We are one week away from Christmas, and this year has just flown by.
First the elephant in the room is Star Wars: The Last Jedi as it was seen by all of us here. I am giving a spoiler alert as I plan on talking in some detail about this film, and where the plot goes. May I first say that the hype machine and all the trailers yet again take away from the film itself. I need to learn to avoid trailers altogether – since Blade Runner and Alien Covenant had too many. It takes away from going into a movie with fresh eyes.
Last Jedi was a long film, and I felt that it started off slow with getting the Luke story underway. And then there’s Luke as this whining, pouting dude who “just wants to be left alone to die”. Well, be careful what you wish for, I would reply. In many ways I can more fully understand the feedback and seemingly bitter soundbites that have come from Mark Hamill for this film and the arc of his character as he has talked about it. He was a grumpy old man, and now I see why. His only hope (pun intended) is now to become a ghost and drop some wisdom every now and then. I did like how Yoda came back to admonish his reckless pupil one last time before dealing with the Secret Scrolls of the Jedi. I also liked how they dealt with Rey and her storyline, and that she is not born of privilege or from some special meta-chlorean spring. Or Luke’s daughter or half-sister of Ben Solo.
What I was not so happy with are the unknown and previously unseen abilities of the characters, or those of any character before. For example, the ability to project and interact oneself with other characters. The benchmark had always seemed to be for the Jedi to re-appear as a ghost and speak with the living. Here was another whole level – think about how Luke interacts with Leia near the end. Think about he actually creates matter in the form of the dice. All of this before having the dust up outside with all the technology from the First Order.
I was also surprised with the treatment of Leia, and how seemingly they had given away in a trailer that she had been killed in the command ship. And yet, there in the middle of space (SPACE!) she does something and reveals a power that no one has ever had in a Star Wars film (not even Yoda or Darth Vader). Which then leads to a paradigm where Leia as a character is almost indestructible, but Carrie Fisher the actor has died and we are told there will be no more Leia in these films. It is a head scratcher since she died shortly after filming ended, and they could have easily killed her off in that very spot. Anyway, there are surprises and plot twists and then there are created U-turns. I feel as though much of the new parts in this episode were created out of thin air.
There is some humour and some good humour which shows that the new writer has seen Robot Chicken and appreciates it. It does beg the question on why JJ Abrams would turn over the reins on the hottest film in Hollywood to another writer and director and become just the Executive Producer. I ask though, is JJ Abrams a great director? Is he another Spielberg or Scorsese or Coppola? Or does he just take existing ideas and build upon them like Star Trek and Star Wars?
There are creatures here that are created just to make them into stuffed animals I think. From the baby-eyed penguin-like creatures, which Chewbacca in earlier times would have simply eaten without hesitation to the crystal dogs. Ah, the crystal dogs. On a planet that they are presumably native, why on earth are they running into the fortified bunker? Why not just ran away? Away from the guns and explosions? And then, of course the reveal for having them is to show this new escape route out. Ugh.
In the end, despite some flaws, everyone will see this film, and they will continue to make more. Disney is getting its money out of this investment, and then some. At $220M for the weekend (the second best weekend ever) you can be sure that there is many more to come. Oh, and the still champion of the box office is at $248M, you guessed it – The Force Awakens. Disney spent $4B to take it over in 2012. Force Awakens made $2B, and Rogue One $1B. This film will take them into the black. All in less than 5 years! I was asked by someone how Star Wars has changed since 1977, and I will detail that out from my perspective in another piece shortly. Is this the best Star Wars film yet? No. For me Empire remains the best film of the series. Episode I remains the Worst!
Turning back into the real world, on Thursday night I went out and saw the highest rated film at rotten tomatoes of all time; Lady Bird. This is Greta Gerwig’s semi autobiographical coming-of-age story around a young woman as a Senior in Sacramento CA. The young woman is played by Sairose Ronan, and she is quite simply excellent. For me, knowing that she is Irish (well, transplanted really from NY but with a thick accent) this playing the Californian teen was very good to see. The surrounding cast is uniformly excellent too. Laurie Metcalf who plays her Mom shows a middle age woman struggling to keep her family together and sanity all around her. She suffers as her family is generally in the same spot as they began 20+ years before, and her husband is struggling to keep up. She has a son who has an unexplained history which deserves some more attention with his girlfriend. It is an Oscar worthy performance. Her daughter is exploring universities and has a final year to figure out ultimately that you don’t need to find yourself and your path by the time you are 18yo. That goes for school, but also in relationships as well. The lead here changes herself to approach and be engaged with two different guys. Each reflects the reality that can occur in high school with cliques and students. This is not the best film of the year. It shouldn’t be the highest rated of all time at rotten tomatoes, but I can why it would. It has some universal truths, and is a reflection on a time and place. Between this and On Chesnil Beach, Ronan is making quality and varied choices for her career. It bodes well. Also it can be said that Timothee Chalamet has had an equally impressive year with quality choices in this film, and also the unseen by me Call Me By Your Name. He has been nominated for Best Actor there and it remains a film I wish to see.