Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) – An Amazing Subversion of Expectations

   “The Last Jedi” is my second favorite Star Wars film. This is a series that is second only to “The Empire Strikes Back,” and in many ways has greater depth even though the structure of this film is a bit of a mess. What this film does though is upset the status quo, delve into the reasons the First Order and Resistance have for even existing in the first place and also a much deeper analysis of “The Force” that we haven’t really gotten since the Original Trilogy. Before I get into spoilers, this is a film with the best characters and themes thus far, amazing character development and emotional payoff, amazing action and it is easily the most beautiful of all the Star Wars films. Seriously, check it out.

The film was directed and written by Rian Johnson while being produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman.

The story involves the Resistance attempting to escape from the First Order who are attacking them after the destruction of Starkiller Base, while Rey is seeking Luke’s help in their fight. Things soon get more complicated when the First Order executes a trap that forces members the Resistance to seek outside help  to escape the First Order trap, and a clash within the Resistance itself between Poe and Vice-Admiral Holdo after General Leia is incapacitated.

SPOILERS

The Pros: The Cinematography – This is visually the best looking of any film in the Star Wars franchise. Whether it is the filming of fight sequences in space or within a ship…the camera executes the action beautifully and each planet was somewhere I wanted to return back to after it was done.

The Universe – This Star Wars has quite a few different environments and animals. From the adorable porgs, to crystal foxes, to the salt world of Crait, Luke’s Island and Snoke’s Flagship and a Casino World. I was never bored because there was always more to see as each environment was so rich.

The Reason for Resistance – One of the major themes of the film is the reasons to resist. We see this as a class struggle in regards to oppression through the eyes of kids and Rose, a character we are introduced in this film…and also that personal identity is a huge role too and that finding the balance between them is important. Poe is driven by ego and glory for much of what he does but comes to see that it is bigger than each fight, the war is larger than any one person as the individuals and groups define what it means to resist, just as much as if not more than the personal reasons to fight.

The Cost of War – So many people die in this film. There are lots of heroic sacrifices, but also the people who are being oppressed by those profiting from the war, the deaths of so many soldiers on both sides who die. You feel that in this and it does a good job humanizing both the Resistance and the First Order. War is hell and sometimes no one wins, this film captures that theme beautifully.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of this film. This film is all about relationships between characters, be it Leia and Poe, Rose and Finn, Kylo and Rey or Luke and Rey. Each relationship gets developed over the course of the film and reveals layers to the characters that didn’t exist in “The Force Awakens.”

Vice Admiral Holdo – Holdo is a character who has got a lot of crap from the fanbase, but she was one of my favorite characters in the film. She was respected for winning in the past but Poe doesn’t get that. She is presented as an antagonist through a good portion of the film, and the payoff of who she actually is and what she is doing is great.

Rose and Finn – It is through these characters that we get to see another face of the Resistance and why they fight. Finn is originally a part because of his friends and is even willing to leave in order to protect Rey but Rose reminds him of the bigger picture and that at the core they exist to fight oppression. It is handled on the casino world and seeing their friendship bloom was one of the more memorable parts of this film.

Master Luke Skywalker – Luke is done with everything. Like before in the Original Trilogy guilt defines him and it is mistake that helped lead to Kylo Ren’s creation and that guilt is something he carries with him and resists until the end. He is wanting to destroy the Jedi order and die as the last Jedi until Rey helps him realize there is so much more that he’s forgotten and that he can still make a difference and change things. Mark Hamill is fantastic.

General Leia Organa – I miss Carrie Fisher. It was great seeing her in this, her whole drive is survival and protecting the Resistance from the First Order. She is the mentor who is there to remind the young folks there is a time and place for glory but you have to work to keep everyone alive, or there won’t be anyone else left to fight. This was my favorite presentation of her besides “Empire Strikes Back” and I’ll miss her in these films, now that she’s gone.

Rey and Kylo Ren – One of the core relationships is that between Kylo and Rey both of who are alone and seeking more beyond the old order as so much of who they were was tied to the legends of the past. They are connected but still adversaries and it is great relationship to see explored as Ren becomes more confident and much more of a bully and Rey finds an identity outside of her parents and her expectations of Luke and the Jedi.

Subverting Expectations – If you go in expecting “The Empire Strikes Back” or another version of “Return of the Jedi” or “A New Hope” prepare to be surprised. This is a film where most things don’t work out for any characters. Things change, both in the First Order and the Resistance in regards to their identities…but it doesn’t repeat the cycle. We get away from The Ring Cycle a bit here and from that “Star Wars” seems to finally be developing it’s own identity outside of the past. We also see The Force not being tied to bloodlines and the fantasy feel of the past films and midichlorians are implied to no longer be a factor (Rey’s background and the last scene of the film). I loved that, this is no longer the Skywalker show, Star Wars has to be bigger than one family drama and I can’t wait to see where the series goes.

Everybody Loses – Poe finds out he was wrong, Rose and Finn get betrayed, Rey isn’t able to turn Kylo Ren and even the Resistance only barely survives. The First Order isn’t in great shape either after the events that take place and it is going to be transforming further or it will collapse. That is powerful and with it we see the most potential for change both within the Resistance and the First Order. They’ve lost too much to remain static.

Okay: Welcome to the Casino / Side Quest – This first point is related to the second point, there is a side plot on a casino world in order for Rose and Finn to get a code breaker in order to break onto Snokes’s ship so that they shutdown the Empire’s ability to track the Resistance’s fleet. It explores the meaning of the Resistance so I’m not putting it as a total negative but it could have been shorter and achieved the same purpose in the plot, and I would have traded a few Finn and Rose scenes for more scenes with the codebreaker played by Del Toro named DJ. He is fun.

Structure and Clutter – The greatest issue with this film for me was the structure and how cluttered some of the different plots are. It wasn’t bad, I saw this film twice but it does feel long during some of the side tangents. The overall story and themes greatly overwhelm this in quality though and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.

This is probably going to be in my Top 5 films at the end of the year. This is a film I’ve watched twice and is easily the most fun I’ve had at a film this year since “Baby Driver.” I can’t wait to see where things go after this film as it upsets so much of the status quo. I am a guy who loves the original Extended Universe and I always will, but I’m glad they didn’t repeat it (and I still enjoy it as another timeline of Star Wars). By the time of “The Force Awakens” I was done with the Skywalker drama, predictability will kill this franchise as so many of the problems that plagued the Prequels was the lazy recycling of the Original Trilogy. This film is strange, different, takes chances and changes things and honestly, it is the only way Star Wars can grow beyond the corner it was written in to. Here is to Disney embracing that change and giving us more great stories like this film.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. Second best Star Wars film thus far.

 

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The “Star Wars” Films – Worst to Best

Star Wars Films

    Now that I have watched all the Episodes of “Star Wars” it is time for rating them from worst to best. In these summaries I’m going to briefly go over what worked and what didn’t, as well as what made a certain episode better than another. I will also be posting links to the actual reviews, which I will post to each summary will contain the spoilers. George Lucas really did create an amazing world, 7 films, countless shows and spinoffs and more films, games, books and comics to come. What an amazing ride through both great and horrible storytelling this Episodic journey has been. The only films being reviewed here are them in relationship to their theatrical releases as I hate what Lucas did to his art with the Original Trilogy special Editions and Prequeling them up and the deleted scenes add nothing to the Prequels. This is only the films as they appeared in the theater and the only way I will watch them.

Attack of the Clones

7) Episode II: Attack of the Clones

      “Attack of the Clones” is a jumbled mess of reference that makes no sense and has no coherency or focus. There isn’t a main character to speak of and the character of Anakin is just a winy brat, creepy stalker and murder and with that we see none of the friendship he was supposed to have with Obi-Wan. To go with this the dialogue related to the love story is crap and the acting is wooden from everybody. There is no reason to watch this film as it isn’t needed in regards to Anakin’s fall (Only Episode III is needed) and in it Obi-Wan was the only character I liked.

Final Score: 3 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/star-wars-episode-ii-attack-of-the-clones-2002-a-story-ruined-by-excess-and-horrible-dialogue/

The Phantom Menace

6) Episode I: The Phantom Menace

     The reason “The Phantom Menace” isn’t lower on the list is due in large part to performances by Veteran actors like Neeson and McGregor. Darth Maul is a pretty great Dragon for Darth Sidious too. What keeps it from being good though, as it is still a terrible film are some of the issues all the Prequels have. The dialogue feels stilted and unnatural, the tone is all over the place and serious scenes are ruined by Jar Jar being contrived comedic relief and a supposed hero in nearly every scene in the film. Without the performances by the great actors this film would be worse than “Attack of the Clones,” and that is saying something. This was George Lucas’s warning to us that when he’s in charge of a project, the film will most likely suck as there will be no one to reel in his tendencies like in the Original Trilogy.

Final Score: 5 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/11/05/star-wars-episode-1-the-phantom-menace-1999-an-unfocused-mess-ruined-by-child-actors-and-comedic-relief/

Revenge of the Sith

5) Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

   “Revenge of the Sith” isn’t good but it is fun. It is here there are echoes of great ideas and there is finally focus as well follow Anakin and witness his fall to become Darth Vader. What brings it down though is I still don’t believe the love story and Anakin’s transformation is way too quick. The problem of excess and tone is on full display too as the final fight goes on way too long and General Grievous, who is supposed to be the big bad Separatist leader is a joke who is impossible to take seriously. McGregor does put in another great performance as Obi-Wan, just as Ian McDiarmid clearly has a lot of fun in the role of Darth Sidious. This is the Prequel film that feels the most like the Original Trilogy, even if it can’t fully capture what made the Original great.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/star-wars-episode-iii-revenge-of-the-sith-2005-best-of-the-prequels-but-still-an-idea-not-fully-realized/

Star Wars Episode VI Return of the Jedi

4) Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

   “Return of the Jedi” is when George Lucas’s prequel problems begin. We spend way too long in Jabba’s palace which makes the Empire seem useless, especially since Darth Vader is ordered to just sit around and the Empire stupidly builds another Death Star that is even more vulnerable than the one prior, and the Empire’s greatest troops fall to Ewoks. What keeps this one from being worse than “Revenge of the Sith” though are the character moments. We get to see that Luke has come into his own as a Jedi, Darth Vader’s redemption arc is completed, the Leia and Han relationship is completed and Luke and Leia’s relationship changes with the new revelation Luke discovers at the beginning of the film. These great moments just put it above “Revenge of the Sith,” and keep it from being a total mess like the Prequels.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/star-wars-episode-vi-return-of-the-jedi-1983-there-is-good-but-prequel-problems-begin/

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

  3) Episode VII: The Force Awakens

     “Star Wars” is great again! “The Force Awakens” has some of the best new characters in any science fiction (Kylo Ren, Rey and Finn) and manages to set up great arcs for them and made me invested in what happens to them. The First Order actually feels like a threat and the action, dialogue and story are all solid. What keeps it from being better from being higher on the list is it is derivative of the Original Trilogy, from the First Order having a Super Weapon to countless other things. The villains outside of Kylo Ren were pretty weak too and didn’t really do much in relationship to our heroes. It is really those factors that keep it from being perfect, though I am excited to see how this new Trilogy unfolds. J.J. Abrams has set the stage for so much more to be explored in regards to the world and characters.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/12/19/star-wars-episode-vii-the-force-awakens-2015-a-return-to-star-wars-strengthened-by-new-characters/

Star Wars A New Hope Poster

2) Episode IV: A New Hope

    “A New Hope” truly is a classic and is the hero’s journey done right. Luke is the orphan pulled into events outside of his control who steps up to become a hero when the Empire destroys what reasons he had to stay where he was. From here things unfold as we see Grand Moff Tarkin played by the amazing Peter Cushing destroy Alderaan and torture Leia and Darth Vader arrive and show  just how powerful the force and the Empire’s power is. We also meet Obi-Wan who is the old wizard avoiding the world until Leia and Luke pull him back into it and Han Solo, the rogue who becomes a hero over the course of the film. This is the film that inspired so many other Sci. Fi. films (Including “The Force Awakens”) and is a classic. The only issue is we spend way too long with the droids at the beginning and Leia could have gotten more character development.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/11/24/star-wars-episode-iv-a-new-hope-1977-a-heros-journey-and-a-classic/

Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back

1) Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

   “The Empire Strikes Back” is where we see the Empire’s full might in action. Whether it is crushing the Rebels on Hoth and chasing them to the ends of the galaxy or Darth Vader completely destroying Luke in their duel and his capture and torture of Luke’s friends…the tone here is dark and in the dark we see hope and wonder as Luke is trained by Yoda in the ways of the force and Han and Leia’s friendship naturally becomes a romance. The film is perfect as every new scene advances characters and their relationships and the Empire and Darth Vader show why they are the villains as they succeed in almost everything they do. In this our heroes only win when they survive, and that adds stakes to all the events that occur. The writing and cinematography are also the best “Star Wars” has ever been and thus far it is the only perfect “Star Wars” film.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/star-wars-episode-v-the-empire-strikes-back-1980-a-masterpiece-of-betrayal-family-and-the-philosophy-of-the-force/

    It was a joy going back to watch these in the lead up to “The Force Awakens,” and I look forward to Disney’s eventual re-releasing of the Original Trilogy in it’s Original Theatrical form. George Lucas created something wonderful and inspiring with this Universe. There will no doubt be countless more Episodes and films so eventually I will be returning and making another list like this. But until then, may the force be with you, always.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) – A Return to “Star Wars” Strengthened By New Characters

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

      First, I’m going to give a warning up front. This review will contain spoilers, once I get to the summary and after the jump, so I’ll post my non-spoiler thoughts here to kick off the review. The film is great, not as great as “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” since it derives a lot from them, but it is the things that set it apart that really make it an amazing film and easily in the Top 3 films in the Series thus far. Finn and Rey are two of my favorite heroes and Kylo Ren is a great villain (though wasn’t impressed by Snoke or General Hux). The action is fast and our characters are given arcs and there are some really good payoffs, some of which aren’t derivative of the “Original Trilogy.” I’ll get into more detail below, but for these reasons it is really worth seeing.

     “The Force Awakens” was directed by J.J. Abrams who also one of the writers and producers. The other writers where Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Ardnt while the other producers were Bryan Burk and Kathleen Kennedy.

SPOILERS ahead

      The story takes place 30 years after a “Return of the Jedi” and the First Order has arisen out of the ashes of the Empire. Our new heroes Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) must stand together with heroes of old in the Resistance to defeat Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order.

The Pros: The World – The World is really awesome. We have The New Republic that represents the free world, the Resistance which came about because the First Order came into being and we have Luke having gone into hiding and get to see how the First Order creates Stormtroopers and how their leadership works. It’s really cool and it feels like Star Wars. Jakku is also a really cool world.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is amazing! The use CGI and models are blended together seamlessly and the fear or wonder in our characters’ eyes is highlighted beautifully. Dan Mindel really did a great job.

The Soundtrack – John Williams is at it again and I really liked his theme for Kylo Ren and his allusions to classic themes with old characters like General Leia or Han Solo. Our new characters have their own themes too and it compliments them on the their journeys.

The Characters – The characters, like “The Original Trilogy” are the strongest part of this film, especially when it comes to our new heroes who each are distinct and have their own arcs that I wanted to see and want to see now that the beginning of their arc is done.

New Heroes – The new heroes are the strongest part of this film, I enjoyed them much more than the appearance by Luke, Leia, Chewie, Han and R2 and C-3PO. They were fresh and weren’t dependable on referencing past actions as they were making history rather than being a part of living history.

BB-8 – BB-8 is adorable and super expressive in how it speaks. I didn’t put R2 or 3PO on this list because they were just small cameos. BB-8 made choices and decisions and grew attached to our new Heroes as well as being Poe’s Droid. They had a really fun relationship.

Maz Kanata – Maz is the Yoda analogue of this story as she is 1000 years old, has Luke’s old lightsaber and puts Rey on the path to become a Jedi. She’s really cool and Nupita Nyong’o gives this character so much depth. She has seen so much and her Katina has both First Order agents and Resistance members visiting. I can’t wait to see her character again as she is not a Jedi but she knows the force and it is her training that helps Rey in her fight.

Poe Dameron – Oscar Isaac is amazing! His character is smart and mocks Kylo Ren on occasion and shows how he is a good guy when he gives Finn his name and works with Finn to escape. He’s the best pilot in the Resistance and I wish we’d gotten more time with him. He deserves more exploration and was underutilized, though he does get the killing blow on the Starkiller Base.

Rey – Rey is the Luke analogue as she is the orphan on the desert planet who will become a Jedi. She like Finn though is always running. She doesn’t begin exploring her force abilities until she has to escape Kylo Ren who is holding her hostage. For this reason her arc is fantastic, she has been alone for so long waiting for her parents it is all she knows and she doesn’t want to leave that comfort. Eventually she does when Ren almost kills Finn and she realizes that it is the only way to defeat the First Order and avenge her mentor who died. She’s a great engineer too and helps the Millennium Falcon work better.

Finn – Finn is a former stormtrooper who changes sides after he is part of the assault on Jakku taht kills a Resistance sympathetic vision. It traumatizes him and he commits to helping Poe escape. Sadly he believes Poe to be dead so searches for Poe’s droid BB-8 to get him to the Resistance, which is when he meets Rey who treats him like a human being. They clash but become friends and we see that Finn is still running from his trauma. It isn’t until Kylo Ren captures Rey that chooses to stay with the Resistance and fight to rescue his friend, which leads to him nearly losing his life to Kylo Ren. John Boyega is fantastic.

Old Heroes – Our hold heroes make an appearance too! Luke appears at the very end so I’m not mentioning him and 3PO and R2 are glorified cameos and I want to explore the characters who get explored.

General Leia – Leia’s story is tragic as we see after her son falls to Dark side her marriage to Han falls apart and she starts up the Resistance again in reaction to the First Order’s rise. She still loves Han and her son Ben and her tragedy continues as Ben seems to be fully given over to the Dark side after he kills his father. What hope Leia has is that Rey will be trained by Luke and maybe through that her son can find the light again.

Chewbacca – Poor Chewie! He’s older in this and gets hurt quite a few times from Stormtroopers. Luckily he gets revenge when he and Han set the charges that help lead to the destruction of the Starkiller Base. He also save Finn’s life and help Rey and Finn escape the planet’s destruction. He stays with Rey later too as they form a bond similar to the one he has with Han.

Han Solo – This episode is the tragedy of Han as we see that he became a smuggler after his son Ben fell to the Dark Side and destroyed the new Jedi Order Luke was forming. He is running away from Leia and the Resistance but is pulled by in by Rey and Finn and helps them defeat the Starkiller Base, though it costs him his life when Kylo Ren, who is his fallen son Ben Solo, kills him, completing his fall to the Dark Side.

Villains – Kylo Ren really. Snoke and Hux felt kind of like jokes.

Kylo Ren – Kylo Ren is tragic and powerful and I really like the character. He aspires to be Darth Vader who he idealizes and we see that like Vader he is hand’s on acting as Snoke’s Dragon. He tortures Poe to find out that BB-8 holds the map to Luke and he defeats Finn when Finn tries to stop him at the end. His only loss happens after Chewie shoots him when he kills Han and after Finn injures him. Rey is the one who scars him physically and we see that they will meet again when the planet’s destruction separates them from one another. This episode is him completing his fall as he confesses to Snoke that he feels the light and his killing of his father Han is his distinguishing of it as Ben is fully killed so Kylo Ren can live. Adam Driver is great in this role and made Kylo Ren feel threatening.

Rey Versus Kylo Ren – This is the final battle and it is a lot of fun and intense. I thought Rey was overpowered for having no training but the fact that Kylo Ren was physically and emotionally injured and drained helps explain why they were equal and why she was eventually beating him. I want Ren to have his Vader moment, which he hasn’t yet. Rey was also a bit overpowered in this so I hope we see her character better balanced in this future.

Han Solo and Kylo Ren – This reveal was powerful, even though I saw it coming the moment Snoke said Han was Ren’s father. So I knew this was coming. Seeing the conflict that Kylo Ren was going through lent power to the character though and made him compelling. Seeing him free in the Dark Side after killing his father was amazing too as it was there that he snapped which contributed to Rey defeating him I think.

Okay: Starkiller Base – It is a bigger and badder Death Star that is a planet that was turned into a weapon. It’s Death Star Mark 3, which is derivative and why I’m putting it as okay. It showed lack of creativity on Hux and Snoke’s part for making it.

Okay/Con: Death of the New Republic – This would have been stronger if we had spent time with the New Republic. We never did and we don’t know their relationship to the Resistance fully so I didn’t feel the loss. The fact that the system was destroyed should have been more powerful than it felt.

The Cons: General Hux – Hux is no Tarkin. Tarkin was effective, respected Darth Vader and his power and when he destroyed Alderaan and had Leia tortured, we felt it. The same can not be said for Hux who got in pissy fits with Kylo Ren and never interacted with our heroes in any meaningful way.

Snoke – Sorry Serkis but your big giant alien is less threatening than Palpatine and he was just an old man in the “Original Trilogy” who didn’t do anything except torture Luke with lightning at the end. This character has a long way to go before I can take it seriously. I really hope Snoke is not the actual character’s name, I’m holding out for the Darth Plagueis Theory.

Derivativeness – Instead of Alderaan the New Republic System is destroyed, instead of the Death Star the Starkiller Base is destroyed (3rd Time’s the charm?), BB-8 holds secret plans versus R2-D2 holding secret plans and parental confession on a dangerous catwalk. Now that all of this is out of the way I hope the future episodes can find their own beats not derived from the Original Trilogy.

   In the end what really keeps this film from being better than “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” is the lack of villain effectiveness. Kylo Ren is the deadliest of them and I could never take General Hux or Snoke seriously. The loss of the New Republic wasn’t felt as we had never been their prior or met the people there, “A New Hope” was stronger since Leia’s diplomatic envoy Darth Vader destroys was an Alderaan ship and crew and we see the loss of life in her eyes and Obi-Wan’s line about hearing the silencing of millions of voices. We don’t feel the loss and that is what sets it below “A New Hope.” The characters make this film worth seeing though, as does the music and special effects. If you like “Star Wars” you should see this. It is a great film and I can’t wait to see how our new heroes’ stories unfold.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10