Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Incredibles 2

Originally written for

    The Incredibles 2 has been teased ever since the cliffhanger at the end of The Incredibles back in 2004. I'm 21 years old at the time of writing, and it's been almost 14 years since the first movie in the series was released. I have literally been waiting for this film for two-thirds of my life. Finding Dory only took 13 years, Monsters University took 12 years, meanwhile Cars sees a new movie every 5-6 years. I have a DVD copy of the first movie I've been watching with my parents about every six months since it came out that's older than some of the children in the audience for this movie. It's become a family tradition to watch the first movie and I can quote back almost every line in the movie as rote. Needless to say, that makes me fairly qualified to tell you, the reader, whether or not this movie is any good. Thankfully it is. I wish we'd gotten it 11-12 years ago, but it's a solid installment and a worthy follow-up to one of my all-time favorite movies. Now we just have to hope it won't take another 14 years for them to make an Incredibles 3.
    Before we start talking about the movie, I'd like to go over my theater experience first. I try and keep comments about the theater experience out of the review, but there were a few egregious problems with the showing I went to at The Grand 18 in D'Iberville, Mississippi. First off, there was a string of commercials for apps and augmented reality games played with cellphones before the movie, and then when trailers started, they told everyone to put away their cell-phones. Then there was the fact that the screen had clearly been cleaned improperly as there was this shimmer effect I've begun to notice on a lot of poorly-maintained projection-screens. Then there's the fact that there was a speck of dirt on either the projector, the window the projector was projecting through, or there was a much larger spot of dirt on the projection screen itself. Not enough to be detrimental, but enough to be unprofessional. Add to that the fact that the recliner seating was a tad difficult to adjust properly and my theater experience wasn't quite perfect.

Spoiler warning for the movie.

    As one would expect given the ending of The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2 picks up immediately after the first film's cliffhanger ending. The Incredibles and Frozone manage to take on The Underminer (John Ratzenberger) and win, but The Underminer escapes, The Incredibles (Bob, Helen, Dash, Violet and Jack-Jack Parr, played by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner and Eli Fucile respectively) are picked up by the police because superheroism is still illegal, Frozone (AKA Lucius Best, played by Samuel L. Jackson) is given a business proposition by a superhero fanboy who isn't a complete psycho (Winston Deavor, played by Bob Odenkirk) and the guy Violet asked out, Tony gets his memory of her erased. The Superhero Relocation Program, which was established fifteen years prior to clean up superhero messes and keep heroes under wraps whenever possible, gets shut down, and the Parrs have two weeks to sort their situation out or they're homeless, since their house was blown up in the previous film. Fortunately for them, the offer Deavor extended to Frozone is extended to Bob and Helen as well, and the three of them go to Deavor's place where he introduces them to his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener) who invents the stuff his company sells and markets. The idea is to hire Helen to be the "pilot hero" to get the public convinced that Superheroes are a positive influence rather than a negative one. Bob, who's spent the last fifteen years seething over the stupidity of the public and government, is naturally cheesed by this. If one can recall the first film as well as I can, then one remembers how Bob jumped to do hero-work, because it's an inherent part of his being. He's supportive of his wife, but it gets to him that he's not out there doing hero-work. Granted, someone has to take care of the kids and that duty falls to him.
    Elastigirl is given a new suit and motorcycle for use in superhero work while Bob is stuck trying to figure out why they changed math and how to organize all of the children, which is pretty relevant for fans of the first movie since they're old enough to have kids of their own and wonder what the hell is going on with Common Core now. Which on reflection, is probably why this is in the movie at all.
Helen goes to one of the big cities to monitor crime and winds up stopping a runaway train hijacked by a new supervillain called "ScreenSlaver." ScreenSlaver uses hypnosis on the engineer to make him run the train backward, but Elastigirl manages to avert disaster. This grants her a lot of good press, and an interview with the local news. Meanwhile, Jack-Jack has a fight with a Raccoon and Bob finds out that Jack-Jack has powers. For those of you wondering why they didn't know he had powers, it's because he was too far up when he was going lead-baby, human-torch and demon-baby for them to see it properly, Kari probably got her memory erased of the entire incident, and Syndrome is dead, so nobody else really knew he had powers. Speaking of which, as part of the project, Winston lets the Parrs stay in one of his extra houses, a mansion I suspect he bought from Syndrome's estate-sale given the technologically-advanced gadgets, the secret entrances, the hidden trap-doors, and all of the other crap in the house. There's nothing in the movie to confirm or deny that, but it makes perfect sense.
    During the interview, ScreenSlaver hijacks the signal and the helicade of a foreign ambassador who was leaving the studio. Helen manages to save the Ambassador and the studio, then concocts a plan to track down ScreenSlaver with the help of some tech from Evelyn. She tracks him to his lair, and he puts up a pretty good fight, but Elastigirl apprehends him. Something I feel I should comment on is the fact that the theater had posted notices that the movie contained sequences of rapidly-flashing lights and I was not prepared for how rapidly they would be flashing. I'm normally unphased by strobe-effects in films and real life, but this gave me a headache to watch. I'd like to request that Pixar tone down the flashing for the home-media release, but I won't be too put-out if they don't. It's very brief, but for the number of times I know I'm going to watch this movie I get the distinct feeling that I'm either going to get used to it or it'll become the single most irritating part of the film that I'll dread every time I watch it.
    Elastigirl's capture of ScreenSlaver is celebrated, and helps to spur the re-legalization of superhero action. However, at the victory party, Helen starts analyzing the footage captured from her body-cam and realizes that ScreenSlaver had tapped into her bodycam, and may indeed have just been mind-controlled as well. Evelyn confirms this when she slaps mind-control goggles into Helen to keep her from breaking the story. I have to admit, I didn't see that one coming. I thought the brother was gonna be the villain.
    Evelyn explains that she basically sees her father's Superhero obsession as the thing that killed him, and she despises how her brother obsesses over them, and she sees the heroes as a crutch that humanity is expected to lean on when she thinks that humanity needs to move on otherwise we'll be held back. So she's basically Lex Luthor. I have a feeling that she and Syndrome would have gotten along very well.
One may also note some similarities between this scene and a scene from Fantastic 4, but since this is the better movie and indeed the better movie series and also Fox is soon going to be owned by Disney, there's not really much to say about that here.    She calls Bob to lure him to the ship the superheroism legalization accord will be signed on, so Bob calls Lucius to watch the kids while he goes after Helen. Evelyn sends a bunch of rookie heroes her brother found and she subsequently mind-controlled, to apprehend the kids, but between Lucius and Dash summoning Bob's Incredibile, the kids manage to escape, but Lucius gets mind-controlled. Bob faces off with Helen, but Evelyn uses the mind-control to catch Bob off-guard and mind-control him, so it's up to Dash, Violet and Jack-Jack to save the day.
    Evelyn has the Supers issue a threat to the world after the accords are signed, but Jack-Jack frees Helen and Helen frees Bob and Lucius. They face off with the other mind-controlled heroes, and Winston disables the mind-control screens on the boat. Helen takes out Evelyn while Bob and the kids stop the boat crashing into the city. Evelyn is arrested, and The Incredibles are hailed as heroes once more.
    If like me, you've waited a long time for this movie to come out, it may be worth seeing in theaters, but if you suspect you'll have a similar theater experience to the one I had, I'd recommend waiting for The Incredibles 2 to come out on 4K and spending what you would have spent on the tickets on that. It's easily as good as the first one, so one will certainly wish to watch it again and again, and unless you catch it at a dollar theater you're likely to pay just as much, if not more for tickets for the whole family as you would to just buy the 4K version. If you absolutely cannot wait, then go for it, but you'd probably be better off waiting for the 4K Blu-ray release.
Speaking of which, why exactly was The Incredibles $30 on 4K? It's a fourteen-year-old film that everyone owns on either DVD or 2K Blu-ray, so Disney shouldn't be expecting to make their typical amount on it. It's not like the old VHS releases, or the first DVD releases of most of their films, the remastering was already done back when they issued the DVD and Blu-ray versions. Why exactly do they think they'll make the asking price on this? For $30 I'll wait until it's discounted or stick with the DVD version I've had for the last fourteen years.
    All in all, this movie did everything it needed to as a sequel. It had new ideas left and right, wasn't just a straight carbon-copy of the first film with minute differences and managed to capture the heart and soul of the original. What they need to do now is make another movie before all of the actors are dead, because almost all of the cast is getting up there. That brings me to something I feel I should mention. Aside from Helen, Lucius, and The Underminer, the only voices that don't sound like they've changed are Dash and Dicker, the two who had to be recast because the voice actors were either too old or dead respectively. The returning cast sounds generally like they are who they're supposed to be, but Craig T. Nelson's voice has aged more audibly than Albert Brooks's had in Finding Dory, and Sarah Vowell sounded like she was straining to maintain her Violet voice throughout the first two-thirds of the film before settling back into the groove by the end of the film. In fact, Craig T. Nelson also sounded like he'd figured it out by the end as well and that made me wonder why they didn't go back and retake the rest of their lines. You know you could have just pushed it back another few months to clean up the voice-acting, right Disney? You made us wait fourteen freaking years for the movie as it was, you could have made us wait a little longer and we wouldn't have hated your guts any more than we already do. Although there's a reason for it being somewhat rushed, considering the fact that Toy Story 4 got pushed back and The Incredibles 2 had to fill its release-date. I'm actually surprised the shaky voices are the only problem with the movie given that it had to be released an entire year earlier than planned. I was somewhat disappointed there wasn't much Underminer in the movie, but I was satisfied with the film we got.
    As with the last film, Michael Giacchino's score is absolute perfection. Best work from Giacchino since his Doctor Strange score. Would definitely listen to on its own given the opportunity.
In the end, it's a solid installment that I wish I hadn't had to wait two-thirds of my life to see. As a suggestion, maybe they could make an animated TV series out of the Glory Days from the first movie? They briefly namechecked some of the events of the Glory Days, and I think there's a lot that could be gotten out of the pre-Relocation days. All I want is more of The Incredibles in my (and preferably the actors) lifetimes.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Originally written for
    Solo: A Star Wars Story is an odd duck of a movie, and continues a trend started by the previous standalone film in the series, Rogue One. Namely, a lot of reshoots. The difference between these two films is that Rogue One's director wasn't fired when the movie was mostly done and replaced by somebody else to shoot the remainder of the film, along with reshooting the entire rest of the film.
Despite this, Solo doesn't come off as a movie that's clearly been pieced together from a far different original vision. One would hope that eventually the original version of the film can be put out on home media, much like the original version of Superman 2 was. It might not be any good, but it'd make for a great special feature or something like that for the home version of the movie.
After The Last Jedi failed to capture the hearts and minds of the Star Wars fanbase, myself included, I was more hesitant than I would have normally been going into this film. Between the production issues, the fact that most of the contenders to play young Han Solo looked nothing like Harrison Ford, and the fact that it followed on from the single worst Star Wars film ever made, I was skeptical. But a lot of that skepticism was abated by the fact that the replacement director was none other than Ron Howard, a director I hold in high regard. Howard was George Lucas's original choice to direct the prequels, and I was glad to see him take up the reigns finally. If I was someone in charge at Lucasfilm or The Walt Disney Company, my first act would have been to immediately turn the sequels over to Ron Howard. Even when working with less than adequate material, Howard always manages to turn out a decent film. And I'm happy to say that's what he's done for Solo.
    Solo: A Star Wars Story at its most basic level is a compressed and heavily bastardized version of The Han Solo Trilogy, although by this point I'm not even remotely surprised to see plots, characters, and entire scenes lifted from the EU. This film is about as obvious with its plagiarism than The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were. Characters names are changed, and some of the fine details are different, but in the end, this movie is basically The Han Solo Trilogy given life as a film.
The performances from all involved are spot-on. Alden Ehrenreich imitates Harrison Ford's mannerisms as the dashing rogue Han Solo without missing a beat. His voice is slightly different than I would have expected, but considering this movie is set approximately fifteen years before the events of A New Hope, that's perfectly forgivable. Donald Glover though, manages to not only look, but sound his part as Lando Calrissean. I have to hand it to Glover, he did a damn good job as everyone's favorite scoundrel. The only complaint is that his hairdo is a little too different, a little too much like the haircut has in real life. Lando has curly, slicked hair in The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. He didn't have a right-angle cut into his hair. I don't know why this bugged me, maybe it was the fact that it looks a little too modern to fit in with the overall look of Star Wars as a franchise. Ehrenreich and Glover reportedly both consulted with Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams respectively when researching their roles, and both of them manage to capture the essence of their characters without actively seeming like impersonators. The other actors turn in good performances as well, especially Woody Harrelson, but there's a certain character who irritated the hell out of me and didn't even need to really be in the film, but that's spoiler territory.
Just listening to the score of this movie, I think it's got some of the best music out of the series in recent years. That may be due to the fact that it relies heavily upon previous musical cues, but even putting that aside, the music flows with the scenes the way the music flowed with the scenes in the first six films. There are a couple of tracks I find a bit odd, but the music is more memorable than it was in Rogue One and more unique than it was in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. This is likely due to the fact that the composer, John Powell, was a member of Remote Control Productions, the studio Hans Zimmer co-founded, and was a frequent collaborator with Zimmer and other members of the studio. Hans Zimmer is one of a very few composers who can give original Star Wars series composer John Williams a run for his money in terms of quality, and I think that the only better choice to do the score would have been Williams or Zimmer themselves. Maybe even together.
Spoilers for the movie and the books begin here.
The most obvious details of the movie that have been lifted from The Han Solo Trilogy are Han's backstory as a ruffian who escaped Correllia by joining the Empire, and eventually deserted to become a smuggler. The details differ in that Han's girlfriend, Qi'ra (played by Emilia Clark) comes up with him in the underworld rather than being an aristocrat, that the reason they're separated is because she gets caught when a corrupt Imperial soldier sells them out, and not because Han was being chivalrous, and the fact that Qi'ra is an unknown quantity with deep ties to Han, just like Han's girlfriend in the novels, Bria Theran. In fact, if they chopped out one of the characters that shows up later in the movie, they could have just called her Bria and nobody would have blinked an eye. In fact, this is something of a trend with Disney's Star Wars films, they tend to have too many characters. Not the way a Rolland Emmerich movie has too many characters, more like one or two extraneous characters along the way. Not unexpected from Star Wars, but at least in the past, previous films were aggressively edited and examined for extraneous scenes and characters. Yes, this did lead to a fairly important section of A New Hope being basically lost to time, but it also meant that there were never any subplots that didn't go anywhere, or characters who could have just been removed entirely.
The next major section of the film that has been altered from its source material is the fact that Lando cheats in his first game of Sabacc with Han when the Falcon is on the line. Lando's not exactly known for cheating, and in fact, didn't like cheaters at Sabacc. Not to mention the fact that cheating at Sabacc carries heavy fines in some parts of the galaxy, and the death sentence in others, making it heavily out of character for Lando to risk such consequences when he's known to only take risks when he has to, as demonstrated in Episode V when he joined the Rebellion. Why would he stick his neck out to win at a card game? In the books and previous movies, Lando was known as a man of his word, only breaking it when absolutely necessary. That was how Han won the Falcon in the trilogy, by holding Lando to his exact words. Hell, we've even seen this side of Lando recently in Star Wars Rebels. He's a scoundrel, a smooth talker, a wheeler and a dealer, a ruffian, but he's not a cheater and he never goes back on his word when both sides keep their end of the bargain. We'll come back to this later on.
Something which really irritated me about this film was that it started off with still screens of expositional text rather than the traditional title crawl. Unlike Rogue One, I could add a title crawl to Solo without even needing to edit the film much. Rogue One started off fairly quick, and despite the fact that it could have easily had one with a bit of editing, didn't really need one. This film on the other hand eschews series tradition much in the way The Clone Wars animated movie and series did, despite the fact that they'd greatly benefit from the added extra touch. At least The Clone Wars had the excuse of needing to communicate the setting and previous events to the audience quickly so as to fit into a half-hour timeslot, but Solo doesn't have that excuse because the text remains on screen for about as long as the equivalent title-crawl would have. If you're going to include text in the opening sequence to a Star Wars movie, make it crawl for god's sake!
All of that text has to exist to explain what Han is doing and why he wants to leave Correllia. Han and his girlfriend, Qi'ra work for some kind of snake creature stealing things. Han gets ambushed while on a job for the snake and barely escapes with his life, his enemy's speeder, and a piece of merchandise. Han manages to escape the den of thieves with Qi'ra, but rather than line up a black-market trader to get the full value for it and not having to rely on the corruption of Imperial forces, Han just trades the fuel to the Imperial official, which gets Qi'ra captured. Han joins the Imperial Academy to become a pilot, but for some reason becomes a foot soldier for the Imperial Navy due to being expelled from the Imperial Flight Academy. Okay. Not like that's something interesting we'd have liked to see. Even if it was only ten, fifteen, twenty minutes long it would have been cool to see. All it would take is a little bit of creative writing and direction, which I know the team behind this movie can do, and the smash-cut to the warzone would have still worked. In this scene, we find out the origins of Han's name. It's a nickname given to him by the Imperial Recruiter since he doesn't have a last name. Even though we find out he had parents and actually knew them.
In the warzone, Han meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who's posing as an Imperial officer. Beckett manages to save Solo's unit and Solo pegs him and the other members of his crew as thieves when he notices a few things wrong with them. For one thing, Beckett's uniform is heavily damaged. The pilot, Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) is an alien, and Beckett's wife, Val (Thandie Newton) is quick to jump the gun. When Han calls them out and tries to get them to let him join them, Beckett gets the Imperials to toss Han into a cage with none other than Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) who Han convinces to help him escape. Compared to how they met in the books, this is more spectacular, but less meaningful. It's a lot like the Harry Potter films in that regard, but a lot better.
Han and Chewie escape the prison and join up with Beckett to help him rob a train. They mostly manage to pull the heist off, but a band of marauders try to hijack the train from them. Rio winds up being shot, so Han has to take the controls, and then Val dies blowing up the bridge and taking out the Imperial forces. Han winds up having to ditch the train car to save their necks, and gets chewed out by Beckett, since the product of the heist was promised to crime-lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) of the Crimson Dawn. Couldn't have been Prince Xizor of Black Sun? Oh well, whatever.
Beckett apologizes to Vos for losing the fuel, while Han runs into Qi'ra, who's Vos's... Wife? Right hand girl? Concubine? Hitwoman? I don't know.
Han suggests to Beckett and Vos that they steal unrefined fuel instead of refined fuel, since the fuel mines on Kessell will be easier to rob than another Imperial transport train. Since the unrefined fuel is unstable, they need to get a fast ship. Since the fastest ship in the galaxy is owned by Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) Han gets Qi'ra to front his buy-in to the Sabacc table Lando is playing at and manages to almost get the ship, but an awkward cutaway shows us that Lando used a Mission: Impossible gadget to swap out his cards. If they'd cut this shot out, and left the reveal for the end, it would have increased the impact of the final scene of the film. Then you've got the fact that Han basically had enough money to either buy a similar light freighter and modify it for the job, or pay Lando to rent the Falcon for the job and still have plenty left over to buy a ship. That's part of what makes this sequence kind of dumb, on top of Lando being out of character. The other part is the fact that they didn't show us many of the details of Sabac as a game. Han's clearly a card-shark, so if we got a bit of internal monologue like we did in the books, we might have more context. I know I'm basically asking Ron Howard to insert an episode or two of Yu-Gi-Oh! into a Star Wars movie, but The Last Jedi was two and a half hours long, if Ron Howard had made Solo three hours long I'd have still sat through it. Even if you allowed fifteen minutes each for the three years Han supposedly spent in the Imperial Academy, and fifteen more minutes for Sabacc, the movie would only be about five minutes longer than TLJ. Hell, if you cut out Lando's annoying droid sidekick you'd save about three minutes of the movie, maybe even more.
Lando's droid sidekick and navigator, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is one of the single most irritating characters in the entirety of film, right up there with Sam Witwicky and Lucas Flannery from the live-action Transformers movies. And like Lucas, I was incredibly glad when she died, despite the fact that the film clearly wants me to feel bad for Lando that his friend is dead. L3 loves to go on about droid's rights, something which nobody cares about and really didn't even need to be in the movie. We know droids are discriminated against in Star Wars, they've made it impeccably clear in every single film, book, game, and audio drama in the franchise. This kind of thing should have been a passing joke made by a side character, not a supporting character who's fairly important to the story. Not that she needed to be important to the story, since everything she does could have been done by a voiceless R2 unit, or a member of the crew. Not to mention the fact that she steals a bit of Han's thunder when she frees all of the slaves herself, which sort of undermines what Chewie owes Han since, in the book, Solo was the one who liberated the slaves, and Chewie's family in the process. Thankfully she's only around for a few minutes. Compared to L3, Rose Tico is actually important to the plot. And the most prominent comic-relief character in the series, Jar-Jar Binks is downright serious by comparison. At least he was integral to the plot, at least he couldn't have been replaced by Woody Harrelson and a better navicomputer. At least The Phantom Menace would have gone down drastically differently without him. At least Jar-Jar was funny and endearing. We already know about the plight of droids. Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, hell most of the installments in the series show how bad droids have it in a far more serious light. The punchlines suck and take away from the serious nature of the issue. Plus the character being irritating as all get-out doesn't help her cause. I don't even know why anyone thought this character up. One would hope that Phil Lorde and Chris Miller, the original directors of this film did something different with this character, but considering she's in and out fast, I guess I can't complain too much. One last strange thing about her character is that she seems to have a big crush on Lando that she's not hiding particularly well. She seems a bit too quick to say it won't work, and a bit too quick to say that a human/droid relationship can work. That was actually a somewhat funny joke, to be honest.
They load the fuel into the Falcon, but Lando is wounded and L3 is destroyed. Han tries to fly them out, but they stumble on an Imperial blockade. Solo takes the shortcut that lets him take the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, but they're ambushed by a space-monster. Han manages to get the monster stuck in one of the Maw Cluster black-holes by ejecting the Falcon's escape-pod. They plug L3's brain into the navicomputer to chart a course out of the Maw and a drop of the unrefined fuel to boost themselves out of the black-hole. They get the fuel refined, but the Marauders from the heist ambush them and Lando abandons them. For some reason, the marauders manage to convince Han to give them the fuel, but they still have to turn something over to Vos. So Han puts together a plan where the Marauders have an empty box as bait in case someone betrays the plan, and he can take the regular fuel in to Vos. Sure enough, Beckett sells them out to Vos, but Han and Qi'ra manage to fight him off, and Han kills Beckett in the best shot of the movie. Han expects Qi'ra to join him, but she takes Vos's ship to meet with her true boss, Darth Maul (Voiced by Samuel Witwer from The Clone Wars and Rebels, and physically portrayed by Ray Park, the actor who played him in The Phantom Menace) on Korriban. No I don't know why Maul is here, but I'm intrigued and wish to know more. Then Han and Chewie go back to Lando, Han steals the cards Lando used to cheat, and wins the Falcon with a Full Sabacc, roll credits.

Spoilers end.

All in all, I liked this movie. I think it's well worth the sit if you had a bad taste in your mouth after the failure of The Last Jedi. It's kind of funny, since there are a few little things in this movie that make TLJ a bit more sensible, but not enough to redeem its failure. If you hated The Last Jedi because it crapped all over the legacy of the original trilogy, and every other film in the series that came before it, you'll find that this film doesn't do that quite as much. There's only one major aspect of the film I disagreed with, but overall I found it a very entertaining movie. And to the people who said that the audience needed to lower their expectations going in, you're wrong. This movie stands up alongside the other good Star Wars movies with its head held high. It's a bit shorter than its older siblings, but it's far and away better than The Last Jedi and Revenge of the Sith were. Don't lower your expectations going in, you'll be more than happy with this film if you've never read the superior books it's obviously based on. And if you have read the books it's based on, you might want to cut the movie a little slack. After all, the movie did have to be almost entirely reshot by a different director. Hell, they couldn't even keep the same guy playing the villain, Vos. Michael K. Williams played a far different version of Vos in the Lorde and Miller version of the movie, but the role had to be recast for the reshoots.
Despite the troubled production, this film turned out pretty good. It makes me wonder how Ron Howard would have handled the prequel trilogy, and indeed it makes me wonder why Disney didn't immediately turn the sequel trilogy over to him. Ron Howard did a better job picking up the broken pieces of a film someone else wrote than Rian Johnson did directing a movie he wrote. So go see this movie. Bring your friends. It's doing way worse at the box-office than it should, and I think that's to do with the fact that it's following on from last year's lackluster main installment. The final score I give for the movie is an 8.0*

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Revisiting Star Wars: The Old Republic

    If you've been wondering where I went for the last year or so, sans the occasional post and video every now and again, I've been enrolled in college. All of my time has been taken up by schoolwork, honors projects, and time at the gym. This left me with absolutely no time to request new games to review, to play the games I already have, or to really sit down and write a review. The largest break I've had up until now was a month-long stretch during the summer, and then it was right back to the grind.
    When my first semester started, I decided I should probably get a new computer, as the one I had been using for the last five years was starting to get slower and slower to do just about anything. Rather than just buying a new consumer-level PC, I opted to research getting a decent gaming laptop so I could have a good mobile recording station. Naturally, I haven't had a good chance to test it out in that capacity since I got it, but I've been able to bring some good gaming out of it in the minuscule bit of downtime I've had. One of the first things I figured I'd do is install the first game I played on the old eMachines rig I had and see how it fared on my new, roided-out rig. It'd be a great benchmark for the difference between the two systems. Considering that Star Wars: The Old Republic practically killed my old rig when it was new, so if I was able to get it running well on this new PC, then I'd be plenty happy. Given that my current PC is massively overpowered even now, ten-some months on down the line from when I purchased it, I figured I'd have absolutely no issue running this game at maximum settings, and for the most part, I was right. The very first thing I did after the game finished downloading, because even after AT&T upgraded my internet connection it still didn't want to download at anything resembling a reasonable speed was crank the graphical settings all the way up. For the most part, everything worked fine at first, but my keen gamer's eye started noticing a lot of issues. I started out as a Sith Juggernaut, because I played a Jedi Consular the last time I had this game and I remembered how much banal bitchwork I had to go through, so I picked the opposite end of the spectrum and decided to play against type for once. I was going to be a Machiavellian manipulator and merciless destroyer of worlds.
    As I traipsed around the starting planet, I started to notice a bunch of graphical issues. I'm almost certain there isn't a single curved line in this game. Everywhere a curve should be, it's either a blown-up texture that looks blurry, or a hard angled polygon that's probably supposed to be a curve, but clearly is not. Take a look at the hologram projector in the background of this screenshot, and the console to the right of my Jedi Consular. It's not like I went looking for these issues either, I wasn't playing in first-person mode and zooming in tight on a wall, this is something I noticed from the widest third-person camera angle available, and on the character-select screen as well. Every road, stairway, pathway and remotely curved object in the game is made up of obvious polygons. In addition to that, some of the textures in this game look like badly-sourced JPEG's, with obvious lossy compression artifacts that by all rights shouldn't be in a game like this.
    This particular texture to the left reminds me of some recycled textures I saw in some of the Resident Evil games on sixth-generation consoles where Capcom re-used a number of door textures from the G5 games upscaled and then recompressed. Some of these textures look like they were ripped from Knights of the Old Republic and re-used. Given how long this game takes to download on even decent internet connections, why do the textures look like overcompressed JPEG's? Some of the textures in this game look like the portrait sprites from Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden. I see large, jagged edges surrounding any angled line with a drastic color shift between the line and the surrounding color. It sort of looks like what happens when someone's trying to photoshop an element into a picture that doesn't have a transparent background and screwed up the blending. Given a couple of minutes in I could fix that without even needing access to the multi-layer master files, and without redrawing much of the texture.
    In addition to the texture issues, some of the Imperial officers have their ranking squares drawn onto the texture of their uniform, but others have them modeled onto their uniforms. Some of them even have both, like the characters weren't originally modeled with the ranking squares as part of their clothing, but had them added in later as some sort of graphical upgrade, but then someone forgot to edit the textures, leaving the old ones behind. The game was a good five years old when I got to it, and to my knowledge this issue hasn't been fixed, but then again in this game, you hardly ever visit the same planet and NPC's more than a few times, so for all I know they could have patched it out in the time since I've seen those NPC's. Not that that would have excused it being there in the first place. I know this is a massive game, but something this obvious should have shown up in testing, or during the process or creating the character models.
   The next big issue we see is the animations. I wouldn't be the critic I am if I didn't bash on about this for a while, considering the rather large amount of stick I gave the original Splinter Cell for its jerky animations several years back, and I'm going to have to give The Old Republic quite a bit of stick as well, because this game was released a good thirteen years after Metal Gear Solid and Ocarina of Time, and the animations look bloody dreadful. It's patently obvious that Bioware just uses a series of stock animations for every single character in the game regardless of body size or attire, which leads to situations where my Master's solid metal epaulets were stretching and warping like they were made from rubber, or where my character's beard clipped through the strap of one of the helmets I'd found, or the times when the lower section of my flight-helmet clipped through some box that was on the chest of my upper-body armor. The animations also have a rather irritating habit of being entirely screwed up by small things. In this game, you get a rather impressive selection of useless clothing which can be either sold off for cash or used to customize your companions and when I gave my Twi'lek girlfriend a nice hooded robe to wear, the hood clipped into her head-tails, sending the jiggle-physics into an absolute fit. They'd vibrate, but only when she was standing still. If she was moving, her head-tails would trail behind her without clipping into her clothing. I'm glad I didn't make a character with long hair because his ponytail probably would have kicked around like a snake someone had grabbed by the tail.
    To some extent, I hate to state the obvious, but most of the characters in this game have a serious case of the Bioware Face about them, failing to communicate much in the way of emotion unless it's exaggerated. Again, Metal Gear Solid and Ocarina of Time succeeded at this thirteen years prior, and neither of them nearly broke my computer to get running. Even without complex facial animation, both of those games were able to convey more emotion through far smoother motion than this game does. When it comes time for the characters to make expressions, they typically wind up looking a lot less natural than the facial-animations in Metal Gear Solid 2 did.
    Then there are the issues with pop-in. As I said before, I've got a beast of a computer, and I set the graphics settings to maximum, but that doesn't stop the game from forgetting to render textures to polygons, which usually happens whenever I get off the turbolift into my hanger. For a good several seconds after I enter the hanger, my ship won't appear until I get a few meters away. There was also a time when I was in the Abandoned Mine on Quesh, and most of the walls, some of the ground textures, and all of
the enemies and containers, generators and other stuff on the floor and walls, including a giant rock in the center of the cave didn't load up in the space of less than an in-game meter. This isn't Silent Hill and I'm not playing this on an original PlayStation, why does this game keep failing to load objects? The last game I played that had the kind of issues this game sometimes has was Alien: Isolation, and I was running that game on an Xbox 360. I have sixteen gigabytes of DDR4 RAM in this computer, paired with a GTX1050 GPU, and an Intel Seventh Generation 7700 quad-core CPU. This game came out six years before my PC was even built, and it still has these hiccups and even some slowdown at times, especially if the shadow resolution is set at anything resembling reasonable.
    Take a look at this screenshot of my Imperial Operative on the character-select screen. My Sith Juggernaut and my Jedi Consular have smoother shadows on them than she does. The shadows on her all look like a cloud of insects due to her attire. Her hair has a cloud of shadows on it, her tiara has one, and the curve of her jawline appears to cast a rather rough shadow as well. I don't really know what, either. I thought I'd reset the shadow resolution somewhat higher than the default was, but the smaller the shadow which is cast, the worse it looks. Not to mention the shadows cast on the skin of almost every character look like they were rendered in the late 1990's for a backdrop in a Resident Evil game, but for some reason, it looks even worse on the fair-skinned Operative than it did on my tanned Consular.
    After an update back in July of this year, I started to notice the single most pervasive issue of the time I've played this game. Diagonal screen-tearing. No, not your typical, run of the mill horizontal screen-tearing caused by typical v-sync issues, but diagonal screen-tearing. This issue wouldn't show up when I tried to take a screenshot, it wouldn't show up in the video I captured with OBS, so I had to take out my cellphone and take an old-fashioned camera-on-LCD screen video of it to get the picture I used to report the bug. Months on down the line, this issue hasn't been fixed. I've updated my graphics drivers, tried to force V-sync through the Nvidia control-panel, tried turning it off, nothing really seems to work except recording my screen with OBS throughout the entire game, and that's not something I really want to do, because lately, I don't have a whole lot to talk about, and that's the whole reason I'd even bother recording in the first place. Plus at this point, I've basically finished the game, so it wouldn't really go along with the other Let's Plays on my channel.
    Taking all of these issues into account, I can't really fathom why this game wouldn't run well on my old PC. The graphics at their best look like someone added better lighting to a Wii game, and at their worst look worse than the best-looking PS2 games, and my old PC was capable of running most PS2 and PSP games with a bunch of bells and whistles added. Considering the performance issues I saw even on this PC, I'd hate to think about what kind of computer one would need to run it with shadow resolution dialed all the way up. I keep coming back to games like Metal Gear Solid 2, or ever MGS3, MGS4, Skyrim, Fallout 3, Bioshock, there are so many games that came out before this one that had better graphics on far less capable systems, even games within the same franchise had better graphics. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed might not have been a sprawling MMORPG, but it looked way better back in 2008 than this did even in 2011. Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast might not have been entirely technically superior, but the graphical fidelity was at least more consistent than it is in this game, not to mention the fact that in 2002 it was graphically impressive as well. Even the original Mass Effect was better looking than this game is, even if the animations were a bit dodgy for a game not developed in the early 90's.
    But hey, graphics aren't all that make a game, so let's move on to the rest of the game, shall we? As I mentioned towards the beginning, I decided to play against type, opting for a brutal Sith Juggernaut character rather than my typical lawful good Paladin-esque choices, partially because I wanted to mess around with the Dark Side, but also because the character I created the played to my typical desires had a boring time of it. Fortunately, the Sith Juggernaut gets into action and political intrigue right off the bat. I was sent off to retrieve a lightsaber from a tomb, introduced to my first companion, told to bomb out some creatures, and kill my rival and former master within a short period of time from creating my character. I was even able to leave the starting world before the game was entirely done downloading. It was at this point where I decided to create a new character I could play to pass the time while the game finished downloading. Because I was on a roll with dark-side characters I decided to create an evil Jedi Knight, so I figured I'd go with a Jedi Sentinel and choose all the dark-side options I could. On my way to reaching level 15, I found out that the Jedi Sentinel plays identically to the Sith Juggernaut, save for the fact that the Sentinel uses two lightsabers instead of just one. I was somewhat disappointed that I'd rolled essentially the same character for the opposing faction, so I stopped playing my new character as soon as the game finished downloading and hopped onto my ship, but immediately before doing so, my Sith master sent me on a quest to whip a rogue Sith Lord named Darth Grathan into line by killing his son. So, with only my Twi'lek sidekick to back me up, I walked right into his house and promptly killed all of his guards. I then busted into his son's room and proceeded to smack the kid (Who couldn't be much younger than my character) around, subduing him effortlessly. His mother pleaded with me for her son's life, and struck up a deal. I could kill her husband and her son would put on his father's armor and mask and pretend to be his dad. Figuring this would be the actions of a Machiavellian Sith Lord who wished to rule the galaxy himself, I agreed to do so, acting under the impression that the mother and her son would be loyal to me afterward. I walked into Grathan's room, killed him, looted all his equipment off the dead body, tossed it to his son, and then proceeded to have sex with his now-single wife. Then, on my way to the spaceport, his son had the gall to send a single assassin after me, someone I took down after like three hits. Sonny boy, I walked into your compound with only a Twi'lek gunner at my back, slaughtered all of your guards, beat you up, killed your father and then fucked your mother. I'm your daddy now, bitch. You only live because of my good graces, so why don't you go fetch me a spiced ale while your mother and I make a worthy heir to the Grathan name? At least that's what I would have told him had the game allowed me to continue that quest-line after I beat the assassin. Sadly, the game didn't present that option to me. This is a trend which will continue throughout the entirety of the game. This game loves to railroad the player into doing what they've prepared for, and they don't like to create too many scenarios for side-quests. Most companion storylines happen off-screen, with the character you're talking to walking out of shot and the picture fading to black, then the picture fades back up on them walking back into shot after having done whatever they set out to do, typically without your involvement. One of the companion quests was all about my girlfriend reuniting with her friends and family from before she'd been taken as a slave, and for most of them, I was able to talk to her, go on a quest to a planet, find her old friends or family and help them out. I liked being able to walk into the dancing club where Vette's sister worked and act like I was there to be a dancer, it was fun. That all changed when we found her mother's corpse on Tattooine. She'd been worked to death in service of this scumbag Hutt, and by that point, I'd taken so many Light Side choices that the few Dark Side points I had were scrubbed out of existence. I'd made a reputation for myself as a champion of the innocent, basically the Star Wars version of The Shadow, and I wanted this Hutt's head for what he did to Vette's mother. Unfortunately, the game wasn't about to let me lead a charge into his palace for some reason, and would only send Vette and her sister Tivva into the place to kill him. On top of all of that, all of the dialogue options that presented themselves were grossly out of character for me, talking about savoring vengeance rather than preventing injustice if I were to support killing him, and talking about how killing is not the way despite my massive body-count if I were to support not killing him. Weirdly, killing him was presented as the Dark Side option despite the fact that if we let him live he'd be able to work more slaves to death. Killing him would clearly be the right thing to do, first off, and second, the explanation as to why Vette and Tivva had to go it alone was fucking flimsy at best. Apparently the Hutt had some security system and mercenaries set up, but at this point, I'd waded through crowds of Jedi Knights and Sith Lords, killing them all left and right, not to mention the millions of regular mooks I'd slaughtered. I even took on the False Emperor on my own and lived. I've survived every assassination attempt, even ones that got the drop on me without breaking a sweat, so there was no way I wasn't going to be able to take down some crime-lord as long as I had a Lightsaber and The Force by my side. Besides, at this point in time, I had a small fleet of starfighters at my disposal and a strike-force consisting of an ace pilot and hacker, a former black-ops agent, a prissy-ass kill-droid who seemed obsessed with repainting the inside of the ship every week, some cross between The Predator and an abominable snowman, and a former Jedi Knight who fought like Darth Maul, so between the eight of us and the laundry list of mercenaries, Sith Lords and Jedi Knights who owed me favors, I'm pretty sure we could have walked up to the palace mostly unobstructed, broken past the security, killed the Hutt and his protectors, freed the slaves, and repurposed the place into my Outer-Rim holiday home without breaking a sweat. Need I remind you that the assault on Lord Grathan's house was very similar in nature and took place on the starting planet? The mission seemed to call for subterfuge, but I wanted to make a damn statement to the planet, if not to the entire galaxy. Sadly, I was unable to as the game would not let me. Later on in the game, when Vette and I decided to get married, the entire thing happened off-screen. Normally you'd think that this would call for some celebration, maybe it would show us some interesting character moments with the crew, maybe they could have given any weight at all to this rather important character interaction. Even if all we got was one scene, anything would have been better than fading away as we walked off-screen and fading back as we returned. Where did we go? What did we do? I remember how tedious it was to plan for and play out the wedding in Story of Seasons, but I'd rather they completely overdo the wedding than not do anything at all. It's not like this was a secret or anything, god knows that this of all things isn't going to get me thrown out of the Empire, ao what the hell was the point of skipping this? Speaking of which, after a certain point in the game I acquired an apprentice/surrogate daughter figure named Jaesa Wilsaam, a former Jedi Knight who decided to join me after seeing how dark her fanatical Jedi master had become and how pure and kind I was. She decided to reach out to other Light-side Sith and try to recruit them to our side. In any other game, this might have been a massively important quest-line that involved subterfuge, bribery, spying on people, lies, and manipulation, but in this game, it happens entirely off-screen. A number of characters are introduced and subsequently killed-off without ever once being in danger of seeing them. Jaesa goes through an entire character-arc without us ever being there to experience it. Even if we had to play the whole mission as Jaesa and had to learn a whole new character for a bit it would still be better than not experiencing the storyline at all.
    Something else I thought I should mention as it was part of the main quest, I helped an Imperial officer named Malavai Quinn out, and he subsequently joined my party. Later on, after my master betrayed me, the way Sith tend to do, Quinn revealed himself to have been working for him this whole time, plotting my demise. Eventually, my master, Darth Baras told him to enact their plan, which involved luring me to an abandoned ship in the middle of nowhere, and siccing two giant robots on me that had supposedly been programmed around my combat data from every encounter I had in the game thus far. The way Quinn talked these things up, I was expecting a challenge, especially given the fact that I hit the F2P level-cap several months back by pure accident, but they were piss-easy. Hell, even the final boss of the initial quest-line was piss-easy. You'd think that Quinn would know enough about me to know that what he constructed wouldn't kill me, in fact given the ease at which I triumphed over them one would almost assume that Quinn had purposefully built them below-standard so as to not harm me, which is what I assumed and was why I allowed Quinn to continue to live, as any legitimate attempt to kill me probably wouldn't have started with a long confession and monologue in which I could have sensed his intentions, strangled him, and gotten the fuck out. Or maybe this game just isn't made very well.
    Speaking of which, when I got back to playing this game after the semester was over, the winter event was about to start, and when it did, everyone who talked to a certain vendor could get an infinite supply of snowballs that you can throw at almost everyone in the game, including certain NPC's. From that, you get packages which you can spend on holiday equipment. At the very top tier, costing 100 parcels was a sick-looking podracer, and ever since I figured out I could randomize what mount spawned when I clicked the button, I'd been collecting mounts whenever I possibly could. I figured out that, from a certain distance, one could toss snowballs at one's companion and then right-click the "snowflake" status-effect off of them, which meant that I could toss one at my companion and then remove the status effect in the time it took for the snowball to recharge. I spent a solid hour lobbing snowballs at my wife only to get four parcels. Four. It doesn't take fifteen minutes for the snowball to recharge, and I was lobbing them one right after another, clicking off the status effect.  It took me almost two solid weeks, running around a bar on Hutta throwing snowballs at the patrons before I was able to get my mount, and by the time I got it I was done. I was not about to spend any more time tossing snowballs around to try and get any more of this holiday gear. After a little while the parcels spawned a bit more often, but even after that, the RNG on them was still fucked up.
    Then there are a few other bugs, such as the time I spawned into a story-area with a force-field blocking off the path I needed to go, telling me I was not eligible for this instance, which took me reporting it to Bioware, logging out of the game, then back in, leaving the area in question and then returning to get it to work. None of which would have been a problem if the game would let you report bugs from within the client, but apparently that's reserved for subscribers. Also, check out how my companion was able to make it past the force-field, but I couldn't. They tend to do that.
    There was also the time on Hoth where I managed to find a section of the map that fell into a completely different area of the world map. Look at my minimap in the screenshot, then look at where I actually am in the game. This was the kind of problem you used to see in the old Final Fantasy games, where a certain section of the map would fall under different territory rules than the rest of the area due to a quirk of the programming, but here it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because they were working with far more advanced systems than Square was on the NES.
    At one point, I killed an enemy in the game that proceeded to drop a piece of equipment, but the corpse clipped through the terrain and I wasn't able to pick the drop up. It's a good thing this was only a green beacon and not a yellow one, because yellow beacons are quest items, and I would have had to leave the area, wait for the monsters to respawn, come back, and kill them again hoping that they wouldn't fall through the world-map again.
    There are a few force-fields with movement barriers several inches behind the actual force-field. Most of those force-fields I found were on the Vaiken Spacedock in the dropship hanger, but there were others throughout the game. Most of them were gold force-fields, but I found a few red ones that had the movement barriers only a few centimeters too far behind the graphical representation of the field and was only able to clip my character's head into the field and not walk my whole body behind it. Granted, it's a small thing, and I get that this is a very large game, but how did Bioware not find this out?
    There was also one time where my Lightsaber remained ignited while I was driving my speeder, which is a fairly common glitch in the game. There were a few times where I would click to interact with something, and my Lightsaber would remain ignited, clipping through my arm and my face while tinkering. Sometimes I'd go to use a screwdriver or something like it and the Lightsaber would remain in my hand, clipping through the piece of equipment I was supposed to be repairing.
    Speaking of Lightsabers, they sure seem to be a lot less effective in the game than they are in the movies. Sometimes I can ram my blade through something to destroy it, and sometimes I have to plant explosives on it instead. Sometimes to get past a locked door or force-field, I had to hack something, but other times I was able to just whack it with the Lightsaber. Then there's the fact that Lightsabers only ever seem to work properly in cutscenes, and in gameplay, they work like the police batons from Futurama. Even if you're fighting someone who also has a Lightsaber, the two of you just stand around whacking at each other until one of you falls over. Severed limbs only exist in cutscenes. There's no bisection, no decapitation, no real mauling, they just keel over and vanish into the ether like they've figured out how to become one with the Force regardless of if they're Jedi, Sith, animal, or an inorganic droid. The only time you get to cut off limbs in this game is in cutscenes. I know this is a T rated game, but considering a Lightsaber cauterizes the wounds it causes, and the highest any of the films in the series have been rated is PG-13. Anakin Skywalker got dismembered and burned alive in the third film after slicing up Count Dooku, killing hordes of children and choking his wife almost to death and while that film was definitely a hard PG-13, it wasn't exactly risking an R, and likewise this game wouldn't be risking an M rating. I have Jedi Outcast and The Force Unleashed II on the shelf right next to me, both of which had dismemberment as part of the combat features, and neither of those were rated M for Mature, despite the fact that the former game came out in an era where Perfect Dark was rated M and the GBC prequel was rated T, exclusively because the latter game had persistent corpses. Goldeneye on the Wii, released a decade later had way more blood, more realistic graphics, and a hell of a lot more violence, and it was only rated T for ages 13+. This game features coerced sex, the ability to psychologically break some of your companions into becoming masochistic sadists who get off on being fucking dominated in the way only a Force user without any personal restraints or standards can, you can Force-choke just about anyone in the game if you can interact with them, up to and including your love-interests as part of the aforementioned psychological torture one can accomplish as a pure Dark-side player, you can brainwash people, it's implied that certain NPC's who were slaves had been raped as a part of their forced servitude, one of the quest-lines I went on involved all of my friends being tortured until the time at which I brought the False Emperor to his knees and killed him, you can brainwash a living, feeling battle-droid into being a mindless soldier, you can sadistically kill loads of people, and, lest we forget,  you can walk into Lord Grathan's house, beat up his son, kill him, and then bone his wife while making your potential future wife watch as you do so. Why, when all of this can happen within the game did they skimp on the Lightsaber dismemberment? I get that this is an MMO, but the challenge to a Sith such as myself shouldn't lie in the number of times I have to whack a given target with my Lightsaber, but in whether or not I can actually land a decent hit on the target. If you need a big boss, then there are plenty of creatures that have Lightsaber resistance in Star Wars lore, and Mandalorian Iron, Cortosis fibers and Sith alchemy are all available to use to armor humanoid enemies and droids. I could come up with a dismemberment table that would work without a whole lot of effort. For instance, label each major skeletal group and polygon on the model, let's say head, torso, hips, left and right upper and lower arms, left and right hands and feet, left and right thighs, and left and right calves. From there, run a quick calculation after each attack is determined to hit to create a straight line from the Lightsaber's angle of attack through the polygons that make up the body, then detach the sections of the body the Lightsaber would slash through as the attack animation completes and have them fall to the ground. If the attack would decapitate the target or remove their last remaining arm, then the target should be dead. Maybe some living enemies could die if their torso and hips were separated by a blade, and others could continue to live if they were tough enough. Add an orange glow to severed metal and a burnt black tone to severed flesh and you're set. Half-Life had to use a ton of hacks to accomplish dismemberment, but they still did it. Even if what I'm laying down isn't feasible with current processing power, much less the processing available when this game was made, Mortal Kombat 4 achieved dismemberment in fatalities back in 1997, just remove all the blood and you've got a T-rated game. It's been a long time since the ESRB considered dismemberment an automatic M, and it was a long time since that time when this game started development and was released. Dismemberment is a staple of this whole franchise, why isn't it in what's probably the only Star Wars MMO modern fans and younger ones have any memory of? By most standards, I'm a latecomer to the series and I know that! I'm sure people younger than I am know that dismemberment is an important aspect of Star Wars. Speaking of which, whenever dismemberment happens in the cutscenes, the stumps are always just out of view of the camera, like Bioware didn't want to have to make different character models or something. In fact, despite the level of work that has obviously gone into making this game, it seems like Bioware didn't want to go the extra mile and put in the extra effort that would have made this game truly great. From the underpolished graphics, to the lackluster combat, to the obnoxious re-use of assets throughout the game, to the obvious lack of optimization, to the lack of decent interactivity in the companion storylines, to the railroading, to the fact character dialogue doesn't change depending on what all one has done up to that point in the story if one attempts an optional mission set after the main campaign. I was actually congratulated for killing someone before they even betrayed me! The game literally spoiled itself for me! A simple way to prevent me from finding this out early, if they weren't going to check through my save-file and see how far I'd gotten, would have been to lock off the False Emperor storyline until after I'd completed the main quest. It wouldn't have been particularly difficult to do, just set a flag to activate those quests on the Imperial Fleet after I beat Darth Baras.
    One of the most prolific issues with the game has to be the music. From the time I started playing this game last year until now, the musical cues are all over the place. Battle of the Heroes is used as loading-screen music, Duel of the Fates is glorified elevator music, since it only plays when you're arriving at or departing a destination in your spaceship, and Across the Stars is used in place of Binary Sunset. It's like someone at Lucasfilm handed Bioware a stack of soundtrack CD's and didn't tell them what songs were used where, and the guy who did the music arrangement had only ever seen the opening title crawls of the saga and that's why the only song that's actually used properly is the main-title theme.
    All in all, while this game can be a mess at times, it tends to be something of a fun mess at best, but if you decide that you want to deviate from the designated path, you'll be sorely disappointed. Sometimes the game looks pretty, but most of the time it looks like it was made to run on the Wii, or worse, the PS2. This game has no right to be taking up all of the resources it does for as absolutely bad as it looks. How is this game as old as it is and still chugging on my state-of-the-art laptop?
    In the end, this game is well worth the no money at all I paid for it, but if I'd been one of the people who bought it at launch or had paid a subscription fee for my time in the game, I'd be sorely disappointed, especially considering how much a subscription fee is and how little I paid for much better games comparatively.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

    After Rogue One, I was looking forward to The Last Jedi. Being a Star Wars fan who lived through Legacy of the Force and Revenge of the Sith, I always figured there was nowhere to go but up, but Rian Johnson somehow managed to find the hole I threw Episode III into by digging horizontally. He didn't get quite as far down as rock bottom, but he damn well came close. It has literally been twelve years since I've seen something this undignified as an official, unignorable part of the Star Wars universe. Before we get into spoilers, let me just establish a few reference points for those who don't want to be spoiled. Remember precocious Anakin from The Phantom Menace? His nonsensical, out of character heel turn in RotS? The inexplicable death of Padmé in the same movie? The various effects failures of the prequel and original trilogies, the bad line-reads, and occasional overlong subplot? I guess The Last Jedi is better from a technical standpoint than all of these examples, but as a whole, the movie is running on concentrated stupid. Rian Johnson is like what George Lucas would have been if he was a good director and a worse writer. At least Lucas managed to put together a series of amazing scenes and good, sometimes profound lines of dialogue to go along with the messes he called movies. While the dialogue and line-reads never sink down to prequels level, the actions of the characters are as stupid as the worst moments of the prequels combined with the worst moments of The Clone Wars animated series. While The Last Jedi is a visually pretty film, it lacks soul, internal coherence, and coherence with the immediately preceding films and other canon material. In other words, Rian Johnson is everything that Zack Snyder's detractors claim the latter to be, and The Last Jedi is what some critics claimed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was. A series of desperate, nonsensical retcons and two, maybe even three movies rolled into one with blatant attempts to emotionally manipulate the audience into feeling what the director thinks they should feel. The prequels could be pretty bad at their worst, but I at least felt they were the honest efforts of everyone involved, with George Lucas earnestly believing that he'd done what he needed to do in those movies. This is a trainwreck almost from the word go, and not because of anything excusable.
    I guess the best thing to say about this movie would be that I'm not angry, just massively disappointed. It seems like this has been the year for sequels that had undue influence by someone who didn't understand what they were doing, or the characters they were writing in the slightest. Joss Whedon's scenes in Justice League spring to mind as another example of scenes that clash with established characterization and established canon, but that was a movie that was clearly ruined after the director had mostly finished it, and could be redeemed from its position by a directors cut later down the line, kind of like what happened with Superman II. This film, to the best of my knowledge, was conceived poorly, written poorly, shot poorly, and edited poorly. The pedigree of awful runs too deep in production for mere editing to solve the problems I have with it. Most of the film would need to be re-written and re-shot entirely to salvage what little good exists within the depths of this execrable excuse for an epic endeavor.
   Now that that's out of the way, let's get into spoiler territory with the plot summary. The Last Jedi (Not to be confused with the EU Revenge of the Sith-sequel starring Obi-Wan Kenobi which might be a good basis for a Ewan McGregor-led solo movie, The Last of the Jedi, or indeed the fourth book in the Coruscant Nights series of the same name) picks up right after Rey's arrival on Ahch-To in The Force Awakens. While the destruction of Starkiller Base has significantly impacted The First Order, rather than rely on superweapons to finish off their enemies, The First Order moves their fleet into the system as the New Republic forces move out. For the most part, they manage to do so, but The First Order remains on their tails. Ace Rebel pilot Poe Dameron manages to distract the fleet long enough for the bombers to deploy and begin attempting to destroy the Mandator IV-class Siege Dreadnought leading the fleet. They succeed, against orders and with heavy casualties. This is the kind of thing that wouldn't fly back when Luke Skywalker was in charge. He'd have packed most of Rogue Squadron into B-wings or captured Tie Bombers with the rest in either A-wings or captured Tie Interceptors for the assault, and the Rogues wouldn't have lost a single man, and the New Republic wouldn't have lost a single capital ship. I know this because I've both played the game and read the books titled "Rogue Squadron". Clearly something Rian Johnson should have done before making this movie.
    Speaking of B-wings, they're not the bombers that were used in the assault. Compared to the Slayn & Korpil MG-100 StarFortress SF-17's the New Republic was using in this fight, the old Koensayr Manufacturing BTL-A4 Y-wing assault starfighter/bomber combos were bloody A-wings! These so-called "Star Fortresses" can't even tank a single hit without all their bombs going up and taking the rest of the ship with them. You see guys, bombers are supposed to be more heavily-armored than your normal fighters to prevent this sort of thing. You know, kind of like the armoring the old Y-wings had. Even the more fragile Slayn & Korpil A/SF-01 B-wing starfighters could hold their own in a fight longer than the new SF-17's do. The SF-17 is so slow that the AT-AT almost looks like a Formula 1 racecar by comparison. These bombers are clearly unfit for military service, and only exist so that the fleet could be devastated at the end of the battle. If they'd used any more efficient or better-armored bomber, then they would have come out with only a few losses.
    Leia is none too happy with Poe disobeying her orders and continuing with the assault after she told them to break it off, so she gives him a field demotion. Poe naturally protests this, given the fact that the order to break it off was stupid and considering the fact that the First Order immediately tracks them down as soon as they leave Hyperspace and proceeds to destroy most of the fleet, he was absolutely right to make the run against the Dreadnought. The assault manages to destroy a good number of New Republic fighters and almost kills BB-8. For everything else this movie could have done, there would be no faster way to make me hate this movie and the people who made it than to kill off BB-8. My broader point being that if Poe hadn't led the Dreadnought run, the entire fleet would have been destroyed immediately.
       Kylo Ren fires on most of the fleet easily but hesitates to hit the flagship when he senses his mother aboard. Tie Fighters then blow the hell out of the bridge of the flagship, which kills Admiral Ackbar (Yes, seriously) and almost kills Leia, who somehow manages to use her meager Force powers (Which up until now have only been useful for communicating with her brother and sensing emotions) to pull herself back to the ship in one of the strangest moments in Star Wars history. When I saw them blow the bridge up, I expected this to be their way of writing Leia out of the next movie, given that Carrie Fisher died before it could begin filming and that they weren't planning on doing what they did for Rogue One and putting her in on top of another actresses face. Even if they didn't intend for this to happen before she died, they damn well should have done so afterward to keep there from being any questions about why Mon Mothma's right hand and the commander-in-chief of the New Republic military was missing. Not to mention the fact that not only was she spaced, she was blown up as well, and by all rights shouldn't be alive anymore. Jedi have used their powers to keep from being sucked into space, but they've never come back from that. This is especially egregious considering Disney got it mostly right with both Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Star-Lord and Gamora barely survived the vacuum of space in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and they're super-beings who had protective gear. Leia is a fifty-two-year-old woman wearing a glorified bathrobe. Clone Troopers and Storm Troopers don't survive long out there in the black, and they were a race of Mandalorian super-soldiers in pressurized armor! In addition to the fact that the scene just kind of sucks, because of all the aforementioned issues with continuity and willing suspension of disbelief, it also draws heavy influence (read: shamelessly steals) from a similar scene in 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. People who have seen that film, or read my review of it should know what I'm talking about, but in case you don't, there was a scene in Dawn of Justice where Superman had been hit with a nuclear warhead while fighting Doomsday and was left drifting in space. As his body drifted beyond the Earth's horizon and managed to catch enough sunlight to revitalize himself, he flew back to Earth and rejoined the fight. This scene works because Superman draws his power from the sun, as anyone who's read the comics (or indeed, seen Man of Steel) would know. Last time I checked, Princess Leia didn't draw her power from the cold uncaring vacuum of space. And before anyone jumps on me for saying that this film ripped off BvS, please note that principal photography for The Last Jedi wrapped in July of 2016, a little over three months after Dawn of Justice's theatrical cut was released, and post-production only wrapped this past September. That leaves plenty of time for Rian Johnson to see BvS and decide he wanted to copy it in some respects. This isn't the last thing Rian Johnson copies from much better movies by much better directors.
    Meanwhile, back on Ach-To, Rey is still holding Anakin's Lightsaber out to Luke, which sets up the time-scale for the film being mere minutes after the end of the last film. She hands the Lightsaber to Luke, who tosses it over his shoulder. The scene is timed just perfectly to make the audience think Luke is about to say something profound, but he remains silent long enough to make it awkward before tossing the saber. There's almost a pause for laughter as the shot switches back to Rey, who was as baffled at this reaction as I was. At first, I was intrigued by this development, hoping that something interesting would come of it, but the only explanation that came just made me even more baffled at how someone who was purportedly writing a Star Wars movie would do such a thing. Luke continues to be a curmudgeon, refusing to talk to Rey for more than a short while until Chewie busts into his hut to berate him for being such a stick in the mud. Luke refuses to come back to lead the New Republic push against the First Order even after hearing that his best friend got a lightsaber drilled through his chest by Kylo Ben. Luke was able to sense when his sister was in danger from across the galaxy, how did he not already know that Han was dead and Leia gravely injured? Regardless of what they say, later on, Obi-Wan laid low for twenty years and was still able to sense when Alderaan was blown up. Darth Maul went insane after fifteen years as a man-spider, but he managed to track Kenobi down after all that time. Point being that, without an Ysalamir (which we know exist, because Thrawn has sculptures of them in his office), one cannot cut oneself off from the Force. This isn't Dragon Ball, Force power can't just be squashed down and ignored. Luke himself says as much later on in the movie, that the Force flows through all living things. Sensing bad things that are happening through the Force is entirely involuntary, as has been well-established in previous films. If anything would have shaken him out of this stupid funk he's in, Starkiller Base's destruction of a solar system should have done so. Everything is connected to the Force, living or dead, as we've seen throughout the films and animated series. Luke could literally not do this with what he had with him on this island. Also, a small note, Rey acts like Luke doesn't understand Chewbacca even though Luke and Chewie have spent way more time together than she and Chewie have. I get that she knows Wookie, but there's no need for her to translate just for the sake of the audience! We can understand what he's saying from Luke's responses, no need to have someone repeating it just in case the public is too stupid to get the obvious.
    Back with The First Order, Snoke gives Kylo Ren the "loose cannon" speech from every police-drama ever if it were given by Light Yagami's inner-monologue. He then proceeds to tell Ben that he's trying to shape him into a new Vader and then proceeds to tell Ben to stop wearing the helmet he wore in the previous film. Kylo proceeds to overreact to this and completely destroy the helmet. Given that this is entirely in-character for him, and actually a very good scene I have nothing else to say about this.
   Rey gives an impassioned plea to Luke, begging him to return to help the New Republic drive back the First Order, but he dismisses her with contempt, saying "You think what, I'm gonna walk out with a laser-sword and face down the whole First Order?"
Ladies and gentlemen, this is where I started getting a sinking feeling while watching this film, because that was exactly what I expected Luke to do. Nothing else would say "Luke is back and Star Wars is back" than him rocking out from hyperspace in his X-Wing and facing down Phasma, Kylo, Snoke and the whole Imperial army. This was when my suspicions about the film started rising to the top, and all of the bad things I'd been hearing about the movie started to make an absurd amount of sense. Luke tells this girl who for all he knows, tracked down pieces of a starmap that he left behind because the New Republic desperately needs its greatest hero back to go away. Luke pisses off to catch some fish and harvest what looks like some Blue Milk. From an oversized aquatic lizard-creature called a Thala-siren, and not a Bantha. It was at this point that I realized that Rian Johnson probably didn't have the slightest clue what he was doing. Blue milk has been established as Bantha milk within the current continuity, so there's really no excuse for this continuity slip-up. Wookiepedia classifies their milk as "Green milk" but I'll be perfectly honest, it doesn't look green. The general hue of the milk is turquoise when the creatures are being milked, and it looked blue when it ran down Mark Hamill's beard.
    It is then revealed to us that there's a Force Cave on this planet, just like in The Empire Strikes Back, and that Rey apparently knows about the place Luke went to despite never having come there before. It is also revealed that instead of using holocrons to store the ancient knowledge of the Jedi, they used books. Luke then refers to the Jedi as a "religion" despite the fact that using "religion" to refer to the Force and its accompanying factions has only ever been a way of demonstrating to the audience how truly ignorant the person who's calling it a religion really is. Again, demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of the themes of the franchise.
    Luke naturally wants to know who Rey is and why she's there, but when he asks her "what's special about you?" rather than giving him the obvious answer of "I went toe-to-toe with Kylo Ren in a desperate Lightsaber battle while the third Death Star was blowing up and not only managed to survive but also to keep him from taking your dad's Lightsaber and save my friends who came to the base to save me." or "I'm Force-sensative" or "because my friend and I found the map you left behind and the New Republic needs help, so your sister told me to find you and haul your ass off this planet so we can destroy what's left of the Empire once and for all" she remains silent. Rey is a firey spirit, the kind of person who would answer that question as bluntly as possible. This is something we saw earlier in the movie when she followed Luke through a storm and refused to let his odd behavior mess with her. This is one of the points in the movie where her character starts taking something of a nosedive. I liked Rey in the previous film, she was an interesting character. Accident-prone, paranoid, quick to fight, difficult to get along with, constantly screwing up, mysterious back-story, and pretty endearing. Rey and Finn both were incredibly relatable, but in this film, the relatability has been assigned to my least favorite character from the previous film, Poe Dameron. But we'll get back to Capmander Dameron once the rest of the plot returns.
   Luke follows up his previous question by asking Rey where she's from. The first time she responds, she says "nowhere" followed by "Jakku" once he presses her on the subject. Luke's response is "Okay, that pretty much is nowhere." and that was the movie really really started to worry me. There were enough clues in the previous movie for me and the rest of the Star Wars fandom were able to figure out that Rey's parents were likely Luke Skywalker and a woman who probably shares a lot of characteristics, but not a name with Mara Jade. From her connection to the Skywalker family Lightsaber to the flashes of Luke in her memories to the fact that the ship flying away was clearly based on the rather odd shuttle that Luke Skywalker used in the old Star Wars comics. The only plot thread that made any sense would be for Rey to be Luke Skywalker's daughter, but considering his reaction to hearing where she came from and what her name is, that's rather unlikely at this point. More's the pity, because if she was a Skywalker, there would be plenty of justification of things that she does later on in this movie, but sadly not.
    Rey tells him that she needs a teacher to show her the ways of the Force. Regardless of his circumstances, Luke has been in her position before and shouldn't turn her away for a number of reasons. One being that he knows what happens when an undertrained Padawan Learner goes up against a seasoned Sith Lord, and another being that if she were to turn to his misguided nephew and his master for instruction. Luke literally says that he came to the island to die, but that's not something Luke Skywalker would do even when faced with a no-win situation, or one where he'd royally screwed up. Luke Skywalker is optimistic to a fault and never does anything without a reason. If Luke was beaten by a Sith Lord he'd retreat to a hideout and figure out what he did wrong, analyze his opponents and then come back stronger than ever. Luke Skywalker before this movie was the Jedi equivalent of Darth Maul, a nigh-unkillable badass who always came back with a new trick up his sleeve to win the day, not a mopey, whiny bitch who couldn't handle getting his ass handed to him a few times. If the Luke in this movie got his hand chopped off by Darth Vader in the final battle of The Empire Strikes Back, rather than get a new hand, build a new lightsaber, rescue Han and redeem Vader at the end of the next movie, he'd just slink back to Tattooine and be a moisture-farmer for the rest of his miserable existence. This miseryguts isn't Luke Skywalker, and we learn exactly how much he's not Luke Skywalker later on in the movie.
    Commander Weaksauce ventures into the Falcon and takes down some kind of gold tassel thing that was hanging in front of the viewscreen or whatever, then R2-D2 wakes up and goes to talk to him. One would think that if anyone could convince Luke to return, it would be his oldest and most faithful companion, but that doesn't happen. In fact, this is just about all we see out of R2-D2 in the entire movie. Yeah, R2-D2, one of two characters to be in nearly everything Star Wars related since the original movie barely shows up in this film. Not that R2 didn't do something important in this movie, he plays back the holographic message that Leia gave him back in A New Hope and convinces Luke to train Rey. If it wasn't for the forced conflict in this film, Luke would have agreed to do this thirty-five minutes ago. The Original Trilogy Luke would have jumped at the opportunity to train more Jedi, for all of the reasons I mentioned earlier in the review. Now, one could say that Luke has changed over time due to his ordeals, and that would be a perfectly valid argument if the ordeals that got him into this mess weren't also caused by a fundamental misunderstanding of Luke as a character.
    Luke tells Rey that he'll train her and teach her why the Jedi need to end, but I don't really think he ever does that. He just states the obvious when he tells her that one need not follow the orthodoxies of the Old Jedi Order to use The Force properly. Okay, that's not a profound lesson, Qui-Gon Jinn was telling us that back in The Phantom Menace, do you have anything new for us, Luke? Well actually, he does, but we'll get to that.
    Throughout the movie, Rey goes through a far more compressed and far less impressive version of Luke's trials in The Empire Strikes Back, complete with a journey into a cave with strong Force connections, a niggling sensation that something is wrong pulling her back to her friends, and a giant twist revealed by the villain that the heroes confirm to be true. You see, Kylo Ren and Rey form a Force connection and start communicating telepathically. It's a bit weird, but I could roll with it. Luke and Vader did the same thing at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, but it gets odd when they actually start moving physical things between the two places through The Force, and when Ben shows up in Rey's hut out of nowhere it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I thought this was something only dead Force-users could do, not living ones. Luke tells Rey that Ben destroyed the Jedi Academy, killed some of the students and left with others. Ben tells Rey that he woke up to Luke standing over him, madness in his eyes and his Lightsaber lit up, trying to kill him. I thought this had to be a lie, because that's not something Luke would ever do, but no, Luke confirms this! He saw darkness in Ben and thought he had a chance to snuff it out, but hesitated long enough for Ben to wake up and realize what was going on. You fucking what mate? Luke Skywalker refused to kill Vader because he sensed good in him despite the fact that Vader had killed his mentor, killed his best friend, cut off his hand and been party to not only the destruction of Alderaan but also to the Jedi Purge at the end of the Clone Wars, yet he'd be willing to kill his nephew who had not yet done any of that? I think Rian Johnson forgot that he was writing Luke Skywalker and not Anakin, because that's something his dad would have done, and it's part of the reason why Luke was better than his father. Plus, Luke Skywalker is a Jedi Master and Ben Solo was a Padawan Learner! If he thought there was an issue, Luke would have begun setting up monitoring devices around the academy, and if push came to shove he would have been more than able to take down a single wayward student as we saw in the books this whole storyline is stolen from, Kevin J. Anderson's stellar Jedi Academy trilogy. At this point, Kylo Ren is basically a bad distillation of elements of Kyp Durron, Gantoris, and Jacen Solo, with a bit of Darth Revan thrown in for good measure. From Gantoris, he gets the conflict with Luke and the strange source of his seduction to the Dark Side if Gantoris never fought off Exar Kun, from Jacen he gets almost his entire family history and his tendency to kill and/or threaten close relatives, and from Kyp Durron he gets his tragic past, sympathetic monster status, and the fact that he's sort of Dark Side and sort of not. Oh, lest we forget, he also gets pretty much his entire outfit from Darth Revan too. Not that the Old Republic-era stories weren't also guilty of stealing loads from the movies and books that were made before it, but they at least tried to mask it all as bits of history that got re-used by future generations. What the sequel trilogy, and to some extent, the standalone films as well are doing is pretending the EU never existed, all the while shamelessly stealing from it. If they weren't putting on airs and trying to pretend that they're not adapting bits of the EU, and were going more along the lines of the current DC television series and named characters after characters from the Expanded Universe they were clearly based on, I'd be willing to give them a lot more credit, but what they're doing is the kind of thing that would get them tossed out of a college creative-writing class or even English Composition I class for plagiarism.
   Something else I noticed was that Ben's Lightsaber in the flashback doesn't have a crossguard or an overdriven blade, elements I would have expected given the fact that anyone who uses a Lightsaber generally tends to stick with the same format for all of the ones they use in their lifetime. Anakin Skywalker went through three Lightsabers and all three of them were basically identical in appearance, so why is Ben's so radically different?
   Rey returns to the New Republic fleet against Luke's advice. Luke decides that he wants to burn down the old Jedi temple before getting a case of the cold feet again. Yoda shows up, asks Luke if he read the books and then causes a lightning bolt to strike the place and burn it down, saying that the books weren't that great anyways and that Rey basically already knows what was in them. Despite the fact that Luke never showed her how to make her own Lightsaber or really anything that Luke had to study the old texts in Obi-Wan's cave back on Tattooine to figure out how to build one himself. And I know that's a reference to Shadows of the Empire but at this point, I'm a little too peeved with Disney to allow one of my favorite EU books and games to go unrecognized.
   One of the many problems with this sequence is that Luke came out to this planet and spent god-knows how long on it without cracking open the old books and reading them. If they were in a dead language I'd understand, but they don't say that in the scene. What really doesn't make any sense is that Luke as a character is inquisitive and constantly in search of new knowledge, which means that he should know them front to back by now. I'm a rather bookish fellow as one might presume from the fact that I've spent a good deal of the last seven years writing reviews as often as I can, so unless the books were full of obsolete knowledge, like forging methods for the old Je'daii katanas or outdated superstitions about The Force from before they figured out the science of it all, I really don't understand why Yoda would have attempted to destroy the books. Plus, if that was the case, why would Rey feel the need to take them with her? Plus, why wouldn't Chewie just knock Luke out and take him with them when they left? Chewbacca knows Luke is being dumb and would probably be willing to do this given proper motivation. Plus, how was Yoda able to summon down a lightning bolt from the afterlife?  I didn't think that Force ghosts could interact with the physical realm, and last time I checked, the Jedi weren't literal wizards. Yes, Force Lightning exists, but that comes from hands, not from nowhere! If Yoda had shot lightning from his fingers, that would have been something of a stretch, but it would have at least been something that we've seen can be done. I'll give the film this, a single Jedi of sufficient power could probably summon up a storm by manipulating the skies, but attempting to aim a lightning storm is nigh-on impossible. I know I'm mixing a combination of real-life physics with Star Wars rules here, but given what we know about Force powers at this point in time, I think we can safely say that this doesn't make a whole load of sense. I will say this though, it makes a hell of a lot more sense than the shit they pulled with Leia earlier in the movie.
Back with the New Republic Space Navy, we find out exactly why Ackbar was killed off. Because he was a competent leader and wouldn't have made the kind of moronic mistakes required for the plot to go where Rian Johnson decided it had to. With the rest of the New Republic High Command either dead or in a Space Coma, command falls to Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, an entirely new character with a face like Wilhuff Tarkin, clothes that look like she borrowed them from Mon Mothma and hair like she took a bath at ACE Chemicals with The Joker. In fact, to go back to the clothing, this is something of a major issue with the New Republic High Command in this movie. For some reason, despite the fact that Leia was basically wearing military gear in the last movie, which took place at most hours before this one, all of the non-Ackbar military leaders are wearing these long impractical flowing gowns and robes that aren't particularly conducive to military efficiency. Back during The Clone Wars, you'd never catch the female Jedi wearing anything but combat gear out in the field, and it's not like Leia's been any stranger to wearing armor before. In fact, if she'd been decked out in a flight-suit when the bridge was hit, I would have been completely on-board with her Force-pulling herself from the wreckage back to the ship, but that's not what she was wearing. I know Leia and Mon Mothma wore big flowing robes in Episode IV and Episode VI, respectively, but neither Leia nor Mon Mothma was actively planning to be involved in combat in those films, and therefore didn't need to be wearing less complex clothing (Plus neither of them were shown wearing anything else immediately prior), but this is literally right after an evacuation of an entire base after having been dressed in sensible clothing previously. Leia had to have changed out of her military gear and into the robes she wears in this film in the minutes to hours the New Republic had to evacuate their base, and one would think that she'd have more important things to do. Although now that we mention it, do you remember the red arm that C-3PO had back in Episode VII that Abrams stuck on as an homage to the robotic arm Big Boss has in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain? Well, he's not wearing that anymore. Again, given the urgent nature of the situation, I would have thought that they would have had more important things to do than to either re-spray 3PO's arm, or detach the red one and attach a new gold one. Now that we're done with that stupid bit of logic, I'd like to ask why this incompetent bitch is next in command! Her bright idea is to demand that the freedom-loving and order-questioning New Republic military follow her instructions without telling them what the plan is. Did she forget that this was exactly what led to the Rebellion in the first place? Naturally, the crew revolts and Poe sends Finn and a random mechanic that Finn met earlier in the movie named Rose Tico to find someone that Maz from The Force Awakens told them to find. Poe's plan is to disable the tracking that the Empire used to find the New Republic fleet and warp away to fight another day. The guy they go to find is just some random dude, but because Finn and Rose are idiots, they get tossed in jail and wind up recruiting a different hacker to help them. Neither the first hacker they tried to find, nor the second are anyone associated with Lando Calrissian, more's the pity, but DJ (Benicio Del Toro) shares most of Lando's character traits and almost all of his arc if Lando showed zero remorse at selling Han and Leia out to the Empire.
    The biggest issue with this storyline is that, had Luke been in charge, none of it would have happened. Back when Luke was in charge, the Rogues would have covered the fleet as it retreated and would have had every single Imperial vessel that didn't retreat blown to space-junk before following to the rendezvous point. Anakin Skywalker would have done the same and the only casualty in the entire battle might have been his own ship. But never mind that, Leia, Akbar, Mon Mothma, Anakin, Luke, Padmé, Rex, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka Tano, General Dodonna, Hera Syndulla, Kanan Jarrus, or even Ezra Bridger would have come up with a less risky plan than Admiral Tumblr does, and all of them would have explained the plan they did come up with well enough to prevent the crew from assuming their leader was an incompetent bint with a hate-on for her underlings to rival that of Darth Vader. Funny how they give us a new human character with bizarrely-dyed hair rather than bringing back one of the more interesting alien characters from, for instance, Star Wars Rebels or The Clone Wars, like the aforementioned Ahsoka Tano or Hera Syndulla, two characters that people already know and like and would, therefore, sympathize with more than this severe authoritarian. For that matter, where are most of the aliens in this movie? We see a lot of humans of all races, but most of the aliens appear to either be entirely neutral in this conflict, dead or have shacked up with The First Order. It seems like the filmmakers have gone out of their way to try and turn all of the interesting alien races into background dressing so they could try and shoehorn more humans into the mix. Rose and her sister could have easily been Togrutas, for one thing, and I can bet you almost anything that the audience would have erupted in applause if Hera was the one to take command after Leia should have died. Hell, I'd have taken Ezra Bridger if it meant that we didn't have to sit through more tedium. The Last Jedi is the longest Star Wars film by thirteen whole minutes, and it certainly feels like it. I used to think that the events of Revenge of the Sith drug on forever, but after seeing this movie I feel kind of silly having thought that. I'm a guy who sat through the entire running time of Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition and didn't even think it felt that long. I've binged through countless episodes of a number of television series in sessions that had to last five hours or longer, and still, none of them felt as long as this movie does. It might be the fact that the film has about five or six plotlines going on at any one time. There's the one between Luke and Rey, the one between Rey and Ben, the one between Luke and Ben, the one between Holdo and her entire crew, the one between Finn and Rose, the one between Finn and The Empire, and the one between Finn, Rose, and the casino planet to go to to get DJ. Plus the plotline with DJ himself being a two-faced git. This doesn't make the movie more complex, it just makes it tedious, mostly because a lot of the things that get brought up aren't paid off within the movie, the ones that are are brought to such a weak close, and the rest are just kind of pointless. At one point, DJ notes that the owner of the ship that he and BB-8 had stolen sold X-Wings to the Republic and TIEs to the First Order, but the New Republic buys all of their X-Wings directly from the Incom Corporation, while the Eyeballs were made by Sienar Fleet Systems and bought directly by The Empire, with all the TIE Fighters used by The First Order being made by Sienar-Jaemus Fleet Systems. Mind you, this is all from modern continuity, not just from my old-fashioned knowledge of the original canon. Either way, this scene doesn't make a lick of sense. The only thing that DJ's findings prove is that whoever owned the ship dealt in secondhand starfighters and not the more sinister implication that the current conflict is stoked by war profiteers who make money off of both sides. Star Wars has always been about the horrors of conflict, but all this movie does is demonize the good people of the Incom Corporation who risked their lives to manufacture X-Wings for the Rebellion for the sake of pushing a hamfisted message. Yes, we get it. War is bad, that's something we knew already, what with the entirety of the prequels being dedicated to the story of how war can change people, with all of the loss of life seen throughout the series and Rogue One highlighting what one group of people had to give their lives to get. We don't need them injecting a screed against it in the middle of the movie when the entire series up to this point has been about how bad war is! Luke Skywalker lost his best friend and aunt and uncle in A New Hope, Kanan Jarrus lost his sight, Ahsoka Tano was stripped of Knighthood, Anakin Skywalker turned into Darth fucking Vader, we get that war is bad and that it can screw a person up, but this scene was so heavyhanded that it's absurd!
    Anyways, Rian Johnson then proceeds to rip off not only A New Hope but Rogue One as well when he has DJ, Finn and Rose dress up in stolen Imperial uniforms to break into The First Order flagship, but as I mentioned before, DJ betrays them and Rose and Finn wind up having to fight their way out. Finn faces off with Phasma, who dies an unceremonious death and then leaves. Meanwhile, Poe stages a mutiny on the New Republic flag-ship and takes over from Holdo, but instead of executing her then and there for being a coward and a traitor, he lets her live, which allows her to escape, wake up Leia and thwart his plan to save the fleet. At this point I should mention that Holdo's idiotic plan was getting the New Republic fleet picked-off left, right and center, and that her big "plan" was to cloak up the smaller transport ships and evacuate the remaining crew to a nearby abandoned Rebel base. Poe naturally thought this was a stupid idea, and proceeded to be proven right once the First Order sees through the plan and proceeds to start picking off the smaller ships like wooden ducks like he said they would. Why Holdo thought this would work in the first place, I have no idea, but in her infinite wisdom, Leia actually stops Poe's mutiny from going through and causes the plan to go into action flaws and all. The only reason this almost works is that the First Order was too stupid to bring an Interdictor Cruiser with them to reveal any cloaked ships, which one would think would have been common practice after the stunts Anakin Skywalker used to pull with cloaking tech back in The Clone Wars. Plus, someone on Reddit brought up that, had the New Republic ships been zig-zagging back and forth in a Naval technique known as "juking" to avoid fire they could have avoided having any casualties. The Rebellion was working in close quarters with a Death Star, a Super Star Destroyer and an entire fleet of regular Destroyers in Return of the Jedi, there was something of an excuse as to why they were getting picked off there. The vast majority of this movie is a protracted siege that ultimately doesn't make a ton of sense from a tactical perspective. Why do the New Republic Military forces just accept that their ships are going to get picked off instead of evacuating the damaged ones and tossing the ships at The First Order to distract from the evacuation? Funny that I was thinking that at this point in the movie, because rather than use a Droid or the ships' autopilot to do this, Holdo does it her god-damn self once her stupid plan goes tits up. The movie tries to paint this as some sort of grand sacrifice. In fact, the movie basically tries to recreate the climaxes of Excalibur and Dawn of Justice wholesale across a much longer section of film, but it just comes across as a completely pointless action. Autopilot exists, and it functions well enough for it to be used to pilot starfighters in a dogfight as we saw in The Phantom Menace, even if it wasn't a particularly good pilot. Basically what I'm saying is that if Rian Johnson had bothered to watch any Star Wars movies, or paid the slightest bit of attention to them, he'd have known that this wouldn't happen in a proper Star Wars movie. Rian Johnson is only slightly older than the Original Trilogy, while I'm exactly half the age of the series, so if I know and/or care more about the details of Star Wars than a man more than twice my age who was chosen to write and direct a film in the series, then that's a rather large issue with the approach Lucasarts has been taking.
    Before we move on to the rest of the movie, I'd like to address Admiral Holdo as a character. Two years ago, I remember the term "Mary Sue" being bandied about to describe Rey as a character, but I wasn't at all convinced that she was, given the severe negative consequences she suffered throughout the movie from all the times she kept fucking up. Over the last several weeks of writing this review though, I've come to realize that Amilyn Holdo is almost a beat for beat recreation of the main character from A Trekkie's Tale. While I was researching Holdo's history, I found out a few rather strange details about the character. She's a previously unknown childhood friend of Princess Leia's who apparently provided critical information to the survival of the Rebellion, and was subsequently appointed Vice Admiral and the command of a ship prior to us ever having seen her. She's also portrayed as a nigh-perfect commander whose plan would have gone off without a hitch had everyone followed her orders, and is given a heavy-handed death within the same piece of fiction she was introduced in. She also might have been a lesbian and might have had a thing for Princess Leia, as is hinted at by the fact that she holds onto Leia just long enough to make it suggestive when she's about to go on the suicide mission. Not that I blame her, just about everyone's had a thing for Leia at some point in history, but what makes this scene odd is twofold. One being that I was under the impression that they were pressed for time, and another being that it's implied that Leia might reciprocate these feeling by the way she stares soulfully at Holdo, holds Holdo's hands as long as Holdo holds hers, and the way she talks about Holdo. Leia didn't react like this to the death of her husband at the hands of her son, despite her connection to The Force. She also doesn't react to the death of another close relative as much as she does to the prospect of Holdo dying. This is what leads me to conclude that Amilyn Holdo is the archetypal Mary Sue. She's got a past with the lead characters that we've never seen or heard of until this point, she's got hair that isn't a normal color for humans without any explanation, she comes up with a plan to sacrifice herself to save what's left of the New Republic, has implied romantic ties to an important member of the main cast, and is portrayed as a selfless hero too good for this cruel galaxy. Every bad thing she does gets swept under the rug, never mind the fact that Poe's objections to her command decisions were all perfectly valid, and if Finn and Rose hadn't royally screwed up his plan it would have turned out a hell of a lot better than Holdo's did. That's not to say that Rey doesn't have the possibility of turning into a Mary Sue, but that Holdo feels like direct author-insertion wish-fulfillment to my trained eye. I could be wrong, but then again, The Last Jedi could have been a good movie.
    Rey tries to break into Snoke's ship but is immediately captured. Why she doesn't proceed to mind-trick the Stormtroopers into not capturing her, I don't know. In fact, I don't really get her grand plan. They have blasters, she's got a Lightsaber and The Force, logically she should be able to take them on, considering she was able to overpower James Bond with a bit of effort in the last film. Plus, she could have Force-shoved the lid of her pod into the troopers and come out swinging.
    Rey and Ben share an elevator scene almost identical to the one shared by Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi, before he turns her over to Snoke. Snoke taunts her, she tries to pull her Lightsaber from him, but he whacks her upside the head with it, tortures her for a while and tells Ben to kill her when she doesn't join them. Rather than do this, Ben rotates his grandfather's Lightsaber 90° and ignites it, cutting Snoke in half. This doesn't make a significant amount of sense, given the fact that it takes Ben a good fifteen seconds between when he starts turning the saber to when he remotely ignites it to kill Snoke. Vader got away with saving his son because he made the decision to do so immediately before he killed Palpatine. Despite the rather vague justification given to us, it still doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because usually, someone who can read minds and emotions with The Force can read them more specifically than the scenario Snoke sees. He should at least be able to see the massive amount of resentment that Ben wears on his sleeve, or the massively obvious schoolboy crush that he has on Rey. After this, Ben and his new girlfriend kill all of the faceless guards in what I have to admit is an awesome fight scene, but it does raise the question of "When did Cortosis, Mandalorian Iron and Sith Alchemy become so rare that they couldn't make the armor of the Emperor's elite guards out of either material?" Granted, one could easily extend that question to the armor of every single military force in the galaxy, but considering that the primary threat to any Jedi or Sith is another Jedi or Sith, one would assume that they would have adopted Lightsaber-proof armor by now. Kylo Ren has it, Darth Vader had it, literally every Mandalorian has it, so why didn't Snoke or any of his minions have it?
    Anyways, at this point, I thought the plot was going the way I figured it would. Ben's vow to finish what Darth Vader started was clearly referring to the destruction of the Sith, and I figured at this point that Luke's attempted assassination of Ben was a ruse to embed Ben with The First Order to take it down from within, given what Luke said about other students of his (that we never see) following Ben to the First Order, and that the big villain of the series would turn out to be Holdo or Poe Dameron but that entire twist would have made sense. Ben and Rey, despite clearly being perfect for each other and in-tune on a rather bizarre level for people who aren't blood-related as we find out, have a fight. Rey wants Ben to order the First Order fleet to stop firing on the retreating New Republic, but at this point I had lost all sympathy for those incompetent sods and would have been perfectly happy to see most of them get blown to bits, as long as Finn, Poe, and BB-8 survived, but Ben doesn't do this despite it making a rather insane degree of sense for his character.  We also find out that Rey's parents were nobodies. At this point, her parents didn't have to be Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade, I would have settled for Sabine Wren and Ezra Bridger, I'd have settled for her having some connection to the Jedi.
    They fight over Anakin's Lightsaber, tearing the damn thing in half. Rey manages to recover both parts of the saber while Ben is stunned (Because destroying a Lightsaber is treated like a bomb going off despite Anakin Skywalker never having built a single Lightsaber that would do that in his entire life, as we saw when his first saber was destroyed in Attack of the Clones. In fact, the only time in current canon that we've seen a Lightsaber emit such a devastating burst was in that episode of The Clone Wars with David Tennant in it, and that Lightsaber was literally constructed to do just that so they could evade the space-pirates.
    The entire last half-hour of the movie is a recreation of the opening sequence to The Empire Strikes Back, complete with AT-AT walkers that have even more armor and stronger legs than their predecessors back on Hoth, trenches, a fortress in the middle of a desert (this time of salt instead of snow) and a bunch of repurposed rickety speeders as primary defense craft. Rey shows up and lifts a bunch of rocks off the passageway out of the base so the troops can man the scant defenses. Finn, who's our resident Imperial tech-expert apparently tells the remaining forces that The First Order has brought a Superlaser siege cannon with them to bust down the door to the bunker. The Superlaser siege cannon is a piece of "miniaturized Death Star tech" according to Finn, which utterly ignores the fact that the Death Star was basically a tooled-up Lightsaber that only ignited for long enough to blow up a planet, a concept codified in the EU via Darksaber and in current canon via Rogue One when we saw the Empire stealing a cache of Kyber Crystals for use in the Death Star. It's not a miniature Death Star, Finn, it's a Unicron-sized Lightsaber.
    Finn tries to sacrifice himself to destroy the siege cannon, but Rose crashes her ship into his and gives him possibly the stupidest line I've ever heard in a war movie. "We're going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!"
I don't know what to say to that. The Galactic Civil War was won by fighting, The Clone Wars were won by fighting, this war will literally only be won by fighting, what the hell is wrong with this girl? Was it the fact that her sister died fighting? Tough shit, she died so that the New Republic, and by extension, you, could survive another day, something that Holdo completely wasted by sacrificing the entire fleet to the First Order. Finn and Rose only survived Holdo's bone-headed plan and pointless sacrifice by fighting, and the only way Luke Skywalker managed to save the morons who call themselves the New Republic Military was by fighting!
    Speaking of fighting, before we get to Luke, I'd just like to mention that the First Order fails to take the most obvious route and use their TIE fighters and bombers to strafe the trenches. This is the kind of thing done back in World War I when planes were basically new, and if I'm not mistaken was featured in The Clone Wars as an employed tactic. Previously we've seen an evolution of tactics and military hardware over the course of the prequels, the animated series and the original trilogy, but in Episode VIII everything appears to have taken a step or two backward.
    Anyways, when all hope seems lost, Luke Skywalker shows up, not in his X-Wing, not to great fanfare, not to the kind of pomp and circumstance one would expect out of the return of the galaxy's greatest hero. He walks out of the base, brushes off every attack the First Order throws at him (At the orders of Supreme Leader Ben, natch) and then fights Kylo Ren in the most pathetic attempt at a fight-sequence I've ever seen in Star Wars. At least in Episode IV, the fight was taking place between two old men, one of whom was very clearly toying with the other, who in turn was stalling for time. In this fight, we see Luke ignite a Lightsaber he hasn't seen in nigh-on thirty years, rather than the one he forged basically by hand and has been using that entire intervening period and weave around every attack Ben throws at him like a combination of Neo from The Matrix and Muhammad Ali before revealing that he's just projecting himself across the galaxy somehow and fading away. This effort apparently was enough to kill the most powerful Jedi in the history of the galaxy, and he becomes one with The Force as the sun rises, never mind the fact that his nephew pulled it off by fucking accident.
    This whole scene raises so many questions, such as the aforementioned one about why Luke is using his dad's old Lightsaber instead of the one he built himself and has been using for thirty years. One would think that if he held such an attachment to it, he wouldn't have thrown it over his shoulder at the start of the movie. Another being the fact that the dice he took from the Falcon at the start of the movie vanish when he dies, despite the fact that we saw objects being transferred across the projection previously. Not to mention, Luke's a healthy fifty-two-year-old warrior who spent most of his life in front-line military service, and the rest of it he spent working on machines on a moisture farm, he should be in tip-top physical shape. What I'm saying here is that Luke would have easily survived the fight if he'd been there in-person rather than using The Force as his personal holonet. Not to mention, the hero of the Rebellion, the last of the Jedi, a man who beat Darth Vader in combat, the man who destroyed the first Death Star, who tanked more Force Lightning than most of the Jedi who previously experienced it combined, Rogue Leader, Jedi Master, General Luke "The impossible is what I do" Skywalker goes out not in an epic Lightsaber battle over the fate of the galaxy, but because of the strain brought on by using a Force power that was previously shown to not be strenuous at all and actually kind of easy to use by total accident. You mean to tell me that Rey and Kylo Ben are stronger than him? Piss off, I don't believe that for a second.
    After what remains of the Rebels evacuate from the base to send out a distress signal (that isn't picked up by Lando for some reason) we get some speech from Leia to Rey about rebuilding things that were broken in regards to both Anakin's Lightsaber and the New Republic, but that rings somewhat hollow knowing that Disney had an entire year to re-shoot this movie to account for Carrie Fisher's death and the fact that Luke crucially didn't teach Rey how to build and maintain a Lightsaber in her time on the island with him. Granted, neither did Yoda when Luke was on Dagobah, but considering what Luke had to go through to build his Lightsaber between Episode V and Episode VI, and the fact that one of the first things Jedi learn is how to build and maintain their Lightsabers, one would think that Luke would have brought that up at some point, perhaps even leading to Rey constructing a saberstaff akin to the one Darth Maul used in The Phantom Menace, but that would add a bit too much unique variety into the movie, now wouldn't it?
    All in all, this film is what one would get if you took all of the bad decisions made in the prequels, distilled them to their very worst and then used that to fill the gaps between randomly arranged scenes and set-pieces from other parts of the Star Wars franchise, primarily from Episode V and Episode VI, but also from Rebels and various EU sources as well. From The Empire Strikes Back we get the plot-twists, even going so far as to rip off the false revelation from the end of that film. You see, in the script for Episode V, and in the dialogue recorded by David Prowse, the primary suit-actor for Darth Vader, the revelation was that Obi-Wan killed Anakin Skywalker, not that Darth Vader was actually Anakin. The revelation that Luke tried to kill Ben before his big turn to the Dark Side mirrors that somewhat uncannily. Then there's the fact that Holdo's big sacrifice has been done a number of times before. Green Leader did it in Return of the Jedi, as did a CR90 Correllian Corvette, not to mention the time Rogue Squadron ran an unmanned transport into a shield generator during the Fondor shipyard assault, or in Star Wars Rebels, when Phoenix Nest rammed an Interdictor cruiser to allow Ezra Bridger to escape and call for Rebel reinforcements, and that was way more moving when Commander Sato and his men did it than it was when Holdo did her schtick. The Porgs, much like the Ewoks, exist mostly to sell toys, Luke has basically been transformed into discount Yoda, there's literally a Force cave that fucks with one's perceptions, the fact that the movie ends the way Empire starts, the main villain's right-hand man turning on him and killing him, parental revelations, the Jedi character spending most of the movie training away from their friends and allies before rushing back to help them and getting into a fight, a direct confrontation with the main villain within his ship as he shows off the destruction of the heroes friends and allies, torturing the hero, attempts to turn them to the Dark Side that fail, the villain's right-hand man telling the hero that "Together, we can rule the galaxy," an offer that the hero refuses, a clearly outmatched opponent going up against a seasoned veteran who's clearly messing with him, for a film that's so caught up in "buccking convention" it sure seems to rip off a lot of stuff. Not that everyone's as savvy as I am, I once heard someone at the local library call Jupiter Ascending a "very good and unique film" and I had to stifle a bout of raucous laughter.
    Once one moves beyond the stolen elements, one comes to the decisions that just didn't work. For one thing, the characterization of Luke Skywalker is abysmal to even casual fans of the series, and for weird obsessives like me who've read all of the books and played most of the games, it's absolutely atrocious. Luke Skywalker was my hero growing up, more than Spider-Man or Superman to be honest, and this movie betrayed everything that Luke stood for. He gave up, he tried to turn away a potential student, he tried to kill his nephew in his sleep, he didn't care when Han died, he turned away from The Force, he abandoned his friends and the Republic he fought tooth and nail to restore, he left his X-Wing at the bottom of the lake because of apathy, and if R2-D2 hadn't been there he wouldn't have even tried to train Rey. There's an entire subplot (the one with Finn and Rose) that wouldn't exist if the New Republic military forces were the slightest bit competent, which incidentally extends the movie to its somewhat ludicrous runtime. If all of the running time was dedicated to showing Luke training Rey and the siege, then this movie wouldn't have felt like it was stretched too thin, despite the fact that it's the longest film in the franchise. "Hyperspace tracking" is a brand new thing that seems like it was introduced simply to stretch out the plot. It would have made perfect sense if that turned out to be fake and Holdo was just feeding information to the First Order, in fact, it would have been an impressive twist. Holdo was already an unlikable bitch, making her a villain would just be logical. Plus it would open up time for Rey to have literally any character development. She doesn't grow, she doesn't change, she doesn't really suffer through her training, she just sort of does stuff, figures things out without practicing them, and then has an awesome sword-fight with her boyfriend, who has the more interesting arc. Ben has an arc over these two movies, but in this movie, Rian Johnson and Snoke alike are attempting to turn him into Darth Vader despite the fact that Ben has far less passion for what he's doing than Vader ever did. Plus, the only time he's ever really passionate about anything is when he's with Rey, and it's a shame they basically tanked all chances of their relationship working because Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley have good chemistry together despite the fact that Rian Johnson can't write characters to react normally or logically. Ben cared enough about his mother to not kill her, and I'll bet you that Han was the one to ignite that Lightsaber in The Force Awakens, which would imply that Ben isn't really evil, but given the fact that Rian Johnson appears to have ignored all aspects of proper storytelling and character arcs I doubt that that's where this will go now. Ben and Rey's fight doesn't make any sense from a character perspective since the two of them spent the entire movie bonding and learning about each other. In fact, the modicum of good development Rey gets is with Ben. Speaking of the Solo/Skywalker family, Leia's vastly out of character too. She's giving Poe shit for doing the kind of suicidal super-weapon run he did in the previous movie and the same kind of suicidal runs that her brother's elite squad used to do routinely. Runs that we know work, as was demonstrated when Luke destroyed the first Death Star and when Wedge and Lando destroyed the second. Suicide runs on super-weapons are par for the course when you're fighting a bunch of overspending Imperials who would rather blow shit up than conquer it. Thirty years down the line and a few hours after the last time, you ran one of these assaults, you picked a hell of a time to take a stand on that Princess. Then there's Holdo. When she takes command, Poe asks her what the hell they're supposed to be doing, and she admonishes him for not following Leia's orders, and in doing so reveals her utter ignorance of the New Republic military Ranking system. When Poe was demoted, he was Commander Dameron, and the rank immediately below that was Major, not Captain the way Holdo implies. Given the fact that she's enshrined as a martyr in this film, I'll bet you that Rian Johnson simply doesn't know how the ranking system works. Also, you'll notice that throughout the entire review I never once referred to them as "The Resistence," and there's a reason for that. One being that that's a stupid name when they were previously known as The Rebel Alliance, another being the fact that the reason it's called that is straight up moronic. While looking into the new canon, I found out that the military forces we follow in this aren't the military arm of the New Republic, but an independent militia created by former Alliance members when the New Republic government decided it would be a good idea to open themselves up the same way the Old Republic did and disband their armed forces, never mind the fact that that kind of weakness was why the CIS thought they could get away with splitting off in the first place. Apparently, Leia's protests were ignored because it came out that her father was Darth Vader. Which is ludicrous, because the people who knew that were either too smart to let that slip or dead! The official story was that she was the daughter of Bail and Breha Organa, and the official story about what happened to Anakin was that Darth Vader killed him, so if anyone found out she was adopted they'd only be able to trace it back to a secret marriage between Senator Padmé Amidala and General Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight. While he was in Imperial military service, he was officially know as Lord Darth Vader, not Anakin Skywalker. And all that aside, she was raised by one of the co-founders of the Rebel Alliance, and it's not like she was ever an Imperial collaborator. Hell, it's not like Vader even knew she existed, so even if it did come out I can't see why this would disgrace her in the first place. Plus, if anyone who remembered how the Empire came to power was part of the New Republic, they would have stopped that. Regardless, stupid contrived reasons, and stupid name. Plus, it's not like any of this is ever brought up in the movies, so for all we know they are the New Republic military, never mind the fact that they basically are. Maybe someday I'd consider a comparison between the real canon and the new canon, but right now that's not in the cards.
    Getting back to the movie, the simple fact that they put the trilogy climax a half hour before the second film was over and had to contrive a reason for there to be a second climax would be enough to condemn this movie on its own. It's like Rian Johnson took about half of Episode V and most of Episode VI, tossed them into a blender and served it up with bits of the EU and Dawn of Justice sprinkled throughout without thought nor care for how his decisions affected the franchise as a whole, and the sequel trilogy specifically. The remainder of The New Republic's military forces could probably fit into my backyard, any chance of redemption for Ben Solo has been squandered, Luke is dead, Snoke is dead and is Carrie Fisher is dead too. There's nowhere to go from here unless Abrams ret-cons huge chunks of this movie in Episode IX, most of the stakes are gone. The First Order has practically won at this point. In Episode V, there was a glimmer of hope. They still had stuff they could do. In Empire, Luke got his hand cut off, but he got a robotic one to replace it. Han was captured, sure, but the rest of the main cast escaped thanks to Lando, and the Rebellion didn't have its entire fleet destroyed for the sake of spectacle. I've got a lot of problems with The Empire Strikes Back, but objectively speaking it works as a middle installment of a trilogy, while this film is the plots of two, possibly even three films stitched together as ineptly as AT&T's internet service. Or Konami's ban-lists. Point being that this film shouldn't exist in the state that it's in. It's not subversive, it's not revolutionary, it's nothing we haven't seen before. It's a nonsensical piece of trash masquerading as a legitimate installment in my favorite franchise. I've said a lot of mean things about Revenge of the Sith, about how the only reason it ends the way it does is because of a series of uncharacteristically dumb decisions made by an otherwise smart, savvy and above all ruthless protagonist, but that's nothing compared to what I have to say about The Last Jedi. While Anakin makes a series of decisions that get progressively stupider as the movie goes on, everyone else in the film reacts the way one would expect them to. Revenge of the Sith relies on one character making numerous inane decisions for its plot to go down the way it did. The Last Jedi relies on just about every important character doing at least one thing wrong. The bombers get destroyed because the New Republic are idiots and didn't test their bombers, Poe stages a mutiny because Holdo was an idiot and didn't explain her plan, Finn and Rose get caught because they were idiots and didn't follow parking procedure, Luke causes Ben to turn to the Dark Side because he's an idiot, Luke dies because he's an idiot, Finn and Rose get sold out because they're idiots, Snoke dies because he's an idiot, Ben and Rey engage in domestic violence because they're idiots, Ben goes down to fight with his uncle because he's an idiot, Ben doesn't call off the attack that would probably kill his mother because he's an idiot. Nothing in this movie happens because the characters are reacting the way they naturally would, it happens because Rian Johnson wanted it to happen that way. Incidentally, just about everything in this movie takes way too long to happen. The timing of every action, especially in circumstances where the characters are supposedly pressed for time takes an eternity, and for every criticism I ever had of how George Lucas writes and directs, at least he knows how to make an urgent scene feel urgent. Just about every shot takes a few seconds too long to feel natural, like this is the anime adaptation of Dragon Ball Z and they're trying to fill time. Except that some of the filler in DBZ was at least somewhat interesting. Lucas could add gravitas and weight to every scene that needed it, regardless of his ability to wrangle actors and performances. In this film, almost every scene has this floaty feel to it, as if there's a fundamental emotional disconnect between the audience and the film, like every frame is doing its best to alienate people who like good filmmaking. Part of the reason for that would be that it introduces Force powers that push the limits of credibility and willing suspension of disbelief. Yes, this is a series about telekinesis-using space-monks who can shoot lightning from their hands and fight with laser swords, but the difference was that their powers had visible limitations in the past. One would think that in the thousands of years the Jedi Order had existed, someone would have been able to figure out how to project across time and space, or summon electricity from the sky. This is a group that figured enough out about The Force to know that one's sensitivity to it is directly correlated to Midichlorian concentration. The old Jedi Order had the study of the Force down to a science, and in all their time they didn't figure out how to project across the galaxy, yet two teenagers were able to figure it out by accident without the support of anyone? Not to mention that their telepathic communication doesn't make any sense when we find out they're not related. Leia and Luke were twins, Luke and Vader were father and son and they could sense each other rather strongly over long distances, but finding out that Rey is just some nobody from nowhere? That doesn't make any sense given what we know about how this is supposed to work. Then there's the fact that Luke dies something of a nothing death. Qui-Gon died in battle, so did Jango Fett, and Count Dooku. Mace Windu and Kit Fisto died trying to arrest Palpatine, Darth Maul died facing off with his mortal enemy, Obi-Wan became one with The Force buying valuable time for Luke and Han to get off the Death Star after having disabled the tractor-beams, Biggs Darklighter died in the Death Star run, Tarkin died closing in on crushing the Rebel Alliance, Yoda died of old age after several centuries of life, Anakin died saving his son, Palpatine died when his apprentice turned on him, Han died trying to bring his son home, Luke dies in a hologram battle because he used a taxing untested Force power instead of hopping in the Falcon with Rey and Chewie when they left. In making Luke's last stand take place by proxy, they also reduce the level of badass of the preceding scene where Luke takes everything the First Order was able to throw at him. This is Luke Skywalker for god's sake! If anyone could deflect every turbolaser pointed at him and bend every projectile around him, it would be Luke! I can buy Luke doing that entirely on his own, sans any stupid extra powers. And before anyone gets on me for criticising the new powers with the now tired comparisons to the introduction of the other powers, allow me to say this. Transporting objects and projecting a solid hologram through absolutely nothing and calling a bolt of lightning down from the sky is very different from shooting lightning from your hands and using telepathy to read minds and influence people, or running fast. Hell, it's different from preserving your consciousness in the Living Force, and I'll explain why. First off, consider the fact that a Force-user can move things with their mind from a distance, then consider the fact that when air rubs together, it creates static electricity, which creates lightning. That, taken with the fact that living creatures basically rely on electrical impulses to stimulate muscles and for signals in the nervous system, it actually kind of makes sense that a Force-user could create lightning and direct it at a person, especially since humans are mostly water. As for running fast, one could be Force-pushing themselves along their path with their feet, it's not a difficult concept to grasp considering what we already know. Then there's preserving one's consciousness in the Living Force. Since The Force flows through everything, and those sensitive to it can influence it to do things, and given the fact that the brain kind of runs on data signals of a sort, and The Force can be used to program simple computers in the form of Holocrons, it then follows that one could copy one's appearance and mind into The Force. You take that with the long-standing tradition of ghosts in popular culture, and it makes perfect sense. How exactly is Force Projection supposed to work? Are they going to explain this in the next animated series or the current season of Star Wars Rebels or something? Regardless, I don't really see them being able to explain this or justify it in any way. Maybe you could make a case for them using astral projection and The Force to make the apparition seem solid, but considering the fact that we saw seawater from the island Rey was on splash Ben in his Imperial whatever the hell it was, they're not just doing that, they're literally transporting things. But why does the dice that Luke took from the Falcon disappear when he dies then? Why, when Luke attacked Kylo from across the galaxy did it not affect him a whole lot, but when Luke was running circles around him later on did it exhaust Luke enough to kill him? What's going on? Where's the consistency? What the hell is wrong with this movie?
    The Last Jedi strikes me as something written by the kind of fan who loves to write over-the-top fanfiction, like the kind that gives the trio from Harry Potter ancient elemental powers, or where The Doctor can use The Force, or other stuff that makes every single struggle in the series pointless. At this point the Force-users are so overpowered that most of the non-Force threats in the franchise and even other Force-users aren't a big threat to the Force-users in the series, or maybe they are if they can figure out a way to overexert the other or maybe this whole plotline and power-set doesn't make any sense.
    All in all, Star Wars Episode VIII is worse than anything George Lucas ever did. Sure, he ruined Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith, but just about everyone else got a fair shake, and while the prequels might have been technically inept, they had consistency, weight, and choreography backing them up. While far superior to the prequels and even the originals on a purely technical level, from a filmmaking perspective it's like comparing the Bayformers films to The Transformers: The Movie, in that there's no competition. Yes, the line delivery is less wooden, and yes there's way less bizarre CGI failures, but this film is operating on a level of storytelling incompetence I haven't seen in a long time. I don't think I could have written a story this bad on purpose, let alone by accident. Back when The Force Awakens came out, I wrote up a short pitch for what I wanted Episode VIII to do, sort of like the pitch I wrote in my head for what I wanted the new Power Rangers movie to do, except that I actually published the Star Wars pitch in a Facebook group, and it basically went as follows: When Luke meets up with Rey, we get insight into her back-story and some explanation about how Luke and Mara Jade left her on Jakku so that Ben, Snoke and the other Knights of Ren wouldn't be able to take her if they died facing off. Ben would have been tempted to the Dark Side by Snoke, who was an Inquisitor who served under Lord Vader from around the time Star Wars Rebels is set. Snoke would have killed Mara Jade in his and Ben's duel with her and Luke. Luke and a loyal student he could trust, probably Corran Horn from Rogue Squadron would have searched out the old Jedi homeland to try and figure out what went wrong and if there was anything they could do to overcome Snoke and the Knights of Ren, such as uncovering old powers and techniques lost to time. Horn would have wound up on the Jedi home-world, Tython, while Luke would be where he was when Rey found him. Neither of them would have made a lot of progress, but Luke would train Rey in the ways of the Jedi. He'd teach her to build a Saberstaff, show her how to duel, how to meditate, how to do all of the things he'd learned. The First Order would be hot on the trails of the New Republic forces, and Rey would return to the fleet against Luke's wishes to duel with Ben. Luke would remain behind for a short time, searching for new information before warping in when all seems lost to save the day. He'd be shouting flyboy lingo and then hop into the lightsaber fight to the tune of Duel of the Fates, coming down into the shot with his GREEN Lightsaber blazing the way Darth Vader came into shot in the finale of Rebels Season 2 and drive Ben back and rescuing Rey after she got a limb chopped off. I hadn't gotten nearly as far in planning out what I thought would be good for Episode IX, but the ending was basically the same as the throne-room scene in this movie, but Luke would have been training Finn in Episode IX as well, and when Ben killed Snoke, he would have said "I am here to finish what my grandfather started. The complete and utter annihilation of the Sith." and right before he said the last three words, he would have fiddled with his Lightsaber and ignited it through Snoke's back, revealing a purple blade. He, Luke, Rey and Finn would have then fought their way out of the palace or ship or whatever and Luke, Ben and Corran Horn would reveal that Ben was working undercover to bring down what was left of the Empire from within, and that the other students that he took with him (And it would have been a good idea for one of them to be Kyp Durron) were installed in places of importance within The First Order, so as to allow them to completely dismantle the Imperial Remnant at a moment's notice. Starkiller Base would have come to fruition too quickly, and Han would have ignited Ben's saber himself to prove to Snoke that Ben was really on his side. It's all a bit rough, and I know I'm not the most objective person to analyze my own story, but I can't help but feel like I came up with a better story than Rian Johnson did. I've heard that he started working on The Last Jedi before The Force Awakens was even done. One of the things that makes me question Rian Johnson's credentials in this movie is a line that implies that The Force created Rey to be Ben's equal and opposite, a balancing weight in the game of The Force. I don't know if Rian Johnson realizes that The Force can't actually create life on its own, and that the Jedi only speculated that was possible when they found out Anakin didn't have a father. Palpatine used The Force to create a child with incredible Force sensitivity, which turned into incredible Force power. Which Rian Johnson would know if he'd watched the extended cut of Revenge of the Sith. Deleted scenes have been canonical up until now, when Johnson decided to make his own version of Rey's first meeting with Poe that contradicted the version that Abrams shot for The Force Awakens that got cut to meet the running time, but then again, Johnson didn't enough care to not contradict previous films or even himself within the same film, so I guess I shouldn't expect any more out of him. What really gets me is that Gareth Edwards, the director of Rogue One was not only an extra in the movie, but was also finished with Rogue One by the time The Last Jedi began shooting. J. J. Abrams didn't even have any directorial projects going on at the time, and he's going to be directing Episode IX, so why didn't they just have him direct it and bring back the other two guys who wrote The Force Awakens? Why did Disney not take Abrams proven success with Episode VII as a sign that he should write and direct the rest of the trilogy?
    In the end, despite how good the previous two films have been, I can't help but think that we would have been better off in the hands of George Lucas. Apparently, Disney was so impressed by The Last Jedi that they gave this Zack Snyder-wannabe an entire trilogy, and boy oh boy, I could not be less enthused. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi gets a 2.5*. I'm out. I've literally been working on this every day since the movie came out and I'm glad to be done finally.

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