Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi - a dreary and dissatisfying tale of Star Wars: Hope Snuffed Out

Two years ago I started my review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens with the statement that ‘I’m not a big fan of Star Wars’. But the retro, derivative and cliché-ridden reboot of the franchise has grown on me – think of it as Indiana Jones and the Lost Droid – and last year’s Rogue One was a decent science fiction movie.
“My disappointment at your performance cannot be underestimated”

There’s a performance management comment that will be wheeled out in many a year-end review this year! And it applies to my impression of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. It was a big disappointment.

Things started well with an soundtrack rich with stabs of strings and brass. However, the effect of the John Williams motifs faded over time as the problematic storyline took centre stage. The early instances of humour lifted the feeling of worthiness from the convoluted plot and the overly wordy Empire stooges who annunciate each new thought.

There were space dogfights, parries with light sabres, a visit to a seedy watering hole, creeping on and off enemy ships, flying big ships through tight tunnels, and a holiday trip for Rey to an Irish island – Atishoo Ahch-To where it rained and there were disturbing puffin-like critters which after a while demonstrated great facial expressions and toppled into the comedy list – all of which led to an awakening.

But the lack of hope was endless. The ‘force’ had not topped up its card at the filling station and was running perilously low.
“The greatest teacher failure is”

You’ll have to guess which character spoke that line, but he was an welcome addition to a scene that (perhaps symbolically) burnt stuff while the Resistance complained about needing a spark. And he was just one instance of many force-fuelled apparitions of characters in remote locations.

The best battle was saved until the end. The red salt lying under the covering of snow was a fabulous invention and provided the strongest visuals of the film. However Snoke’s red domed (and perhaps doomed) lair with its shiny floor looked like unfinished CGI.

I enjoyed the slower pace, even if it contributed to the 152 minute run time. The characters had time to breath and the space to develop had that been written into the script. Yet at times this rather robbed the plot of much needed jeopardy and my heart never raced.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) had a much more sedate role, separated from the main cast. He see her grow emotionally and spiritually, but her combat abilities are saved for one late tussle. Princess General Leia (Carrie Fisher) overcame the physics of a vacuum (the force is a great gift). So there’s a definite gender rebalancing of the force-ful characters.

Resistance maintenance worker Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) is a breath of fresh air, putting principles ahead of reverence and hero worship of Finn. Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) has a short but interesting character arc, playing an uncomfortably safe battle strategy in charge of the Resistance’s last ship before making a fatal yet effective manoeuvre.

Yet despite these strong and interesting women, I noticed that it was men (like Luke Skywalker) who heroically arrived in situations to rescue the many. Men who never showed emotion while the women were allowed to shed tears at will.

But the dissatisfaction comes from convoluted plot devices which send characters on a mission to find someone to break in somewhere to turn something off which of course never happens and makes things a hundred times worse than they would have been. That’s on top of battle decisions that stupidly further diminish the Resistance fleet. Self-inflicted misery.

Overall, it felt like Rian Johnson had set out to write Star Wars: Hope Snuffed Out. Episode VIII may be a credible part of the overall Star Wars canon, but it’s a dreary two and a half hours that fails to live up to the magic of best of the rest of the trilogy of trilogies.

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