Badger the Witness: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

by Dan T. Badger

 

A whirlwind day on Friday culminated in the lad and I meeting at the Oak Brook IMAX to watch the latest Star Wars installment.  We bought tickets for 3D IMAX with auditory upgrade a couple of months ago.  As an aside, apparently when you buy tickets in advance, AMC thinks it is a good idea to print out those tickets if you go to any other movies at an AMC theater in the period between advance purchase and release date.  It is not.  Fortunately, my son took responsibility for the tickets that came spitting out of the kiosk when we went to see Thor: Ragnorak, and they remained secure.

We took our assigned seats and waited a short time before the trailers started to roll.  The first looks to be one of the many offerings featuring inspirational girls and women stories.  Miracle Season looks to be a mashup of Hoosiers and Bang the Drum Slowly set in the arena of high school volleyball.  I am guessing they win at the end.

Next up was the female badass movie that appeared to be tailored directly for me.  Two of my favorite actresses Jennifer Jason Leigh and Natalie Portman get guns.  They then have to explore an unexplained phenomena with Lovecraftian overtones.  It also has found footage.  It is called Annihilation.  I will be seeing this.

The next preview looked absolutely insane.  Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) has put together something so crazy and poisonous to your senses that the trailer is not available on YouTube yet.  Apparently cities in the future become mobile and swallow up smaller cities and suburbs.    The trailer mostly focused on the effects and the spectacle.  That usually means there is not much story.  I imagine that there will be either an environmental awareness or urban sprawl lesson in this film.  I am undecided on it.

Next up was Alita: Battle Angel.  This looks like Ghost in the Shell with a healthy dose of Commander Data’s question What is the Measure of a Man?  I will wait until cable.

Next were the IMAX Previews.  Apparently Liam Neeson is getting Taken again.  This time it is on a commuter train.  It is called The Commuter.  His roles are rapidly dipping into unironic parody.  Pass.

Ready Player One looks great.  DO yourself a favor and read the book first.  It is great.  I am hoping Spielberg can translate it well to the screen.  I will be seeing it despite my son’s misgivings.

Next was The Incredibles 2.  Jack Jack looks like he has a plethora of powers.  It also looks fantastic for viewers (see what I did there?).

Finally there was the future highest grossing movie of 2018, Avengers: Infinity War.  This will get all the money.  It has everything.  A star gate, Spiderman, Blonde Widow, Black Panther, duplicitous Loki, and for some reason they revealed that the Guardians of the Galaxy will be in it.  Marvel needs to stop revealing cool stuff in the trailers.  We are all going to see it.

Then the Star Wars music began and the crawl filled the screen.  At this point, the only truly negative thing in the experience occurred.  An imbecilic woman dressed in a necklace of Christmas lights, glowing mouse ears, and other accoutrements of idiocy began roaming the aisles looking for her family who had understandably ditched her.  As a public service announcement, I will ask anyone who thinks this is a good idea to stay home so the rest of us can enjoy every second of a film we have waited a long time for.

As usual, I will keep this as spoiler free as possible.  After the Force Awakens, the Resistance (no longer the Rebel Alliance) is on its heels.  Snoke and his lackeys are running roughshod over the good guys.  Things look dark.

The Last Jedi does a nice job of calling back things that were so enjoyable from the original trilogy with an appropriate update for modern audiences.  The first battle features a lot of cool.  This episode continues the trend of strong female characters and the other diverse characters do more than wait around to sacrifice themselves.  With that in mind, I suspect that the creators are secret fat shamers.  In the original Star Wars we were treated to the death of Lt. Tono Porkins (ton of pork?).  In this episode we get the death of another portly pilot.  His name?  Tubbs.  I stayed for the credits hoping for an end scene which never came.  I did gain the valuable information that the film makers actually named a fat guy Tubbs.  And then they killed him.  Shame.

The opening battle scene creates tension.  We get Poe Dameron in action as well as other members of the fleet.  Once again we see a Weasley brother gone bad, First Order General Hux.  His performance is a little too campy.  Essentially he is a whiny whipping boy for Snoke and Kylo Ren throughout the movie.  That aside, the main conflict is set up well here and enough time is taken to build suspense.

The Resistance needs a lot of help against the relentless First Order.  Instead of a Death Star hurtling towards the rebel base, the forces of evil are chasing the fleet.  It is an existential threat to the good guys.

Kylo Ren – who should be named Darth Angst – displays some internal conflict while leading his forces against his mother’s.  We get similar exploration of this theme when we shift to Rey and Luke.  There is a lot of decent storytelling here.  Foreshadowing, character development, and ever increasing stakes all make this worthwhile.

We get a lot of call backs to the original trilogy in the opening battle sequence and the later scenes involving Luke and Rey.  You will see them when they come.

We also get a lot of insight into the reasons why Luke and Kylo Ren are where they are.  It is done well.  We get enough of their respective back stories and perspectives to understand why they are on their current paths.  Think Rashoman film buffs.

We also get an entertaining sequence on a casino planet that reminded me of the original Mos Eisley Cantina scene with the best parts of Phantom Menace thrown in.  From there it is on pretty fast pace.  The movie is long, but it moves.  Because it is a Star Wars movie we see more space battles, reckless heroes, desperate gambits, and a few unnecessary creatures that seem designed to sell toys.

There are many strong points in this episode.  The best parts are the action sequences.  They are consistently impressive.  Large scale combat in space and set piece battles on the surface of a planet are what you want to see.  You get that here.  The daunting power of the First Order is also showcased.  They are impressive even if they still can’t shoot.  The more personal fights the characters engage in also grab and hold you.  The exposition on Luke, Rey , and Kylo Ren is also worth the price of admission.

The internal conflict and dangers of a one sided perspective on things is enjoyable as well.  The updated heroes and villains are no longer easily classified as white hats and black hats.  The shades of gray are defined, but the rationale behind them is interesting.

The film also delves into the struggle between truth and legend.  It also touches on the difference between winning the crown and ruling the kingdom.  This gets encapsulated by one character’s quote, “Failure is the greatest teacher.”  In other, get back on the tauntaun and try again.  The final life lesson might be that being good at one thing does not make you good at everything.  These are good themes and are developed nicely throughout.  The fact that they were inserted into a blockbuster movie that hundreds of millions of people will see is a bonus.

That said, there are few problems with this episode.   There are few gaping holes in the plot.  Characters know things they shouldn’t.  Bizarre coincidences abound.  Powers that were never even hinted at manifest conveniently.  These things detract from the story a little bit.  The rest of the movie is fun and worth your hard earned dollars.

Finally, not that anyone asked but here is my revised ranking of the Star Wars movies:

  1. Rogue One
  2. The Empire Strikes Back
  3. The Force Awakens
  4. A New Hope
  5. The Last Jedi
  6. The Return of the Jedi
  7. Attack of the Clones
  8. Revenge of the Sith
  9. The Phantom Menace

You should go see this movie.