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Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Once was Enough

Finally saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi today. Although I have been an ardent Star Wars fan and collector for decades, I have come to abhor crowds in my middle age and decided to wait a few weeks to catch a matinee. The Last Jedi Poster
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While I now understand why many in fandom would be disturbed by certain aspects of the story, I see no reason for the outrage and divisiveness that The Last Jedi has triggered.
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Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were wonderful. I like Laura Dern, but she reminds me of a soccer mom and I didn’t completely buy into her character of Admiral Holdo.
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I was relieved that they dialed back the petulant, callow juvenile that was Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in The Force Awakens. His repeated temper tantrums and outbursts made him a weak and laughable villain in that film, hardly the intimidating Sith Lord he aspired to be. In the The Last Jedi, Kylo begins that way, but quickly learns to govern his anger during his dealings with Rey (the effervescent Daisy Ridley).
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Rose Tico, portrayed by Kelly Marie Tran, was an immediately likable character with heart and determination. Shame they wasted her potential, as well as that of Finn (John Boyega) and DJ (Benicio del Toro). More on that below.
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It seemed like they were trying to make Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) fill the void left by Han Solo. The brash man of action. It did not entirely succeed. His insubordination went too far. It wasn’t until the end when he realized that cowboy heroism was not going to win the battle. Otherwise, Poe was also a figure of courage and heart like Rose.
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Now we come to the heart of the story. Luke Skywalker (Hamill) is now a different man who seems to have turned his back on the Jedi after years of training and dedication, and after telling Emperor Palpatine decades before, “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”
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In The Last Jedi, we have a disheartened, bitter—and fearful—Jedi master who wants nothing more than to die alone because he failed as a teacher. Obi-Wan also failed (and lived as a recluse as a result), but rather than turn his back when called upon, Obi-Wan immediately answered the call, knowing all too well that it would be his end. Here, Luke does just the opposite. He tells Rey to leave him alone and repeatedly refuses to return to the fight. It takes R2-D2 to break Luke’s resolve by showing him the old hologram of Princess Leia pleading to Obi-Wan for help. That was excellent nostalgia, but should not have been necessary.  Were this my story to tell, I would not have taken Luke in this direction… but this was not my story.
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It also seemed the goal of this film to tear down much of the esteem and awe granted to the Jedi in previous films and to tarnish their legacy. Yoda so blithely destroys the ancient Jedi texts and makes a flippant comment about them not being page turners. If they’re so irrelevant, then why were they preserved for so long? Why even include them in the story? That entire sequence seemed pointless. It served no purpose in the plot.
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Rather, I was taken by Luke’s lightsaber breaking in half during the Force struggle between Kylo and Rey. That was a brilliant foreshadowing of Luke’s death (and foreshadowing is a familiar tool in the writer’s toolbox).
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The lightsaber, once Anakin Skywalker’s, had been with Luke since it was given to him by Obi-Wan in A New Hope and was familiar to the audience. It meant more to us than a set of books that we never heard about or saw before until this film.
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Also, Rey barely had any training compared to Luke, yet Yoda feels that she knows all she needs to. Really? It’s that simple? We were given the impression that it took a bit more. Apparently not. Is she a Jedi Knight or a Master now? Do those ranks even exist anymore?
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And here we go again with young Jedi willingly surrendering to Sith Lord because young Jedi feels the conflict within said Sith Lord and thinks Sith Lord can be turned to the Light. So Young Jedi willingly surrenders to Terrible Baddies. Together, young Jedi and Sith Lord take the elevator up to face the Evil Uberlord (previously Emperor Palpatine, now Supreme Leader Snoke). Evil Uberlord takes possession of young Jedi’s lightsaber and taunts/threatens young Jedi. Young Jedi tries to cut down Evil Uberlord, but is prevented from doing so until, in the end, Evil Uberlord’s own Sith pupil kills him. Oh, and the Evil Uberlord’s personal guards wear monotone red outfits. Even that detail is unoriginal.
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Yeah, we saw this before. Rian Johnson just put his own spin on it. I fully support paying homage (as with the old hologram of Leia), but while The Force Awakens ripped off A New Hope, The Last Jedi pilfered that throne room sequence straight from Return of the Jedi.  As for Snoke himself, he has no backstory and no depth whatsoever. He is a shallow duplicate of Palpatine, at times regurgitating the former Emperor’s lines verbatim.
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As for the rest, the First Order’s General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is far too young, stupid, and incompetent to lead and his dialogue was frequently sophomoric. While Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 had a few humorous and/or poignant moments in the film, they were mostly relegated to the background. The entire sequence at the casino was a waste. It added nothing to the story, and while Benicio del Toro is cool, he ultimately served no purpose? By the time Finn and Rose crashed into the old Rebel base, I felt their entire subplot was fluff. They did nothing for the story at all.
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Overall, I consider The Last Jedi to be adequate, but not as inspired as it’s purported to be by many in fandom. Seeing it once was enough, which is precisely how I felt about The Force Awakens.
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Rogue One, on the other hand, was excellent. I watched that again about three weeks ago and enjoyed just as much as the first time I saw it last year. Just didn’t want you to think I was an old, cantankerous purist hating on the new Star Wars films.
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It’s only the prequel trilogy I can’t stand, and I’m far from alone in that.
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ADDENDUM: A friend of mine brought up a few excellent points in an email exchange earlier this evening…
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Whatever happened to the Knights of Ren as seen in The Force Awakens?

Why all the mystery surrounding Rey’s parents if they were nothing but junk dealers?

Why bother showing Luke’s X-Wing submerged beneath the water as if foreshadowing and then never follow through?

Why not allow a classic character like Admiral Ackbar crash the Rebel cruiser into the First Order ship instead of unknown Admiral Holdo? Let Ackbar go out a hero.

When confronting Kylo Ren, why would Luke bother to say: “If you strike me down, I will always be with you.”? Luke was not even physically present! He was merely projecting his image across the cosmos to trick Kylo so there was no way for Luke’s nephew to strike him down. Again, it’s a nice homage to Obi-Wan’s words to Darth Vader in A New Hope, but it no made sense this time around.

Actor, Writer, Princess, General – Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

Star Wars caught me at the tender age of six back in 1977 and has never let go. I remain a fan and collector to this day. I had the pleasure of meeting Carrie Fisher, for the first and only time, at a comic con in New York City about 10 years ago. While waiting in her autograph line, a lady ahead of me began a conversation with Ms. Fisher about a recent article that she had written for a travel website (or newspaper, I can’t recall) about her trip to Acapulco.

The conversation went something like this:

“So what did you think of it [the article]?” Ms. Fisher asked.

The woman shrugged. “Well, it wasn’t exactly great literature.”

Ms. Fisher, without looking up from the item she was signing for a fan, responded, “So you’re saying it was shit!”

Of course, everyone in the room broke out into laughter. Such was the acerbic, sometimes trenchant, humor of Carrie Fisher. I, for one, simply thanked her for coming and told her that it was an honor to meet her. She thanked me in return and signed my vintage 12″ boxed Princess Leia figure from Kenner (see below).

As Leia Organa, Ms. Fisher was a hero to me alongside Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. It was Star Wars that led to me watching reruns of Star Trek when I was a kid and I became hooked on science fiction and space opera, which then inspired me to become a writer and storyteller in my own right.

2016 has been a tumultuous and tragic year, taking from us many talented artists. For me, however, the loss of Carrie Fisher cuts deeper as did the passings, within the last 20 years, of such icons as Gene Roddenberry, DeForest Kelley, Christopher Reeve, and Leonard Nimoy, just to name a few.

I cannot help but to think my own mortality as we watch the performers of my childhood exit the world stage for the final time. I only hope that I can leave behind such enduring legacies. Carrie Fisher was a marvelous, witty writer and an advocate for those suffering from mental illness. May the Force of her personality and strength be with us always.

Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back

 

Carrie Fisher as General Leia in The Force Awakens

 

Carrie Fisher Autograph
Vintage Kenner Leia and Luke figures from 1978
Star Wars Cast Members
Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Two quick observations: J.J. Abrams’s talents are far better suited to Star Wars than to Star Trek, and I believe that Max Von Sydow stopped aging somewhere around 1993 (or has had some amazing work done).

And one quick opinion: I am SICK of the number of commercials and movie previews audience members are forced to endure before the feature film these days. I pulled down the bill of my baseball cap and took a nap through most of them.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been out for 10 days and yet at 1:30PM today, the only empty seats in the theatre were in the first two rows. Such is the enduring allure these films maintain going on three generations. George Lucas’s brainchild has long secured a foothold in our culture and I say this as a thirty-eight year fan and collector.

Overall, I enjoyed The Force Awakens. I have no complaints. All of the main characters were strong, the plot was well constructed (and, yes, partially derivative), the pacing and editing reminiscent of the original trilogy—much like the story itself with its unabashed resemblances to A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. I won’t hold that against it, however.

To see the heroes from my childhood back on screen in their iconic roles was a joy. Nothing new there. By now, expressing that sentiment has become a staple in almost every review written by a veteran fan. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) had the most screen time and it was equally satisfying to see the Millennium Falcon back in action.

Our new heroes do not disappoint, and each one contains an amalgam of different traits from Luke, Han, and Leia. The true protagonist, Rey (Daisy Ridley) possesses formidable piloting skills and a redoubtable ability to control the Force with no training whatsoever. I regret that the story did not allow for a more organic process for Rey, and the audience, to discover the latter. It seemed to just, well, happen. Perhaps I need to see the film again.

It was obvious from the trailers that Finn (John Boyega) was a deserter from the First Order (read: Empire wannabes) who eventually throws in with the Resistance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Sounds similar to the life story of a certain Corellian smuggler (who is back to his old tricks at the beginning of The Force Awakens).

The first of the heroes to appear on screen, crack pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), was also the least developed, but instantly brought to mind former rebel pilots Wedge Antilles and Biggs Darklighter from the original trilogy.

A friend of mine remarked in her review that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was little more than a volatile, immature juvenile with the demeanor of a spoiled prick whenever something went awry—and she was correct in her assessment. In that way, he channeled young Anakin in Episode II more so than the Darth Vader that was introduced to fans in 1977.

Kylo Ren is a child, not even fully trained in the Force, with just enough ability to inflate his ego and allow it to dominate him. He is not leadership material—at least not yet—and definitely not worthy of the title Sith Lord. His destructive outbursts clearly display a severe lack of discipline and self-control, all of which become quite apparent during his final confrontation with Rey.

Of course, it would not be a mainstream Star Wars flick without our beloved droids C-3PO and R2-D2, the latter having the least amount of screen time (for personal reasons), which allowed newcomer BB-8 to assume the role of the adorable chirping sidekick. Even C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) was minimized. To be honest, both classic droids were gratuitous to this chapter of the saga. Perhaps they, like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), will return to more integral roles in the sequels.

I look forward to seeing The Force Awakens at least once more before it leaves the theatres.

Finn with Lightsaber - The Force Awakens Han and Chewbacca- The Force Awakens General Leia - The Force Awakens Rey - The Force AwakensDarth Vader Helmet - The Force Awakens X-Wing & TIE Fighter - The Force Awakens

Topps Cards - The Force Awakens