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Review: Star Wars The Last Jedi 2017

Amid backlash and controversy Heather weighs in on Star Wars The Last Jedi

 By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of aramajapan.com

There are SPOILERS in this review…You’ve been warned

Wow it has been a while since I reviewed a film, not that I haven’t been seeing films (though I totally missed the American Ghost in the Shell). There’s been a lot of things in my personal life and it hasn’t left much time to write so apologies, I’ll try to do more in this year.

The reaction to this film was certainly unexpected. After reading a handful of articles and fan reactions I wanted to take a moment to try and make sense of why this latest installment in the Star Wars franchise has brought such fan dissonance. Without further ado I’m going to dive right in. Given the nature of the backlash there will be spoilers abound so if you want to see it, do so and read this later.

I must start off by saying Critical Dissonance is nothing new to fandom in general (looking at you Game of Thrones) and certainly not new the Star Wars franchise. The direct prequel, The Force Awakens, has generally positive reviews from both critics and fans. But if you went to a convention and asked people in the fandom how they felt you may find as many people who enjoy it as there are who thought it was terrible.

Because there was such a huge gap in time between the conception of The Force Awakens and Return of the Jedi, many fan works had been created and many in the fandom consider them to be canon and were left feeling disappointed when Disney announced that all of those spinoffs would be discounted which rendered them into essentially published fanfiction. Obviously this has set off a chain reaction in terms of expectation versus what is actually canon which is something I’ll delve more into a little later on.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Directed by George Lucas
Shown from left: Liam Neeson (as Qui-Gon Jinn), Ewan McGregor (as Obi-Wan Kenobi), Jar Jar Binks (voice: Ahmed Best), Keira Knightley (as Sabé, a handmaiden disguised as Queen Amidala), unidentified handmaiden, Natalie Portman (as Queen Padmé Amidala, disguised as a handmaiden)
© Lucasfilm Ltd.

The best example of dissonance comes from the now infamous prequel trilogy, it’s important to point out was produced before Disney gained the rights, which was always rated higher by film critics then by the general fanbase. My personal take: producing them was always going to be a challenge because you only have so much film to show how things got to their inevitable end point. From Episode 1 to 3 there is a gradual improvement. Really.  Watch them in order and you see they learn but the unfortunate part is that by the time that they did they had more than a dozen plot threads that needed to be wrapped up in about a two hour time frame…

However there is one thing the prequels executed well and kept consistent which was how the Jedi’s belief in a prophecy became their undoing. Well okay that’s putting it a bit too simply; it’s really how the Jedi misinterpreted a prophecy which led to their undoing. I could write an entire article on this but I’ll give you the nutshell so we can get to The Last Jedi and why this is relevant. The Jedi believed there would be a person born who would bring balance to the force.

Well, here’s the thing, all the Jedi trained to that point were essentially on the Light Side with only a small handful of Sith’s representing the Dark Side so really to bring balance, an actual balance to all this Light Side, essentially meant the birth of Darth Vader. The Jedi really didn’t read the fine print on that one.

Courtesy of etonline.com

Okay so now we have Last Jedi and instead of an Aesop revolving around prophecies and the consequences therefore within this film takes an approach to Iconoclasm and oh boy is this going to be a fun to break down because it functions both within the film and it’s targeted at the audience. So let’s start within the film when we last left our heroine Rey she found the legendary Luke Skywalker who has become a hermit in the middle of the galaxy waiting for death.

Again, LEGENDARY HERO, Luke Skywalker, is a grumpy old man who is living in isolation and is drinking nasty ass blue milk and has given up on teaching the ways of the Jedi. I can’t remember the exact quote but at some point Luke asks Rey if she expected him to just run up to the Republic waving a giant light sword and that would bring peace to the galaxy. Hey fandom, you know why you’re so pissed off? It’s because the film is calling you out for your belief in Luke Skywalker being put up on a pedestal.

Yes, that scenario sounds cool but while no one likes a Mary Sue fic, essentially this is what Skywalker has come to represent in the extended universe and for him to essentially become the exact opposite in a way is like going up to Adam West at a convention center and extending your hand because you’ve been in awe of him since you were a child, only for him to turn you away and look past you as if you’re not even there… that wasn’t awfully specific now was it?

Courtesy of IndieWire

Oh but wait there’s more. People were put off by the humor in the film. Really? People are getting sliced in half with light swords and the Resistance has been mowed down to only a handful of people, not to mention our beloved General has died in real life- I’m sorry but I welcome these light hearted parts because when you go from laughing to the silence there was when Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo’s kamikaze of an imperial starship, it creates a wallop of an impact.

While we’re here let’s talk a bit more about the female representation in the film because it seems that this is one of the other divisive aspects of the film. The women are as diverse in this film as they are fierce. On the side of the Resistance we have General Leia, Admiral Holdo, Rey, Rose and to a small extent Maz. On the opposite side we have Captain Phasma. All are strong and capable in their own ways bringing their own set of skills to the fray. In a time where all female reboots of popular films are being produced as quickly as hotcakes, some accuse the film of pandering to the millennial generation.

I’m not sure what exactly it is that makes this eligible for “pandering,” but I do know that pretty much any and all characters received some sort of fan backlash. Rey received backlash for being “too perfect of a character,” by virtue of she is a strong force wielder that came out of nowhere. Isn’t this true of most of the Jedi? And it’s not like she’s some magical prodigy or she would have wasted Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. I’ll say she’s not entirely developed yet and leave it at that.

Another point of contention revolves around Admiral Holdo. Many on the forums say and I quote, “she’s just a complete bitch.” Okay so she’s an authoritative female leader in a military organization, got it. Many arguing she should have just told Poe what the master plan was, okay now despite how ragtag the resistance is- they’re still a military organization and Holdo is Poe’s superior officer and thus doesn’t owe him any explanation. As for the other issues of her seemingly coming out of nowhere this actually ties into the next outcry in regards to a very different female leader.

Courtesy of NME.com

There’s no better way of saying Phasma has gotten the short end of the stick in both of these films. After appearing so menacing in the trailer it took audiences aback in both this and the previous film that she was defeated so abruptly reducing her appearance to essentially a cameo. I did some digging- in both the cases of Holdo and Phasma they are much bigger figures in the novelization and graphic novels that accompany the films. The film makers said in interviews that Phasma’s development while crucial was just too complex and rich of a character that would be worthy of her own film series entirely. And so they’ve actually created a graphic novel to enrich the backstory of Phasma and it sounds like something I’ll want to check out in the near future.

Fans also had many issues with the Finn and Rose storyline. Complaints including their love story felt forced, that one of them should have died and that their whole storyline was for nothing- except that was the entire point and many people seem to have missed it. The love story I personally could take it or leave it, but think about this, emotions are running high and everyone thinks they’re gonna die so it makes some sense.

As for offing a major character- we’ve already lost thousands in the resistance and Luke Skywalker, let the two kids live (for now). A common trope in the fantasy genre (which Star Wars totally is) is the heroes will have to go through a series of tasks that seem impossible to acquire the Macguffin that is the key that will assure their victory. Except this movie pushed the bleakness up to eleven by denying them a victory and in fact leaving them worse off than when they started. It’s completely defied the expected tropes and brought the story to a very dark place. This film isn’t pandering to anyone and its left us on a cliffhanger at the bleakest moment.

So we don’t have a story that is pandering by creating diversity, we have two opposing factions; we have a group led by women, prominently featuring a Latino man, an Asian woman and a black man against an evil organization led by two white men. This of course is over simplifying it but to simply call it a millennial thing is missing the point entirely. (Also see Rogue One, this is not the first time a diverse cast has been used in the Star Wars Universe.)

Two throw away lines in the film actually explain why the stage has been set this way and do so beautifully. The first is when Luke says, “This is not going to end the way you think.” The other is after Kylo Ren has slain Snoke and wants Rey to join him, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.” This ties into a previous point of contention, remember when I mentioned expectation versus what is actually canon? Here we go…

Courtesy of nerdist.com

Immediately following the release of The Force Awakens, internet message boards were absolutely flooded by fan theories, among them, where did Snoke come from and who are Rey’s parents? (My money was on Palpatine). The film answers this, by not answering either, which even I’ll admit I feel cheated in some ways but it’s understandable given the theme of the film again tying back into Iconoclasm.

Star Wars is such an important fandom to so many people and the film essentially has just said, “we don’t care about your theories or nostalgia- we’re here to tell you a story.” This is not the same as saying “we don’t care about the fandom,” but unfortunately a large portion of the fandom seems to be taking it this way. The Force Awakens was often called out for relying too much on nostalgia and meeting fan expectation by essentially rehashing the plot of A New Hope, the original film.

This film takes characters on an unexpected journey and I too am feeling the divide, in fact I only give the film a 3/5 because to me it doesn’t stand alone. Instead, it’s part of a bigger picture. I’ve already touched on expectation versus reality but the one point I didn’t really delve too far into was the hacker character. He points out in a scene that the people who are getting rich sell weapons to both sides of the conflict and at the end of the day they both profit.

Well obviously you can make the argument about gun manufacturers but what if we applied that to Disney. It funds good movies, it funds bad movies- at the end of the day they’re making money regardless, except by that logic The Last Jedi is the film equivalent of giving the fanbase the finger because they know they’ll make money regardless… well we won’t know until episode IX…

Courtesy of The New Yorker

The biggest thing to take away is that visually the film is stunning, the effects and animation departments have outdone themselves. The score is moving, invoking the classic themes and providing a great accompaniment to the film on the whole. The plot only takes place of the course of a few days and in that time we really delve more into the characters, learning more about their motivations and raising the stakes in who is or isn’t going to make it out.

It’s also a giant social commentary. I sincerely hope the makers of the film aren’t making it simply to milk a cash cow and that by going against the grain they are really trying to forge a new story, a new legacy for the film saga that is 40 years in the making. Maybe at the end of the day Rey’s parents really don’t matter because the film makers don’t want us to root for her based on where she came from, but rather who she is.

A quote from the first Pokemon movie might best encompass this, “I see now that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.” Rey is her own character and the hero of the story and honestly I am still excited to see where episode IX is going to take her. In life you don’t have to come from a great family in order to do great things. Think of it from the perspective of someone whose family name has been tainted by shame and disappointment. Recently I read an article written by someone who was raised within the Kl Klux Klan and for a while they too were an active member until one day they realized the people you come from do not define you, that only you can define you.

Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast: A modern adaptation of a Tale as Old as Time

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of Disney Movies UK

If your peer group is anything like mine, odds are you’ve heard some very mixed reviews about the latest Disney live action adaptation of Beauty and The Beast. I’ll preface by saying if you’re curious please go watch the film because I’m going to break the entire thing down which involves potentially spoiling it.

I have to say there are some things that the film did right and there were some choices made that derailed it. That’s why I’m going to break it all down and as you’ll see I’m really on the fence about this one. A good attempt, but maybe they would be better off if it wasn’t a musical? Anyway here we go…

We’ll start with the opening scene. The live action version has the same backstory as the 1991 animated version, but expands it further. We open with the Prince, who the studio still won’t tell us his name is Adam (seriously they never say it out loud). Anyway the Prince is being made up as fabulous as glam-era David Bowie for a big soiree.

Courtesy of trailers.apple.com

We start with an original opening number which really didn’t do it for me, I’d much rather it just be a grandiose Viennese waltz as the lyrics were distracting and overall just not very good. So we sit through a minute of that before the enchantress shows up and you already know how that goes down. Then the film does something I really liked. They explain the outlines of this curse because the one thing that always bothered me in the original no one knew who the Prince was even though the castle is clearly within walking distance. So there, mystery solved they’re all cursed.

We cut to the village and meet Belle. (I can forgive for the lightly auto tuned singing because I actually really enjoyed how she is portrayed). But the musical sequence for the song “Belle”, oh dear god how could they ruin that? The original cartoon version gives us so much of Belle’s character in this sequence- the fact that her house is just far enough away from the village and that she’s the only person wearing blue really establish her as an outsider – here, her home is stuck right up in there and practically 60% of the cast is wearing blue.

However a few things that worked well, Belle wearing boots to work in as opposed to flats give her a more practical look as she is working on a farm and the flats would get shredded. Also nice, they have added in a couple of scenes to show Belle’s inventiveness as well as a scene where she’s teaching a young girl to read. I think these scenes just solidify her as a good role model which is what made the women of the Disney Renaissance stand out from the early era princesses.

Courtesy of Cinema Thread

Little things about the village bothered me. The Bimbettes who fawn over Gaston look awful. I get it, it’s a kid’s movie but they just look like porcelain dolls and they have the worst costuming in the whole film. To me it just didn’t look good, but maybe it works for other people. As for Gaston, Luke Evans is clearly a tenor and Gaston was originally a baritone so he just didn’t… wait for it… hit the right note for me. Seriously I did not like his singing or Josh Gad’s as Lefou, and I like Josh Gad, but every time he sang it was like listening to the snowman from Frozen all over again.

I’m also on the fence with Maurice, Belle’s father. Nothing bad about Kevin Kline’s acting, it’s just Maurice was this slightly eccentric inventor and this characterization is not that. He’s a man still grieving over his wife so overall he has a somber tone. Nothing about him would make him less trustworthy to the villagers which is why the town siding with Gaston to lock him away doesn’t make sense to me in this version. But first, I have some things I actually really enjoyed about the film.

Courtesy of www.cinemag.gr

Visually stunning, the animation was great especially on Cogsworth and I personally think Ewan McGregor steals the show as Lumiere. They also made a nod to the original fairy tale where Maurice gets into trouble for trying to acquire a rose for Belle- something that didn’t make it into the animated version but is present in the silent French film. One thing I was sad to see missing was the song “Human Again” which was originally missing but made its way back into the animated film after its original release because they had run out of budget for it in 1991. Instead we get a song, “Days in the Sun,” which made me want to barf, it was that bad.

Another strength the film has is it really builds on the relationship between Belle and the Beast. It feels more like the two are connecting because of that added backstory and the added interaction. It also helps that the two actually end up having shared interests. The costuming was great; I like how the Beast’s wardrobe becomes less animalistic and torn as he begins to embrace his humanity. Belle’s gown is just amazing.

The ballroom scene though has a couple things I found less than agreeable. For one I love Emma Thompson’s acting, but I did not enjoy her singing at all. If James Earl Jones is coming back for the Lion King I don’t understand why Angela Lansbury couldn’t just dub the singing. The other thing was the camera work… oh yes I hadn’t mentioned it until now but there were times where someone needed to slap those cameramen. Issues with focusing, too much blur, too much motion- it was nauseating. Especially in the library, likely there are no actual books to focus on but making a giant blur of stuff with no object in focus just made it so much worse.

Courtesy of www.harpersbazaar.com

Now the big beef most people had was the Beast’s big solo number, “Evermore,” an original, but really clunky song that is in the scene where Belle rides off to save her father from the villagers who are all standing in line to give Gaston a hand- shake. Gaston’s evilness is more subtle in the animated feature. Here he is as subtle as your car alarm going off at 4am on a Saturday and your neighbor pounding your door to get your butt out of bed.

We’re near the climax. Gaston pulls out a flintlock pistol which is proper for the time period. The thing is he fires 3 rounds and it was too quick to be realistic because he’s in the dark and there’s just no way he could have done it that fast, unless he’s got extra guns in his belt but that wouldn’t make sense since he rushed to collect this one after it was dropped.

Then the Beast turns back into the Prince. I can’t help but feel he was more attractive as the beast which is weird because Dan Stevens isn’t an unattractive actor but the make up just makes him look so, eww. Kinda like he’s trying to cosplay Lestat from Interview with the Vampire and used too much baby powder. Fun trivia for you, the Beast is reading King Arthur in one scene and Dan Stevens plays Sir Lancelot in Night at the Museum 3, I thought that was pretty meta. (On a side note, Night is not a fantastic movie but it’s a lot of fun if you haven’t seen it yet and it was Robin William’s final role.)

This review wouldn’t be complete without discussing some of the alleged controversy. So odds are if you’ve seen the news or turned on a computer in the last 30 days you’ve heard that Disney was proud to have its first gay character coming to terms with their sexuality and even have a love scene featured in the major film… except the problem is they totally don’t and there totally isn’t.

Courtesy of Are You Screening?

The character in question is Lefou; I wasn’t totally on board with making him gay but I wasn’t opposed to it. I figure if you’re going to have representation it should be a more positive character or at least one who is more prevalent in the film. In the cartoon Lefou is just Gaston’s little lackey who does some of the dirty work. The way it was pitched was Lefou is supposed to realize that his admiration for Gaston is actually attraction and that he truly wants to be with him… yeah maybe in a different movie but certainly not in this one. I don’t sense any sexual or romantic desire.

During the raid on the castle there’s a scene where the wardrobe attacks and three men end up fully made up wearing dresses and one of them seems to like it as he offers the camera a wink. At the end of the film this man is seen dancing with Lefou at a ball. There’s no alleged love scene- no kissing, not even a gentle caressing, nothing! If that’s what we’re calling a ground breaking moment for LBGTQ community then I’m calling bologna. I’m honestly not sure which upsets me more- the fact the advertisements were pandering, the fact that these occurrences got the film banned in certain theaters, or the fact that this was a poor excuse for diversity in film.

In sum I guess the best way to describe 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is this… imagine a beautiful tiered cake, it’s got gorgeous frosting work and the cake is super delicious and moist but on top you have all this decorative crap that you can’t eat and inside they’ve filled the damn thing with potpourri which smells lovely but isn’t edible. They took a good source material and buggered it up with all this extra unnecessary stuff. I only hope that the fact that’ve made the executive decision to not make the live action Mulan a musical will only help them focus on telling a better and more cinematic story.