In case you missed it, scroll back through this blog a couple of entries to see my latest reviews most notably HBO Max sci-fi series “Raised by Wolves” which is awesome. Also Netflix’s sci-fi series “Away” starring Hilary Swank about the first mission to Mars. Phenomenal acting and character writing but absolutely atrocious plot holes and ridiculous bad science.
Last week we reported that David Benioff and DB Weiss who created and produced “Game of Thrones” were going to produce a series for Netflix based on the epic Chinese sci-fi trilogy “The Three Body Problem” written by Liu Cixin. I had heard wonderful things about the book and decided to check it out. I read the first book of the trilogy over a three-day period this week. It is everything wonderful that the reviewers claim it is. If you like old-school, hard science sci-fi then this is definitely worth checking out. Other reviewers are saying they haven’t seen anything like this since the days of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. I wholeheartedly agree. It is a story of alien first contact but is set against the background of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and early 1970s. We also fast forwards 40 years to our near future. I will be reading the other two books sometime soon. Author Liu Cixin as well as translator Ken Liu will serve as executive producers and consultants to the new Netflix series. No release date has been given but I can’t wait to see what they do with it. There is a Chinese animated version available but I don’t know if I can find a copy with English subtitles. Although I don’t usually do book reviews here, this one gets a strong rating of “Must-See” for any fans of hard sci-fi.
Finally we want to call to your attention a link at the bottom of the page talking about the Academy Awards new diversity rules for Best Picture eligibility. I’m all in favor of diversity both in front of and behind the camera and I agree that the Academy has had a bad record of overlooking outstanding performances by minorities. But setting up Affirmative Action style quotas rubs me the wrong way. The goal of course is to get more minorities represented in the awards but I think that the decision to cast a role in one race or another should not be motivated by trying to make the film Oscar eligible. Fix your nominating and voting procedures but don’t try to tell writers and directors how to cast their parts. Others will disagree with me. Read the article and decide for yourself.
Derek Hough will replace Chief Judge Len Goodman on the upcoming season of ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars”. Goodman cannot travel from the UK because of pandemic travel restrictions. An NBC spokesman said this will not affect Hough’s role on a possible future season of “World of Dance” Hough was one of the original and most successful pros on DWTS winning multiple Emmys for his work. It will be great to have them back but I miss the fact we won’t get to see him dance. His sister Julianne also served as a DWTS judge for season 19-21. See the link below for more details. DWTS will return September 14.
Production has shutdown on the film “The Batman” because Robert Pattison has contracted Covid 19.
Jeopardy will return to the air beginning September 14 after a long pandemic hiatus. Jeopardy Champion Ken Jennings will join the show as a consultant and delivering video clues.
Michael Rooker of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Walking Dead” is recovering from Covid 19
Amy Schumer reveals she has Lyme disease. Not really pandemic related but I put it here anyway.
An Elvis biopic that was shut down when Tom Hanks got Covid 19 has resumed production in Australia.
Renewals, Coming Soon, and Casting News
AMC announced that season 11 of “The Walking Dead” will be its last however it will be a supersize 24 episodes with the first 12 appearing in 2021 and the final 12 in 2022. There will also be 2 new spinoff series. One of them featuring Norman Redus and Melissa McBride a.k.a. Darrell and Carol scheduled for 2023. It there will also be another spinoff that is an anthology series. We still have “Fear The Walking Dead” as well as a new 2 season series “The Walking Dead: Worlds Beyond” coming soon. A feature film about character Rick Grimes is also in the works. The pandemic delayed season finale of season 10 will air October 4 followed by six bonus episodes in early 2021.
CBS hit sitcom “Mom” starring Allison Janney is losing its daughter. Anna Faris will not be returning for season eight as Christy. The character will be written out of the show and not recast.
After the failure of her “Suits” spinoff series “Pearson”, Gina Torres will be joining the cast of “911: Lone Star” for season 2.
A new version of “The Godfather Part III” will be coming to theaters in December with a different ending. The restored and edited version is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its original release. Poor Michael… He keeps trying to get out and they keep pulling him back in 🙂
“The Venture Bros.” has been canceled from Adult Swim anthology series after seven seasons.
The Masked Singer will have its first contestant that is a duet. “The Snow Owls” will compete as a single act and be eliminated and unmasked together.
Netflix has announced that season 6 of Lucifer its final season will contain just 8 episodes.
SNL has promoted Ego Nwodim to a main cast member. Previously had been a supporting player.
Showtime announced “The Chi” has been renewed for season 4.
Ellen DeGeneres daytime talk show will resume return Monday September 21. She says she will address the recent controversy over a “toxic work environment” that has been alleged by former employees and has caused a shakeup among her producers.
Today we introduce a new award. Usually we award “Chris Young’s Sure Sign of the Coming Apocalypse” but today we introduce “Chris Young’s Sure Sign that the Apocalypse May Be Ending” award. “Keeping up With the Kardashians” will come to an end in 2021 with season 20. There may be hope for us all 🙂
NBC Peacock streaming is going to reboot “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”
“Q” Returns to Star Trek! Well at least his voice. John de Lancie will supply the voice for his legendary character “Q” from the Next Generation in the upcoming episode of animated “Star Trek: Lower Decks”
Tracy Ellis Ross, Regina King, and Alfre Woodard will star in a one time event all-black reimagining of “The Golden Girls”.
Frozen’s Olaf will get his own animated short on Disney+ October 23 titled “Once upon a Snowman”.
Kevin Hart will host a new Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon. Rather than the all might Labor Day events that used to be hosted by Jerry Lewis this will be a two hour event streaming online October 24 at 8 PM. I never cared for the MDA Telethon because it was too much of a pity party that made parents feel guilty for having healthy children. There have always been questions about what percentage of the funds raised actually went to the charity. Records show it’s much less than most charities. My family and I always supported a local Muscular Dystrophy Family Foundation which was a United Way agency. Let’s hope this new telethon has a more positive approach.
Jay Leno will host a reboot of “You Bet Your Life” syndicated and produced by Fox owned TV stations. The game show was hosted in the 1950s by Groucho Marx.
Saturday Night Live will return October 3 live from studio 8H. During the pandemic they did taped episodes zoom style.
HBO Max has extended its $12 per month discount offer to new and returning subscribers for up to one year.
Mike Sexton former commentator World Poker Tour age 72 prostate cancer. This one is hard on me. Listening to his expert commentary really taught me a lot about the game of poker. I feel like I owe him a big debt. I haven’t watched the WPT in several years since it moved to Fox sports where the schedule wasn’t very regular. But he will be missed.
Diana Rigg who appeared in the 80s spy thriller TV series “The Avengers” and recently appeared in “Game of Thrones” age 82.
Actor Kevin Dobson who appeared in “Kojak”, “Knots Landing” and other shows age 77
Ronald Harwood Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Pianist”. Age 85.
Ronald “Khalis” Bell cofounder of Kool & the Gang and songwriter of “Celebration” age 68
Peter Sova cinematographer on “Diner” and “Donnie Brasco” age 75.
I thought I would share my thoughts on Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi. The short version is I loved it. I thought I would give my impressions especially focusing on what I have found some of the haters have said about it and why I disagree. Of course I’m going to discuss all sorts of plot details so if you don’t want to be spoiled and don’t want to know who flies, who dies, and who lies then don’t read this.
When I started out to write this review, I really didn’t think I would be giving a scene by scene synopsis of the entire film. But as I got deeper into it, I realized there was something I wanted to say about just about every part of the film. Or if there were parts that didn’t really require any commentary from me, I felt like I needed to describe them to set up the context of other scenes on which I did intend to comment. So for better or worse this is a VERY, VERY long blog with excruciating amounts of detail about the film. Sorry but that’s just how it turned out.
I saw the film in IMAX 2D 70 mm film print at the White River Park State Museum IMAX in downtown Indianapolis. I have read that it is only one of 10 theaters in the country showing a 70 mm print. Although I love 3D, I saw Dunkirk at the same theater in 70 mm and really loved it. Although Dunkirk was partially shot using genuine IMAX cameras and Star Wars was not, it still was pretty spectacular and the sound system at this theater is probably the best in town. Also I saw the original Star Wars at the old Eastwood theater in 70 mm film over 40 years ago so I thought for nostalgic reasons 70 mm was the way to go. I was not in any way disappointed and I’ve heard that the 3D version is not that great. I also saw the film again a few weeks later in standard 2D format and I used various online materials to assist my memory in writing this synopsis and review.
Unlike Rogue One, this film starts with the traditional Star Wars text crawl and a familiar rendition of the traditional Star Wars opening theme which I loved. The opening scene has hotshot pilot Poe Dameron in an X-Wing Fighter accompanied by his droid buddy BB-8. They’re confronting a massive First Order fleet of destroyers and put in a radio call to speak to General Hux. It turns out to be sort of an old-fashioned prank telephone call. Even though Hux responds, Poe continues to insist to speak to the General. Many of the critics didn’t like this particular scene. (By the way throughout this blog when I say “critics” I do not mean film critics in general. They tended to like the film. When I say “critics” I mean the naysayers who did not like the film.) Anyway the critics thought it diminished the nastiness of the otherwise ominous and evil General from the earlier movies. But if you recall the beginning of episode 7 “The Force Awakens” it opened with a similar comical exchange between Poe and Kylo Ren. So I don’t think this was in any way out of character was what we had seen previously and I don’t think it takes away anything from General Hux. Do we think any less of Kylo Ren because of that initial exchange with Poe who treats him in a mocking manner? I think not
It turns out that this entire comic episode is a stalling tactic until he can get some sort of supercharger powered up on the X-Wing so he can make a mad dash attack on the giant enemy ship called a dreadnought. This plot point of using a stalling tactic foreshadows events later in the film. This massive ship is described as a “fleet killer” so it is a prime target. The plan is to take out the defensive canons on the ship so that a fleet of bombers can come in and attack. The action sequence which follows is probably the most detailed and exciting action sequence in the entire history of Star Wars.
One minor plot hole in this sequence is that the bombers come in in such a tight formation that when one of them gets destroyed by the attacking fighters, others get wiped out from the secondary explosions and debris. It looks to me like they took out more of their own bombers from these secondary explosions then they actually lost from the enemy attacks themselves. Critics have asked how can you drop bombs out of a bomb bay from a spaceship where there is no gravity. Apparently this is explained in some companion book or website that says that the bombs use some sort of magnetic field to eject them from the bombers and attract them to the target.
As expected, the entire operation comes down to the efforts of the last ship with the last set of bombs available. However unlike the climax of “A New Hope” where Luke fires the final shot and escapes unharmed, this final bombing run turns out to be a suicide mission for the crew of that last ship. This is a significant shift in tone from some of the previous films. Although in the original film we do lose some X-Wing fighters, somehow this loss seems more significant and heroic more reminiscent of the tragic losses we experienced in Rogue One.
By the way I felt the destruction of the dreadnought was in many ways more satisfying visually than the destruction of either of the Death Stars. Even the enhanced version of the Death Star explosion from later rereleases of “A New Hope” somehow paled because they were a single big explosion. The dreadnought in contrast blows up in a series of chain reactions. It’s more reminiscent of the destruction of the mothership in the original Independence Day which I really liked.
After the dreadnought is successfully destroyed, the rebel fleet escapes. And as expected General Hux gets a holographic phone call from supreme leader Snoke expressing his displeasure over the defeat. We then see something we have not seen previously. Snoke is able to physically throw the general around from whatever great distance separates them. We have seen Darth Vader, the Emperor, and other evil characters throw people around using the Force but never before at such great distance. Hux however escapes fatal punishment when he explains that they have the rebel fleet “tied to the end of a string”.
This sequence also sets up the tense relationship between Poe Dameron and General Leia. She orders him to break off the attack because it’s too costly. But he refuses because it’s an opportunity to take out such a massive ship.
Where is Rey?
The battle sequence concludes with Poe Dameron returning to the mothership and finding his old buddy Finn waking up from his medically induced coma and a bit of a comic relief scene to relieve the tension of a costly battle we’ve just seen. The first words out of Finn’s mouth speak for the audience when he asks “Where is Rey?”
We then cut back to the island on the planet Ahch-To where we left her and Luke Skywalker at the very end of the previous film. This island was a Jedi holy site that has been maintained by the natives there for centuries. If you are curious, the filming location for these scenes was an island 8 miles off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland called Skellig Michael. There is a sixth-century Christian monastery on the island that can be reached after a steep climb of 618 steps. Anyway…
The story picks up exactly where we left off with her handing Luke his old lightsaber. This is the moment fans have been waiting 2 years to see resolved. He very unceremoniously tosses the lightsaber over his shoulder down the cliff. This anticlimax sets the tone for much of the rest of the film. They are systematically destroying not only Rey’s expectations but those of the fans as well. This really pissed off the critics.
Luke walks away and refuses to speak to her. He goes back to his little stone hut and slams a steel door. We see a shot of his old X-Wing fighter submerged in a lagoon off the island. Fanatics who are more observant than I have noticed that there is a steel panel missing from one of the wings and it is being repurposed as the door to his hut. Rey talking through the door explains that she represents the rebellion and has been sent by his sister Leia to get him to come back. The fate of the universe depends on it yada yada… He tells her to go away.
She then sends in Chewbacca to knock down his door and tried to get him to go with them aboard the Millennium Falcon. While he seems surprised and pleased to see his old friend, his next question “Where is Han?” Is obviously going to be met with bad news.
You Are No Vader
We then cut to the throne room of Supreme Leader Snoke. This is the first we’ve seen him in person. All previous encounters have been via oversized holographic images. After expressing his pleasure to Hux for being able to track the rebel fleet, Snoke begins dressing down Kylo Ren. Snoke gives Kylo a verbal thrashing as well as throwing him across the room. He basically says that he’s nothing but a poser and a wannabe Vader who got bested by a girl who had never wielded a lightsaber before. Meanwhile Skywalker still lives.
Kylo removes his helmet and in one of his classic temper tantrums smashes it to bits. This is a turning point in which he is no longer trying to live up to the legacy of his grandfather Vader. He is becoming his own man. We later come to realize he’s also not going to live under the shadow of Snoke. Keen observers have noticed the continuity error that the scar on his face is in a different location from his injury in the lightsaber battle with Rey from previous film.
Meanwhile Back at the island
Back on the island with Skywalker and Rey, he continues to ignore her pleas to return and face Kylo Ren. Luke’s response is “What did you think I was going to do? Come back and face the entire First Order with nothing but a laser sword in my hand?” This is one of several somewhat ironic foreshadowings of events later in the film. In some ways he ends up doing just that. But for the time being he is still ignoring her. By the way the term “laser sword” rather than “lightsaber” is apparently a throwback to an early draft of the original Star Wars film in which they were called laser swords. Luke then goes off to milk a creature and do some fishing with a 40 foot spear.
Rey is drawn by the Force to an ancient hollow tree containing a collection of old Jedi textbooks. Luke asks who is she and why did she come? She replied “I’m from nowhere.” He says “Everybody is from somewhere.” She replies “I’m from Jaku” to which he admits “okay you’re from nowhere”. Which was one of my favorite comic lines of the film. This theme that she is a nobody from nowhere is a central theme in the film that gets explored even more later. This also angers the critics because they been speculating for two years that she was perhaps Luke’s daughter or somehow related to someone important. The idea that she is a nobody ruins a lot of fan theories. In the end of the discussion he realizes she wants to be trained but he refuses to train her saying that it’s time for the Jedi to end.
Back at the Fleet
Leia has a confrontation with Poe and demotes him accompanied by literally slapping him in the face. He tries to justify his reckless action by explaining the importance of taking out a dreadnought. But she reminds him of the cost. She says “Get your head out of your cockpit. There are things you can’t solve by jumping in an X-Wing and blowing something up”. Again this is filmmaker Rian Johnson trying to cut ties with the previous films in which that was the way problems had been solved. Johnson is trying to force the audience to take a more mature approach to things. In the early films it was all about rescue the princess, blow something up, get a hero’s welcome. It was simple and straightforward. But in reality life isn’t so simple. There are costs to our actions that can’t be ignored.
The rebel fleet has hyper jumped into the middle of nowhere after escaping the First Order fleet in the opening attack. They are running short on fuel and only have enough left for one more hyper jump. They’re trying to find a base from which they can send a signal to allies in the outer rim to get reinforcements. Rey will be able to find them because she has a homing beacon. Just as they are discussing the situation, the enemy fleet appears out of hyperspace. The enemy seems to have done the impossible by tracking them through hyperspace. If they jump away at light speed using the remaining fuel, the enemy will just follow them again. Poe turns to Leia and says “Permission to jump in an X-wing and blow something up?” After just admonishing him not to always do that, she instantly agrees this is the time.
The enemy fleet includes Snoke’s ship. Also Kylo is attacking in a souped-up tie fighter. Before Poe can get to his X-Wing fighter, the launch bay is destroyed in the attack and he and BB-8 barely get out with their lives.
Leia orders the fleet to try to escape at full sub light speed. They will get out of the range of the big destroyers and once they have created some distance, the fighters will not pursue. This is the strategy for the entire rest of the film. They will try to outrun the slower bigger ships and keep sufficient distance between to stay safe. This is another bit of plot driven technology. It would seem to me even though the rebels have smaller, more maneuverable ships, I would think the big ships would be able to catch up to them at sub light speeds or perhaps make a small jump to catch up and then fire on them. But then the plot wouldn’t work so we have a very typical case of plot driven technology.
Of course making their escape at sub light speeds is also going to cost fuel which is in short supply. So the strategy is only going to work for so long. Throughout the rest of the film one ship after another runs out of fuel and is destroyed by the enemy fleet.
At the beginning of this blog, I said I would reveal “who flies, who dies, and who lies”. Here’s the first of those three stories. At one point Kylo has the opportunity to destroy the main cruiser with Leia on board but through the Force they sense one another. Kylo declines to take the shot that would kill his mother. This is a minor hint that some of his good side as Ben Solo still remains in him. Even though he killed his father Han Solo in the previous film he cannot quite gather the strength to kill his mother as well.
The issue turns out to be moot when one of the other attacking fighters destroys the bridge and Leia is ejected into space. Of course with the death of Carrie Fisher, most fans including myself did not expect her to survive this movie so we figured this was the end. Much to our surprise she seems to survive through the power of the Force. As frost begins to form on her skin in the emptiness of space she suddenly opens her eyes and begins flying through space propelled by the power of the Force. She makes her way back to the damaged bridge. As she flies to the gaping hole in the bridge, there is a holographic image of Snoke’s ship being projected there. She flies right through the image of the ship. Although it’s not obvious at the time, this is a foreshadowing of future events. As she enters the bridge, Poe and others let her in through an airlock. She is taken off to the medical bay unconscious where she spends much of the rest of the film.
Enter the Porg
Back on the island we see Chewbacca sitting around a campfire about to chaw down on a small roasted creature. He’s being watched however by a small group of the creatures known as Porg who look at him wistfully as he is about to eat one of their kind. He finally decides not to eat it. I thought that was pretty stupid. The creature was already dead and cooked. Eventually the creatures make a nest in the Millennium Falcon and become a continuing source of comic relief in later scenes.
I’ve learned that it’s not just that they wanted to create lovable little creatures for which they could sell lots of cute little plush toys. It turns out that there are birds inhabiting the island off the coast of Ireland where these scenes were filmed. In many of the longshots of the island they can be seen flocking about. Rather than remove them digitally they just decided to create creatures that occupy the island that could be what was seen in the longshots.
Luke takes a nostalgic tour of the Millennium Falcon. He picks up a pair of dice that were hanging from a control panel in the cockpit. Rumor has it that these are the dice that Han Solo used in gambling with Lando Calrissian when he won the Millennium Falcon in some sort of gambling game years ago. Perhaps in the new film titled “Solo: A Star Wars Story” coming soon we will learn more about that.
On board the Falcon he runs into R2-D2 who tries to talk him into helping. Luke says “I’m not coming back. There’s nothing you can do to make me change my mind.” R2-D2 then replays the holographic image of Leia in her original plea to Obi-Wan Kenobi from the original Star Wars film concluding with the “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi… You’re my only hope”. Luke says that was a cheap shot.
It reminds me of the scene in Justice League
where they pull out the “big guns” to try to get the resurrected Superman back to his senses. What is the ultimate weapon to change Superman’s mind? None other than Lois Lane.
After this trick by R2, Luke reluctantly agrees to train Rey.
Holdo Not Hodor
Back at the rebel fleet, it is announced to everyone that Leia is unconscious and unable to command. Command then falls to the next logical person which is Vice Admiral Holdo (not to be confused with Hodor which is from Game of Thrones). She is portrayed by Laura Durn complete with a strange purple hairdo and bizarre turtleneck dress that looks like something out of Hunger Games.
Holdo says that they are the spark that will reignite the Republic. They give hope to all of the downtrodden across the universe who will rally to help. Poe is not impressed and confronts her insisting on knowing what the plan is. He reminds her what she doesn’t need to be told. Basically that their fuel is limited at this game of cat and mouse can’t hold up forever. She dismisses him as a hotshot fly boy and refuses to give him any information.
A New Mission
Meanwhile Finn has picked up the homing beacon that Leia had connecting her to Rey. He is going to sneak off this ship to reunite with Rey when he is confronted by mechanic named Rose. She’s mourning the loss of her sister who was the heroic bombardier who died in the bombing run on the dreadnought at the beginning of the film. At first she recognizes him as a hero but then realizes he’s trying to escape. He initially fails to convince her that he’s not a deserter.
Eventually he reveals to her that the enemy can track them through lightspeed travel which as we have previously explained was theoretically impossible. But they conclude that the tracking is only occurring through one ship. If they can disable that tracker, then they can escape through a lightspeed jump before the enemy realizes what has happened. Of course Poe’s natural plan is to blow up the ship but in further plot driven technology they explain a different ship would simply begin tracking them. They need to sneak on to the enemy ship, disable the tracker, and jump away. But they don’t know how to get through the security. They turn to their old ally Maz Kanata, the diminutive, bespectacled, club owner we met in the previous film. She’s in the middle of some sort of battle as they contact her through a hologram message. She tells them about a master code breaker who could possibly crack the security on the enemy ship. It is decided that Finn and Rose will travel to a planet called Canto Bright to find the code breaker who can help them. Poe will remain behind with the fleet and once he gets word from Finn that the tracker is down, he will have the fleet jump away.
Skype via The Force
Back on the island, Rey and Kylo find themselves somehow psychically linked through the Force. They can see one another and she can see his surroundings but he cannot see where she is. Apparently the sensation is so real she pulls out her blaster and tries to shoot him. She ends up blowing a hole in the wall of her hut. Kylo tries to manipulate her to bring him Skywalker but he fails.
The Theology of The Force
Luke begins his first lesson with Rey. He asks her “What is the Force?”. Her response is that it a power that the Jedi have that lets then make people do things and to make things float. He says “That’s impressive… Everything you just said is wrong. The Force is not a power you have. It’s not about lifting rocks.” He then delivers a monologue not unlike the kinds of things Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda told him when he was first training him in the use of The Force. That statement about lifting rocks goes back to Luke’s training in The Empire Strikes Back in which he practiced lifting things right piling rocks on top of one another. This statement also however foreshadows an incident late in the film that we will talk about later.
Some of the critics object to this section of the film. Luke’s description of The Force as being a balance between light and dark, creation and destruction, good and evil etc. is very consistent with his original teaching he received from Obi-Wan and Yoda. But when Rey says that she feels that same Force within her, he goes on to say that “This is the lesson… The Force does not belong to the Jedi. To say that if the Jedi die, the light dies is vanity.” Personally I don’t have a problem with this. I don’t see it as inconsistent with the previous films. It is however a conscious effort on the part of the writer/director Johnson to get us to let go of some of our previous preconceptions about The Force and the importance of the Jedi.
This idea that The Force is not the exclusive purview of a select group of people but is available to all who seek it reminds me of some Christian theology regarding the Holy Spirit. In Old Testament days it was believed that only chosen individuals had access to the divine spirit of God or what we today would call the Holy Spirit. But after the day of Pentecost when the apostles received the Holy Spirit, things would change. The power of the Spirit was given not only to the apostles but through baptism and anointing of confirmation the Spirit was available to all. On the day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2, Peter quotes the prophet Joel saying “No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy. And I will work wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below: blood, fire, and a cloud of smoke.” Acts 2:16-19 and is quoting from Joel 3:1-3.
Previously we were led to believe that access to The Force was part of one’s bloodline. The Skywalker bloodline was prophesied to be “the one who would bring balance to The Force”. At first it was thought this referred to Anakin Skywalker who later turned to the dark side to become Darth Vader. Later it fell to Luke to be the one who balanced The Force. The fan theories that Rey was somehow part of the Skywalker legacy held onto this idea that the Skywalker bloodline was something special. This is reinforced by the fact that Kylo, grandson of Anakin is especially strong with The Force as well as the manifestation of The Force we have just seen with Leia surviving explosive decompression and flying through the vacuum of space.
Statements like “The Force is strong in this one” seems contrary to this concept that The Force is just out there for anyone to tap into. We also have to consider and the entire bizarre explanation from the prequel trilogy that somehow The Force was channeled through some sort of microscopic parasite called midichlorians. Fans have pointed out that the complete absence of midichlorians in original trilogy, this film, and the previous one has pretty much relegated them to a state of almost noncanonical apocrypha. But the critics can’t have it both ways. They can’t on one hand say midichlorians are noncanonical but then use their existence to say that Johnson has redefined what The Force is in this film.
If we are to use the Christian doctrine of the power of the Holy Spirit as an analog to The Force, the idea that some people have tapped into the Spirit more strongly than others is not inconsistent with the idea that the Holy Spirit is available for everyone. So you could say “The spirit is strong in this one” without being inconsistent with the concept that we all have access to the Holy Spirit that can dwell within us.
The New Testament teachings about the Holy Spirit are an expansion of the limited views of the Spirit from the Old Testament. So in some ways these new films are leading us into a “New Testament” understanding of The Force which reaches beyond the limited “Old Testament” understandings we had in the original films.
By the way I’m not trying to Christianize Star Wars or to proclaim equivalency between The Force and the Holy Spirit. Star Wars mythology has always drawn upon various philosophies and religions. For example there is a lot of Zen in Star Wars. I’m just pointing out parallels in attempt to try to explain the evolving understanding of The Force.
Keep in mind also that this idea of proclivity for use of the Force being a familial trait is in some ways an aberration among the Skywalker family. Jedi are traditionally forbidden to marry and presumably forbidden to procreate as well. The Jedi somehow identify young children who have capability of the Force and train them to use it. If Jedi are forbidden to have children, then where do these kids come from except the general population. So the fan concept that one has to be born into the Jedi order is completely wrong. The Skywalker clan is the exception and not the rule.
Rey‘s Dark Journey
As Rey reaches out with her feelings to sense The Force, she senses a dark place beneath the island in the form of a dark pit with tentacles growing out of it. Luke explains that that’s the darkness that balances the light of the island. Rey feels the darkness calling to her and reaches out to it. Luke is astonished that she doesn’t try to resist the darkness. It scares him because he has only seen this dark strength before in Ben Solo. “I didn’t fear it enough then. I do now” he explains.
Rey has another psychic force connection with Kylo in which he challenges her about the story of what happened the night he destroyed the Jedi Temple and turned to the dark side.
The story jumps back and forth between the peril of the fleet and the adventure of Rose and Finn as they try to connect to the code breaker on a casino resort planet. But rather than take things in the order they are presented in the film, I want to continue to talk about the events on the island with Rey and Luke.
Luke recounts all the failings of the Jedi. How they allowed Darth Sidus to take over the Empire, they allowed the rise of Darth Vader, and his own failings in trying to train Ben Solo. He thought himself a legend who saved the universe. He believed the myth of the Skywalker bloodline and it ended up creating the evil Kylo Ren. Rey tries to convince him it’s not his fault but he is immovable in his opinion of his failure and the failure of the Jedi in general.
Luke then recounts his version of events when Kylo turned dark. He said that Kylo attacked him and left him for dead. Destroyed the temple. Killed most of the Jedi trainees and recruited the rest to turn to the dark with him.
By the way these trainees that Kylo recruited to join him on the dark side are known as the Knights of Ren and they were seen briefly in Rey’s Force dream in previous film. Fans are little bit disappointed that they do not appear in this film. The only place they could have appeared logically would have been in a throne room scene later on instead of Snoke’s praetorian guard. However the plot called for all of them to be killed and that would’ve eliminated them from the entire story for good.
Later Rey has another mental connection with Kylo this time catching him shirtless as he comes out of the shower. The director says he wanted to make it clear that they were really seeing each other in real time as they were and that it wasn’t just some mental projection of their image. Kylo recounts his version of events the night he turned on Luke. In his version Luke had sensed the dark power within Kylo, snuck into his bedroom and was ready to murder him in his sleep. So from Kylo’s perspective, Luke had turned against him. He did not turn against Luke. He defended himself and destroyed everything Luke had created because of Luke’s betrayal of him.
Rey then decides to go down into the lower portions of the island and investigate the dark hole that she found there. This parallels Luke’s own journey into a dark cave on Dagobah where he has a Force dream in which he confronts Vader. In the original movie after he strikes down Vader, inside Vader’s smashed helmet he sees himself.
Rey is seeking answers to her origin. What happened to her parents. Her encounter in the dark pit leads to an image of herself reflected infinitely between parallel mirrors. In one direction the mirrors reflect her past and in the other direction they reflect her future. She tries to get the mirrors to show her her parents but in the end all she sees is her own reflection. This parallels the scene where Luke sees himself inside Vader’s helmet. I’m not really sure what all of this infinite reflection of mirrors were supposed to symbolize except perhaps that she realizes she is totally alone and that her history is totally own as well.
During the in the dark pit beneath the island, Rey is recounting the story to someone in a voiceover. It turns out she’s telling the story to Kylo during another one of their Force driven Skype calls. So he knows what went on in the pit and how desperate she is to learn about her parents. After she finishes the story she finds that the Force connection is so real it’s like they are in the same room together. They actually reach out their hands and can touch one another. The previous connections were visual only. Luke senses something is going on and he confronts her and breaks the connection between her and Kylo.
Rey confronts Luke “Did you really try to kill him?” Luke orders her off the island and then they start fighting one another using fighting staffs. At one point Rey pulls her lightsaber on Luke and demands answers. He then recounts what truly happened that night when Kylo turned against him.
He tells her he had sensed the darkness in Kylo and went into the boy’s bedroom and searched his mind. He sensed that Snoke had already turned the boy to the dark side. He saw all of the evil and destruction that would come from him and it terrified him. He pulled his lightsaber and was ready to kill him but the thought only lasted for a brief second. Kylo wakes up and Luke says I only saw a terrified boy whose master had failed him. From Kylo’s perspective he doesn’t really know that in that instant Luke had changed his mind and was not going to harm him. Of course the fact that Luke could even consider it for a fraction of a second was betrayal enough.
Fans are disappointed that Luke is so adamantly refusing to help. He’s not the heroic character that we are loved from the original trilogy. He’s a bitter old reclusive man who doesn’t want to get involved in what he feels is a hopeless situation. Even Mark Hamill has publicly expressed his dislike of this new characterization of Luke. He says that the only way that he could play it was to imagine that he was playing a completely different character. Overall the image of a reclusive hermit-like Luke Skywalker who is consumed by his failures and wants to cut himself off from the universe doesn’t bother me. I can see the Luke Skywalker that I enjoyed and appreciated getting to this point. The only part of the new characterization that I think is slightly out of character is the idea that he would even for a second consider killing Ben Solo. The trauma of his failure can easily explain his need to be a recluse but we don’t really see what would persuade him to fear the darkness in Ben/Kylo so much that he would murder him in his sleep. I guess we just have to take Luke’s word for it that the evil was so strong that it terrified him beyond anything he had ever seen.
Again Rey insists that Kylo is not a lost cause. When she touched him in the Force connection she could still sense the good Ben Solo within him. Luke insists it’s a lost cause. She tried one more time to get Luke to take the lightsaber and when he refuses then she says “Then he is our only hope.” I guess meaning that the only way to save the universe is for her to go back and try to turn Kylo to the good side herself. The next scene is the Millennium Falcon leaving the planet.
A Blast from the Past
We then see Luke headed towards the sacred Jedi tree with a torch in his hand. He’s about to destroy it when the ghost of Yoda appears to him. When Luke hesitates to destroy the tree and a library of sacred texts within, Yoda makes the decision for him and causes a bolt of lightning to come down from the sky and ignite the tree. When Luke tries to enter the burning hollow tree to rescue the texts, Yoda causes an explosion that throws Luke backwards. “So it is time for the Jedi to end?” Luke says.
Yoda says that there was nothing in the tree that the girl did not already possess. We assume he’s speaking metaphorically but we will go ahead and spoil the fact that we later see that the books are safe on board the Millennium Falcon. We don’t really know how they got there. Presumably Rey took them.
Yoda gives Luke a lecture about all that is happened and Luke insists “I can’t be what she needs me to be.” Yoda knows that Luke is haunted by his failures and explains that “The greatest teacher failure is“. Really this is a major theme of the entire film. Luke is paralyzed by his failures. Rey fears that she will fail the rebellion if she can’t turn Kylo. Kylo feels that Luke failed him. He fears that he is a failure if he doesn’t live up to the legacy of his grandfather Darth Vader. Poe fears that all will be lost if he doesn’t hop in an X-Wing and blow something up. Finn fears he will fail to protect Rey. Everyone in this film is being driven by their fear of failure or regrets of failure.
By the way, the producers went back to using a physical puppet operated and voiced by Frank Oz for this film rather than the CGI versions used in the prequel trilogy. A lot of people didn’t like the CGI Yoda but I never had a problem with it. I actually disliked the puppet versions because I always seemed to be aware that it was nothing but a puppet. Let’s face it as lovable as Muppets are, their mouth movement is totally unrealistic. Although I didn’t notice the unrealism as much in this film as I did perhaps in The Empire Strikes Back, I still felt keenly aware that I was watching a puppet. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a CGI fan from a technical perspective but I’ve never had problems with CGI characters. Hell… I didn’t really object to Jar Jar Binks so I’m weird that respect.
Perhaps Unnecessary but Worthwhile Nevertheless
I mentioned some time ago that the story bounces back and forth between the events on the island, the events among the rebel fleet, and the events of Finn and Rose trying to find a code breaker that can break them into the enemy ship to disable the tracker. I’ve described things a bit out of order to avoid jumping back and forth but we need to go back now that we are done with the island adventure and fill in some of the details.
The entire subplot of Finn and Rose going to the planet of Canto Bright has been heavily criticized as being unnecessary to the overall story. The film clocks in at over two and a half hours and many people complain this whole section could have been deleted. Initially I was going to disagree but as I’m writing this summary I’m beginning to realize the details of this section aren’t worth recounting in extreme detail. So in some ways the critics are right. Still while watching the movie, I didn’t mind the sequence. There are some important themes developed here and there are some just fun things that I thought fit in well with a typical Star Wars movie.
To bring you back up-to-date, Finn and a new girl named Rose are on their way to this planet to find a master code breaker who can help them break into the enemy fleet to disable the hyperspace tracking device. The guy they are looking for will be gambling at a high-stakes casino. Finn remarks at the beauty of the plant with all of its fancy buildings and abundant wealth. But Rose invites him to look closer. There is a racetrack where some sort of native creatures are being raced. But the animals are being tortured. There being cared for by slave children who manage the stables. We later learn that the rich people on this planet are mostly war profiteers who made their riches by selling weapons to both the good guys and the bad guys.
Eventually Finn and Rose make their way into the casino and find the guy they’re looking for only to get arrested for sneaking into a place where they don’t belong. The casino itself serves as sort of a parallel to the traditional Star Wars cantina scene where we get a look at lots of alien creatures. This is why I think this section really isn’t out of place for a Star Wars movie. We had the original cantina in the original movie. In the last film we had the nightclub where Moz was the proprietor. So the opportunity to take a break from dark themes and have a little fun with some comic relief and some bizarre aliens seem to me to fit right into the traditional Star Wars genre.
While imprisoned, they meet up within a nefarious guy named DJ played by Benicio Del Toro. He claims that he can break them into the enemy ship just as well as the code breaker they were looking for. He proves his skills by breaking them out of jail. We then get an action sequence as they are chased during their escape. They free a bunch of the imprisoned racing creatures with the help of some of the slave children who tend the stables. These children recognize a rebel symbol that Rose has on a ring she wears. These scenes connect up with the final scene of the film in which it is implied that the future of the rebellion is going to depend upon the poor people like these slave children.
Because this somewhat unnecessary subplot does connect us to the future of the rebellion and because it gives us a look at a part of the Star Wars universe which we have not seen before, in the end I feel like this section of the film did have important contributions. We’ve seen the universe through the eyes of the rebels, through the eyes of the military elite, through the eyes of the political forces both good and bad. But until now we have not seen the lives of the civilian 1% of the Star Wars universe who live to exploit the downtrodden and who enrich themselves off of the war.
We’ve learned from interviews, that there are deleted scenes of Luke and Rey doing more training back on the island. Considering how much that particular part of the story was anticipated after the end of the previous film, I would’ve liked to have seen more of that and perhaps less of the adventure Finn and Rose. But I don’t think I would’ve eliminated this middle section of the film completely.
Plot Driven Plot
In many of my reviews I talk about what I call “plot driven technology”. Basically that means there is some bit of technology that works a particular way not out of any logical engineering or design considerations but solely to service the plot. The prime example in this film is the fact that the rebel fleet seems to be able to outrun the enemy at sub light speeds as long as they have sufficient fuel. It somehow ignores the obvious possibility that the enemy could just do a hyperspace jump ahead of them a short distance and cut them off. Similarly is the idea that if they maintain a certain distance, the enemy fighters cannot touch them either.
But now I want to talk about something that’s slightly less annoying but still quite contrived that is a major complaint I have with the plot of this film. It isn’t so much that there’s some sort of technology that forces the plot to move in particular direction. It’s the particular choices made by some of the major characters that seemed only to service the furthering of the story. Now I understand that’s how plot works. People make decisions. Those decisions have consequences. But the decisions themselves should make sense in context of the circumstances and not merely be devices that personal story in a particular direction.
Specifically I’m talking about the tension between Adm. Holdo and Poe. The decisions made by the admiral seem to be solely designed to make the plot work rather than to be consistent with the context of the actual situation. We don’t understand her motives for behaving the way she does. Her lack of apparent motive and the fact that her actions push the plot in a particular direction tells me that she herself is a piece of plot driven technology. Here’s what I’m talking about.
We are at a point of the story where Finn and Rose are on the way back with DJ the code breaker so that they can break into the enemy ship, disable the hyperspace tracking device, and allow the rebel fleet to escape. But at this point you can’t really call it a fleet anymore. All but one of the remaining ships have run out of fuel and been destroyed by the enemy. Each of those ships were evacuated to the main ship save a single pilot or captain who remained and went down with the ship.
Poe discovers that the admiral is transferring their remaining fuel to small shuttle craft and they are going to abandon the main ship. These shuttles have neither shields nor weapons. Poe is furious because it seems like the admiral has no plan except to just keep running on what he believes is a march to their inevitable destruction. She offers him nothing but some platitude about believing in the sun even at night. But she refuses to explain to him that she really does have a legitimate plan for their escape.
I appreciate that he’s just a pilot and one who has been recently demoted as Holdo notes sarcastically. I appreciate that she doesn’t respect him and doesn’t really owe him any explanation. But a good commander also has to take into consideration the morale of the people underneath them. Rather than act like she is an incompetent idealist who is waiting for a miracle, all she had to do was say “There’s this secret base that we are heading towards and if we can get there and signal for help, we’ve got a fighting chance.” But her failure to do so serves no other purpose except to reinforce Poe’s lack of faith in her and to encourage into continue in his mutinous plot to take over the ship and wait for Finn and Rose to pull off their miracle somewhat suicide mission to disable the tracking device.
Even if she had said something like “You idiot you think I’m just going let us die out here? I have a plan. I’m your boss. You’re just a nobody. I don’t have to fucking tell you what it is.” That would have made much more sense. But her behavior only serves to reinforce his distrust of her, reinforce his devotion to a really longshot plan, and it only serves to make the movie go in a particular direction.
After Poe explains to the admiral the mission of Finn and Rose, she rejects such a ridiculous plan and orders that the escape shuttles continued to been loaded. Poe responds by staging a mutiny and taking control of the bridge.
Finn and Rose manage to sneak onto the enemy ship thanks to some hacking by DJ. They make it all the way to the tracking device and you begin to think that perhaps DJ is a good guy after all. It appears he has delivered on his promises. However it turns out he has led them into a trap. The enemy was willing to pay him a greater bounty for turning them over. Just as Poe learns that Finn has failed, someone blows in the door of the bridge and it turns out to be Leia. She shoots Poe with a blaster on stun and then everyone proceeds to board the shuttles and evacuate the ship. The admiral refuses to get on the shuttle and remains behind to pilot the cruiser while the shuttles escape.
Poe awakens from being stunned and finds himself on the shuttle escaping the cruiser. Leia is there and reassures him that everything is okay. She reveals what should have been told to him a half-hour earlier in the movie. They are heading for an abandoned, heavily fortified rebel base where they can hopefully get out a message to their allies in the outer rim. The hope is that the enemy will continue to chase after the cruiser with no one but the admiral left on board. If the admiral had simply told Poe what Leia is telling him now, we still could’ve hand a pretty good movie and eliminated the entire Finn and Rose adventure subplot which so many people thought was superfluous. It doesn’t bother me that they went off on this side adventure. It bothers me that it was a contrived mechanism that sent them in that direction.
Unfortunately after Finn and Rose get captured, the enemy scans their ship and recovers information about the plan to escape the cruiser on shuttles. So the hope that the enemy will chase after the cruiser and ignore the shuttles isn’t going to work after all. The enemy opens fire on the shuttles and begins destroying them one by one.
We Meet Again
Meanwhile the Millennium Falcon joins up with the fleet and drops off Rey in an escape pod. Prior to this we didn’t know that the Falcon had escape pods. The story shifts back and forth between Rey and Finn and Poe but I’m telling things a little bit out of order. She deliberately pilots the pod towards Snoke’s ship so that she can confront Kylo to try to turn him back towards the light.
Upon landing on the ship, she is immediately arrested and Kylo escorts her to Snoke’s throne room. On the way of the elevator she tells Kylo that when they touched one another she started his future that he would turn away from Snoke. Kylo also says that he saw she would eventually join forces with him and also that he knew who her parents were.
Snoke reveals that he was responsible for making the Force connection between her and Kylo and that he stoked Kylo’s doubts to serve as bait so that she would see weakness in him and believe that she could turn him back to the light. He had warned Kylo that as he grew darker, there would be someone in the light that would grow stronger to counter him. Snoke had presumed it was Skywalker but now believes that is Rey. Still he wants their location of Luke Skywalker and begins to torture Rey.
We previously promised to spoil who flies, who dies, and who lies. We now pay off the second of those promises. Snoke gets inside Ray’s mind and uncovers Luke’s location and the fact that Luke doesn’t want to get in the fight but just fade away and die. Snoke says he will grant Luke’s wish and destroy the island as soon as he finishes off the rebel fleet. Snoke gives Rey a view of the rebel shuttles being destroyed in the same way that the Emperor did for Luke near the end of Return of the Jedi. Ray tries to grab a lightsaber that Snoke took from her. She also tries to grab Kylo’s weapon but Snoke tosses both of them aside. He likes her feistiness. She has a heart of a true Jedi so he orders Kylo to kill her. He says that where he once saw doubt in Kylo, he now sees nothing but firm resolve to destroy his true enemy.
Snoke believes of course that what he sees is that Kylo is about to destroy Ray. Instead Kylo reaches out with the Force to Luke’s/Ray’s lightsaber sitting on the armrest on Snoke’s throne. He turns on the lightsaber and slices Snoke in two killing him.
This shocking turn of events may be the only time in Star Wars history when the bad guy died and the fans were disappointed. They had spent significant time and energy theorizing about Snoke’s identity and origin. There are countless YouTube videos and articles analyzing every detail from the previous movie, noncanonical books, and any other source they can find speculating about Snoke. To have him suddenly killed off without any payoff for all of the fan speculation is yet another of the major reasons people are angry about the film.
I want to take time out to show you a YouTube video by one of the channels that spent huge amounts of time speculating about this and other plot details. In this one, they explain how all of these fan theories are actually responsible for ruining the fun of the movie. Snoke’s identity was something that was set up in the earlier film and totally failed to pay off in this film. It sort of programs people to be set up for disappointment if none of the theories pay off.
This video does a really good job of explaining the psychology of these kinds of expectations and sites several scientific psychological studies that talk about these kinds of issues. It’s really worth watching especially since in some respects the creator of the video is shooting himself in the foot because his channel “Film Theories” exists solely to theorize about such films. I strongly encourage you to watch the video at this point.
It’s not really up to an author to fulfill the needs of the fans but there is a principle of storytelling that he describes known as “Chekhov’s Gun” named after famed playwright Anton Chekhov. He said that if you hang a gun on the wall in Act 1 then sometime in Act 2 you need to take the gun down and shoot somebody. It’s an economy of storytelling that says everything you do should somehow move the story forward. You don’t put in things for no reason at all. And so to some extent I agree with the criticism of the screenplay and that something that were set up in the previous film get totally abandoned and do not pay off in any way in this film.
Other defenders of the film point out that it is courageous on the part of Lucasfilm/Disney to allow directors to tell the stories they want in the ways that they want to tell them without having to service a greater multi-film plot. Directors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have complained that while being connected to the other films in the franchise can be an asset it can also be a handicap. They are forced by the studio to include certain plot points that fits the overall MCU narrative but sometimes get in the way of the storytelling of the individual film. Okay I get the point that it’s great that directors are being permitted to make their own films. But this isn’t just one film in a dozen or more film series like the MCU. This is a middle chapter of what is alleged to be a trilogy. And if it really is the middle chapter of a trilogy then we expect some degree of consistency and continuity across the three stories.
In interviews, writer/director Johnson has defended his decision not to explain any of Snoke’s back story because it just wasn’t necessary to the story he was trying to tell. Still it wouldn’t have taken more than a couple of sentences of dialogue somewhere along the way to give Snoke a back story. On the other hand he had completely served his purpose. He was the evil force that seduced Kylo in the first place. He pushed and manipulated him first into becoming the heir apparent to his grandfather Darth Vader. Later to pushing him away from the Vader legacy and becoming an evil force of his own. And then in Snoke’s hubris not realizing that by making Kylo into his own man, allowed him and even led him to turn on Snoke himself.
But because the fans were so vested in Snoke’s origin and identity, it ruined what is otherwise a brilliant bit of storytelling. Snoke is the kind of plot driven plot we want to see in the film. We get a complex interaction between powerful characters whose personalities intertwine to give us dramatic moments and unforeseen plot twists. The fans really need to ask themselves which is more important? The way Snoke guided Kylo on his character arc and really drive the story forward or to pay off some obsessive expectations that in the end don’t really do anything to move the story forward? Would it really have changed anything had Snoke had a back story revealed? No it would not.
After the lightsaber cuts Snoke in two, it flies into Ray’s hands. I’m not sure whether she grabbed it with the Force or if Kylo caused it to fly towards her. Kylo retrieves his own saber and they turn back to back and take on a dozen or so of Snoke’s guards. This is one of the most spectacular lightsaber battles in the entire franchise. The curtains in the room catch on fire. Things begin exploding. It is very very cool. Really one of my favorite parts of the movie along with the opening scene battle.
In the end Ray ends up saving Kylo from the last of the guards by tossing him her lightsaber and he plunges it through the head of the guard that has him in a choke hold. She then turns to Ben (as she addresses him rather than Kylo) and tells him to order the fleet to stop the attack on the retreating rebels. She expects that after Kylo turned on Snoke, she has finally gotten through to the good part of him. But unfortunately she’s wrong. He wants to burn it all down. Destroy the rebels, the Jedi, the Sith, the Empire everything. He tries to get her to join him to rule the universe.
Having just trashed the idea of fan theories, we are now going to indulge in some fan theories of our own. One that is held by a bunch of fans. Kylo spoils things for Ray and for the fans by revealing to her that her that parents are nobody special. He tells her that they were nothing but a couple of junk traders who sold her off for drinking money. They are buried in an unmarked grave in the desert on Jaku. She is nobody special and neither were her parents.
He gives her the traditional “Search your feelings and you know it’s true.” (Not exactly those words but close enough.) This echoes what Vader said to Luke when he revealed that he was Luke’s father back in The Empire Strikes Back. Having Ray’s parents being nobody is completely consistent with everything that Johnson is trying to do in this story. He’s trying to say that you don’t have to be somebody special to be strong with the Force or to have a great destiny in the universe. You don’t have to be the daughter of Luke or Obi-Wan or anybody else that the fans have speculated to be her parents.
This is yet another instance where the fan speculation was all for naught. And it may be another instance of Chekhov’s Gun. JJ Abrams set up the character to be on a quest to find her parents and Johnson has continued that quest without firing the gun. Or did he? In some ways he fired the gun and it backfired. Despite fans disappointment that Ray’s parents were nobody special, that’s really the whole point. We feel what she feels. It wasn’t just our expectations that were dashed. Her expectations were destroyed as well so we join on that journey with her.
Now… Here’s the problem and the reason this section is titled “Who Lies”. Most fans, myself included, don’t believe Kylo was telling the truth. I should say at this point that I’m not that fanatical of a fan that my world is going to be turned upside down if he was telling the truth. If he was telling the truth it’s not going to ruin this movie or the next. However it is a Star Wars tradition that the issue of someone’s parentage is not always what it seems. The major characters routinely are told lies about their parents. Uncle Owen told Luke the outright lie that his father was a navigator on a spice freighter. Obi-Wan told Luke that Vader killed his father which was sort of a half lie.
Because Ray had told Kylo the details of her journey into the dark pit and her obsession with finding out what happened to her parents, he would be aware of this obsession and could use it to manipulate her to his own agenda. He has every reason in the universe to lie to her.
So while it is very much consistent with the rest of the story that Ray’s parents are nobody, there still is a serious possibility that Kylo was lying to her. In interviews, Johnson has defended the choice to make her parents nobody. But he is also indicated that the issue still remains open.
Holdo’s Kobayashi Maru
While I have often unwrapped overlapping plot lines and told them separately rather than following the back-and-forth cuts of the movie, this next particular sequence needs to be described in the way it was actually presented. We have three different perilous scenes all unfolding simultaneously and by jumping back and forth between them and having them all reach their climax simultaneously it adds to the drama of the storytelling.
First of all we have the rebels in small defenseless shuttle craft trying to make it to the safety of the nearby abandoned base while the enemy is picking them off one by one. We have Finn and Rose about to be executed by Capt. Phasma on board Snoke’s ship having been betrayed by DJ. And we have Kylo trying to persuade Rey to join him on the dark side.
Kylo extends his hand and initially Rey reaches towards him but instead uses the force to grab the Luke Skywalker lightsaber from him. They then engage in a Force tug-of-war standing about 15 feet apart with a lightsaber hovering in midair as they both tug on it using the Force. I thought this was really symbolic that they were fighting over Luke’s lightsaber which had been Anakin’s before him. It was like they were fighting over who was going to be the next in that legacy.
Meanwhile Adm. Holdo is alone on the last remaining cruiser and fires up the engines preparing to jump to lightspeed. On board the enemy ship they note the maneuver and conclude it’s just a distraction. They know the ship is empty so they continue to fire on the helpless shuttles. In fact she is turning the ship around and pointing it at Snoke’s ship. It makes the jump to lightspeed and blasts right through the enemy ship cutting it in two. The path it takes through the ship is exactly the same path Leia took when she flew through the hologram of the ship on her way back to the bridge of her cruiser when she uses the Force to fly through the vacuum of space earlier.
The reason I titled this section the way I did is of course in reference to Star Trek II and their famous simulation at Starfleet Academy in which cadets are required to face a no-win situation. Kirk’s solution to the Kobayashi Maru scenario was to cheat. Spock’s solution was to sacrifice himself. Adm. Holdo solves her no-win scenario on her suicide attack on Snoke’s ship.
But here’s another one of those bad plot holes. The rebel fleet originally consisted of at least three perhaps four ships that were one by one abandoned and destroyed by the enemy. At least one other of the instances, we saw the captain of the ship remained behind and die while the others escaped. Had one of the captains of those earlier ships pulled the same maneuver, the remainder of the rebel fleet could’ve escaped intact. Or if Holdo had done this maneuver earlier, she could have saved many of the escaping shuttles. In the end only about 4 of a dozen or more shuttles survive. One could argue that she didn’t think of it till the last minute. But it looks to me more like it was just a plot device necessary to keep the action going in a certain direction.
One other interesting thing that happens as Snoke’s ship is hit. All of the sound in the film goes completely quiet for about 10 seconds. No sound effects. No music. Of course one of the big criticisms of sci-fi battle movie like the Star Wars franchise is that when something blows up in space, you can’t hear it because there’s no atmosphere to transmit the sound. So firing of weapons, and ships exploding in reality would make no sound. Yet most sci-fi films are full of explosive sound effects including Star Wars. This particular “moment of silence” wasn’t a sudden decision to honor the laws of physics. It was done obviously for dramatic effect. This was lost on some patrons of some theaters because apparently many of them complained to the management that the sound cut out at this critical moment of the story. Some theaters posted notices saying that the lack of sound at about one hour 45 minutes into the film was not a technical problem but was the way the film was intended to be shown.
At the exact moment that the ship is hit, Luke’s lightsaber splits into and explodes sending both Kylo and Rey flying backwards apart. The explosion on board Snoke’s ship also frees Finn and Rose from their captors. They scramble through the burning wreckage of the ship trying to get to a shuttle to escape when suddenly they run into Capt. Phasma and a bunch of storm troopers. There able to escape the storm troopers with a little help from BB-8 who took control of a two legged AT-DP walker.
Was She Really That Important?
Now we come to another area of fan disappointment with which I completely disagree. We end up getting a one-on-one battle between Finn and Capt. Phasma. It’s a pretty good battle using blasters, some sort of staff weapon, and just brute force punching and shoving. Phasma has a special chrome plated armor that can apparently repel a direct hit from a blaster because Rose tried shooting her and it just bounced off. Someone online recently asked why don’t all storm troopers have this super armor. Presumably it’s more expensive. Anyway in the end of the fight, Finn smacks her in the face with some sort of weapon and it breaks open her helmet exposing her left eye. This is the only time in 2 movies that we get to see any of her face. While lying on the ground injured, she looks at Finn and says “You are still scum.” Finn defiantly replies “That’s rebel scum!” Just then, the floor collapses beneath her and she falls into a fiery pit.
With help from BB-8, Finn and Rose escape to a shuttle and escape Snoke’s ship and make their way to the rebel base.
Many fans were disappointed and felt this was sort of an anti-climactic ending to a fan favorite character. It was fitting that she and Finn would square off because she had been his commander when he was a storm trooper at the beginning of the previous movie before he defected. They had sort of a John Valjean and Inspector Javert kind of rivalry throughout the two films. I was satisfied that she was dead and that Finn literally got the last word and sufficient vengeance.
I never understood the fan obsession with Capt. Phasma. First of all had we not known that the part was played by actress Gwendoline Christie, we might not have even known that the character was female to begin with. For both films, she made the rounds of various talk shows promoting the film. When asked if she was disappointed that she played the entire film with a helmet on she said it didn’t matter. She was still proud to play such a strong and powerful female character. But again my position is the armor was sufficiently androgynous that if you are not familiar with the actress or her voice you would’ve had no idea it was a woman. I have to think that fan obsession with this relatively minor character had more to do with the fact that Christie also plays a very popular and important character Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones. Had this been played by an unknown actor, I doubt that it would have had the same impact. Then again I’m told that Boba Fett was a very popular character in the original trilogy and I didn’t think there was anything special about him. He was in my opinion a faceless throwaway character who met an unspectacular demise. The same holds true for Phasma.
A New Boss
Meanwhile on Snoke’s ship, Gen. Hux discovers that Snoke is dead. Kylo is regaining consciousness and Hux informed him that Rey has escaped in Snoke’s escape pod. Kylo tells him that the girl killed Snoke which is obviously a lie. Although I’m not 100% sure. In the scene where Snoke died, it’s pretty obvious that Kylo caused the lightsaber to turn on and stab Snoke. But the act in which he is actually cut in two is when the lightsaber goes flying across the room and ends up in Rey’s hand. Did she cause that or did Kylo? Anyway Kylo starts ordering Hux and the remainder of his fleet to chase the rebels down to the planet to wipe them out once and for all. Initially Hux indignantly declares the Supreme Leader is dead and you have no right to start ordering me or my army around. However a Vader-like Force chokehold from Kylo persuades him to acknowledge that Kylo is the new Supreme Leader.
The Last Stand
Finn and Rose crash land their stolen craft and slide into the rebel base just as the blast shield door is being closed. The enemy troops begin a ground assault using AT-AT four-legged walkers, some shuttles including Kylo’s personal shuttle. They also have a giant blast cannon which Finn describes as a type of Death Star weapon. When deployed it will definitely destroy their blast shield. They determine that that main door is the only way in or out of the mountain base. They have nothing but some broken down surface skimmers and rusted munitions. Finn, Poe, Rose and others hop in the ground speeders while the remaining troops occupy bunkers and trenches to defend the base. A big ground battle ensues. The surface looks like it’s a snow planet like Hoth from Empire Strikes Back but it is in fact a thin layer of white salt over red clay.
Just as the enemy fighters are about to destroy the ground speeders, along comes Chewbacca piloting the Millennium Falcon with Rey manning the guns. Kylo orders the fighters to pursue “that piece of junk” and they draw away all of the fighters from the main battle. Kylo is of course obsessed with that ship because it belonged to his father. They pursue the Falcon through a series of underground caves and this allows the speeders to continue their attack on the big cannon trying to destroy it before it can blast its way through the door.
The ground troops are taking heavy losses and Poe orders a retreat. But as the big cannon begins to fire, Finn decides to do a suicide run down the throat of the cannon reminiscent of the way Randy Quaid did in the first Independence Day movie. We think that Finn is about to die a hero’s death but Rose crashes into him knocking him off course and saving him. Finn runs over to her crashed craft and asked “Why did you stop me?” She replies “I saved you. That is how we win. Not by fighting what we hate but saving what we love.” She kisses him and then passes out. It’s one of the most poignant parts of the entire movie.
We have heard that there is a deleted scene earlier on where Rose expresses her love for Finn but he explains his devotion to Rey.
Meanwhile the cannon has destroyed the blast door. Kylo orders the troops to advance and take no prisoners. Destroy them all. Inside the base we learn that although the distress signal made it out, no one is coming to their aid. A dejected Leia says we will fight to the end but the galaxy is lost. The spark of hope has died.
An Old Hope
When the original Star Wars was finally given a title it was dubbed “A New Hope”. So just when all hope was finally lost, inside the base a hooded figure suddenly appears. It’s none other than the original New Hope… Luke Skywalker.
His beard and hair are trimmed neatly compared to the ragged look he had on the island. He approaches Leia and she says to him “I know what you’re going to say… My hair is different” He smiles and says he likes it. He then apologizes and says he has come to confront Kylo. He admits he can’t save him. Leia knowledges “my son is gone” but then enigmatically Luke replies “no one is ever gone”. So I guess are to assume that he believes Ben Solo still exists within Kylo but that Luke is incapable of being one to save him. He then hands Leia the pair of dice that he had earlier retrieved from the Millennium Falcon presumably as a remembrance of her husband Han. He then kisses her on the forehead .
He then turns to exit pausing briefly to wink at C-3PO. He then slowly walks out of the base through the giant hole in the blast door and walks onto the plane of the planet alone. Kylo sees him and orders the army to halt its advance. He then declares “I want every gun we have to fire on that man”. They do so. Kylo shouts “More! More!” Until Hux eventually orders cease-fire. When the smoke clears, Skywalker stands there unscathed and sarcastically brushes dirt off it shoulder. Kylo orders that he be taken down to the surface to meet him and do not advance until I order it.
Meanwhile Finn drags Rose back into the base and orders she get medical attention. Poe realizes that what Luke is doing is a stalling tactic. He’s buying time so that they can get away and of the spark of hope can remain alive. Poe understands stalling tactics because it’s what he did in the opening scene of the film. They conclude that even though the schematics of the base shown no other exit, there may be a natural exit in one of the caves. “How did Luke get in here?” Poe asks. There have been some crystalline fox-like creatures roaming around the planet but they seem to have disappeared all except one. Poe orders that everyone follow the last creature deep into the caves hoping that it will lead to a way out. Everyone looks at Leia but she says “Don’t look at me… Follow him!” This is significant because in some ways she’s passing leadership to Poe.
They follow one of the crystal fox creatures down a tunnel and the fox crimes out a small hole but the main cave is blocked by a pile of rubble and the people cannot get out. Rey aboard the Falcon is searching for life signs and Leia uses her homing beacon that she has connecting her to Leia to guide her to them. She lands the Falcon just outside the cave exit that is blocked by rubble. She stares at the debris and sighs “Lifting rocks”. Her previous statement about the Force being a way to lift things is coming true despite what Luke said about “it’s not about lifting rocks”.
Incidentally Luke’s other sarcastic comment back on the island where he said “What do you expect me to do? Go stare down the entire First Order with nothing but a laser sword in my hand?” has now come back to haunt him. It ends up that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Kylo and Luke go at each other with lightsabers but neither lands a blow. Luke says “I failed you Ben. I’m sorry” Kylo replies defiantly “I’m sure you are. The resistance is dead. The war is over. And when I kill you, I will have killed the last Jedi.” Luke replies echoing something that he previously said to Rey of the island “Amazing. Every word of what you just stead was wrong.” And then added “The rebellion was reborn today. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the last Jedi.” As he is speaking these words we see Rey using the Force to clear the exit of the cave allowing the rebels to escape. Finn runs out of the cave and embraces Rey with a big intimate hug.
Meanwhile Kylo tells Luke “I will destroy her… And you… And all of it”. Luke lowers his lightsaber and replies paraphrasing what Obi-Wan Kenobi said to Darth Vader in their final battle. “No. Strike me down in anger and I will always be with you. Just like your father.” Luke recognizes that Kylo is still haunted by the fact that he killed his father Han Solo at the end of the previous movie. We of course know what’s going to happen because Kenobi allows Vader to kill him yet he lives on as a Force ghost. We expect the same thing to happen with Luke.
The Big Psych out
Kylo charges Luke and slices through him with a lightsaber but Luke remains standing. Kylo turns back again and pierces him with a lightsaber to no effect. Luke smiles and says “See you around kid.” And then fades away. We then see the real Luke still back on the island sitting crosslegged on a rock meditating. The entire time Luke was not on the planet, it was just a Force projection.
That’s how he was able to appear in the cave out of nowhere. That’s how he was able to survive the bombardment of all of the AT-AT guns without a scratch. There were other clues that he wasn’t real. During the lightsaber battle with Kylo, they never touched one another. Even their lightsabers never touched even though it’s common for lightsabers to do so during such a dual. Also if you look very carefully during that lightsaber battle, as Kylo plants his feet on the ground to make a charge, his feet scrape away the thin layer or of white salt revealing the red clay beneath it. However when Luke takes a similar a stance, the ground is not disturbed.
Director Johnson also noted in interviews that he thought the audience might figure out that Luke wasn’t real because of the changes to his beard and hair. If we had noticed that he wasn’t as ragged as he had appeared on the island, we could’ve just presumed he cleaned himself up before making a public appearance. However on closer viewing the second time, it’s not just that he is hair and beard were more neatly trimmed or combed. He had actually lost the gray in his hair. It was a younger version of himself that was being projected. It was how he looked back when the two of them first parted ways.
Also we were a bit psyched out that Luke survived the barrage because it seems that in this film, people are able to do things with the Force that we’ve never seen them do before. So we were able to believe that Luke could survive the barrage. I’ve not seen in any online reviews, breakdowns, Easter eggs etc. where anyone else has noticed that Luke’s footsteps did not leave marks on the salt surface. On first viewing I wondered why the camera focused closely on Kylo’s stance and the way the salt behaved. It wasn’t until subsequent viewings that I realized Luke’s feet did not. This was a Chekhov’s Gun that did payoff.
There were a couple of loose ends that I could not initially resolve about this whole thing of Luke only being a projected image. One would’ve thought that Leia being a strong with the Force herself would have known that Luke wasn’t real. They touched hands. He handed her the dice he had retrieved from the Millennium Falcon. He kissed her on the forehead. But maybe she did realize he wasn’t really there and just didn’t say anything. What about the dice? How did they physically get from the island where Luke retrieved them from the Falcon? Also we have to wonder about that wink he gave to C-3PO. Could the droid have noticed Luke wasn’t real and Luke was acknowledging that?
Back on the island, the real Luke then does what we expected him to do all along. As a dual sun sets on the island and John Williams music reaches a familiar crescendo, Luke fades from existence and his empty robes fall to the ground. Director Johnson admits a bit of continuity error in this scene. Luke has a bionic metal arm. We should have seen it fall to the ground along with the empty robes as Luke passes into the Force afterlife. We fully expect to see his Force ghost in the later films perhaps alongside Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin. We also see reaction shots from Leia and Rey as they sense a disturbance in the Force with Luke’s passing.
Kylo inspects the now empty rebel base. As the rebels escape onboard the Falcon we see that Kylo and Rey can sense one another’s presence. Then there was something I missed on first viewing that resolves one of my loose ends. Kylo picks up the dice off the floor. Why would Leia leave behind such a precious remembrance of her late husband? But then the dice fade from existence in his hand. Like Luke, they were never really there. The fact that Leia left them behind indicates she knew they weren’t real and therefore neither was Luke.
What to Do Now?
Onboard the Falcon there are lots of hugs and greetings. Leia and Chewy embrace. Rey notes that BB-8’s antenna is in good shape. That’s a call back to when they first met and she had to repair his antenna. Rey and Poe who have never met one another introduce themselves to each other. Then we see Finn reach into a storage cabinet to get a blanket for Rose. Inside the cabinet we see the Jedi texts from the hollow tree back on the island. Yoda was being literal when he said that she possessed everything that was in the tree. There was a brief two second shot of Rey in that cabinet back when they were on the island but you couldn’t really see what she was doing there. My guess is that she stole the texts.
Rey has a conversation with Leia in which she says “Luke is dead. I felt it. But there was neither sadness nor pain… just peace and purpose.” Leia says “I felt it too.” Rey holds the two pieces of Luke’s broken lightsaber and asks “How do we rebuild the rebellion with this?” Leia replies “We have everything we need.”
In the final sequence we see a group of young children that look like the slave children from Canto Bright. They’re playing with little toys that look like crude homemade action figures. One of them is speaking a foreign language but it is obvious he is retelling the story of how Luke held off the First Order Army while the rebels escaped. Their master comes in and begins yelling at them and they disperse. The storyteller reaches for a broom and it moves in a short distance by itself into his hand presumably by the power of the Force. He begins sweeping up but looks to the heavens in wonderment. We then go close up on his hand holding the broom as if it were a lightsaber. He’s wearing a ring with the insignia of the rebellion on it. The music crescendos and the final credits roll.
Presumably this final scene shows the story of the events have spread throughout the galaxy and inspired a new generation of Force capable young people who will carry on the fight.
Overall I thought it was a fantastic film. To me at fit in to the Star Wars legacy perfectly. There were a few plot flaws here and there but probably less than your average Star Wars film. My complaints with the film were about self consistency rather than consistency versus the rest of the Star Wars story or the fan expectations of how it would fit in to the larger narrative.
I did not feel that the characterization of Luke was out of line with what we know of him. You have to realize this is 40 years after the idealistic young man we first met back on Tatooine. He’s been traumatized and lost faith in himself. Of course he’s not going to be the perfect hero we always imagined him to be. And although he didn’t completely come out of his hermit phase, in the end he did face the entire First Order with nothing but a lightsaber. In the end he saved the day.
Does it really hurt the overall story that we didn’t learn more about Snoke? Not really. He played his part in the story arc of Kylo. Does it hurt the story that we didn’t hear more from Capt. Phasma? No. Finn still got his revenge. Does it really hurt anything that we saw capabilities of the Force that we had not seen previously? As Johnson points out, each successive film has added to our understanding of what the Force can do. And as Luke explains it’s not just “making people do what you want them to do and lifting rocks.” Does it ruin anything that Rey’s parents are a “nobody”? To the contrary it moves the story forward in an interesting and compelling way that shapes Rey in her journey of understanding herself and her role in the universe. The depth of our disappointment is insignificant compared to what that character herself would be feeling. The fans should stop complaining about their disappointment and realize how that connects them to the character. And can we complain if a filmmaker creates a deep emotional connection between us and the major character of the story? I hope not.
I didn’t have any major problems with the film. I enjoyed it for what it was. I will watch it again and again hoping to find more subtle details that should add to my enjoyment. And I look forward to seeing what JJ Abrams does in the next episode. Many fans are hoping he will undo some of the things they didn’t like about this film. Personally I hope he moves on and tells his own story his own way. And knowing the kind of storyteller that he is I’m really looking forward to it.
Addendum After Additional Viewing
This addendum was added at 5:40 PM January 25, 2018. I just got back from the theater to see Star Wars one more time. Here’s a list of things that I noticed on additional viewing that had escaped me in the first viewing or using online resources…
After Rey had her first training lesson of Luke on the island where she felt the Force across the island in life and death, heat and cold etc. and she also felt it within herself, I missed something. She said that she did not feel Luke. She accuses him “You completely cut yourself off from the Force.” Later we see Luke meditating on the rock outcropping and we hear the John Williams Force theme. I now understand this is Luke reconnecting himself to the Force. And when he does, he senses the injured Leia in the medical bay. She briefly regains consciousness and mumbles his name.
When Luke is talking to Yoda and he says “So I was right, it is time for the end of the Jedi.” Yoda answers “yes”. I had missed that earlier.
I questioned earlier in this blog who was responsible for actually cutting Snoke in two. Was it Kylo or was it Rey? It was obvious that Kylo had turned on the lightsaber that pierced Snoke but as it flew across the room, it ended up in Rey‘s hand. I wondered if perhaps Ray had caused it to fly into her hand and that’s what sliced Snoke. But on closer review, Kylo makes a brief gesture with his fingers summoning the lightsaber towards him and Rey grabs it in midflight. Whether he brought it to her or she intercepted it is unclear but he certainly didn’t try to keep her from grabbing it once she did. So the bottom line is the entire death of Snoke was indeed 100% Kylo.
When Poe, Finn, Rose and the others are attacking the big cannon that’s trying to blast into the rebel base, I reported that Poe ordered a retreat and Finn ignored it. What I didn’t notice the first time was that Poe was motivated by the realization that they were taking heavy losses. He’s finally beginning to understand what Leia had been trying to tell him that you can’t go guns blazing with no concern for the level of loss. When he calls for the retreat that’s a really big deal. It would have normally been his nature to keep fighting to the last man as Finn wants to. Similarly it is Poe who realizes that Luke is stalling so that they can retreat. Finn wants to run out and help Luke but for a change Poe is the voice of reason. That’s why when he says we should all follow the crystal creature out the back of the cave, Leia says “Don’t look at me… Follow him”. I recognized that it was her putting her trust in Poe and his leadership but I had not noticed why. Going back to the conversation she had with him after the bombing run at the beginning of the film when she was admonishing him about the losses his defense was that those people were heroes. She replies “Dead heroes and no leadership”. I had missed that “no leadership” statement. Poe is now showing real leadership by calling retreats and saving lives.
Although I did not mention it earlier in the blog, I was curious about the identity of what has come to be known as “the broomstick boy”. That’s the boy at the end of the film who uses their Force to grab a broom and then is seen staring off into space with the implication that he will be the next generation of the rebellion and/or perhaps Jedi. I wondered if this took place on Canto Bright the casino planet and if he was one of the boys from the stables. Upon very close look at both scenes, I’m convinced he was. When Finn and Rose escape from their captors and go to the stables, there is a boy sleeping in one of the stables. When they opened the cages to free the animals he almost sounds the alarm until Rose shows him her ring and opens a secret compartment revealing the rebel symbol. He then assists them in escaping. That boy is indeed the broomstick boy. He has the same hat and it looks like the same kid. In the final scene he is wearing a rebel ring. We did not see him wearing a ring in the stables. The ring he wears looks identical to the one Rose had. It may actually be Rose’s ring that she gave to him.
I looked again very closely for some indication that Leia was aware that Luke wasn’t really there. I did not find any additional evidence beyond the clues I had already discussed. Mostly the fact that she left behind the dice that Luke gave her from the Millennium Falcon. I don’t think she would’ve left them behind if she knew they were real.
Additional item I forgot to add yesterday. I had originally thought that DJ had betrayed them and was responsible for them getting arrested in the first place. But on further review it was a little black ball droid that had detected their presence and got them arrested. DJ later explained unapologetically “we got caught… I made a deal”. I had thought that the rebels had learned about the escaping shuttles by scanning information off their stolen ship. In fact it was the information that the shuttles were escaping was what DJ sold to the enemy in exchange for his freedom, his ship, and a pallet full of some sort of bounty. So he was basically a good guy as long as he could be but in the end only sold them out to save his own ass. He didn’t lead them into a trap as I had originally thought.
That’s everything that I found from my latest viewing.
I haven’t done an entertainment recap since September. Before I go through all of my usual entertainment news with links and one-liner updates I thought I would do a quick post to revisit the shows that I reviewed during September and October as well as talk about a couple of movies. I’ve included links to the original reviews.
I mentioned that the latest incarnation of American Horror Story showed great promise in part because it appeared to contain absolutely no supernatural elements. I’ve only seen seven out of the 11 episodes this season which wrapped up in November but that assessment still holds true. It is just as scary, bloody, an interesting as previous seasons but somehow I think it’s even scarier because it could be 100% real. The story revolves around a disturbed young man who becomes politically active inspired by Trump’s victory as president. He also spawns the creation of a cult of purveyors of murder and mayhem designed to scare the populace into accepting him and his campaign of fear mongering. This series has been very uneven season to season. Some years it has been really great with excellent character development, interesting stories, and lots of blood and gore. Other years are we got was blood and gore. If you been sitting out AHS, consider checking this one out on demand. AHS is back in a good way.
I said that the new sci-fi comedy series “The Orville” from Seth MacFarlane was great comedy and great sci-fi at the same time. That prediction held up the entire 13 episodes. Many critics and fans say that it is closer to the original Star Trek than the new reboot Star Trek: Discovery. While I still like Discovery on its own merits, I have to agree that The Orville definitely feels very much like classic Star Trek in a very good way. It tackles some very serious classic sci-fi themes and still has some very over-the-top comedic moments. The season finale episode “Mad Idolatry” was very reminiscent of one of my favorite Star Trek: Next Generation episodes “Who Watches the Watchers“. It involved a crew member who interfered in a primitive culture and a religion arose around that encounter. Really quality stuff. The goofy humor might be a turnoff to some “serious” sci-fi fans but I still have to recommend it highly.
Speaking of Star Trek: Discovery, I have seen all nine available episodes. The show is on hiatus until later in January where we will get 4 more this season. In general I like it. The characters, stories, and special effects are all top-notch. But I have to agree with some of the critics that it seems to break a lot of cannon for classic Star Trek. Try not to let that turn you off. This is still good stuff and it is marginally Star Trek like. It just doesn’t fit in very well with the traditional Star Trek timeline. I’m still not sure it’s worth the subscription to CBS All Access. If you are a fan of both sci-fi and the old legal drama The Good Wife, then perhaps the combo of Discovery and Good Wife spinoff series “The Good Life” does make the subscription worthwhile. CBS All Access has a third original series that I have not yet seen. It is a police comedy called “No Activity“.
Initially I gave “Young Sheldon” a rather bad review. I continued to watch the show and it’s not quite as bad as I initially felt. I thought in the initial episode Sheldon came across as a little bit pathetic. But the characters have begun to grow on me. I still would have to say that “Me, Myself, and I” is a better show about a young brainy kid and his adult self.
In my reviews of NBC’s “The Brave” and CBS’s “SEAL Team” I said it was a tossup whether you wanted more action in Brave or more personal stories in SEAL. That remains true. Neither are as good as I wish they were but I continued to watch both. I would have to say between the two I prefer The Brave. Perhaps a better choice is the new CBS action drama SWAT which I did not review. Of the three I like SWAT best. Of course all of them suffer from plot holes and plot driven technology. I probably would not stick with SEAL Team if I wasn’t such a big fan of David Boreanaz. Also Shemar Moore‘s charisma adds a great deal to SWAT.
I reviewed 2 new Marvel comics series: Inhumans and The Gifted. Although I watched the entire season of Inhumans I was not really that thrilled with it. People who were familiar with the characters from the comic books seem to appreciate more than I did. The royal family just seemed to me to be a bunch of whiny self absorbed over-privileged ass holes. It was only because traitorous cousin Maximus was even a bigger ass hole that there was any real conflict in the story. I found it difficult to root for the so-called good guys. I don’t mind flawed heroes but they have to be compelling and I’m not so sure these were. On the other hand “The Gifted” is phenomenally good. It’s everything we look for in an X-Men universe story. Great characters, great stories, good performances, outstanding special-effects. I’m only six episodes into the season but I really like it and look forward to more.
As mentioned earlier, I continue to enjoy “Me, Myself and I“.
Unfortunately the series was canceled after just six episodes. No word yet on if any remaining episodes will be available on demand or will be shown in some junk time slot later in the year. This was the first canceled new series of the season.
I still have serious problems with “The Good Doctor” but apart from its primary premise it is a good medical drama slide continued to watch it despite my difficulties with the main character and premise of the show.
Moving briefly on to movies, since my growing review for Dunkirk the only two movies I’ve seen are Justice League and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I will just briefly say that I really liked Justice League although again DC isn’t quite up to Marvel standards. And as far as Star Wars goes I may do a different blog post outlining why I think the naysayers are wrong about the film. Most people like it but there are good percentage of Star Wars fans who did not like it and I think there are wrong.
That’s all for now. I will have what my regular updates on the blog in a few days.
Sometimes when you see a spectacular movie trailer you really wonder if the film itself is going to meet expectations. In the case of “Dunkirk” when you see the spectacular trailer and learn that the film was directed by Christopher Nolan it’s much easier to believe it’s going to be something special. Nolan has proven himself capable of managing huge spectacles with lots of action and special effects. He’s responsible for the Dark Knight Batman trilogy and sci-fi blockbusters Inception and Interstellar. So I was expecting to be wowed.
“Dunkirk” Official Main Trailer
Additional trailers and related videos at the end of this blog
One of the things I like about Nolan is that he often films major action sequences using actual IMAX cameras rather than using traditional cameras. Many IMAX films these days are shot on 35mm or digital and then converted to IMAX in postprocessing. I have read reviews that said be sure to see it in the 70 mm film version rather than the digital version or even digital IMAX. I’m not a film purist who religiously presumes that celluloid is better than digital. I happen to like digital films. But I do appreciate there is something special about 70 mm film.
The IMAX Theatre at the Indiana State Museum in downtown Indianapolis has been showing “Dunkirk” in 70 mm film IMAX and so I decided that would be the best place to see it. I used to be a frequent patron of that facility when it was the only IMAX in town. But recently I’ve been enjoying the slightly smaller digital IMAX theaters at Traders Point and South Meridian. I thought it was great that IMAX was becoming more widespread and even though these venues are not as large as the downtown IMAX, I still very much enjoy their showings. Some people refer to these multiplex IMAX theaters as Lie-MAX and are not true IMAX. But I’ve never felt cheated by watching films there. The slightly smaller screen doesn’t bother me because it still is bigger than the average multiplex screen. The sound isn’t quite as powerful as the downtown IMAX but it’s still pretty good.
This afternoon I went to the downtown IMAX and had my eyes maxed and my ears maxed as well watching “Dunkirk”. It is everything that I hoped it would be and more. By my estimate perhaps three fourths of the film was in full-screen IMAX with only smaller sequences shot in a traditional widescreen format with letterbox black bars above and below. The phenomenal sound system was even better than I had remembered. As I mentioned earlier the sound system is my only complaint about the smaller IMAX theaters. You actually feel the explosions in your bones yet it’s not so loud that it hurts your ears. One of the IMAX marketing catchphrases is “See a movie… Or become part of one” and you really do feel like you are there on the beach or in the aircraft or on the ships in Dunkirk.
If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s the true story of 400,000 British and French troops with their backs against this sea in Dunkirk France surrounded on all sides by the Nazis. Because the landing area is so shallow they could only exit on a long pier that extends into deep water. German aircraft routinely strafe and bomb the defenseless troops. The British government put out a call to all private boats in the area to assist with the evacuation.
The story is told through the eyes of three groups of people spread over three overlapping time periods. We start with a British soldier who is the only survivor of his squad as they make their way through the city to the beach. We follow his attempts to try to get onto a boat. Along the way he joins up with another soldier and they try to make their way to the head of the queue by volunteering as stretcher bearers to carry the wounded onto a hospital ship. Without spoiling the plot too much, I can say that their strategy is unsuccessful and they make several other attempts to leave the beach throughout the film. Also on the beach we have a British naval commander played by Kenneth Branagh and his officers who are overseeing the evacuation. He’s faced with such difficult decisions such as suggesting that we reconsider giving priority to the wounded because you can have seven men standing in the same area occupied by one stretcher.
We also witness the battle through the eyes of a trio of British Spitfire fighter pilots patrolling the area desperately trying to protect the troops and the ships.
Much of the story however from the perspective of Mr. Dawson, a charter boat captain with two young crewmembers who are among the armada of civilian ships participating in the evacuation.
Each of these three stories makes the overall spectacle very personal for the audience. By telling each of their individual struggles it makes the broader spectacle even more real.
Nolan likes to play with time in his storytelling. The events on the beach take place over the course of one week. The events on the charter boat take place over one day. And the battle in the skies takes place over the course of one hour. The events all come together in a sequence where the fighter pilots are trying to shoot down a German bomber as it is attempting to sink a minesweeper ship full of evacuating soldiers. Nearby soldiers are aboard a sinking fishing trawler that has been shot up by the Germans. And the charter boat is trying to rescue men in the water. You see these events repeated several times from the perspective of each group.
There are extremely few quiet moments in the film. It’s pretty much wall-to-wall action and when there isn’t any action you can feel the tension and the sense of peril that all of the participants are facing. How can I get on a ship? When will the next wave of Nazi aircraft attack? Do I have enough fuel to make it home?
The bottom line for me is this may be the best war movie I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s every bit as realistic as “Saving Private Ryan” and although it pulls no punches with the violence of war, it gracefully spares us some of the gore that made parts of Ryan sometimes too difficult to watch.
You definitely need to see this movie in the theater. If you can, see it in IMAX. And better yet see it in the 70 mm film IMAX at the Indiana State Museum or any other 70 mm venue if you’re not in the Indianapolis area.