Thursday 14 December 2017

Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi

The Resistance has destroyed Starkiller Base but has failed to prevent the First Order from toppling the Republic. The new rebels are now on the run. On a distant planet Rey has found Luke Skywalker and asks for his help for the Resistance and for herself, as her Force powers are growing exponentially. But Luke has been broken and demoralised by the betrayal of Kylo Ren. Rey and the Resistance both face their lowest ebb as Supreme Leader Snoke himself arrives to oversee the final battle...but there is still the possibility of hope.

Back in 2015, The Force Awakens had the unenviable task of resurrecting a Star Wars franchise that had been let down by three disappointing prequel movies. It succeeded mainly by creating and developing an intriguing new cast of characters, all played by great young actors, whilst furthering the themes of the Force, heroism and self-sacrifice and adding an interesting major new theme of redemption in the shape of Adam Driver's new villain, Kylo Ren. Unfortunately, the film was also highly derivative of what came before, with a new Death Star and a few too many nods at the previous Star Wars movies that were less homages and more re-stagings. Still, it was fun, pacy and energetic and this overwhelmed many of the movie's weaker moments.

The Last Jedi is, fortunately, not as derivative of The Empire Strikes Back as its forebear was of A New Hope, although there are some similarities. It has a similar underlying structure - our Force novice hero (or heroine, in this case) is off training up as a Jedi whilst our other characters are on the run from the Empire - but these plots go in very unexpected directions. A battered, post-traumatic Luke is reluctant to train Rey following his own failure with Kylo Ren and the movie delves deep into this relationship and backstory, as well as expanding on Ren's fascination with Rey and Snoke's desire to train Ren as his heir apparent. This dynamic is compelling, fantastically well-acted (Driver and Daisy Ridley holding their own against a never-better Mark Hamill and another astonishing digital performance from Andy Serkis) and takes several turns which are surprising, refreshing and fascinating. We're light-years from the simplistic "corruption of Anakin" story from the prequels here, and we get several outstanding lightsabre battles along the way.

This is handy, because of the rest of the film is a little bit more variable in quality. It's good to see Finn (John Boyega) back on his feet and he's soon off on a solo adventure with Resistance mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who is a breath of fresh air in the franchise. Their story is fun and - rather unexpectedly - taps into weighty issues like capitalist exploitation of disenfranchised workers (although we still don't get any discussion of why enslaving sentient droids is okay). Benicio Del Toro shows up and does vaguely Benicio Del Toro things before abruptly disappearing from the narrative. It's all okay and vaguely amusing but at the end of the movie you realise that Finn's entire story could have been jettisoned from the film without losing anything (other than a couple of dozen minutes from the film's overlong running time) other than a few discussions about the value of friendship and family which, whilst nice, aren't exactly revelatory.

The biggest problem lies in the movie's core chase sequence, where the First Order fleet relentlessly hunts down the last remaining Resistance warship. This creates a rather major plot hole where the storyline could have been resolved at any moment by a couple of the First Order ships making a micro-hyperspace jump ahead of the Resistance and cutting them off, which they don't do because...well, it's never explained. Later on the Resistance use a hyperspace manoeuvre in battle which is, as established in the previous movies, physically impossible (and, if it was possible to do it by tweaking a ship's drives somehow, it would have been used frequently before). Given that this storyline forms a large chunk of the movie's running time and is where Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) and General Leia (Carrie Fisher), along with Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), are hanging out, along with a welcome expanded role for Lt. Connix (Billie Lourd, Fisher's daughter), it's quite a big issue for established Star Wars fans who know the background and canon quite well. Casual viewers likely won't care.

The film brings all the characters back together for a surprisingly twisty climax, complete with at least two stand-out musical homages to the original trilogy and some moments of real humour. Much has been made of the "surprises" in the movie and there are a few things that definitely don't go the way people will be expecting. But ultimately this is Star Wars and there are limits to Lucasfilm's conceptual boldness, even if they do press up against them from time to time.

The Last Jedi (***½) is, once again, energetic, well-directed and has some great dialogue and fantastic performances. Also once again, the central storyline is more than a little stupid and there are plot holes big enough to pilot Supreme Leader Snoke's 60km-wide Super Duper Star Destroyer through, which grate a little bit more this time around (since I think Rian Johnson is a better writer and director than Abrams, but he doesn't knock it out of the park here). The best Star Wars movie since Empire? No. The best once since Rogue One, and that's still entertaining enough for now. But Episode IX will really need to up its game. The film is on general release now.


LeftHanded Matt said...

Great review, it sounds like I enjoyed it a lot more than you, though!
I'm not sure what you mean about hyperspace not working the way it was previously established? I don't recall anything saying it couldn't.

Anonymous said...

I liked a lot of scences in the movie. The visuals are great. Everyone gets to shine, there is character development. But somehow the feeling wasnt right for me. It felt like an ending and not like a middle of a series. Too many plotlines, which were teasered and introduced in TFA, went nowhere for no reasons. Snokes Background. Rens Parents, the Knights of Ren. How did Snoke turn Ben Solo? Somehow Lukes behaviour felt unnatural to me. What happens to Leia now? Miniature death star ram? The chase you mentioned. Hux and Phasma. How the FO could conquer the known universe with Hux in command is beyond me. There were so many things that could have been done better with little effort. And they add up too much imho.

Anonymous said...

@LeftHanded Matt. A Ship can't hyperjump through other ships/planets because the massshadow of said object would rip it out of hyperspace before.

Adam Whitehead said...

Also if you could destroy things like that, you could just get a big bulk freighter on autopilot and fly it through the Death Star/Executor etc. If you could use hyperspace like a weapon like that, it would have been used in the 25,000 previous years of hyperspace travel in the galaxy.

Also, there is zero reason the pursuing First Order fleet can't microjump in front of the Resistance and cut them off.

Anonymous said...

Nitpicking the nit pickers, because that seems to be where some just want to go with this movie:

When has “microjumping” ever been established in the films?

You can absolutely hyperspace through objects in the SW universe. Remember Han Solo in ANH? “Ain’t like dusting crops, boy...we could fly right through a star...”

Adam Whitehead said...

Every previous Star Wars film has established that you can determine your exit point from hyperspace very precisely. Remember Han Solo bringing the Falcon out of hyperspace a few dozen feet off the ground in The Force Awakens? No reason whatsoever why you can jump to hyperspace, come out ahead of your target and cut them off, like the Imperial fleet did in Return of the Jedi at Endor, or Darth Vader's Star Destroyer did in Rogue One.

Previous canon, codified in the "new canon" by the introduction of Interdictor crusiers in Rebels, also established you couldn't really fly into big things in hyperspace because an object's "mass shadow" extends into hyperspace and can tear ships back out into realspace, which is a bad idea if you are close to a star because you'd burn up. However, you can't fly into an object hundreds of kilometres away and destroy it because the ship will have already transitioned to hyperspace and would no longer be present in realspace. If you could do that, you would have an exceptionally powerful weapon which could destroy Death Stars and Super Star Destroyers with trivial and pathetic ease.

LeftHanded Matt said...

That's a fair assessment for disliking it, and I take your point.

At the same time, I've immersed myself in Star Wars lore, read all the EU books, etc, over the past 20+ years and when the scene happened, none of that popped into my head. All I could think was, "that is SO cool."

Never let rational thought get in the way of an exhilarating movie moment :p

Dpoulos27 said...

I'm sorry, but this movie was not good. I was disappointed and feel there's no need for a 3rd movie. I also think the acting was poor.

Mike F said...

Judging from visuals alone the "jump" to hyperspace seen in the movies isn't instantaneous. There is a visual distortion depicted when ships enter and exit. I'm totally willing to buy into the (completely head canon) idea that what we saw in TLJ was more a result of the rapid acceleration and deceleration into and out of hyperspace.

We also don't know where the hard line is between actual mass in SW space and the mass shadow in hyperspace. Seeing as how they had to design an entire ship to generate a mass shadow large enough to stop hyperspace travel my guess is that few things other than celestial objects would generate a large enough mass shadow to cause an issue.

The move was also telegraphed in "Kindred" on SW Rebels when Hera did something very similar.

Yeebo said...

It's been a few years now. I still put this movie third overal among all the movies, behind ESB and Rogue One.

I didn't actually have a problem with the hyperspace jump as weapon. However in retrospect, you are correct, it creates severe continuity issues. Even if we say for the sake of argument that it's possible, but quite hard to pull off, why wouldn't they launch a fleet of X-wings through high value targets. Any one might not pull it off, but if you used 100 one of them would probably get lucky.

However, with years of hindsight I think the biggest issue was killing Snoke. They had plans for him in the third movie, and removing him forced them to go with a backup plan that was so f-ing terrible I just pretended that third movie never happened. That one move pretty much set the entire trilogy on fire, even though it was a bold choice considered in isolation.