Tag: Movie Review

The Last Jedi Review

I won’t keep you in suspense.  I did not like Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  I did not like it a lot.

I have seen the film twice now, my small contribution to its massive financial success.  My hopes were high on opening night, as my brother-in-law and I took our seats and basked in the glow of the famous opening crawl.  However, there was an immediate disturbance in the Force and by the end credits I felt betrayed and bewildered.  How could this story have gone so horribly wrong?

I spent much of the weekend trading messages with my friend, and fellow Star Wars fan, about how disappointing and distressing The Last Jedi was.  After picking (and nitpicking) at the details and overall tone of the movie, I began to think I was being overly critical.  After all, there were parts I enjoyed very much.

I took my sons to see it a few days later.  This time I gave myself license to enjoy the movie for what it is, a Star Wars film for a new generation, but as I sat through this dumpster fire once more it reconfirmed everything that felt wrong, from the tone, to the plot, to the characters.  I left the theater and mourned all that might have been and everything we lost with The Last Jedi.

WARNING: Beyond this point there be spoilers!

From the opening scene I was bothered by the tone.  Don’t get me wrong, I laughed.  The prank call from Poe to the First Order was hilarious.  What bugged me though was that it undercut an already thin villain, in General Hux, and completely negated any tension built from the crawl of the desperate escape.  Then, just minutes after the yucks on Hux, we are asked to care about nameless bomber pilots, and their sacrifices, when they attempt to destroy a battleship that is so formidable that it is ill equipped to deal with a single X-Wing fighter, or a squadron of bombers, or able to target a base or a starship in a timely manner.  Not to mention the fact that you can’t drop bombs in space, there’s no gravity!

Smash cut to Ahch-To where we pick up right where The Force Awakens left us, Rey standing in front of old Luke Skywalker.  We’ve waited two years to hear what Luke will say or do when he is presented with his father’s lightsaber.  In some ways we’ve waited 30 years for this moment.  And what happens?  Luke literally, and figuratively, throws it away.  Both times I watched it, several people in the theater chuckled, but I was deflated.

We were ten minutes in and it was clear that Rian Johnson was set to throw away everything that had come before.  The question that I still have is, why?  JJ Abrams proved you could make a Star Wars movie for a new generation and still deftly use the building blocks, and characters, from the original films.  To a truly spiteful level, Johnson had no interest in doing that.

Say what you want about The Force Awakens, three intriguing questions came out of it.  1) Why did Luke go into hiding and what will he say?  2) Who is Rey, who are her parents and why was she abandon on Jaku?  3) What is Snoke’s story?

Johnson’s answers in The Last Jedi?

1) An eternal optimist, who never gave up on his father (a genocidal maniac, who cut off his hand), was going to murder his nephew in his sleep for having bad thoughts.  So he went into shame hiding and renounced his religion because he couldn’t keep an emo kid from succumbing to a bad influence.  If every father (or father figure) did that there wouldn’t be enough weird rock beehive huts on Ahch-To to accommodate us all.

Oh, and what will he say?  Nothing.  He’ll toss the lightsaber away and lock himself in his room, because that’s exactly how any of us would react if a young lady showed up at our doorstep with a family heirloom and a distress message from our sister.  Then Chewy, who was dramatically underused, beats down his door and Luke learns that this girl arrived in the Falcon.  And here Johnson throws another middle finger at Abrams and cuts away instead of showing us Luke’s reaction to learning that his old friend and brother-in-law was murdered at the hands of his own flesh and blood, and Luke’s former pupil.

Oh yeah, Johnson throws more shade at The Force Awakens, and the Skywalker dynasty, by having the tantrum-throwing Ren destroy his helmet in the elevator.  This helmet was a physical manifestation of his connection to his grandfather and, just like a lightsaber toss over the shoulder, it was discarded.

Immediately following that we watch Kylo struggle with the decision to kill his mother.  In an intense and emotional moment he chooses not to pull the trigger, only to have his colleagues destroy the bridge and we watch Leia get sucked into space.  She is floating in space, Guardians of the Galaxy style, before she wakes up and space floats, Mary Poppins style, back to the exploded bridge.  Because, the Force, that’s why.

Speaking of things the Force has never done before, back on Porg island, while Rey patiently waits for her ungracious host to finish fishing and milking alien sea cows, she gets a ForceTime message from Kylo Ren.  Yeah, that’s right, they can talk to each other and even see each other, but not their surroundings.  ForceTime, available on iOSnoke 17.  Rey shoots through the stone beehive hut and we are treated to these bizarre fish nuns and now must grapple with the fact that Luke hasn’t been living in seclusion but in a Cod Commune.  I’ll just leave that there for the moment.

Now things really go off the rails.  The B-storyline quickly devolves into a slow speed space chase where the First Order, who can now inexplicably track ships at light speed, can’t catch up with a ship that is right in front of them.  And this same organization who turned a planet into a weapon that could destroy other planets across the galaxy, can’t build a cannon that can reach a ship which they can see with their eyes through their front window.  They could literally step out on the deck and hurl rocks through space at the fleeing Resistance ship, but it was out of range of their guns.  If that wasn’t ludicrous enough, we have to endure a side mission (by two woefully unqualified side characters) to find a code breaker/thief who can get them on a ship to disable the miraculous technology that can be disarmed by a maintenance worker and that every janitor is privy to its location.  BOO!

While we’re on the subject, why was maintenance girl sent on this mission instead of the best pilot in the galaxy?  Maintenance girl could have stayed back and stalled and then it would have made sense for them to withhold the plan from her.  Also, why was maintenance girl allowed to pilot the speeders in the finale when there were clearly trained soldiers just sitting it out in the foxhole?  Her whole character was so contrived and this whole storyline asinine.

Switching back to things we actually cared about, Luke sneaks on to the Millennium Falcon, during a really funny exchange between Chewy and his dinner.  Luke is reunited with R2D2 and I start to think this movie might yet be redeemed by a touching tender piece of nostalgia, but immediately we are treated to more hilarity “Hey, sacred island, watch your mouth.”  This was so out of character for this version of Luke that I wanted to throw the middle finger to the screen.  You can either go with old cynical jaded Luke who has lost his faith in himself and forsook the Jedi order or go with playful banter between a droid and his master, the faithful steward and last protector of a dying religion.  You can’t have both.

So Luke decides to teach Rey a lesson (three of them actually, but she only gets two lessons).  Not how to be a Jedi but why she shouldn’t want to be.  Luke says the Force is not light or dark and does not belong to the Jedi, which is actually really well said.  I always assumed that to be true, from Obi Wan’s original explanation of the force as the thing that binds us, runs through us, and connects us.  At no point did I feel anybody laid claim to the Force but if that’s how Luke needed to teach it then I’m fine with it.  When Rey shows sensitivity to the Force and awareness of the dark side of it, Luke loses his cool again.  Rey trains herself with the lightsaber and disturbs the fish nuns again (eye-roll).

We flash back to the gamblers paradise where Finn immediately shows he cares as little for the mission as we do.  They give BB-8 some funny things to do and a whole bunch of I-Don’t-Care happens.  Poe is at odds with an interim Admiral who I can only describe as “Wouldn’t it be cool to have Laura Dern in a Star Wars Movie?  But how would that work?  Who cares, get her a purple wig and we’ll figure it out.”  Purple-hair Laura Dern doesn’t share her master plan, because reasons.  Her master plan, by the way, is to cruise by an uncharted planet with an old rebel base on it and send out cloaked ships while the First Order continues to follow their RV that’s about to run out of gas.  Did I mention they have cloaking devices now?  The First Order designed something that can track a ship at light speed but not a scanner that can sweep for escaping vessels right in front of them.

So Rey goes into a Dark Side Funhouse and then Luke catches her Force touching with Kylo Ren and loses his junk.  Rey and Luke stick fight until she takes him down and threatens him with a laser sword.  Yeah, Luke called it a laser sword.  Boo!

She tries to convince him that there is good in Kylo but Luke, who made the same argument for his youngling murdering father, would rather just lay there in the rain than trust hope.  When Rey finally sees what a disappointment Luke is, she leaves.

Of course Luke’s first thought is “I should burn that old tree and those old books.  That will show the Force.”  Yoda shows up and I squealed a little.  They even brought back puppet Yoda, or CGI’d puppet Yoda.  Either way, YODA!  He delves out wisdom after conjuring lightning and cracking Luke on the noggin with his Force Ghost cane, which we can add to the list of things we didn’t know you could do with the Force.  How are these guys losing to the Dark Side?  I’m starting to think that Force Ghosts are selfish jerks.

Skipping the “Nobody cares about the mission to disable a tracking device that won’t matter because the plan is to abandon ship anyway” storyline, Rey jettisons herself from the Falcon in an escape coffin that can be piloted into Snoke’s ship.  Snoke shows how powerful he is.  He can move people and things around at will and connect them via ForceTime from across the galaxy.  He can even foresee the future, but he can’t see a lightsaber turning on the armrest next to him.

Who is Snoke?  Answer 3) You’ll never know, so shut up.

The fight scene that follows is really cool though.  Then comes the old “join me and we’ll rule the galaxy” invite.  Rey refuses and Kylo Ren tells her that he saw her parents through the Force and that they are junkers who sold her for drinking money and died penniless.  Answer 2) Well, that sucks.

Purple-haired Laura Dern tells the First Order to “Track This!” and crams her hyperdrive in the First Order’s Snoke hole.  That visual was dope.  So well done.  The audio space vacuum was amazing.  Probably the best Star Wars explosion and that’s saying something.  It almost redeemed the atrocious dialogue written for purple-haired Laura Dern.  “God speed.”  When in all of Star Wars history has God ever been mentioned?  It’s the Force.  You know, may the Force be with you.  Not God speed.  “No, don’t turn back.  Full speed ahead.”   Were they not going “full speed ahead” already?  Cause they really should have been, seeing how they were escaping and all.

I won’t even waste time and energy on the disposal Captain Phasma, since the screenwriter/director didn’t either.

The surviving spark that will light the fire that will… (too exhausted to care) lands on not-Hoth and holds up in the old rebel base.  The First Order slow marches from a distance to give Poe and company time to jump in old speeders and ramble out to battle.  Chewy, the Porgs, and Rey show up in the Millennium Falcon and lead the TIE Fighters away from the battle.  That was also outstanding.

Enter poorly thought out dialogue again “Concentrate all fire on the speeders!”  What were they concentrating all fire on before?  There are only 13 speeders, that’s been well established.  The reckless Poe calls for retreat, because Leia and purple-haired Laura Dern reformed the loveable scoundrel with secret admiration and stern reproving (boo!), but Finn charges forward anyway.  Only to be run down from behind by maintenance girl, who had retreated and then turned around to catch him from the side.  How?!  Was he not going full speed ahead?

The portable cannon, that apparently doesn’t work in space against a slowly fleeing space cruiser, blows a hole in the base.  The spark that will light the…(sigh) loses hope until Luke Freaking Skywalker shows up!  Wait, why is his hair shorter and his beard darker.  Something’s not right.  Oh well, Luke is here!  He kisses Leia on the forehead and throws 3PO a nod before walking out to face down the First Order with his laser sword.  In a dazzling display of pyrotechnics, Ren orders Skywalker blasted into salt dust.  Just For Men Luke emerges from the smoke and flames unscathed and Ren condescends to fight him.

The spark that…(head shake) follows the crystal foxes to the rock avalanche while Luke dances with Darth Poser.  Our suspicions are confirmed when Ren slices through the Force projection of Luke.  Another disappointment for what was a stunning visual.  After telling Ren that the Resistance was only beginning his projection fades away before we watch actual Luke fade away.  Because he was tired?

What a complete waste of Luke Freaking Skywalker!

Rey force lifts the boulders and rescues the spark…(growl).  Like a dozen people board the Falcon and escape.  Kylo Ren enters the base with salt troopers and finds the Falcon’s fuzzy dice projection, which somehow survives just long enough for Ren to see it, even after Luke has vanished.  When the Force awakened it must have learned new tricks.

Finally we are treated to indentured children from the B-storyline recounting the legend of Luke Skywalker facing down the First Order (even though they should be recounting how Leia used the Force to come back from the dead and fly through space) their taskmaster tells them to get back to work.  One of the boys Force fetches his broom and looks up at the sky.  Uh, I think we’ve already seen a young mistreated slave boy with Force powers.  Somebody take that kid’s midichlorian count, stat.

Unless you are a special little snowflake born in the last twenty-five yearss, this film was not made for you.  You might have enjoyed it, but this movie was the equivalent of Disney giving the keys to the car to an unlicensed Millennial, more interested in sending a funny SnapChat to his online “friends” in Asia than safeguarding the family vehicle, and he drove this piece right into a ditch.  Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

Help me JJ Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

Review: Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them

I’m not a movie critic I’m a storyteller and I love a good story well told.  Yesterday I gained a new appreciation for a storyteller I have long admired.  J.K Rowling returned to the world she created and brought us back into the secret society of witches and wizards with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

A couple of things struck me about this story.  First, it was immediately familiar and welcomed you right in like we’d never been gone.  And second, this story was set so far apart from the Harry Potter story where someone with no context to her original series could enjoy this world for all its wonder and not feel completely lost.

Rowling set her latest story seventy years and an ocean apart from 4 Privet Drive and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and yet from the opening scene you knew you were right back in the magical world of wands and sorcery.  In the medium of film, a writer is not alone in the task of telling their story and in many ways relies on the director to bring the story to life.  David Yates is well acquainted with the Harry Potter universe having directed the final four films and he did not miss a beat bringing us to 1920’s New York where magical society facing its own set of challenges with the No-Maj population.


This was just one small way in which Rowling beautifully distinguished both the time period and cultures from one another.  Wizards and witches in the United States in the 20th century called non-magical folks No-Maj as opposed to Muggles.  This was introduced and explained early on in the story as Newt Scamander stepped off the boat from England and signaled to the audience that things weren’t going to be what they were used to.  Certainly we were treated to familiar spells and names, like Albus Dumbledore, but much of the setting and tone was different from what we experienced in our first introduction to the magical world through the eyes of the boy who lived.

Although New Scamander was an established Wizard he was more than a little out of place in the society and culture of New York.  This was a perfect way for Rowling to expand her universe as we could travel with Scamander and leave a world we knew for a different place and time, both we and Scamander could share a frame of reference and experience the new world together.

For those who had never before visited Rowling’s magical universe, presumably due to them either being too cool for what they deemed to be a children’s story or having been in a coma for the past twenty years, they also had a character who journeyed with them in the No-Maj aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski.  This is where Rowling gave us something we never had before, an uninitiated character with no magical connection.  Jacob’s reaction to this stunning revelation of the existence of magic was highly entertaining and although he took most of them in stride we were able to get a different perspective that was refreshing and new.

Speaking of different perspectives, this story was centered around adult characters with adult problems and concerns, which set an entirely different tone from Harry Potter.  Not only did we have Scamander and Kowalski trying to navigate a foreign environment but we were introduced to the recently demoted Auror Tina Goldstein who had her own set of problems seeking to redeem herself with the Magical Congress.  This was a far cry from children playing Quidditch, sneaking to Hogsmeade, and preparing for exams.

Finally, there was no prophetic child or You Know Who but we did have reference to a dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald, who we learned about in the Deathly Hallows and a nice Easter Egg to that story along the way, yet another example of the something familiar yet new in this fantastic story [pun intended].

In closing I would like to give one last tip of my hat to Rowling and Yates not only as collective storytellers but for their individual accomplishments within the film.  First, Rowling introduced a mystery right from the beginning of a powerful unseen force and those that pursued it.  This mystery was slowly unfolded throughout the story in a masterful way and the ramifications were far more complicated and tragic than the physical destruction it wreaked.  Second, Yates got top notch performances out of a tremendous cast led by the Academy Award winning Eddie Redmayne.  I felt like the character portrayals and interactions were pitch perfect which was highlighted by the final interaction between Scamander and Goldstein.  This punctuated the story beautifully and sent my anticipation for what is to come through the theater roof.

Whether you are a fan of the Harry Potter series or just waking up from your decade’s long coma, you should treat yourself to this new adventure and a story well told.