The Last Jedi

Yesterday Russell and I watched The Last Jedi, the latest episode in the Star Wars line of movies.  Spoiler alert:  at 2 hours, 35 minutes in length, coupled with a full 25 minutes of uninspired previews for movies I’ll never be interested in seeing, The Last Jedi will test the bladder of any 60-year-old.  As my mother would say before any family road trip, be sure you use the bathroom before you get in the car.

Other than pathetic gratitude when the movie was finally over and I could use the facilities, my overall reaction to The Last Jedi was . . . shrug.  The Star Wars films have now become so rote and trite, from the scrolling story over the starscape backdrop at the beginning, to the small fighter versus gigantic spacecraft battle scenes, to the powerful, physically disfigured, but ultimately easily fooled bad guy, you can’t help but feel that you’ve seen the movie before.  Add in a few cute creatures that have no apparent purpose other than to be cute creatures, thinly disguised rip-offs of scenes from prior movies in the triple trilogy — this time, a thrilling ride through casino town on goat-horse creatures, rather than a thrilling speedscooter trip through a forest — and a few laughs with Chewie, and you’ve got the movie in the can.

last-jedi-leiaAfterwards, Russell and I tried to talk seriously about the movie, but it wasn’t easy.  True spoiler alert:  So, raspy-voiced General Leia Organa — who I still think of as Princess Leia — can communicate over intergalactic distances with Luke, and use the Force to fly through space besides?  Why hasn’t she used her powers to find Luke beforehand, or used the Force to keep her kid from the Dark Side, or to protect Han Solo from being murdered?  Wouldn’t you think that the spunky, tough Leia of the original trilogy would have spent the intervening period at least trying to develop some mastery of her powers?  It would give her something to do besides just looking with deep concern at hologram projections of battles going bad and sighing heavily as another Rebellion ship gets pulverized.  I think Leia’s character has been wasted.

Luke’s character has been wasted, too.  He apparently has spent years on some rugged, faraway planet, poring over ancient Jedi texts, a la Obi-Wan Kenobi cooling his heels on Tatooine after Darth Vader’s emergence.  But then Luke learns from a ghostly Yoda that the sacred texts really aren’t that important, so phantom Yoda sets them and the sacred tree on fire, freeing Luke to confront and defeat Kylo Ren long distance, before vanishing and — also like Obi-Wan — leaving only crumpled clothing behind.  Luke seems a bit dense, doesn’t he?  But if I were Luke, I’d be irritated with Master Yoda.  Why don’t these ghost Jedi show up in more timely fashion and provide some prompt guidance so people like Luke can get back into the fight?  I guess Luke had to suffer, reading the useless old books in some dank tree trunk, until Rae showed up and he could yell at her and treat her three easily taught lessons.

And, now that the old characters have been addressed, let’s talk about the new ones.  Yawn.  Nah, let’s not.  Rae is good at having tears run down her cheeks and being amazingly gifted at just about anything, and Finn is pretty much one-dimensional, and Po Damron would be cashiered from any military force he was part of, and Kylo Ren is thoroughly confused and conflicted and doesn’t seem to know what he really wants.  Why did Kylo Ren kill Han Solo?  Beats me!  Maybe I would have cared more about all of this if I wasn’t feeling the urgent call of nature at the end of this very, very, very, very long epic.

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Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher’s death yesterday, a few days after she suffered a heart attack on a trans-Atlantic flight, came as a terrible shock.  Fisher was only 60, and she had so much to offer to the world as a writer, actor, and advocate on mental health issues.

Fisher was great in The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally, and she wrote a number of funny best-selling books, but of course she will always be remembered by many — including me — as Princess Leia of the original Star Wars films.  I’m sure that Fisher often bridled at her association with that gun-toting resistance leader with the fantastic and iconic hairstyle, but I’ll always believe that her depiction of Leia Organa was one of the things that fundamentally and forever shifted the kinds of roles that women played in Hollywood films.

Of course, women had always had some meaty roles, but in action films or sci-fi films women typically were the objects around which the action revolved, rather than the proponents of the action.  Not so with Leia Organa!  From the first moments of Star Wars she was the key driver of the plot, setting R2D2 off with the plans for the Death Star, standing toe to toe with Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader, recruiting Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo to the cause of the resistance, getting tortured and firing blasters and trading insults with the best of them.  (“Could somebody get this walking carpet out of my way?”)  Princess Leia was as far from the damsel in distress as you could get.  Sure, she ultimately fell for Han Solo — who wouldn’t? — but she was always ready to strangle Jabba the Hut or blast a squadron of imperial storm troopers on a moment’s notice.  Not every actor could pull off such a role, but Carrie Fisher did it flawlessly and convincingly.

Lots of people make movies that achieve enormous popularity, but then fade over time to the point where their roles are only dimly recalled and people wonder what all the fuss was about.  Not so with Carrie Fisher.  She was a true trailblazer, in her acting, in her writing, and in her frank and always humorous discussions about her struggles with her condition, her addictions, and her weight.  She touched more people than she perhaps ever realized.

Rogue One

Rogue One tells the back story that occurred immediately before the original Star Wars movie, about how the rebels acquired the plans to the Death Star.  It’s a kind of conscious effort to knit together the original movie with the end of the three prequels, so we see older characters from the prequels, as well as characters from the original Star Wars film.  (Keep an eye out for a quick glimpse of R2D2 and C3PO, as well as the guys who are primed for a fight in the cantina at Mos Eisley.)

empire_rogueone-160822Rogue One not a great movie, in my view, but it’s definitely worth seeing if you’re a Star Wars buff.  The film is choppy, as if the goal was to show us as many different planets, moons, and other locations in the galaxy as possible, and the plot is, at times, a confusing jumble.  It’s got some memorable characters — I particularly liked the hulking, sarcastic robot turned gunslinger who is a key part of the rebel group, and the blind devotee to the teachings of the Force — but the overall tone is very dark.  We are seeing the cruel, barbaric Empire in full flower in this film.  And we also get a peek at Darth Vader at the height of his powers, before he becomes conflicted by his interaction with Luke Skywalker — the adherent of the Dark Side who can brutally cut through a dozen rebel fighters with a few gestures and slashes of his light saber.

The movie uses some kind of computer program to recreate characters from the original film — like the evil Governor Tarkin, and Princess Leia in her white Star Wars outfit.  The technology is vastly improved, but you still feel like you are looking at a computer animation, rather than a real person.  It’s kind of fascinating and creepy at the same time.

One other comment:  if you’re going, don’t waste your time with the 3D version, which is what I saw.  I didn’t see any reason why there is a 3D version.  There’s nothing hurled at the screen, and no overly dramatic vistas.  Unless you like sitting in a theatre wearing a cheap pair of glasses, I’d head to a regular screening.

Hopeless Hollywood Sameness

Yesterday Kish and I decided to go see a movie.  It’s been hot as blazes in Columbus recently, and humid, too, and the idea of sitting for a few hours in an air-conditioned movie theater watching an interesting film was very attractive.

We haven’t been to the movies in a while because, candidly, the array of films offered this summer hasn’t been very appealing.  We have a narrow window of consensus — Kish can’t stand sci-fi and superhero movies, and I groan at the idea of sitting through some deep study of dysfunctional families — but we thought we’d give Jason Bourne a shot.

rs-jason-bourne-ea2bec70-27d1-4c0a-abc0-dcd61b987aa9Several hours later, after we’d been assaulted by loud, chaotic, and grossly improbable non-stop action, we emerged with the realization that Hollywood apparently has run out of ideas.  I think I may have seen part of an actual Jason Bourne movie in the past, but I’ve definitely seen this movie before — over and over and over again.  The film is so trite and formulaic that it immediately seemed like I was watching a rerun.  Even Matt Damon, who typically makes interesting films, couldn’t salvage it.  If you’re considering going to watch it, save your money.

Take every car chase scene you’ve seen since The French Connection, Bullitt, and The Blues Brothers movie, make them louder and longer and more destructive, and move them to Athens and the Vegas strip.  Input a rote, duplicitous bad guy with absolutely no redeeming qualities as the evil head of the the CIA and expect the audience to root for him to be killed.  Take an ambitious female agent with ambiguous loyalties off the shelf.  Add in an unbeatable hero with superhuman intellectual and physical capabilities and have him tracked by another apparently unstoppable cold-blooded killer who he has to fight at the climax.  That’s the plot.  Sound familiar?

The summer movie season used to feature inventive, different movies, like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars and Forrest Gump.  That’s no longer the case.  Now we get sequels, remakes, and canned, tried-and-true formulaic crap.  It’s no wonder that the box office receipts are down this summer.  What we’re getting from Hollywood these days really sucks.

Rogue One

I learned today that there’s a new movie coming out later this year that will tell the story of some other characters in the Star Wars universe.  It’s called Rogue One, and the trailer above makes it look pretty cool.

I have no problem with introducing new characters, and new worlds, and new concepts into the Star Wars franchise.  The Star Wars universe is vast, and its about time that we got to see some different parts of it.  Years ago, after the first Star Wars came out, Marvel Comics bought the rights to tell interstitial stories about what happened in the time between the movies, and there have been countless Star Wars novels.  I haven’t read any of them, but I’ve heard that at least some of them are pretty good.

I’m all in favor of fleshing out the galaxy far, far away — especially if produces more good sci-fi films.

Ready To Be Awakened

maxresdefaultI’m thinking that I might go see Star Wars:  The Force Awakens this weekend, so that I can enjoy the film without having to dodge too much spoiler-type information.  As more and more people see it, and talk about it, it’s going to be almost impossible to avoid hearing about the plot twists and surprises and cool special effects.  So why not see it before that happens?

I’m hoping that watching the movie might recreate the excitement I felt when I saw the original Star Wars (when it was just called Star Wars, before A New Hope was added to the title as sequels were made) as a college student back in the ’70s, and was stunned by the opening scene — and then everything else that followed.   That opening scene in particular made a huge impression on me.  It remains an indelible memory, and I wrote about it one of my earliest blog posts.

Holding The Force Awakens to that same once-in-a-lifetime standard of surprise and delight probably is unfair, but nevertheless I’m hoping, almost 40 years later, to recapture even just a tiny bit of that astonished and excited feeling that I had as a 20-year-old.