Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Film Review No. 34 Star Wars: The Last Jedi (12+)

Strong Points:
Subverting the Star Wars tropes...
...Although still definitely Star Wars
Amazing CGI
Great acting from all
Back to puppets for the creatures
Set piece after set piece
Final battle
Visual imagery
Opening battle's tension
Some returning faces
Risk taking
Benicio Del Toro's character
Andy Serkis's character
Tense throughout
The film shows a difference in style to T:FA but is still noticeably Star Wars
Focus on other characters
A conversation in two halves
Transitions between scenes

Weak Points:
A shouty start
Some odd bits of film (either too real or CGI)
Sometimes visual representations were questionable
Not sure if all the comedy will hold up
Death count was sometimes overly large

No spoiler review:
Go see it. Even if you don't really know about Star Wars, go see it. You won't regret it

Spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:
I've been disappointed with this year's blockbusters. I didn't bother to see Cars 3, Justice League etc. and I left the theatre after seeing films such as Thor Ragnarok or Kingsman 2 with a puzzled thought. The film was just good. A lot of the time, after some examination when writing a review, my opinion will change to a more positive view of the film. But none this year have left me talking endlessly about the movie for a few hours (probably to the relief of anyone who watched the film with me).

Until The Last Jedi that is. I left the film with a massive smile on my face, wanting to discuss it as soon as we finished. My entire family was in agreement - my mum didn't fall asleep, my dad agreed it was as good as the originals and my sister (whose nine) sat still for the entire film. It made me excited for the blockbuster again, in a year where the mighty Transformers, The Mummy, DC and even Pirates of the Caribbean have made little impact on the industry (although Pirates is still a relatively big box office draw).

That's not to say I was enthralled from the start though. The opening felt, in a word, 'shouty', with the Resistance trying to escape the First Order. We had commands shouted to the evacuees, to the pilots, back to command and so on. It was a classic 'bark worse than bite' however, as we hadn't been set-up with the stakes quite yet and so there was a lot of shouting, but no tension. Any doubts I had were quickly evaporated however, with the bomb scene, which I won't spoil here.

There were two major storylines in this film - the escape with the Resistance and Rey being trained. They complimented each other well, with one being a workout for the eyes, and the other for the mind. Seeing Luke as the reluctant teacher was interesting to see, and Hamil managed to capture both his power and naivete well. The subtle subversion's on what's happened previously, for example both of his meetings with Kylo Ren were also well done.

Talking of Kylo Ren, he really improved in this film. A criticism of The Force Awakens was that Kylo Ren was just the lesser man's Darth Vader. Instead of trying to out do Vader however, this became central to the plot, with Snoke even telling him to remove his mask as he's not worthy. Adam Driver also improved once being given this freedom of not having to emulate Vader, showing the inner turmoil of Ren well, even when he isn't talking to anyone.

One of the most surprising developments of the Force (besides Snoke managing to Force Push Ren from another room) was allowing Ren and Rey to communicate, apparently at random, with each other. I have to give credit to either Ridley and Driver or the set designers here as they either acted with such focus that it felt like they were talking to each other or the set was designed in a way where they were allowed to see each other. Another credit worthy scene was the battle against the Royal Guardsmen, although I won't go into too much detail here due to spoilers. All I will say is that I'm  glad the Lightsabers have finally been used to their full potential.

Just like Ren, Snoke was seen originally as an emulation of someone who came before - Darth Sidious. However, just like Ren, he was changed in this film to become more of his own character. Two main aspects stick out: firstly, he's extremely powerful, being able to use the electric powers of Darth Sidious as well as Force Push people from another room and generally exuding power. The second aspect is that he's not got a lot of depth. Sure, he's plain evil and wants to destroy the Jedi, but there's no relate-ability or internal struggle. Which is probably why... Well, I won't say here, but I think what happened was necessary, as long as the opportunity cost isn't too high (yeah, business studies revision!).

Quick note: due to how well-built the characters are and the seamless transitions between films (some of those match cuts made the film student in me swoon), it's odd to think that, until near the end of this film, Rey and Poe Dameron had never really met and that Finn spent most of the film trying to find Rey.

Finn takes to the background of this film, much like Star-Lord in Guardians 2. However, just like Star-Lord, he also changes dramatically and has some great scene stealers, including a great fight against a former enemy. Rose, the biggest new character in the film, fits seamlessly into the film as the starstruck but capable engineer. You forget, sometimes, that ships such as these require large crews to run, none of which really get to tell their story, so it was nice to see Rose get to tell hers. Hopefully, we'll get more scenes with her in the final film.

Poe, a character who was at the centre of some of the fandom's mind when The Force Awakens was released, had more of a pivotal role this time around. Besides helping to deliver some of the best action sequences in the film, he also had the most character development, turning from a heroic leader of the pack into a more restrained but in control leader by the end. I also have to mention the scene when the command ship was destroyed by way of Hyperspeed. A breathless use of tension into sudden quiet, with no sound or quick cuts. The artistry of some of the big Hollywood shots has increased over the years, and this one made me audibly gasp.

A few more characters reprised their roles in the film, namely Leia and Chewie (with smaller roles given to C3PO and R2D2, two characters which I hope will have a more pivotal role in the final film). Leia, played by Carrie Fisher in her final role, acted as the calm voice of reason in a world where the younger generation tried to figure out how to do things. This is mildly ironic, given how Princess Leia was in the previous films. Chewbacca was the transport guide of the film, getting Rey from one place to another but had some pretty good scenes regardless - anything with the Porgs was great. One scene I wasn't sure about was Leia coming back from space. Sure, she used the Force and it was an important moment, but it was also confusing as nothing like that had happened before. It might be because Carrie Fisher passed away, but it looked more like an angel coming back, something I'm not sure they wanted.

The final big battle was excellent. Slightly less in scale than the battle at the end of Rogue One, but all the better for it, with the utilisation of the red salt simulating a blood bath being one of the best visual decisions I've ever seen. Then we had the final duel which, again, I won't spoil here. But wow - it was both fan service and an evolution of Star Wars, all condensed into one small scene.

John Williams has done it again. A stirring score, with tunes which are so iconic they can instantly change the entire feel of a scene. Slight revisions and alterations kept them from just being rehashed as well. The graphics, too were a celebration of old and new with mindblowing CGI. At the beginning with Rey I was a bit doubtful of the CGI - I thought it seemed slightly off and stale. I then realised it's because some of the creatures weren't CGI at all, but puppets, just like in the first film. Good on them for keeping the practical effects alive in an industry where CGI sells.

Star Wars, whether they like it or not, is built to make a legacy. This means they have to be careful, at least with the numbered films to not include many pop culture references or lines/characters/ideas which may be deemed inadequate in ten years, such is the life span of the films. Take the overuse of CGI in the prequels as an example of not thinking how the film will stand the test of time. Overall, I believe this film will hold up. The comedy was mostly really good, prompting laughs from the audience and there was only once or twice where I thought 'will this get annoying after repeat viewings?'. To be perfectly honest, it's amazing just how far in advance films have to think nowadays so I have to commend Star Wars (and to the same extent, Disney) for being able to.

I have to finish on Yoda. What a use of a licence and listening to fans. Not only was he back, but in his original puppet form from the original series. Just an excellent reveal, and then using him, the person who encapsulates the Jedi Order, to destroy the old ways, saying that's not what's important was a masterstroke.

Conclusion: a masterclass in using the audiences pre-existing expectations and changing route to exceed them. I left the film wanting to go back and see it again, straight away. And thank you Rian Johnson for allowing anyone to have the Force again.

Rating: 96%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

P.S. as you can see, there's simply so much in this film to try and cover it all at once. If you want my opinions on any other bits of the film, ask in the comments!

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