“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

I saw a funny tweet earlier where mentions fans hated The Force Awakens for being “too safe.” The tweet also mentions how fans hate The Last Jedi for “taking too many risks.” Can we just all stop being angry fanboys and agree that The Last Jedi is fun?

Without spoiling anything, Rian Johnson’s follow-up to The Force Awakens takes place right after the first one ended. We focus on four storylines:

  1. Rey (Daisy Ridley) trains under the guidance of Luke Sywalker (Mark Hamill), but questions his guidance.
  2.  Finn (John Boyega) meets a Resistance member Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and they embark on an adventure to stop the First Order from defeating the Rebel Alliance.
  3. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) rebels against the Resistance leaders while trying to outrun the First Order in a never ending chase.
  4. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) questions his destiny and must choose his destiny.

The Last Jedi has a lot going on within 150 minutes. I admire that auteur Johnson expands on the Jedi and Force mythologies; The Last Jedi excels when it focuses on Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren. Part from that, I found The Last Jedi fairly disappointing. I attribute the disappointments to the film’s running time, which should have been 120 minutes.

Starting with the pros, the opening act is a mini Poe Dameron adventure reminiscent of the prologue of The Force Awakens. Isaac once again delivers a charismatic performance and has much more to do in The Last Jedi. Laura Dern plays a seemingly antagonistic admiral to Poe. When they meet, it’s built as a predictable Top Gun narrative, but I was left surprised. Poe’s story brought a lot of humor and heart to The Last Jedi. We’re also treated to the late Carrie Fisher’s final outing as Leia, who now acts as a mentor to Poe.

Johnson also turns Kylo Ren into a more complex character filled with anger, contradictions, and guilt. We see him go from mercilessly attacking the Rebel Alliance to briefly regretting his actions. Kylo Ren’s arc is unpredictable throughout the film and easily the strongest character arc. Driver’s portrayal of Kylo Ren here is a huge improvement over The Force Awakens.

Rey and Luke’s segment together is the film’s highlight due to Johnson’s fresh take. Hamill delivers a multi-layered performance as Luke; Luke is no longer a whiny kid, but a burned out Jedi in his prime. Ridley is just as good in this segment as she goes from idealistic to disillusioned. Also, we get to see the cute little Porgs here.

Now for the cons, I hated Finn’s segment. There, I said it. I’m in the minority and liked Finn in The Force Awakens, but his adventure with Rose is pointless. It serves no purpose to the film and neither does Benicio Del Toro’s eccentric thief character they encounter. This segment is an excuse to see another part of the galaxy and serves no purpose to Finn’s arc. It also causes several pacing and tone issues when we transition from this segment to the others.

When the segments tie together in the final 45 minutes, The Last Jedi is sensational. Johnson choreographs some innovative and brutal lightsaber sequences, gives us some stunning visuals, and writes some emotionally satisfying moments that made the final scenes unforgettable. I’m already looking forward to the next film because of The Last Jedi’s ending alone.

The Last Jedi is arguably the most polarizing Star Wars film of the franchise, but I still admire it for its risks. It’s downfall are Johnson’s overlong script and lack of restraint on callbacks. Maybe he’ll learn from his mistakes when his trilogy is released.

Grade: B

 

 

Advertisements

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

So, “Star Wars” is now a yearly thing, huh? I can dig it.

“Rogue One” is a prequel to “A New Hope,” and without going into details, it’s about a rag tag group of rebels trying to uncover the Death Star’s weakness.

“Rogue One” is still a space opera like the previous films; however, this is the franchise’s most political and psychological installment. Our main characters are morally ambiguous and aren’t afraid to kill *anyone* that can compromise them. Even the high-ranking rebel leaders have their own agendas.

The new characters include Gyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a young rebel with a grudge against the Imperial Military. We also have Rebel Alliance operative Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a sassy android K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (the great Donnie Yen), mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and Imperial traitor Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). They’re the Expendables of the “Star Wars” universe!

On the villains side, we have the great Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, a high-ranking Imperial Officer with a raging God Complex. There’s no lightsabers or Force. This is a espionage movie in space.

Each character has their own agenda or reason for participating in the war, and we see their weaknesses and flaws. Unlike the other “Star Wars” movies where we have traditional heroes, the heroes in “Rogue One” are all flawed and feel more like people.

Director Gareth Edwards knows how to photograph action sequences, and the battle scenes are frenetic and gorgeous. There are a lot of slow tension-filled moments, emphasizing the film’s espionage aesthetics.

Every cast member does a great job, but I was disappointed that a few of them didn’t get their moment, particularly Ahmed as Bodhi Rook. Ahmed is a talented, versatile actor, but he doesn’t have his moment like the other cast members.

The biggest flaw is at times, “Rogue One” keeps alternating between its own movie and being a traditional “Star Wars” movie. Edwards wanted to make this his own, so the traditional “Star Wars” credits are absent. But we still get the traditional closing credits and numerous callbacks?

Same time, I can’t bash on “Rogue One” too much since I loved “The Force Awakens” (it was on my top 10 of last year), and that’s one big homage to “A New Hope.” If this month’s artsy movies or holiday comedies aren’t for you, check out “Rogue One” instead.

Grade: A-

PS, in case you’re all wondering what my ranking of the series looks like:

  1. A New Hope
  2. Return of the Jedi (not the best, but my personal favorite)
  3. The Empire Strikes Back (arguably the best, but I have a stronger attachment to the other tw0)
  4. The Force Awakens
  5. Rogue One
  6. Revenge of the Sith
  7. The Phantom Menace
  8. Attack of the Clones