Review of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

After taking out a First Order dreadnaught with heavy Resistance forces losses, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is demoted by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) for failing to follow orders. Finn (John Boyega) finally wakes up after nearly dying from his encounter with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) on the Starkiller base. His first words are to ask about Rey (Daisy Ridley) who is with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on the planet Ahch-To where he’s been in self-imposed exile since Ben Solo turned to the dark side of the Force and took the name Kylo Ren. Luke fears his failure with Ben will be repeated with Rey once he feels just how strong she is with the Force and he refuses to teach her the ways of the Jedi. When the Resistance lead ship drops out of hyperspace the First Order cruiser is right behind. The First Order has figured out how to track them in hyperspace and with their ship low on fuel making another jump is impossible. The First Order attacks and Leia is injured and unconscious. Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) takes command of the Resistance but Poe is unsatisfied with her seemingly cautious strategy. A young maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and Finn come up with a plan to disable the First Order’s tracking of the Resistance in hyperspace but have to do it from onboard their lead ship and they need an expert code hacker. Contacting Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o), she tells them to go to the casino on the planet Canto Bight and look for the man with the red flower pin on his chest. Meanwhile Luke relents and begins teaching Rey the ways of the Force. Rey starts having long distance chats via the Force with Kylo Ren. She believes he can be turned from the dark side and help the resistance win but Luke is dubious.

As I sit at my keyboard I mimic a scene from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” where Luke encourages Rey to reach out with her feelings. I try to do the same when it comes to how I feel about this movie. It’s a mishmash of joy, sadness and yearning for the next two years to hurry up and go by so I can see how the sequel trilogy ends. There is also a scene in the film where a character is encouraged to pay attention to what’s happening now and not look ahead to the future. So I am going to focus on what I feel from what I saw in the two and a half hours of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and share it with you here. The short version can be summed up in one word: Wow!

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a brave bit of filmmaking. It takes a beloved franchise and turns it on its head with character choices and character deaths that come out of nowhere while still feeling grounded in the universe in which many of us have invested decades of fandom. Director and writer Rian Johnson has essentially given the franchise a clean slate from which to create whole new stories that don’t rely on Luke, Han and Leia while also giving the long-time fans plenty of nostalgia to soothe any fears that history will be set aside for the newer characters.

While Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac get the majority of screen time, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are likely to be the most remembered performances of this film. While only sharing the screen once, Hamill and Fisher bring it alive whenever they are shown. Hamill is an angry and disillusioned Skywalker, hiding on an island that houses an ancient Jedi temple while refusing Rey’s pleadings to return to join and lead the new Rebellion. Skywalker is something we haven’t seen much of in any “Star Wars” film: Truly afraid. Hamill gives Luke a brief glimmer of the boyish enthusiasm of old while also showing us a mature and more measured man. Hamill is able, despite Luke’s reluctance, to show there is still some of the old fighter left in the Jedi master.

Despite what happens in the story we know this is the last time we’ll see Carrie Fisher’s General Leia. Media reports from not long after her death state Disney and Lucasfilm won’t use old, repurposed footage of Fisher nor will they digitally recreate her as was done in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” That makes her performance in this film all the more powerful. Fisher is mesmerizing as Leia. Her regal yet down-to-Earth countenance makes Leia a born leader and her leadership is desperately needed if the Rebellion is to survive the events of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Fisher’s ability to be both tough and motherly is what makes her an appealing character as Leia. It makes me wish for the ability to turn back time and take whatever precautions are necessary so she survives the heart attack that took her away too soon. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is dedicated to her memory.

I enjoyed all the twists and turns of the film immensely; however, there are a few things that with more time to reflect stand out to me as issues. There are primarily three underdeveloped story threads through both this and “The Force Awakens” that seem to be unimportant to Lucasfilm and Disney. First, who is Supreme Leader Snoke? Where did he come from and who trained him in the ways of the Force? How did he accumulate the resources to establish the First Order? While secondary characters in the “Star Wars” universe have been largely unexplored (i.e. Jabba, the Sand People, Jawas, Boba Fett and others) none has been as major a player as Snoke. He’s responsible for blowing up most of the New Republic and that kind of power and influence attracts attention. Why is so little known about him? Second, what/who are the Knights of Ren? Other than Kylo we know of no other members of this mysterious order. Sith Lords from the original and prequel films aren’t as well regulated a group as the Jedi Knights but they do have some known history and a reason for being so what’s the story with the Knights of Ren? Third, who is Captain Phasma? While her chrome armor makes her stand out from the rest of the Storm Troopers we don’t know anything else about her. Before only a patch that was a different color designated any kind of rank but Phasma looks like she must spend hours keeping her armor shiny. She’s also a woman in an organization whose members had been exclusively male. There must be a reason for this and it must be somewhat interesting so why hasn’t it ever been mentioned? I would prefer to not have to read every extended universe novel and comic book to find out some backstory on these aspects of the story. It doesn’t have to be extensive, just a couple of lines of dialog between characters to flesh out people that are apparently very important to the events in these films.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. People are shot by blasters and stabbed by light sabers. One character is cut in half while another is stabbed through the head. Two characters are threatened with beheading. The Force is used to torture a character while they float in midair. Other characters are picked up and thrown around by the Force. There is only the mildest foul language.

There is some complaining on the Internet (imagine that) about the film. How some characters are used or underused and that it tries to copy “The Empire Strikes Back” (didn’t see that at all) along with other complaints. It may be a tad too long, sending characters off on side missions that don’t make a great deal of sense and ignoring the backstories of several important players, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” also gives a needed creative boost to the franchise and wipes the slate clean for the characters introduced in “The Force Awakens.” And it cannot be argued against that there are moments in the film that are jaw-dropping. There are an infinite number of directions the story can take and I for one look forward to going along on the ride.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” gets five supernova stars.

This week your choices include getting small, chasing after a wayward dad and hitting a high note one more aca-time. I’ll see and review one of the following:

Downsizing—

Father Figures—

Pitch Perfect 3—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast available wherever you get your podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

For weeks, the only thing anyone heard about as far as movies were concerned was “Fifty Shades of Grey” and how it would dominate (pardon the expression) the box office over Valentine’s weekend. It lived up to expectations tying up (again, pardon the expression) over $81-million in ticket sales. While the rest of the competition was mostly spanked (see apologies above) there was one new movie that managed to pull in a respectable amount of money despite lacking any whips, riding crops and blindfolds. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is what I saw and I suggest you see it as well.

Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) is an intelligent young man who seems to be wasting his life with alcohol, drugs and petty crimes. He’s approached by a Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a dapper gentleman, who tells Eggsy he knew the boy’s deceased father. Hart is a member of a secret British intelligence organization called the Kingsmen. Hart, whose code name is Galahad, operates out of a tailor shop. While the average patron can be fitted for a custom-made suit, a Kingsman agent can access specialty weapons and an underground pneumatic transport system that goes directly to a villa in the English countryside, the headquarters of the Kingsmen. Galahad informs Eggsy his father was a Kingsman and died on a mission when Eggsy was a very young boy. Galahad encourages Eggsy to try out for a recent opening due to the death of an agent codenamed Lancelot. Lancelot died trying to rescue Professor James Arnold (Mark Hamill), an environmental and global warming expert who had been kidnapped by Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and his accomplice Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). Gazelle has prosthetic legs armed with razor sharp swords which she uses to kill Lancelot. Valentine, a tech billionaire, has been trying for years to get politicians to do something about carbon emissions without success. He has developed a new plan and approaches many celebrities and world leaders for their support, offering them deals they cannot refuse. For those who turn Valentine down, they are locked up in his mountain headquarters. While Valentine wants to save the planet, he doesn’t care how many billions of people have to die to make his plan succeed. Eggsy and several other young people are led through the many tests and trials to become a Kingsman by Agent Merlin (Mark Strong) while Galahad continues his investigation into Valentine’s plan.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” has a very light, jaunty feel to it. It doesn’t take itself seriously and is able to create both humor and excitement, often simultaneously. The film succeeds at being entertaining for several reasons. First, the story moves at a quick pace, rarely staying in the same place for very long. The filmmakers know the target audience doesn’t like taking the time for a huge amount of backstory so much of that is handled in a few sentences at appropriate times. This cuts down on long scenes of exposition and keeps the plot moving forward.

A second reason is the cast. A film like “Kingsman: The Secret Service” rarely has a group of actors with this many A-listers. Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine and Mark Hamill all in one film based on a comic book is not something one sees every weekend. The lesser known members of the cast, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson and Sofia Boutella, are a nice garnish to an already stellar mixture of actors. Everyone in the film is excellent and they all seem to be having a great time.

The script seems to have its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. The style and tone of the dialog, usually delivered in either an upper crust or working class British accent, just feels like fun. Even when the movie has its bloodier moments, and there are plenty, the script manages to keep things light. It also doesn’t mind taking a look at other films of the genre, including the granddaddy of them all the “Bond” series. Firth’s character makes reference to the darker tone of the most recent films and says he prefers the earlier incarnations of Bond. The movie seems to pay homage to those films with the number of gadgets a Kingsman has at his disposal. I won’t try to mention them all here but they run the gamut from classic (knife popping out of the toe of a shoe) to fantastic (a bulletproof umbrella with other built-in weapons). Some of these gadgets are more believable and hence more effective than others. Still, one must suspend some disbelief if the movie is to be enjoyed. The film uses technology heavily throughout the story including the main plan of the villain. The movie may actually depend too much on gadgets to keep the action moving. A spy movie should be mostly about the spy doing some spying. That isn’t so much the case here; however, this is a minor fault when compared to how entertaining the rest of the film is.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content. There are numerous violent and bloody deaths in the film including numerous head shots, limbs severed, a person cut in half down the middle and numerous images of heads exploding. Surprisingly, the exploding heads are handled in a rather tasteful way. There is very little gore and it mostly looks like colored smoke billowing up from the neck. There is an early passing reference to sex then late in the film we get a brief glimpse at a young woman’s backside with the understanding that anal sex is about to occur. Foul language is common throughout the film.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a spy film populated with very interesting characters including Samuel L. Jackson’s lisping villain and Sofia Boutella’s blade runner prosthetic wearing henchperson. It also features an exciting story, terrific action and likable characters about whom I wanted to know more. While it depends a bit too much on technology and not enough on the human aspect, there are still characters we root for and want to see triumph. It may never win any major awards or be considered a classic but it is a fun way to spend a couple of hours in a movie theatre without feeling like you need to take a shower afterwards.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” gets five stars out of five.

This week, four new movies (assuming the expected snow melts in time for me to get out) vie for your entertainment dollars. I’ll see and review one of the following:

The DUFF—

Hot Tub Time Machine 2—

McFarland USA—

Still Alice—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.