Star Wars The Last Jedi Review: An Introduction

When I first saw The Last Jedi, I explained that I could not review it at the time, because I wanted to see it again.  The Last Jedi is a fascinating film; to quote Red Letter Media, “it succeeds and it fails at the same time.”  To me, The Last Jedi is like a meal of tenderloin sliders and truffle oil fries, except that everything is burned.  The ingredients are excellent, even superior, and yet the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  (In contrast, A New Hope is like a McDonald’s hamburger and fries: poor ingredients prepared as best they can, and as a result they are somewhat edible.)

Now, at last, I am ready to review Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Almost.

Before I do, I have a laundry list of things I will need to discuss first. OK, mainly bitch about an an arrogant supercilious way, but too bad.  Hunker down everyone and be prepared to hate me.

The REAL biggest mistake Disney made with the sequel trilogy

I wrote a post early in the year about the biggest mistake Disney made with the original trilogy, which I felt was bringing back the original heroes.

But now, I think I was wrong.

The biggest mistake they made with the sequel trilogy was to make a sequel trilogy at all.

Star Wars was over in 1983.  The cracks were already showing in The Return of the Jedi, where George Lucas recycles the Death Star plot device, because Star Wars cannot do anything else.  The well had run dry.  George Lucas could not realize that, and this blindness (coupled to a delusional belief in his own minor talents) led to the prequels.

Disney also couldn’t accept that, because Star Wars remains profitable, despite the fact that it has no more stories to yield.

The other good thing about Star Wars

I am not a Star Wars fan.

I was tempted to call this section “The only good thing about Star Wars,” but that would ignore John Williams’ tremendous score, which is undoubtedly the best thing about Star Wars.  So I am calling this segment “The Other Good Thing About Star Wars.”

The other good thing about Star Wars is the fact that Star Wars, at its heart, is the story of a young man’s coming of age, told through his relationship to his father.  Almost every possible variant of a young man’s relationship to his father is in this film!  We see the father as an icon and a model, the father as a fallen idol, the father as a tyrant to be defeated, even the dying father(!) before the young man comes of age and sees his father as his father truly is, a fellow human being.

Star Wars is a one trick pony, but dear God what a trick that is!

I say that because I don’t have this tremendous respect and admiration for Star Wars.  The Empire Strikes Back is without question the best of the Star Wars films, but it is still mediocre.  I like The Return of the Jedi next, only because I care about Luke’s final confrontation with his father, and Darth Vader’s redemption at the end.  And A New Hope and the prequels are simply unwatchable.

So when people tell me that The Last Jedi has good moments hidden in a whole bunch of boring shit, my first thought is “Oh, so it’s a Star Wars film.”

Contrary to what people might think, I think this gives me a real advantage in reviewing the The Last Jedi.  I don’t go into a Star Wars film with unrealistic expectations.  For me, it’s like going to see a Godzilla film.  I know that it can’t be a truly great film, but it might take my mind off of my own mortality for a couple of hours.  When the film isn’t an exceptional experience, I am unperturbed.

Indeed, I feel sorry for Rian Johnson.  He is tasked with making a great Star Wars film, but this is a contradiction in terms.  If he makes a Star Wars film, it will not be a great film; if he makes a great film, it will not be a Star Wars film.

3 The Internet is horrible

Sometimes I wonder if the Internet has wrecked humanity.  My evidence?  Internet comments.  Let’s ignore Star Wars for a second and talk about an online community where no Star Wars fan has ever dared to trod: the makeup video community.

This is Emily Noel

My mom is obsessed with this channel.  Emily Noel released makeup palates, but when Mom went to pick up the palates at Ulta, they were sold out.  Apparently, after the palates were released, a cat fight ensued between fans of the various makeup channel.  I didn’t follow it but my Mom assured me that the fur and blood were flying!

Someone once asked me to consider making a YouTube channel.  I am grateful for the compliment, but I don’t want death threats.

I also think that good commentary is far less common than bad commentary on YouTube.  This is painfully clear in the YouTube reviews of The Last Jedi.

Here’s what happens.  A young man in high school was asked to write a paper on Hamlet.  His essay was as follows.

Hamlet is a terrible play because in the first act, Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo can see the ghost as well as Hamlet.  But in Act III, Gertrude can’t see the ghost; only Hamlet can.  Major plothole!  Also, isn’t it super convenient that Young Fortinbras just happens to stop by Elsinore seconds after everyone dies.  And isn’t it super super convenient that he happens to be the next in line to the Danish throne.  Hamlet is stupid!

Obviously, he received an F for this “work.”  Unfortunately, he found a home at YouTube, where he encountered other people who received F’s for their English papers, of which I have also obtained copies.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

Frankenstein’s Monster is a terrible villain.  He’s not even scary!  And there’s no boss fight between Frankenstein and the Monster!

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Wow!  The guy who left Pip all his money just happens to be the same guy who fathered Estella.  Major Plot hole!

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

It’s really stupid that Jim and Huck are trying to escape slavery by sailing down the Mississippi!  Also, Mark Twain puts Jim in the book to appeal to Social Justice Warriors!

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

How can somebody almost have jaundice?  Right off the bat this book makes no sense.

I could go on.

Anyway, so all of these people have created YouTube channels, making unwatchable videos filled with surface nitpicks and infantile complaints about how the film didn’t have a lightsaber battle.  And don’t get me wrong, the The Last Jedi is a flawed movie, but most of the reviews fail to highlight those flaws and instead criticize the movie for elements that aren’t flaws.

4 Video Games Ruin Everything

The more I watched YouTube reviews of The Last Jedi, the more convinced I am that video games have joined the internet in ruining everything.  There is an entire generation of young men and women (mostly men) who cannot appreciate great film, great stories, and great art in general.  Is it because their brains have been poisoned by video games?  Well…yes, their brains have been poisoned by video games.

Superhero movies haven’t helped either.  They portray films that validate, rather than challenge what I am going to call Video Game Interpretive Strategies.  I don’t have a formal list of Video Game Interpretive Strategies, but they definitely include the belief in the following: the belief that the heroes and villains must perform and affirm hyper-masculinity, an emphasis on action and spectacle, and a belief that violence resolves all problems.

(If you want to see well a made film that challenges a Video Game Interpretive Strategies, see First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke and written and directed by Paul Schrader.)

5 Visual Art vs Aristotle

What is the story of this painting?

20170625_155641 (1)

I mentioned in a previous post that Aristotle’s Poetics is a guideline for understanding films.  However, it is not a perfect way to understanding film.  This is because film is a visual medium, whereas theater, described in the Poetics, is a linguistic medium.

In other words, film actually has far more in common with the Monet painting I posted than it does with theater or novels, which is why art museums will frequently show films, even as a part of their regular collections.

John Ewing, the curator of film at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the director of the Cinematheque even expressed confusion as to why a director would call himself a storyteller.  In the film schedule for the Cinematheque from September and October, he writes,

But my main gripe is with moviemakers who call themselves storytellers.  Their ranks are legion, probably deriving from their years of hearing that “if you have a good story, you have a good movie.” To that advice I say, well, yes and no. This bromide overlooks or discounts all of the other critical ingredients—including the visual and distinctly cinematic elements like lighting, composition, camera placement, camera movement, cutting—that go into the making of a memorable movie. (Sound and music are also important.)  We’ve all seen good stories ineptly told. And we’ve also seen great movies
that were not propelled by strong stories or compelling characters. (Think  2001: ASpace Odyssey, Fellini Satyricon, Barry Lyndon, the films of Terrence Malick, MichelangeloAntonioni, Miklós Jancsó, Tsai Ming-liang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Jean-Luc Godard, among others—to say nothing of the
countless short experimental movies made over many decades.) In movies
such as these, the medium is a major part of the “message.”

He has a point.  Into Great Silence, a documentary film directed by Philip Gröning, contains almost no dialogue, and is entirely about images, light, and rhythm.  Even as a documentary, it makes no effort to tell a story.

(Go see Into Great Silence.  It’s a remarkable film.)

6 The politics in Star Wars

One of the major complaints about the films is the politics of the film.  People complain about Social Justice Warriors (SJW’s) pushing the agenda of the film.  Specifically, they talk about the film pushing a feminist agenda that seeks to eliminate men from Star Wars.  (Yes, someone did complain about that.)  So, a lot of ink has been spilled about Star Wars pushing an SJW agenda, instead of the preferable AUP (antisocial unjust pussies) agenda.

I touched on this issue before, but I want to say two more things about it.

First of all, war is inherently political.  Carl von Clausewitz, a nineteenth century Prussian general, famously “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”  The idea that a movie could be about war and not be political is to ignore the very nature of war.

Second of all, yes, it is a political statement to include women and/or minorities in a film.  It is also a political decision to include only white men in a film.

8 No one knows J.J. Abrams’ intent.

Everyone is very upset about the fact that Rian Johnson “disregarded” what J.J. Abrams set up in The Force Awakens.  No one on Youtube can say that.  The only way to say that definitively is to read the screenplay for episode 8 and 9 that J.J. Abrams wrote.  If anyone from Youtube has access to the screenplays, he can publish them to make his case that Rian Johnson disregarded J.J. Abrams’ intentions.  If they don’t have that access, then they don’t know.

9 People didn’t pay attention to the marketing.

Watch the trailer for The Last Jedi again.

It actually encapsulates the film pretty well.  All of the major themes in the film are shown in the trailer.  Even the ending, though those are two separate scenes, effectively shows what happens in the film.  Rey is looking for her place in the universe, and Kylo Ren offers a place to her.

Fans refused to listen.  They refused to pay attention to the trailers, to the marketing.  The marketing showed us exactly the kind of film we were going to get, and fans were angry that the marketers didn’t lie to us.

9 The structure of the review

Part of the reason that I held off making this review is because I didn’t know how to approach it.  Then I finally hit upon the idea of peer reviewing a rough draft.

If anyone has ever been to a writing club or group, one person shares something with the rest of the group.  Each person reads and shares their thoughts, what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they want the writer to explore in subsequent drafts.

This will be an essential part of my review.  I am going to break down the review into parts based on the characters (Poe, Finn, Rey/Kylo Ren, Luke) and the third act will be treated separately because I have to treat it separately.  Each part will have chapters and the last chapter in every section will contain my writer’s club comments.  I will do that because there are so many good ideas and good themes within The Last Jedi, and I wish I could have seen them more fully explored, or explored in a better way.

10 A warning

 

The above clip shows Professor Fink from The Simpsons teaching kindergarten class.  He is writing down the various physics equations to explain a toy.  One child raises his hand and asks, “Can I play with it?”  Professor Fink replies, “No!  You will enjoy it on as many levels as I do.”

I won’t ask anyone to enjoy The Last Jedi.  But I will insist that you think about The Last Jedi on as many levels as I do.  We will look at politics, literature, film, feminism, Greek mythology, Arthurian legends, and moral theology.  Be prepared to see references to independent, classic, and foreign films.  Be prepared to see quotes from Summa Theologica and The Communist Manifesto, perhaps even in the same post!  If that sounds like your worst nightmare, check out now.  It’s only going to get worse from here on out, or better, depending upon your opinion.

 

 

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