This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
WARNING: THERE WILL BE A LOT OF SPOILERS!
The Movie: “The Last Jedi”
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill
Director: Rian Johnson
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 92 percent
The JOE-DOWN: Episode CI
THE LAST JEDI
It’s a period of unrest for the STAR WARS fanbase. Those who derided THE FORCE AWAKENS for being too derivative of A NEW HOPE were denied the pleasure of saying the same of the eighth episode being too similar to EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. And they took to the internet to voice their displeasure.
Others came out defending scruffy looking nerf herder director Rian Johnson’s bold choices with the characters old and new, as well as his choices in the script. And they took to the internet to voice their excitement with the film.
The only thing the fans seemed to agree on is the side mission to Canto Bight was pretty (REDACTED) stupid.
And now the JOE-DOWN is about to weigh in on the latest war among the stars….
Froemming: I had so much fun writing that crawl. I actually made a video, but the site is jammed up for a year in terms of downloading a copy, so that’s what you’re getting. Just imagine how it looked with the cool fonts and the thundering John Williams score… wait, this link will show you!
Now, Brown, we sort of kicked-off the JOE-DOWN with a soft start doing a pretty un-snarky review of “The Force Awakens,” but now, two years later, we know how to approach a movie review: Cheap laughs and snark. Lots of snark. But before we get into this installment in Disney’s billion dollar franchise, what are your first thoughts on “The Last Jedi?”
Brown: In the build-up of this movie, I felt a little like a pariah. The reason is, people were getting super excited and talking about every little detail that would come out in a news story or a trailer.
Me? I ignored all of it because I don’t need other people’s BS ruining a “Star Wars” movie for me. Even after seeing “The Last Jedi,” I still haven’t read anyone else’s review. Ours is the only review that matters.
So yeah, I remember having a good time with “The Force Awakens” but soured on its overabundance of callbacks (which led to “South Park’s” member berries). The ideal movie, for me, was to keep the momentum of “Awakens” without the constant nudging of “Hey, hey! ‘Member that from the ‘70s?”
And, I think we got that. With some stupidity thrown in for good measure. We’ll get to that.
You lead us off, Froemming. I got some porg over an open flame to check on.
Froemming: Picking up right when “The Force Awakens” ended, we have our heroes in the Resistance fleeing their planet hideout because the First Order discovered them and are sort of pissed these terrorists blew up their Death-Star-On-Steroids.
But Poe Dameron and his ragtag group of leftovers have a plan to get out of this jam: Drop a lot of bombs on the big ass ship that does the most damage. How do you drop bombs in space when there is no gravity? The (REDACTED) if I know, but it looked cool.
Brown: I was more baffled by the design flaw of those bomber ships. It took a blaster shot or two to blow those things up because the payload was this giant shark fin-like part of the ship that made up 85 percent of the damn thing. You better reinforce those bad boys if you want a bomb ship to survive a space war.
During this skirmish, we get a woman who dies dropping the most effective bomb payload. And when she dies, she drops her cheap Venice Beach ying-yang friendship necklace. This’ll make sense later.
And in typical war movie fashion, Poe is chewed out for being reckless and getting a bunch of fighters killed during this kerfuffle. … It’s a Star War. This stuff happens. Lay off.
Froemming: It’s actually something I liked in this movie: These are people who are dying. For seven movies, they have just been cannon fodder (except Porkins. RIP, buddy) but now we see the Resistance is so low in numbers, that losing more fighters is a big deal. And we see it weighs heavily on Princess Leia.
Now, let’s head back to where we were left off in the last movie: Rey handing Luke (REDACTED) Skywalker his father’s lightsaber!
Luke grabs it, looks at it and in a moment of deep clarity and soul searching, he throws the thing over his shoulder like it was an empty beer can.
I love angry old man Luke Skywalker. He reminds me of myself. Except I don’t have an alien I can milk and drink said green milk with an angry look on my face.
Brown: It’s like we’re watching Luke as he became taller, hairier, more brooding Yoda. He’s ignoring Rey at every pass. He’s fishing with a long-ass spear. He has these weird religious cardinal-looking things scrambled across what I can only imagine is one of the Galapagos Islands.
He’s disillusioned by the Rebellion and he’s disillusioned by the way of the Jedi. I get it. What has it gotten him? A war that rages on for, what, 40 years (if we go from “A New Hope” to “The Last Jedi”) and a lifetime of regrets with his father and, we later find out, Kylo Ren.
But like a middle schooler fighting acne and cracking voices meaning the beginning of adulthood, Rey can’t fight off the urges of a Jedi. Somehow, she and Kylo Ren are able to talk to each other telepathically. The first time this happened, I had no idea why because I was getting refills of popcorn and pop.
Froemming: I thought of it as a callback to “Empire” when Luke and Leia speak to one another telepathically after his dad chopped his hand off, but before he knew he once made out with his sister.
Rey is strong with the Force, but that doesn’t match the power of Luke’s apathy toward anything that has to do with the Jedi. She bothers him day and night, and sleeps outside his hut at times. While this is going on, Chewbacca is shamed from eating a porg, because they are adorable.
This goes on for some time, until Luke one night stumbles into the Millennium Falcon like a drunk who wandered into the wrong house. He then awakens R2-D2, and in this one callback from the old films, I sort got emotional seeing the hologram of young Princess Leia asking Obi-Wan for help against the Empire. Considering Carrie Fisher has passed, this moment hit a little hard to me.
Brown: OK, I just want to talk about Luke’s role in this movie because, as much as we could go through scene-by-scene, this movie did make over half a billion dollars already so most everyone has seen it.
Luke (see: Mark Hamill) made this movie for me. His salty transformation to disgruntled Yoda/Obi-Wan is interesting because we only knew Luke as the fresh-faced, unassuming boy of wonder in the original trilogy. And in that time, it’s left to your imagination what has turned him into a hermit with little regard for his former teachings. Being a Jedi is more a burden, to the point that he has old Jedi texts that he’s never read but he has to protect because of course he does.
He never really regains that boyhood charm we knew from our old bowl-cut Luke Skywalker, but his sense of right and wrong and fighting an oppressive regime seem to be reignited by Rey, who is what Skywalker was.
It was an expected transformation for Hamill as Luke. But even I was surprised at how well Hamill pulled it off.
Froemming: Nobody is the same person they were at 20 as they are at 60. We do get some flashes of our old hero here and there, but not really a big “Hey guys! I’m BAAAACCCK!” sort of thing. Luke says he came to that planet to die, so 60 year-old Luke Skywalker has become Charles Bukowski.
And yes, Hamill did pull it off. Considering he hasn’t been in a blockbuster film in this big of a role since “Return of the Jedi,” his chops are still there.
Also, I love the fact he gets mad at R2 for using obscenities on his holy planet. So we now know the droid has a salty tongue in the form of beeps.
Brown: So we get Rey getting trained as a Jedi by a somewhat reluctant Luke, which does harken back in some ways to “Empire.”
As for Rey in this movie, she does fine in that student role, but I do feel like that character is underutilized a lot in “The Last Jedi.” I don’t care that we really don’t get a big reveal about her parents other than they were ordinary dirt farmers that sold her (according to Kylo Ren). I know “The Force Awakens” is the big intro for her and we learned a lot. And yes, I get that she’s come to Luke not only to get Jedi training, but to understand her place in the universe. Just something seemed lacking for Rey.
Final point about the Jedi training for me: Ghost Yoda. As much as I loved seeing Yoda (looking more like a puppet than the CGI mess in the prequels), it was just weird. And he commits arson by burning down the Jedi temple.
In a movie that hurt my brain at points with stupid bomber design and LEIA SURVIVING THE VACUUM OF SPACE, this may have been the most “What the (REDACTED)” moment for me.
Froemming: I was cool with Yoda. It’s not like it is the first time Force Ghosts have visited Luke.
Brown: True. But this is the first time they went “Poltergeist” on it and saw ghost powers transfer to the real world.
Froemming: As to him burning down the temple, dude is 900 years old. He can do whatever the (REDACTED) he wants. Like in “Empire,” he is once again there for Luke with wisdom. This time, it’s “Dude, you (REDACTED) up. We ALL do, you punk. Time to put on your big boy pants.” He has a point. So what if you failed Ben Solo by trying to murder him in his sleep? You can try again with Rey, and this time try not to attempt to murder your student in their sleep.
Yes, Yoda basically mocking Luke for being a coward was a highlight for me.
Also, LUKE TRIED TO MURDER HIS NEPHEW IN HIS SLEEP! No wonder Kylo Ren is all sorts of messed up.
Brown: While we’re on Kylo Ren… in “The Force Awakens,” I really didn’t like him. In our review, I thought he was a character that got neutered very quickly.
In “The Last Jedi,” now that we understand the conflict he goes through on a daily basis, between his mother and father being key fighters of the Rebellion to his fractured relationship with Luke, it was much easier to empathize with the always-brooding Kylo Ren.
He didn’t have that time to become hardened to the world like Darth Vader did by the time we got to the original trilogy, so now I get why he’s the way he is. He’s still young and unsure, much like Rey on the other end. And there’s still this feeling-out process with Snoke as he talks with his master inside Snoke’s “Flash Gordon” chamber. I was half-expecting hawkmen to fight the supreme leader of the Rebellion.
What I didn’t like was the beginning of the movie where it looked like he was wearing kinesio tape on his face for his scar. It just looked all sorts of dumb.
Froemming: He’s a much better character in this. I empathize with him as well. I also liked the moment when he is about to shoot Leia in his ship and I was like “I swear, if I have to see Princess Leia die with my own two eyes….” but he doesn’t. His squad does it for him.
Which gave us Leia becoming Mary Poppins IN SPACE! Which, was really dumb. If there was a moment that would have given Leia’s death an emotional punch, that was it. But they ruined that by bringing her back.
Brown: Ready for me to be cold-hearted, folks?
Carrie Fisher is dead. You know how you a. Get an emotional punch in your movie that can help motivate your characters for the rest of the new trilogy, and b. Give you an out creatively to make up for Fisher’s untimely death?
You kill Leia off here. Hell, you did it with Han in the last movie and Harrison (REDACTED) Ford never dies in any movie.
But no, you made Leia Superman by letting her fly and survive the (REDACTED) vacuum of space. This was the one scene in the movie where I had to fight the urge to say “Are you (REDACTED) kidding me” in the theater.
Froemming: You know what had me saying “Are you (REDACTED) kidding me?” The pointless side plot of Finn and Rose (the sister of the woman who died with the tourist trap curio in her hand) go to a casino planet and we get some really weird moral and political messages shoved down our throats. Look, I find it interesting that there are wealthy scumbags profiting off the wars. Just don’t take me COMPLETELY OUT OF THE MOVIE TO DO SO!
Also, nice seeing Benicio del Toro reprising his role from “The Usual Suspects” in this.
Brown: The trip to Canto Bight didn’t bug me quite as much as it did you. I will agree the political tone of the trip was overkill to the point I was waiting to see a chubby CGI alien that had Donald Trump’s hair or Dick Cheney’s build.
To provide context, the Rebellion ship is being trailed by the First Order through light speed, so they need someone who can disable the tracker on the First Order ship. And, that brings us to horse race planet to find a codebreaker.
Finn will always humor me because he’s our hero who always seems way in over his head. Like I said in our “Force Awakens” review, he’s Roger Wilco from the “Space Quest” PC game series.
Rose, his partner in crime here, she could be a little grating, but I didn’t think it was to the point of distraction.
The same problem I have here is the same I had with Rey: Finn felt like he took a backseat with Rey for a good chunk of this movie. The idea of a former Storm Trooper turning good was such a great idea in “Force Awakens” and I feel like here, they struggled a bit to find more for him to do outside one movie. Think of it like “The Hobbit,” where they’re trying to stretch one story into three movies.
Froemming: The thing about the Canto Bight parts is this: They do not add to the plot, and is just an elaborate excuse to give Finn and Rose something to do. Turns out, Fenster DJ is just an opportunist who sells out our heroes for money. The trip was pointless. They didn’t even get the code breaker they needed. They could have come up with a simpler way of getting those on Snoke’s ship. This is the longest “Star Wars” movie, at two-and-a-half-hours. Save a half-hour by cutting the fat.
Brown: Maybe the one thing that Canto Bight did was lay a foundation for future Rebellion action. Finn and Rose do befriend a couple stable hands and give them the “Don’t be slaves to a bunch of rich folk” chat so that one day, there will be more rebel fighters.
Because this is the war that’ll never end. It just goes on and on, my friend…
Froemming: After Rey does some training and scares the bejesus out of Luke, she has to save Kylo, because she thinks she can change him for the good. We get this with a baffling scene with Kylo not wearing a shirt, like he is a pizza delivery guy from an adult film.
Brown: The ‘70s got Leia in a gold bikini. This generation got Kylo Ren looking like Stretch Armstrong.
Us Millennials got cheated.
Froemming: I’m not against the eye candy here.
Kylo’s endgame is to get this new Jedi to his master, Snoke. And when she gets to his ship, he immediately turns on her. Because of course he does. Now, one of the complaints I have seen is we are shortchanged on Snoke. Don’t worry folks, this is Disney, he will have a nine-volume comic book series devoted to his backstory this time next year.
Now, in Snoke’s lair, with Snoke dressed as what Pioneer editor Matt Cory called Goldmember’s clothes from the Austin Powers film, we get something that feels a lot like the end of “Return of the Jedi,” with Snoke acting as the Emperor here, Kylo as Vader and Rey as Luke. I liked this because we know we won’t get this in the final movie. We will get something (hopefully) much different.
Suck on that, haters.
Brown: In the same way I was frustrated that Leia didn’t meet her end earlier in the movie, I was a big fan of Snoke meeting his end at this point. It’s like when a surprise person dies in “The Walking Dead” in that it throws you for a loop and makes you wonder what’s safe. For as much of a cash cow anything is that’s called “Star Wars,” they shouldn’t be afraid to take risks. “The Force Awakens” was a safe movie. This one wasn’t as safe, and I really appreciate that.
Along with Snoke’s death, the way story threads in this movie get wrapped up may be the lasting legacy of “The Last Jedi” to me.
So in the end of the Finn/Rose story, where they shut down the tracker, we find out that there was a convoluted plan to get the Rebellion to an old hideout and get everyone out with escape pods. When this plan goes AWOL, the plan gets saved when Holdo (who takes over for Leia when she’s incapacitated after SURVIVING SPACE) turns the ship into lightspeed and crashes into the First Order cruiser.
It’s this brilliantly-shot scene where everything is quiet for 10 seconds and you see this kamikaze act pay off. There were audible gasps in the theater I was at.
That’s when you know you did something right as a filmmaker.
Froemming: The Resistance is now on this planet that looks like is covered in snow, but is actually covered in salt, so you know their ships are about to rust out. And they are trapped, seeing that the First Order is coming after them.
So what do we get? A good old-fashioned stand-off between the two! Because the knuckleheads who built this hideout forgot to build a backdoor. And also, after releasing a distress call, we see nobody is going to rescue what is left of the Resistance.
Until we get Luke Skywalker, with a haircut no less, wandering in doing what he mockingly told Rey he wasn’t going to do: Come in and save the day with his laser sword.
Brown: I just looked it up and it is downright shocking there isn’t a GIF of Luke Skywalker brushing his shoulder off like a damn pimp after the firing squad tried to vaporize him.
I’ll put this here instead:
Froemming: Something I want to ask you about. I liked the humor in this movie. It was welcome because a lot of this flick is dark. I really liked the shoulder brush and what Hux asks Kylo before as the guns are supposedly pummeling Luke into the dirt: “You think you got him?”
Brown: I hate when movies like this take itself way too seriously. These are movies with fish people commanding fleets of space ships and a puppet that as an almighty god with a laser sword. So yes, I love the humor that gets sprinkled in here to not make the whole movie like a World War II film.
One of my favorites: Finn referring to himself as Rebel scum.
The one ship that does get the distress call is the Millenium Falcon, because we can’t completely remove all nostalgia. But Chewbacca was flying the ship, and like Ralph Wiggum and Principal Skinner, I love me some Chewie.
Froemming: Rey and Chewie come sweeping in as Luke is distracting the First Order to save what is left of the Resistance, which is so small now it fits into the Falcon. And Rey moves rocks with the Force, so suck it, Luke, some of the Force is about moving rocks.
Speaking of Luke, Kylo loses his (REDACTED) and heads to the ground to bravely fight his 60-year-old hermit uncle. And we get a lightsaber battle where Luke just avoids getting hit. And when we think he is about to go out like Obi-Wan did with Vader, we realize Luke was a hologram or something. His distraction worked!
Then he dies like Yoda in “Jedi,” or Michael Corleone in “Godfather III.”
Brown: I was indifferent to the projection Luke when I saw it, but I’ve grown to appreciate it. It made me rethink Obi-Wan’s death a little. Like Luke, maybe Obi-Wan died not because of a lightsaber strike, but because he fulfilled his purpose of teaching the generation that ends the bloodshed (although in Obi-Wan’s case, he didn’t completely do that) and fixes his past mistake.
As for the projection trick, it’s great to know that even after Yoda taught him everything, a hermit on an island learned a few more tricks in his seclusion.
This whole movie is centered around Luke’s redemption after what he saw as failing the Jedis with his inability to keep the religion alive. He finally got one disciple that seems like she’ll keep the order afloat. He’s fulfilled his destiny. Now he can be a Jedi ghost with his mentors and his whiny-ass father and vapid mother who loved the water.
Screw you, George Lucas.
Froemming: Let’s hit the casino on Canto Bight and gamble on our recommendations!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yes. This was a fun movie. Sure, some of it was stupid, that goes with the territory of a “Star Wars” film. I was entertained.
Brown: Absolutely. This new stretch of movies are being treated with the respect they deserve. And two movies in, this is the best of the new trilogy. It’s not flawless by any stretch, because, you know, Leia SURVIVED SPACE. But it tells a great story that doesn’t learn as hard on nostalgia. Mark Hamill is a superstar again with this passing-of-the-torch performance.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:
Next week will be 2017’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly list.
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