Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It is by now well established that I am not much of a Star Wars fan, my time in SWTOR notwithstanding. But I did see the last movie, so now I’m kind of invested in the new trilogy, and it’s such a huge franchise I kind of feel like I have to keep watching, if only so I can enjoy the inevitable memes and parodies.

So, okay, let’s do this.

A promotional image for Star Wars: The Last JediI found The Force Awakens hard to rate, and The Last Jedi is harder still. I can see why the reviews are so mixed. This is a weird, inconsistent movie.

For one thing, there are, like, three climaxes. More than once you’ll think you’re watching the end of the movie, and then it will keep going for another hour. They’re all pretty powerful “endings,” but it does get a little overwhelming after a while.

This being Star Wars, logic is often left by the wayside. This time the most egregious act of dumbery is the fact that the First Order has somehow overthrown the Galactic Republic overnight, reducing its entire military is down to just four hundred people.

What.

The writers also still have no concept of linear time. Rey’s story appears to be take place over the course of many days, perhaps even weeks, while all the other action — which is clearly happening concurrently — is explicitly established to be taking place over the course of about twenty-four hours.

I really wish it didn’t have problems like this, because in a lot of other ways this is closer to a good movie than Star Wars has ever been, but it’s just so hard to get into the story when the bedrock of it just fundamentally doesn’t make sense.

Finn battles the First Order in Star Wars: The Last JediIt’s just simple laziness. These problems would have been so easy to fix. Give me a short montage of the Republic falling, a little exposition on how the First Order got so big so fast, and a few dialogue tweaks so the timeline actually works, and it would have been a much better movie.

I also would have liked to see more of Rey. She was by far the best thing about Force Awakens — really she was the only thing that saved that movie — but here she’s just a vector for Kylo Ren’s story. She’s in a decent number of scenes, but she doesn’t actually do much of anything.

Also, Poe is now suddenly a complete asshole for some reason.

On the other hand, there is a fair bit that I did like.

My favourite thing about The Last Jedi is that it surprised me, more than once. It’s not a predictable movie, and it’s not just a retread of what’s come before. It’s charting its own course, telling a new story, and offering some genuine and enjoyable twists.

Surprisingly — unbelievably — Kylo Ren turned out to be a highlight of the movie. He’s been fleshed out a lot more and now has a reasonable and compelling motivation beyond just “rawr evil.” Frankly I think he’s probably seeing things clearer than any of the other characters, though his methods for achieving his goals are still… less than ideal.

Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last JediI suppose in a way he has taken the Sith Code to its ultimate conclusion, its purest form. “The Force shall set me free.”

It’s hard to get past his prior portrayal, though. I love the story they’ve given Kylo Ren, but I’d love it much more if they’d given it to a better character. The fact remains he spent all of the last movie acting like a spoiled emo child, and it’s hard to take him seriously in the face of that, even with his portrayal so much improved.

Meanwhile, Finn continues to be a lot of fun, and this time he managed to find a balance where he has a lot of personality, but is no longer so hammy about it. His new companion, Rose, is also a real delight.

I was happy to see a film finally acknowledge the failures of the Jedi, but I don’t think it did enough in that regard. Too much time was spent on Luke’s personal regrets and not enough on how fundamentally flawed the entire Jedi system is.

And of course, this is an absolutely gorgeous movie. Not just in the quality of the special effects, but they’re used with some real artistry, too. That moonlit chase scene was breathtaking, as were the bright colours of the final battle.

Oh, man, how I wish SWTOR could capture just some of the beauty and spectacle of the movies. Or the movies could be half as smart as SWTOR.

Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Last JediThey’re such opposite extremes. The Last Jedi was — at least for me — the most powerful Star Wars movie to date by far, but it’s still nothing compared to confronting the Star Cabal or the showdown with Valkorion at the Eternal Throne.

On the other hand, SWTOR is ugly to look at and bland to play. It has no sense of spectacle. It’s emotional, it’s thoughtful, and it’s smart, but it has no flair, no style.

If I have to choose, I’ll still prefer The Old Republic. It has twice the heart and a thousand times more brains than the Star Wars films. But boy I wish there could be a happy medium.

But back on topic, The Last Jedi is, like its predecessor, a mixed movie with a lot to like, but also serious flaws. I’m a big defender of numbered reviews, but this is one case where just slapping a number on something is never going to capture the complexity of it all.

However, for consistency’s sake…

Overall rating: 7/10

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Review: Bright

Netflix’s urban fantasy Bright is a movie that combines two things I almost always like: Elves, and Will Smith, who is one of my favourite actors.

Will Smith and Joel Edgerton as Officers Ward and Jakoby in BrightMind you, I don’t think he’s a brilliant actor or anything, but he’s very charismatic, and he’s very hard not to like.

So his involvement plus the subject matter was enough to make me want to give Bright a try.

Described as “Lord of the Rings meets Training Day,” Bright is an action-packed cop movie set in an alternate version of the modern day where all of the fantasy races are real and co-exist, though not always peacefully.

It has a difficult tightrope to walk in that it has to dump a great deal of world-building on the viewer without slowing the movie down too much. I’d say it did a respectable job of that, though a little patience may be required.

It’s aided by some impressive visual story-telling. There’s an incredible eye for detail, with the background of nearly every shot filled with graffiti and signage unique to this bizarre modern fantasy world, and the make-up for the non-human races is fantastic. I particularly liked the sharp teeth of the Elves, a subtle hint that beneath their beauty they are a hard and dangerous people.

Smith plays Daryl Ward, an embittered cop assigned to be the partner of Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the first Orcish police officer in United States history. There’s great tension between the two due to a past incident where Ward was nearly killed, as well as a healthy dose of racism.

Nothing like an Orc with a BFGThere’s a great deal of very thinly veiled social commentary in this movie, with Orcs serving as stand-ins for real life minorities. The Elves, meanwhile, are effectively the 1%, and humans serve as a middle class.

I have mixed feelings on Bright’s handling of racial politics.

On the upside, it does feel — to me, as an outsider on the issue — like a realistic portrayal of racism, despite the fantastic trappings. Often the media tends to sugar coat racism, showing it as bad but in a distant and sanitized sort of way. Bright pulls no punches in depicting the utter cruelty with which Jakoby and his people are treated.

On the other hand, the Orc racism ends up being almost totally irrelevant to the main plot of the movie, which prevents any really good points from being made and makes the whole film feel a bit unfocused.

The actual story sees Ward and Jakoby run afoul of a group of Elven terrorists who are hunting for a magical wand and its owner, a troubled Elven woman named Tikka (Lucy Fry).

In this setting, magic exists, but is rarely seen. Wands are tightly controlled by the government, and they can only be wielded by a rare individual with magical talent: a Bright.

Noomi Rapace as Elven extremist Leilah in BrightMost of the movie takes the form of an extended action/chase sequences as Ward, Jakoby, and Tikka attempt to stay alive and keep the wand safe from its many pursuers: Elven terrorists, Orcish gangsters, human street thugs, and more.

Despite the fantastic elements, this is actually a fairly ordinary story. Bar the magic-laden climax, this really could have been any other cop movie. There’s potential for real originality here, but it’s unrealized.

Still, as action movies go, it’s decent. There are certainly worse ways to spend an evening.

My biggest complaint would be how under-utilized Lucy Fry’s Tikka is. She puts on by far the best performance of the movie, infusing every word and movement with an alien grace that truly sells her as something more than human, but she spends most of Bright just sitting there looking scared. It’s a waste.

Show of hands: Who’s surprised I wanted to see more of the Elf?

No one?

Didn’t think so.

Lucy Fry as troubled Elven renegade Tikka in BrightJakoby and Ward, by comparison, are just okay. Their rivalry feels a bit forced, as do all their interactions, but they serve their purpose, I suppose. Smith’s aforementioned charisma is the only thing making Ward bearable, as he’s actually kind of a douchebag when you get down to it.

So Bright is a bit inconsistent, and it doesn’t fully utilize the uniqueness of its setting nor its characters, but it manages to provide a mostly satisfying ride all the same.

Overall rating: 7.3/10 If the sequel gets made, I’ll watch it.