Movie Review: ‘The Last Jedi’

SPOILERS AHEAD!!

The Last Jedi has been called one word above all others- divisive. It is creating a red sea between all realms of Star Wars fans from the passive to the passionate. I-being more on the passionate side- was quite taken back by the negative response, but I took my time writing this so that I could articulate my takeaway from the film without adrenaline bias.

THE DARK SIDE

When I went into this movie, I had that familiar anxiety that I had when I entered The Force Awakens-except this time wasn’t about the anticipation of discovery and wonder-but it was the stress that comes with 2 YEARS of unanswered questions and a very intentionally misleading trailer. It was like waiting for test results. ‘The Force Awakens’ left us with a hell of a lot of big questions-many of which I typed out ahead of my viewing of ‘The Last Jedi’ to keep tabs on the rolodex of galactic quandaries.

The questions included:

Who the hell is Snoke? Why is his face all messed up? Where did he come from? Who trained him in the ways of the force-let alone the dark side? How did he rise to power in the First Order? IS HE DARTH PLAGEIUS!?

Did Captain Phasma actually go down the garbage chute?

Did Maz die?

Does it MATTER who Reys parents are? Is she an immaculate conception? Is she a Skywalker? Is she a Solo? Is she really “no one”?

What the hell happened on Jakku? Why is there wreckage from what looks like a battle involving AT-AT walkers AND A FREAKING STAR DESTROYER!?

Where in actual hell has force ghost Anakin been this whole time!? Why hasn’t he told Ben to stop killing people in his name when he was nearly responsible for ending the Sith himself!? Why hasn’t Ben Kenobi talked to him!? Are the Sith cut off from these entities trying to communicate with them!?

And the list goes on….

Now here lies the the real shocker of The Last Jedi: they answered almost NONE of these questions. At first, this left me with a really sad and unsatisfied taste in my mouth. I waited all this time and you won’t even HINT towards who Snoke is? AND THEN YOU KILL HIM OFF MID-MOVIE!? REALLY!?

Okay, so maybe I haven’t quite let go of some of my negative feelings towards this film. I felt a serious lack of resolution. By the time that the movie ended, I didn’t feel that a complete story had cycled through my system. That is my biggest, overwhelming critique of the film.

I wasn’t a huge fan of all the goofy creature breaks, either. The characters themselves brought a great deal of comedy to the table, so they seemed to push it over the edge.

When it comes to the story, I had many theories going into the movie, and one that I thought would most certainly be realized was about balance. The colors of the posters, the cut up dialogue in the trailers- it all seemed to point in one direction. I assumed that Luke had come to realize-as many of us have-that while the Jedi have spent all this time trying to cleanse the galaxy of the Sith in an attempt to bring balance to the force, that perhaps they were going about it the wrong way. When light rises, dark comes to meet it. So, there will never be a balance when there is always conflict. I thought that Lukes narrative in this film would be the resounding declaration that the Jedi must end in order for those who use the Force to come together in union against evil and war.

There were very clear moments where the story was heading towards this idea, but it was never spelled out in a clear and effective way. It had the potential to be so articulate and powerful, but it was drowned in metaphor and hyperbole. Luke simply said that the Jedi needed to end. They need to end. They just do. Kylo Ren himself knew that he would only find a peace of mind if he could level out his feelings towards both the light and the dark-extending his hand to Rey to join him in this mission-because she was searching for something as well.  She reacted with a blatant opposition that may be revisited in the final film, so I am glad that it was brought up. Perhaps we will see balance in the future, but it could have been streamlined if Luke had only explained to Rey why he felt this way. She is so strong willed and became progressively more and more confident by this point that she was ready for his guidance and vulnerable to Kylo’s influence. This was the perfect opportunity to show her a new way. Now, both the Rebels and the First Order are incredibly vulnerable. This may be the path.

Cool Hand Luke is clearly working through some ‘Castaway’ levels of solitude on his island of creatures and textbooks, but he comes through to flex his Jedi spirit and strength in a most unexpected and poetic way in the end. But was it necessary? It was quite lovely to watch him say goodbye to his beloved sister, but was this display simply for drama, or was it truly the best way to end the film? His appearance and his actions do give the rebels time to escape the barrage by distracting an out of control Kylo Ren, but otherwise it does little to diminish the war that will continue to rage long after he gets comfortable in his robe in Force Ghost Heaven. Perhaps this resolution was valid, considering Lukes mental state and his detachment from the Force for so very long. It did not feel solid to me at that time, and it stills feels a little weak.

It certainly produced a reaction from the audience in my seating of the movie, so although I was wise to what was happening (theres no way that he cut and dyed his hair before he left to save the Rebels!) it did conjure up some intense feelings.

It is also worth pointing out that Luke has gotten increasingly more sassy in his old age. Maybe Han and Luke had more in common that they ever imagined.

And now I’m sad.

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THE LIGHT

The new generation cast expertly dominates the majority of the narrative in ‘The Last Jedi’ and they are clearly very comfortable in their current stations and ranks of authority-some a little too comfortable (lookin at you, Poe!). Both Leia and Luke receive a generous amount of screentime as well, moving along the storyline with their leadership, wisdom, and quirky charms-but taking a backseat when necessary for their young proteges to take control. A new addition, Vice Admiral Holdo, was a strange dynamic in the mix of this story, because she was domineering and fierce, but the strange and unflappable pushback from Poe in her direction left me thinking that she was working for the other team until her final (EPIC) scene played out. It was a “will they won’t they?” type scenario that didn’t pack as much of a punch as I anticipated. Finns new partner in crime, the delightful Rose Tico, is a source of innocence and purity in a tangled web of darkness and danger. She truly represents the idea that ‘The Last Jedi’ drives home-heroes can come from nowhere, and they can come from anywhere-if they let hope into their hearts.

Leia was one of the biggest pleasant shockers for me-since her role was so large yet went without conclusion. I was happy to see her have the time in the sun that General Leia so deserves to have- and I was especially overjoyed to see her daughter-Billie Lourd- have so much screen time in the film. Whether or not they actually shared the screen for all of those scenes, she will always have that piece of work to commemorate their time together. It was a very touching gesture.

On a related note, I was in such a mess of giddy euphoria watching Leia use the force in a physical sense to save herself. I wanted to see her hold a lightsaber just once, but this was okay too. It was a little bizarre, but very angelic at the same time.

BALANCE

Overall, I was very pleased with my experience watching ‘The Last Jedi’ for the first time. It was action packed right from the start, full of great performances and absolutely boiling over with girl power. From Holdo to Phasma, from Leia to Rose, there were so many wonderfully diverse characters and role models for a new generation of Star Wars fan girls and boys to adore. I feel a great sense of pride and joy seeing such fantastic representation throughout the entire cast.

The film did not allow itself to be weighed down under the expectations of its predecessors, but it paid a lot of homage to all of its influences. It honored the past while setting up the future for greatness. It utilized all of its characters effectively- including the lovable droids- and by separating many of them, it allowed them to shine in their independence. I felt that there were many moments where there was a serious opportunity for significant impact, but that those moments were not always ceased. I felt very few heart pounding moments that I so longed for in this movie experience. There were some pieces that were less than necessary and could have cut down some serious run time-like the ‘Codebreaker’ shenanigans with a very random throwaway cameo from Justin Thoreaux in ANOTHER galactic hive of scum and villainy-and I can’t forget that very, VERY awkward milking scene.

‘The Last Jedi’ left the story wide open for the third film and left it with a lot of material to dig into. I certainly see where viewers are feeling disappointment towards this chapter of the saga, but I hope that we can all come together to appreciate all the wonderful things about it, and that we can remain optimistic for the final installment. In the end, we are one big franchise frantic family.

But seriously, if they don’t tell me who Snoke is…..

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Patton Oswalts ‘Annihilation’ is a devastating delight

I’ve been a big fan of Patton Oswalt for a number of years- from his standup career to his many marvelous TV shows cameos (Agents of SHIELD, Parks and Recreation, Reno 911 etc)  and his voice acting (Ratatouille, Archer, etc). He has always struck me as a rare celebrity-one who is painfully planted on earth in a sea of stardom. Not that he isn’t a big star in his own right, with Pixar and Marvel credits under his belt, as well as several standup specials and a lengthy career on television- but there was always something about him. Hes the dude that I wanted to hang out with. Hes the guy who I would love to talk to with no bullshit.

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So when I found out that Patton had suffered a devastating loss in his wife-Michelle McNamara-a renowned crime writer-turned-cold case connoisseur and subject of many of his stand up stories- I was gutted. I don’t know either of these people, but when I see good people doing good things in the world who are hurting, it hurts.

Oswalt bravely took to the stage under the direction and support of friend and comedy vet Bobcat Goldthwait to spill out the contents of his heart in front of millions of people in his new Netflix special ‘Annihilation’. I expected to laugh, I expected to cry, but I did not expect the lasting devastation that I would feel in its aftermath.

He did not just touch on the subject of his wifes passing- he let us all in. The survivors guilt, the burden, the aftermath-all of it. About halfway through the set of witty observations and maturity testing metaphors, you can see a noticeable weight begin to take hold as he prepares to tell the story of the worst day of his life. I was so incredibly touched by the openness and honesty that this entailed, but so grateful to bear witness to it. It was a heavy gift that he offered to his fans, and one that surely was not easy to give. As I fought back the waterfall that was trying to form behind my eyeballs, I found myself suddenly painfully laughing- a combination of emotions that comes so seldom in life. The special as a whole is such a unique experience to give yourself- from its top notch comedy to its open heart confessions, and back again.

He may refer to himself as the guy who talks about dicks in front of thousands of people, but he is so much more. Patton Oswalt is still a big nerdy dad with a heart of gold, through and through.

If you watch one comedy special on Netflix today, this month or this year- make it this one.

To check out the late Michelle McNamaras work go to True Crime Diarys website, or check out her posthumously released novel “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”