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Star Wars-The Last Jedi
By Joseph Pillsbury
There is a debate raging across this country. Its tearing the nation apart. No, not the whole Republican vs Democrat thing. We all need a break from that. I am talking about the debate raging over the new Star Wars movie. Is it good? Is it bad? Is the franchise in trouble under the rule of the Disney Company?
Professional movie critics tend to like the new movie. Normal movie goers enjoyed the experience a lot. But some nerds who think they have some emotional ownership to the franchise because they analyzed these movies as if they were biblical scriptures seem to have problems with the direction the new trilogy is heading.
One of the big complaints I have heard multiple times is that things happen in the movie that don’t make sense. Either to the way they thought the story should go, or because of something defying science.
Maybe you can already tell from the tone of my writing, I am here to slap some common sense into all these people.
SPOILERS AHEAD. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN STAR WARS-THE LAST JEDI YOU SHOULD STOP READING THIS NOW. NO, I AM SERIOUS. LOTS OF THINGS HAPPEN IN THE NEW MOVIE AND YOU’RE GOING TO WANT TO BE SURPRISED WHEN IT HAPPENS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Ok. Here we go. For anyone of you who went into the theater expecting hard science fiction, what the hell were you thinking? There is nothing in any of the previous Star Wars movies that would make you think this is a galaxy that follows the normal laws of physics and science. Star Wars is our generation’s Wizard of Oz. And if you walk away from a viewing of Wizard of Oz moaning about Scarecrows. Lions and Tin Men walking and talking, flying monkeys and broomsticks not being able to aerodynamically support a female whether she be a witch or not, shame on you. You’re leading a horrible joyless life.
The Star Wars galaxy needs to be appreciated the same way we appreciate Munchkin Land, the Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City, Star Wars is a magical universe filled with wild and whimsical things that get ruined if you overthink them.
Remember in the prequels when George Lucas decided to attribute advanced use of the Force to Miticlorines in a potential Jedi’s bloodstream? Yeh, turns out George Lucas was one of those joyless people set out to ruin a good thing too. Trying to attribute the mystical Force to some blood disorder was just plain stupid. It took away the spirit… hell, it removed the fun from the Force.
And if you think Disney is taking the franchise down the wrong path, in its original owner’s hands George Lucas had the evil Galactic Empire overthrown by Teddy Bears. George Lucas practically invented cashing in on a movie with toys and commercial tie-ins, so you really cannot blame that on Disney.
I think Disney actually saved the Star Wars universe. It has given it over to todays top film makers and let them further our voyage through the Galaxy Far Far Away. Disney broke ties with the prequels. They are producing compelling movies separate from the Skywalker saga. And soon they are going to let guests at the Disney theme parks have immersive experiences exploring the Star Wars universe in person. Anyone who has experienced the simulator ride Star Tours or has wandered through Disney’s new Pandora experience will confirm, Disney is going to offer something truly special.
I think its funny. The big complaint about Episode 7-The Force Awakens was that it was too close in story to Episode 4-A New Hope. But then when Episode 8-The Last Jedi comes out the big complaint is its too different from other Star Wars movies. You cannot have it both ways, people. Frankly I think the similarities and the reintroduction of original characters set the stage nicely for the relaunch of the Star Wars franchise. After all, Return of the Jedi appeared on screen in 1983. Revenge of the Sith was on screen in 2005. An entire generation of movie goers had been disconnected from Star Wars. A reconnect was necessary. And Episode 7 did a nice job handing the baton from old characters to new. And it captured the fun of the original Star Wars movies which is why we love these flicks in the first place.
Rogue One was met in much the same way as Episode 8. Most critics liked it. Most movie goers enjoyed it. But then there were a group of nerd bloggers that seemed intent on tearing it apart afterwards. One blogger went as far to say if you removed all the references to Star Wars, would Rogue One still be a good movie? They thought not. I whole heartedly thought YES! But thats kind of an idiotic way to review a movie. Let me give you an example: If Saving Private Ryan was not set in WWII would it still be a good movie? Yes. But it would not be Saving Private Ryan which was a WWII movie. So claiming if you removed the beloved references to The Force, The Empire, and the Death Star this would make Rogue One a bad story is nonsense. Even though I do believe it would hold up because there are other non Star Wars movies that have similar plots and they were quite good like Guns of Naverrone or The Dirty Dozen. My point is you do not review a movie for what it isn’t. You review a movie for what it is.
If Episode 7 was too predictable, then we should be celebrating Episode 8 for having so many surprises. Hey, The Last Jedi is not my favorite Star Wars movie. But its far from my least favorite (I’m looking at you, Phantom Menace). But I applaud the writer and director for taking some chances.
In the movies epic opening battle we see the resistance lure in a First Order Dreadnaught battle ship in close. Poe takes it on with a single X-Wing until Rebel Bombers can make it to the scene. A lot of people groaned at the idea of bombers in space, but this is nothing new for the Star Wars universe. The Empire used Tie Bombers to try to roust the Millennium Falcon from its hiding space in the asteroid field in the original trilogy. Right before they realized they were in the belly of a giant asteroid worm thing. Remember? But for some reason people had a problem with the big Rebel bombers in The Last Jedi. Everyone thinks they are so clever when it comes to space physics. Yes, there is no gravitational pull in space away from large objects like moons or planets. But there is a thing in zero gravity that acts virtually the same. Its called momentum. If those bombs in those racks had the least bit of force pushing them out of those bombers, they would continue on their path to hit the dreadnaught just like they did. So lighten up on this one. Space bombers can indeed work in space.
Later in the battle, things go horribly wrong. The First Order gets the upper hand as Kilo Ren leads a swarm of Tie Fighters on an attack upon the Rebels flag ship carrying Princess Leah. Though Kilo doesn’t pull the trigger (interesting), the others do and blow out the side of the ship, sucking out the crew into the vacuum and certain death of space. But before Leah is frozen or turned inside out (the preferred methods of death when people are blown out of an air lock in sci-fi movies), Leah uses the Force to propel herself across a short distance to an emergency hatch on another nearby ship where she is rescued.
Oh boy do people have problems with this scene. But lets use films touted as being scientifically accurate as examples why this scene is actually just fine. In 2001 A Space Odyssey Astronaut Dave has to overcome the lack of cooperation from the USS Discovery’s master computer HAL by ejecting himself from a space pod to an airlock without a helmet. The astronaut survives exposure to outer space for about a minute. In The Martian, the Astronaut survives ascension into space in just a pressure suit and punctures it to propel him the few extra yards to the waiting arms of his rescuers. Again exposing himself for minutes to the effects of space. And survives. So though it might be a stretch, we are talking Star Wars here. Remember the asteroid scene I just mentioned from the original trilogy? Han, Leah and Chewie all leave the protection of the Falcon with just little breather masks covering their mouth and nose. Now they knew they were in the vacuum of space when they were dodging Tie Fighters and space rocks just moments before. They knew that flying into a big cave would not give them the protection of an atmosphere. But they were out there, walking outside the Falcon and no one called fowl back then. So why are folks so hung up on this scene? We know Leah has Force powers from her ability to connect with Luke over great distances. We know Force users move things with their minds. Rocks, light sabres, the occasional X-Wing extraction from a swamp. So people have issues with Leah moving herself through zero gravity to safety before her eyes popped out and her body froze solid? Come on, people. Leah knows she is the daughter of a powerful dark Force user and her brother is a straight up Jedi. She and Han sent their only son to Jedi training camp with Luke. You don’t think she learned a thing or two about the Force in the thirty years since she realized her family’s legacy? And if we are going to get all scientific about it, in space, it would take very little force at all to fly her across a short distance. For all we know she got a good kick off a piece of debris and her movement had nothing to do with the Force at all. A fart would have propelled her across that space in zero G. But its much more fun to think of it as the Force, and the implications that Leah is now a more powerful Force user.
Then there was the whole bit about cranky Luke on his lonely Island where he hoped to wait out his life in solitude after accidentally creating the dark Force monster Kilo Ren. Isn’t it established that this is precisely the sort of thing Jedi’s do when they fail a cause? Obiwan Kenobi wasn’t exactly hanging out enjoying retirement in beachside resorts. He was hiding out on Tattooine after he created the dark Force wielding monster Darth Vader. Granted, Obiwan was easier to convince he needed to shake it off and join the fight again, but Luke always was one to overthink and put things off. So again to me, cranky pants Luke fit right in with what I expected. I even liked his casual discarding of his old light saber after being so majestically presented it by Rey.
Some people when nuts when that happened. But again, this is Star Wars. Part of the fun is how people do not react the way we sometimes expect them to react. Remember seeing the incredibly cool Millennium Falcon for the first time and the surprise of everyone referring to it as a piece of junk? Love that. The fact that Luke so easily tossed aside the saber just punched up the fact that this was one Jedi who would need some real convincing and might be so deeply scarred from his past that he has given it all up. That his views on the Jedi religion and the Force have drastically changed over three decades. And for the cause of the over-arching story its good that Luke is so hard to convince. It makes his appearance in the end scenes so much more powerful.
I will admit there was a part of the film I did not like. The whole section in the middle where Fin and Rose go off on their little side mission to find a hacker good enough to defeat the First Orders new hyperspace tracking device.
First of all, it removes a handy plot point that has saved the Rebels time and time again. The fact that its impossible to track ships through hyperspace. At least not unless a tracking device has been attached to a ship. I have a feeling future writers will not like the idea that the First Order has cracked this problem. And though they might have destroyed the device this time, we know the First Order likes to make things again and again (Death Stars).
But I digress. The problem with this whole side story was how unnecessary it was. Did we have any doubt the fate of the entire enemy ship was a beautifully filmed explosion? Ok ok. But lets say that their only hope was to sneak a highly skilled hacker onboard to dismantle their amazing new tracking device. The whole side story on the Casino world felt like it was added on unnecessarily. Why not just let Rose have a few extra skills. I mean she was the one who figured out where the tracker must be on the enemy ship. It looked like the whole thing could have been defeated by a bottle cap and a set of tweezers. Maybe just maybe they needed this side trip to set up the notion that there are other Force users and the spark of the Rebellion has even reached the slave children who tend to the racing animals on this distant world. But aside from that little nugget, it felt like a big waste of time and film.
Lets talk for a moment about Rey and Kilo’s side story with Emperor Snoke. I thought this turn of events was pretty interesting. I liked that together Rey and Ren took down the Emperor with the added twist that Ren did not intend to do this because he was good. He did this as a power grab. He intended to create a new power in the galaxy and rule with Rey by his side. This is the kind of move Vader never did. This is the kind of move that would actually make Kilo Ren more bad ass than his Grandfather. I like that Rey stayed true to the light side and rejected the dark. This is indeed setting up a massive confrontation to be resolved in Episode 9. But more than anything else perhaps in the whole movie, I liked the reveal that Rey is not the child of Skywalker or Solo. Or for that matter, not Kenobi either. Nobody. Rey is the child of common laborers who abandoned her to be slave labor on a terrible desert planet. Its surprising but powerful. It broke the Mitachlorine curse. The Force is not something that is handed down through bloodlines. Its something that magically and randomly chooses folks. It means anyone… even from the most simple beginnings… can become a Force user. Maybe even a Jedi.
The other big story gap for me was why the First Order ships could not just use their ability to jump into hyperspace to jump slightly ahead of a big main ship that held the last remnants of the Rebellion. It seemed so obvious to me during the whole slow speed chase through space that it kind of hurt the movie for me. Oh, not in a Teddy Bears defeat the Empire kind of way, but in a nagging sort of way. All they really needed to do was introduce some sort of plot device that prevented both ships from jumping to light speed. We heard the problem for the Rebels was a shortage of fuel. But the First Order did not have this problem. They were willing to engage until the Rebels could not run anymore. All they needed to do is insert something, one second, something like there is so much space debris in the sector its preventing light speed travel. There. Problem solved. And since the Rebel fleet was just decimated and we were close to an old Rebel base where an old battle was fought, this could have been easily established. But they left the piece out and we are left wondering if the First Order is just that stupid when it comes to battle tactics.
The appearance and subsequent death of Captain Phasma seemed way too fast to me. I feel like Fin and Phasma’a story arch should have continued through all the three movies and should have had more weight than what it was given.
The final appearance of Luke Skywalker as the ultimate distraction while the Rebels escaped out a back passage was fun. The subtle attention to details was clever. Did you notice Luke’s feet did not stir up red footprints like everyone else’s did? Did you notice a slightly younger Luke appeared to Kilo. I am willing to forgive the physical embodiment of a Jedi and objects he might be carrying. He did give Leah the set of dice from the Millennium Falcon just before stepping out to confront Kilo and the approaching First Order Walkers. I thought the long distance projection which spent all of Luke’s powers was a kind of sweet, peaceful and poetic end the Luke’s life.
As a good middle installment of a trilogy should, The Last Jedi leaves the Rebellion in its worst condition yet. All the main players the Rebellion has fits snuggly into the Millennium Falcon. Meanwhile Kilo is presumedly the new Emperor and has all the resources of the First Order at his command. They have set up the ultimate underdog confrontation. I am very eager to see what Episode 9 brings. I love these characters and I love this Galaxy Far Far Away. I am grateful for the chance to visit it at least once every year.