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Chen G.

FILM: The Last Jedi (2017)

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So, I've seen the film twice by now. Seen other reviews for context. Went with people who aren't informed in film criticism, saw what they thought. Now, I'll try to give it as professional a review as I can muster, without spoilers and in under 2,000 words.

 

Long story short: I like the movie and I think its quite good, but nothing beyond that, really. It has too many issues with pacing, the implementation of humor and the use of some of its characters to be "great" in any real way. Now, short story long:

 

Cinematography

The visuals are very striking. I gave JJ Abrams kudos for slowing down his acrobatic camerawork for The Force Awakens in order to allow us to appreciate the setting, but here its taken to a whole other level: the film opens with a (virtual) long take down towards a fleet, and such long takes permeate much of the first act. Its a wise move not just in terms of allowing us to appreciate the corners of the frame (as opposed to just the focus) but also as a juxtaposition to the faster camerawork and cutting typical of a climax. Too much too often (a-la a Michael Bay film) and you become saturated in it. Simple, but wise nonetheless. As much as this film reflects Johnson's voice, there's an attempt to follow up in Gareth Edwards footsteps visually, with shots of big star-ships protruding out of the darkness of space, compared to the fully visible ships showcased in previous films.

 

The action scenes especially are staged with a wink towards Samurai films (which were among George Lucas original inspirations) with flashy choreography (that still feels physical, unlike Revenge of the Sith) and exceptionally well-framed wide shots. There are a couple of faux-documentary touches that have plagued the series ever since Attack of the Clones, which I didn't appreciate and even a few shots out of focus, but no matter. There's striking use of lighting on-board the Dreadnaught, making it feel like a submarine. The white and-red planet already looked striking in the trailer, but its somewhat undone when the director has a character comment on it: "oh, its salt."

 

There's some clever editing here. When Luke asks about Han, the film cuts to Kylo Ren, his murderer. There's cross cutting between the faces of Leia and Kylo that makes good use of the Kuleshov Effect. However, in looking at the various storylines that this film juggles, the editing ultimately fails to find a right balance between them all, a point we'll soon delve into.

 

Production Value

The film could do with a bit more polish: Many of the creatures in the film are brought to life via puppetry, but its often very obvious: It happens in some shots of the creatures on Luke's island and during the (brief) appearance of a certain character. Speaking of those creatures, they're not as annoying as previous creatures in this universe, but they're hardly essential to the film. Johnson stated that he wanted the island to feel alive, and that's on point, but the film features two or three different types of creatures just on the island and the scenes involving them, which are used to infuse the Luke-Rey storyline with some excessive humor, contribute to the film's running time to little effect. We could have done with just the caretaker-creatures.

 

For a film series that has been taking pride of late in its reliance on practical effects, there's some shots of obvious CG when some of our characters find themselves afield in the red-and-white planet, and during a fight sequence with Phasma. In other cases, the filmmakers tried to mask the CG by darkness and extreme color grading that makes it very hard to see anything.

 

The film sounds great, and John Williams' score is given much more presence in this. The main new theme, pertaining to the character of Rose, is a welcome addition to Williams catalogue, but the movie is otherwise thin on themes and ends up rehashing themes from the previous film, as well as The Force theme, often in very familiar settings. Johnson's temp track choice, which is apparently heavy on Williams' own score to Revenge of the Sith, is evident through the score.

 

Characters

The characters continue to be compelling. The acting is mostly strong, Johnson's superior direction shining through especially in the performance of the older cast (this is possibly the best Mark Hamil has even been, in any role), but strangely the outright corrupt villains - Snoke, Hux, Phasma and the occasional admiral - are really over-the-top, and are given very little to do. Its easily the worst we've seen of the otherwise outstanding Andy Serkis. Other characters such as Del Toro's DJ or Dern's Holdo are well-acted, but nonetheless do not feel fulfilled. Its become a fashion for films to feature a large amount of characters to evoke grandeur, but without sufficiently sly writing and ample screen time, they become too many, and most of them end up as mere figures, as opposed to a realized character. This film suffers for it.

 

Plot and Story

Unlike the previous entry, this film is original. There are nods to other films, but they're all appropriate, unless one is of the opinion that this film should go out of its way to flat-out ignore the previous entries. There's one moment which feels like fan service, because the film goes so far out of its way as to stage a fake-out death of a major character in order to create said moment. There's a fair bit of Lord of the Rings blood to this film (one scene made me want to call out for Grond), and the fake-out death is as cheap a trick here as it was there.

 

Implementation of humor

Gladly, this film somewhat subverts at least one such expectation from a "middle chapter' film, which is the darkness of tone. Yes, this film is more "serious" than The Force Awakens, and its deals with themes of murky morals, but its also very funny. Casual humor can work very well to leverage suspense, even in harrowing pieces of cinema. The first piece of dialogue in this film is of a comedic nature, and it goes on for quite a while. The humor certainly worked if my venue is of any indication, but it isn't always casual: its doesn't necessarily grow out of the situation each time, and it often overstays its welcome.

 

Structure and Pace

To return to a "long story short", there lies the main problem of this film. Its too long, and this is coming from someone whose most revered films are long films: Nolan's Batman films, Braveheart, and above all, the Middle Earth films, especially the longest chapter which - in its extended form - clocks in at nearly twice the length of this film. Part of the issue here is how out-of-character for the franchise this film's length is. Yes, its on par with Attack of the Clones, but that's the worst film of the series, and its screen-time certainly doesn't help, so its hardly a good example.

 

The issue isn't actually so much of outright screen-time, its a structural problem in the script: that's another aspect of "middle chapters" which this film doesn't subvert. On the outside, there's nothing wrong with the structure of the film: it has a clear-cut structure with an opening action sequence to keep us pumped through the first act which follows, than a long second act in two halves (with a twist introduced in the midpoint) and a third act that concludes the film.

 

The opening action sequence works well enough. Thankfully, its not a single scene but a drawn-out sequence. Not so thankfully, though, its too drawn out. The demise of a figure from the resistance (whose significance is only to be revealed later) is treated to a long, elegiac death scene, tenfold the length of Han Solo's death in The Force Awakens; the aforementioned comedic beat in that sequence is way too long, there's a lot of exposition and fussing around with technology: fuel, tracking technology, light-speed, dreadnoughts, etc. Its missing the point of the Star Wars setting: "A long time ago" - it owes a lot more to The Lord of the Rings than it does to anything written by Gene Roddenberry. Its not supposed to make sense in terms of technology, only to feel "used".

 

But the core issue isn't with the first act. More often than not, in fact, its not a long first act that merits accusations of bloat: The original Star Wars clocks at forty-five minutes before Luke sets off with Ben. The audience accepts the first act as buildup, and is still hanging unto the opening action sequence, which promises more action down the line, and the long first act evokes the sense of an epic journey.  Its when the first half of the second act slugs, however, that's when audiences will start groaning. Once a goal is established for our characters and they set out to it, we expect the film to kick off, but if it starts only to stall again - that's when people will be checking their watches. 

 

Use of action

After the opening action scene, the film is very light on action. There is peril, but there are only two more action set-pieces: one involving Kylo Ren in the midpoint, and another one in the end of the third act on that white-and-red planet. Both are well made but are too few and too far in between, which makes this film feel excessively pensive.

 

These action scenes, and the film as a whole, suffers from the non-linear structure. We've grown accustomed to films, especially middle chapters of trilogies, trafficking in multiple story-lines. Done right, it heightens suspense. But once you move beyond two storylines and - more importantly - once you have all those storylines running through the entire film, you risk creating a fragmented film. Where in Empire Strikes Back, we cut back to Leia and Han every time when the audience craves action, here we cut from the action and drama to this film's version of Monte Carlo. Instead of one storyline elevating another, here one storyline pulls the others down.

 

When we move from this to the action scenes, all the storylines are firing simultaneously, and it becomes too much. Think about the finale of The Dark Knight Rises, where we have a battle in the streets, a dooms-day-device in need of deactivation, a fight scene with Batman, an attempted evacuation, a fake character-death and major reveals all happening simultaneously, and it does a disservice to the sequence as a whole. Here it happens twice, with one of them only being halfway into the film. The film peaks so high with that action set-piece, that the next one almost feels redundant. 

 

The former action scene was apparently difficult for the filmmakers to come to grips with, and it involves some of the worst tricks in the Star Wars arsenal coming to the aid of our heroes: namely, contrivance and incompetence on the behalf of the villains. The latter action scene is much more competent, but is surprisingly thin on Rey's presence, because it doesn't serve to further her arc (it having already concluded at the midpoint) but rather Luke's. One can imagine that Carrie Fisher's death informed the editing choices of this set-piece, and there's a little bit of poignancy to it. Sadly, rather than end here, the film has two scenes that almost feel like the sort of scenes you'd see throughout the credits of a movie, with the latter not featuring our characters in any capacity.

 

Surprises vs. Planting and Payoff

Another structural problem involves the use of planting and payoff. The Empire Strikes Back has given fans of the series an appetite for surprising twists. Writer-Director Rian Johnson was so eager to provide us with such twists that in doing so his script forgoes the mechanism of planting and payoff. This film waits until the very end to showcase a new ability made possibly through The Force, and while it can be seen as related to an ability showcased at length earlier in the film, it comes off as something of a Deus-ex-Machina, due to lack of being set-up well enough.

 

As part of a trilogy which is supposed to conclude the story of the main Star Wars episodes, this film feels more conclusive than middle chapters usually do. In a way, its appropriate given the way the last film ended: you can't end two of three films in a cliffhanger. Neverthelss, one could have wished for these films to be shot simultaneously like the Middle Earth features to create better continuity. With Abrams returning to conclude the trilogy, Johnson's entry seems destined to remain the odd film out due to his unique voice shining through.

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I'll have to see this again in a few weeks and I think it'll be sticking with its 3 stars. That means 'good' or 'decent'. But 3 stars is still very disappointing for a big event movie like this, where the hope is always for something much more special. As such, this movie will be forgotten about in a matter of months.

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Because?

 

Funny you should bring that up, I just rewatched the film on the small-screen. Pacing is less of an issue here, but it doesn't make the Canto Bight nonense be any less pointless. I also think the "false third act" is overwrought: you have three plot lines seemingly reach their lowest point and than being resolved, only for it to be revealed to be just part of the second act, before the third act proper (Luke showing up) can commence. As with other things, this smacks me of a filmmaker lacking in restraint: its very tempting to make the midpoint or the false third act (if your screenplay features one) so grand and sweeping that it overshadows the actual third act, or at least wears the audience down too much to enjoy it.

 

Other than that, the humor and the acting on the baddies side, I've come to appreciate this film a bit more than before. All those little in-universe quibbles don't bother me anymore. But I will say, while the stylized cinematography and editing is brilliant to watch, it does make the work less immersive than previous entries.

 

I say 3.5 out of five.

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On ‎3‎/‎12‎/‎2018 at 1:58 PM, Chen G. said:

But I will say, while the stylized cinematography and editing is brilliant to watch, it does make the work less immersive than previous entries.

 

I disagree. If anything, the cinematography/editing make it even more immersive of an experience than its predecessors.

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I find The Force Awakens to be a more even, balanced film. It balances all its characters (which, granted, there are not too many of) and maintains momentum quite nicely throughout. Sure, there are dips: The Rathtars and the introduction of Starkiller Base at the midpoint being the two big ones, but nothing on the magnitude of Canto Bight. Also, JJ's witty dialogue injects humor into the narrative much more organically than Johnson does.

 

Overall, I would say The Force Awakens is the better film out of the two, which would put this film as the third best film, to my mind.

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4 hours ago, Chen G. said:

Because?

 

Funny you should bring that up, I just rewatched the film on the small-screen.

 

Oh, has it hit the torrents already?

 

EDIT: Yep.

4 hours ago, Chen G. said:

Overall, I would say The Force Awakens is the better film out of the two, which would put this film as the third best film, to my mind.

 

You mean third best of the new films?

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That's called a character arc: you don't want your character's traits to be  a constant, you want them to have highs and lows. Preferably, you want the character to exhibit some kind of personality change within the runtime of the film.

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3 hours ago, Chen G. said:

That's called a character arc: you don't want your character's traits to be  a constant, you want them to have highs and lows. Preferably, you want the character to exhibit some kind of personality change within the runtime of the film.

 

Oh so that's what a character arc is.  All these years I've been reading about film, and I thought it had something to do with rare religious antiquities. ;)

 

Anyway, a real character arc would have been Luke joining the fight, not blowing all his Force mojo in one go and then dying.

 

There should have been a dramatic scene of him levitating his X-Wing out of the water to the strains of the glorious music of John Williams. Or if Johnson wanted to keep with his "humour" have something like this...

 

Yoda: At an end, your exile is.

Luke: But Master Yoda, I don't have the strength. And I can't get involved. I've got fish to catch. It's not that I like the First Order, I hate it, but there's nothing I can do about it right now. It's all such a long way from here. The Jedi must end.

Yoda: Strength you have, foolish your talk is. To Yoda you listen.

Luke: But even if I wanted to go, the girl's gone, and my space jet is under water.

(just then, behind Luke, out of focus we see his wet X-Wing slowly levitate to the ground from the top of screen. Luke turns around and gazes at his dripping snub fighter, mouth agape).

Yoda: Some lessons, you still haven't learned, young Skywalker (he he he he).

(Cue music; wipe to Canto Bight)

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Well the Falcon seemed to work fine after sitting for...well, who knows how long...on Jakku.

 

And you think a ship that's designed to withstand the pressure of outer space can't hold up to being a few meters under water?  Luke's X-Wing sat half submerged in a swamp for...well, who knows how long...and it worked just fine.  

 

Besides, Luke's not such a bad mechanic himself.

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37 minutes ago, Jurassic Shark said:

They would still need an electrician and a mechanic to get the X-wing in a working condition after all those years.

"Use the force"

 

It would have been fun if somehow the Resistance had nowhere to flee but Ahch To and they just show up like Hey Luke! Then all the Porgs would assemble into an army or something crazy oh I don't know. It would be in the deleted scenes, under the title deleted movie.

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1 hour ago, Nick1066 said:

Anyway, a real character arc would have been Luke joining the fight, not blowing all his Force mojo in one go and then dying.

 

"I want every gun we have to fire on that man"

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Worst acting by Mark Hamill ever. He is a mediocre actor on his best day but he is wretched here. But considering how poor his scripted role is (and Rain's direction, if it can be called that), I'm not sure it wasn't to be expected. 

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4 minutes ago, JoeinAR said:

Worst acting by Mark Hamill ever. He is a mediocre actor on his best day but he is wretched here. But considering how poor his scripted role is (and Rain's direction, if it can be called that), I'm not sure it wasn't to be expected. 

Nope. Mark Hamill was giving a role he was not happy or comfortable with at first. He took it and portrayed it as best as he could. I was quite impressed with his performance. Besides, the director directed him, and he killed it. So I would say that it was quite fine in terms of acting. To say worst acting by Hamill ever, maybe, but the emotional vibes that Luke has in many scenes throughout the film are too strong not to be recognized. You may not be aware that Hamill was very emotional on set as well as in the movie. He gave this one his all and it was splendid.

1 hour ago, Nick1066 said:

 

Aggressive negotiations?

Not for a Sith.

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His inability to emote. His failure to hold his own against a puppet. Seriously if you can't see how poor his acting is then you probably praise Hayden Christianson who up until TLJ was the stardard bearer for bad acting in movies Star Wars related. Now Hayden can sit back and relax saying I'm no longer the worst.

 

BUT let me ask you How was Hamill's acting good? If I can't convince you perhaps you can convince me!

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3 minutes ago, JoeinAR said:

Now Hayden can sit back and relax saying I'm no longer the worst.

 

That is just plain hyperbolic nonsense and most reasonable people know it.

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10 minutes ago, John said:

 

That is just plain hyperbolic nonsense and most reasonable people know it.

Sorry but its almost fitting along side other absolutes as death and taxes. JFC what's next statements of Uwe Boll's fine directing.

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1 minute ago, Chen G. said:

 

Has anyone ever convinced anyone of anything at JWFan?

Yes. Strong posters such as Stefan, Wojo, TGP, even Alex.

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40 minutes ago, JoeinAR said:

His inability to emote. His failure to hold his own against a puppet. Seriously if you can't see how poor his acting is then you probably praise Hayden Christianson who up until TLJ was the stardard bearer for bad acting in movies Star Wars related. Now Hayden can sit back and relax saying I'm no longer the worst.

 

BUT let me ask you How was Hamill's acting good? If I can't convince you perhaps you can convince me!

Oh yeah Hamills acting sucked. No emotion, no skill.

He really is the worst. 

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