Tag Archives: Kylo Ren

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

My force has been out of balance for a while, hence the lack of movie reviews. I’m still watching movies, but I’ve been too busy or lazy to write, and there was no movie that could lure me out of semi-retirement — not even blockbusters like Thor: Ragnarok or Justice League (I’ll hopefully get to them soon) — except one. Of course, it had to be The Last Jedi.

As much as I wanted to keep expectations in check, it was difficult to contain my excitement. The Force Awakens had its flaws, but it was exciting, nostalgic and lots of fun. Star Wars was back and everybody was guessing what the next instalment had in store. Luke Skywalker was going to play a big role. Big names such as Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro joined the cast. Andy Serkis’s Supreme Leader Snoke wasn’t going to be a hologram anymore. And the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher added a sense of melancholy but also curiosity as to how they were going to handle her character.

However, what lit up my lightsaber more than anything else about The Last Jedi was its filmmaker, Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed the stylish and compelling Brick and Looper, and arguably the greatest episode of arguably the greatest TV show of all time (the legendary Breaking Bad episode, “Ozymandias”). Disney was reportedly so happy with what Johnson did with The Last Jedi that they’ve signed him to create a new Star Wars trilogy (the first film of which he will write and direct).

But even with one of my favourite directors at the helm, I knew Episode VIII could not possibly live up to my fantasy of what I hoped it would be. And it doesn’t. It’s far from a perfect film. That said, the most difficult task for Johnson was to give audiences something new and fresh yet in keep with the Star Wars mythology and feel. In that regard, I think he absolutely hit it out of the park.

The Last Jedi is bold and distinct, with subtle elements of nostalgia that won’t irk some fans like The Force Awakens did. There were a million theories about the film, the characters, and the direction the story might take, and yet Johnson manages to avoid pretty much all of them, twisting and turning the plot in ways I didn’t expect while answering a lot of questions from the movie’s predecessor. I found myself repeatedly surprised, and for me, that’s the film’s biggest strength.

Fueled by solid dialogue that avoids too much forced exposition but does enough to inform audiences, the characters are mostly strong and well-developed, building on the solid foundations of the first film and adding more metaphorical flesh to the bones of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and especially Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher have much bigger roles (“Duh” for the former), though the story remains firmly that of the new generation. For me, Adam Driver steals the show. He is just so good that I’m fairly certain the original trilogy would have a completely different legacy had he played Anakin Skywalker (no offence, Hayden Christensen). The chemistry he has with Ridley, Hamill, Andy Serkis, and even Domnhall Gleeson adds more layer and depth to all their characters, and that stoic expression on his face keeps you wondering what the heck he’s thinking.

Another standout is the cinematography by Steven Yedlin, who might have an Oscar nomination coming soon after delivering some of the most beautiful and memorable shots of the entire saga. There are some scenes that look like they should be in photography exhibitions. The special effects are as good as they were in The Force Awakens and Rogue One, though in my opinion not quite on the level of War for the Planet of the Apes and Blade Runner 2049, especially during one extended subplot sequence.

Like any good Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi features a good mix of riveting action and moving drama, plus, perhaps surprising to some, a decent dash of humour. As everyone expected, this is a darker film, but this does not mean there aren’t moments of levity. I must say that I was a little worried about both in the beginning, as the action seemed somewhat standard, even a little confusing with the quick edits, and the first couple of gags didn’t feel quite right, tonally speaking. As the movie progressed along, however, more of the jokes hit their mark, and by the third act, the action had me nailed to my seat, engrossed by every image.

There are a few other weaknesses. While the new “big four” of Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo get the bulk of the juice in the script, some of the lesser and newer characters and their arcs and subplots feel shortchanged. One, in particular, is very deflating. I can’t go into it much more than that, except to add that some of the story points came across as a little forced and don’t actually propel the narrative as much as they should. This is despite a 2.5-hour running time, which makes it’s the longest Star Wars movie ever. Apparently, the first cut was over 3 hours, which could have put some of that meat back on but it would also have made the movie way too long. For the record, despite some slower moments in the beginning, I thought the final running-time was fine—you need the build-up at the start to deliver the emotional punch you need at the end.

Ultimately, Episode VIII of the Star Wars saga was well worth the wait. It is a high-risk, high-reward follow-up to the relatively safe Force Awakens that, for the most part, pays off. It’s unlike any Star Wars movie you’ve seen, but it’s also still undoubtedly a Star Wars movie. I never watched the original trilogy at the right age (either too young or too old), so I was always a fan but never in love with the first three films like many are. Accordingly, while I have a feeling The Last Jedi could divide viewers, it might very well be my favourite entry of the lot. The last hour of the film, certainly, is as engrossing as any hour of the eight episodes (and one spin-off) that have been made thus far. It’s possible that, with a few more viewings, I might end up revering The Last Jedi as much as those who grew up on the original trilogy revere Empire Strikes Back.

4.5 stars out of 5!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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First of all, you’re not going to get any spoilers here. Not even any mention of the plot. Zero. Nada. And you know my threshold for spoilers is extremely low, so don’t worry. Disney and Lucasfilm and the entire internet in general have all done a commendable job of keeping the show under wraps, and it’s because of their resilience that I enjoyed the film as much as I did. Seriously, avoid spoilers at all costs because — despite the rampant speculation across the internet — there are some surprises to be found. I actually wish now that I had skipped the relatively spoiler-free trailers.

Secondly, if there is only one piece of advice I could give to would be viewers, it would be to keep your expectations in check. I know it’s hard, considering it’s probably the most anticipated movie of all time. Some people have been waiting for the movie for years, if not decades, and the buzz surrounding it all from the second the film was announced has been out of this galaxy. But just remember that it’s still just a two-hour movie (135 minutes to be exact) and that there is no human, droid or Wookie who can make a film that lives up to the hype. Even I, more a fan of the idea of Star Wars than Star Wars itself, got swept up in the drama and had a dream last night where I arrived at the cinema only to discover that all tickets for the morning session I intended to see had been sold out (I woke up in the morning and pre-booked online immediately).

Now that I’ve gotten the formalities out of the way, it’s time for my spoiler-free review of The Force Awakens. All things considered, the film is a major triumph, a near-perfect blend of space opera and fantasy, fighter jet and lightsaber action, practical and CGI effects, mythology and nostalgia, old and new faces, drama and humour. Provided expectations are reasonable, the film will please everyone from newcomers to hardcore fans alike.

The film begins like all Star Wars movies and will surely give fans chills and goosebumps when the opening scrawl appears on the big screen. The story itself is simple to follow, with just enough exposition to allow those less familiar with the history of the franchise (like my wife) to keep up, without feeling like we’re getting a rehash of previous events.

This already gives The Force Awakens a distinct advantage over the three disappointing Star Wars prequels. JJ Abrams has clearly learned from George Lucas’s mistakes and gone back to the roots of the franchise. He said himself that he was trying to recapture the magic of the first film that entranced him when he was just a child.

Accordingly, there was — as many of you will already know — a special emphasis on costumes and practical effects, with the CGI kept to a minimum where possible. The difference in the visual experience is profound, giving the film that tangible look and feel that has been missing from most major blockbusters in recent years.

What really elevates The Force Awakens to the level of the original films, however, is the characters. Kudos to Abrams for creating and putting a lot of effort into developing the three new-generation leads: Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren). All of them are kick-ass characters who have already exhibited more depth than Anakin Skywalker and Queen Amidala put together in the three prequels. I was originally worried that casting a female/black lead may come across as trying too hard, or that Kylo Ren would just be a carbon copy of Darth Vader — but boy was I wrong on all counts. All will be household names soon enough and they deserve to be.

Special mention also goes to the new CGI characters played by the king of motion capture, Andy Serkis, as well as Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. Fans will already know who they play, but if you didn’t know they are in it you probably wouldn’t be able to figure out which characters they play. That’s one of the things I loved about the movie — it’s not about the name of the star but the character they play that stands out.

As awesome as the new characters are and as much freshness as they inject into the franchise, the movie just wouldn’t have been the same without the members of the original cast. If you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know who they are, and you can tell all of them are happy to be back. Far from just being there to infuse a healthy dose of nostalgia, these beloved characters are pivotal to the story and serve important purposes without stealing anyone’s thunder. The balance and blend of new and old must not have been easy to get right, but JJ got it as close as you could hope for.

As for the action, for my money it was at least on par with the original trilogy. Thanks to modern technology, the spacecraft sequences are sensational and make use of innovative angles and maneuvers. The prequel trilogy may have had better lightsaber duels, but they don’t mean much when the emotional connection isn’t there. In The Force Awakens, the duels actually feel like they mean something, and as a result they come across as much more powerful and impactful.

Having said all that, The Force Awakens isn’t without flaws. Not all the dialogue and humour worked all the time, and there were a couple of occasions where time appears to be stretched or condensed to fit the narrative. Apart from Kylo Ren, the villains didn’t get as much screen time as I had hoped, in particular Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma and Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, though I do get the feeling that they are playing the long game with these two and that they will feature more prominently in episodes VIII and IX.

Perhaps the biggest complaint that has leaked out since the worldwide premiere is that The Force Awakens has too many parallels to — without being too specific — some of the previous films in the series. I admit this is true as it is something I noticed myself, though there are enough differences and new ideas for The Force Awakens to be both a sequel and a reboot of sorts — something I believe Abrams was aiming for in the first place.

In all, The Force Awakens delivers. While it didn’t blow my mind, it’s a fun, exciting experience that brings back memories, creates new ones, and sets things up magnificently for what is yet to come. As long as you can accept that it will never live up to your impossible expectations, the film might very well turn out to be one of your best cinematic experiences of the year.

4.25 stars out of 5

PS: Episode VIII, scheduled for release in May 2017, will be directed by Rian Johnson, best known for Looper and directing three episodes of Breaking Bad, most notably “Ozymandias”,  arguably the show’s greatest episode. Episode IX will be directed by Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World).