Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Last Jedi

I finally got around to seeing The Last Jedi; it was OK but not great. There are great scenes but it rambles around too much, and at times is almost a parody of the obsession with subverting audience expectations -- see! this entire line of the story that we built up so much investment on, we're just throwing it away, just because; bet you didn't see that coming!

But the primary irritation I had was Vice Admiral Incompetent. One of my pet peeves, which is irritated quite a bit in modern cinema, is the character that is put forward as Strong Smart Woman whose behavior is in fact either sociopathic or arbitrary. Fortunately we avoided sociopathic here -- it could have been much worse, had they attempted to make Holdo seem a strong leader by excessive violence, which is too often done -- but they manage to make her incompetent. The decoy tactic wasn't bad, but in the course of implementing it, she (1) managed to spark a mutiny by simply failing to reassure her people that she had a plan; and (2) implemented her plan without preparing her people, or giving them any indication of the goals beforehand, despite the fact that the plan required swift and stealthy at-a-moment evacuation to a base that needed to be prepared as quickly as possible. She refused to explain herself at all, even when it was clear that her crew was cracking under the strain, which is the worst kind of authoritarian leadership. It looks even worse when one compares it to the snippets we'd seen in this and the prior movie of Leia's leadership, which always shows her as fully in command, with the full respect of her troops, while also taking into account individuals as individuals. I mean, in this movie she slaps Poe and demotes him, but still (very understandably) has his unwavering loyalty. But Vice Admiral Holdo shows nothing but that she can't handle people. And it's not as if the Resistance is a regular army; it's a ragtag group of volunteers that needs to have far more flexibility than another kind of military would have, one in which the distance between Commander and Vice Admiral is more a matter of keeping order than a rigid chain of command; even if she had shown more competence, her command style is entirely wrong for the kind of fight she's leading.

And this, of course, is setting aside the fact that her plan is an extraordinary gamble -- a large-scale stealth evacuation, to a supposedly highly armored facility (whose armor turns out to be technologically obsolete), simply in order to radio for help. Were it not for the deus ex machina of Luke Skywalker, the entire Resistance would be gone, instead of reduced to a single ship.

The only thing in the movie that irritated me more was when at the casino planet, after having made such a big deal about the slavery issue, they free the animals and leave the slaves in slavery.

But there are good parts. While we don't get much sense of continuity between the Luke Skywalker here and the one we've known previously, much of the Skywalker/Solo line of the movie is fairly decent. The burn-the-past element is questionable, but there are indications that this is not the whole story (e.g., Rey's keeping of some of the Jedi texts, and her repudiation of Kylo Ren's let-the-past-die approach).

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