Looking at: Star Wars VIII – The Last Jedi (SPOILERS)

Is that time of year which can only mean one thing: new Star Wars movie!

This has been an interesting week. I saw this film on the opening Friday and came out thinking – “I need another viewing”. Cue a week of endless reviews and debates on youtube, among friends and all over the internet. I’ve never seen a film being this divisive before. People either hate it, love it or are just meh about it. For that first week I was in the meh camp. After watching it again today, a week later, I am still in the meh camp, but less meh as before. The short of it, I liked it. It wasn’t amazing nor was it terrible. I will go through the film though as there are some common elements among fans and critics that I feel I should give my two cents on. Instead of normally separating it into likes and dislikes, am just gonna go through the film, from start to finish and pick out the hot topics (these may not be in the right order as am doing this all from memory). In case it isn’t obvious, spoiler warning.

The Phone Call

So let’s start off with the opening joke. The resistance are escaping a base which is about to be destroyed by the First Order and their dreadnought, a big ship with big guns. Cue Poe flying in on his x-wing to deliver a message to General Hux. This is the first of many jokes in this film. Poe is playing with Hux here, giving a “your mum” joke and some others. First viewing I loved it, second viewing, pretty much the same. I thought it was funny and set the tone for the film. Now, the jokes have been heavily criticised online, and for some I agree, not well placed. But on the whole, I liked it, thought they fit well with the tone and were actually funny. However the person who played the guy on the bridge of the dreadnought should be in the role of General Hux, he gave a great performance.

Bombers

As part of the take down of the dreadnought, bombers (yes, bombers, useful in an environment where there’s no gravity) are coming in to destroy it. I loved this sequence. Filled with great action and set pieces. There was a very dramatic moment when at the end, the last bomber left had to sacrifice herself to release the bombs. Well shot and well performed. Following this is the beginning of Poe’s arc. Leia slaps him in anger to his operation which costed many lives. I really liked Poe in this film, I thought he showed great growth as a character over the course of the movie.

Snoke and Kylo Intro

Next (I think) we have Snoke and Kylo’s first scene. Following from the last film, Kylo has been defeated by a character who has never used the Force or a lightsaber. Obviously Snoke would be very upset, forcing Kylo to get rid of his mask (thank you!) and basically humiliating him, driving to be better. First watch, I wasn’t that convinced with Kylo this film, but now I think Adam Driver is doing so well with his character and portraying his conflict. Snoke…we’ll get to him later.

Finn’s Leaking Suit Thing

After that scene with Leia, we have Finn awakening from his coma (or whatever) in a suit filled with liquid and is suddenly leaking everywhere. First time I didn’t think much of it, but second time I would have to agree with the fans that this seemed out place during a moment where heavy losses are made. I don’t know what was suppose to be achieved by this scene but it didn’t work. Didn’t laugh, didn’t really react. It was just “oh look it’s Finn”. Unlike Poe, Finn’s arc seems to go backwards. In The Force Awakens, he was one of the main driving forces of the film. He went from being the coward who wants to run away to being a hero almost. In this film, he’s sort of still being a coward but then becomes a hot head fighter, like how Poe starts. But there is more to do with Finn much later.

Opening Luke Scene

So next we pick up where the last film left off with Rey and Luke on the island. Another hot topic, once presented with his (and his father’s) lightsaber, Luke just tossed it away as if it was nothing. Many a fans hated this moment, though to be out of character, stupid and etc, but I just laughed. I thought it was the perfect introduction to this version of Luke. It shows him as a broken man who has completely left behind the world of the Jedi. Great direction.

Leia Poppins

Fast forwarding a bit. Two things to talk about here. First is Kylo’s bit. Kylo is flying into the ship (I hope you spotted the visual references to Phantom Menace) and is going to destroy the bridge to the resistance cruiser, but he senses Leia on there. He hesitates. Fantastic acting here. Loved it both times. But then, his flanking TIE fighters bomb the bridge and out shoots Leia. Now this is another hot topic. Leia managed to use the force to put herself in a bubble and then, no word of a lie, use it to fly back to the bridge. This looked silly. Very very silly. Now, obviously we had the unfortunate demise of Carrie Fisher, essentially bringing an end to her portrayal of Leia. Now in interviews it has been said that she would not be resurrected with CGI in the next film which hints at the possibility of her being killed off in this movie. When I first saw this, I thought that’s it, she’s dead. How unceremonious but hey, that’s war. But no, she just fly backs. Another thing I thought when I first saw it, which I think would be much better, is that Kylo actually saved her with the force. I thought that would be fantastic for his character, he’s so conflicted that he went and saved his mother in secret, but no, Leia used the force and flew back to the ship. I don’t know, it was just very silly and I didn’t buy it. To quickly note on another hot topic which was Admiral Akbar’s almost looked over demise…and? It’s war, this stuff happens.

Porgs

Hate them. Absolutely hate them. Didn’t mind them at first but they are so distracting. No, don’t like it.

Luke Milking a … Thing

Yeah that was pretty disgusting. Rather not see that again.

Vice Admiral Holdo (Hodor?)

Literally, I kept hearing her name as Hodor. Hold the door! Anyway…I like Laura Dern. I think she does well as an actor and does quite well here. But, withholding her plan from Poe? I mean, I get it, it’s done to put him in his place and so that he can go and develop in his arc, but man, so much could’ve been avoided because of it. Such as….

Canto Bight

Ok, this entire section, this entire Finn/Rose subplot…terrible. Let’s start off with Rose. A maintenance worker from what I can remember? A very naive and idealistic character, trying to do the best by her late sister and be the best rebel she can be. She stops Finn from running away (yep, clearly he didn’t learn anything from the last film) and then they end up going on a mission to Canto Bight. So the First Order has this technology which can track through hyperspace (Rogue One easter egg anyone?). The team would need to sneak aboard their ship to turn it off. To do so they need a master code break to hack their systems. Where can they find one? Poe goes to ask Maz Kanata, a person whom he never met before…ok. I didn’t really think much of her in The Force Awakens and still don’t here. It’s like in a game, she’s the quest giver and that’s her only purpose. Be sure to get back to her at the end to pick up your experience points. Anyway, so they have to go Canto Bight to find this mystical code breaker. On this planet (city?) is a casino filled with the very wealthy and big horse like creatures. This place is like watching the prequels CGI again, just ugly to look at. Now I know there’s a message in this sequence about animal cruelty and evil existing in the good but it just doesn’t work with the rest of the film. It’s placing feels so artificial and it doesn’t even amount to anything. Finn and Rose end up getting thrown in jail where they bump into another code breaker played by Benicio Del Toro. I actually liked his character, he’s a man who doesn’t pick a side as he would rather live free and not committed to a cause. Living in the balance as it were. But they then escape, but not before rescuing those horse things and wreaking the casino. More bad CGI and ugliness. Now I ended up clock watching in this film. For me, that’s never a good sign and I reckon shave this sequence down (or cut it completely) and the film will be perfectly timed. It was definitely too long and dragged in parts, particularly this sequence. On a side note, I loved BB8 in this bit. Taking out those guards with the coins and helping DJ steal ship, bad ass droid right there.

Rey Reaching Out

Sorry, but I thought this was funny, especially sarcastic Luke. I love sarcastic Luke.

Luke’s Portrayal

Another hot topic. Luke is a much more defeated and darker character in this film. After Return of the Jedi, he took Ben Solo and a bunch of others to start a new Jedi order. However it all came crashing down when Ben went over to the dark side and destroyed the temple and killed some of the other padawans. This causes Luke to go in exile and give up the Jedi way. I love this. I thought Mark Hamil did great acting here and this character’s journey feels so real. During the sequence on the island, Luke comes to criticize the Jedi. He refers to the events of the prequels where at the height of their power, they allowed the Sith to grow and take over. Vadar was discovered and trained by the Jedi. This is great stuff and it leads to his belief in why the Jedi should end; and I agree. We are at a point where having the Sith and Jedi shouldn’t be anymore. No more good and evil but just Force users. When I first saw the title “The Last Jedi” I didn’t think no more force users or the end of days, I thought, this is the end of good and bad. No more stark contrasts and typical hero stories but layered and interesting characters. Overall, I was happy with Luke’s portrayal, except for one bit. Now I’m still unsure about this bit having seen it again, but this is the part where Luke decided to kill Ben. A man, who sought to seek and try bring his father, the second most evil man in the galaxy, to the light. A family loving man who decided to go and kill his sister’s and best friend’s son, his own nephew. Albeit a “fleeting thought” but I find this very unbelievable for his character. Now I get that character’s change over time and such, but Luke’s characterization was so defined in the original trilogy, and at the height of peace time without any known major conflicts Luke decides to act like this? If this is was a D&D game and a player did this, it would be seen as out of character and the other players would be like “what the hell man, what are you doing?!”. But I have thought of a scenario where maybe this could work. So during this whole build up of the Jedi order, Luke became too big for this boots. He was overwhelmed with pride in what he is doing that he sees Ben turning as tarnishing his beautiful school, making it a selfish act to kill so easily. That I think I can live with. It also fits with what he was saying later on about being a legend and how unfulfilling it actually is. To quickly mention however, R2D2 playing the clip of Leia, brilliant. Totally on board.

Rey’s Training

Wait that was training? Did they forget to film some of it?

The Force Link

I don’t know why people are getting angry at this use of the force, it’s brilliant, and we had people in the past be able to connect via the force so why not have this be a more advanced version of it?

Snoke’s Death
Ok, the big one. Basically, Snoke dies, about half way through the film. Moving on…

No, kidding. Kylo brings Rey to Snoke and whilst he’s toying with Rey, Kylo straight up murders Snoke. Cuts him in half like Darth Maul was. He does this by moving a lightsaber that was RIGHT NEXT TO ALL POWERFUL SNOKE! Now, I am very mixed on this. I liked that the film had the balls to kill off a character like Snoke and it furthers Kylo’s ascension (see Kylo’s Ascension), but dude, the way it happened was not that cool. Here we have a menacing and evil being who can connect Kylo and Rey through systems (yeah, the force link was a result of Snoke) and just flap them about like rag dolls, and then Kylo just kills him like a punk. I don’t know, it just really undermines his character. The whole not knowing much about didn’t really bother me that much, but I must point out something. So there is a point here that some are trying to make about in Return of the Jedi we are introduced to Darth Sidious without any backstory or anything, and he also dies in the same film, due to over confidence and not fully knowing his apprentice…huh, that sounds familiar. Anyway, similarities aside, they make this point against the people who are complaining about how there’s no backstory on Snoke. But, Darth Sidious did things in Return of the Jedi. The way he manipulates Luke and Vadar, his many mind games, amazing performance and a cool force lightning scene. So when he was killed, it was satisfying. Here, a dude just died and no one really cares. Just, feels like a wasted character, he could’ve been more. I will talk about the build up from the Force Awakens later on, that’s a much bigger topic.

Saying all of this though, there is one bit of backstory I would’ve liked to have seen. How the hell did Kylo and Snoke meet? You have Kylo training with Luke and Snoke manages to turn him? How? Did Kylo go to normal school one day and there was that weird science teacher showing him strange experiments who turns out to be Snoke?

Kylo’s Ascension

First time I didn’t think Kylo going full dark side was enough for the final film. He didn’t seem to have the presence or maturity to be an adequate antagonist. Then I watched it a bit differently the second time around. I began to appreciate his journey through the film a bit more (also, what fantastic acting). My next point also makes me agree with the decision to kill off Snoke more. So in traditional Sith lore there is the rule of two. There is always a master and an apprentice. No more, no less (see, the prequels had some good dialogue). Typically, the greatest test for the apprentice is to face off against their master and take over. This is exactly what Kylo does in the throne room with Snoke. He is fulfilling his role in the rule of two which works well. Another thing is that I think Kylo’s motivation is to be better than the expectations that have been put on him. Through his life there are pressures on him. Jedi training, he is a Skywalker, he has to be the best. Snoke’s apprentice, the endless berating and pressure from his master, he has to be the best, goes to the length of killing his father to do so. But that’s not good enough. Next step is to take over from Snoke, become the Sith. Now in the scene, he notes that he wants to kill of the Sith (and the past in general it seems) which I love the idea of, but that’s another section. To finish off my point here, I think Kylo was great until he comes through after the throne room fight. He then goes from promising leader to a whiny kid, like he was at the end (or for most of) the first movie and that’s why from the first time I didn’t think he could carry a whole movie as it’s main villain. When he’s like that, he’s just not convincing enough of a villain, he’s almost like a cartoon character, him and Hux both.

Throne Room Fight

Man that was awesome. More of that please!

Rey’s Parents

Haha, haha, HAHA! Oh I am loving the reactions to this. I remember after The Force Awakens came out, I think I was speculating with some friends as to who the parents were. Typicals came out, she’s a Skywalker, Obi’s kid etc. But I just really, really wanted her to be unremarkable. I was bored of the Skywalker story, we had 6 films of Skywalker, let’s do something new. And hot damn they did. Her parents were nobodies! Now, this is pretty much only hinted at from Kylo, which leaves JJ to turn around and say “actually they are important, they are Jedi legends after all” which I would hate, so very much. I love her coming from nothing.

Hyperspace is Dangerous

This! This was seriously cool.

Betrayed By a Codebreaker

Argh! See, there’s a lot of bait and switch in this film (trilogy) and it’s frustrating at times. But I felt that DJ’s motivations were already defined by what he said to Finn in the stolen ship; talking about don’t be good or bad, just live free and survive. But it would’ve all ended better if Holdo just told Poe the plan and then none of them would’ve gotten killed, although it probably wouldn’t have taken the First Order long to find them on that planet…ah well.

Phasma

This I’m annoyed at. From the trailer, I was looking forward to the fight between Phasma and Finn the most. I thought “this is going to be bad ass”. It started happening and I was with it, it was cool, exciting and….oh, over really quickly. Underwhelming and wasted. Oh and The Force Awakens doesn’t get off lightly with this either, what with that shot of her walking down that corridor like a complete bad ass in the trailer only to get punked in the film? Get the hell out!

Finn-Rose Love

Worst love story ever! Seriously, it makes Twilight seem like a Shakespearean classic. Just stop it. Bring back Anakin and Padme. To add to this, the hint of flirting between Poe and Rey…do not go there JJ!

Kylo vs Luke

Oh god we have to talk about this don’t we. I really don’t want to , but we have to. How could Kylo not tell that Luke was a projection?! One: with the force. Two: the lightsaber he just destroyed is being used by Luke. Three: the lack of footprints in the salt from Luke. Four: surviving that barrage of lasers. This is where I start to lose respect from Kylo and can’t see him carrying a movie as a villain on his own.

Luke’s End

….meh. I didn’t hate or love it, it was, meh. I would’ve preferred it if he was actually there on the planet but..meh. It was ok. But I liked his wink to C3P0. He’s the only one who’s actually nice to the droid.

The Kid and The Force

Couldn’t care less. Probably someone for Johnson’s trilogy.

My Initial Hopes Going In

Now like most I had my hopes going in, but they weren’t like most. My dream plot would’ve been something on the lines of, Kylo and Rey teaming up BUT not as Jedi or Sith, but just Force users. Being the balance. Then you had Snoke and Luke as the old school players but as a result of the conflict they were damaging the galaxy (similar in though to where Luke was talking about the rise of the Sith from the prequels) and it would take this new age of Force users to change everything for the better. We’ve seen through the history of the lore that the stark contrasts only brings war, you need balance to have peace. But no, there is no balance here. You have Kylo going all bad and even Rey is now going all good. People say there was conflict in these characters. For Kylo, yeah ok there was some, especially with Leia, and he made his choice in the end. On the second viewing I came on board with this and think for the next film, he should stay there with him growing his power and abilities. With Rey, egh, it wasn’t as good. The performance, the arc, just her overall. I don’t actually like Rey that much. She’s just…underwhelming. This entire film on the whole has been underwhelming. Had some cool moments, but just meh overall.

Episode 7 Connections

The main reason I think so many are being hostile with this movie is because The Force Awakens had set up so many plot points and characters and most of them didn’t get paid off in this film. Now, I think this is a fair criticism. We have three films here, all of which are connected. Three parts to a story. With the plot points and characters not paying off, The Last Jedi feels like a separate film and story all together. Now personally I didn’t mind most of it, in some cases I thought it was great, but this actually hurts The Force Awakens more. The times where there are hints or flashbacks to scenes that causes speculations are now just nothing; they have no meaning. Also what happened to C3P0’s red arm? It’s just gone!

Episode 9 Thoughts

JJ is back to direct -sigh- So, probably won’t be on my radar until the trailer comes out. Other thoughts:
Kylo should stay evil and be more powerful and an actual leader.
Bigger time jump between films so the rebels can be built up again.
Not have Leia killed off screen, that would be a disgrace to the character.
Make. Rey. More. Interesting.
No more Maz, please no more Maz.
Leave Phasma dead, I can’t face more disappointments.
Rose actually died at the end of the Last Jedi so we don’t have to put enough with that god awful love story.
Give Finn more to do, more him and Poe together, I love that bromance.
Anakin force ghost. Which leads me to…

Anakin

I think Kylo needs a visit from Anakin. Kylo worships Vadar, that’s all he wants to be. I want just one scene, one scene where Anakin comes in and gives Kylo some insight or advice or something. Please JJ, if you do anything with episode 9, please be a scene between Kylo and Anakin.

The Film Me Vs The Star Wars Fan Me

I think a big part of why I had trouble formulating my thoughts on this film was because I am seeing it from two different perspectives. There is the film nerd side of me who thinks it’s a well directed and interestingly put together piece of sci-fi with some great set pieces, albeit with some inconsistencies. Then there’s the Star Wars fan side of me who is really underwhelmed by the movie. Yeah some of the action was great and liked some of the callbacks (force ghost Yoda) but it wasn’t that exciting for me. The space chase wasn’t that interesting in the end, the conflict on the salt planet was meh, really didn’t like those speeder things and the casino scene was some of the worst Star Wars I’ve seen. In the end, this was average. Had some cool moments, some interesting character bits but overall, average. If I had to give it a rating I would say 6/10.

Star Wars Ranked

So where does this sit among the other Star Wars films, from best to worst we have:

Empire Strikes Back
Rogue One
A New Hope
Return of the Jedi
The Last Jedi
Revenge of the Sith
The Force Awakens
The Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones

Controversial I know. I love Rogue One the more I watch it and I hate The Force Awakens the more I watch that. Revenge of the Sith has some redeeming factors, more so than some may think, but that’s for another blog post.

Looking at: The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl, welcome to this years Oscar bait and boy does it show. When I first saw the trailer to this film in the cinema my first thoughts were: “here we go, theory of everything all over again.” When I came to watch the film, I was expecting the same shallow and distant mis-telling of an interesting and wonderful story, moved along only by the fantastic performances of the lead stars. What I got? Well…what I got wasn’t that but I’m not sure if it’s much better.

The Danish Girl is a film that is already riddled in controversy due to the lack of a trans actor playing the title role. To touch on it slightly, my concerns with the film has nothing to do with that, on the whole I thought Eddie Redmayne’s performance was rather good and he fitted really well into the role. To call this film transphobic because it didn’t cast a trans actor in the role is ridiculous and I urge people to not label it as so.

The title character is Einar Wegener, a painter who was born a man but identifies as a women. We meet the character in the midst of her success alongside her struggling wife’s (Gerda Wegener played by Alicia Vikander) career, also as a painter. One day when a sitter is late to appear in one of Gerda’s paintings, Einar sits in, donning stockings and a dress. This is the pivotal scene where we first see Einar’s realisation that she was born in the wrong body. Initially, Gerda goes along excitably with Einar’s exploration into this side of her; willingly going out to pick out dresses and teaching Einar how to appear and act as a women. It’s painted as a game the married couple share and enjoy, however things become too real for the two when Einar is approached by an admirer, played by Ben Whishaw, whilst in the Lili persona. So starts Einar’s journey to become a women, and so begins the breakdown of the Wegener marriage.

With the story aside, my concerns lie with how shallow the film’s telling of that story is. We are watching the first man to transform into a women and the complications it can bring to a marriage. The film is urging us, no, begging us to be on Einar’s side, to be gushing over the personal conflict she’s going through, and it thinks that it being a film about a trans person is enough. That we are obliged to be on their side. As much as I want to, and I really do, the film does a very poor job of getting me to do that. Now this isn’t the fault of Redmayne, his performance is really well done and you believe the conflict within the character, but is directed to be selfish and quite frankly harsh to others around her. Throughout the film, we see Einar being given tremendous amounts of support from others around her, no one (with the exception of some doctors and a couple of bystanders) rejects her choice or belief. Even her wife Gerda, who’s probably in one of the most difficult and testing situations one can find themselves, comes to fully support Einar. But time and time again, we see this support thrown back into the faces of the characters, more so than others Gerda. She endlessly tries to please Einar and do what she can for her but essentially gets burned for the efforts. However, there are points where the film becomes aware of this fact and tries amend Einar’s attitude, however it is handled so badly and rushed it just comes across as manipulative more than anything else.

But with that aside the performances are really good, but it isn’t Redmayne that should be collecting an Oscar this year, it is Vikander. Not only does she outperforms Redmayne, but she essentially carries the whole film. Every emotion, every conflict and every reaction can be seen in her performance alone. She brings great depth into the character and overall, you truly do side with her. You feel her pain and tragedy she goes through and you want to be at her side through it all.

Going on however, the film also greatly lacks ambition. Again it thinks because of it’s subject matter is enough to win the heart of the audience, but painting this tragedy as a glossy and whimsical tale shows how much the film doesn’t understand the story it’s telling. Even when we eventually get to the operation, there is no sense of struggle or hardship. The first ever gender reassignment surgery and it comes across as routine. The film makers attitude towards the topic is the same as the characters attitude towards Einar. They pussyfoot around the issue, they see it on the surface and they don’t want to understand, they just want to please and keep people happy. No ambition, no balls, no conflict. A shallow story kept abreast solely by Vikander’s performance.