Dienstag, 23. Januar 2018


 Hello there puny humans,
it has been four weeks since I released my spoiler free review for Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi. But since you guys demanded my spoiler filled opinion on this divisive film in an online pole, I sat down once more to gather my thoughts. I actually took the time to rewatch every single Star Wars movie including this one. Then, after overthinking how to structure this post, I decided to just write things down as they popped into my head. And so, here we go:

I love Domhnall Gleeson. In my opinion, he is one of the finest and most diverse actors working to date. Even though he played kind of a stereotypical faschist in The Force Awakens, it seemed to me like there were more layers to him. Especially his relationship with Kylo Ren felt like the relationship of two rivaling brothers desperately fighting for the approval of their father figure (in this case Supreme Leader Snoke). As a result, I was a little disappointed to see him be ridiculed in a few scenes. This role (especially played by this actor) had much more potential than to simply become a punchline. We see shades of this when he briefly thinks about murdering Kylo or when he demonstrates a great strategic intelligence. But after seeing him made fun of by Poe and thrown through the room by Kylo, it's hard to take him seriously.
Then there is Captain Phasma. She was already criminally underused in The Force Awakens and even though The Last Jedi brought her back, her appearance was once again extremely brief. I mean, you've got Brienne of Tarth in bad-ass chrome armour. There's got to be a better use of her!

There have been some complaints that Star Wars changed after Disney took over. The Porgs for example were accused of only being in the movie to sell toys and some people said that they were totally overused. Though it's probably true that their creation was part of a marketing idea, they had only like three or four moments in a two-and-a-half hour film. So this didn't bother me, because in such a small dose they worked for me. I mean, they were cute after all.
Another problem people had was that there were too many jokes. I agree that Disney has a particular kind of humor that they also use heavily in their Marvel movies. In The Force Awakens it worked well, but in The Last Jedi I also felt like a few of the jokes didn't land. But to me, the emotional moments in this movie were strong enough to completely compensate the few misplaced gags.

I liked a lot of the stuff here. From scene to scene the Resistance got smaller and smaller, and so for me this story-line was able to continuously keep up the stakes of the film. A lot of people have criticized the "Leia-floating-in-space"-scene. Admittedly, I was also startled for a second, but then the scene totally worked for me. Leia has always been described as being strong with the Force and I actually thought it was cool that she got a chance to show it off.
Poe's personal journey from talented hothead to capable leader also made a lot of sense to me. The only problem I had here is that I felt that Admiral Holdo could indeed have given more details about her actual plan to Poe and therefore prevented a whole lot of complications. Maybe a little change in the wirting could have made her secrecy a little more understandable. Her kamikaze attack still looked freaking cool though.
Another thing I enjoyed was that the character of Rose introduced us to another side of the Resistance. Her first encounter with Finn didn't only show us that therer are more people working on this rebellion than heroic fighter pilots, but it also mentioned deserters for the first time (but more on that later).

Speaking of Rose, she and Finn go on a journey to find a codecracker that helps them infiltrate Snoke's ship. And it leads them to a Casino on the planet Canto Bight. That sequence didn't quite work for me. I already said in my spoiler free review that this place didn't feel like it belonged in that galaxy far far away. It simply looked like a futuristic casino on earth. But Star Wars takes place a long time ago and (in my mind at least) when people dress up, they do it in weird fancy ropes. These guys were wearing black and white tuxedos. Furthermore, they were playing games that were almost indistinguishable to the ones played in casinos today. Sure, there probably were some alterations, but you never got a good enough look to really notice it.
The second problem I had with this sequence was that I felt the social commentary was a little too on the nose here. This was also where the character of Rose became a little too contrived for me. Furthermore, if I remember correctly, Finn and Rose only got arrested for a parking violation, not for entering the casino. So could the failure of their mission have been avoided simply by parking properly?
I respect the film makers for trying out something new, but it didn't speak to me as it felt more like Episodes I-III. Even the action, especially the Fathier horse chase, looked kind of prequel-esque.

There is actually not a lot to say here. I loved it! Especially the fact that they made him look and act like the Puppet-Yoda from the original trilogy. It was a fantastic cameo that wasn't only there for fan service, but actually made sense in the context of the film and created a great cinematic moment. "Read them you have? Page-turners they are not." is one of my new favorite Yoda lines.

In contrast to Canto Bight, almost everything that happened on Ahch-To, was a blast to watch. First and foremost the Jedi-Master that went into exile on this sacred planet, Luke Skywalker. This was Mark Hamill at his best. While I wasn't 100% on board with him throwing the lightsaber over his shoulder (and thereby retroactively demystifying one of the best moments of The Force Awakens) I do not agree with the #notmyluke criticism. First of all I absolutely loved that Luke started of as kind of an oddball in his interaction with Rey. It paralleled the relationship between Yoda and Luke in Episode V, where Yoda also started of as this tiny green weirdo. Whether exile makes Jedi quirky or  is just a technique to test the patience of potential students is unclear. But nonetheless I felt it fit perfectly. And when he finally opened up and became her trainer, I loved to see this broken down and ambivalent version of our hero. He explained the Force beautifully to Rey and at the same time he criticized the Jedi Order as we saw it in the prequels (rightfully so). And his past with Kylo? I thought it was brilliant! Seeing the breach of their relationship in three different perspectives was reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon", and I for my part found Luke's reaction very much in line with his character. When Vader teased him by talking about how he would hurt Leia, Luke went apeshit and swung his lightsaber at his father like a berserker. Here, he only ignited it once out of shock (who knows, maybe he had a vision of Han dying) and then immediately regretted his moment of doubt. He never really wanted to kill Ben, but it becomes clear how it would look like that from Ben's perspective. So my idea of the character of Luke is still intact. And then the movie even gave him an epic heroic moment during the final fight. Mark Hamill was such a strong presence in this sequence that I didn't at all get that he was in fact a...

... Force-Projection! Damn, what a cool moment. The visual Force connection was also an exciting concept to play around with. To me, these powers both felt like an extension of things we've already seen before. Acoustic Force connections have already been established 40 years ago in the very first film, so why shouldn't it be possible to "upgrade" to visual connections. The same goes for the Force Projection, which probably works like a pre-death Force ghost. And here, it was made very clear that using this power seems to be so difficult and draining that it may kill you. I hope they dive deeper into these new elements in the future.
Star Wars has always been expanding the lore concerning the Force. The Phantom Menace introduced Force Speed as well as Midi-Chlorians and if I am correct, the Clone Wars series had an episode where a physical incarnation of the Force appeared. Compared to the that, The Last Jedi's new inventions were almost conservative.

The two individuals connected through the Force as mentioned above were of course Rey and Kylo Ren (aka. Ben Solo). Their relationship is arguably one of the most interesting parts of the movie. There are a lot of parallels and contrast between them. Kylo had a heroic mentor that he felt betrayed by. Rey had ruthless parents that she kept believing in. He stands on the dark side, but doesn't fully buy into it. She stands on the light side, but is not afraid to explore what the darkness wants to show her. Both are incredibly strong with the force. And while Ben wants to kill the old ways and start off new, Rey wants to turn the legends of the past into truths. These characters are not black and white. When Ben reached out to Rey in order to sway her, I almost wanted her to accept the offer. With these two main characters the Star Wars saga has gained new unpredictability. I have no idea how the story will continue. Is Kylo Ren redeemable? Or will he have to die through Reys hand? Is there a possibility that they will rule the galaxy together after all? They seemed pretty in sync when fighting Snoke's Royal Guards....

While we are on the topic, may mention how absolutely insane that lightsaber battle in the throne room was? Truly awesome. The way that Rey dropped the lightsaber, the way she later threw it to Ben. Genius! Choreography-wise, this was maybe the best fight scenes in the entire saga. But also the opening bombardment of the First Order capital ship is a pretty epic space battle. Even though you didn't know most of the characters, their desperation and the destructive power of the First Order made you really feel for them!
In general, this film is just incredibly good looking. The finale on the salt planet is so gorgeous, I want these wide shots on canvas! The color scheme is brilliant, the cave vision looked cool, Reys training sequence on the island was beautifully shot and the throne room fight I mentioned before is also visually stunning. The way the vibrant red curtains caught fire and burned away during the fight - amazing!

Of course the throne room fight I am praising so much was bookended by two moments that were controversially discussed by fans. Snoke got killed off and Rey's parents were revealed to be no one. Now, I am a little torn on these two things. From a mere story-telling perspective, those moments make perfect sense. It doesn't really matter who Snoke is. At least not to our main characters. If he had turned out to be Darth Plagueis it wouldn't have changed anything for Rey or Ben. When the original trilogy came out, nobody knew who the Emperor was either. He was just some evil dude. Giving him a backstory would not have enriched the films at all.
Rey's parentage on the other hand would probably have made a bigger impact. Director Rian Johnson stated that he thought about it for a long time and had cards with character names on the floor, shuffling them around to see what would work best. He decided that Rey's parents being no one would be the most interesting, and quite frankly I agree. Her heritage being irrelevant really spices things up. First of all it moves the saga away from the old-fashion idea of blood-line being important. Second of all it has a big impact on Rey as she has to give up the idea that her parents are coming back and that she is somehow destined to be a hero. So story-wise I am totally on board. However:
While I don't think film makers should be bound to fan's expectations or fan theories, it is not like all this talk about Rey's parents and Snoke came out of nowhere. In The Force Awakens J. J. Abrahams deliberately set up mysteries. The ominous huge hologram with which Snoke was introduced, Obi-Wan's voice calling Rey's name in her vision, lines like "A good question, for another time." and many other similar things were specifically designed to keep us guessing. So when someone gives you a puzzle and after you have put a lot of effort in trying to solve it, you're told that the answer to that puzzle doesn't matter, it is understandable that someone gets pissed.
Furthermore this implicates that there is no pre-planned vision for this new trilogy. The afore mentioned statement of Johnson proves that he didn't have the answers to the questions Abrahams put out there in Episode VII. This I find too bad, because sequels that are constructed together can make for pretty cool overarching themes and stories (think Back to the Future Part II & III). Then again, the original movies hadn't mapped out everything from the get-go either.

Even though these three new movies might not have a completely shared golden thread, there is no denying that thematically The Last Jedi is incredibly well-rounded. Firstly, there is the theme of having to give up certain things in your life to achieve greater things. Finn finally gives up his urge to run when things get hopeless, Poe gives up being an action hero to become a true leader and Rey gives up believing in her parents. Even Luke has to give up his self-imposed exile/punishment to become the hero the galaxy needs. And how does every character learn this? Well, Yoda actually explains it: "The greatest teacher, failure is." Luke and Rey both failed to win Ben over. Poe, Finn and Rose failed to save the Resistance. But in the end, every one of them gains strength from their failures.
A second theme that was very apparent in this movie was the grey area between the dark side and the light. In the movies at least, Star Wars has always been about duality. The bad guys were all really bad and the good guys were all really good. And if someone switched sides, they didn't stay in the middle for too long. Even Anakin goes from arresting Palpatine to killing younglings in less than half an hour. This time we were shown that there is more to this series than binaries. On the side of the First Order, we had Kylo who killed Snoke and the General Hux who wanted to kill Kylo. On the side of the Resistance we heard about deserters for the first time and even witnessed attempted mutiny. We heard about the arms dealers on Canto Bight (appropriately dressed in black and white) that sold weapons to the Resistance and the First Order alike. And then of course there was DJ, a character that didn't care for good or evil and just did what was best for him. In that sense, the film deconstructed what we thought we knew about Star Wars. It turned this space opera into a more grounded science-fiction fantasy epic.
The refusal to make Rey's heritage meaningful combined with the "broom kid" using the force in the very end just stress that point even more. The Force is not exclusive to chosen ones. It belongs to everybody.

And maybe that is exactly what Rian Johnson did with the Star Wars series as a whole. He took it away from the fanboys and gave it to everybody. Basically he has asked us to do the same thing that Yoda asked of Luke in Episode V: "You must unlearn what you have learned."
I understand that this is a lot to ask from fans of a saga that has been running for 40 years now, and this is most likely the reason for all the controversy. If you really take a close look at The Last Jedi you'd think there is something for every type of Star Wars fan in there: The opening battle had a war movie touch similar to Rogue One; The Canto Bight sequence reminded a lot of people of the prequels; Lukes relationship with Rey as well as Yoda's cameo were reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back and then there was enough new stuff for people who only started to get into Star Wars after The Force Awakens. But I guess this also meant that every type of Star Wars fan could also find stuff to hate....

Anyways, these are my spoilerific thoughts on Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi. Apart from a few gripes, I actually really enjoyed this film. If you want to see how it ranks in the overall saga for me, check out this list I've made on Letterboxd. But what did you think about Episode VIII? Do you agree or disagree with my observations? Feel free to comment below!

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