Say what you will about the Disney STAR WARS movies, but if there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s passing the ball. The old school characters (Luke, Leia, Han Solo in the last one) are never allowed to seize the movie from the new kids – they’re always depicted as letting go so the next generation can have its shot.
So, in the spirit of passing the ball, we thought we’d put the band back together for another Tomato Slam, in which three of our Tomatometer approved critics discuss STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI among themselves. Here are the thoughts of Tim Cogshell, Wade Major and Ray Greene about the movie you KNOW you’re going to see. And which they did see yesterday – right there in the theatre Walt Disney used to chain smoke in, on the Disney back lot.
Here be SPOILERS. And inconsistent punctuation. You have been warned...
TIM COGSHELL: Re: Mark Hamill: Maybe Reindeers are Jedi’s… but Santa?.
So, “The Last Jedi…” isn’t. The forever war will continue a bit longer, we know, but I’m beginning to think it will never end. Which is worrying… we (people from our generation) are the children of “Star Wars.” I don’t think I thought they’d still be going on 40 years hence..
“Star Wars” is the longest running war in American history. I have issues with that, but will hold them for another conversation.
It was well received by the room for the afternoon screening. They really liked it. I liked it… less. I won’t say didn’t like it. I always like it. I liked it the first time I saw it in 1977. I liked it when they duplicated it a couple of years ago. It’s a good story… every time they tell it.
The next one will be something like Empire, obviously… and I guess I’ll like it too. I liked Empire.
RAY GREENE: This is the one like EMPIRE, remember? That’s the training film…
WADE MAJOR: I liked it less than “The Force Awakens.” Which I thought was the best entry since “Empire.” But that’s not saying much since I’ve pretty much hated everything since “Empire.” At 152 minutes, it’s also way too damn long. And Rian Johnson should not have been allowed to write and direct. The script is a problem — it has only two really great “moments” which isn’t enough for 152 minutes. But it also doesn’t feel quite right — the language, the iconography, the weirdly campy humor at the beginning — it doesn’t feel a part of the Star Wars universe. Also — is this the first time that the word “religion” has been invoked in a Star Wars movie? Especially as related to Jedis? And the concept of a “temple”? I know people have associated “the Force” with all kinds of religious and mystical ideas, but the word “religion” to my knowledge has never appeared in any Star Wars movie ever. That, I believe, is a mistake.
For the most part, I think the film is stuck in a rut created by its predecessor — when they decided to reboot the whole concept of evil empire/rebel alliance/nascent Jedi/hotshot pilot/old Jedi master with regrets for having failed a student who turned to the dark side/dark side student turned into imperial threat etc., they indentured this whole trilogy to basically repeating the broad dramatic beats of the original three films. So it’s a lot of treading water (for 152 minutes) as a place keeper for whatever “payoffs” are supposed to enthrall us in the next one.
Here’s what I’m sick of in “Star Wars” movies — and which this one does too much:
Messianic self-sacrificial characters: “No. I’ll stay behind… someone has to hold them off!”
Clever switcheroo fake-out decoy/deception: “Oh! I thought he was going to do THAT but he really did THIS! AND FAKED THEM OUT”
“Return of the Hero” Cavalry moments when all seems lost: “Oh, we’re doomed… no one will come to our… HEY! IT’S THE MILLENNIUM FALCON! JUST IN TIME!”
Every previous “Star Wars” movie — and a lot of Marvel movies — have those moments in spades. This one has about a dozen apiece. And it gets old… really… damn… fast.
Plus, stitching all those tropes together requires some of the dumbest contrivances ever. “There’s only one way in… or out!” (five minutes later) “Hey! There’s a secret back door!” It’s like Johnson was literally just making it up as he went along. It’s ridiculous.
Considering “Empire” was easily the best film of the original series, that they were unable to generate the same kind of excitement with a middle film this time around… doesn’t bode well for the conclusion.
Which, as Tim notes — won’t be a conclusion. They’re going to milk this cow until she’s a dry leather sack.
RAY GREENE: The Messianic self-sacrifice stuff comes with a very peculiar geneology, which is that George Lucas was from that peculiar boomer period when the kids were watching tons of old war movies from the 1940s on broadcast TV. Part of his idea was to make a sci fi version of those old WWII-era pictures. In fact in his roughcut of Episode IV, Lucas cut in WWII dogfight footage to represent the starship battles the effects crews were still working on.
The problem with basing a sci fi franchise on those old 40s movies is that those movies were lies. Self aware lies. Generated as motivational propaganda for the war effort at a time when the studios were bending over backward to please the American military. Those films were created to make war look heroic, and to minimize parental grief over lost children by making combat look painless and death in warfare look like a heroic personal choice. Those are dicey propositions, and just because STAR WARS movies strike a kind of okey doke version of heroism doesn’t stop that stuff from amounting to war porn.
I mean think about it. Can you remember a single STAR WARS character who has ever been WOUNDED on the field of battle? I’m not talking about Luke and Anakin getting messed up in DUELS. I’m talking about all that canon fodder we watch getting squelched in this movie. There isn’t one time when you go back to the mothership and there’s anyone groaning over the foot they just lost or something. Hell, they seem to go into battle without a medic.
It’s war without suffering (only glorious death if you’re a rebel, deserved death if you’re not).
I’ve got more to say but I’m going to stop for now by just noting that, obviously, this movie is going to be massive, and nobody wiil care if we didn’t like it.
WADE MAJOR: Totally concur with most of what Ray and Tim previously noted — and I’ve corroborated there is only one previous mention of “religion” — as per Luke Y. Thompson — from the original Star Wars when Cushing makes a sneering, derogatory mention of it. Otherwise, stuff like, “I’ll hold” and overly religious verbiage — especially “temple” — and other linguistic anachronisms feel really out of place.
I have less of a problem with the old fashioned warmongering aspects of it all — I’ve never seen Star Wars as a vehicle for political commentary in the same way as, say, Star Trek, so if they want to emulate old WWII propaganda films that George Lucas grew up on, that’s fine — the dogfights are all WWI-inspired, just the same. Feels more like “Wings” than anything else. But I do have a problem with entire ships filled with people are picked off like asteroids in a video game and we aren’t made to feel anything. At least when planets are eviscerated in Star Wars and in Force Awakens, we’re pricked ever so slightly to feel a sense of loss. Nothing like that happens here. It’s just attrition and, oh, well, zap! there goes another one.
But all franchises eventually dig themselves an inescapable hole when they become beholden to “fan service.” I can’t think of any franchise more beholden to more fanatical fan service than “Star Wars.” So as far as I’m concerned, the whole thing is basically doomed at this point.
But it’s still going to make an ungodly amount of money. So what do I know….
RAY GREENE: Ok I’m back. Here’s my overall view of STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI – with spoilers galore:
1) That’s a lot of movie. Like a LOT of movie. In fact, so much movie, I think my engorged eyeballs had to stick a finger down their throats and vomit out a couple of the earlier epic battle scenes just so they could manage to get through the finale.
The reason it’s so big is because Disney is about to remake their entire network of parks (which is where the REAL corporate money still is) in the image and likeness of STAR WARS, and they can’t risk tanking that process before it starts (See the Warner DC movie universe for a textbook on how to destroy benchmark intellectual property). And Disney is driving this ship now, no question – hence the feathered ewoks and the “When You Wish Upon a Star” ending with the kids in the manger.
No expense has been spared here, except maybe — SPOILER ALERT — on the animation of Yoda, which looks vastly inferior to the CG stuff George Lucas was doing in the Anakin Skywalker trilogy twenty years ago. Then again, Yoda has been designed to work in 3D this time, and maybe that’s why he looked a bit like a weathered avocado.
2) The casting of new characters in this one lacks the imagination of THE FORCE AWAKENS. With the exception of Benicio Del Toro (winningly eccentric as always) the players from the last movie resonate more than the new hires. That’s a tribute to JJ Abrams, I guess. In this one, Laura Dern is especially off, and that’s just impossible. She played INLAND EMPIRE with amazing conviction, and she could not possibly have known what was going on in that movie. But here, she’s defeated by a costume that makes her look like a tree with purple hair and the blandness of her dialogue.
Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, on the other hand, were not hired 40 years ago because anybody thought they’d be believable in elder statesperson roles late in life. And they’re both kind of problematic, in ways Harrison Ford’s Han Solo wasn’t last time. On the Ian McKellan grandeur scale of 1 to 10 they each rate around a 3.
Luke Skywalker has essentially been revived as a combo platter of Yoda’s mentoring impulse and Han Solo’s crusty cynicism. Neither part suits Hamill, and he’s formless and odd looking in the action scenes. (Alright – I’ll say it – he has a fullsized head on a three quarter scale body). And this Luke’s a quitter. He left the rebellion to die in a fit of piqué and personal disappointment. I didn’t sit through six movies about his “hero’s journey” for this.
Aside from one “big emotional sceneTM” where Leia FINALLY proves to us that the Force is in her too, Carrie Fisher seems primarily to be wrestling with her dentures. May she rest in peace.
3) In the current STAR WARS land, it’s always Opposites Day. So we revive the famed Cantina scene, but instead of taking place in the worst dive in the Galaxy, it takes place in a lush pangalactic Casino Royale. When Benicio Del Toro shows up as a Lando Calrissian-like hustler, he’s a stammering bum instead of a suave ladies man. The whole movie feels like somebody fed the original trilogy into the DNA CRISPR process, and then spliced the pieces together in a different order. This gives the movie sweep, but it makes the character relationships feel warmed over and even obligatory.
Daisy Ridley’s Rey felt particularly ill-served to me, though I can’t figure out if it’s because she had to spend almost the entire movie pleading with Mark Hamill or because she’s just not that interesting as an actress. The one performer who continues to stand out is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren – easily the most interesting villain the STAR WARS franchise has ever offered us. It’s Opposites Day for Ren too of course – his trajectory is the Darth Vader story in reverse, a drifting from the dark toward the light – but his performance is so nuanced he provides an emotional and even a tragic majesty to every scene he’s in.
That is very good news for a franchise that still has characters barking out their inner monologues and motivations like they’re hosting a TED talk on mindfulness, and where much of the heavy emotional material amounts to knowing nods and smiles. The climactic battle between Ren and Rey that’s being set up for the next movie might actually have some heft and resonance thanks to Driver’s refusal to gloss the inner life of his character, the way the usually fine Oscar Isaac seems willing to.
4) The rebel alliance has got to be the worst fighting force ever depicted on movie screens. I mean, they sacrifice soldiers en masse in every major combat scene in this movie. And, with one exception, nobody ever grieves anyone, or even reacts to the carnage with more than a momentary sigh. By the end of the movie, when the entire alliance is reduced down to something like 14 beings and somebody says “We have everything we need right here,” their incompetence and obscene body count seem almost intended as a parody.
And the big bad militarists of the First Order are almost as bad – they seem to have no tactical ideas beyond “Blast them again!,” which come to think of it was pretty much the way the Empire behaved in the original trilogy so I guess that’s canon.
5) The presidency of Donald Trump infects everything. I can remember being a bit annoyed by the cavalier way all the victories of the original trilogy were reversed in THE FORCE AWAKENS and by the idea of a seemingly even better equipped set of space fascists conjured out of ether. But now, unthinkable, toxic and world-destroying ideologies are on the rise all over the world and perhaps especially in America.
The zombie resurrection of the worst of human and political impulses feels a lot less like a lazy plot device now, and a lot more like prophecy.