Thursday 28 December 2017

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi - quick review (spoiler free)...

What's it about?
After destroying the Star Killer base in the previous episode, the remnants of the Resistance are on the run with the New Order pursuing them, their total destruction within Supreme Leader Snoke's evil grasp. Meanwhile, Rey meets the mythical Luke Skywalker and gains new experience with The Force as Poe Dameron's rogue sense of rashness is challenged by General Leia Organa.
Who would I recognise in it?
Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyongo', Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, and more.
Episode VII blew the doors off the box office, but was criticised for hewing too closely to Episode IV in terms of story and structure, and the death of an iconic character ruffled a few feathers. Episode VIII, meanwhile, treads more of its own path and enacts a few bold choices that are surprising for a franchise this old and financially important ... and, of course, the most ardent complainers of the social media world are still whining...

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Let's get something straight off the bat - you're never going to have the same experience with Star Wars as you did when you were a kid, because you're not a kid anymore! Nostalgia is all well and good, but you cannot subsist on a diet solely based on 'member berries (see South Park season 20). Indeed, The Last Jedi makes a point of expressing this need to move forward, to let some of the past stay in the past and open yourself up to some of the new that is to come. How you approach that, however, is one of the key schisms that confront some of the major players such as Rey, Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron, Leia, and Luke. The hopes and perils of change create shifting sands that all the characters must face - and this is what gives Rian Johnson's film so much meat on its bones.

There are faults: the casino supblot is, ultimately, fruitless and takes up too much screen time as a result - even if it presents some enjoyable moments - and certain supporting players struggle to stay afloat in a sea of characters; most noticeable of all Chewbacca and Captain Phasma feel like bit-players. However, Johnson gets so much right, including the delicate balancing act of tackling tonal shifts while maintaining a generally slick sense of pace. From a writing perspective it is an impressive feat to tackle such an unwieldy behemoth of a franchise which features so many players on the board who all need to be marshaled.

Indeed, one of Johnson's key strengths has been his ability to justify the film's bold choices. Major plot points feel entirely grounded within the context as the writer/director tackles hero mythologising and the cost of war. Actions have consequences, mighty heroes are capable of failure, and yet a glimmer of light - of hope - reigns despite the looming shadow of darkness as represented by The New Order.

And what about The Porgs? The panicked, spittle-spattering cries of "they're the new Jar Jar Binks!" amount to little. The puffin/penguin-alike hybrids hardly feature and, even with their innate cuteness, are entirely justified in context. They may represent the silliest moments of humour on rare occasions, but even then the joke makes sense in the moment. Indeed, the film's ability to inject some levity is usually quite deft and stops the film from sinking into a needlessly gloomy puddle of murky misery. An early gag has Poe Dameron stalling for time and feels exactly in-line with the sort of thing Han Solo would have done in the original trilogy.

Building on the franchise re-establishing work performed by Episode VII, and the darker tone of Rogue One, The Last Jedi mostly hits all the right notes. Every character has a clear arc, the mix of light and dark works, and the stakes are set for an all-or-nothing showdown come Episode IX - so here's hoping that J.J. Abrams can keep things moving forward from here.

There is one key area where Disney could make improvements, however - advertising. Good bloody God, everyone on the planet knows the new Star Wars movie is coming out in December, so you don't need to continually hammer it into our skulls at every given opportunity all year long! The sheer volume of conspicuous advertising and cross-promotion is, quite frankly, perverse and rather off-putting. The tidal wave of hype can do-one and the arrogance of announcing a whole new trilogy before we've half way through this current trilogy can jog on. Please, strip back the onslaught of advertising - your profit margin might very well increase, and you won't wear out your audience before the movie has even been released!

Anyway - in summary: it's good, on the cusp of great.

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