Episode 089: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has arrived, and it is proving to be extremely divisive, as critics laud Rian Johnson’s film despite many fans coming away disappointed. We enjoy this opportunity to talk about trilogy world-building and whether we like the directions Star Wars is heading. We also discuss the recently announced 2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards, of which Aaron is a voting member.

What We’ve Been Up To 0:01:05

(2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review – 0:39:29

The Connecting Point – 1:46:30

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MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)


GOING IN

In the two years since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, it’s been a bumpy ride for my fandom of this once beloved franchise. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of this new trilogy, but also found its use of nostalgia to be a bit off-putting. And then came Rogue One, which I did not enjoy much and resulted in me becoming very down on Star Wars and its cinematic future. Thankfully, a recent re-watch of The Force Awakens and the release of the first trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi snapped me back to attention and I am now properly excited once more.

So many questions exist that must be answered. How will Rian Johnson fare in the director’s chair and how will the treatment of recently deceased Carrie Fisher be handled? Where is Kylo Ren’s character arc heading and will he evolve into a villain on par with Darth Vader? And who, for the love of all that is holy, are Rey’s parents? The Last Jedi looks amazing, and expectations are sky high. Hopefully not so high that they’re bound to be let down.

2 Hours and 32 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

A few weeks prior to the release of The Last Jedi, Disney announced that director Rian Johnson would be expanding Star Wars further with a new trilogy. This news sort of tipped Disney’s hand as to how they felt about The Last Jedi because they certainly weren’t going to give Johnson more work if they didn’t like what he’d done in Episode VIII. Well, it all makes sense now, and Johnson has proven that the franchise is in good hands.

The Last Jedi follows a similar path to The Empire Strikes Back, with dual storylines following Rey (who we last saw tracking down Luke Skywalker at his secret hiding place) and the rest of the Resistance separately. But if you’re worried about the film being a beat-for-beat remake of the hallowed Episode V, you can rest easy knowing that it does not do so and instead offers many surprises. It is telling that Luke says, “This not going to go the way you think,” because for (mostly) better and (a few times) worse Johnson twists and turns this tale all over the place, which creates the exhilaration that comes with having no idea what is coming next. After its typical over-the-top opening sequence, Johnson’s film does lag a bit, though, and I felt the overall length more-so than I have in other epics. It’s not that the character development and plotting aren’t important, but it is noticeable compared to the high octane pacing of the film in its second half. And in that second half is where things really shine the brightest as everything and anything can and does happen. The final third of The Last Jedi is as emotionally affecting, gorgeous to behold, and fun to experience as any Star Wars film has ever been.

One thing that really stuck out the most in The Last Jedi was Johnson’s ability to challenge the moral choices of characters both “good” and “bad.” Poe Dameron has to actually deal with the repercussions of his Maverick-esque personality and Finn struggles with being considered a hero. Even Chewie deals with moving on after the loss of his best friend, albeit with a pretty adorable outcome. Many characters are faced with dilemmas that seem easy to solve on the surface but prove to be so much more. I’m not even going to address Rey and Kylo Ren’s arcs because those need to be seen firsthand with no prior knowledge, but I will say that I appreciated where the former ended up more than the latter. One of my disappointments with the film was being left with the feeling that Ren still isn’t a villain worth fearing like Darth Vader. That being said, this is a different story with different relationships in play, and there is much I do like about the complex Kylo Ren.

Acting is solid across the board with Hamill standing out the most. His grizzled, regretful Luke feels very real and sincere. We do finally get to see Supreme Leader Snoke up close and Andy Serkis does his typical great motion-capture work, however the voicing of Snoke sounds a little too reminiscent of Gollum at times and that can be distracting. Also, thankfully, Carrie Fisher’s appearance is handled with the utmost care and respect. She’s not just a side character either, but a very integral part of the the entire film’s plot. One final small criticism would be that the characters are sometimes forced to use very modern dialogue, specifically when the film is being humorous. Many laughed, but I found some lines to just be more eye-roll worthy instead. Luckily these moments are few and far between, nothing that derails the cerebral and intriguing plot.

VERDICT

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a wonderful next step in this new trilogy and one of most epic cinematic space operas since The Empire Strikes Back. Its unexpected plot choices will have fans gasping in surprise, and many emotional moments will cause a lump in the throat or tears in the eye. As Star Wars has always told us, the Resistance (and Rebellion) operate on HOPE. The story here is no different, but our HOPE in Rian Johnson has also been pleasantly rewarded. Whether you like every choice or not, it’s impossible not to respect the filmmaker’s talent, ambition, and passion, especially as the film’s momentum builds and races home to its incredible conclusion. The Last Jedi is a must-see for fans and should be taken in at the biggest theater possible for full effect. See it soon to avoid spoilers, and may the force be with you always.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: November 5-11

LESSON #1: SADNESS AND DISAPPOINTMENT SHOULD BE AMONG THE FIRST EMOTIONS EMERGING FROM UNEARTHED SECRETS— Let me just start this whirlwind week to state what will be my universal stance.   I choose to stand on a shorter and calmer soapbox than others on the topic of revealed allegations of sexual misconduct that are popping up all over.   I choose to speak to something different than the immediate damning outrage and knee-jerk reactions that are becoming the norm with these headlines.  When these headlines arrive, from Kevin Spacey to George Takei, my first emotions are not anger.  They are sadness and disappointment.  I am sad that a person whose talent I recognize and work I admire and respect is now being torn down by their potential mistakes.  Even larger than the sadness is my disappointment in common people and their uninformed hot-takes that pile on top of allegations and not facts.  More on that comes in Lesson #2.

LESSON #2: WHERE ARE THE LIMITS?— A great deal of Lesson #1 echoes a fantastic Facebook discussion thread started by Feelin’ Film co-founder Aaron White this week.  It asked the essential question: “…at what point do we require more than just an allegation to ruin someone’s life forever?”  I will always be an “innocent until proven guilty” believer.  I don’t condone the content of the claims, but I refuse to label people until the label is proven to be proper.  However, I fear we have a majority society that reverses it to “guilty until proven innocent” with no basis, conscience, or respect.  I’m beginning to hate that lack of empathy and patience in people, from the clickbait press on down to trolls on Twitter.  When someone is found to be innocent, how willing will a public be to move on and let that previous hate and disdain go?

LESSON #3: THERE MAY NOT BE A BOTTOM TO THIS PIT— This might sound overly obtuse, but sexual harassment and misconduct is nothing new.  Expect more names and confessions for years.  That’s how alarmingly pervasive the behaviors have been.  For example (forgive the Fox News link) actress Maureen O’Hara was brave enough 70 years ago to try and get her story and voice heard on potential crimes committed and it created career consequences.  If you talked, even in truth, you lost your standing.  What is new is the ability of the public to listen and the landscape becoming more progressive to seek the proper justice, and that remains a very good global change.  The guilty deserve the consequences coming to them, but, again, let’s establish that guilt first.

LESSON #4: RESPECT AND SEEK CONTRITION—  Circle back to Lesson #2 for a seed in this next lesson.  Is there ever a good way to admit or reveal these mistakes?  What would happen if an actor or actress came forward on their own and admitted past mistakes before a story of allegations broke?  How much of a career suicide would that be?  More importantly, would you respect such honesty?  That’s where my sadness and disappointment and patience for innocence becomes a heart that respects those that seek contrition.  I think that’s huge and a step to a level of forgiveness that other folks aren’t willing to seek while they tweet and judge. Of all people, Louis C.K.’s admissions this week were really something.  Again, I can’t condone the behavior he admits, but I can respect his honesty and attempt at contrition.  I call that more positive than most of the ways these stories are spiraling out of control and temperament.

LESSON #5: THE BOTTOM LINE STILL MATTERS MORE THAN IT SHOULD— Social media can have their flag-waving moments of championing this entire cause of stomping out the atmosphere where harassment and misconduct are no longer accepted.  But make no mistake, the studios and corporations care about that flag-waving unity a distant second to the almighty bottom line.  They can say replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World is for the right reasons, but what they are really trying to do is save a costly project from getting a bloodbath haircut from box office protests.  They’re willing to spend millions in order to renew attention, save face, and, more selfishly important, save more millions.

LESSON #6: DISNEY IS NOT AFRAID TO THROW MONEY AND CLOUT AROUND— Disney has spent billions in the past to buy the worlds of Marvel and LucasFilm and has banked even more billions because of those properties.  With an air of “if you can’t beat them, buy them,” Disney has engaged business talks to flat out buy the majority of 21st Century Fox.  Fanboys go straight the dream of seeing the worlds of X-Men and The Fantastic Four welcomed into the MCU.  They miss what could lead to the erasure of 80+ years of proud studio history.  Put caution with the coolness of this.

LESSON #7: IN ADDITION, DISNEY IS GREEDY— As mentioned in this column earlier this year, theater companies are reeling.  AMC is losing a fortune and Regal is desperate to raise prices to cover box office bombs.  Yet, here comes Disney with an unprecedented profit grab focused on securing their take of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  Read the details here.  Sure, Disney has the product everyone wants, but it’s the theaters that bring them in and sell the tickets.  This should be a partnership, not a dictatorship.

LESSON #8: DON’T F–K WITH JOURNALISTS— Speaking of studio bullying and big-wig hubris, even the supposedly unstoppable and untouchable Walt Disney Company can lose a staring contest with the First Amendment and public pressure.  After blacking out L.A. Weekly from screenings in retaliation to some previous bad press, several critics groups united to disqualify Disney properties from their upcoming year-end awards to back their fellow journalists.  The display of justified critical brotherhood drummed up the right public support.  Disney blinked and lifted its sanctions.  I guess like Midas, they can’t resist the urge for gold. Let that be a lesson to the big-wigs.  You can’t silence the newsmakers.

LESSON #9: DON’T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS BEFORE THEY ARE HATCHED— Universal Studios threw a whole of bunch of money and hullabaloo at their “Dark Universe.”  They secured high-end talent and made big plans, but forgot one thing we mentioned earlier: the almighty bottom line.  These plans and projects have to sell.  Tom Cruise’s The Mummy vehicle bombed at the box office and was ravaged with bad reviews.  Now, mutiple levels of sunk costs are lost and Universal has pulled the plug.  Studios, take your time and let connections grow organically.  Start small and pace yourself.

LESSON #10: LUCKILY, RIAN JOHNSON MADE OUR WEEK— This week has seen plenty of hate sent in Disney’s direction and endless scandal.  One really nice story of good news to come out of Disney, especially considering their recent string of disposable directors, was to hear that they are empowering Star War: The Last Jedi and Looper director Rian Johnson to create a new Star Wars series trilogy with original stories and characters away from the Skywalker/Solo universe.  In a day and age where many of us call out all of the sequels and remakes, something fresh applied to a big property is an exciting step.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: March 5-11

LESSON #1: THE SUCCESS RATE OF INDIE DIRECTORS STEPPING TO BLOCKBUSTERS IS IMPROVING— Other than Marc Webb stepping up from “(500) Days of Summer” to the ill-fated “Amazing Spider-Man” double bill and “Moon” director Duncan Jones bombing on “Warcraft,” the recent push of larger studios’ farming of indie directors to helm blockbusters have gone pretty successfully.   All of the greats started small (take Christopher Nolan going from “Memento” to Batman), but the trend is swelling lately.   Colin Treverrow turned “Safety Not Guaranteed” into “Jurassic World” and J.A. Bayona will be moving from “The Impossible” and “A Monster Calls” into the dinotastic sequel.  “The Kings of Summer” director Jordan Vogt-Roberts cashed up to “Kong: Skull Island.”  This list goes on and on, and 2017 is full of more.  Rian Johnson flips “Looper” for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Taika Waititi goes from “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” for “Thor: Ragnarok.”  Jon Watts of “Cop Car” hopes to not pull a Marc Webb with “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

LESSON #2: BIGGER IS BETTER— Speaking of “Kong: Skull Island,” the head honchos at Legendary Entertainment found the easiest and most irresistible route to selling a new Kong film: Make him bigger.   The powers that be have smacked an invisible label on the cinematic Cheez Whiz jar that reads “now bigger than ever,” jacking up the normally and plenty-imposing 25-foot gorilla into a gigantic 100-foot bipedal behemoth.  That changes everything when it comes to the monster’s capacity for destruction and man’s impossible chances of opposition.  Go see the film.  It’s a blast.

LESSON #3: KEEP AN EYE ON THE SXSW FILM FESTIVAL— For nine days and 125 features this month, Austin, Texas becomes the center of the independent film scene with the annual South by Southwest Film Festival that is starting to rival January’s Sundance Film Festival for exclusive films and a Hollywood-level red carpet.  This year, you’ll get the premieres of the latest films from Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”), Terrance Malick (“Song to Song”), and Ben Wheatley (“Free Fire”).   SXSW’s merger of the arts is becoming a hot ticket with good gets.

LESSON #4: THE WHITEWASHED CASTING OUTRAGE IS STARTING TO SMARTEN STUDIOS UP— I think the combination of warranted complaints,  butthurt rants, and internet courage-fueled protests are starting to work.   Movie news reported this week that director Guy Ritchie will seek Middle Eastern lead performers for Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” re-imagining and Niki Caro looks to be doing the same for “Mulan.”   If you look past the animated curtain and beyond all of its inherent entertainment value, “Aladdin” is one of the worst perpetrators in film history for white-washing.  I’m intrigued to see something different and call these active attempts an initial victory towards improved diversity.

LESSON #5: LET’S MAKE UP A NEW WORD: “BRITWASHING”— Piggybacking from Lesson #4, race relations also have a national vs. international bend to them from time to time.  Samuel L. Jackson just stepped out in an interview to criticize the casting of black British actor Daniel Kaluuya to play an American African-American guy in “Get Out” and wonders about missed opportunities.  Honestly, the man isn’t wrong and, as I coin the term, “Britwashing” has been a quietly unsettling trend when you see the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, Henry Cavill, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, and David Oyelow playing real and fictional American heroes.  One has to wonder if there is a talent gap between the Brits and the Americans.  What do you think?  How do you feel about foreigners playing American figures and heroes?

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current President of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.