Kevin: If you are wondering why you are seeing a bunch of “Star Wars” memes in your social media feed today, it’s because it is May the fourth, get it? You know, how “fourth” kinda but not really sounds like “force,” so “May the fourth be with you.” Yeah I know it’s really stupid, but hey it gives fans a reason to celebrate “Star Wars,” and god knows that’s a franchise that doesn’t get enough love. Either way, those fans won’t have to wait long for another big-screen installment, as the “Solo” spin-off prequel arrives in theaters in just a few weeks. Even though we all agree that making a Han Solo movie with some smirking millennial stepping into Harrison Ford’s iconic boots is a terrible idea, the film will still make a fortune, and despite its troubled production, will still likely be better than our last two trips to a galaxy far, far away.
Actually TGD originally came out of the theater on our first viewing of “Rogue One” fairly satisfied, but for our inaugural Rewind post – in which we give a popular hit or notorious flop a second look to see if it gets better or worse with time – we discovered the first “Star Wars Story” prequel did not hold up on the small screen. While the third-act fireworks and bold fearlessness in killing off major cast members was enough to make up for a lackluster first half in the theater, it’s hard to muster up much enthusiasm for revisiting the least memorable group of protagonists in “Star Wars” history, led by Felicity Jones’ lead rebel Jyn Erso, who has as many character traits as she does facial expressions: 1
Of course there was every reason to expect that director Rian Johnson, who previously gave us one of the best and most inventive sci-fi flicks in years with “Looper,” would bring balance back to the force last December with “The Last Jedi.” What we did not expect was some of the worst humor in the series since Jar Jar Binks, Luke Skywalker being turned into the kind of grouchy asshole you avoid at Thanksgiving, Carrie Fisher doing her version of “Mary Poppins in space,” and Laura Dern as the admiral who will tell you her escape plan when she is darn good and ready Mr. Bossypants! Now that it has been on DVD and streaming the TGD crew is doing our own Rewind of “Last Jedi” to see if maybe we were too hard it the first time around. I wouldn’t hold your breath, but until then you can enjoy a Double Friday Flashback of “Rogue One” and “The Last Jedi,” or you could just pop in the original trilogy again and pretend your favorite space heroes didn’t become decrepit old losers:
(Originally posted April 5, 2017)
Kevin: It’s not uncommon for your first impression of a movie to drastically change by the time you give it a second viewing, whether it’s one you initially liked but now find wanting, or one you were lukewarm about but feel compelled to revisit. For every “Twister” that loses its impact when its effects are shrunken down on a TV, there’s a “Big Lebowski” that actually gets better on repeat viewings. For our first TGD Rewind – where we look back at a popular hit, or see if an initial disappointment deserves a re-evaluation – I’m giving a second look at a little film that came out around Christmastime, the “Star Wars” spin-off “Rogue One”:
Unless you’ve been in a coma the last few months (and if you were then welcome back; if you are trying to catch up with our past stuff I’d definitely recommend starting with our “Action Jackson” Round Table!), you are probably aware that “Rogue One” is a direct prequel to the events of “Episode IV: A New Hope.” Remember as a kid watching the original movie and feeling like you really needed to see a feature-length depiction of how the rebels got their hands on the Death Star plans? Yeah me neither, anymore than I need to see an “Under Siege” prequel showing how Casey Ryback graduated cooking school, but Disney seems to enjoy making money, so here we are.
And “Rogue One” did exactly what a “Star Wars” property is supposed to do, making a ton of dough and generally seeming to give the fans what they wanted. I caught it in the theater and left feeling mixed/positive overall; I didn’t find the characters or the plot for the first half very compelling, but when the third-act battle begins, it’s hard not to feel a nostalgic sense of excitement seeing TIE fighters and AT-ATs coming at you on the big screen and hearing the familiar sound of laser blasts in surround sound.
Once again, “Godzilla” director Gareth Edwards at least shows a keen eye for memorable visuals and well-staged spectacle, while the movie’s fearlessness in killing off important characters is bracing and gives the climax a sense of depth it otherwise would not have earned. And unlike the previous J.J. Abrams entry, I didn’t feel like this one was basically serving up a beat-for-beat remake of a previous “Star Wars” movie.
Unfortunately, while you could watch “Empire Strikes Back” on a flip phone and it would still be compelling, seeing “Rogue One” again on the small screen only highlights its weaknesses, the main one being that its assorted gallery of supposed “rogues” are not that interesting. Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, who is tasked with helping track down her father whose work has been instrumental in getting the Death Star operational (by the way according to this movie it has apparently taken at least 15 years or more to build the first one, so whichever company got the second Death Star nearly completed in less than a few years in “Return of the Jedi” deserves a serious bonus).
The main problem is that I’m struggling to come up with other characteristics to describe Jyn Erso but am drawing a blank, although certainly “laugh riot” would not be one of them. Look I know we are in the “gritty and serious” era of blockbuster entertainments, but there’s a reason why little girls will still be dressing up as Princess Leia 30 years from now while the Jyn Erso costumes collect dust. Carrie Fisher was both feisty and serious, could be both a damsel in distress and a capable fighter, and if nothing else had at least some semblance of a personality, whereas if Felicity Jones actually cracked a smile during filming that footage must have bitten the dust during the infamous reshoots.
Seriously, it would already feel like Jyn Erso was just supposed to be a placeholder for a more interesting protagonist who never made it into the movie, but the fact that Jones maintains this EXACT SAME EXPRESSION for the entire movie really doesn’t help (although if this acting thing doesn’t work out she’d make a killing at the poker table):
(To read the rest of our “Rouge One” Rewind, please CLICK HERE.)
“The Last Jedi”
(Originally posted Jan. 19, 2017)
Kevin: “The Last Jedi” this week officially became the highest grossing movie of 2017, and while such a milestone would normally be an indication that said film is a four-quadrant crowd-pleaser, the newest “Star Wars” is actually one of the most polarizing box office champs of all time. While many early reviews hailed it as the best in the series since “The Empire Strikes Back,” the fact that the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (56%) ranked far below that of the critics (93%) indicated that this installment is not connecting with a sizable contingent of the fans.
The numbers seem to be backing that up, as “The Last Jedi” is set to gross $800 million less than “The Force Awakens,” while even Mark Hamill expressed displeasure at the direction they took Luke Sykwalker, before quickly walking back his comments after Disney stormtroopers put electrodes to his genitals. I finally caught up to the movie a month after its release, and while I had heard a few enthusiastic responses from people who had seen it, it was impossible not to detect a general sense of disappointment from most of those I talked to. So where did I fall on this spectrum?
Well before I go into my thoughts, I’ll note that “The Last Jedi” has already been pulled from theaters after bombing in China, whose audiences usually eat up American sci-fi blockbusters like they were smothered in garlic sauce. But much of their disinterest in the latest “Star Wars” has been chalked up to their unfamiliarity with the franchise and the fact that they have no childhood attachment to these characters, and I gotta say I side with China on this one. If I were also coming into this movie cold and with no pre-existing affection for this franchise, I too would wonder why I should care about watching some grumpy old asshole mope around a cave while some incompetent heroes run out of gas in space.
Because in essence, whatever grand and rousing adventure the cliffhanger of “The Force Awakens” promised, that’s pretty much “The Last Jedi” in a nutshell. And while I was one of those who felt that J.J. Abrams’ film was an inferior remake of “A New Hope,” at least it felt like a movie made by someone who loves “Star Wars,” while “The Last Jedi” feels like a movie made for people who hate “Star Wars.” But before I get into the many things I didn’t like, I’ll be generous and start with the good stuff (major spoilers to follow):
– Adam Driver is always interesting to watch, and his character was the only one I cared about. If nothing else, Kylo Ren had a goal and he was the only person in the film who came even close to getting it done.
– While her character in the first film felt less like a recognizable human being and more like the embodiment of every Katy Perry girl power anthem, I actually thought Daisy Ridley showed growth as a character in this even when she didn’t get much help from the script. Her moments with Driver were the only times I had any interest in where the story was going.
– Ummm, let me get back to you if I think of anything else.
Now let’s deal with the bad:
– When we left off at the end of “The Force Awakens,” the First Order had been dealt a major blow after their Death Star – sorry, Star Killer – base had been destroyed by the Resistance. But apparently since then, as we read in the opening crawl, the Resistance has somehow been decimated, and it’s pretty easy to see why since they are led by an elderly alcoholic whose second-in-command is Laura Dern with purple hair.
– Now I hate to speak ill of the dead, but in retrospect it probably wasn’t a great idea to kill off almost all the characters from the original trilogy (even Admiral Ackbar!) except for the one played by the actress we all kind of expected to pass away first in real life. Seriously, it is distracting how unhealthy Carrie Fisher looks and sounds in this, and considering some people would like to declare Trump unfit for duty because he likes Big Macs, I think a physical for General Organa is in order as well.
– Of course who cares if your alternative is Laura Dern. Sorry, I don’t care what sort of “Fifth Element” look they give her here, Laura Dern fits into the “Star Wars” universe as well as her one-time lover Billy Bob Thornton would have. Also, why wouldn’t she tell anyone her stupid plan, even when her crew is mutinying against her? I guess this is supposed to be some sort of veiled statement about how women in authority don’t get the same deference as men, but considering she is immediately hostile and sarcastic to Poe because he apparently represents every cocky flyboy she has ever known, I’d say she actually embodies some regressive stereotypes about women making emotional decisions due to daddy/ex-boyfriend issues. Also, if your crew is already staging a coup against you after like 6 hours, I’d say maybe a little bit of soul-searching about your management style is in order.
– I will say I am surprised that this didn’t do better in China, since a big message of the film is that it is important to always trust and defer to authority no matter what, even when that authority figure is your elderly drunk aunt. Apparently Rian Johnson doesn’t care that the daring, roguish, rule-breaking hero is a staple of sci-fi from “Star Wars” to “Star Trek” to “Firefly” because we like that archetype and we like to see them succeed by using their own instincts and independent streak to save the day. Or maybe he thinks he’s above doing that trope, but either way I’m not sure why they brought Poe’s character back in “The Force Awakens,” after originally planning on killing him off early, just to constantly make him wrong and largely responsible for the near-total annihilation of the Resistance in “The Last Jedi.”
– The return of Luke Skywalker was the biggest hook for this film, and when the movie deflates the audience’s expectations by having him accept the lightsaber from Rey and then toss it behind his shoulder, I knew we were in the dreaded post-modern territory. It’s been less than a couple of hours since I watched this movie and I can barely remember anything that occurred in this subplot, and honestly I dreaded every time we returned to the two of them. It just seemed to be a lot of scenes of Luke refusing to train Rey and her pestering him until he finally does a little, although I don’t even know if he actually did teach her anything she didn’t already know. Honestly it’s pretty much just like Daniel and Miyagi in “Karate Kid III,” except Terry Silver would be a way better villain than anyone we have seen in these recent sequels so far.
(To read the rest of our “Last Jedi” review, please CLICK HERE.)