Saturday, 23 December 2017

'The Last Jedi' Seems a Little Divisive

So...yeah... it seems 'The Last Jedi' has gone and taken a page from 'Man of Steel's book and split the fanbase down the middle. It's an interesting situation and, as director Rian Johnson pointed out, having the debate/discussion about it is likely a good thing for the 'Star Wars' franchise, even if both sides make arguments that don't seem to convince the other side. As for those who say 'Empire Strikes Back' had a mixed reception before being seen as a classic, remember that the prequels had a mixed reaction too and they haven't ended up being held in the same light.

With the critics, the film appears to be a hit. 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and 86/100 on Metacritic are very good scores. But user reaction on those sites is practically at the 50% mark. From my own experience speaking to family, friends, and colleagues, reaction is mixed. Most people feel underwhelmed, some liked it, some despised it. Though nobody seemed to view it as anywhere near the franchise best some are making it out to be. I personally didn't think much of the film. It starts out well but then just drags on either failing to adequately develop what it needs to or simply just making a series of bad decisions. That said, the core trio of characters (Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke) worked for me even if the plot didn't service them very well.

However, I thought I'd take a look at the chatter and take a brief glimpse at a few of the bits and pieces that seem to be at the heart of the trouble:

Conclusions to 'The Force Awakens'
Seeing as 'The Force Awakens' was directed by J.J Abrams, it was inevitably that he was going to force in the dangling teasers and unanswered questions. I didn't really care much for that. Can't these films just be a bit more self-contained. It was irritating and many films try it these days so that they can expand their universe and whatnot. However, many fans invested their lives into pondering the questions, some of which had what they deemed underwhelming conclusions or just no conclusions at all before they were snuffed out.

I don't actually think Rian Johnson is to blame here, or film itself. And this is the area IGN (in a very shallow and narrow-minded article) pinned the blame for fans not like the film.

Looking at Rey's parentage, having them revealed as supposedly being just scrap traders (or something) appeared to let a lot of people down because of the way it was teased and built up previously. Of course, it could all just be a lie (the film leaves that open) but who really cares? There's no problem with the actual parentage. It's more to do with the position was left in by the previous film and the handling of such a reveal. It's basically treated like an afterthought and leads to a very lacking moment of drama. There wasn't much in the way of feeling or involvement. But others felt otherwise.

With Luke, his first scene is to chuck the lightsaber behind him in a somewhat comical scene. Amusing, yes, but like many MCU films it seems to undermine any attempt to build on the drama and involvement. This actually ties into the comedy but I'll go into that momentarily. Again, though, people had an issue with the handling of Luke, believing he wasn't himself. But based on the story set up in the previous film, why would he be? I thought the handling of the character made sense. The problem is that the film rushes the backstory and fails to weave him in adequately to the rest of the film, going for a series of weak, shallow interactions towards the end. Yet, once again, there are those who thought his scenes near the end were quite powerful. In all honesty, I really can't understand why.

Finally, Snoke. Again, the previous film built him up... but for nothing it seems. Now, on paper, I don't have an issue with the turn of events in this film. It's not unusual for the underling to slay the king. My problem is that it didn't make much sense to me. While people may argue that Palpatine was much the same in that he was, at first, given no backstory in the original trilogy, the difference here is that we know what came before so you really have to ask how Snoke went about without being detected under the Empire and then how he somehow rose to the top. It would be like watching something where the Allies win WWII as we know it and then, in the sequel, let's say Himmler suddenly rules the world and you're never told how that happened. So while who Snoke may be doesn't really matter in the character arcs for Rey and Kylo, it does matter in convincingly establishing the world. And I wasn't convinced.

The Plot
I appreciate that Rian Johnson focused on giving each character an proper arc and I can see it play out in the film. But that doesn't mean it's any good. In fact, the entire plot was a bit of a bore with nothing feeling like it had any note, that anyone really developed, and it all seemed to be overly focused on subverting various things by replaying old plot points from the 'Empire' and 'Jedi' but with a twist. It's all a bit too full of itself and ends up being too much like an MCU film where it's all amounts to one bland adventure.

Again, and this is getting frustrating, but some people seems to love the turn of events in the film. But I felt it was lacking and more nonsensical than usual for a 'Star Wars' film. The whole thing was watchable enough, I guess, but then I feel the same way about 'Attack of the Clones'. It's shoddy but I can watch it.

I do understand that Rian Johnson has to balance everything carefully and contend with expectation. So the focus on the characters and the willingness to take his time is commendable, I didn't think the execution was that good. Of course, that's a side note to some of outright awful plot inclusions. The main two being flying Leia and the Casino crap.

Leia is a tough one because of what happened to Carrie Fisher. So it's understandable that they wouldn't do anything nasty. But, in that case, don't put yourself in a position where she'll goofily fly through space. It's stupid and just undermines everything because you're too busy laughing.

However, nothing is as dire as the whole Finn-Rose storyline. And many people seem to agree this bit is pointless. While some may argue it is necessary for the plot, that's not true. After all, someone wrote it in so they would have just been as capable of writing something else in. Instead, we're left to endure one of the worst characters (Rose - she's a bit of a Philip from PotC4) in the 'Star Wars' series as well as wretched chase scenes, overly-cutesy animals, rescues and petty ideals, and annoying kids. It all meshes together in the most hideous of ways and it starts to feel like a 'Harry Potter' knock-off. Speaking of 'Harry Potter', I do recall people going crazy about how great the last film in the series was. But I thought it was a pretty dire piece of filmmaking that had no depth or emotion to it. It just assumed it had that and so didn't bother. These are actually kind of similar films. To this day I still don't get what people saw in it.

The plot gaffes in the film ares ones that really can't be excused. Those who do try to defend them may concede the issue but then say it was worth it because without point 'a' we wouldn't have 'b'. Which isn't true. You can still have 'b' had the film found an alternate 'a'. The point being, the film puts itself in this position. Besides, if you're going to use that excuse/logic, surely 'The Phantom Menace' would then become the best film because it was all worth it for the final fight?

The Comedy
Always a tough one, comedy is. It's a very hit and miss depending on whose subjected to it. But, in this case, it's mostly a mix of the MCU "let's undermine the drama for the sake of a joke" or the blight of cutesy animals and overly childish stuff that infected 'Return of the Jedi' (and 'The Phantom Menace').

Now, to be fair, some of it was amusing. Much to my surprise, I got a few laughs from the Porgs as they get eaten or start roosting in the Millenium Falcon. And there other bits and pieces elsewhere. Yet, at the same time, there was too much that was missing the mark or just straight-up destroying whatever else the film was tryign to set up. Comedy can be fine and all 'Star Wars' films use it in one way or another. 'The Last Jedi', however, just overdoes with the wrong kind far too often. But I can understand a sense of humour varies from person to person and among different age groups. After all, I was 8 when I watched 'The Phantom Menace' and I loved it all.

The Action
It's tough to follow up 'Rogue One' in terms of action. That film did a brilliant job in that regard. I get it. And I do understand that 'The Force Awakens struggled to cobble together an exciting set-piece. But, even so, at least that had actions scenes you can recall whereas this all felt a bit flat. I enjoyed the start, but after that it's all trying too hard to make it seem 'cool' that it actually seems to fail to make anything exciting or memorable. Or even meaningful.

That said, I do know people quite enjoyed some of the other set pieces and I can see what the film was trying to do. The execution and payoffs were so disappointingly basic little of it registered for me.

Now I haven't actually heard too many people comment on the action so it seems this isn't one of the points of major contention. It seems that the main issue revolve around the story and characters. Speaking of which...

A Blank Canvas
That is what Rian Johnson supposedly had. Or, at least, believed he had. But there is no blank canvas with 'Star Wars'. You don't just gut the machine completely and put something else in there. 'Let the past die' is a quote from the film people use to defend some of what happens. And while, sure, don't do what 'The Force Awakens' did a rehash a rehashed plot you shouldn't just scrap everything and do what you can to lazily discard old pieces you don't want without an adequate back-up plan. Or perhaps that is the apt way of doing things in the US seeing as the current administration seems to be addicted to getting rid of things with no back-up plan. If George Lucas couldn't get away with what he did to his own property, then why should someone else? And if you do have a blank canvas, is this the best you can come up with?

Now, half the viewers seem to like what has been done and I suppose that shouldn't be surprising. After all, many people like 'Star Wars' and they all have their own ideas as to how it should play out. 'The Last Jedi' appears to align close enough to half of them. Fair enough. However, to me, what's done would be like me writing the next 'Harry Potter' book (to go back to that) and just having them working as mechanics in the Sahara. No explanation, no attempt to build the world. It's just that.

Overall
It is interesting to see a 'Star Wars' film this divisive. I can see why people may like it and why others hate it (though I can't understand the overwhelming critical positivity). On first viewing, I didn't like it. Hopefully, it's like the original 'Blade Runner' and I love it after a few viewings.

With the exception of the Leia scene and the Casino bit, every bit of the film seems to split everyone. What one person loathes another loves. And so on. To me, though, I just thought it was a very underwhelming piece of cinema that struggled to convince me of the universe it was set in and that anything of meaning was happening. And it became ever more frustrating with each dumb decision that I wasn't willing to defend because none of it was necessary and there was no impact with any of the payoffs. As I say, though, I can see why some people may like it. Although I definitely cannot understand why people love it. But hey, I guess that's also the case with Marmite. Nom nom.

(I had set out to try and look at this in an unbiased fashion, but it's semi-turned into a list of what I don't like about it)


My reviews for the 'Star Wars' films:

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