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As luck would have it, I found myself in my favourite seat in one of my least favourite press screening venues, in the epicenter of the mightiest, most fanatical cinema fandom that ever fandomed.  Star Wars folk to the left of me, discussing what ďtemplesĒ had been invited to the Los Angeles premiere, and had memorabilia autographed by Mark Hamill.  Star Wars folk to the right of me, in heated debate over whether gold or copper tubing was more appropriate for a cosplay of Boba Fett from Episode 5 (Aka Empire Strikes Back, for the less-initiated).  Apparently, this screening was the reward of Star Warsí fan club sweepstakes winners, and boy, were they hyped and ready to go.  Why then, with so much palpable and audible excitement all around me, did THE LAST JEDI leave me so flat?

The Rebel Alliance takes their victories where they can.  The small group of fighters picks and chooses battles against the First Order, designed to at least slow down, if not stop their invasion across the galaxy (Far, far away).  The Resistance, including General Leia Organa, Poe and Finn from our last chapter, is the last bastion against the fascistic Order, who have picked up where the Empire left off, but time and resources are running out.  The freedom fighters need more than battle strategies as their dwindling troops are not a renewable source.  They need a miracle, something that will gather all the forces of good across space to their side and give them hope against impossible odds. 

To that end, we are reunited with young Rey, the desert scavenger who discovered some new things about herself recently, and flew across space to find the one person who could tell her how she might use these attributes for the good of the Rebellion.  Maybe she can even persuade this wise man to throw in with the good guys, as well?  Sadly, Luke Skywalkerís fighting days are over.  As did his predecessor, Obi Wan Kenobi, Luke has chosen to live as a hermit.  Heís camped on the remote planet Ahch-To, home of the first Jedi temple, far from any news about the Rebellionís imminent demise, or any requirement to do anything about it.  Lukeís pretty bitter about what his dream of mastering the Force has brought him; the utter destruction of his temple and the murder of his students and friends at the hands of his own nephew, the dark-sided Kylo Ren, son of his sister, Leia, and late BFF Han Solo.  Rey pits her stubbornness against the grouchy Jedi, intent on bringing him back into the world he canít keep avoiding, to save the Rebel Alliance and stop the First Order.

Watching THE LAST JEDI felt like fighting my own battle against the dark side.  The film was so much of a hodgepodge of scattered storylines, jumbled pacing, and lost momentum, crossed with affection for returning beloved characters and heartfelt performances, that I still donít quite know what to make of it.

Right from the start, the kindergarten-level dialog; overloaded with simplistic and clumsy exposition was like an ice bucket thrown over the head.  It reminded me of some of the golden clunkers of the more Lucas-heavy scripts of the dreadful second trilogy.  I mean, thereís stuff that was carried over from 2015ís THE FORCE AWAKENS, like the silliness of our oh-so-scary villain being named Snoke, which is the phonetic representation of a cat heaving a hairball.  Iím not expecting Mamet or Cassavetes here, but having avoided such elementary dialog in the previous film, it felt retrogressive to have braindead lines like ďLetís go, BB-8, itís now or never!Ē ďWhy arenít your bay doors open? Itís all down to you!Ē ďI wish I could put my fist through this whole lousy beautiful town.Ē said with all earnestness, while the passing of a well-loved character from the original trilogy is only relayed to us in a verbal report after a First Order attack.

THE LAST JEDI also suffers from a bit of identity crisis, as it seems to struggle with the idea of allegedly being the more family-friendly of the two new sagas, as opposed to the darker, more violent ROGUE ONE.  THE LAST JEDI is crammed with new toys (characters) and gizmos (ships, weapons) that every kid and collector is going to want for Christmas.  Even here, however, thereís a catch:  Our meeting the porgs, a benign penguin-hamster hybrid inhabitant of Ahch-To (Gesundheit); the most obviously cuddly, collectable critters on display, is soon followed by a scene of good olí Chewbacca roasting one heís beheaded and skinned, before being shamed into wastefully tossing it aside by its surviving, doe-eyed kin.  BB-8 remains the cuteness, though with a bit more of an edge than in THE FORCE AWAKENS.  The humour is kind of sour in other places, too, such as the silly neo-cantina scene as Finn and Rose track the whereabouts of a mysterious encrypter, who might be the rebellionís last hope, into a sort of galactic Monte Carlo.  The abundance of slapstick there and in other parts of the film doesnít click and feels forced.  On the flip side of that, there is a Python-esque quality to the Lanais; the nurse-like, reptilian caretakers of the Jedi temple, and their perpetual exasperation at the new discipleís messy appetite for destruction.  Also, Poeís ďphone callĒ to the beetle-browed, evil General Hux is a slightly anachronistic hoot.  Princess Leiaís side-eyed humour resonates with her 1977 sass.  Most importantly, who ever knew Luke Skywalker had jokes?  However, as for the other staple of the Star Wars franchise; the action sequences are jarringly pat and unremarkable, with one notable exception towards the end, which is more driven by a certain character than choreography.

What is remarkable about THE LAST JEDI is the original crew, or the remnants thereof:  How heartbreaking that it took so long for Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, who were never hailed for their acting skills in their time, to get their onscreen propers?  The tragic December 2016 loss of Fisher left many wondering about her appearance as Princess Leia in this film, and itís gratifying how very much was completed and how central her character is to the proceedings.  (There is a ridiculous bit early on involving the Princess in peril thatís just bizarre and silly, but in the spirit of appreciation, weíll let it pass.)  Even so, itís Hamill, whoís done some of his greatest work off screen, most notably as the iconic voice of The Joker in the Batman animated series of the 1990s (and its spinoffs), who really gets to shine.  He digs deep to reclaim and fully flesh out the naÔve farmboy whoís been through hell and back several times, and not entirely sure heís deserved to live through any of it.  The characterís themes of self-doubt, betrayal, and shattered illusions, clash loudly against the family belonging he shares with Leia and later with Rey, and the strength of finally owning his own power and its inevitable consequences.  It is by far the most satisfying aspect of the entire film, and an award-worthy turn by Hamill.

There is also an unexpected appearance by Laura Dern as a Resistance officer who precedes and thwarts Poe in the Rebellion hierarchy.  Sporting a wavy pastel-purple Ďdo (Which deflects from her unflattering, high-necked evening gown), Holdo hasnít Leiaís patience or affection for the rakish Poe (Who Iím sure mustíve reminded the Princess of another scapegrace pilot.), and the feeling is more than mutual.  It isnít until a dire face-off against the First Order that Poe sees Holdo for the courageous, true leader she is.  Dernís scene, along with those of Fisher and Hamill, give THE LAST JEDI the heart and emotion it couldíve used more of.  (However, R2-D2 does give us a Kleenex-worthy glimpse of younger days.)

Would that the rest of the characters had been so well developed.  We get more of Oscar Isaacís pilot Poe (By popular demand, Iím guessing), but heís far more one-dimensional this time as a typical hotheaded, impetuous flyboy, whose rashness leads to tragedy.  We see Finn run around a lot; now with a new galpal, a plucky (extremely expositional) mechanic called Rose, and while their chemistry is debatable, to say the least, seems custom-made to end his friendzone crush on the (Literally) distant Rey (Though I mourned its effect on the PoexFinn OTP I dreamed of).  It also seems to make room to wedge in an icky attempt at sexual tension between Rey and Kylo Ren, as the two bond over their Force-fed psychic connection, and the choices they must make.  I donít recall either Mark Hamill or Harrison Ford being filmed topless in the original trilogy, and I would have appreciated either of them (or John Boyega, or Oscar Isaac) far more than the ogling and gratuitous sight of Adam Driverís bulky boobs (OK, Luke does float in the medical tank in a diaper in ESB, but itís not exactly a Playgirl shot).  Sadly, the spunky Daisy Ridley and charming John Boyega are really more of the same from their previous portrayals, which in the formerís case is pretty disappointing when one considers how much focus is on her character.  

Like so much in the movie, developing these roles is lost to the jumpy, stop-start momentum of the filmís pacing, and the sense that weíre watching it in a vacuum.  Thereís no nuance or style to the film, and itís the first one where I left with absolutely no questions, theories, or speculation about what would happen in the next chapter.  I really couldnít care less whether there would be another one in this line.

THE LAST JEDIís strength is in its attention to the young lions of that very first 1977 sleeper.  The connection between them as characters, the power they have achieved as actors, and the worldís affection for them, jumps off the screen.  However, as the only steady rock in the choppy seas of too much going on, it does discredit to the new team of bright stars that we had begun to know and cheer for in the previous film.

So, while yes, those devotees around me burst into applause at the sight of the end credits, I wondered if it wasnít my imagination that - all puns aside Ė the reaction felt a little more forced than it should have?  THE LAST JEDI isnít a failure, but neither is it a celebration - or more importantly, an elevation - of anything other than the fine legacies of the late, great Carrie Fisher, and justly revered, Mark Hamill.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Dec. 15th, 2017

 

 

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