The Last Jedi, Not What You Expect…

It really is a shame how fans can react to change. I know it’s always hard when a franchise we love makes something that we don’t enjoy, or changes something that we thought was fine. Heaven knows I was annoyed enough at the unnecessary romance crow-barred into The Hobbit trilogy (and it still hurts me that I have to refer to those films as a trilogy). However, sometimes I think fans can get so attached to a property and connect it so fully with their childhood, that they are unable to think clearly about the films anymore. Yes, Star Wars is a huge global phenomenon and it has impacted a lot of people. But it is just a film series. We don’t own it any more than we own the people who made it. And the overblown reaction I have witnessed online is staggering for a film series about magic space wizards. Don’t think I’m disparaging Star Wars. I have always loved these films, and I think even the prequels have some entertainment value. But some perspective seems needed, after all, these are silly films. The original movies have ewoks, two death stars, cute annoying aliens and very glaring plot holes. But we ignore those because the films are still good in spite of them. The nit-picks don’t ruin a fun time. I think that those that argue passionately that porgs aren’t Star Wars because they’re cute merchandise are perhaps forgetting the sillier parts of the other films. After all, as much as we can get very passionate about these films, they were never exactly high art.

Now then, with all that said, The Last Jedi was awesome! There are flaws to sure, and some of them aren’t small, but much like the other films, I enjoyed the film enough not to notice them. And Rian Johnson does something that not many of the other directors have done with Star Wars for a long time; he takes risks. Honestly, the biggest problem I had with some fans reactions was that not two years ago there were people angry at The Force Awakens for being too similar to the original films. Then along comes this film, which inverts many of the tropes and themes of the other films, and a lot of those same fans get angry because of the changes. But for my part I really enjoyed being given something new and slightly more original. From here on things will be a bit spoiler heavy so stop reading now if you are the one person in the world who saw this later than me!

I really appreciated the choices made in the plot of this film. While I really enjoyed The Force Awakens, it had no risks – I could predict the plot from start to finish. Not so here, I was constantly wondering what would happen next, and thanks to Han Solo’s death in the previous film, I was not sure even who would make it out of the film alive. First Luke refuses to train Rey, then he accepts, but it turns out he wishes to die alone and end the Jedi Order. Rey starts seeing into Kylo Ren’s mind, and is drawn to him in an effort to turn him to the light. However, when she arrives, Snoke reveals he merely twisted her visions. But the best moment for me was the moment when Kylo kills Snoke. Suddenly, the main antagonist, who had been a boring replica of Emperor Palpatine, is killed and Ren takes his place as the true main villain of the trilogy. This was such a refreshing twist. For me, Ren was the interesting villain, and Snoke was nothing special, so replacing him with the more engaging character is a bold and smart move. Another great twist is that Rey’s parents are not important characters we have seen before. She is not a Skywalker or Kenobi, much as I would have loved that. Her parents were just Junkers who sold her into slavery. This revelation is new and exciting, as it gets back to the idea of a protagonist who comes from nothing. So many heroes in stories have ties to previous legendary characters, that serve as crutch to make the hero special. It is lovely to have a hero who has no amazing backstory, who is only interesting because of what she chooses to do, and who she is as a person.

On to the performances. Daisy Ridley is as fresh faced and determined as in the previous film. John Boyega as Finn is so charismatic it makes up for the fact that his entire storyline has no impact on the plot. Kelly Marie Tran is very engaging and likeable as Rose Tico, and of course Oscar Isaac is perfect as the roguish Poe Dameron. He has a commanding presence, and is clearly highly motivated. It would be great to have some backstory behind his actions. Carrie Fisher is warm and witty as General Organa, and it is crying shame we will never get any more films from Fisher. Adam Driver brings a true intensity and yet vulnerability that we rarely see in villains. His Kylo Ren is so unnerving because he is relatable even in his most terrible actions. But the best character in this is Luke Skywalker. He has evolved in a most interesting way since he tried to restart the Jedi Order, has learnt in fact that the Jedi were part of the problem. He is cynical and afraid to fail in teaching Rey as he did with Ren. Mark Hamill is on fire here, and he deserves a lot more work after this. He still retains the core of Luke’s identity, but with a shell of age and awareness of his own legend. It could have been so easy to turn Luke into the new Obi Wan and repeat the same tropes, but Johnson makes a conscious effort to make sure Luke is not the same old, wise character as his predecessors.

Finally, the visuals of the film are breath-taking. The shots can be a little conventional at times, but the composition more than makes up for this, with amazing colour and costume design, and fantastic moments. Many screenshots of the film could be used as posters in their own right. The new locations are striking and different to what we have previously seen in the Star Wars universe. A casino planet, a salt flats base and of course a rocky island in the middle of nowhere. The Salt flats and the red dust underneath make a very striking colour, and reflect the more mature themes addressed in this film. The red of the dark side lurking underneath the pure white. In fact, it is on the salt planet that we have the best scene in the film, where Luke faces off against an entire fleet of the First Order. This scene also works so well because Luke mocked the idea of taking on the entire Order single handed earlier in the film. The music is of course inspired, John Williams could score these in his sleep with both ears blocked and he would still make amazing musical themes.

Overall, this is a film with flaws, there are story elements that remain unaddressed (such as the knights of Ren) and odd choices that undercut the tone at points, but they are outweighed by the amount of new ground covered, and I would happily sacrifice many of the old elements of the films in order for future films to make me feel as this film made me feel coming out of the cinema. As long as they keep the laser swords!

Die Hard: the best Christmas film…

Looking back at the best festive film of all time…

First of all, apologies for the two-week absence, as I was too busy with a pileup of holiday coursework to write a post, but as I’m now free of most of my burdens, I thought I’d look at something rather festive! So, without further ado, Die Hard!

I know what you’re thinking, “hang on, that isn’t a Christmas film, its an action film!” Yes, I know it’s a controversial issue, but I love the film, and seeing as it takes place at Christmas I’m reviewing it anyway. If you want something more saccharine and cheesy you can watch Elf.

I recently saw Die Hard again with a bunch of friends and some drinks, and let me tell you, that film never gets old. It helps to watch with someone who hasn’t yet seen it; their reaction reminds you exactly how you were the first time you saw it. Die Hard is one of those films that is hard to analyse, because the reputation it has makes it difficult to separate the objective quality and the entertainment factor. However, there are certain things we can look at to see why this fantastic movie has endured for so long, and why the sequels don’t always measure up.

First of all, the setting. Die Hard takes place at a Christmas party in Los Angeles at the Nakatomi Plaza, where John McClane becomes embroiled in a heist disguised as terrorist kidnapping, and has to overcome great odds and no shoes in order to save the day and reconcile with his wife. The setting allows for a huge set, and yet a claustrophobic atmosphere as McClane is stuck running around the building trying to get the Police to turn up. The fact that he is trapped with them forcing him to come up with some ingenious ways of outmanoeuvring the villain, Hans Gruber. For instance, when he is unable to attract the attention of a cop, who checks the desk and thinks that everything is fine, he throws the body of one the robbers onto the man’s car, immediately letting them know how serious the situation is. Later sequels often made the setting all over the place, in different cities and countries, but that just removes the tight hemmed-in atmosphere and lowers the stakes.

Bruce Willis is at his best as the put-upon New York cop, out of his element. John McClane is a more down-to-earth action hero, constantly damaging his body, without even shoes, in order to save the hostages. He is a capable cop, but the constant stress and fighting wears him down over the course of the film, until he can barely stand. This appeals to a lot of people, the underdog who still fights on. Having a relatable hero who has to struggle and still wins is ten times more satisfying than an unstoppable demi-god. It also helps that Willis has some of the best lines in the film, and his deadpan delivery is on point. By far the best scene is when McClane calls the emergency line and cannot get through to the operator as she doesn’t take him seriously. Watching him cuss her out furiously as he avoids gunfire is always entertaining.

However, the star of the film isn’t Bruce Willis in my opinion. That title belongs to Hans Gruber, played to perfection by Alan Rickman. His over the top German accent, sardonic delivery and brilliant lines add up to a truly memorable villain who is not only intimidating but also very funny. He is charming, quick witted and confident, totally in command of his crew and prepared to deal harshly with Police and FBI alike. Alan Rickman sadly passed away last year, and I would like to take a moment from this review just to mention that Rickman was a national treasure and a top-notch actor. The film world will truly miss his iconic roles and I can only imagine what amazing characters he could have gone on to portray if things had been different.

Moving on to the action, this film is in another class. The enclosed area means that the action has to be creative in order to not become boring. This leads to scenes in which McClane has fire fights under tables, on roofs and climbs down elevator shafts using a frigging machine gun as a grapple. The action may not be realistic, but the consequences it has on McClane, tiring him out and causing blood and sweat, makes it feel much more visceral. Apart from being downright exhilarating, the action provides unexpected comedy in contrast. There are scenes such as when cars crash inside the car park, gunfire ringing out as a cabby sits in his Limo with loud music, blissfully unaware.

Overall, this film is immensely fun, with surprisingly relatable characters, unforgettable performances, fantastic action and a truly unique setting. It’s a great fun romp that can be enjoyed at any time of year, but to get the full effect, it should be watched at Christmas, with friends. What else can I say, it’s Die Hard!

Merry Christmas!friends-1994___didnt_say_die_hard