Monday, July 9, 2018

Media Post: The Last Jedi

This is Joseph.

Since the Last Jedi came out there have been a number of critiques of it; some better than others.  It is quite clear that the attempt to deconstruct the franchise, while artistically interesting, had some issues.  In particular, I would summarize my thoughts as:

Visuals: Stunning.  Simply stunning.  What a beautiful movie
Creativity: I may not love Canto Bight, but boy was it creative
Characters: Ok.  There is a break in continuity of character between movies, but it isn't fatal
Plot: Weak, very weak.

Probably my favorite review of it is this one.  The author lists eight critiques, of which I see #3 as being the most serious:
The primary plot (of the cruiser chase) is riddled with plot holes and doesn’t make any sense. The film suffers because its backbone is broken.
Now, it isn't the case that previous movies completely avoided these issues.  Compare with the Empire Strikes Back -- the asteroid chase has similar issues and while they are more clever about dialogue, the timeline is a mess.  And some characters had big changes -- Darth Vader seems much more important than he used to be, for example, and much less deferential to senior military commanders.

But the issue was the deconstruction, I think.  The writer-director played against type, which the Empire Strikes Back did not do (at least not so completely).  Now you can shake up a franchise, but this is a delicate matter that requires great skill.  Mark Evanier tells an anecdote about a junior writer asking Ray Bradbury if it was ok to be as high maintenance as Harlan Ellison.  The rejoinder was priceless:

"I don't know if that's okay but if you try it, check first and make sure you have the talents of a Harlan Ellison."
I think that this is exactly right.  If you want to subvert expectations then it should be in the service of creating a better or more thought provoking story.  This story was very well shot but needed a serious rewrite of the script and a goal as to how the subversion would make the story sing.

It was also easy in the franchise for this move.  Thor Skywalker points out that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is twenty movies in, with a fairly limited range of characters and plots, and hasn't felt the need to subvert expectations yet:

In fact his comparison of Thor Ragnorak, which is not a perfect movie by a long stretch, to the Last Jedi is quite clever.  Both movies are ultimately about failure.  They even both have the breaking of the protagonist's weapons, the loss of home, and the death of most of the protagonist's organization.   But one has a tighter script and more narrative payoffs.  The other has better visuals and more creativity.  Guess which one grossed higher.

Now it is true, I was cheering for Rey to date Finn and not a serial killer.  But I don't mind being wrong -- that is part of the fun.  Who would have guessed it would be Han and Leia?  Or that Darth Vader would be the one to defeat the emperor?  Or that Yoda actually fought Darth Sidious?  I like being surprised, so long as the surprise keeps the story fresh and interesting.

So my view: good movie, fabulous eye candy, great for kinds, but one that really needed a script doctor for the fans in the audience.

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