By Bryan Bellec (Winnipeg, MB)

 

A Star Wars Fan Essay

Movies are a passion of mine. I watch so many. Hollywood blockbusters. Indie darlings. Streaming specials. I go to 5 or 6 movies a year, then watch another 30, or so, at home. I used to go to more but times have changed. I don’t re-watch a lot. If I ever do have a repeat viewing it’s to refresh my memory before a sequel. My usual unwind from work is to watch a movie. I watch about one per week and really look forward to it. I have a perpetual list of movies in my phone that I am always adding to based on recommendations of others, reviews online, award performance or talent attached. I think right now I probably have 10 movies. There all movies I have never seen and most of them are releases from the last few years. Sometimes in lieu of a movie I watch a series. Those are a bigger commitment and I usually binge a season over 2 or 3 nights when my work schedule is lighter.

In 20 years I never wrote a review. I always just observed. This is about Star Wars so let’s get specific to my Star Wars story. I was a young teenager when Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace came out. My Dad was a fan of the original trilogy. I had watched them with him but was too young to really comprehend them. When Phantom Menace came out, it was the rare movie that would get my Dad excited to go the theatre. It was marketed like crazy. Taco Bell and KFC ran commercials around the clock.

On first viewing I actually enjoyed The Phantom Menace but I will confess many of the films teenage me watched and enjoyed have not held up due to the changing of the industry and my own personal growth. At the time I was the target demographic. I liked Anakin. I didn’t understand a lot of the finer details. I just watched movies for pure fun. Jar Jar and Anakin were pure fun. They may have been empty but they were fun.

Over the course of the next few years I grew into a major Star Wars fan. When I said I don’t re-watch a lot that is now. Back in my teenage days I did re-watch almost everything. I would buy all the movies I loved and had quite the DVD collection and I definitely watched the original trilogy and new trilogy 2 or 3 times over 10 years. I also recall having the movies on Spike, they always had Star Wars marathons, while working away on my computer more than once. Many of my friends were also Star Wars fans. I remember going to Attack of the Clones without parents. One of the first movies I did that for and I remember going to Revenge of the Sith at Midnight. Another first. I was well into high school when Revenge of the Sith came out and my taste of the first two had soured but Sith was good enough for teenage me to have a good time at the theatre and bridge the gap between old and new.

Many, many years passed. Many, many movies watched. DVD. Then Blu-Ray. TV starts to become a strong player. HBO and AMC are producing content on par with Hollywood. Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are my two favorites. Then Netflix changes everything. No more physical copies. Hollywood becomes more and more of a franchise machine. Making safe movies. X-Men. Batman. Marvel. Almost every movie is a sequel. Now I watch most movies online months after release. Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of not being a teenager news broke that Star Wars had sold to Disney.

What?

Disney had been making magic happen with Marvel.

They announce the director, Abrams. A bit of a strange choice as he just worked on Star Trek and the old geek fight was Star Wars vs Star Trek. I was always more Star Wars but I saw the Abram’s Star Trek and have seen most of his other projects. His work is always highly visual and I don’t know if he has every made a flop. They announce the major actors from the old trilogy are coming back. Good news. They announce directors for the follow-ups as well as spinoffs. All big names. Everything is building up right.

Another franchise that I loved as a teenager was Lord of the Rings. Much like Star Wars, they were magical movies transporting you to another place. Both drew in the teenage me with action and heart. They then entertained the adult me with the rich worlds they built. The special features on the movies were amazing as that early 2000’s period was the golden age of special effects. Seeing the movie magic happen. Bringing the impossible to life. It was a magical time.

Why am I bringing up the Lord of the Rings in a fan essay about The Last Jedi? I think you can guess. You see Star Wars wasn’t the only franchise from my teenage days to get a new trilogy. Yup, I am going to talk about The Hobbit for a bit.

I hope at this point I have indeed painted a picture of someone who loves movies and that Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings were special to me as they were some of the first movies that I fell in love with.

The first Hobbit movie was a fun go. I liked Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Gollum stole the movie with his brief scene. I thought it did a good job setting up the trilogy while being a popcorn movie. The second movie was again fun and watchable. Smaug was well done. The new character’s they wrote for the movie were fine. You know going in that it is part of a 3 movie trilogy and you know that if it mirrors the original trilogy, the third part should be epic. It was setup fine…

I am an adult now. My free time is more limited then teenage me. When I invest 10 hours into something I expect payoff. In this case the payoff is entertainment value and satisfaction. The Hobbit trilogy did a good job making 2 entertaining flicks but the third movie was a huge letdown. It didn’t come even close to capturing the epic Return of the King. Maybe that is an unfair goal as Return of the King crushed the Academy Awards and will forever be remembered as one of the greatest films of the early age of big budget, special effects driven, book adaptation. The third Hobbit was just off. You kill off Smaug right away. It feels wrong as Smaug was so strong in the second movie. I wasn’t a fan of the decent into madness by Thorin, it just wasn’t well done, nor was I a fan of the final battle. It just comes up weak. It never feels like Frodo approaching Mount Doom with Gandalf defending Minas Tirith. I wish they had done 2 Hobbit movies and then made the much talked about bridge film instead. Oh well.

Coming out of The Battle of the Five Armies I was extremely disappointed and now with Star Wars a year away, terrified what might happen to the other franchise I held so dearly in my teenage years.

Roll forward. I re-watched all 6 Star Wars movies in sequence every Thursday night leading into the opening weekend of The Force Awakens. It had been many years since I re-watched Star Wars and my takeaways were Episode I and II are hard to watch. III is better than I remembered and really shines when you watch it right behind I and II. IV looks like a 30+ year old movie but still is enthralling enough to draw you in. V was maybe the greatest sequel ever. The introduction of Yoda. The strong Vader/Luke story. VI was a step back from V but still miles better then I and II. I had forgotten how much I loved these movies and how much they meant to me as a teenager and re-watching them years later with a more developed emotional profile only made me appreciate how good they were at appealing to different mindsets and people.

Fair to say I was excited again despite the disappointment of the Battle of the Five Armies.

Lots of fans tore apart The Force Awakens for being too much like A New Hope. I didn’t mind it. You are talking about a movie that grandchildren, children, parents and grandparents are going to see. It’s hard to appeal that broadly without offending anyone. It looked and felt like Star Wars through and through. It was nostalgic yet fresh. It hits most of the same beats as A New Hope but with shinier packaging. I also hoped they could build on it. The bones were there. A good core. Now what can we do with it?

I left it satisfied much like I left the first Hobbit feeling satisfied. I liked the casting. I liked the job it did setting the table. The questions about Snoke. Rey’s parents. Leaving Luke for the next movie. Poe, who was played by Oscar Isaac coming off a great turn in Ex Machina, and Finn were good secondary characters. I also knew the director for the follow-up was Rian Johnson who was coming off a very watchable movie in Looper. Another positive was the fact that they put two years between core movies. Producing the well-received Rogue One in between and giving plenty of time to work on the core trilogy. Rogue One was a good one off. It was entertaining and I had lower expectations being it wasn’t a part of the new core trilogy.

Being the movie fan I am, and being a little OCD, when The Force Awakens ended I immediately started researching. Reading wiki’s and looking into the various making of features available. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver really captured my attention. Daisy really came out of left field as she barely had anything to go back and watch but Adam Driver was a different story. Kylo was competent with the force but weak in the mind. He portrays a confused villain. His obsession with Vader. His relationship with Snoke. His connection with Rey. Where would killing Han take the character? I thought Adam Driver did an amazing job giving us a confused, less emotionally developed Vader. Over the next two years I watched most of Adam’s movies and he has many parts where you see the charisma that made Kylo so watchable.

Here are some facts as to why my excitement and expectations were so high for The Last Jedi:

Empire Strikes Back is a special movie and if this trilogy mirrors the original trilogy then The Last Jedi could indeed be a special movie

Yoda was introduced in Episode V

Adam Driver could win an Oscar one day so enjoy your time with him as he tends to make more independent movies. Try and watch Silence. It’s hard but I sat through it…

We didn’t get any Luke in Episode VII

Strong secondary characters in Finn, BB8, Snoke, Phasma, Poe

Lots of potential for more backstory with Rey, Kylo, Snoke, Poe, Finn

Rian Johnson makes a good movie in Looper and then takes years off parlaying it into the dream gig

Everything we heard about Rian Johnson was that he was passionate about Star Wars and treated the material with a fear of offending the masses

I have written quite a bit. Instead of just jumping into a review I did it this way to try and show you just how much I care about movies and Star Wars in particular. There are people out there that make movies. They know more about the process then me. There are people out there that review movies. They know more about the finer points then me. There are people out there that worship Star Wars. They know more about the lore then me. I am an everyday guy. I don’t claim to have magic movie elixir or to be the next George Lucas. There was just something off-putting about The Last Jedi and it took me a week to digest it and finally I decided to write this as a form of Star Wars therapy.

You see The Last Jedi is just off. It doesn’t feel right. The online consensus from fans was similar. I listed the reasons I was excited above and almost across the board none of them were realized:

This movie sure doesn’t top Empire Strikes Back

It fails to introduce engaging new characters, the best is Rose but Rose will not be remembered like Yoda. The Porgs got some hype leading up to the movie but didn’t really add much besides being cute and cool. Benicio Del Toro’s character was a waste of time. Laura Dern did good but no one knows why she never just told Poe her plan from the get go…

Adam Driver was the part of the movie I enjoyed the most, you felt his confusion early, you feel like he might flip to Rey’s side, then he does kill Snoke in maybe the scene of the movie, only to prove to be even more obsessed with power and control than expected

Luke isn’t what we expect but upon reflection I don’t mind this a much. There are aspects of his arc I would tweak but overall having him be bitter actually fits. Many people argue Luke would never attempt to strike Ben. I think in a moment of emotion the thought could cross his mind. I don’t love the angle but I do think it works in terms of the overall story being told. I also don’t mind his “demise”, hologram fighting Kylo and then achieving Jedi ghost status. It’s not the Luke we expected but I am willing to go with it

I have a big beef with the secondary character’s plot

Backstory is one of the areas this movie fails most. It barely builds on the lore built

I don’t know what to think about Rian Johnson right now

The first thing I want to comment on is the reaction. Critics loved it. It trended over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes from the outset but strangely the fan reviews did not mirror the critics. Usually when the critics love a blockbuster, the fans do as well. Rarely do the critics love a blockbuster and the fans then disagree. It leads me to speculate how much influence Disney has over critics?

The box office will be strong. No doubt about it. It the holiday season. Everyone is off. It’s the only big movie out. Most casual moviegoers would have seen The Force Awakens in the last 2 years and there was no reason not to expect a good movie here. This will easily top $500M at the North American box office just on hype and expectations. That doesn’t mean it is good. It just means lots of people wanted it to be good.

The other interesting part is the Episode IX director. It was Colin Trevorrow but then some controversy came up around his handling of The Book of Henry and fan pressure for his exit. I wonder if he read the Rian Johnson script though and said I can’t work with this. We also had trouble on the Hans Solo spinoff with Ron Howard having to come on to finish that movie. There are alarm bells ringing in the Star Wars universe. I am happy Abrams is back as he setup the questions in The Force Awakens so I would hope he can answer his own question but obviously he didn’t have much input into The Last Jedi script and that begs the question: why? Abrams spends 3-4 years setting up a universe and then doesn’t care if they follow his vision. That seems off. I would have expected Abrams to be a strong influence on The Last Jedi as a producer seeing that his arcs are continued but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Almost immediately after the movie ended I started to Google around on the movie. Here are some of the most talked about points:

Luke tossing the lightsaber. I disagree with the action he took. It comes off as comedy, which much of the first hour of this movie has, instead I think he could have just refused it, keeping his hands in his cloak and spewing about the time of the Jedi being over. It accomplishes the goal of showing a bitter old Luke without coming off as offensive to the history of the saber. It also shows a reluctance to his old life. Maybe he isn’t ready for that again. He moved away to move on.

Another of the big WTF moments was when Leia Mary Poppins’ her way back to the ship. What was the point of this? It comes off as just cheesy like the lightsaber toss. She literally looks like Mary Poppins. It didn’t matter at all to the plot. They could have had her blasted and stuck in the rubble. If they must have made her use the force she could have done something similar to the Attack of the Clones final battle to hold off debris. This scene misses the mark.

Some people cite Rey’s lack of training to becoming a Jedi. I don’t think she is a master but I was okay with what training we did get. It wasn’t nothing. 15 minutes or so of the movie goes to it. Think of all the Jedi from the prequel trilogy that were pretty meh. Snoke still tooled her and she had already displayed the ability to fight and use the force before this movie. Her moving the rocks at the end shows her growing ability but the nugget is that she has the Jedi texts that Luke thought Yoda burnt. I suspect time will pass before Episode IX and she will use the texts to grow her ability between movies.

Then we have two of the major unanswered questions still not satisfied. Those questions being who are Rey’s parents and what is Snoke’s backstory? Kylo claims Rey’s parents are nobodies. It’s unclear if we can trust him though so who knows if this is the final answer. I feel like we were owed at least a flashback showing the parents. They gave us a blurry flashback in VII, why not give us a clear flashback now, even if Kylo is lying. Her parents being nobodies is just frustrating. Why design so much intrigue about something only to give a halfhearted answer. It’s just unsatisfying. This is supposed to by a fairy tale and that answer is too real. The second part with Snoke. We thought he was going to be the big bad guy. In the end Kylo is the big bad guy. Some will say it hard to believe Snoke couldn’t see Kylo’s thoughts being Snoke was supposed to be the master but I could see Snoke being both focused on getting his hands on Rey, and trusting of Kylo, thus letting his guard down. I like making Kylo into a full-fledged villain. There was doubt as to whether Kylo would swing back to the good guys now. I wish we got more info on Snoke but also respect devoting the resources to the Kylo arc. Maybe we are watching this wrong? If you watch it again try and take everything in from Kylo’s perspective. I think he has the strongest arc of everyone.

This brings me to my biggest problem. The secondary story. If you just watch the Rey and Kylo parts I think they hold their own. Could Luke have been done better. Yes. However, the best parts of this movie are when Rey and Kylo are on the screen. When it comes to the secondary story I have some serious problems. In particular in revolves around three newly introduced characters. These are the character played by Benicio Del Toro (DJ), Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Holdo) and Kelly Marie Tran (Rose).

Let’s start with Holdo. The biggest question everyone asks: why didn’t she tell Poe her plan from the start? Nothing she was doing was undermining Poe. She had the best interest of the ship and people in mind and she decides to keep Poe in the dark because…Poe is unpredictable? So then he makes stupid plans because he doesn’t have enough information to make good ones. It’s like the first 10 minutes of Holdo don’t matter which is frustrating. In the end she ends up with maybe the coolest scene in the movie when she goes lightspeed right into the enemy but they could have got to that scene much quicker without all the deception and stupid subplots. FRUSTRATING.

The second one I am highlighting is DJ. He should not be in this movie. It’s a waste of 10 minutes. He isn’t the original target, just some guy they happen to end up with. It seems like his only purpose is to save characters written into a corner but then he betrays them and stops them from completing their mission. Why have him save the day twice and then flip? He was a big waste of time and much like Holdo his decision making is just frustrating. I get it. He is motivated by money and saw opportunity but this isn’t a suspense flick or thriller. This is big-budget, popcorn Star Wars and his character just feels out of place in our fairytale. FRUSTRATING.

That brings us to the last new character I want to highlight. Rose. Rose is actually acted well and you remotely care about her plus she stays solid with her beliefs which seems like a rarity in this film with all the flippers. Holdo, DJ, Kylo, Luke all play flip-flop roles. I just didn’t think this side story was needed. It’s a colossal waste of time.

Holdo doesn’t give Poe any information so they make a poor decision

Maz tells them they need a specific code breaker located far away

The chase/battle is happening at a snail’s pace

They spend 15 minutes running around on the Casino Planet only to end up with a different code breaker

They fail to disable the tracking device but it didn’t matter

Rose seems to have a ship that goes extra fast in the last battle

In the end we know as much about Rose as we do about Rey, Snoke and Finn? Who cares about Rose. Why spend 15 minutes developing a side character that seems pretty insignificant at this point. I just feel we shouldn’t know as much about Rose as we do. That is the time that could have gone to Snoke or Rey. Instead we are led on a 30-minute goose chase that didn’t even matter to the end decision. FRUSTRATING.

This is the longest runtime of any Star Wars movie but it feels like I learned the least about Star Wars from it. A lot of that runtime is because of the bloated secondary plot. I am no filmmaker. I am passionate about movies but only as a fan/consumer. I do understand it is easier to be a critic after the fact then to be the one out front breaking ground. Rian Johnson gave us a film that is undeniably his take on Star Wars. He was unique and uncompromising, basically disregarding the fan questions from The Force Awakens. I want to present a scenario. Say it is August. Rian has a rough cut of the film and they screen it to a select few people basically saying he can make small changes but we can’t do any major reshoots. For some reason Rian gives you a copy. Maybe he is afraid the team around him likes the smell of this farts a little too much. What would you do?

Here is what I would say. Sorry Benicio. We don’t need you. You just make me angry for no reason. I would cut that whole casino plot out. It didn’t matter. The only reason they needed a code breaker was because they wrote it that way. They could have written it in such a way that a code breaker was not required and they could try to directly infiltrate the trailing ship without spending 15 minutes on a different planet first. You could also tie in Holdo being involved with Poe and Finn to make that story less confusing. That is a pretty simple change that cuts 15 minutes off the movie. Cuts a character that didn’t matter at all and still gets you to the same result.

The second change is the Luke saber toss over his shoulder. It’s poorly timed. Luke could have done a minor reshoot just keeping his hands to himself and delivering a depressed, the Jedi are dead, that was another lifetime ago speech. What he did seemed overly disrespectful. He should care about the saber, but not care about the Jedi.

The third change is Mary Poppins. Please just anything else.

The other part I hated and I mean hated. It made me laugh but not in a good way. I am talking laugh at it instead of with it. Tommy Wiseau’s The Room style. What is the scene? The scene I feel could have redeemed this movie. It’s when Rose speeds in from the side to knock Finn out as he races towards suicide. First, Finn goes full speed ahead before anyone else, but somehow Rose was fast enough and had enough time to get wide and cut him off? Doesn’t make logical sense. That is why I laughed. It was just stupid. 2 vehicles going the same speed, one is going in a straight line, you would be lucky to pull a pit maneuver at best. The second part to this scene is that I think Finn dying would have been good for the movie. With Finn not dying we have a love triangle setup with Finn in the middle of Rose and Rey. It seems completely unnecessary. Added conflict for Rey when she has a good solid arc going. Rey doesn’t need to get pulled into a stupid love triangle for episode IX.

We saw the glance at the end when Rey looks over at Finn and Rose. That is the big question Rian Johnson leaves us with? The fate of the galaxy is hanging in the balance. Will Finn choose Rey or Rose. I don’t care and I think the best choice for Rey is Kylo. Which seems impossible now because there is zero chance Rey flips and if Kylo flips who is he flipping against? Here is what I would have done. Let Finn sacrifice himself. Where is Finn’s arc going? I don’t know. Who does. Maybe better worded as what is the logical arc for Finn? His backstory is undiscovered. That’s about it. Could we still tell his backstory if he died? ABSOLUTELY. Finn could have still been in episode IX via flashbacks to show his upbringing/training and tying it in to a new character that helps the allies. If Finn had a defect that caused him to rebel, there must be more. That could be the secret to weakening the troops and winning the war and it could have been told through both a new character with the common bond of knowing Finn and flashbacks to Finn and said character.

Finn becomes one of the biggest heroes of all time because he paved the way for everything with his willingness to defect and the ultimate sacrifice he makes. What other benefits come from Finn dying? This becomes the emotional climax of the movie. You could slow down time and give Finn an epic 30 second slow-mo reflection/death/explosion. I think having him never see Rey again gives Rey tremendous drive to avenge him as Finn was one of the few people she had left with a bond. I think it would also make the scene when Rey meets Poe more meaningful because in the movie Rey and Poe had not met yet. Having Poe go to Rey to explain what Finn did is a powerful scene, much better than what we got: “Hey, I am Poe”. It also removes the love triangle which Ii see as a waste of 20 minutes coming in Episode IX. I think it could have brought Rose and Poe close together and they could become leaders in Episode IX fighting alongside each other for a fallen friend.

Does that fix everything? No. But I couldn’t write a whole movie. It’s about cost versus impact. By cutting the fat, 15 minutes of Benicio, and doing some small reshoots, maybe replace 3 mins of screen time, you could greatly improve the narrative of the movie.

In the end I am happy they are making Star Wars films. I will take bad Star Wars over no Star Wars but my expectations are way down. Will I go see Episode IX? Of course, but if that isn’t an upgrade it will be hard to respect any future plans they have. Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon and has some of the most rabid fans. The reason for the bad reviews is the passion so many people have for the characters and universe. I think most of the people giving this movie bad reviews will still go to Episode IX with the hope being that by expressing our distaste for how this movie was handled maybe Disney and Abrams will listen and redeem the trilogy.

You could say what’s the point of writing this? It’s not going to change anything. I am not trying to change the past. No. What I want is to protect the future. I would rather spend time exploring in a comfortable universe then spend time exploring in a new universe. That is basically the definition of being a fan. There is a barrier to entry with a new universe and I, like many others, have already invested 20+ hours into Star Wars and wouldn’t be willing to make the same commitment for just anything. Each new entry has to build on the lore to justify its existence and I am afraid The Last Jedi doesn’t answer the questions we want and instead gives us lore we didn’t need: Porgs, Rose, DJ, Canto Bright. When you start giving answers to questions no one is asking, you’re on a slippery slope.

Rating: 3/5

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