Tag Archives: Star Wars

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: A Full Analysis Part 2

Since I wrote Part One of my analysis of The Last Jedi, I have done two things.  First, I saw the film a second time.  Second, I re-watched Rashomon (1950).  This has sharpened my view of the movie.  While I initially lauded it as a masterpiece, I’ve dialed that back some.  It is still a very, very good movie, probably the third best Star Wars movie.  But it is an imperfect film, so calling it an unequivocal masterpiece is misleading.

None of The Last Jedi’s flaws particularly bother me, but that does not mean they aren’t present.  Most feel nit-picky to me.  One example is how the film hand-waves away several of the science fiction elements.  Star Wars has never been science fiction – its proper genre is fantasy.  Still, it made some viewers wonder why, for example, a hyper-drive collision hadn’t been used more frequently if it could destroy several ships at once.

The one problem that’s hard to explain away has to do with the characterization of Luke Skywalker.  The film doesn’t do a great job of explaining why Luke wouldn’t have tried to deal with Kylo Ren before going into exile.  The closest to a reason that we get from him is when he tells Rey, “What do you expect me to do? Grab a laser sword and take on the entire First Order by myself?”  Luke has concluded that trying to deal with his nephew would lead to nothing but certain doom.  But why?

I didn’t need to know exactly what happened that made him so jaded – the failure of everything he had fought for was enough of a reason for me.  I also can excuse a lack of exposition in an already jam-packed film.  The counter-argument is that this isn’t Snoke we’re talking about – a character who we didn’t really need a backstory beyond “stock dark-side villain.”  Luke Skywalker is the central character in the Star Wars saga and a film should describe his motivations clearly enough that everyone understands them.  If The Last Jedi did not universally accomplish this clarity, that is a flaw.  But how serious of a flaw is it?

Compare, if you will, The Last Jedi to a nearly flawless film, Rashomon.  Rashomon may be known for its unforgettable images and non-linear storytelling, but at its base it is an extremely well constructed film.  Akira Kurosawa gives us just enough plot and characterization to accomplish his storytelling goals, nothing more.  This limits distraction and allows the audience to be fully immersed in four different versions of the same story.  For example, the audience doesn’t even suspend its disbelief to question why everyone in the story takes a medium speaking for a dead samurai seriously.

The Last Jedi is a well made film, but it is not economical in the same way that Rashomon is.  One could argue that The Last Jedi needed to walk a tightrope between viewer reactions ranging from “this is like the boring, blah, blah, blah from the prequels,” and “we demand more world-building.”  That equates the amount of backstory with economy, but less backstory doesn’t cause a movie to be economical in the same way that Rashomon is.  You need enough backstory to keep the audience from questioning the movie in the middle of the experience, and The Last Jedi does not do this for a good chunk of its audience.

Kathleen Kennedy and her team at Disney are terrified of the prequels, and with good reason.  The first two are bad movies, full stop.  The third is okay, but still disappointing, and not a good enough film in its own right to overcome the problems of the Episodes I and II.  I can understand erring towards annoying the “we demand more world-building” people by cutting exposition, but sometimes you need backstory to make sure that your story is universally understood enough to keep its audience immersed in it.  A more economical movie would understand this – and to some extent this is a problem in the Force Awakens too.  We shouldn’t need to read a tie-in book to know what the difference between the New Republic and the Resistance, for example.

That brings me to why the lack of backstory in The Last Jedi isn’t a fatal flaw in the same way that the flaws of Episode I and II destroy those movies.  The information that The Force Awakens leaves out is available in tie-in books.  If we didn’t know about that information then, we know it now.  The Last Jedi will get its share of tie-ins too, which will fill in some of the missing worldbuilding and potentially clarify Luke’s characterization to viewers who wanted more information.

If this is Disney’s scheme to sell more books, comics, and video games,  so be it – film has always been a commercial artform.  But this isn’t a problem in the Original Trilogy and that made plenty of tie-in loot.  If it is going to be Disney’s strategy going forward to play loose with economical storytelling in order to sell side-content, this will prevent its films from being great movies like Rashomon.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

 

 

2017: The Year in Review

Well another year is in the books.  I’ve been doing this for almost 6 years now, which judging by some of the blogs I’ve encountered here on WordPress is an awfully long time to keep up a movie blog.  Anyway enough patting myself on the back – time to do the usual Year in Review Post:

2017 Was a Good Year to Be

Star Wars

Yes, 2017 was a great year for the Star Wars franchise.  Rogue One made a ridiculous amount of money.  The Last Jedi has wowed critics and audiences (well except for a few cantankerous Twitter eggs), and, also, has made a ridiculous amount of money.  The TV series Rebels is quite good I’m told.  Sure a few directors were sacked, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Narrative Inertia

It’s always a good year to be an abstract concept, but the concept of narrative inertia had a top flight year.  It can gather around the water cooler with all the other abstract concepts and talk a big game.  What I mean by this is that two of my favorite shows, Game of Thrones and The Americans had sub par seasons, but I still watched and I’m still excited for the final season of those shows.  I’m even probably going to watch the last season of House of Cards despite the fact that Season Five was a dumpster fire of epic proportions.

Streaming Services

The “big three” (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu) streaming services had a great 2017.  Netflix has been doing the original programming thing for a while now, but 2017 felt exceptional.  The Handmaid’s Tale won a well-deserved Emmy, and I’m currently sucked into the charming “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Good work internet people!

2017 Was a Bad Year to Be

A Scumbag

New rule. Every year should be this bad for scumbags.

Movies for People with 401(K)’s and Mortgages

Was it just me or was nearly every movie in 2017 a comic book movie, a “tent pole” franchise movie, or a cartoon?  Sure there were a few big hits like “Get Out” and “Dunkirk,” but those were few and far between.  Maybe once Oscar season starts I’ll be reassured that someone is still making movies for people over 30.

Tired of an Endless Barrage of Mindless Hot Takes

Sure there have always been opinion websites, but there seem like there are far too many of them now. Everyone has to have a unique take, and it just becomes noise.  Twitter, which was supposed to be bankrupt by now, is still the worst offender.  I kind of just wish the internet would shut up for five seconds and think before it talks.

Scenes from the Great Ale House in the Sky

After last year I considered not doing this one anymore.  Still I couldn’t help but imagine a sold out Chuck Berry, Gregg Allman, and Tom Petty concert.  It’s tomorrow.  Tonight Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Guillaume are giving a talk on what it was like being huge televisions stars in the days before so-called “peak TV.”  It’s called, “You’re Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, Game of Thrones.”  Since that show has actual giants, the pun is clearly intended.

Jerry Lewis stopped by.  Sure, Dean Martin owns the place, but that particular beef is long squashed.  Long before people talked about squashing beefs.  Besides if he didn’t come by Don Rickles was going to zing him very hard.

Adam West is here, and yes he’s dressed as Batman.  Roger Moore is here too, although he is not dressed like James Bond, at least not officially.

 

Anyway, that’s our year in review!  Tune in next time for 2018!

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Full Analysis Part One

I promised a full analysis of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and why I liked it so much. In order to really get into my thoughts, I’m going to have to delve into the details of the movie.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the trailer:

And here’s a “jump” so that you don’t accidentally see anything:

Continue reading Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Full Analysis Part One

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Review, Spoiler Free)

In your travels in the internet over the past few days, you may have seen comments, user reviews, and tweets calling The Last Jedi a bad film. Or a disappointment. Or claiming it “ruined Star Wars.”

These opinions are objectively wrong.

In the coming days I’ll expand on my thoughts of what a masterpiece this movie is. But in order to do so I’d have to reveal major plot points. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, I’m give you one traditional, spoiler-free review.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I like The Last Jedi. The more I think about it, the more I like it. I can’t think of a single Marvel MCU movie that is superior. In fact, The Last Jedi serves as a direct response to those films and their often “paint by numbers” nature. It makes me wonder if any of those films are that good to begin with.

It doesn’t draw from a place that most fans of the modern blockbuster are necessarily familiar with. It draws from the same influences as the Original Trilogy, especially Kurosawa. But there’s a heavy dose of Greek Tragedy and Bergman in there too.

That is to say, despite a surprising number of jokes that land, it is a bleak, bleak movie. Far bleaker than The Empire Strikes Back dared to be. Then again, I’ve never seen Empire without being able to watch Return of the Jedi in short order. I don’t know how bleak Empire must have felt to people who viewed it in 1980.

That said, this isn’t a perfect film. There are legitimate questions about how well the creative choices will hold up if Episode 9 doesn’t stick the landing. These points are hard to get into in a spoiler free review, so I’ll save them for later.

Overall, the Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie aside from the first two. With time to breathe and a well executed Episode 9, it may rank even higher in the end.

You might like The Last Jedi if: You are willing to challenge your assumptions about what a franchise blockbuster should be.

You might not like The Last Jedi if: All you want is a predictable remake of The Empire Strikes Back.

(C) 2017 D.G. McCabe

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – First Trailer

First – YES!

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what Luke’s words at the end of the trailer could mean:

  • The Jedi were becoming aloof and corrupt by the end of Episode 3 (as better chronicled by the Clone Wars cartoon series).  He’s saying that it might be time to jettison the order and start fresh.
  • Luke is acknowledging that he failed to create a new Jedi order and is feeling sorry for himself.
  • Luke now sees the old Jedi/Sith paradigm as a force-user arms race that can only end by ending both orders.

We’ll see – fun stuff so far though.

(c) 2017 D. G. McCabe

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spolier-Free Review)

Directed by J.J. Abrams, U.S., 2015

First let’s start out: The Force Awakens is good.  What follows is a  completely spoiler-free review.  Fortunately, in a previous post I already laid the groundwork for such a discussion.  However, if you wish to make a completely independent assessment of The Force Awakens, as I did, you should stop now.

Continue reading Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spolier-Free Review)

Star Wars (or Relax Already it’s Going to be Fine)

Two weeks to go.

As some of you may be well aware, three of my favorite movies are Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983).  Two of my least favorite movies are The Phantom Menace (1999) and Attack of the Clones (2002).  Revenge of the Sith (2005) I could take or leave – it’s quite good in some ways and its association with the aforementioned prequels damages its reputation a bit unfairly.

So the Star Wars series, as it stands right now, contains two great movies (Star Wars and Empire), one very good movie (Jedi), one average to above-average movie (Sith) and two bad movies (Menace and Clones).  The issue that’s been on my mind since 2012 – when Mickey Mouse purchased Lucasfilm and announced (finally) a sequel to Jedi, is which of these four category The Force Awakens is going to fall into.    Let’s see:

1. It’s Going to be Bad (Menace/Clones)

The team that’s been assembled to create The Force Awakens means that there’s a low risk of it being as bad as Menace or Clones.  J.J. Abrams is a fine director, in fact he already basically made two Star Wars films already (Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)).  Lawrence Kasdan is a legendary screenwriter.  The original cast, including Harrison Ford, is back, along with a half-dozen highly-regarded young talents, including Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o.  The whole enterprise is being assembled by Kathleen Kennedy, one of the finest Hollywood producers working today.

Additionally, the first two prequels were written, directed, and produced by one guy – George Lucas.  There was no one to tell him no, which means numerous bad ideas made it into the films, especially the first two.  This risk has been mitigated by the level of talent surrounding the film, and Disney’s ability to be patient with it (bumping it’s premiere date out six months for instance).

Chances The Force Awakens will be bad: 5%

2. It’s Going to be Disappointing (Sith)

If all three of the prequels were as good as Revenge of the Sith, this would be a different conversation.  The handful of poorly executed scenes in Sith can be mostly cut entirely or tweaked a little bit.  I suspect the reason why these scenes remained in the film as-is was because of Lucas’ dominance.

There is a better chance that the Force Awakens is disappointing than outright bad.  J.J. Abrams has made a couple of movies that have underwhelmed audiences and/or critics after all.  That being said, I think the talent level involved still buttresses the movie against being disappointing.  For evidence of this, look at the trailers.

Trailers rarely tell the whole story, but if you compare the trailers for The Force Awakens to the trailers for the prequels, you will see the following elements that were missing from the latter.  First, Harrison Ford makes movies good.  Second, the dialogue seems well delivered, out of context sure, but not cheesy.  Finally, watching the prequels felt like watching a cartoon sometimes.  By using real sets, the trailers for The Force Awakens have a more tactile feel to them, which should help the tone of the film enormously.

Chances The Force Awakens will be disappointing: 15%

3. It’s Going to be Very Good, but not Great (Jedi)

With apologies to those who count Return of the Jedi as their favorite movie, I tend to agree with what seems to be the prevailing opinion of movie critics.  It’s a fine adventure film and a good ending to the original Star Wars trilogy, but it’s not quite a classic of its genre.  While I still believe the Ewok fight isn’t as crazy as it first appears, there are few other weaknesses in the film that just don’t give it the same “umph” as the first two.

That being said, by blockbuster sequel standards very good is actually a fine standard to hit.  For example, none of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels quite make this mark.  It is, however, hit by many well-regarded films like The Dark Knight Rises (2012), The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014), The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and Abrams’ own Star Trek Into Darkness.

Here’s the problem: it’s really hard to make a great movie.  Even in a genre like the Hollywood blockbuster, where no one expects Academy Award level performances or deep thematic imagery, it’s really hard.  This is especially true when measured up to not only the classics of the genre on their merits, but when considering the emotional weight of nostalgia.  Most likely, The Force Awakens will be as good as Return of the Jedi, or slightly better, just because even with the talent assembled, “great” movies of any genre just don’t come around that often.  That’s part of the reason why they get to be called great.

Chances that the Force Awakens will be very good but not quite great: 55%

4. It’s Going to be Great! (Star Wars/Empire)

As a Star Wars fan, I hope The Force Awakens will fall into this category.  As a student of film history, I don’t think it’s likely.  The issue is that Star Wars and Empire are classics of their genre for very specific reasons that are unlikely to be replicated.

I just watched Star Wars yesterday.  Its technical innovations are often cited for the reason why it’s a great film, and this reputation is well earned.  However, for me the film is a masterpiece of pacing for an action/adventure movie.  It just has its own, unique momentum, which just tramples over its flaws.  Do we notice that some of the dialogue is silly?  Sure.  Do we care? Absolutely not.

The Empire Strikes Back is a classic of the blockbuster genre for very specific reasons as well.  First, you have to remember that it was really the first attempt to make a sequel in the way that we think of sequels now.  Sure there were sequels, but they usually were self-contained stories with the same characters, they weren’t an epic continuation of the first film’s story.  Second, it really is a great movie-movie, not just a great Hollywood blockbuster.  The story, themes, acting, and effects really are top notch.  Finally, it has one of the best endings of any movie – a gut-wrenching combination of plot twist and cliffhanger.

The Force Awakens won’t have intense technical innovations.  It won’t be the first modern sequel either.  Its chance for greatness is to replicate Star Wars’ sense of momentum and have an ending like The Empire Strikes Back.  Can it happen?  I guess we’ll see in two weeks.  For now I’ll be a bit more conservative in my estimate.

Chances The Force Awakens will be Great: 25%

Conclusion

Writing out this exercise made me feel a lot better.  I’m no longer worried that the movie will be bad or even disappointing.  At worst, it will be very good.  At best, it will be great.  Anyway – better get your tickets, I got mine!

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe