The Fabulous Wife and I have few work obligations between Christmas and New Year’s, which gives us time for things we don’t ordinarily do — like go to a weekday matinee. Given our aversion to crowds, we deemed this the best way to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
We like the Star Wars franchise, but we’re not fanatics. When our niece and her husband named their new cat Boba, we assumed it was for the Taiwanese tea concoction popular among local college students. We were wrong. They named her for Boba Fett, the Star Wars character. “Who now?” we shrugged. Even though Boba Fett had been in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, we didn’t remember him.
For that matter, we barely remembered the plot of the last episode, The Force Awakens. Let’s see, there was Orphan Girl, Black Guy, and Han and Leia’s Tantrum-Throwing Brat. The first two were good guys. The third was a bad guy — did they ever teach their little sunshine the word no? — but even so we did not see the patricide coming.
Turns out that recollection sufficed. The Force Awakens starts with a battle and follows with one violent sequence after another, interrupted only by cuts to Luke Skywalker moping around Skellig Michael, an Irish island passing for the remote planet Ahch-To. (Memo to self: it is called Star WARS, what else were you expecting?) Tight plotting and three-dimensional characterization are for chumps; one common complaint I read after seeing the movie (example here) is that Snoke is unexplained even though he sets the entire story in motion — sort of like doing a history of World War II without discussing 1930s Germany.
The verdict? I was ready for the movie to end four times before it actually did. Wow that was a lot to sit through! If they had taken just one minute out of each battle sequence, The Force Awakens would have been half an hour shorter and that much easier to watch.
The movie’s reach for higher meaning was muddled. In one critical scene, Kylo tries to negotiate with Rey after they vanquish Snoke and his bodyguards. I don’t remember the exact words and haven’t found a transcript, but essentially Kylo says, “Look, Lucas’s vision was childishly incoherent. We can do better even though we’re callow emotional cripples. Let’s dump it all and start over.” Rey instantly refuses, they fight for an old light saber (like someone today fighting for a flip phone, but I guess it has sentimental value), and then they return to their respective corners.
I’m guessing this is essentially what happened when Disney bought the franchise from Lucas for four billion dollars. The creatives argued, “The last trilogy was an embarrassment, we need to update this franchise so it’s new and meaningful!” And the suits said, “Great idea! No.”
So an intermittently fresh but ultimately safe script is rescued by good visuals, terrific acting (the young principals are strong, and Benicio Del Toro is amazing), and decades of good will banked from the original trilogy.
Taboo thought: Carrie Fisher’s performance was unremarkable. Her death will create a void in the final episode, but that may be for the best. I’m not sure she had the chops to carry it the way Harrison Ford carried the first episode and Mark Hamill carried this one. It also gives the younger actors more opportunity to make names for themselves.
I’ve heard that some have inferred political messages from the movie. I do think it’s nice that the cast has matter-of-factly diversified. But the sole political message I picked up was “be nice to animals.” Herds of horse-like fathiers and crystalline canines called vulptices lead the heroes to safety at different points, but in a movie awash in slaughter, I don’t recall seeing any of them killed. And though one porg (a cute, big-eyed bird) is killed for food, the hunter is made to feel so guilty he likely becomes a vegetarian for the duration of his Ahch-To sojourn.