good little distance. The First Order fleet, the Rebel fleet, the planet, would all be gone. Roll credits.

Instead Rose and Finn are saved by a literal deux ex machina, which at this point is perhaps a little too cute. But everyone that’s left gets away (“It’s in my contract!”) to the planet.

You could reasonably end the movie here. Everyone retires to neutral corners until the next film. I had the same observation about The Force Awakens: you think you’re nearly done, but there’s more movie. Like, another half-hour.

Another Half-Hour

The Rebels are holed up in a cave with apparently only one entrance/exit, which they have to seal to keep the riff-raff out. CGI creatures abound. You’d think the First Order could just lay siege to the place and wait the rebels out. Station a garrison, jam comms, put up some detection sats, and starve them out. But Kylo Ren must have a hot date, because he wants this taken care of now.

The Boss Fight

In Sink The Bismarck! antiquated aircraft attack a modern battleship, or maybe old landspeeders attack Death Star Lite, I get confused. Anyway, everyone, even the maintenance tech, jumps into these jalopies and tries to die sooner rather than later. And very nearly succeed. Finn channels Commodore Decker but lives for another film. I want my next car to be built out of his ship’s skin, because he should have disappeared like a moth in a blowtorch.

After this fiasco (I notice that the Rebellion is really good at being bad), Skywalker shows up (‘ as prophecy predicted’), has a few words with his sister, then High Noon’s it with Kylo Ren. In the course of this confrontation Ren has his forces blast away at Skywalker. I thought there would be some cool inhuman lightsaber work, but, no.

The scene with Poe and Finn immediately after the fire fest was to me the funniest part of the movie. Finn thinks he can help a man who has apparently withstood the fury of every gun that could be brought to bear. Dude.

Despite expert computer analysis to the contrary, it turns out there is a way out of the cavern. The dozen rebels left realize they can follow the CGI creatures out, because living things are always better than machines. Rey shows promise as a miner.

Meanwhile Skywalker and Ren are duking it out using slow-motion rarely seen outside Sports Center. The fight comes to something of a draw when Ren demonstrates he’s been fighting an avatar. Which I noticed Luke’s avatar has fewer grey hairs.

The End (Finally)

Luke disappears on the wind. Rey and Ren exchange meaningful sequel looks. What’s left of the Rebellion fits on board a small freighter. I don’t know if Finn is still in Rey’s ‘friend’ zone, but if not, between her and Rose, dude’s getting some action.

What I Thought

If I’d seen this movie in theater, it would not have seemed overlong. I liked it. The going rate for first-run movies would not have been too much.

It seems the last couple of films the producers are heading in a more character-oriented rather than necessarily story-oriented direction. The result from my chair is more talking less exploding. I happen to like that direction, because stories are about people. I understand that the producers have to please, well, everyone, and that is my pettest peeve about the last couple of movies.

Sometimes it feels like there are three movies the producers want to make, but can only make one, so they try and cram parts of several movies into one film. The Last Jedi was a chase movie, an underdone psychological study on what having a super power does to a person, a relationship study between Kylo and Rey, and student-master movie. Any one of those could be a good Star Wars film. Perhaps Disney should make more frequent, smaller, movies rather than huge, extravagant conglomerations.

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Responses

  1. Blair-
    Good stuff.
    saw the 1st movie at a drive-in and enjoyed it very much, have watched none of the iterations since, except for the recent “Rogue whatever” Title, which I thought was very good.
    (I’m just not a star-wars guy.)
    pivoting…. I am a Star Trek guy; I’d be interested on your take on ST.
    (I have seen the ST:D reboot, but they totally lost me and I won’t be paying them any money going forward.)


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