Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Review

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Star_Wars_VIII_logo.png

*I am not a professional film reviewer, just a fan, and I have only seen the film once at the cinema. I liked and disliked the film, and I hope I haven’t been too biased in my review. My opinions are my own; they’re not facts. Please do let me know your thoughts on the film after reading. WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS.

First impressions

It was with much excitement and anticipation that I went to see the latest Star Wars film. Having been pleased with the latest films in the series, I had high expectations: mostly of seeing Luke Skywalker in lightsaber fights after seeing the end of TFA. I jumped out of my skin when STAR WARS came on. I forget that every time. The opening text reminded me of the main forces, the ‘First Order’ (not the Empire) and the ‘Resistance’ (not the Rebellion). It said as much as could be expected about Luke Skywalker’s arrival and the stakes now that the ‘Republic’ (not the Rebellion or the Resistance) has been destroyed.

The first thirty minutes or so weren’t enough to bring me into the film. The rebel pilot Poe Dameron yet again is on a daring mission, as a prelude to battle. Poe brought energy and excitement into TFA, and I had hoped as much this time, however, then the focus switches to the dilemma of an unknown bomber pilot, and yet again the pilot has been swept to the side in the story, which was disappointing. The Resistance fleet is escaping from a planet with their tails between their legs, in a scene that resembles the tactics seen in ESB. When the fleet is stranded in space, I worried they’d run into an asteroid field. On the same note, there is a dark cavern on the isolated planet Ahch-To that Luke Skywalker is on – would Rey face a sith lord? I hoped not.

Source: https://i.vimeocdn.com/video/669383189_1280x692.jpg
The story begins

The scenes frequently switched so we didn’t get a proper grounding of what was happening between Rey and Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To – he hunts and there are bizarre creatures – until he inevitably accepts to train her. It’s only when a mental channel of communication opens between her and Kylo Ren that the main story really begins, which makes us question why they have this special connection that has only before been seen between Luke and his sister and father. Are they brother and sister, perhaps? After all, Rey’s parents aren’t known … This theme opens into a rediscovery of the light and dark sides of the force. Maybe it isn’t good versus evil, but two sides of the same coin that aren’t well understood or acquainted. The theme develops quite well with Luke’s back story of having failed as a Jedi Master to foresee and respond to the growing power of the dark side in Kylo Ren, before it was too late. Parallels are to be made here between him and Obi Wan Kenobi and his failure to train Anakin Skywalker. Luke criticises the hypocrisy and hubris of the jedi in believing they are the light and guardians of the force, as opposed to being a part of a greater force of nature and life that is the force. Luke’s admission comes late in the series, after all it was about time a jedi saw the weaknesses in their own mindsets. Luke himself says it was vanity that led to these weaknesses, and this was why the dark side was able to take over with such ease, especially after the Clone Wars.

I felt I’d get a whole new understanding of the force, and watched with anticipation. The dark side was represented on the island as a black sooty hole. At least it was dark, I suppose. Luke seems to hold onto the jedi legacy in a cavern of ancient jedi texts, though in practice he has cut himself off from the force because its consequences scare him. I had hoped Luke would get over his apathetic state and jump into the action, but unfortunately he needed Yoda to reappear to tell him how to proceed and to show him that Rey resembled the force and the purpose he had left behind. Up until Yoda appears, Rey is still communicating with the distasteful Kylo Ren through the force. We see them get closer and closer, and it almost looks like they’ll fall in love and bring balance to the force. Their alliance does bear fruit, but not for Rey. They are brought before Snoke (Palpatine imposter/Goldmember from Austin Powers with an orc mask) and scenes remarkably familiar to Return of the Jedi blast through the consciousness: I feel the conflict within you, and the battle of wills between light and dark. Snoke even showed Rey a ‘physical screen’ of her fleet being smashed. No wide open port-holes in the future then. How did she know it wasn’t a fake?

And the truth behind the light and the dark side, their special connection, and the mystery of Ren’s parents weren’t covered at all. How lazy. I mean, come on guys, at least complete the arc and move on! Don’t drag the main plots into a mild recurring irritation that never gets answered. Luke learnt he was a jedi in ANH, that Vader was his father in ESB, and that his sister also has the force in ROTJ. Three separate plots, all complete. I was, in other words, disappointed that such a great developed focus of the light and dark side wasn’t taken further, answered, or understood. When Rey and Kylo Ren fought they simply blasted away from each other and that’s all the answer we’re going to get: light and dark repel. This in no way answers Luke’s discovery in dealing with Kylo Ren that there was no solution to the dark side and that the light wasn’t the answer. In fact, Luke Skywalker was disappointing through most of the film; his humour and changed character aside; he wallowed in despair, and couldn’t even summon the strength to get his physical backside off Ahch-To when it mattered. However, we saw him display some incredible jedi feat at the end, combined with trickery, which was nice, but this could have worked if he had actually travelled to Cratia too. No Luke Skywalker lightsaber battle either … Then, he died, and I felt cheated in a way I hadn’t when Han had died in TFA. Han had helped make TFA what it was; Luke was there as the elusive saviour or wise jedi who taught Rey, but he wasn’t actually there much, and when he was he was miserable. We didn’t see or really understand what happened between Luke and Kylo Ren (there needed to be a prologue) and so his stupor dampened the positive mood Luke brought to previous films.

Setting and character

I wanted us to have the time to settle into a scene before we’ve blasted away from it. Where is the setting? Can the Resistance and First Order not sit still for five minutes? Even in ROTS, Obi Wan Kenobi ran around on a creature and fought General Grievous before his betrayal, and this was in the midst of galactic war. Things happened too fast. Is it me getting old, or is it that the Star Wars series hasn’t decided if it’s for the younger generation only?

Finn and Rey haven’t developed as characters. We don’t see as much of Finn – he’s always running and being distracted by interfering maintenance worker Rose Tico, whose sister was the Resistance bomber pilot mentioned above. His fight against his nemesis Captain Phasma ended with a violent fight, and that was it. Rey is alike to Luke Skywalker in her adherence to the jedi code but she’s too rigid and perfect. Her struggles with Kylo Ren were all to do with the power of the force or a battle of wills. Where is her personality hiding and when will we see more of it? In TFA she was chasing destiny and the thought of not seeing her parents upset her, but nothing new was added since.

Subplots and other titbits

The First Order’s ships can detect them through lightspeed, but how? If would have said this is an important plot point. Can somebody enlighten me because I wonder if I missed this or turned a deaf ear to the part when it was revealed?

Leia’s force glide through space was fascinating, and I thought it was an epic moment that showed the strength of Skywalkers. I liked that her authority was unimpeachable where Poe Dameron was concerned, too.

Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/64/Captain_Phasma_%2823539518130%29.jpg
The Villains
  • Kylo Ren’s mask is exposed as vanity, thank goodness.
  • General Hux is overly egotistical; some would say it adds to his charisma, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. He is a bit over-the-top, haha, but I don’t dislike it. I even enjoyed when Snoke manipulated him.
  • Where is Captain Phasma? I wanted to see more of her. She wears a mask and is intimidating. That’s good.
  • Snoke, I struggled to take seriously. I have the measure of him: Palpatine imposter/Goldmember from Austin Powers with an orc mask. There was too much CGI on his face. Seriously, an old school Palpatine face would have worked better.
Conclusion

In this new trilogy, too much is happening. Ships going to and fro, and main characters interacting with main and sub characters, along with a whole host of familiar faces and alien species. It has turned from science fantasy into crowded space opera. In this way, the franchise has been modernised, and has a quicker pace as if the characters are hyperactive, the situations unpredictable, and battle fleeting. There is that element of suicidal daring, and short-lived alliance between the good guys, but ultimately, after the destruction of the Republic, they’re all really lucky to be alive.

One thing that bothered me in The Force Awakens was the similarity between it and ANH (with the astromech carrying vital information) and I’m afraid TLJ has the same faults. Too much of the core has been copied and has become a formula for future films in the franchise. There are archetypes now such as the Supreme Leader, the Conflicted Sith Apprentice, the New Hope, and Daring Rebel Pilot. In this way, they turned the archetype of Wise Jedi Master on its head, at least.

That being said, much worked well in this film. The battle scenes in space were fantastic, and it was enjoyable seeing Poe Dameron against General Hux. I laughed at the first joke, ‘holding’, but I can understand why it seemed a bit odd in the opening scenes of the film. The best parts of the film were Rey’s struggle to understand Kylo Ren and the dark side, while Kylo Ren did the same. It was great that Luke Skywalker was even in or around these scenes. I liked seeing the AT-AT walkers again at the end, showing more continuity, and Kylo Ren’s terror when Luke Skywalker heroically walks out of the Resistance base. Much of the look of the film was consistent with TFA, even if some themes had been left behind. I did enjoy watching it, but I wouldn’t say it was the best Star Wars film I’ve seen. Where we knew what to expect at the end of TFA, we have no idea for Episode IX, leading some fans to worry where the next episode is heading. I don’t think this is a bad thing.

ROTS – Revenge of the Sith
ANH – A New Hope
ESB – Empire Strikes Back
ROTJ – Return of the Jedi
TFA – The Force Awakens
TLJ – The Last Jedi

Blade Runner 2049 Review

Blade Runner 2049 - Unofficial Photo

I’ve only watched Blade Runner 2049 once. There are no big spoilers, and below I’ve also included a summary of the main plot in the review.

K … (later referred to as K) is a Blade Runner hunting replicants. Sounds familiar, but times have changed now and there are a new series of replicants, some of which are recruited to hunt the older series. K justifies hunting older models who ‘run’, having been steeled for his job by intense psychological training akin to brainwashing (‘cells are interlinked’) that first appear as a way to make K think he is human to protect human interests or to adhere to a baseline of standard operating behaviour that is fit for a Blade Runner. It’s a bit like the Voight-Kampff test in the first Blade Runner, but this time it’s for a replicant working as one, and not to determine whether a human is a replicant.

Blade Runner 2049 - Unofficial Photo2

The first job we see him carry out is to ‘retire’ a replicant who lives and works as a protein farmer, but wasn’t always a farmer, having likely been a replicant working off world as slave labour. Most older-series replicants used to work as slaves. The replicant is extremely strong and well-built, and looks more than capable of ripping K apart, and having seen the extraordinary strength of replicants in the first film we don’t think we’ll be surprised by the result. Understandably, he replicant isn’t happy that K has intruded on his home and does not want to have his eye scanned prior to being taken in, where it can be assumed he will be ‘retired’ anyway. A vicious fight ensues, after which K survives. He does find something interesting on the farm, a casket of bones, and reports the find to headquarters before making his way there.

At headquarters, analysis shows that the bones belong to a woman who had a C-section. What’s strange – and ‘ominous’ to most of the human workers doing the analysis next to K – is that the woman was a replicant! A replicant reproduced! How or why is not known and K’s boss Lieutenant Joshi doesn’t even care so long as the truth is hidden and all evidence, including a surviving child, is erased. The balance between humanity and replicant has to be preserved, for the sake of appearances if nothing else. K is ordered to find and kill the missing child, who has grown up now, but he has immediate misgivings. K is trained to kill replicants without ‘souls’ and children or beings that are born are considered to have souls. Ironically his Joshi comments that K has managed to get along fine without one, until this time, which makes us see how similar in terms of detaching themselves from empathy killer-replicant K is to human Joshi.

This odd parallel between human consciousness and the replicant non-consciousness is apparent on Earth in everyday life. People frequently hurl abuse at K, calling him a ‘skin job’, and these are even the same people who live in his apartment block. K himself seems at first to wholly dismiss human women as potential partners because he has a relationship with a holographic customisable artificial intelligence called Joi. However, as the problem of her unreality hits him he opts for a blurring of the lines, a best of both solution to his needs. Why? He can’t touch Joi, or share physical intimacy. She’s locked in his apartment’s digital network, and if he receives a call or there is interference then she either pauses or disappears. That’s not good, is it? But K instinctively knows he shares something special with her on an emotional level, and seeks to free her from her constraints. She, in turn, wants to help bridge the gap between their realities. I thought it was quite sad how they seemed trapped away from each other. I kept worrying that her behaviour was just programming – I suppose it’s inevitable for a human to think about artificial life-forms in this way – but I really wanted their connection to be real.

A recurring theme in Blade Runner 2049 was the reality of dreams. If our dreams aren’t real, it means we’re not real. Having implanted dreams means somebody has a level of control over your mind  – or had at some point – and this realisation can be terrifying. We live in a world not unlike that of Blade Runner 2049. We have technology where our voices can be recorded and our every movement seen or monitored. It’s this level of technological manipulation, intrusion, and control that is at its most powerful and dangerous to the individual in Blade Runner 2049. To humans as they exist in the film, human lives are expendable and human emotions are secondary in both humans and replicants. Pleasure – human hookers, pleasure models, giant holographic women, and statues – are seen as appropriate substitutes. Despite all the artificial or holographic glamour, we do see a contrast between its falsity and the genuine bonds shared between two beings. Even in a corporate-controlled world where technology is plugged in everywhere there can be hope and true humanity (even if it’s not always between humans as we know them).

Blade Runner 2049 - Unofficial Photo3

Blade Runner 2049 has amazing visuals, just like the first film. There was a motorbike sound throughout town that pressured the audience into thinking something deadly was always on the verge of occurring. Holographic scantily clad women and brands advertising were to be seen everywhere. You could be forgiven, in some shots, of thinking the world bore some resemblance to Star Wars’ Coruscant, in scope, but the lack of aircraft gave it that post-apocalyptic hunter-in-his-car feel. There was more action than the first film, but there were enough characters and depth to appreciate it as equal to its predecessor, and the audience kept wondering who was to be trusted. K was a contrast to Deckard, being emotionally suppressed and psychologically trained for his job – as well as being a replicant – and without the emotional human vulnerability side that Deckard shows. K cast his emotions aside, and like fought a robotic thug, even though we know he is disturbed by dreams that later threaten to ask himself questions about his identity.

Official Blade Runner Website

(The website requests cookies, but for what purpose, now or in 32 years’ time, we’ll never know.)

Electric Dreams – Episode 3: The Commuter – Review

The Commuter - train photoWritten by Jack Thorne

Directed by Tom Harper

Electric Dreams is a science fiction anthology of unrelated short stories based on the stories of renowned science fiction writer Philip K Dick, who is best known for his dystopian depictions of human life.

I’ll be reviewing some of these short stories to cover the themes that resonate in these inspiring episodes. Though an avid fan of Philip K Dick’s stories, I haven’t actually read some or all of the short stories that inspired the episodes in this adaptation.

‘BAFTA-winning actor Timothy Spall (Mr Turner) will star in “The Commuter.” He plays Ed Jacobson, an unassuming employee at a train station who is alarmed to discover that a number of daily commuters are taking the train to a town that shouldn’t exist.’

Ed Jacobson and his wife have a psychotic son. A therapist suggests that if he is not treated soon then he will get worse. Their son has gone now, and they both try to forget about him and live in a bubble of happiness that only includes the couple. It’s only later that we get a hint that Ed’s son, Sam, has been taken to Macon Heights, which is a mysterious place that according to travel routes doesn’t exist.

And that’s not all. Ed keeps seeing dark-haired Linda, an apparition, who first introduced him to Macon Heights. He wonders if she is real. Even his wife expresses the worry that she is more frightened of Ed’s insincere smile than she is of her psychotic son. It’s at this point we begin to wonder who the story is about; if not Sam, then maybe the person with the problem is actually Ed. After all, he is seeing people he isn’t sure are real.

Out of curiosity he visits Macon Heights, which is an ideal town where everybody appears happy. You’d expect to see something amiss sooner or later, but it’s not what you think. Ed keeps returning home and telling his wife not to worry about ‘what could have been’ regarding Sam’s notable absence from both Macon Heights and home.

*SOME SPOILERS BELOW*

Later we see that Macon Heights isn’t a real town, or even an illusion conjured by any other malevolent entity. It is a representation of Ed’s mind. He buried the truth about Sam’s past offences and wanted to live in an ideal marriage instead of a truthful one. At some point he realises why he got married in the first place: for love. Ed fights to get his son back from Macon heights (and the place he has put him in, in his mind).

Ed has to reconcile the parts of his mind that want a happy ideal reality and the actual reality where he makes the ‘right’ choices. Denying or removing Macon Heights, as he did with actual reality, may not solve the problem.

It is confusing at points whether the son he sees in his mind is Sam or whether it represents Ed’s inner child that he has been denying. To consolidate the fact that it is all in the dad’s head we see the son in the kitchen at the end, as if he had never been taken to Macon Heights or anywhere else and it makes sense, for though it is suggested Sam should go for treatment we never saw him admitted or taken to a particular place.

More information about Electric Dreams

Missed it? Watch it on Channel 4’s Catch Up

 

Electric Dreams – Episode 2: Impossible Planet – Review

Impossible Planet - photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Written and directed by David Farr)

Electric Dreams is a science fiction anthology of unrelated short stories based on the stories of renowned science fiction writer Philip K Dick, who is best known for his dystopian depictions of human life.

I’ll be reviewing some of these short stories to cover the themes that resonate in these inspiring episodes. Though an avid fan of Philip K Dick’s stories, I haven’t actually read some or all of the short stories that inspired the episodes in this adaptation.

‘Life is a Dream’

Norton works for the budget space travel company Astral Dreams, showing (creating) glamorous spectacles in the form of colourful interstellar dust clouds for passengers, among other spectacles, but he needs to leave the company because his partner Barbara is fed up. Barbara wants to move to Primo Central, away from their remote outpost, and she has waited four years for Norton to show some promise. Now, Norton checks his vid-mail as she advises him to do in a call, and yet again Primo Central has rejected his application. The stakes are high: if he doesn’t get his act together she could leave him and he’ll feel it’s his fault.

When somebody repeatedly knocks on their office door, Norton has a feeling that something remarkable is going to happen and decides to open the door, against boss Andrews’ protests. It’s a 342-year-old woman! Not something you see every day. And she’s accompanied by her robot helper RB29, who translates because Irma Gordon, the old woman, is partly deaf. Irma Gordon is here to return to Earth, and she’s offering 2 kilo positive (five years’ salary) for their services; something Andrews is quick to exploit. Norton isn’t sure about it, until desperation with the situation between him and Barbara forces him to accept. What Norton doesn’t know is that this is Irma’s last trip; she has a heart condition and will die in a few months; and he and Andrews are both taking advantage.

The problem is that Earth ‘no longer exists’. It is extinct save for solar gases. Irma isn’t aware, or more accurately, doesn’t accept that the particular place she wants to visit can no longer exist. The specific place she wants to visit in Carolina before she dies is a pool in Elk River Falls where her grandmother told her she and her husband swam naked! Andrews searches for a practical solution and finds a similar planet, though duller and less beautiful than Earth in the belief that it can be made to look like Earth. Andrews is morally corrupt on a daily basis, watching pornographic aliens when he’s supposed to be working so he’s not going to worry about Irma Gordon being told the truth when 2 kilo positive is involved, and Andrews reminds us later this is their job: to create happiness. Of course, Norton has reservations about how Andrews is handling the journey; it’s not usual for Andrews to be present on the ship itself. RB29 is not to be hoodwinked and engages them in questioning and undertakes a bit of liberal investigation.

However, Irma Gordon is not just a very old lady; she has a sparkle in her eyes and deduces more than she should. Like the translator she uses to read what is said to her, she picks up some sentences more than others, which may be more meaningful. It’s this greater meaning behind what she reads, or sometimes hears, that makes us wonder if she knows much more than Norton and Andrews about life and the universe. We forget that she doesn’t actually need RB29 to translate, and he is only there to look after her.

There is a connection between Irma Gordon and Norton, which maybe could have been represented better, for Norton’s dreams didn’t have a noticeable effect on his day apart from when he came into contact with Irma. Not only does Irma have a benevolent influence on him but they both desire a return to nature; life as it is instead of the prevalent ‘pre-digested’ happiness such as his partner Barbara’s wish for a perfect life and his own job creating visual spectacles in space and making people think their dreams have come true. Like Irma Gordon we want to believe that not everything is accounted for in the universe and that some mystery remains, to excite us and inspire us. This would be especially important for a very old woman, but no less so for many of us I believe.

In times that are rapidly heading towards greater knowledge of science, technology, and space, is it true that a part of us longs for that hidden mystery that cannot be understood, and can only be embraced?

More information about Electric Dreams

Missed it? Watch it on Channel 4’s Catch Up 

Electric Dreams – Episode 1: The Hoodmaker – Review

The Hoodmaker - photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electric Dreams is a science fiction anthology of unrelated short stories based on the stories of renowned science fiction writer Philip K Dick, who is best known for his dystopian depictions of human life. 

I’ll be reviewing some of these short stories to cover the themes that resonate in these inspiring episodes. Though an avid fan of Philip K Dick’s stories, I haven’t actually read some or all of the short stories that inspired the episodes in this adaptation.

The Hoodmaker aired on Sunday 17th September on Channel 4.

Episode 1: The Hoodmaker

(Adapted by Matthew Graham.)

When the episode starts during a protest against the use of telepaths, or ‘teeps’, we see Clearance, the authority/police, making use of the skills of female teep, Honor. Agent Ross is standing close guiding Honor and benefitting from her reads of the protestors. Once the protestors become aware that they are being read, the awareness of which is a remarkable skill itself, they launch themselves against the assembled agents, and the riot police step in to clear the way. In the tumult, a lone protestor with their face hidden by a metallic mask as part of a hooded robe pushes their way forward and throws a fire-bomb. The assailant is then chased through streets by Agent Ross, and captured. After interrogation of the assailant, it becomes clear somebody – the Hoodmaker – is distributing hoods and arming ordinary human beings to take up the fight against the teeps.

After the Anti Immunity Bill, teeps are used to detect threats, however, it is clear there is still much resentment about the bill among ordinary people and police. ‘Teeps’ is used in a derogatory way; they are seen as a threat to the human race. It’s the argument that they could be the next stage in evolution and if they are not suppressed then they could take over. As a result, there are trust issues between the teeps and people, and with Honor and the authorities. Honor grew up with her kind, but does that automatically mean she should side with them? This question becomes more important as we see a hint of attraction, triggered by her proximity with Agent Ross. A few times, she tells him she thinks he is special – maybe she doesn’t want to read him.

The theme that most intrigued me was ‘trust’. Many people, and certainly the guilty, do not want their minds open to be read by teeps. There is even propaganda in the station that says ‘Keep an Open Mind: Telepathy’, as if to say ‘show you have nothing to hide’ and ‘be a friendly human being’. I’m sure many in our society can understand the fears that our mental privacy would be intruded by teeps, to be used by law enforcement agencies or teeps, but perhaps not for our benefit directly. However, we are also shown a glimpse of a teep being taken advantage of by being privy to someone’s horrible thoughts. In the course of the first scene, some people have thoughts that are considered a direct danger to society, after all it was the hooded person who threw the fire-bomb, whereas most people’s thoughts, though emotionally complex, were not dangerous to anybody. Could it be that if we opened ourselves to teeps and formed trust and friendship with them as individuals then society could be reunified, its wounds healed? Close proximity with a teep can often be damning for a person who wants to keep their thoughts to themselves, and groups of teeps are downright terrifying.

On the other hand, there is the ‘hood’ itself, which protects people’s minds from being read. People are still capable of manufacturing tools to give them then edge, even in the tension between them and teeps, and since people outnumber the teeps, who is really the dangerous group? The mass fear of teeps extends not just to their psychic ability, but as is seen later, to Honor’s use of it to access information across distances and jump to investigative conclusions. Human brains cannot do that without the internet – and we can control the internet. People see the teeps as being able to read minds, use higher intelligence, and replace them at work. Seeing the co-operation between Agent Ross and Honor, it seems irrational to me to only focus on the fear that all teeps are going to automatically replace people and there isn’t a lot of evidence of teeps abusing their powers before discrimination and violence.

What are your thoughts about the episode and the questions posed?

More information about Electric Dreams

Missed it? Watch it on Channel 4’s Catch Up