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Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Last Jedi

A review of The Last Jedi - major spoilers below if you've not seen it yet. TL;DR - you're going to see it, and it's going to make a ton of money, what do you care what I think...

I'm a pretty big Star Wars fan - I was 5 when the first one came out (now called "A New Hope") and can remember standing in line with my family to watch it, and later swinging sticks around making "zzzmm" noises with our "lightsabers". I didn't appreciate how good Empire Strikes Back was until I was older but the 8 year old me still liked it (again enough to remember going to see it with many other friends as a birthday present for one of them), and the Return of the Jedi at age 11 which I loved, even though I found Ewoks pretty dumb and wondered why they weren't Wookies instead. Once again, I enjoyed it enough to remember going to see it with two of my friends at the end of the school year. And then there were the prequels which in order were "awful", "mostly awful", and "ok in places", pretty much showing that the more control Lucas had the worse they were.

Inbetween those films you could get your Star Wars fix with video games. The Dark Forces FPS series was a lot of fun, but the best games were X-Wing, and later Tie Fighter, where you got to fly first as a rebel, then as an Imperial pilot. Tie Fighter just needs redone with modern graphics and good multiplayer code to be a game that would work today, but LucasArts managed to screw that up and having spoken to one of the lead programmers, the source code is lost and no chance of that resurrection happening. Oh, and in the early 2000's the Knights of the Old Republic RPG games were fantastic - they "got" Star Wars, better than Lucas did in the prequels.

OK, is that enough space for spoilers now?

Right - The Last Jedi. 

The Good
For the first time we see a good reason for someone's turn to the Dark Side. Kylo Ren is troubled, Snoke tries to turn him, and then his douchebag uncle Luke Skywalker tries to kill him. What choice did he have but become Sith? You can see why he is conflicted, and desperately looking for a place in the world and someone who will understand him. The entire relationship between Kylo and Rey is great, as each tries to escape the manipulations of their elders and find their own way. Best parts of the film by far.

There's also recognition that the old ways of the Jedi didn't work, that the Skywalker family have been nothing but giant screwups, and things need a big reset.  There's a chance for renewal, a way for something better to be built from the ashes of what's left, perhaps moving to "Grey Jedi" where they are neither the preachy Jedi nor evil Sith - the film does make a point of stating that the Force always tries to create balance and will literally create a new Jedi because there's a growing power in the Sith. Rey is apparently a kid with nobody parents (at least according to Kylo, I'm not sure, there's still the "clone from Luke's hand" theory), and finally we might have a story whereby being of "royal" blood isn't critical to being important. I'm hoping that Episode 9 is the end of the Skywalker saga, they just need to die out.

Last, and truly awesome thing about this film - it did not end with someone flying a small ship inside a bigger ship to shoot a doohickey and blow up said big ship. We're now back down to only 50% on that score for the main films.

The Bad
After that - yeah I have nothing. As dumb as Star Wars films are, the characters had an arc, a purpose, a consistency, and yet here they simply don't. I can forgive things like space bombs that work from gravity, and the most boring chase scene ever, but huge swathes of this film are utterly pointless - Finn and Rose's side mission is an utter failure, basically down to the fact that they park the car on the beach instead of the space port. Two whole movies in, and I don't know what the point of Finn is. Would anything be different if he simply did not exist? When he finally is about to do something of note and save the rebels, Rose stops him. He does manage to kill another pointless character, Captain Phasma, who again had no purpose in both recent films and despite being a badass soldier gets killed by an ex-janitor.

Poe Dameron is the second most frustrating character in the film. Now, I'm not someone who always follows the chain of command, and am against the death penalty, but that guy needs to be shot out an airlock for what he did. First he completely ignores orders and gets the majority of his ships lost (good trade though, a few bombers for a capital ship), then starts a mission against orders, then instigates a mutiny, and finally gives away the plans for the escape of the rebels and gets most of them killed. Granted, the Vice Admiral was terrible in commanding the respect of her troops, but that was mutiny. The entire point of that Poe/Finn/Rose side story seems to be to ensure that the rebels get nearly wiped out. Unlike Empire Strikes Back, they didn't lose to a better prepared and more powerful enemy, they lost from their own stupidity. I want to like them and for them to succeed, but they're so incompetent that when Finn and Rose were about to be executed I simply didn't care - no loss for the resistance, and maybe someone competent will replace them.

Lastly, Luke. What a douchebag. I suppose he starts this film like he does Episode 4 - a whiny teenager throwing tantrums for not getting what he wants. He created the next Sith because he was tempted and failed to either resist or follow through and took the worst possible route of starting but not finishing his decision to kill Kylo Ren, and then ran away rather than try to fix things - Darth Vader had done far worse and could be turned back, but Kylo can't? Then when someone who wants to make a difference turns up he refuses to train her - yeah because she'll just go away and disappear if you tell her no. At least he ends things by giving the rebels a chance to escape before removing his sorry ass from the universe. One less Skywalker - now just one(ish) more to go.

When I was a kid we played as Luke, Han, Vader, Wedge (good Scottish pilot doing the actual work), who were all cool characters that achieved things despite their flaws. What is the point of most of the characters in the latest Star Wars films? Kylo and Rey are about it, and even there Kylo is whiny and suffered major losses in both films - Rey at least comes from nothing and against the odds has had some success.

So where does this film sit in the list of best Star Wars films? For me, the original three (4,5,6) are still the best, then it's a bit of distance to The Last Jedi, before a big drop until the next few with The Force Awakens and Phantom Menace fighting it out for the wooden spoon. I seem to be pretty much alone in that, for some reason people are putting it up there with ESB, but I just can't see it. At least JJ Abrams is somewhat forced into doing a new start for Star Wars in Episode 9, hopefully not with a mining ship time travelling and resetting everything though...

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