After a brief distraction by one certain rogue the second movie in the Star Wars sequel series has arrived. And it arrived hard. The bloated controversy that surrounds the reception of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi seems to muffle the voices of reason, so we are joining the chorus of those trying to approach the movie in a holistic manner.
Everything is a spoiler these days. I'll be as vague as possible and give you a signal as soon as i go to far.
The story takes places shortly after The Force Awakens ends; the First Order is out to cement its claim to rule the galaxy after the annihilation of the New Republic. One of the obstacles in their way is the small guerilla group Resistance run by General Leia Organa, which they relentlessly pursue.
Meanwhile Rey tries to recruit Luke Skywalker to join the fight against the First Order and help her hone her newfound abilities.
That is all that is connecting the narrative of Episode VIII with it's sibling in mind, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back; the protagonists get the rug pulled from under their feet and it is time to learn and adapt while running away from an all encompassing threat.
Flight has never looked better! Practical and CGI effects, creatures and props fit together beautifully and continue the tactile quality established by The Force Awakens; which in this feature is enhanced by the use of a film stock with a very fine grain (i wear glasses and my left eye is only there because the eye socket needs a friend, so enjoy my observation with a grain of salt). The presentation of the story is something to be marveled at in the days to come; visually it feels like a lean piece of meat, no fat to be found. Of course it copies its style from various sources but also manages to keep the coherence needed; with every shot moving the proceedings forward while being awesome enough to be framed and displayed. In my opinion even the Canto Blight visuals and plot fits thematically into the tapestry; the detour is just to long.
And therein lies my biggest gripe: the low regard the movie has for time. Of course it is a sci-fi film and who knows what hyperspace and the bending of spacetime while traveling through it does to clocks and who knows how the orbit of Ahch-To looks like, but while the pursuit of the Resistance fleet takes up about a day in earth time, Rey spends more with Luke while she conveniently syncs up with the pursuit later in the narrative. But yeah, lasersword wielding wizards in space give a storyteller some leeway in stretching how known physics behave.
But what he can influence is the perception of the passage of time for the audience and while this movie truly is shaking up a galaxy far, far away it takes 150 minutes to do so. Not that i want to complain about being offered two and a half hours of Star Wars and to honor the holistic aspect of this review i must point out that i saw it at a midnight screening that started later because a traffic accident delayed a few people from arriving at the theatre in time and i was already awake at that time for 19,5 hours; ten of them spent in my professional capacity.
Spoilers from here on out.
But in those 150 minutes the statue of the Star Wars universe that has been carefully carved out of the marble that George Lucas set up doesn't get some further details added with a small chisel, but a few details being bashed in with a sledgehammer. And at first i was agitated. Most of the changes made the movie feel like the tail-end of the sequel trilogy and a middle finger in the face of the next storyteller (and i'm sure that J.J. Abrams and his staff carved a ditch by running around a table to solve the puzzle they've been handed). But seeing the outrage that the changes caused made clear to me that this movie firstly addresses a new generation of fans and thus secondly teaches a lesson about failure and the opportunity some of them present. The only person that actually gains something is failing in his pride while the losers come out beaten but wiser. All that was done without giving a single thing away in any of the promotional material! And i would not be surprised to learn that the remains of the Resistance, decimated enough to, in its entirety fit onboard the Millennium Falcon is a metaphor for the number of people who are actually ok with the movie. Speaking of the Falcon, it seems the lenses used to film the interior of the Kessel Run winning spaceship are making them look smaller than back in the original trilogy; furthering the point of these new movies trying to distance or even outgrow their predecessors while honoring their work but remaining humble enough to acknowledge their humanity.
Ok, let's address what is driving me nuts: I know Captain Phasma's short stint is needed to give Finn the catharsis he needed a movie ago but it also makes the character feel like a bigger joke than it already was. Yeah, she's cool in the comics, but have you seen comics sales numbers? Nobody cares.
Same with Vice Admiral Holdo but in reverse. A serious character that could have been a great addition to Star Wars canon gets canned. I have no idea how to state it tastefully, but it feels like this only happened to have the audience's emotions being kept busy with Carrie Fisher's last performance. And while this is a great gesture to the late actress, who does put in a long overdue Leia performance, Laura Dern is still with us.
Canto Blight seems like unnecessary and farfetched ballast and Benicio del Toro's DJ's arc isn't brought to an end (will he pull a Phasma?) but it helps in widening the scope of the universe and show that the space battles we witness cost not only the lives of the combatants but destroy also further lives, sometimes the ones the Resistance is going to war for.
Rofinn is lazy and forced.
And there is the topic of openness. So much could have been prevented if people just talked with each other and while it is a frustrating way to further the narrative flow it is something that i think this movie is striving to do, humanizing these bigger than life characters.
What we have to address tough is the fact that everyone of those new trilogy movies is being helmed by a different creative team making it feel more like an episode or season of a tv show rather than a coherent story told over three chapters.