So, everyone’s in a tizzy about The Last Jedi. I finally saw it on Saturday, but I wanted to get my head around the movie, the story, the experience, and yes, the controversy that is surrounding it. My local theater showed it only in Imax 2D as has been there wont lately, so I can’t tell if 3D would have made an impact–I suspect not (as you’ll see below). A note on Spoilers–there aren’t any (hopefully). I tried to talk about more my impressions and be as oblique as possible, but that comes at the expense of really delving deeply into what I thought was right/wrong with the movie as I’d have to point out specific examples from the film to make the points that I wanted to and that would make this post far too spoilery–so I chose not to do it. I may revisit this movie with a post in the future with full spoilers, but for now, this review is as spoiler free as I could make it.
In a nutshell, am I disappointed in the movie? I’m ambivalent towards it. There are good things to like and there are bad things to dislike. In the original trilogy the good far outweighed the bad, while (for me) in the prequels, bad far outweighed the good. So while I see these new movies as “okay,” I don’t really feel that they are close to greatness that the originals achieved. I’d say these rank solidly in the middle for me–better than the prequels, but not nearly as engaging as the originals. Now, on to a more nuanced discussion of The Last Jedi.
This is where the movie excels–say whatever you will about The Last Jedi (TLJ), but it has very strong visuals and visualization of the actions. It is a very striking movie and looks very good in terms of how a “modern” Star Wars movie should look–even more so than the Prequel Trilogy. I love the color scheme and the look of the characters and the integration of practical effects with CGI effects. It all looks amazing and has a strong visual flair to it. I think that perhaps JJ Abrams reboot of the Star Trek franchise is slightly more visually appealing than TLJ, but not by much although that’s a pretty subjective determination on my part.
So this is where it begins to get a little dicey–yes, TLJ has a coherent story that has a beginning, middle, and end, but (without spoilers) it felt a little disjointed in places. It is as if there were several different plot threads running through the movie, but none of them have a solid through line. I once read/saw something that said after The Force Awakens there was nothing written (i.e. a roadmap) for the rest of the trilogy. If that is true, that’s what this seems like. A set of striking vignettes/subplots all rolled into one movie in which “moments” happen, but nothing “big or revelatory” happens. The story just exists, but doesn’t actually “say” anything once its finished.
Not sure about the Characterization
So, the characterization feels off to me for some reason. The characters are all there, but they don’t necessarily act in ways that I would expect them to do so having seen all of them, the infamous Christmas Special, the Muppet Show Episode with Mark Hamill, the animated Droids, and pretty much everything else (except the latest episodes of the animated SW show on Disney XD because of the hefty price tag). The characters are sometimes on note and sometimes are way off. I don’t want to throw the director under the bus (as many websites and fan review videos are doing right now), however, he wrote Looper, which was among my least favorite Sci-Fi movies of recent years–although it was (to be fair) critically lauded. However, while he may be a good Sci-Fi writer that doesn’t immediately give him cred. for being a good SW writer. Sci-Fi comes in different “flavors” and there was nothing in Looper that said that he would be a good fit for SW as a time travel story is much different than a science fantasy story. Without spoilers, Finn lurches between cowardice and unrelenting heroism, Rey is sometimes really strong, yet really naive, and Po gets to be a “rebel” with a cause, but his plans never come to anything substantial in the story. I won’t even get started on Luke’s character–suffice to say, many SW fans are not happy with the way he’s portrayed. I personally felt ambivalence. When a major thing happened in the movie, I just watched, but didn’t actually feel anything. It was as if I was just watching someone move figures around on a chessboard–I didn’t engage/root for the characters and the story didn’t seem to make me want to care so it was as if I was just going through the motions.
Overall Grade: B-. Hey, it’s a SW movie, so there’s a ton of nostalgia built up for the movie, but I look at it this way–when I was a child, the wait between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi was interminable. However, no matter what Episode IX will be called, I can wait for it–easily. In fact, only the fact that my mother wanted to see it in the theaters and it is because of her prompting that caused me to buy tickets for it. I was content to just watch it on bluray/streaming based on the weak trailer. There are no burning questions/characters that makes me want to find out what happens to these characters right now.
Implications for My Writing
Twofold–1) practice at different forms of the genre and know my limitations. While I like history, I’m probably never going to be able to write lots of strong Victorian Steampunk. The Victorian era, while I know quite a bit about it, isn’t an area where I really find myself drawn to in writing works or reading various works. So I’d have to do a lot of work to really make sure I hit my marks, knowing that there are other writers who could hit it out of the park far easier than I ever could. 2) Characters–Johnson’s visuals could only carry him so far, but in the end, the lack of affinity that he had for the characters really was distracting. I wonder if what I feel towards Rey, Finn, and Po right now are what editors are feeling for my stories–just sort of ‘blah.’ I really need to work on characterization and truly getting awesome characters in order to combat this problem.