Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi; I certainly hope so.


“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” 

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this before seeing the movie.

I am a big Star Wars fan. I was one of those kids who had everything from the light sabers and action figures to the outfits. I even knew the dialogues to the point where Han and Luke and Leia were like a second family. That was then.

We have all written off the three prequel films George Lucas made, and while I enjoyed the JJ Abrams reboot with the Force Awakens, it largely felt like a rehash of the original franchise with younger stars and not the reboot that is required to make it relevant for another generation.

Star Wars needed re-invention and a new perspective akin to what the James Bond franchise did by casting an atypical Bond in Daniel Craig and offering us a complex, vulnerable and gritty new character. My expectation with The Last Jedi was that it would do something similar and offer audiences a new hope with complex new characters, re-imagining the franchise for another generation.

Let’s start with the one positive aspect. It was an enjoyable movie with magnificent locations, stunning sets and some great action sequences which would have been great for the average superhero film, but not for Star Wars. Pretty much every other aspect of the film was a total and utter disappointment.

I guess my biggest criticism is that it felt like a happy Disney movie that completely lost the original grit, complexity and coarseness of characters and nuances in the storyline and plot that made it a work of genius. These characters felt simple and one-dimensional with a storyline so dumbed down that it felt like laziness on the part of the filmmakers.

To begin with, none of the characters had any convincing conflict or complexity in their make-up. Flat and cardboard and sadly unmemorable were they. Even when they tried to add a layer of complexity, it felt lazy and unconvincingly bad – like in a kid’s cartoon (where it works wonderfully).

The new evil super villain Kylo Ren is a disappointment. He comes across as an angry and bellyaching teenager, much less a dark foreboding and haunting force like Darth Vader before him. He spent most of the movie breaking stuff in anger, or looking like he was trying really hard not to break down in tears because someone called him a sissy. Also, I am not clear if he is meant to be an androgynous character. This is not explained and does not add interest to the storyline, and feels more like checking a box for political correctness, making up for previous lack of diversity in casting blockbuster films.

This brings me to the rest of the casting.

There is a white female lead, alongside Black, Hispanic and Asian co-leads. I spent the entire movie waiting for the Indian character to show up, but alas this United Colours of Star Wars was left incomplete for me. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for diversity, but it has to be natural, feel organic to the story and lend something to the plot - not merely become a box that needs to be checked that makes it feel contrived and totally superficial.

Then there were the inexplicable unrealities in the story - everything from our heroes escaping unscathed after earth shattering explosions (where all the bad guys die), to Princess Leia flying through space without a spacesuit, to a completely misguided attempt to add a romantic love triangle to the plot. The scene between Rose, the hitherto shy and crying Asian mechanic (who also suddenly learns how to become an ace fighter pilot) and Finn the black ex-storm trooper was so bizarre that it felt like an oversight.

The issue is not that there cannot be a romance between an Asian woman and a black man, but that there was zero chemistry between these two characters that established any sort of potential love interest prior to her confessing her love for him. In fact, they spent a large part of the movie running around like brother and sister without any hint of romance brewing between them.

Similarly, when Luke Skywalker’s reason for his self-imposed exile and endless torment are revealed, it is completely underwhelming. It is hard to believe that an otherwise intelligent, emotionally mature man, who incidentally is also considered the last hope for the Universe, would fall apart in such spectacular fashion over something so trivial.

And fall apart in a manner that involves renouncing the world, giving up all hope, turning his back on his Jedi religion, refusing to use his powers for the good and deciding to spend his remaining days living a hermit-like existence on an island, in a forgotten and far away galaxy, surrounded by little lady owl-like creatures.

According to Luke, the reason for his total meltdown is his former pupil Kylo’s betrayal, and turn to the dark side. The problem is that the audience is never made privy to depth of Luke’s connection with Kylo. Just like adults sometimes refuse to explain a deeply complex issue and tell children too simply to take their word for it, so too does the director seem to tell his simple-minded audience to do the same.

Then there are the failed and unimaginative attempts to give the franchise new life. We witness Luke throw the cherished light-saber over his shoulder, like it is an old useless relic. We see Yoda (who was totally wasted in the movie) burn the sacred Jedi texts, and we watch Kylo Ren bash his Vader mask to pieces in another one of his angry teenage outbursts.

There were moments of humor and light-heartedness that were used to convey the idea of letting the “old die”. The issue is that this message went beyond symbolism, and was also uttered as dialogue by a number of different characters.  Great filmmakers convey this message with a magical subtlety that demands a level of emotional intelligence from an audience. Here it is delivered like an impatient child who has yet to learn the art of subtlety would, repeatedly hitting the audience over the head until they all beg it to stop.

In closing, I will say that this would have been a great film if Disney had promoted it as a movie for children aged 6-10 years, for young minds that are at an age where things are still black and white and there is pure good or evil in the world, and minds are not yet burdened with complexity and nuance.

But selling this as a renewal of the franchise for the original devotees simply offers false the words of the immortal Yoda, “there is no try”.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen it yet, movies that are not cartoons are just not happing in my life right now. Although, I was a huge fan of the original ones...I saw them in the theaters more than I can count on my fingers.