There was a time, around 2002/2003, that many people took a negative stance against Lucas and the Star Wars franchise. The Attack of the Clones and that horrible romance between Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Amidala (Natalie Portman) had just infiltrated and despoiled our movie screens. I think Lucas and Christensen subsequently ‘won’ awards at the Golden Raspberries, essentially sealing the franchise’s fate to the doldrums. Was there any way back? Well, of course there was. Walt Disney, long since confined to the grave, was the answer. Well, JJ Abrams to be more precise. And the merch still sells, right? The last two films in the franchise, The Force Awakens and Rogue One, have elevated Star Wars back to its prominent position as the major fantasy movie phenomenon of the modern age. Somewhat justifiably so but mainly because the majority of us (movie snobs excluded) can all agree that there is something, even remotely, worth watching here, big kids and little kids alike. Abrams’ The Force Awakens confidently freshened things up and gave us a giddy excitement (in new and old characters) to get behind, while Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One formulated some intelligent and smart reflections on the aspects of ‘wars’ in that universe.
Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi on the other hand slips down the ladder a rung or two. The overbearing public anticipation for this installment has no doubt damaged the outcome – I can imagine the pressure from studio execs on the director would have been full-on: add in more sellable, fluffy characters, keep the humour dry and self-referential like the Marvel films do, make Rey look sexier, get Benico del Toro on board and have him do a stutter, oh and don’t forget to appease the vegans and the animal rights activists with some appropriate sub-text! I’m sorry, I know so many people want to love this film – people hate disappointments, mostly kids (and I am sure they won’t be disappointed). But I just felt that the film had way too many obvious inclusions that was of little or no value, and the plot suffered as a result. Just like Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, Daisy Ridley was brilliant as Rey but her character, of so much more potential, was shockingly absent for much of the film. Instead we had to endure watching the characters of Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac), again of so much more potential, descend into outrageous machismo, and we had to witness stand-off battles between good and evil over and over again until it was time to see out the last few scenes with yawns. There was too many distractions in The Last Jedi and they just weren’t worthy enough of comment.
The highlight though was indeed the scenes filmed on Skellig Michael (and Donegal) – a remarkable back-drop for Luke Skywalker’s hideaway, and Rey’s ‘training ground’. We could have done with a few less facial close-ups (apparently a Johnson trademark) and a few more panoramic shots – this is what makes Star Wars the awesome spectacle that it always was. I felt that the visual effects were nowhere near the standard of the last two installments. Maybe that’s just me but it did seem less speccy and more cheesy this time around. Pity. I would not like to see the franchise fall into the same chasm that Lucas created with the awful prequels but if Abrams doesn’t up his game, it may well do so. And there I go putting further anticipation on him! Look, I am pretty sure that this negative review will not deter people from watching it – US$165 million on its opening weekend suggests that it will do just fine and it will have its money made back in no time. Anyway, here below is a more positive review (stormtrooper smiley face)…
Reviewed by JJ McDermott – Rated 2/5
Vader: Luke, I know what you are going to get for Christmas.
(Luke keeps fighting)
Vader: Listen to me Luke. I know what you are going to get for Christmas.
Luke: How could you possibly know what I’m going to get for Christmas?!
Vader: I felt your presents.
The battle between the light and dark continues in this (possibly) never-ending story, set in a galaxy far far away. The first thing I should say is that the movie is rated PG and is as much aimed at children as it is at adults (original Star Wars fans). So, with that in mind, I forgave it for some of its cutesy, fluffy animals and robot toys – these have been in every Star Wars film since 1977 and I have never been impressed by them. The script is a bit up and down, especially in the first half – there are some really dull moments and there are some gem moments. There is some clever dialogue and there are some ‘oh, not another poignant self-sacrifice’ moments. But it picks up in the second half and ends rather nicely. There is some light but witty humour that works, and of course the special effects are outstanding.
The late Carrie Fisher is in the film a lot more than I expected. Adieu Carrie Fisher, you have done a fine job and you will be missed. I like Kylo Ren as a character – insecure and volatile – and kind of human. Nice touch. I think one of the problems with the film is that it tries to bring in all of the Star Wars’ favourites (C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca and a pointless scene with Maz Kanata) so there’s a lot of ineffective ‘cameo’ moments where these characters rarely add anything to the plot. I was pleased, however, to see one particular character kark it mid-film. Hooray! So, all through the film I was thinking this is very mediocre but then it got better. Ignore the lame bits, and it is a lot of fun. It’s a film for the whole family.
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 3.5/5