Friday, December 22, 2017

Star Wars: The Inner Child's Lament

SPOILERS! Seriously, stop reading now if you don't want to know what happens in the movie.

A lot happens from the time a movie is green-lit to the day it hits the big screen, so it's no great sin if a creative misstep happens along the way. In the world of creative missteps, however, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is more a two-footed blind leap off a cliff.

That cliff is on Ach-To, the planet where Rey finds Luke, Jedi-in-exile and legendary embodiment of all the goody-two-shoes peace, love and happiness in the universe. His was the 30 year backstory we were waiting for. Luke was the sole disappointment of The Force Awakens and the giant, dangling carrot on a stick luring fans, super and otherwise, back to theaters. While we do find out why he's exiled himself, there's precious little meat on the bones of that reason. What we get is a Luke so out of character from his former self there's little reason to care what he's done or what he's going to do. Okay, the bit with Yoda was awesome, but only because his was the only callback of a legacy character that was treated with any regard for all the development that came before. Mark Hamill deserved a better storyline and so did the audience.

Speaking of deserving better, did Daisy Ridley even need to be in this film? You could say her acting was stiff, but she wasn't given any reason to act. Rey wanders around Ach-To for a long weekend being ignored by Luke before leaving to literally do some heavy lifting for the Resistance. Her big rescue scene near the end of the film is anti-climactic for a number of reasons, but mostly because (a) the boulders are visually out of place for the surrounding environment, (b) they look look like a third grade class made them, (c) a few blasts from a laser probably would have cleared them, and (d) the scene is so poorly filmed it might has well have been cut straight out of a Wonder Woman episode from the 1970s.

Which leads me to the major overriding issue I have with The Last Jedi -- quality.

The quality of the dialogue, never a strong point in Star Wars films, is atrocious. The dialogue might as well have been improvised by grade school theater students. Anti-diarrhea commercials have more natural flow of language and Mexican soap operas have more subtlety. The central characters seem to repeat the same conversations over and over with dwindling enthusiasm, while lesser characters lend nothing to the overall. No one is ever going to win an Oscar for a Star Wars performance, but holy guacamole you can at least give them something to work with.

The quality of the story-telling is atrocious. If I wasn't struggling with ADD going in to view The Last Jedi, I sure as heck was coming out. Most scenes last no longer than a few sentences before we move to a new set or cut to a different plot line. It's almost as though director Rian Johnson was afraid we'd get bored if we stayed in one place too long, but that's what we want. We're going to a party to meet a bunch of old friends and we want to hang out with them for a couple hours. Instead, every time we begin to strike up a conversation with Luke, Leia, Rey, Finn, Poe, Snoke, or Kylo Ren, we're shuffled on to the next person like we're speed-dating. It's difficult for me to believe the same man who directed Looper is responsible for this unfocused mess.

Most significantly, the quality of the plot is atrocious. Plot is the interrelated sequence of events that leads the audience to the climax of a story. As plots go, there apparently wasn't one. Nearly all choices made by the characters lead nowhere and the holes in basic logic are so ginormous that even Jack, Chrissy and Janet couldn't have missed them. Why didn't Laura Dern tell anyone she was planning to evacuate the remaining Resistance fighters in cloaked ships? How does Benicio Del Toro know Dern's plan when Poe and all his fellow mutineers clearly don't? How does Finn recover so quickly from having his spine severed without acquiring some cool, character-defining tech gear? Why does Poe change from a savvy squad leader in The Force Awakens to a reckless thrill-seeker happy to sacrifice a few dozen people to take out a single enemy ship? Why wouldn't Hux simply request another ship to approach the fleeing Resistance from the other direction, or zip ahead of them and blow them to smithereens? How in holy hell does a spacecraft slow down when it runs out of fuel? I'm as happy as the next audience member to suspend my disbelief from time to time -- we are talking about a serialized space opera, after all -- but space is a frictionless vacuum. A ship out of fuel would continue to move at a constant speed until it hit something.

There are more issues than bad dialogue, sloppy story telling and incomprehensible plotting, but the fundamental problems with those three are enough to qualify The Last Jedi a misfire and a mess.

There are reasons to see a movie a second time. To understand everything about it, yes. To fully appreciate layers of detail, yes. To see how you were misdirected throughout the film to be set up for a twist ending, yes. Those are all valid reason why you should need or want to see a movie a second time. What you shouldn't have to do is see a movie twice to prove to yourself it might not be as bad as you think it is.

© 2017 Mark Feggeler

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