“STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI” (2017) Review

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“STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI” (2017) Review

Following the success of the Disney Studios’ first hit STAR WARS film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”, I had assumed that producer-director J.J. Abrams would helm the next chapter in the franchise’s Sequel Trilogy. I was eventually surprised to learn that Lucasfilm president, Kathleen Kennedy, hired writer-director Rian Johnson to both write and direct “EPISODE VIII”

My positive reaction to the news about Johnson being hired by Lucasfilm originated with my reaction to his 2012 film, “LOOPER”. I found Johnson’s 2012 film to be original, ambiguous and well written, if not perfect. I had hoped Johnson would create a better STAR WARS film than J.J. Abrams, who was the creator behind the 2015 movie. Then the movie hit the theaters in December 2017 and I was relieved by the high level acclaim it had received from the critics.

Titled “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI”, this 2017 movie picked up immediately after the last scene of the previous Sequel film. Well . . . almost. Actually, “THE LAST JEDI” about an hour before “THE FORCE AWAKENS” ended, or around the same time. The movie opened with the Resistance forces abandoning their base on D’Qar during an attack by the First Order. Resistance pilot Poe Dameron disobeyed General Leia Organa’s order to retreat and led a costly counterattack that destroyed a First Order dreadnought, but following the Resistance’s escape into hyperspace, the First Order managed to track them using a code and continue its attacks. Leia demoted Poe for disobeying her order and leading many of their pilots to their deaths. Following another attack by the First Order, Leia is seriously injured, leaving the Resistance leadership in the hands of her second-in-command, Vice-Admiral Holdo. Meanwhile, Rey, Chewbacca and R2-D2’s arrived at Ahch-To. Rey tried to recruit Jedi Master Luke Skywalker to help his sister Leia and the Resistance. But Luke; disillusioned over his failure to successfully mentor his nephew, Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren; refused to leave Ahch-To. He also refused to train Rey in the ways of the Force. Initially.

Following the opening battle between the Resistance and the First Order, former stormtrooper Finn recovered from the wound he had suffered in “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. He discovered that Rey was missing and that the fleeing Resistance was being tracked by the Force Order. Fearful that Rey might return and find herself in a tenuous situation, Finn decided to leave and track her down. Only he was stopped by a maintenance worker named Rose Tico. Grieving over her sister, who had been one of the bomber pilots killed in the opening, Rose believed that Finn was defecting. Once she realized otherwise; she, Finn and Poe devised a secret mission to find a code breaker to disable the First Order’s tracking device. Not long after Rey began her training under Luke, she discovers that she has a Force bond with her enemy, Kylo Ren. And without bothering to tell Luke, Rey and Ren begin communicating with each other.

I have to be brutally honest. I did not like “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. Not really. I thought the 2015 movie suffered from too many plot holes and felt like a remake of the 1977 movie, “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. Being a fan of Rian Johnson’s 2012 movie, “LOOPER”, I had high expectations for “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI”. I hoped that the film would improve J.J. Abrams’ work on the previous film. Fortunately, I found a good deal to admire about the film.

One of the aspects of “THE LAST JEDI” that I truly admired was its visual style. I had nothing against the 2015 movie’s visual style. But if I must be honest, “THE LAST JEDI” took it to another level. Steve Yedlin’s photography struck me as sharp and colorful in scenes that featured the movie’s opening battle; and the duel inside the throne room, aboard Snoke’s starship the Supremacy. Yedlin’s photography assumed a rich and sleek style in the Cantonica sequence that featured the Canto Bight casino and the escaped animals chase scenes, as shown below:

 

However, Yedlin’s photography would have been something of a waste, if it were not for Rick Heinrichs’ production designs and the Art Direction team led by Kevin Jenkins. This was especially the case in Snoke’s blood red throne room aboard the Supremacy, Luke Skywalker’s habitat on Ahch-To and . . . of course, the Canto Bight Casino. What can I say? I really enjoyed the visual aspects of that scene. Between the photography, the visual design and the whole elegant, yet corrupt atmosphere of the scene; I have not been this impressed by a visual setting in a “STAR WARS” scene since the Outlander Club sequence in 2002’s “STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES”.

If I must be honest, I never really had a problem with the acting in “THE FORCE AWAKENS’. Nor did I have a problem with the performances in “THE LAST JEDI”. In fact, I would go as far to say that the performances of three cast members actually improved. One of them was veteran actress, Carrie Fisher. As many know, Fisher passed away during the last week of December 2016. I must admit that I was not that impressed by her portrayal of the aging Leia Organa Solo in “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. In “THE LAST JEDI”, she managed to regain a good of her sharp and natural style, despite being missing from the film’s middle acts. Another improvement came from Domhnall Gleeson’s portrayal of General Armitage Hux, a high-ranking commander of the First Order. Personally, I found his performance in “THE LAST JEDI” rather strident. A bit of that stridency managed to manifest in the film’s first twenty minutes; but otherwise, Gleeson’s performance struck me as good deal more subtle. I thought Gleeson did a first-rate job in conveying Hux’s negative realization that an overemotional man child had become his new leader. Daisy Ridley’s portrayal of the former scavenger/potential Jedi Rey struck me as an improvement over her performance in “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. Her performance struck me as a lot less labored and more subtle – especially in her scenes with Mark Hamill. However, I still believe that her best performance, so far, was the 2017 Agatha Christie movie, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”.

However, those performances from other returning cast members were just as first-rate as they were in “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. Oscar Isaac finally received more scenes to strut his stuff as energetic Resistance X-wing pilot and squadron commander, Poe Dameron. Granted, there were moments when he came off as a bit too energetic. Otherwise, I had no problems with his acting. I can also say the same about Adam Driver’s portrayal of the villainous Force user, Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo. I have a confession to make. I do not like the Kylo Ren character. But I do believe that Driver provided some excellent acting in this film and did his very best in injecting as much ambiguity as director Rian Johnson would allow. I had feared that when given full reign, Andy Serkis’ voice performance as Supreme Leader Snoke, would go over-the-top. Well, in the Snoke’s throne room scene, it nearly did. But in the end, Serkis eventually kept his performance under control and gave a very sinister performance. Lupita Nyong’o returned to provide the voice of Maz Kanata, the former pilot and smuggler who owned a tavern on Takadona. Her role in “THE LAST JEDI” was brief, the actress provided one of my favorite moments in the film as her character provided information about a code breaker to Finn, Poe and Rose; while fighting off a “union dispute” in the middle of a hologram transmission. As usual, Nyong’o was wonderful. I read somewhere that Johnson had originally planned for the Finn character to remain in a coma throughout most of the film. Eventually, Leia came very close in experiencing that fate. Thankfully, actor John Boyega did not have spend most of the movie lying on a bed or platform. Instead, audiences got to, once again, enjoy Boyega engage in his own kind of magic, as the movie sent his character, former stormtrooper Finn, into new adventures.

“THE LAST JEDI” featured first-rate performances from newcomers like Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, Benicio del Toro and yes, even Mark Hamill. Vice-Admiral Amilyn Holdo is another character that I am not particularly fond of. But I must that actress Laura Dern gave her usual competent performance as the Resistance leader forced to step in when Leia fell into a coma. Benicio del Toro gave a very sly and entertaining performance as a sly and treacherous codebreaker found himself a prisoner on Canto Bight. Kelly Marie Tran proved to be the newest addition to the Star Wars mythos as a Resistance mechanic named Rose Tico, who found herself grieving her sister Paige, following the latter’s death around the film’s beginning. Tran gave a very strong performance as the emotional, yet strong-willed and determined Rose. She also managed to form a solid screen chemistry with Boyega and Isaac. Technically, “THE LAST JEDI” proved to be Hamill’s second appearance in the Sequel Trilogy. However, he only appeared briefly in the 2015’s last scene without any dialogue. Thankfully, Hamill was able to strut his stuff as the older and somewhat embittered Luke Skywalker. Although his characterization in this film proved to be controversial, I cannot deny that Hamill gave a superb performance, as usual. It seemed a pity that he never had any scenes with Boyega. I would have given my right arm to watch those two share a scene together.

Is there anything else about “THE LAST JEDI” that I enjoyed? Honestly? No. Despite the fine performances, the excellent photography and superb production and art designs, I was not impressed by the movie. In fact, my opinion of the film proved to be lower than my feelings about “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. And I never thought that would be possible. I had two major problems about the film – the narrative and characterizations written by the director, Rian Johnson.

One of the main problems I had with “THE LAST JEDI” proved the length of time between it and “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. Judging from the film’s opening, the Resistance had fled its base on D’Qar and engaged in that opening battle against the First Order before Rey, Chewbacca and R2-D2 arrived on Ahch-To. Why did Johnson decide to begin the movie with such a small time frame? I have no idea. But thanks to this time frame, I found some of the events in the movie rather questionable.

According to the film’s opening crawl, the First Order had “decimated” the Republic and took military control of the galaxy. I found this hard to swallow. Yes, the First Order used their Star Killer weapon to destroy the New Republic’s capital and a few planets in the same system. But the Republic was spread all over the galaxy. Also, the First Order had suffered two major defeats near the end of “THE FORCE AWAKENS” – at Takodana, where it was searching for the BB-8 droid and the map to Luke Skywalker; and the destruction of the Star Killer weapon and its base. The last defeat proved to be a severe one for the First Order. Why would the entire galaxy surrender to the First Order when its super weapon, the Star Killer base and God knows how many troops and personnel were destroyed by the Resistance? I can understand the First Order licking its wounds and eventually conquering the rest of the Republic and going after the Resistance – but not so damn soon. Not within a space of one or two days.

The time frame produced another problem. After Snoke had punished General Hux for the Resistance’s destruction of the First Order’s new starship, the Dreadnought; the general informed his leader that he had used a new tracking device to follow the Resistance fleet through hyperspace. How exactly did this happen? When did Hux find the time – between the First Order’s defeat at Takodano, the destruction of the Star Killer’s base and the Resistance’s abandonment of their D’Qar base – to connect a tracking device to the Resistance convoy? When? I checked the Wookiepedia website on this hyperspace tracker, I discovered that it simply provided nothing more than a vague description. The website also failed to describe how Hux managed to have it planted in the first place. That is when I began to wonder if this tracking device was nothing more than a deus ex machina created by Johnson to keep the First Order on the heels of the Resistance fleet.

I have other problems regarding the First Order’s pursuit of the Resistance. One, how did the Resistance’s bomber fleets managed to drop bombs on the the dreadnought ship . . . in space . . . where there is no gravity? Would it have not been more sufficient for them to use the torpedo launchers of their X-wing fighter ships? Once the First Order managed to somewhat catch up with the Resistance fleet, it just basically kept its distance, while taking potshots at various Resistance ships; claiming that their enemy moved too fast for them to sufficiently destroy its convoy. What???? Did Hux fail to notice that the Resistance convoy was not particularly moving that fast? And whether the Resistance convoy was moving too fast or not, neither Hux, Snoke or Kylo Ren even bother to consider ordering part of the First Order’s fleet to jump into light speed ahead of the Resistance . . . and box the latter into a trap?

Rian Johnson’s handling of the Resistance proved to be equally problematic. A conflict has developed among the franchise’s fans on who was right – General Leia Organa or Commander Poe Dameron – regarding the bombing of the First Order’s dreadnought. Poe’s determination to destroy the dreadnought led to the destruction of Resistance’s bomber squad. On the other hand, if the dreadnought had continued to exist, who knows what would have hap . . . You know what? I do not give a shit one way or the other. I do not care. I found other things to complain about this story arc. I understood why Poe Dameron had blatantly ignored Leia’s order to retreat at the movie’s beginning. I do not understand why Paige Tico and the other bomber pilots did not follow her order. Surely, they had overheard Leia’s retreat order over the fleet’s communications system. And yet . . . like Poe, they ignored her order. And then we have Leia’s “Mary Poppins” moment, after the bridge of her flagship was destroyed. You know . . . the scene in which she used the Force to float back to her ship, after she and Admiral Ackbar (we hardly knew you pal!) were blown into space. I cannot believe that one of my last visions of Carrie Fisher on the screen was that ludicrous moment. God!

After Leia became incapacitated, Vice-Admiral Holdo took command of the Resistance. Chances are that Poe and some other members of the Resistance would have refrained from staging a mutiny . . . and sending Finn and Rose Tico on that mission to Canto Bight, if Holdo had informed everyone about hers and Leia’s plan to evade the First Order in thie first place. Only she did not. When she finally did, Poe and a few others dismissed it as cowardly and decided to stage a mutiny. This “mutiny” eventually led to Finn and Rose’s mission to search for a master code breaker at the Canto Bight Casino. I have one or two problems with this scenario. One, I could not understand why Holdo kept the evacuation plans a secret for so long, since it did not require a “need-to-know” reason. And two, why did Holdo wait so long to set hers and Leia’s plans in motion? Not only did I find this delay unnecessary, it allowed other factors in the story – Finn and Rose’s Canto Bight mission to affect the actual evacuation. One could dismiss this as an example of Holdo’s personality flaws. But the timing of this story arc makes it difficult for me to do this.

Leia and Holdo’s evacuation plan and gas lighting of Poe were not the only problems I had with their characters. I also had a problem with their costumes. Do not get me wrong, I found the costumes designed by Michael Kaplan rather elegant and lovely, as shown below:

 

But I could not help but wonder why both women wore outfits suited for dinner reception, a party or even a political meeting (in the STAR WARS universe). Their outfits seemed unsuited for military commanders in the field . . . especially military commanders who were attempting to guarantee the survival of those under them, in the middle of a life or death situation. Was this Kaplan’s attempt to outshine Trisha Biggar’s designs from the Prequel Trilogy. Who knows? Who knows? His costumes worked in the Canto Bight casino scenes. But they simply did not work for Leia and Holdo, who were not in elegant situations like the casino during this film.

Speaking of the Canto Bight mission . . . I honestly do not know what to say. It was such a crap fest to me. The only aspect of that mission that I enjoyed were the visual designs for the sequence. Otherwise, this whole story arc was marred by bad writing. Poe’s opposition to Holdo’s evacuation plan led him to send Finn, Rose and BB-8 to find someone who could break the code to the First Order’s tracking device, a master code breaker who hung out at the Canto Bight casino on Cantonica. So what happened? The pair landed their transport on a private beach and ended up getting arrested at the casino for illegal parking. Arrested . . . for illegal parking? Unable to contact the code breaker, due to being incarcerated behind bars, Finn and Rose met another prisoner named D.J., who claimed to be a code breaker. When he broke them out of jail, they recruited him to help the Resistance break the code . . . instead of returning to the casino in order to find the Master Code Breaker they had originally spotted. After the trio and BB-8 board Snoke’s ship, the Supremacy; Finn and Rose are betrayed by D.J., who also spilled the Resistance’s plans to escape from Leia’s cruiser via cloaked transport ships. Except . . . wait. How in the hell did D.J. know about that plan? He could not have learned everything about it from Finn and Rose, who only knew that Holdo and Leia had plans to evacuate. But they knew nothing about the transport ships being cloaked or that Holdo planned to send the Resistance to Crait. Hell, not even Poe knew the specific details, until he woke up aboard one the transports after being stunned by Leia. How did D.J. learn about Leia and Holdo’s complete plan?

I found something else rather odd about the Canto Bight mission. Finn and Rose were able to escape from Leia’s cruiser undetected and head for Cantonica in a cloaked transport ship. This sounds strangely similar to Leia and Holdo’s evacuation plan. I have already pointed out that the entire Resistance personnel could have done this and rendezvous at an arranged location a lot earlier in the story, instead of waiting until the last of the Resistance fleet was close to Crait. If Poe was able to help Finn and Rose slip away from both the Resistance convoy and the First Order fleet, why did he continue to oppose Leia and Holdo’s evacuation plan. Why did Poe believe that the evacuation plan was so cowardly (eyeroll) that he set in motion that ridiculous Canto Bight mission? I mean . . . honestly, Finn and Rose’s successful evasion of the First Order’s fleet and the Resistance convoy should have made him realize that Holdo’s plan – well, most of it – was pretty sound.

Another aspect of the Canto Bight story arc that I disliked was Rose’s revelations about the casino’s use of slave labor and the owners’ profiting from the conflict between the Resistance and the First Order, as arms dealers. Apparently, this entire story arc was created by Johnson for Finn to learn a valuable lesson about greed and corruption, enabling him to understand about what the Resistance is fighting against and drop his “selfish” concerns about Rey. WHAT . . . UTTER . . . BULLSHIT!!! There was nothing wrong with Finn being concerned about Rey not walking into the current conflict between the Resistance and the First Order. And there was no need for him to learn any damn lesson. And I sure as hell did not appreciate watching Rose lecture Finn about the evils of corruption, let alone slavery. You know, originally I thought she and had been a former slave herself. Then I checked Wikipedia and discovered that Rose and her sister Paige had been smuggled off their homeworld by their parents, before they could be snatched by the First Order and forced into slavery. So, why did Johnson believe it was necessary for her to lecture Finn about slavery, when the latter had been enslaved by the First Order ever since he was an infant? If anyone was qualified to give that speech, it was Finn.

The Canto Bight sequence did not feature the only problematic scene between Finn and Rose for me. Another occurred during the Resistance’s defense against an attack by the First Order at an old Rebel Alliance base on Crait, near the film’s finale. In one scene, the remaining Reisistance fighters – which included Finn, Poe and Rose – charged at the incoming First Order forces in order to give the others time to make their escape. While the surviving fighters broke off from the charge, Finn decided to make a suicidal charge against the First Order siege cannon that threatened to break into the base. And guess what happened? Rose stopped Finn’s charge. And what was her reason? Well . . . let me quote her:

“We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!”

What . . . in . . . the . . . hell??? Let me get this straight. According to Johnson, it was fine for Vice-Admiral Holdo to sacrifice herself to prevent the fleeing Resistance from being destroyed before they could reach Crait. But Finn was not allowed to sacrifice himself against the First Order’s siege cannon, because . . . why again? Hatred? What made Rose believe that Finn’s actions were all about hatred for the First Order? And when did Johnson convey the idea that Finn’s suicidal charge was all about hatred on his part? And why did Johnson keep creating scenes that gave Rose an opportunity to lecture Finn for the slimmest of reasons? Or decide that she knew better than him? Were the Canto Bight casino and Crait scenes indicative of some racism on Johnson’s part? Is he just another person who regards people of color, especially those of African descent, as childlike? I wonder.

Then we come to Rey’s experiences with Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To. Most critics of “THE LAST JEDI” tend to focus most of their complaints about the Canto Bight mission. My strongest complaints against the film are all about Rey’s experiences from start to finish. Judging from the first scene between Rey and Luke Skywalker, I got the impression that Johnson had written his own version of Luke’s first meeting with Yoda in “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. Actually, this scene was one of many that seemed to remakes of those from the 1980 film and “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”. I do not know how to describe Rey’s first two days on Ahch-To. Unlike many other fans of the franchise, I had no problems with Luke tossing away his/Anakin’s old lightsaber that he had lost on Bespin. As far as I am concerned, it should have remained lost. However, I noticed that Luke’s initial rejection of Rey as a padawan struck me as a lot crueler than Yoda’s initial rejection some thirty or so years before. Actually, I was not that impressed by the dynamic between Rey and Luke. I hate to say this, but Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill’s on-screen chemistry did not seem that interesting to me. There was another problem in this story arc. Rey ended up receiving very little training in the Force. How long did Luke train Rey? What? A few hours, before it was interrupted by Rey’s discovery of the whole Luke-Kylo Ren mess? It seemed like it. There was one scene that featured Luke milking a rather . . . busty alien called Thala-Siren that just . . . I found this just as embarrassing as Leia’s Mary Poppins moment. It did not help that the creature’s udders resembled those of women. Oh God. Also . . . is it just me or Luke did not seem like himself? He seemed rather cynical, in compare to his younger self. And snarky. Luke seemed more like the younger Leia and Han . . . or Mark Hamill. I understand the circumstances that led Luke to his exile and how it may have emotionally damaged him. But his refusal to leave Ahch-To in order to help Leia . . . just did not feel right. I just cannot see him initially refusing to help his own sister, whose life was endangered.

But that was nothing, until the movie revealed what led to Luke’s estrangement from his nephew, Kylo Ren. Rey learned from the latter that Luke had a vision of his nephew/padawan causing a great deal of destruction and briefly considered killing the sleeping Ben. Although he relented, Kylo/Ben woke up and spotted Luke with his lightsaber drawn. An enraged Ben killed Luke’s loyal padawans in retaliation and joined the First Order, because he felt betrayed. Let me make this clear. I am aware that Luke is capable of terrible deeds or allowing his anger to get the best of him. These traits were apparent in both “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE” and “RETURN OF THE JEDI” when Luke had engaged in bouts of murderous rage. But to deliberately contemplate murdering his own nephew, because he had visions of a destructive future from the latter or Snoke’s influence? Luke Skywalker? I simply do not see it. He is not Obi-Wan Kenobi, who has proven to be not being above doing or suggesting something terrible for the greater good. Luke has always struck me as the type who needed to have his emotional buttons pushed in order for him to commit a terrible deed.

While most detractors of “THE LAST JEDI” had a problem with Luke’s characterization, I had an even bigger problem with Rey’s . . . and the story arc she shared with Kylo Ren. What in the hell was Rian Johnson thinking? He managed to create another story arc that I believe was marred by the time span between “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and “THE LAST JEDI”. The whole Rey-Kylo Ren story seemed wrong within the Sequel Trilogy’s time frame. As I had earlier pointed out, not long after Rey had began her brief training into the Force under Luke, she discovered that some mental Force bond had developed between her and the man who nearly killed her, Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo. This . . . Force bond led Rey to discover what Luke had nearly did to Ren. And this, along with her telepathic conversations with Luke’s nephew and visions of him being redeemed convinced Rey that it was necessary to travel to Snoke’s ship, the Supremacy, and save Kylo Ren and convince him to give up evil; evoking memories of Luke’s attempt to save his father, Anakin Skywalker, in “RETURN OF THE JEDI”.

When I watched as Rey decided to travel into “the bowels of evil” in order to save an overprivileged and murderous man child from himself and Snoke, I could not help but indulge in a massive face palm. Or groan. This was just simply ridiculous to me. Was I really expected to accept that Rey had developed compassion or any other kind positive feelings for Kylo Ren two to three days after what he tried to do to her in “THE FORCE AWAKENS”? Does anyone realize how unrealistic that is from an emotional point-of-view? After all, only two or three days had passed since Rey had witnessed or experienced the following in “THE FORCE AWAKENS”:

*Kylo Ren kidnapped Rey during the First Order’s attack on Takodana.
*As he had done earlier to Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren tried to violate Rey’s mind in order to learn Luke’s whereabouts, using telepathy. Only she managed to defend herself using the same method.
*Rey, Finn and Chewbacca witnessed Kylo Ren’s murder of his father, Han Solo.
*Kylo Ren tried to injure or kill Rey by tossing her into a tree, near the Star Killer base.
*Kylo Ren maimed Finn during a light saber duel.
*Rey engaged in her own light saber duel against Kylo Ren, in which she managed to wound him.

During Rey and Kylo Ren’s telepathic interactions in “THE LAST JEDI”, she managed to develop compassion for him. And I am at a loss at why she would do this over a person, who had caused so much harm to her and those she cared about . . . in such a short period of time. When Rey asked Kylo Ren why he murdered his father, the latter explained – in a scene in which he was shirtless (a massive eyeroll) – that trying to cut out any sense of emotional attachment. WHAT IN THE HELL???? That was his excuse? And she bought it? And when Rey questioned Kylo Ren’s murder of Luke’s loyal padawans, he revealed how Luke had contemplated on killing him. Never mind that I believed this did not jibe with Luke’s personality. This was a lame excuse on Kylo Ren’s part. Those padawans had not played a role in Luke’s brief contemplation to commit murder. Those padawans had done nothing to Kylo Ren or anyone he may have cared about. And yet . . . Rey failed to continue questioning Kylo Ren’s murders. She expressed anger at Luke’s behavior, which I do not blame her. But she also decided to use this and Luke’s reluctance to save his nephew as an excuse to surrender to Snoke in an effort to save Kylo Ren, someone who had wronged her and those whom she cared about . . . VERY RECENTLY. As far as Rey knew, Kylo Ren was not related to her and a long period of time had not passed between “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and “THE LAST JEDI”.

Another problem seemed to manifest this story arc – namely Rey’s visions of Kylo Ren’s future. I am not claiming that he was redeemable. But did Rey ever consider that her visions had been manipulated in the first place? Did she ever consider that her telepathic bond was manipulated, which the movie later confirmed during Snoke’s monologuing? I realize that Rey was somewhat naive. But considering her recent past experience with Kylo Ren attempting to violate her mind, she never considered that this might be another attempt? Or that he had successfully found a way to violate her mind and try to manipulate her? Apparently not. Instead, Rey simply jumped up and rushed to Snoke’s ship in an effort to “save” Kylo Ren. It seemed obvious that Johnson had set up this whole scenario in order to plagiarize the Palpatine throne scene from “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. Unfortunately for me, it failed on so many levels. Worse, it made Rey looked like “the Idiot of the Galaxy”. This entire story arc struck me as incredibly stupid.

One could say that Rey’s stupidity in the above scenario finally erased the Mary Sue label from her character. Perhaps. There was also the fact that in compare to Snoke, her mastery of the Force was a joke. He handled her like a toy doll in the Supremacy throne room sequence. And yet, she was able to master the Force with easy in other scenes. The movie’s novelization, written by Jason Fry, explained that the telepathic connection that Rey had unexpectedly formed with Kylo Ren enabled her to learn his skills with the Force. In other words, Rey is the “STAR WARS” version of Chuck Bartowski from the NBC series, “CHUCK”. For me, this was one of the most idiotic and lazy piece of writing that I have ever encountered in a movie or novel. To make matters works, the movie’s ending revealed that Rey had stolen Luke’s ancient Jedi texts. This seemed to be a hint that she will continue her Jedi studies using those texts. Jesus Christ! This scenario had failed when an Extended Universe (EU) novel used it to explain Luke’s development of his Force skills in “RETURN OF THE JEDI” after failing to return to Yoda on Dagobah for more training. This scenario strikes me as even more ludicrous, considering that Rey’s actual training lasted a hell of a lot shorter than Luke’s.

Rey also continued to display her Force skills in a lightsaber fight scene that featured her and Kylo Ren against Snoke’s guards. However, since the latter were not Force users, I would equate this scene with Obi-Wan Kenobi’s duel against General Grievous in “STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH”. Utterly irrelevant. And to be honest, both Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver seemed like more proficient duelists in a You Tube video clip that featured them practicing the fight than they did in the movie. Whoever handled the lightsaber choreography for this film need more lessons on how to stage a fight between swordsmen.

Before Rey had made her escape from Snoke’s starship, Kylo Ren revealed to her that her parents were two-bit junk dealers on Jakku, who had sold her into slavery for drinking money. He did this in an effort to emotionally isolate her and manipulate her into serving his desires. Now, if what he said about Rey’s parents are true, who had abandoned Rey on Jakku and left the planet? If the people who had abandoned Rey on Jakku were her parents, then they had sold her for more than drinking money. Also, how and when did Rey ceased to be a slave? I read somewhere that Rian Johnson made Rey unrelated to the Skywalker family because he wanted to move the saga away from them. When I heard this . . . Jesus Christ! Do Disney and Lucasfilm even know what what the hell they are doing? If the main protagonists for the Sequel Trilogy are not supposed to be members of the Skywalker family, then why . . . regard . . . this . . . particular . . . trilogy as part of the Skywalker Family Saga in the first damn place? Why not simply regard this trilogy as something other than a part of the Skywalker family saga and utilize characters from the previous two trilogies as minor supporting characters – like 2016’s “ROGUE ONE”?

There were other characterizations that proved problematic to me. Many of the saga’s fans had complained about Snoke’s death and the fact that his background was never revealed or explored. I had no problem with this for two reasons. One, Palpatine’s background was never revealed until the Prequel Trilogy. Unless Lucasfilm plans to release films that featured Snoke’s backstory or the rise of the First Order, I must admit that as a character, he was a waste of time. And two, I am not a fan of Snoke. Despite Any Serkis’ excellent voice performance, Snoke struck me a ham-fisted and one-dimensional version of Palpatine. I could blame J.J. Abrams, who created the character in the first place. But the real blame lies on Rian Johnson’s shoulders, who had transformed the character from a somewhat mysterious villain to a one-dimensional remake of one of the best movie villains I have ever seen on screen.

Captain Phasma has to be one of the most wasted characters I have ever encountered in the science-fiction/fantasy genre. This character, who happened to be commander of the First Order’s stormtroopers, had less development than some of the one-shot villains in the saga. Hell, even General Grievous, whom I have always harbored a low opinion, was better written than her. Poor Gwendoline Christie. It was bad enough that Abrams wasted her character in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” by failing to show her in action. When she was finally featured in an action sequence in “THE LAST JEDI” – a control baton duel against Finn aboard Snoke’s ship – she was quickly killed off. And she was dispatched rather fast, due to . . . you know what? I do not know. I do not know why Johnson had shortened the Finn/Captain Phasma duel to such a ridiculously short length. I have come to the conclusion that Phasma was, in the end, a wasted character. If there was a character even more wasted than Captain Phasma, it was Admiral Ackbar, who had also appeared in both “RETURN OF THE JEDI” and “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. The Mon Calamari military commander was unceremoniously killed by the same blast that nearly killed Leia . . . before he even had the opportunity to utter a line. God, what a waste! Although Chewbacca was utilized more than Admiral Ackbar, his character had been reduced to a comic relief arc and a species called the Porg on Ach-To and Rey’s personal chauffeur. Despite having more screen time, poor Chewbacca proved to be wasted just as much as Phasma and Ackbar.

A relative of mine had pointed out that what made “THE LAST JEDI” unique was that it featured how the theme of failure in a STAR WARS movie. Others had pointed out that Rian Johnson managed to present a movie with a subversive narrative. I say bullshit to that. “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” was the first STAR WARS movie that featured the failures of its protagonists. It was also the first film that subverted the mythos of the saga that Lucas had created. And guess what? The Prequel Trilogy was basically one long saga on how Anakin Skywalker, the Jedi and the Galactic Republic failed themselves. Also, the last third of “RETURN OF THE JEDI”, the Prequel Trilogy and “ROGUE ONE” were other movies that subverted the saga’s mythos. Rian Johnson had not created anything new. Not really. Also, both George Lucas and Gareth Edwards did all of this with better writing.

There were aspects of “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI” that impressed me. I thought the film’s performances from a cast led by Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were either competent or first-rate. And I was more than impressed by the movie’s production values. But overall, I found “THE LAST JEDI” to be a major disappointment. And a great deal of this disappointment came from Rian Johnson’s screenplay – both the film’s narrative and characterizations. In fact, I dislike this film a lot more than I did “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”. I understand that J.J. Abrams, who had directed the Sequel Trilogy’s first film, will direct its third and final movie, “EPISODE IX”. Even if this movie proved to be enjoyable, I do not think it can save this new trilogy as a whole. After two very disappointing movies, the STAR WARS Sequel Trilogy has proven to be a disaster in my eyes.

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Ten Most Memorable Deaths in the STAR WARS Saga

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Below is a list of what I regard as the ten most memorable deaths in the “STAR WARS” saga:

 

 

TEN MOST MEMORABLE DEATHS IN “STAR WARS”

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1.  Shmi Skywalker (”Attack of the Clones”; 2002) – The matriarch of the Skywalker family line died in the arms of her son Jedi padawan Anakin Skywalker after she had been kidnapped and tortured to death for a month by Tusken Raiders on Tatooine.

 

 

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2.  Jyn Erso and Captain Cassian Andor (”Rogue One”; 2016) – The remaining members of the doomed Rogue One team that stole the plans of the Death Star, met their deaths together when the super weapon destroyed the base on Scarif.

 

 

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3.  Jedi Master Mace Windu (”Revenge of the Sith”; 2005) – One of the senior members of the Jedi Council was electrocuted by the Emperor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious, after his sword hand was chopped off by Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker.

 

 

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4.  Emperor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious (”Return of the Jedi”; 1983) – The corrupt and evil leader of the Galactic Empire and Sith Lord was betrayed and shoved down a shaft aboard the Empire’s second Death Star by his apprentice Darth Vader aka Anakin Skywalker, while trying to kill the latter’s son, Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker.

 

 

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5.  Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader (”Return of the Jedi”; 1983) – The former Jedi Knight-turned-Sith apprentice died more or less in the arms of his son, Luke Skywalker, from the wounds he had sustained from lifting his Sith Master, the Emperor Palpatine, and tossing the latter down a shaft aboard the second Death Star.

 

 

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6.  Baze Malbus (”Rogue One”; 2016) – This member of the doomed Rogue One team was killed, while fighting against Imperial troops on the Scarif base.  He had just witnessed the death of his close friend, Chirrut Imwe.

 

 

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7.  Han Solo (”The Force Awakens”; 2015) – The former smuggler-turned-Rebel Alliance rebel was stabbed to death with a lightsaber on the Starkller base by his son, First Order warrior Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo, while trying to convince the latter to walk away from the evil military faction.

 

 

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8.  Padmé Amidala Naberrie (”Revenge of the Sith”; 2005) – This former queen and later, senator of Naboo endured a series of setbacks – the fall of the Galactic Republic, the rise of the Empire, her husband’s embrace of evil, and his physical attack upon her in a jealous fit – before giving birth to twins Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa and succumbing to death at a medical facility on Polis Massa.

 

 

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9.  Count Dooku aka Darth Tyranus (”Revenge of the Sith”; 2005) – Following a duel with Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker aboard the ship of General Grievious, leader of the Separatists; the former Jedi Master-turned-Sith apprentice is taken by surprise before beheaded by Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, on the order of his master Chancellor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious.

 

 

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10. Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (”A New Hope”; 1977) – The former Jedi Master was killed by his former apprentice, Darth Vader aka Anakin Skywalker, during their second lightsaber duel aboard the first Death Star; and his body disappeared into the Force.

“The Lightsaber Connection”

 

“THE LIGHTSABER CONNECTION”

A great deal has been made of the light saber given to potential Jedi acolyte Rey by former smuggler Maz Kanata in “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”. It was during this moment when young Rey experienced visions of her past as a child and her future encounter with villain Kylo Ren. It was this moment when movie audiences became aware of her connection to the Force. 

I really do not recall how I felt when I first saw this scene. After all, it has been at least two years since the movie’s release. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I have come to realize that it may have been a big mistake to put so much emphasis on that particular light saber in “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. One, both J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan used a weapon to ignite Rey’s connection to the Force. Worse, they used an object with a questionable and rather bloody past to serve as some kind of special Jedi relic.

Sometime between “STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES” and “STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH”, then Jedi padawan Anakin Skywalker had constructed a new light saber following the loss of his previous one before the Battle of Geonosis in the 2002 film. He used this new light saber during his services as a military leader during the Clone Wars – before and after he had become a Jedi Knight. And he used the light saber during his final duel against former Jedi Master-turned-Sith Lord Count Dooku in “REVENGE OF THE SITH” before decapitating the latter’s head. Anakin also used this very light saber to chop off Jedi Master Mace Windu’s hand during the latter’s duel against Sheev Palpatine aka Darth Sidious. He used it to participate in the Jedi Purge (which included killing younglings at the Jedi Temple) and to help the new ascended Emperor Palpatine by killing the remaining leaders of the Separatist Movement. This is also the very light saber that Anakin had used during his duel against his former mentor, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi on Mustafar. Near the end of this duel, Anakin lost the light saber when Obi-Wan chopped off his legs and his arms. Obi-Wan took possession of the light saber and left the limbless Anakin aka Darth Vader on a lava bank to slowly burn to death. Unfortunately for Obi-Wan, the seriously wounded Anakin was found by Emperor Palpatine and a squad of clone troopers and survived for another twenty-three years.

Obi-Wan kept the light saber during the nineteen years he lived as an exile on Tattooine. When he and Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker finally met in “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”, the former Jedi master gave the young man his father’s lightsaber. Luke kept that lightsaber for three years before he faced Anakin for the first time at Cloud City, on the mining colony of Bespin in “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. Unaware that Anakin was his father, Luke engaged in a duel with the Sith apprentice until the latter chopped off his hand. Not only did Luke lose his hand, he also lost the lightsaber, which fell down a mining shift to God knows where. Sometime during the year between “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”, Luke constructed a new lightsaber.

During the thirty years or so between “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and “THE FORCE AWAKENS”, Anakin’s lost lightsaber ended up in the possession of the pirate queen known as Maz Kanata. She kept the weapon in a wooden curio box inside her castle/tavern on Takodana for years. Then one day, her old friends Han Solo and Chewbacca appeared on Takodana with a BB droid and two young people – Finn and Rey. While roaming around Maz’s castle, the “lightsaber awaken” and called out to Rey. She ventured into the castle’s basement and found the lightsaber inside Maz’s curio box. Upon touching it, she received a series of visions and recoiled in horror, rejecting Kanata’s attempt to give her the lightsaber. Finn later took it for safekeeping. Later in the film, both Finn and later Rey used the lightsaber in their duels against Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo, an apprentice of Supreme Leader Snoke of the First Order, on an ice planet where the Starkiller Base was located. Although Ren managed to seriously wound Finn, Rey took up the lightsaber and eventually defeated Ren by wounding him.

While re-reading the last paragraph, I found myself contemplating the words – “lightsaber awaken and called out to Rey”. Anakin’s second lightsaber called out to Rey via the Force? What . . . in . . . the . . . fuck? What on earth were J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan thinking? Why on earth did they tried to portray the very weapon that Anakin Skywalker had used to help Emperor Palpatine purge the Jedi as some mystical connection to the Force for one of the franchise’s newest protagonists, Rey?

I feel the two filmmakers made a serious mistake. Or else they really had no idea what George Lucas was trying to do in his creation of the Force. Why did Abrams and Kasdan use this very weapon as a means for Rey to become aware of her connection to the Force? Why did they use a weapon in the first place? Did Abrams and Kasdan believe it would be . . . what . . . cool? Were they simply too lazy to find another way for Rey to become aware of her connection to the Force? Or did they need an excuse for both Finn and Rey to become in possession of a lightsaber so that they can duel against Kylo Ren?

By the way, who in their right mind would use a weapon with such an ugly and bloody history to be some kind of Force relic? Why use a weapon in the first place? Because that is basically what a lightsaber is . . . a weapon. A tool that all Force sensitive individuals used – regardless of their moral compass. Like the old Jedi Temple’s library. Or a Jedi fighter. A lightsaber should not be regarded as the ultimate symbol for any Force user . . . or of the Force. I especially take umbrage that Abrams and Kasdan used it as means for Rey’s connection to the Force. I mean honestly . . . a weapon? I am certain that some “STAR WARS” fan would remind me that the average Force user had constructed his or her own lightsaber. My response to this is . . . so what? I do not recall a Force sensitive individual using a lightsaber to form a connection to the Force. At least not before “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”. And if it had been used as a connection to the Force before the 2015 movie, it should not have been.

The Force is an energy and spiritual entity that connects all living things throughout the galaxy. An individual using a weapon to achieve a connection to all of this strikes me as a corruption of what Lucas was trying to say about the Force. After all, Luke Skywalker did not become a Jedi in “RETURN OF THE JEDI” because of his skill with a lightsaber. He truly became a Jedi at the moment when he dropped his weapon and refused to slay his father in anger or revenge. When he rejected the use of aggression and force. Apparently, this was something that J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan failed to consider. Why on earth did they not allow that damn lightsaber to remain lost for good?

“ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY” (2016) Review

“ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY” (2016) Review

When I had first learned of Disney and Lucasfilm’s plans to create a series of stand-alone films within the STAR WARS franchise, I felt a little taken aback. I had felt certain that the new owners of the franchise would stick to a series of films that served as one chapter in a long story. But following the release of “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” and my slight disappointment over it, I was willing to accept anything new.

“ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY” was announced as the first of a series of those stand-alone film. However, I found this ironic, considering that the plot for “ROGUE ONE” more or less served as a prequel to the first film in the franchise, 1977’s “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. The 2016 film’s plot centered around the Rebel Alliance’s discovery of the first Death Star and their efforts to steal the very plans that served as a plot incentive for “A NEW HOPE”. Upon contemplating the movie’s plot, it occurred to me that Disney/Lucasfilm could have re-titled the movie, “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – ROGUE ONE” and change the title for all of the films that followed chronologically. Especially since “ROGUE ONE” seemed to have a major, major impact upon the narrative for “A NEW HOPE”.

Actually, “ROGUE ONE” begins with a prologue set thirteen years before the film’s main narrative. Research scientist Galen Erso and his family are discovered to be hiding out on the planet Lah’mu by Imperial weapons developer, Orson Krennic. The latter wants him to help complete the Death Star, which had began construction several years earlier. Although Galen instructs his wife Lyra and daughter Jyn to hide where they can be found by Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera, Lyra instructs Jyn to hide and tries to rescue her husband from Krennic. Unfortunately, Lyra is killed, Galen is escorted away by Krennic and a squad of death troopers and Jyn spends the next few years being raised by Gerrera.

Thirteen years pass when Imperial cargo pilot Bodhi Rook defects from the Empire in order to smuggle a holographic message from Galen to Gerrera, now residing on the desert moon Jedha (where the Empire is mining kyber crystals to power the Death Star). Rebel intelligence officer Captain Cassian Andor learns about Bodhi’s defection. He frees Jyn, now a minor criminal in her early twenties, from an Imperial labor camp at Wobani. He brings her before the Rebel Alliance leaders, who convince her to find Gerrera and rescue Galen so the Alliance can learn more about the Death Star. While meeting Gerrera on Jedha; Jyn and Cassian become acquainted with Bodhi, who is Gerrera’s prisoner; a blind former Guardian of the Whills named Chirrut Îmw; and Chirrut’s best friend, a former Guardian of the Whills-turned-freelance assassin named Baze Malbus. While Jyn and the others escape the destruction of Jedha’s holy city by the Death Star and head for Galen’s location on Eadu, they are unaware that Cassian has been covertly ordered by Alliance General Draven to kill Galen after confirming the existence of the Death Star.

I noticed that the media tend to describe the plot for “ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY” as a mission for a group of rebels to steal the Death Star plans. And yet . . . after watching the film, I noticed that “theft of the Death Star plans” story line did not really kick in until the last thirty-to-forty minutes. Most of the film seemed to be centered on the Rebel Alliance confirming the existence of the Death Star. By shifting the actual attempt to steal the Death Star plans to the movie’s last act, Gareth Edwards and the film’s producers may have undermined the actual narrative surrounding the mission. It seemed . . . well, it reminded me of Luke Skywalker’s plans to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt in 1983’s “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI” – confusing, a bit lame and out of left field. It also struck me as a bit rushed. I also found the major battle over Scarif during the heist of the Death Star plans a bit too much. I thought it was unnecessary to include it in the movie. Since the opening crawler for “A NEW HOPE” had made it clear that the Rebel Alliance had won its first major battle against the Galactic Empire, while the plans were being stolen, I can blame George Lucas instead of Gareth Edwards. So now, the movie is a . . . what? I do not know. Perhaps I had been expecting a Star Wars version of a heist film. Or an espionage film that did not a major battle. Instead, I found myself watching a movie that seemed to have more than one kind of narrative.

I had a few other problems with “ROGUE ONE”. Once the movie had moved past the prologue regarding Jyn Erso’s childhood, the narrative rushed. At breakneck speed. It rushed from Cassian Andor’s meeting with an informative on a planet whose name I do not remember, to his rescue of Jyn Erso from an Imperial prison transport, to Bodhi Rook’s disastrous meeting with Saw Gerrera and finally to Jyn’s meeting with the Rebel Alliance leaders on Yavin. Once Jyn, Cassian and the latter’s companion – a reprogrammed Imperial droid called K-2SO arrive on Jedha; the movie slows down to a tolerable pace. I also had a problem with the movie’s prologue – especially the circumstances surrounding Lyra Erso’s death. I am still wondering why she had believed she could save her husband from Orson Krennic and a squad of death troopers with a blaster. Was she really that stupid? Or did the screenwriters simply found a lazy and contrived way to kill her off?

“ROGUE ONE” also featured the appearances of a few characters for fan service. C-3P0 and R2-D2 were briefly shown at the Rebel Alliance base on Yavin before they were supposed to be aboard the Tantive IV. Their appearance struck me as unnecessary and forced. Speaking of the Tantive IV, what kind of transport did Bail Organa used to return to Alderaan? Especially since the corvette was his personal transport and his adoptive daughter, Leia Organa would end up using the ship for her mission, later on. I was very surprised to see Cornelius Evazan and Ponda Baba, the thuggish pair who had harassed Luke Skywalker in “A NEW HOPE”. This pair had bumped into Jyn and Cassian on the streets of Jedha City. Considering that an hour or two later, the Holy City was destroyed by the Death Star, I found myself wondering how they had avoided death in order to reach Tattoine in time to encounter Luke and Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in “A NEW HOPE”. I eventually learned that the pair had left Jedha just before the city’s destruction. Okay . . . but why include them in this movie in the first place? It was unnecessary. And their presence in the movie nearly created a blooper within the saga.

“ROGUE ONE” also featured the return of the Death Star commander, Grand Moff Tarkin and a young Leia Organa. Since Peter Cushing, who had portrayed Tarkin in the 1977 film had been dead for over two decades; and Carrie Fisher was at least 58 to 59 years old when the movie was shot; Lucasfilm had decided to use CGI for their faces. Frankly, it did not work for me. I feel that Lucasfilm could have simply used actor Guy Henry to portray Tarkin without pasting Cushing’s CGI generated image on his face. They could have done the same for actress Ingvild Deila, who briefly portrayed Leia with Fisher’s image. Honestly, the CGI images of the two characters reminded me of a video game. A relative of mine had pointed out that both had a “dead in the eyes” look about them.

And yet . . . despite these quibbles, I still managed to enjoy “ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY” very much. I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than I did Disney’s other entry for the franchise, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”. The movie’s narrative seemed very original in compare to the 2015 movie. Of all the STAR WARS movies I have seen, it seemed more like an espionage flick than any other in the franchise. And like the Prequel Trilogy, “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and the last act of “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”; “ROGUE ONE” seemed willing to explore the ambiguity of its characters and its plotlines.

This especially seemed to be the case for characters like the ruthless Rebel Alliance General Davits Draven, Alliance leader Mon Mothma, the extremist Rebel freedom fighter Saw Guerra and one of the main characters – mercenary Baze Malbus. Forest Whitaker had been cast to portray former Clone Wars veteran and Rebel freedom fighter, Saw Guerra; who had served as Jyn Erso’s guardian following her mother’s death and father’s capture. I noticed that Whitaker, who seemed to have a talent for accents, had utilized a slight West African one to portray Guerra. However, I was more impressed by Whitaker’s portrayal of the imposing Guerra as a slightly withered soul, whose years of political extremism and violence had left him physically disabled and paranoid. I really enjoyed one scene in which Whitaker conveyed Guerra’s fear that his former protegee, Jyn, had sought him out to kill him. Alistair Petrie did an excellent job in combining both the commanding presence of General Draven and his ruthless ambiguity. After all, this was the man whose sole reason behind the search for Galen Erso was to have the latter killed. Genevieve O’Reilly had portrayed the younger Mon Mothma in 2005’s “STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH”, but her scenes had been cut. Eleven years later, she returned to portray the same character. Only in this film, O’Reilly’s former Senator Mothma who is nearly rendered speechless by Jyn’s revelation about the Death Star. O’Reilly did a first-rate job in portraying a Mon Mothma never seen before. Yes, she behaved like a leader. However, O’Reilly got the chance to convey some of Mon Mothma’s uncertainty about the Alliance dealing with the Death Star. I realize that some of you might find it odd that I would list Baze Malbus as one of the movie’s more ambiguous characters. He really did nothing in the movie to hint his ambiguous nature, considering that he spent most of his time coming to the aid of his friend, Chirrut Îmwe or their companions. But I noticed how actor Jiang Wen skillfully conveyed Baze’s cynical personality and reluctance to play hero and get dragged into the rebellion against the Empire.

If there were two characters that truly reflected the movie’s moral ambiguity – namely the two main protagonists, Jyn Erso and Captain Cassian Andor. Since the age of eight or nine (I think), Jyn has endured a lot by the age of twenty-two – the loss of her parents via death and capture, being raised as a Rebel fighter by an extremist like Saw Guerra and eventually abandoned at age sixteen, and life as a petty criminal (which included the occasional prison incarceration). It is not surprising that by the time the Rebel Alliance had recruited her, Jyn had become a cynical, wary and slightly ruthless young woman. And Felicity Jones did one hell of a job in bringing her to life. This is not surprising. Jyn Erso was such a complicated character and Jones was talented enough to convey this aspect of her. Cassian Andor, an intelligence officer for the Rebel Alliance, had experienced a hard life since the age of six. His homeworld of Fest had joined the Separatists during the Clone Wars. This means that Cassian has been fighting for twenty of his twenty-six years – first against the Galactic Republic and later against the Empire, after he had joined the Rebel Alliance. Cassian shared Jyn’s ruthlessness. In some ways, he is a lot more ruthless and pragmatic than her. And unlike Jyn, Cassian is a dedicated warrior, rebel . . . and loner. But unlike her, he was also a very dedicated warrior and rebel. It seemed very apparent to me that those years as a freedom fighter had not only transformed him into a loner, but almost into another Saw Guerra. And Diego Luna gave a brilliant performance as the ruthless and pragmatic Captain Andor. I have only seen Luna in two other roles, but his performance as Cassian Andor was a revelation to me. Perhaps I should check out some of his other work.

“ROGUE ONE” featured other interesting performances. Donnie Yen gave a very charismatic performance as the blind former Guardian of the Whills priest, who believes in the Force. I must also add that I thought that as a screen team, both he and Jiang Wen seemed to be the heart of the movie. Another interesting performance came from Alan Tudyk, who provided the voice for K-2SO, the former Imperial enforcer droid reprogrammed to serve Cassian and the Rebel Alliance. Jimmy Smits gave a charmingly brief performance as Alderaan’s senator and royal prince, Bail Organa – a role he had originated in the second and third Prequel movies. He and O’Reilly enjoyed a poignant moment on screen, as they discussed the possibility of requesting the help of none other than former Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. Riz Ahmed gave a very memorable performance as the very man who helped Galen Erso kick start the events of this film, former Imperial shuttle pilot turned diehard Rebel, Bodhi Rook. Whether being scared out of his wits by Saw Guerra or enthusiastically supporting Jyn’s scheme to steal the Death Star plans, Ahmed’s Rook seemed to be a bundle of raw energy. Speaking of the Erso family . . . Mads Mikkelsen gave a very poignant and sad performance as Galen Erso, a brilliant scientist who willing helped the Empire complete its construction of the Death Star following the death of his wife and his daughter’s disappearance. Before one can label Galen as another one of Mikkelsen’s villainous roles, he turns out to be an unusual hero who surreptitiously gives the Rebel an opportunity to destroy the weapons station . . . before he is betrayed by them. The movie’s main antagonist; Orson Krennic, the Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military; was actually portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn. Krennic proved to be something different as far as STAR WARS villains go. Mendelsohn did a first-rate job in conveying Krennic’s murderous tendencies and raging ambition. At the same time, he did a great job in allowing Krennic’s inferiority complex to crawl out of the woodwork . . . especially when in the presence of the domineering Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin or the very intimidating Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader.

Many have claimed that “ROGUE ONE” is either the darkest or ambiguous film in the STAR WARS franchise. I do agree that the movie is ambiguous. Most of the main characters were not portrayed as dashing heroes or idealistic heroines who made little or no mistakes. With the exception of a few like Bodhi Rook, Chirrut Îmwe, Bail Organa and Orson Krennic; the movie featured some very ambiguous characters . . . three of them being Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor and Saw Guerra. I was especially impressed by how screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy portrayed Jyn Erso. Instead of feisty heroine or someone who is ridiculous ideal, they had portrayed her as a young woman who had aged before her time, due to the hard knocks she had experienced. A few STAR WARS fans had complained that Jyn’s reason for going after the Death Star plans had not been motivated by some kind of patriotism or ideal. Someone even went so far as to criticize her for not being some leader or a person with “special” abilities. Personally, I am glad. With the exception of Rey, who proved to be a little too perfect for my tastes, I had no problems with the saga’s other lead women characters. I liked that Jyn could not give a rat’s ass about the Rebellion. I liked that she felt a great deal of anger toward the Rebellion Alliance for what happened to her father. And more importantly, I am glad that her decision to go after the Death Star plans was based upon a personal reason – to finish what her father had started.

But what I had found even more interesting were the screenwriters and Gareth Edwards’ willingness to shine an unflattering light on the Rebel Alliance. Looking back at the Original Trilogy’s portrayal of the Alliance, the latter came off as an organization governed by morally upstanding and brave people. Perhaps a little too shiny or a little too . . . “good”. Not so in “ROGUE ONE”. One example of their moral ambiguity was featured in a scene in which the Alliance political and military leaders expressed reluctance and fear to do something about the Death Star, let alone continuing with the rebellion. Despite my annoyance at the “town hall” style meeting, I must admit that I enjoyed watching the Rebel Alliance leaders express their flaws and fears. I was also fascinated by how the filmmakers – through the Cassian Andor, Saw Guerra and General Draven characters – reveal how low the Rebel Alliance would sink for its cause. This was especially apparent through Cassian’s murder of a Rebel informant and Guerra’s paranoia, which led to his torture of Rook Bodhi. However, General Draven’s orders for Cassian to assassinate Galen Erso, along with his second plan regarding the scientist really conveyed the ugliness of the Rebel Alliance. And I loved it.

But is “ROGUE ONE” the “darkest” or most ambiguous of the eight current films in the STAR WARS saga? Personally, I believe that honor still belongs to the 2005 film, “REVENGE OF THE SITH”. Yes, “ROGUE ONE” was willing to convey the more unpleasant sides of its main characters. Then again, I could say the same about the Original and Prequel Trilogies. Especially the latter. And yes, “ROGUE ONE” was willing to reveal the uglier sides of the Rebel Alliance. Although I cannot say the same about the Original Trilogy, the Prequel Trilogy seemed very ambiguous in its portrayal of both the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order. But I cannot regard “ROGUE ONE” as the saga’s most ambiguous film. Despite the mistakes and crimes committed by many of the film’s protagonists, the theft of the Death Star plans and the Battle of Scarif pretty much provided redemption not only to the movie’s protagonists, but also the Rebel Alliance. One cannot say the same for the protagonists from the Prequel Trilogy. Nearly all of them, along with the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order, suffered the consequences of their mistakes and crimes . . . for years to come. There was no last minute redemption for the by the end of “REVENGE OF THE SITH”. Perhaps that is an ending that certain moviegoers could not swallow, especially in a STAR WARS movie.

I have no memories of Michael Giacchino’s score for “ROGUE ONE”. None whatsoever. David Crossman and Glyn Dillon’s costume designs earned them a Saturn Award nomination. Personally, I did not see what the big deal was about. I will give Crossman and Dillon credit for creating the right costumes for the movie’s characters and setting. Otherwise, they almost strike me as a rehash of John Gallo and Aggie Guerard Rodgers’ work in the Original Trilogy. I felt somewhat impressed by Doug Chiang’s production designs – especially for the Jedha City and Scarif sequences. His work was enhanced by Greig Fraser’s photography. Speaking of the latter, I noticed that Fraser’s photography of the Jedha City streets brought back memories of Gilbert Taylor’s photography of the Mos Eisley streets in “A NEW HOPE”. Both settings seemed to possess a similar lighting and atmosphere as shown in the two images below:

The Maldives served as a stand-in for the planet of Scarif, location of the Death Star plans and the movie’s major battle. Between Chiang’s production designs and Fraser’s photography, part of that sequence brought back memories of various World War II movies set in the Pacific Theater:

In the end, I rather enjoyed “ROGUE ONE”. There are some aspects of it that struck me as very original – especially in its characterization and its portrayal of the Rebel Alliance. Yet, at the same time, its plot and setting made it clear to me that the Disney Studios and Lucasfilm are still chained to some kind of nostalgia for the Original Trilogy – a nostalgia from which I feel they need to break free. And although I feel that the movie possess some flaws in its narrative, I still believe that it proved to be first-rate in the end.

Moral Compass and the STAR WARS Fandom

 

MORAL COMPASS AND STAR WARS FANDOM

The more posts and articles that I read about the STAR WARS saga, the more I begin to wonder if a great deal of the franchise’s fandom would have preferred if Lucas had allowed the saga to maintain the black-and-white morality of “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”.

All of the STAR WARS films have their flaws. And although “A NEW HOPE” had its moments of moral ambiguity in the character of smuggler Han Solo, the moral compass presented in the 1977 film seemed more black-and-white than ambiguous. I can even recall one guy complaining on his blog that “A NEW HOPE” was the only film in the franchise that he liked, because the other films that followed had too much ambiguity. I also noticed that when discussing “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”, many fans tend to ignore or make excuses for the questionable actions of the major characters in that film.

Fans made excuses for Chewbacca’s assault upon Lando Calrissian in the 1980 film, because the latter had sold them out to Darth Vader and the Empire in order to prevent the deaths of the Bespin colony’s citizens. They also made excuses for Princess Leia Organa’s support of Chewbacca’s assault. Yet, very few fans and critics have seemed willing to criticize Chewbacca and Leia’s actions . . . or the fact that neither of them ever considered the possibility that their arrival at Bespin had endangered Lando and the citizens. And when I had once questioned why Han never noticed bounty hunter Boba Fett shadowing the Millennium Falcon during its long journey from the Hoth system to Bespin (without an operating hyperdrive), many either dismissed my question or refused to even ponder on that situation. I had also discussed Luke Skywalker’s willingness stop his rage-fueled assault upon his father, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”, many saw this as an example of Luke’s moral superiority. No one ever pondered on the possibility that Emperor Palpatine’s verbal interruption may have stopped Luke from killing his father.

When it comes to the moral ambiguity of the characters in the Prequel Trilogy movies, a lot of fans tend to scream “bad writing”, instead of exploring the possibility that even the good guys are capable of bad or criminal actions. They reacted at least three ways in regard to the actions of the Jedi characters. One, they tend to accuse Lucas of bad writing when major Jedi characters like Yoda, Mace Windu or Obi-Wan Kenobi made bad decisions. Or they would make excuses for their questionable actions – especially Yoda and Obi-Wan. Or . . . the only Jedi characters they are willing to criticize are Mace Windu for his attempt to kill Palpatine in “STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE JEDI” and Qui-Gon Jinn for insisting that Anakin Skywalker be trained as Jedi in “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Yet, hardly anyone seems willing to question Yoda for his own attempt to deliberately kill Palpatine or Obi-Wan’s willingness to leave a seriously wounded Anakin to slowly burn to death on one of Mustafar’s lava banks in the 2005 movie. Why? Is it because both Yoda and Obi-Wan are considered heroic favorites from the Original Trilogy? Who knows?

Speaking of Anakin, many fans seemed to be upset that Lucas had not portrayed him as some adolescent or twenty-something “bad boy”. Many fans have also expressed displeasure that the Prequel Trilogy had began with Anakin at the age of nine. Why, I do not know. Either this has something to do with the “cool factor”, or they cannot deal with the idea that a mega villain like Darth Vader began his life as an innocent and rather nice boy. Most of all, many fans and critics seem incapable of dealing with Anakin giving in to evil for the sake of his love for Naboo senator Padme Amidala . . . despite the fact that Original Trilogy characters like Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa and Chewbacca have either done or nearly done the same.

Once the Disney Studios had acquired LucasFilm from George Lucas, they seemed bent upon returning to the black-and-white moral compass of “A NEW HOPE” with their 2015 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”. The Finn character seems to be another version of Han Solo – starting out as an ambiguous character and emerging as a heroic figure. Aside from one moment near the end of the film, Kylo Ren seemed more like a one-dimensional villain. Perhaps director-writer Rian Johnson will allow the character to break out of this shell in the upcoming “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI”. As for the 2016 stand-alone film, “ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY”, many critics and fans had complimented the film for its exploration of the main characters’ ambiguity. Yet, the Jyn Erso character is already being unfavorably compared by the media to the more ideal Rey character from “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. And by the last half hour of “ROGUE ONE”, the main. characters had ditched their ambiguity and embraced being heroes. Not even the current LucasFilm production company, Disney and director Gareth Edwards would allow the main characters to remain ambiguous.

Lucas had started the STAR WARS saga with an entertaining and well done tale with very little ambiguity in 1977 and developed it into a complex and ambiguous saga that I believe did a great job in reflecting the true ambiguous nature of humanity. And yet, it seems that a lot of people remain angry at him for daring to explore our ambiguity in the first place. Some have claimed that STAR WARS is the wrong movie franchise to explore moral ambiguity. Personally, I do not see why not.

The “STAR WARS” Prequel Movies . . . and Mace Windu

THE “STAR WARS” PREQUEL MOVIES . . . AND MACE WINDU

I came across this article on the RETRO ZAP website about the “STAR WARS” Prequel movies called “Beyond Good & Evil in the Prequels”, written by Michael O’Connor. And while I had no problems with most of the article, I had a problem when he centered his focus on Mace Windu.

In a passage from the article, Mr. O’Connor wrote:

“Mace Windu, in particular, is a scowling character who seems fond of putting fools in their place, whether it’s a fellow Jedi like Qui-Gon Jinn or Anakin Skywalker or an adversary like Count Dooku or Chancellor Palpatine.

But the most telling moment for the character may come in Revenge of the Sith, when he insists to Anakin that Palpatine is ‘too powerful to be left alive!’ It can’t be a coincidence that Lucas has him parroting a line Palpatine said to Anakin earlier in the film after Skywalker insists that killing an unarmed Dooku is not the Jedi Way. ‘He was too dangerous to be kept alive’, Palpatine casually notes in that moment.”

Mace seemed “fond of putting fools in their place” . . . including Anakin Skywalker and Qui-Gon Jinn? What exactly was Mr. O’Connor trying to say? That Master Windu, one of the senior members of the Jedi Council, had no right to put others in their place when they stepped out of line? Why? Was it because the character was not featured in the Original Trlogy? Or was it because Master Windu was portrayed by an African-American actor? Had Mr. O’Connor really forgotten that other Jedi characters like Qui-Gon, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ki Adi Mundi had done the same?

And why did Mr. O’Connor point out Mace’s attempt to kill Palpatine in “STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH”, yet failed to point out Yoda’s murder attempt on the same character? In the same movie? Was Mr. O’Connor trying to say that as a character portrayed by a black actor, Mace did not have the right to step out of line in such a manner? Only Yoda was allowed? He pointed out that Yoda had not only accepted the Clone Army on behalf of the Republic, he also led them into battle on Geonosis in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. He also pointed out Yoda’s lies to Luke Skywalker or withholding of the truth about Anakin/Vader’s true identity. But he failed to point out Yoda’s attempt to murder Palpatine. Why?

Mr. O’Connor also pointed out Obi-Wan Kenobi’s condescending attitude toward beings he considered as lesser being – like Jar-Jar Binks and nine year-old Anakin Skywalker. Yet, he failed to point out Obi-Wan’s capitulation to rage after Darth Maul had struck down his Jedi master, Qui-Gon Jinn in “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Mr. O’Connor failed to point out Obi-Wan’s attempt to convince the older Anakin to spy on Chancellor Palpatine (whom the Jedi believed had a Sith Lord within his circle), even when the younger man felt uncomfortable about the suggestion. And he failed to point out that Obi-Wan had left a disabled Anakin to slowly burn to death on a lava bank, following their duel on Mustafar. Many claim that Obi-Wan could not bring himself to quickly kill his former apprentice . . . as if his lack of action was something merciful. As far as I am concerned, it was not. Leaving someone to slowly die in agony does not strike me as merciful.

I admire Mr. O’Connor’s attempt to point out that the “STAR WARS” saga was not one painted in a black-and-white morality. Well, most of it. And I admire his willingness to appreciate the moral ambiguity in George Lucas’ tale – especially in the Prequel Trilogy. What I did not appreciate was his willingness to use Mace Windu as the main scapegoat for the mistakes of the Jedi Order. Or paint the character as the worst offender within that organization. If he was so willing to point out the worst that Master Windu had done, he could have done the same for not only the other Jedi characters, but other characters within the Prequel Trilogy as well.

“STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” (2015) Review

“STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” (2015) Review

During the fall of 2012, the media and many film fans were stunned by news of filmmaker George Lucas’ sale of his production company, Lucasfilm, to the Walt Disney Company. I was flabbergasted. However, this sale led to Disney’s plans to continue Lucas’ “STAR WARS” movie saga with future releases, television shows, novels and comic stories.

One result of this sale proved to be Disney’s new film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”. The first of three movies for the franchise’ “Sequel Trilogy”, “THE FORCE AWAKENS” is set some thirty years after the 1983 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”. Some time after the Galactic Empire’s major defeat at the Battle of Endor, remnants of this political force formed a new galactic power known as the First Order under the mysterious leadership of Snoke, a Force user. Within less than thirty years, the First Order has managed to take possession of new worlds and become a powerful force within the galaxy. Although appalled by the First Order’s development, the New Republic government decided to do nothing.

Former Rebel Alliance leader, Leia Organa, managed to form a military organization from the rank and file of the New Republic’s armed forces called the Resistance. Believing that the Resistance need more help, Leia recruited a pilot named Commander Poe Dameron to acquire find a segment of a star map that was in the possession of the legendary explorer Lor San Tekka on Jakku. This map would lead to the whereabouts of her brother, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, who had disappeared into exile following the destruction of a new generation of Jedi under his tutelage. Unfortunately, the village where Tekka lived was captured by a force of First Order stormtroopers under the command of one of Supreme Leader Snoke’s enforcers, a Force user named Kylo Ren. Ren ordered his troops to kill Tekka and the other villagers, while he took Dameron captive. Fortunately, the Resistance pilot had hidden the map inside his astromech droid, BB-8, which managed to escape. Even more fortunately, Dameron was rescued by a stormtrooper designated FN-2187, who wanted to use Dameron to help him defect from the First Order.

Finn and Dameron stole a TIE fighter plane and returned to Jakku to find BB-8. However, the plane crashed. FN-2187 – renamed “Finn” – by the pilot, encountered a desert scavenger named Rey, who had already found BB-8. Realizing that the First Order was after the droid, the pair made their escape from Jakku aboard the old freighter, the Millenium Falcon, and set out to find the Resistance forces. Along the way, Finn and Rey attempted to evade the pursuing Kylo Ren and met the Falcon’s former owner, Han Solo and the latter’s companion Chewbacca; who ended up helping them with their goal.

Many critics and moviegoers hailed “THE FORCE AWAKENS” as a return to what the franchise used to be back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And not surprisingly, it became the top earning movie released in 2015. Lucasfilm, now headed by producer Kathleen Kennedy (who had worked with Lucas and Steven Spielberg for years), turned to producer-director J.J. Abrams to helm this first film. Screenwriter Michael Arndt was originally hired to write the movie’s script, following Lucas’ treatment. But Lucasfilm and Abrams decided to scrap both him and the treatment. Then Abrams and filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan created their own screenplay . . . one that obviously pleased a lot of people. How do I feel about the movie? Well, like many films, “THE FORCE AWAKENS” has both good and bad qualities. I am going to start what I liked about it.

For me, the stars of “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” are actors John Boyega, who portrayed Finn; and Harrison Ford, who reprised his role as Han Solo. Their performances gave this movie an energy that could not be matched by the rest of cast. In the case of Ford, this movie featured his best performance in the four “STAR WARS” he has appeared in. And of the new cast members for the Sequel Trilogy, I feel that Boyega has quickly emerged as the best of the bunch, thanks to his energetic and humorous portrayal of a very complex character. Actually, Finn reminded me of a younger Han Solo. Perhaps that is why he clicked so well with the veteran actor. Come to think of it, he also managed to click well with the other two new leads – Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac. My only problem with Finn is that his character sometimes came off as some doofus who seemed to stumble his way through life. Two other performances in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” that really impressed me came from Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, who served as the voice and movements behind a new character called Maz Kanata. And Peter Mayhew, like Ford, was marvelous as always as the aging Wookie, Chewbacca. In a way, I found this miraculous for both Ford and Mayhew, considering that both suffered health issues during the movie’s production. What else did I like about “THE FORCE AWAKENS”? Well to my utter surprise, I enjoyed the new astromech droid, BB-8. When I had first saw it in some of the movie’s trailers, I had dismissed it as a second-rate version of R2-D2 and C3-P0. I was very surprised at how quickly I grew fond of the character.

There were other aspects of “THE FORCE AWAKENS” that I enjoyed, as well. If I have to brutally frank, I did not find most of Dan Mindel’s photography that impressive. But there were a few scenes that did impress me. I found Britain’s Lake District, which served as Takodana, very beautiful, thanks to Mindel’s photography. I was also impressed by his photography of United Arab Emirates and New Mexico, which served as the planet of Jakku. Mandel even managed to include an iconic shot, as shown below:

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One last aspect of the movie that impressed me was Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey’s editing. I thought they did a pretty damn good job in the sequence that featured Finn and Rey’s escape from Jakku aboard the stolen Millennium Falcon. But I found their work in the sequence in which the pair, Han Solo and Chewbacca get into conflict with pirates gangs who want to settle a score with Han, while three Rathtar creatures run rampant throughout the Falcon and Han’s other ship . . . to be very impressive. And it lacked the taint of confusion which has hampered many action scenes in the past.

Did I have any problems with “THE FORCE AWAKENS”? Unfortunately, yes. A lot of problems. I read somewhere that Lucasfilm/Disney had originally hired Michael Arndt to write the movie’s screenplay, but in the end, Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams rejected it. Abrams recruited Lawrence Kasdan, an old Lucasfilm veteran to rewrite the script and the result is what ended on the movie screens. And honestly . . . I was not impressed. Not by a long shot. The main problem I had with “THE FORCE AWAKENS” is that it shared too many plot points and characterizations with the first film in the franchise, 1977’s “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. Hell, Abrams and Kasdan managed to borrow a bit from 1980’s “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and the Prequel movies. It is one thing to lift certain aspects of from other works of art and even history – especially in the science-fiction/fantasy genre. It is another to literally borrow from another movie . . . within the same movie franchise. Just to verify my complaint, I had come across an Entertainment Weekly article that listed eighteen similarties between “THE FORCE AWAKENS”and “A NEW HOPE” that included:

*A droid carrying valuable information who finds himself on a desolate desert planet
*A Force-sensitive, masked, and darkly clothed antagonist who arrives on the scene shortly after the information is handed off, looking for the droid
*A lonely, Force-strong desert dweller who dreams of more
*A cruel military officer who holds a comparable level of authority to his Force-sensitive, masked, and darkly clothed colleague
*A massive spherical weapon that’s used to destroy a planet
*A coordinated aerial attack on the massive spherical weapon that’s monitored from a control room by Leia

Six similarities between the two movies strike me as disturbing. Eighteen similarities seem utterly ridiculous to me. Even worse, I managed to come up with four similarities between this movie and “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. The masked enforcer is revealed to be a member of the Skywalker family, the heroes end up on an ice planet, the roguish protagonist is left in dire straits by the end of the movie and the potential Force user meets an aging Jedi master for new lessons. J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy and the Disney Studios might as well stop protesting and admit that their new blockbuster reeks of unoriginality and plagiarism.

Another problem I had with “THE FORCE AWAKENS” proved to be characterization. I had no problem with the idea of characters from the saga’s previous trilogies making an appearance. I had a problem with the new characters being a rehash of other characters – like our desert future acolyte Rey being a remake of the young Luke Skywalker; the First One enforcer Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo being another Anakin Skywalker; Resistance pilot Poe Dameron being another Leia Organa (but without the caustic wit); former stormtrooper Finn being another Han Solo; Supreme Leader Snoke is another Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine; and General Hux is another Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (without the presence). Actually, this video clip from You Tube/Dorkly.com pretty much said it all. The similarities between the saga’s characters strikes me as another example of the lack of originality in this movie.

But some of the characters proved to be very problematic for the movie’s plot. One of the biggest problems proved to be the character of Rey. As a woman, I found it satisfying that a leading STAR WARS character is not only a Force user, but a young woman. Unfortunately, Abrams and Kasdan took this too far by nearly portraying Rey as a borderline Mary Sue. Well, Lucas nearly transformed Luke Skywalker into a Gary Stu (same thing, male version) – especially in the last half hour of “A NEW HOPE” and the first hour of “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. But with Rey, Abrams and Kasdan took it too far. Using her strong connection to the Force as an excuse, they allowed Rey to become a talented pilot who could rival Han Solo and Anakin Skywalker, easily learn how to utilize the Jedi Mind Trick and defeat an experienced Force user with a lightsaber without any training. Without real any experience or training whatsoever. By the way, that last achievement really rubbed me the wrong way. I mean . . . what the hell? What is she going to do in the franchise’s next movie? Walk on water? Now . . . Daisy Ridley gave a nice performance as Rey. But she failed to knock my socks off. Her performance was not enough for me to overlook the ridiculous level of skills that her character had accomplished.

Equally problematic for me proved to be the Kylo Ren character, who turned out to be Han and Leia’s only son, Ben Solo. According to the movie, he was one of Luke’s padawan learners, before he made the decision to embrace evil, kill of Luke’s other padawans and become an enforcer for the First Order. Why? I have not the foggiest idea. “THE FORCE AWAKENS” made it clear that he seemed to worship his grandfather’s role as a Sith Lord. I can only assume that either the next movie or “EPISODE IX” will reveal the reason behind young Ben’s embrace of evil. I hope so. Because the reasoning presented in this film really sucks. It sucks just as much as Ren’s man child behavior. You know, I could have stomach this behavior if he had been around the same age as his grandfather in the Prequel Trilogy’s second and third movies. But Kylo Ren is pushing thirty in this film. He strikes me as too old to be engaging in childish temper tantrums. I can only assume that contrary to Han’s “He has a bit of Vader in him” comment, Kylo Ren is more a chip off the old block – namely his dad, who had behaved like a man child in the 1977-83 films. And why did Han and Leia name their son after Obi-Wan Kenobi, who used the name “Ben” during his years of exile on Tatooine? Leia never knew him . . . not personally. And Han never really clicked with Obi-Wan on an emotional level. So, why did they name him after the long deceased Jedi Master? As for Adam Driver, he gave a decent performance, but honestly . . . it was not enough for me to be fascinated by his character. It was just . . . decent.

Leia Organa seemed to be a ghost of her former self, thanks to Carrie Fisher. God bless Fisher, she tried. She really did. Abrams and Kasdan even gave her a few witty lines. But . . . Fisher’s performance reminded me of the one she gave in“RETURN OF THE JEDI” . . . lacking in any real fire. And I was disturbed by one scene in which Leia rushed forward to hug Rey, following the latter’s return from the First One’s Starkiller Base. Why did Leia ignore Chewbacca, who must have been torn up over Han’s death? Why did Chewie ignore her? Poe Dameron proved to be a real problem. One, he was not an interesting character to me. Frankly, I found him rather bland. And considering that Oscar Isaac portrayed the character, I found myself feeling very disappointed. A talented actor like him deserved a better role than this. Also, why did Poe leave Jakku and returned to the Resistance’s base? His mission was to acquire information leading to Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts . . . information that he had stored in his BB-8 droid before the First Force appeared at that Jakku village. After Finn had rescued him from Kylo Ren and the First Force warship, Poe insisted that they return to Jakku, so he could find BB-8. What did he do after his and Finn’s TIE fighter crashed on the planet? Poe walked away from the crash, found transport off the planet and returned to his Resistance base. Not once did he bother to finish his mission by searching for BB-8. What the fuck? He went through all that bother to drag Finn back to Jakku and failed to hang around long enough to find BB-8? SLOPPY!! As for Mark Hamill . . . why was he even in this movie? He appeared in the movie’s last scene without speaking one word of dialogue. What a waste of time!

There were other scenes that rubbed me the wrong way. Critics made a big deal over the Nazi-like speech that General Hux gave the First Order troops on the Starkiller Base, swooning over the idea of Nazi metaphors in a “STAR WARS” movie. Big deal. There have been Nazi metaphors in the franchise’s movies since the first movie in 1977. Only Lucas did not resort to a ham fisted speech, similar to the one given by actor Domhnall Gleeson. I also found Leia’s little military conference rather laughable. She did not confer with a handful of military leaders. Instead, she seemed to be conferring with anyone – commanders, pilots, etc. – who seemed to have made their way to her table. It was like watching a STAR WARS version of a town meeting. What the hell? And what was the big deal over the First Order’s search for Luke Skywalker? So what if he was the last Jedi? According to the Lor San Tekka character portrayed by Max von Sydow, there can be no balance in the Force without the Jedi. Really? Since when is the balance of the Force depended on the presence of a religious order that had not been in its prime for over half a century? With Tekka’s comment, Abrams and Kasdan regressed the saga back to the Sunday School morality of “A NEW HOPE”. And could someone please tell me how the lightsaber that Anakin had first constructed following the loss of his first on Geonosis and which Luke had lost during his duel against the former on Bespin, end up in the possession of Maz Kanata on Takodona? How? And why on earth did Abrams and Kasdan thought it necessary to re-introduce it into the saga? Why? It was nothing more than a lightsaber . . . a weapon. There was no need to transform it into some kind of mythologized artifact.

Aside from the colorful photography and editing, I was not that impressed by the movie’s other technical aspects. One, Lucasfilm and Disney allowed both the Resistance and the First Order to use military technology that was last scene in the 1977-83 trilogy. Why? Why did the Resistance and First Order characters wear the uniforms that members of the Rebel Alliance and the Imperial Fleet wore? How cheap is that? And why have the Resistance and the First Order use technology from the same groups? The only new technology I had spotted was the two-seater TIE fighter for the First Order and the lumbering desert vehicle that Rey used on Jakka. Were Kathleen Kennedy and the Disney Studios too cheap to hire someone to create new designs for the military in this film? Or was this another over-the-top attempt to re-create the past of the first trilogy? As for John Williams’ score . . . uh . . . not really impressed. Mind you, I had nothing against it. The score served the movie’s plot rather well. But there was nothing memorable or iconic about it.

I can see why many critics and moviegoers praised “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” as a return to the “magic” of the Original Trilogy. The movie not only utilized many technical aspects of that first trilogy, but also characterization and plot. To be brutally honest, I believe that this new movie had more or less plagiarized the first trilogy – especially “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. Many might regard this as something to celebrate. I do not. I regard this “celebration” of the first trilogy as an artistic travesty and a sign of the lack of originality that now seemed to plague Hollywood. From an artistic point of view, I do not believe the Force was with this movie.

 

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R.I.P. Kenny Baker (1934-2016)