The Road to Level 40

The latest Pokémon GO special event has just concluded.  I had carefully calculated my XP gains so that I would reach level 40 late this morning.  Due to a miscalculation in my grinding schedule I hit level 40 late last night instead, unexpectedly after a binge evolution session gained me slightly more XP than I had planned on.

Events continue to be the only time I seriously play the game.  The rest of the time I am merely catching a few Pokémon and spinning a few stops to keep my streaks alive.  If Niantic were a little quicker in implementing quests I may be more apt to fire up the app during regular play.

When Pokémon GO first came out there was a sight with a calculator to estimate when you would reach level 40.  My estimation was mid 2019.  My grinding sessions over the past nearly two years must have really paid off.

There are people who hit level 40 mere months after the game was released.  It has been a long road but it’s pretty satisfying to finally be at he final level.  I am regularly in raid groups with people I see out all the time that are still in the mid 30s so knowing how much they play underscores the achievement of hitting level 40.

After all this time, here are my achievement medals and stats after hitting level 40:

Start Date: 7/9/2016
Total XP: 20010070
Medals
Jogger: 1,698.2 km
Kanto: 147
Collector: 29,678
Scientist: 5,226
Breeder: 1,003
Backpacker: 21,230
Youngster: 310
Pikachu Fan: 436
Johto: 98
Berry Master: 2,030
Gym Leader: 5,566
Hoenn: 103
Fisherman: 97/300
Battle Girl: 950/1000
Ace Trainer: 252/1000
Battle Legend: 108/1000
Unown: 6/10
Champion: 90/100
Schoolkid: 12,797
Black Belt: 291
Bird Keeper: 8,787
Punk Girl: 7,512
Ruin Maniac: 1,327
Hiker: 988
Bug Catcher: 5,488
Hex Maniac: 1,208
Depot Agent: 332
Kindler: 1,328
Swimmer: 5,182
Gardener: 2,737
Rocker: 1,014
Psychic: 2,687
Skier: 1,030
Dragon Tamer: 242
Delinquent: 785
Fairy Tale Girl: 983

I even finally retired my buddy, the Pidgey who had been my companion through all of level 39.  The need for Pidgey candy for grinding is now taking a backseat to finishing off my Pokédex.

I run into a lot of people who take months off then come back.  I guess the key is that I have played the game every day since it was released in July of 2016.  Sometimes it’s for ten minutes.  Today, for example, I have barely played as I take a break from the week long grind to complete level 39.  Other days, like yesterday, I’m opening the app every ten or fifteen minutes to get some valuable XP.

On Monday, only a few weeks before he was about to leave the game, I finally caught my first Rayquaza.  It was a little more difficult than normal given that everyone’s pretty sick of Rauquaza after a week.  Luckily there were some people grinding that were just there for the XP.

On Wednesday, my last full day of level 39, I randomly encountered my first ever Dragonite in the wild.  I nearly got him with my GO plus as I wasn’t really paying attention at the time.  I’ve never used a tracker to hunt down Dragonites and I had thought I’d never run into one.  I remember the odds of this were calculated somewhere around 1:1,000,000 so I was pretty psyched, even though I’ve evolved more than enough for my needs.  On top of running into it he ended up having very good IVs.  Even if he was 32 CP I would have kept him, excited to finally run into a wild one for the first time.

After hoping we’d get a bit of a legendary break it was announced yesterday that Lugia was coming back.  This wasn’t terribly exciting.  I have plenty so I was excited to have a break from all this raiding.  Then came the news today that there will be shiny Lugia.  Whether they are all shiny I am not sure at this point but it looks like  I will not be getting a break after all.

Back to the grind.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (In Conclusion)

My feelings about The Last Jedi remain complex.  There are parts of it that I really liked and enjoyed.  There are parts of it that were deeply disappointing.  There were parts that were incredibly beautiful.  There were parts that were just dumb.

The main problem with the prequels was in their direction and construction.  You had some exceptional actors who put in good performances and you had some good actors who put in lackluster performances.  The problem with them was George Lucas.  I have a deep and abiding love and respect for George Lucas.  After all, he gave us these wonderful stories to begin with.  That being said, many people need a collaborator, someone to balance them out.  There’s a reason that The Beatles were better than Paul McCartney or John Lennon left to their own devices.

The reason the original trilogy movies are so strong despite their flaws is because George Lucas then wasn’t George Lucas now.  While he was a well known up and coming filmmaker he was not yet revered as a god.  People challenged him.  People assisted him.  People said no to him.  Great writers assisted him with scripts.  Great directors assisted him with direction.  Great editors pieced together what he had created.  The fabric of the story and mythology of Star Wars is indisputably strong.  This is why it’s more popular than ever after 40 years.  This is why my two-year-old son came home from school one day and identified Darth Vader from a picture before I’d ever shown him the movie.  The characters and the events that happen in the movies are iconic.

George Lucas put together every facet of the prequel movies and the result is a jumbled mess.  On the surface, the story of the three movie arc isn’t bad.  A young Anakin is introduced to the Force, joins the Jedi order, falls in love with a marries a Queen, goes into battle during the Clone Wars, is ultimately seduced by the dark side of the Force, turns on his beloved mentor and friend, and becomes Darth Vader.  That story could be told in a very compelling way but a lot of the issues come in how the characters get from point A to point B.  In 1975 someone may have suggested starting Anakin as a young adult (for a number of reasons), or not introducing concepts such as midichlorians, or having a consistent villain throughout the trilogy that we could learn about rather than introducing and subsequently killing off one or two in each film.

George Lucas can be seen in behind the scenes footage creating a sterile environment where he can just get the scenes shot against a green screen and move on.  I get it.  I feel the same way about certain aspects of the creative process.  There are parts that I love and parts that are a chore.  The things is all the parts need to be done and done well.  When you’re talking about movies with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars you can hire people to do the things you don’t love and to do them well.  You just have to let go.  You can’t control everything.  Marcia Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Lawrence Kasdan, these are people that helped make the original trilogy great.  They or their equivalents were absent in the prequels and it shows.

The new trilogy addresses these issues.  There is more input.  There is more collaboration.  The stories seem better thought out even with their evident problems.  Every story has problems, it’s about having few enough that they can be overlooked.  So far I feel that a lot of the new trilogy’s problems can be overlooked.

There are a lot of people saying that The Last Jedi killed Star Wars.  I think that’s a bit of an overstatement.  Star Wars will never die.  To stick with the analogy of The Beatles, The Yellow Submarine was a pretty disappointing album.  It didn’t kill The Beatles.  Artists can have peaks and valleys.  The prequels were a valley.  The new films could be viewed as a new peak.  Maybe not a peak as soaring or majestic as The Empire Strikes Back, but a peak nonetheless.

Looking throughout the history of this franchise (and any franchise, really) you’ll find people claiming its death.  Just like with bands, people discover a band, get into it, the band gets popular, then a cutoff occurs where the fan claims the band is not as good anymore.  There’s no truth to this, it’s completely subjective.  I was really into Metallica in my early teens, then I said they sold out with the release of The Black Album.  Kids in my high school claimed they’d done so earlier with the release of … And Justice For All by having the audacity of releasing their first music video.  What sell outs!

You can read reviews of The Empire Strikes Back from shortly after its release and see that it was received with mixed reviews.  It’s practically unthinkable after nearly four decades.  For the vast majority of my life this movie has been widely accepted in the community as the best.  In this New York Times review from June of 1980 the writer, Vincent Canby, states:

“Gone from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ are those associations that so enchanted us in ‘Star Wars,’ reminders of everything from the Passion of Jesus and the stories of Beowulf and King Arthur to those of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the Oz books, Buck Rogers and Peanuts. Strictly speaking, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ isn’t even a complete narrative. It has no beginning or end, being simply another chapter in a serial that appears to be continuing not onward and upward but sideways.”

The review goes on with various vicious stabs at what is considered so sacred by fans.  I would guess the writer was vastly older than many of us when he saw the first movie and followed it up with the second.  I am also vastly less critical of The Return of the Jedi than people that were ten years older then me when they saw it.

The Last Jedi, and in some smaller way The Force Awakens did kill Star Wars for me in a way.  What they killed in me was the investment.  I went into both films with low to no expectations.  I emerged from The Force Awakens happy and filled with hope.  I emerged from The Last Jedi a bit disappointed for all the reasons I outlined in my review.  The prequels had beaten most of the hope out of me so my investment was low.  I didn’t see a single trailer for either movie and had no idea what to expect.  After watching The Last Jedi a second time I did like it a lot more.  The beauty of so much of it balanced out some of the frustration I had with the story and characters.

When Timothy Zahn began releasing his famous Thrawn Trilogy in 1990 I remember that feeling of reading stories of Han, Luke, and Leia again.  Seeing, or reading, about these characters back in action against a new set of foes was incredible.  It’s probably hard for anyone ten years younger than me to understand what it was like at the time.  We had the three movies, some comic books which essentially told the same story, some BBC radio dramas which again told the same story, then we had Splinter of the Mind’s Eye which was a throwaway novel that served as a fallback script for the sequel if Star Wars bombed.  It didn’t and Splinter was cast aside only to be read by die hard fans.  The only other thing that existed outside of all of that was The Star Wars Holiday Special but that only existed in schoolyard rumors and legends.  No one had actually seen it and if they had no one had a recording.  Only have the internet sprung into existence did it start to take form and did we as fans get a chance to see it.  It turns out we weren’t missing much.

So when the Thrawn Trilogy was released it was exhilarating to see our old heroes back in action again.  There hadn’t been anything like it.  I remember watching the end of Return of the Jedi with tears welling up in my eyes and an aching in my heart wanting nothing more than to know what happened next.  What happened to our heroes?

People just slightly younger than me can’t comprehend this.  Why?  Because I can’t even begin to list the TV shows, comics, video games, and novels that have happened since.  There has to be hundreds, if not thousands, of outlets for those yearning to spend more time in this universe.  In the mid 1980s we were just left for nearly ten years wondering what happened until those books came out.  It was the better part of twenty years until the prequels were released.  I’d spent the majority of my life until that point formulating my own ideas for them, part of why they were so disappointing.

With the new trilogy I wasn’t very curious about Han, Luke, and Leia.  I knew what happened to them.  At least I thought I did from the dozen or so novels I read in the expanded universe before I tired of it.  These new movies took place so much farther in the future than the Thrawn Trilogy that it was conceivable that they did exist in the same universe with the exception of Han and Leia’s progeny.

People are saying that The Last Jedi killed Star Wars.  People have said that everything that has happened since the original movie was released has killed the franchise.  And every movie franchise.  And every book series.  And every set of albums by a band.  This has always happened and this will always happen.

While I respect people’s opinions I do find it hard to follow the logic that leads people to believe that this is the specific thing that “killed” Star Wars.  I can’t see how someone would look past the Star Wars Holiday Special, Caravan of Courage, The Battle for Endor, The Phantom Menace, The Attack of the Clones, The Revenge of the Sith, and somehow pinpoint this single moment as the moment Star Wars died.

Star Wars is not dead and it never will be.

I had my problems with this movie but we’ve had nearly twenty years to process what happened with the prequel trilogy and I have processed my disappointment so that I’m at a place where I can just enjoy being immersed in the universe again with a lower level of commitment.  What happens happens.  There will be varying levels of quality within the franchise.

What seems to be happening with these movies is that we’re saying goodbye to the original characters.  Future films will likely not have R2-D2 and C-3PO shoehorned into them.  We probably won’t see Chewbacca or the Millennium Falcon.  The Skywalkers will be gone and we can move on to see other things and meet new characters.

The thing I liked about The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi is that was that we were saying goodbye to the characters from the original trilogy.  The Force Awakens was Han Solo’s big goodbye.  We spent more time with him than any of the original characters and we said goodbye.  It was painful but it needed to be done.

The Last Jedi was Luke’s chance to do the same.  It wasn’t quiet as painful as Han’s goodbye and I didn’t really feel it was necessary but we did it an Luke is gone even if he may return as a Force ghost at some point.  I’m just sad that Leia won’t get the chance to do the same.  Episode IX should have been her movie, her chance to shine.  She had a big part in The Last Jedi but it wasn’t about her, it was about Luke.  I don’t know if there is enough scrapped footage or CGI that can change that.

The Last Jedi is not the movie I was expecting, however, the more I think about the better I feel about it overall.  I don’t see the perfect movie so many other fans saw and I certainly don’t see it as the franchise destroyer that others saw.  To me it was a mildly disappointing movie with some truly incredible parts in it.  While I wasn’t excited about this movie I do look forward to seeing it a third time when it is released on DVD.  I am also really looking forward to the new trilogy directed by Rian Johnson.

There’s one thing I’m sure of: this trilogy of trilogies is getting tired.  I look forward to a bold new direction for the Star Wars franchise in the future.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 15)

After Luke reveals himself to be tricking Kylo Ren we cut back to Ahch-to where Luke is shown struggling to perform this new Jedi Force Projection trick that Kylo Ren alluded to earlier in the movie.  Kylo Ren reveals that by merely doing this trick you could die and Luke does just that.

We see Luke stare off into the distance at two suns.  We don’t know for sure if these are Ahch-to’s two suns or if it’s some sort of hallucination the boring miserable planet that Luke hated being on for the first twenty years of his life.  Either way it is a beautifully shot scene and call back to the original Star Wars movie.

Immediately both Rey and Leia seem to feel Luke’s passing.  There is not a lot of grief, mostly just calm reflection by both of them.

I’m not sure I really like this end for Luke Skywalker.  I can understand that what he did must’ve been some pretty advanced level Force use but how and why did it kill him?    I’m not sold on the fact that Luke needed to die, at least not in this manner.  If he truly wanted to help out, much like Holdo, wouldn’t he have been of much more use alive?

If Luke had died selflessly to protect Rey, Leia, or whoever else needed protection by sacrificing himself that would have seemed more necessary.  I just have a very hard time wrapping my head around why this would have happened this way.  Why does Luke, who always rushed to his friends’ side and believed in the redemption of anyone turn into someone who abandons his friends and loses faith in his own nephew at the first sign of straying to the dark side.

Seeing Luke die is tough.  It’s less jarring than the death of Han Solo but it is still tough.  Tougher, however, is seeing who Luke has become.  Han and Leia have not changed all that much.  They’re both the same people they’ve always been, just sadder.  Luke seems to go against everything that he ever stood for in the original movies.  The question remains: why?  Because of that one time he failed?  That seems like a really weak reason even for a young Luke Skywalker who was no stranger to whining.  That one failure just makes him say, “Okay, I’m done with that.”  Then he walks away from it all and allows Kylo Ren to just kill everyone?

And why does Luke die?  Is the exertion of this projection task just so much that it will kill anyone?  Does he die just because he feel like it and he’s had enough?  When Yoda dies you get the feeling he was just using the Force to extend his life to help Luke.  Luke is roughly 850 years younger than Yoda.

After Luke’s death Kylo Ren storms the base and makes eye contact with Rey just as she about to fly off in the Millennium Falcon.  Along with her flies off the possibility of there being a real lightsaber battle in this movie.  Kylo Ren finds the dice from the Millennium Falcon and picks them up only to see them disappear in his hands.  This leaves me with a lot of questions about how Luke’s whole Force Projection trick works.

On board the rebel ship Poe meets Rey for the first time and they have to comment on it because I don’t think any viewers of the two movies realize it until it’s brought up.

Star Wars Episode VIII The Last Jedi screen grab

Finn goes into a drawer to get blankets for Rose and we see that Rey has stolen all the Jedi texts in a final act to really piss off the Force nuns.

Rey asks Leia, “How do we rebuild from this?”

Leia responds, “We have everything we need.”

The camera then falls back and we see everyone chatting, smiling, and laughing as if it were the end of The Return of the Jedi.  It’s unclear why anyone is doing anything other than suffering from intense levels of dread and despair.  Nothing has gone right for the Resistance and they’ve been cut down to about two dozen people at this point.  Things are bleak.  We all like an underdog story but unless some of those bums they were trying to call to help them on Crait show up it’s going to be impossible to believe any story line that leads this group to victory against the hugely powerful First Order.

The movie ends with the slaves back on Canto Bight.  We see a little boy use the force to bring a broom to his hand, something that would make Master Obi-Wan “very grumpy.”  We’re left to believe that the Force can be used by anyone, a bit of a departure from the genetically passed down Force trends of previous movies.  This is why Rey’s parents don’t matter.  This is, apparently, the hope Leia may be referring to.

Personally, I’m thinking they can’t wait for the slave kid with the broom to grown up.  They’re going to need to do some pretty intense planning before we can hope for a happy ending to Episode IX.

Next up: In Conclusion . . .

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 14)

As Leia sulks in the command center on Crait, we see the hooded figure of Luke enter, reminiscent of his entry into Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi.  It’s a touching family reunion between the two.  Luke explains that he has to face Ben and that he can’t save him.  He ends the dialogue by saying that no one is ever really gone and hands her the gold dice from the Millennium Falcon.  It was hard not to feel touched by this moment.  Much like seeing Han and Chewie in action again and like seeing Han’s unfortunate death it is hard not to feel touched during these scenes with the original characters.

Luke then heads out onto the battlefield to face the First Order army.  In what seems like an anticlimactic move Kylo Ren orders every gun available to fire on him.  I’ll admit, a part of me thought that was it.  That was the tragic and cheap ending of Luke Skywalker.  However, after a moment, the smoke clears and Luke is left standing there without so much as a scratch on him.  It’s more like a scene from Dragon Ball Z than from Star Wars.  I was happy though that Luke was still with us, at least for a brief time more.

Sometime during this Finn somehow manages to transport Rose around the explosions surrounding Luke and back into the rebel base.  Meanwhile Kylo Ren takes a shuttle down to meet Luke face-to-face.  They stand there looking at each other and Kylo Ren asks if Luke came to save him.  Luke says, “No.”

After a few minutes Poe says, “He’s doing this for a reason!”  Then he figures  out that they have to make an escape.  Apparently no one ever tells Poe the plan.

The plan is pretty flawed.  They’ve already lost valuable time since Luke didn’t actually tell anyone the plan and they’re also backed into a corner with no perceivable way out.  That is, until, they discover that the weird crystal foxes are somehow getting in and out of the base.  They, unfortunately, reach a dead end with a pile of boulders blocking the path with gaps only large enough for the crystal foxes to squeeze through.

“I failed you, Ben.  I’m sorry,” Luke calls out across the salt flats.

“I’m sure you are,” Kylo Red screams back.  “The Resistance is dead, the war is over, and when I kill you, I would have killed the last Jedi!”  This marks the first time the title of a Star Wars movie has been delivered as a line of dialogue in a good Star Wars movie.

Luke then delivers a line he’s already used once with Rey:  “Every word you just said is wrong.”  Then the movie does a very non Star Wars thing and Luke’s words become a voice over as we see examples of what he is talking about.  “The rebellion is reborn today, the war has just beginning, and I will not be the last Jedi.”  It ends on Rey lifting all the boulders out of the way so the Resistance can escape.

First we see Luke emerge from the smoke like Goku, now we see him dodge lightsaber slashes like Neo dodging bullets.  Eventually he allows Kylo Ren to stab him through the heart and he doesn’t even flinch.  It’s then that we realize Luke has been conning Kylo Ren this whole time.  He’s not actually there at all.  Kylo Ren has been duped and Luke is merely projecting himself, a technique Kylo Ren had brought up earlier in the movie.

I’ll have to admit that I didn’t see this coming.  I know I’m in the minority.  Everyone else that saw this movie, apparently, noticed that Luke looked younger, that he was using his original blue lightsaber, that his feet were not leaving red streaks in the salt.  In retrospect it was incredibly obvious but I was maybe the one theater goer that was blown away by this trick ending.

Part of me could easily feel cheated out of the fact that there is not showdown between Luke and Kylo Ren.  I could extend that to the fact that this is the only Star Wars movie aside from Rogue One that there is no point where two lightsabers touch each other.  It is the only Star Wars movie with two lightsabers where no lightsabers touch each other.

That aside, it is actually a pretty sneaky trick by Luke Skywalker.  He keeps his promise that he is never going back and at the same time he achieves closure with Leia and helps the good guys escape.  Luke vanishes after being stabbed by Kylo Ren.

This is met with exactly the calmness we have come to expect from Mr. Ren.

Next up . . . a bit more about Luke’s role in The Last Jedi and the conclusion of the film!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 13)

On Crait there is a touching reunion between Poe and BB-8.  The happiness is countered immediately with Rose walking around saying, “Is this all that’s left?”  Given the fire we’ve seen from Rose it’s surprising that she doesn’t punch Poe in the face since he is directly responsible for her sister’s death.  Apparently that doesn’t happen to Poe.  Poe gets a free pass in life to do whatever he pleases.

The First Order lands and stars slowly moving toward the Big Ass Door with some sort of cannon that is clearly the sci-fi equivalent of a battering ram.  This strategy doesn’t really make much sense, similar to the AT-AT attack in The Empire Strikes Back but it does a good job of building tension.

Poe then announces a grand plan to take out he cannon.  Since Poe has such a great track record at not getting everyone killed everyone blindly follows him again.  At least at this point it seems like they don’t have a ton of choices.

From the trenches a soldier walks out onto the battlefield leaving what appear to be bloody footprints.  A soldier in the trenches sticks his finger in the red footprint then puts it in his mouth and spits it out saying, “Salt.”  It seems like a pretty unnecessary scene.  In doing some research it appears that the planet has red soil and it, for some reason, coated in a thin layer of salt.  That’s pretty neat and extremely cool visually but having this odd exposition seems out of place.

In one of the most visually spectacular moments in the movie a squadron of odd ships, balancing on single skis, bursts out of the base and begins their attack on the First Order army.  Great plumes of red salt burst out from behind the fighters like smoke.  In retrospect I am unclear if the red is the soil or salt at this point but it sure looks pretty.

When it looks like all is lost the Millennium Falcon comes from out of nowhere with Rey at the helm, blasting TIE fighters.  Everyone is now reunited in one glorious battle.  All this excitement is punctuated by Porgs immitating Chewbacca and being thrown against cockpit windows.

As it becomes clear once again that they are outmatched they give the order to retreat but Finn ignores it.  He decides he’s going to sacrifice himself to save the rebels and begins accelerating toward the battering ram cannon.  It seemed odd that they would kill Finn off in the second movie and apparently that was not the plan since Rose comes from out of nowhere and rams his ship with hers, a move that seemed almost as likely to kill him as what he was planning to do.

Finn runs over to Rose where she has to explain to him why she did what she did.  “It’s not about destroying what we hate, it’s about saving what we love.”  She then calls him a dummy before he kisses her and she passes out.  This is a great message but it might be a little lost in the fact that it seems like they are still going to be destroyed.

On cue the First Order army destroys the blast door and it seems like the end is in sight.  To add insult to the Resistance’s injury it is revealed that their distress signal has been received but they have gotten no response.  Leia then looks all depressed saying: “We’ve fought to the end but the galaxy has lost all its hope. The spark is out.”

This movie is really starting to be a major bummer.

Next up . . . Kylo Ren vs. Luke Skywalker!

 

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 12)

As the Resistance tries to make its dairing escape, Admiral Holdo watches in anguish as she sees The First Order taking out transports one-by-one.  She knows she must do something so she jump to the controls and prepares to turn the ship around and ultimately make the jump to lightspeed through Snoke’s ship.  There is a precedent for this from the first movie where Han explains the delicate nature of hyperspace calculations to a naive Luke.  This is interesting in that it is the first time we ever really see a hyperspace accident.

It does raise a question though: why was this not their plan all along?  The plan, I guess, was to just slowly run out of gas until the First Order catches up with them and destroys their ship.  If the ship was doomed to destruction then why not ram the approaching ship in hopes of doing some damage?  Additionally, is it possible to do this with just one person on board?  I don’t know or understand anything about the logistics of piloting one of these giant capital ships but I’d imagine there is a bridge with dozens of people for a reason.  I had the same questions about Anakin piloting the ship to a crash landing in Revenge of the Sith.

Aboard the ship Rey and Kylo Ren are straining to use the Force to claim Luke’s lightsaber.  This results in the lightsaber being torn in two and Kylo Ren being knocked unconscious as Rey escapes.

Just before Snoke’s ship is about to be torn apart from Holdo’s maneuver we see Captain Phasma preparing to execute Finn and Rose using some sort of sophisticated cattle prod.  She is interrupted as the ship is rammed and everyone gets thrown about.

The result is a lot of madness aboard Snoke’s ship.  BB-8 somehow commandeers an AT-ST that he uses to fire at the enemy while Finn and Phasma prepare for their final showdown.  I have to say that I find Captain Phasma to be a pretty underutilized, perhaps unnecessary character.  This whole battle between Finn and her doesn’t really hold a lot of interest for me.  Their interaction in the past has been minimal and conceivably the main reason Phasma is so keen on making Finn suffer is because they threw her in a trash compactor in the previous movie.

Before Finn finishes her off she announces that he is “rebel scum” as yet another tedious reference to the throwaway line in Return of the Jedi.

Hux finds Kylo Ren passed out and appear about to kill him before Kylo Ren wakes up.  After some bickering Kylo Ren quickly asserts his power of Hux and by default becomes the new supreme leader.

I’d always considered Hux and Ren to have a work dynamic similar to that of Tarkin and Vader.   Hux/Tarkin were the governmental and military arm whereas Ren/Vader were the spiritual apprentice to the leader.   It is an interesting dynamic which becomes destroyed when Snoke is killed.   Hux is no Tarkin.  He’s a little weasel and Ren is an impulsive brat.  It’s going to be interesting to see what their fates are in the coming movie.  The relationship is like what it would be like if Vader and Tarkin were immature little babies.

Finn, Rose, and BB-8 all escape in a Lambda-class shuttle and head to meet up with the Resistance on Crait.  Poe delivers one of the more humorous lines of the movie when he hopes that the “big ass door holds out” long enough for them to get help.

Then the plan is revealed.  They’re going to send out Princess Leia’s “personal code” to try to attract allies to the Resistance to come and help them.  It seems like a pretty pathetic plan but I suppose these are very desperate times and this is the best that they’ve got.

Rose and Finn enter and Rose says, “Is this all that’s left?”  It seems like an impossible situation.  We can certainly blame Poe for the reason that their ranks are so thin.  It’s a hopeless situation and we can only sit back and wait on the inevitable arrival of the cavalry, old friends of Princess Leia coming to join in the fight against the evil First Order.

Next up . . . the cavalry does not arrive.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 11)

No sooner have the rebels evacuated their cruiser than the First Order immediately opens fire on the transports, blasting the undefended ships to pieces.  So far this is shaping up to be a very poor plan.  Maybe being in a larger, armed ship and being tracked was a better alternative to being in unarmed ships and being blasted out of space.

Snoke, meanwhile, it tormenting Rey and telling her that when he is done with her he’s going to go to Ahch-To and completely obliterate the island Luke is on.  In anger Rey tries to get her lightsaber but Snoke smacks her in the head with it and reclaims it back at his side.  He then shares a view of the transports being picked off one-by-one with Rey to torment her, much the way that the Emperor torments Luke in Return of the Jedi.

Rey then steals Kylo Ren’s lightsaber and charges at Snoke.  He easily tosses her aside and tells her that she has the spirit of a Jedi and that is why she must die.  This scene continues to raise the problems I’ve had with all Star Wars movies since Return of the Jedi.  If the master is so effortlessly powerful why do they feel the need to have an apprentice at all?  If I was tasked with defeating 100 two-year-olds in a battle would I feel the need to enlist a six-year-old to do my work for me?  The six-year-old would undoubtedly be able to accomplish the task but with considerably more effort than I would.  What is up with these masters of the dark side?  Maybe they just like to watch the show.  Maybe they’re just lazy.

Snoke then goes on a hubris-laced rant about how he is so great and he has seen everything.  He can see Ren’s intent and he can see that he will ignite his lightsaber and strike down his true enemy.  By this point it becomes obvious that this is not going to end well for Snoke.  Even the Emperor was not this cocky.  Sure enough the lightsaber at Snoke’s side turns, ignites, and cuts the evil master in half, Darth Maul style.

I’ll admit that this scene caught me off guard.  It wasn’t a complete surprise as Snoke’s obvious pride and the wiggling lightsaber gave it away a few seconds beforehand, but the fact that it did happen was shocking to me.  Initially I thought that Snoke spouting off about how smart he was was just a little too obvious.  Then I thought it showed how skilled Kylo Ren was in clouding Snoke’s mind to the true facts at hand.

We then see Rey and Ren, back-to-back, face the Elite Praetorian Guard who snap into action, albeit a little too late.

While we’re on the Elite Praetorian Guard, again, I don’t quite grasp why the Emperor or Snoke need some vastly inferior bodyguards.  It’s like if I, and seven other scrawny, average height men were hired to be a bodyguard for The Rock.  I guess the fact that there would be eight of us would give us some sort of advantage in numbers but at he end of the day I think The Rock would be better served to defend himself.

Imagine if The Rock could use the force.

The battle scene that follows with the Praetorian Guard is really well done.  I think it may be my favorite thing about the movie but not because of the action.  I like the fact that Jedi are once again just warriors, not all-powerful beings.  In the original trilogy we see Luke struggle to take down a wampa.  We see him nervous as he deflects three laser blasts facing down a speeder bike.  We see him imperfectly defeat Jabba’s crew, getting blasted in the hand, tied up by Boba Fett, and struggling to climb Jabba’s sail barge.  Jedi were powerful, yes, but they were not the perfect.

The prequels show us Jedi who are carrying on conversation with each other as they absent-mindedly deflect hundreds of laser blasts per minute with their lightsaber.  We see them leap hundreds of feat, fall to near-certain death only to grab onto moving speeders, and defy physics at every turn, all while not getting a single scratch.

The new movies have done something great.  They’ve shown Jedi (if you can call them that) fighting as a real struggle.  It reminds me of the lift fight from Diamonds are Forever.  In that scene we see a fight that is a real struggle.  James Bond is not some all-powerful being who blocks everything thrown at him as if he were Neo in the Matrix.  He’s someone who is a good fighter who fights someone in a very real way.

In the prequels Obi-Wan or Yoda would simply have dispatched of all the Praetorian Guard in ten to twenty seconds, disengaging their lightsaber after the last blow was delivered, and hooking it back onto their belt before the final body hit the floor.  It made for flashy, overly stimulating and ultimately boring fight scenes.  In The Last Jedi Rey and Ren defeat he Praetorian Guard but it isn’t without considerable effort.  It would be unthinkable in the prequels that a Jedi would struggle against anyone that was not also a Jedi.

The fight scene it truly beautiful.  It’s beautifully filmed, exciting to watch, in a great setting, and suspenseful.  It has a lot of the elements that make the final confrontation between Luke and Vader so interesting to watch which is unusual because this a battle, not a duel.

During the battle there is this exhilarating feeling.  It’s like the end of The Force Awakens where you really think Kylo Ren is going to do the right thing and run away with his father to join the Resistance.  It seems like this is it.  He’s made his turn back to the light side.  We learn quickly that this is not the case and the scene makes reference to The Empire Strikes Back.  Kylo Ren wants Rey to join him.  He doesn’t want to join her in the Resistance.  He deosn’t want her to join him in The First Order.  He wants them both to die and for the two of them to start something new.

He then tells Rey the truth about her parents and what she already knows, they were nobody.  He tells her that she’s nothing but not to him.  This is delivered in the way you’d expect the captain of the football team to approach the nerdy girl who no one knew was beautiful until she took off her glasses and put on some makeup.  Thankfully, unlike movies of that genre, Rey brushes this “compliment” aside and it becomes apparent a truce between the two will not be reached.

They then fight over Luke’s lightsaber and, for the second time, Rey wins the battle and Kylo Ren is left unconscious.

It’s nice that we learn that Rey’s parents are not Luke or Obi-Wan or any of the other obvious shocking reveals we could have had.  It’s nice that not everyone needs to be related.  It’s nice that anyone can be a Jedi.  It opens things up a lot more in the future of the franchise as the Skywalker dynasty is hitting a sort of dead end.

What the final conflict between Rey and Ren is going to look like is not known but it is nice that Kylo Ren is so unpredictable.  I can see him being redeemed as easily as I can see him not being redeemed.  The dynamic between him and Rey is great and it’s great to see great characters emerging in Star Wars once again.

Next up . . . Holdo’s risky maneauver and the final showdown between Finn and Phasma!

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 10)

On Snoke’s ship Rey tells Kylo Ren that she saw his future and she will help him.  He tells her that she will stand with him then he takes her before Snoke.By the way, we are now well past he half way mark in this new trilogy and I still haven’t gotten over how silly Snoke’s name is.

Meanwhile, Finn, Rey, and Benicio del Toro are on their mission to shut down the hyperspace tracker so that he Resistance may escape.  Unfortunately they are ambushed by Captain Phasma and the evil BB-8.

If they do shut down the tracker it looks like the Resistance will be too busy fighting among themselves to do anything as Holdo has begun fighting back ad there is a giant stun gun battle happening on the bridge of their command ship.  In the middle of the battle Leia walks onto the bridge in a white hospital robe and shoots Poe.

As they drag away Poe’s unconscious body Holdo tells Leia, “I like him.”  Leia replies with a smile, “Me too.”

Why?  Why does anyone like Poe?  He’s not even a lovable rogue, he’s an impulsive, insubordinate oaf who does nothing but get people killed.  He should have been killed by his own commanders years ago or at he very least locked up in the brig.  I’m not a military man but I can’t imagine that any amount of his recklessness would have been tolerated by any military that has ever existed even the results were largely positive.

Holdo tells Leia as they plan their escape that in order for the transports to escape that someone needs to stay behind and pilot he cruiser.  It’s not really explained why that is the case if they’re just going in a straight line and waiting to run out of fuel.  It’s also not explained why Leia allows her second in command to volunteer for this.  It serves the plot to show how brave Holdo is as a leader but doesn’t really make a lot of sense beyond that.  If someone was going to sacrifice themselves for this reason, why wouldn’t it be a lower level member of the Resistance.  Also, with the technology present it seems odd that they couldn’t program in some sort of autopilot.  Apparently Southwest Airlines has more advanced technology than the Resistance.

Back on Snoke’s ship he tells Kylo Ren that he though his equal in the Force would arise but he always thought it would be Skywalker.  Snoke also revealed that it was he that breached their minds and put them in communication with each other.  He then uses the Force to throw Rey into the air and announces that she will give him Skywalker.

Poe wakes up on the transport and Leia summons him over.  At this point she tells Poe the plan that he probably should have known since the beginning.  Sure, he’s an idiot, but they’re clearly huge fans of his so I’m not sure why they left him out in the first place.  It would have saved them a lot of trouble and a lot of people from being shot with stun guns.  Holdo is revealed as some sort of genius because she knew that the First Order was tracking the main ship but not the smaller transports.

As the ships blast away Holdo stands on the bridge watching and says, “Godspeed, Rebels.”  This bothered me, admittedly more than it should.  Godspeed?  If only the Star Wars universe had some sort of expression similar to Godspeed that it used in every movie for the past forty years.  If they’d developed some sort of word or phrase like that they could have had Holdo say it here.  Instead they decide to have her say, “Godspeed.”

Finn and Rose, for some reason, are brought before General Hux.  It’s not clear why until they trot out Benicio del Toro to reveal that he has betrayed them.  If you’re wondering if he’ll be a complex character like Lando Calrissian who was backed into a corner and had to make a difficult decision, don’t waste your time.  He’s not.  He’s just a double-crossing jerk and we’ll never see him again.  He won’t come flying out of the sun to save the day.  He won’t have his men ambush some First Order troops to release Finn and Rose.  He’ll just fly away.

Maybe we’ll see him again in the next movie but I highly doubt it.  He was just someone that further nullifies this entire dumb plan to shut down the tracker.

Next time . . . Snoke, Holdo, and Phasma all prepare for their roles in the final movie!

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 9)

Aboard the SS Del Toro Rose is coaxed into giving Benicio her necklace as a down payment for getting them to the First Order ship.  Rose reluctantly does this and we know how important this is as this was part of a set she shared with her sister who was murdered by Poe in the first scene in the movie.

They find out that Benicio del Toro has stolen this ship and that its owners were supplying weapons to the First Order.  We know this because there are some holograms of TIE fighters on the ship’s computer.  Then we see pictures of X-wings as well and Benicio del Toro says he was supplying weapons to the “good guys” too.  He says, “It’s all a machine.”

This is potentially the largest problem I have with The Last Jedi.  We learn that  apparently this is all just one big money-making game.  Contractors are selling arms to both sides to profit.

Listen, I get enough of this living on Earth, okay?  Arms companies making profits, countries being overthrown for oil, the list goes on an on.  This is what makes living on Earth a real bummer.  I don’t need this kind of baloney in my Star Wars movie.  This could be a big plot twist in some sort of hard Sci-Fi movie but this is not hard Sci-Fi, it’s Star Wars.  This is why the taxation of trade routes was also not a compelling plot point for the Star Wars universe!

So what does this mean?  After eight movies we see that there is no good and evil?  They’re all just pawns of a secret society of wealthy elites trying to prop up a state of perpetual war so that they can line their own pockets?

Does anything that happens from this point on even matter?

After this revelation we rejoin Poe who storms onto the bridge and engages in his fiftieth act of gross insubordination but insulting Holdo and demanding answers form her.  She has him removed from the bridge but, somehow, still not sent to the brig.  At this point she probably should have just shoved him onto an escape pod and jettisoned him to the nearest (or farthest) planet.

Meanwhile Rey is getting ready to go meet Ren and turn him to the light side.  She says to Chewbacca, “If you see Finn before I do tell him–”  She is then cut off by Chewbacca roaring.  She responds with, “Perfect.  Tell him that.”  Tell him what?  Are they in love?  What is going on?

Rey then boards a tiny coffin which looks like she is preparing more for a trip to the Genesis Planet than to Kylo Ren’s ship.  She arrives very quickly at the ship and Ren is there to meet her, not looking as accommodating as she may have been hoping for.

Back on the Resistance cruiser Poe tells Holdo the secret plan they’ve been working on to deactivate the Hyperspace tracker.  Holdo is mad and Poe stages a mutiny, taking Holdo and some of her subordinates prisoner.

We are then taken to a scene with what looks like a giant ship resembling an iron coming in for a landing.  The camera pans out and it turns out it is actually an iron and they are in a never-before-seen Star Destroyer (or Dreadnought) laundry room.  Their irons look just like normal 1950s style Earth irons just on a robotic arm.  This was one of the most jarring moments of the movie for me.  I was initially tricked (as was the intention of the scene) but immediately was left thinking about Hardware Wars.  This was so blatant that it had to be intentional.  The result of this odd gag was that  I was so taken out of the movie that I didn’t even realize until the second viewing that the whole purpose of being in the laundry room was to show Finn, Rose, and Benicio del Toro stealing First Order uniforms so they could wander the ship.

Their brilliant plan for BB-8 is to put a laundry basket over him, a plan that was executed to much better effect in Paddington 2, not to mention being an overall better tonal fit for that movie.

They are spotted by an evil BB-8 who is not fooled by their terrible plan.

Overall this attempted break in begins on a largely comical note.  For some reason this whole thing plays out like a lighthearted heist.  I’m not saying there’s room for humor in the Star Wars movies.  The Force Awakens did a great job re-introducing humor into Star Wars after the serious prequels that were even less funny when they tried to be.

To me this whole scene seemed like if the prison escape scene in A New Hope had Yakety Sax playing the whole time.

Next time . . . CONFRONTATION!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 8)

Back on planet Ahch-To, Luke is getting more comfortable with opening himself back up to using the force.  He uses it to connect with Leia and it is a touching scene where, despite being incapacitated, she whispers, “Luke.”  We don’t get a lot of time to see these two interacting as siblings once they find out about their common ancestry at the end of Return of the Jedi.  It’s really nice to see them on screen “together” in this movie and see the love that they share for one another.

While he is connecting with Leia we see Rey and Kylo being mind-linked again, this time as Kylo is shirtless. She is immediately distracted and asks him to cover up but he ignores her and they start bickering.  She asks him why he hated his father and doesn’t really receive a satisfactory answer.  He then asks her if Luke told her what happened the night he destroyed the Jedi temple.  We then see the same scene again from his point of view, Luke clutching his lightsaber with a mad look in his eyes about to bring it down upon Ben Solo before he is quickly able to block the attack and escape.

He then tells Rey, “Let the past die.  Kill it if you have to.”

Rey then leaves and goes to the Sarlaac-esque pit by the ocean where she inspects the opening before being sucked in.  She emerges in some sort of underground cave where there’s a freaky mirror sequence with infinite Reys in each direction.  It’s a strange, interestingly filmed scene which reminds me of something that would have been in The Star Wars Holiday Special had The Star Wars Holiday Special been good.  It has that same sort of quality as an aside.  I kept expecting her to see Jefferson Starship playing a concert or seeing one of the Reys in the mirror morph into Diahann Carroll and sing a song.

The mirror sequence is odd.  It seems out of place in a Star Wars movie, though many will likely compare it to the cave sequence in The Empire Strikes Back.  The odd things about it is that it’s narrated by Rey.  Things aren’t really narrated in Star Wars.  The flashbacks are the same way.  This movie is dark and sinister and reminds me more of a scene that would be in The Lord of the Rings, not necessarily Star Wars.

She then returns to Kylo, explaining her experience in the pit and it feels like an odd romance is starting to brew.

As they reach out and try to touch hands Luke barges in and blows the roof off of Rey’s hut.  Rey is angry and asks Luke if he tried to murder Ben Solo.  They then engage in a brief fight with various weapons culminating in Rey nearly killing Luke with a lightsaber.

Luke then tells his side of the story, this time in more detail.  We get to see a third flashback to the event, this time with Luke not looking like a deranged lunatic but rather a sad old man who had failed his nephew and his student.  The ending is the same with Kylo destroying the temple and leaving it in ruins.

Rey then suggests that hey work together to turn Kylo to the light.  Luke warns her that this is not going to go the way she thinks but she, in young Luke Skywalker fashion, ignores her master and heads out to save Kylo Ren nonetheless.

This segment on Ahch-To ends with Luke marching toward the ancient tree, torch in hand, to burn it down and the ancient Jedi texts with it.  He hesitates for a moment then, ultimately, is interrupted by Yoda’s Force ghost.

“Master Yoda,” Luke says, perfectly encapsulating his annoyance and chagrin at being caught in the act.

Seeing Yoda again caught me completely off guard.  I was not expecting it in the least.  Much like seeing Han, Leia, and Luke again part of me was really thrilled to see Yoda again, even if he was acting like a crazy person.  Apparently thirty years of being dead starts turning Force Apparitions a little loopy.  I guess I can’t really fault him for that.

Yoda senses Luke’s hesitation at burning down the tree and the sacred Jedi texts.  Luke is like a child, looking to get attention by threatening to burn down the tree.  Was he doing this just to have Yoda swing by?  If that was his tactic it worked.  When Yoda senses Luke’s hesitation he summons some lightning and burns the tree down himself to Luke’s horror and befuddlement.  Yoda then cackles like an insane lunatic and does a little jig.

Luke and Yoda exchange some words, Yoda giving Luke some wisdom about learning from failure, and they just sort of watch the tree burn as Luke lies beside his former master.  The music, the lighting, the scene all feel odd to me but at the same time liberating.  Much like seeing Han Solo and Chewie together again in The Force Awakens, it’s hard not to enjoy seeing Yoda school Luke again on his bad attitude and poor decision making.

Also, Yoda doesn’t quite glow the way the ghosts did in Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi making me wonder if there is some significance to that.  You can sense the faintest blue glow around Yoda but it’s barely visible.

In the Timothy Zahn book, Heir to the Empire, Obi-Wan appears to Luke as a Force apparition a final time to say goodbye.  In that book it is stated that there’s some sort of time limit on how long you can come back as an apparition.  This apparently is not canon.  It also changes the stakes as Luke will no longer be able to gain wisdom and training from his deceased former master.

It makes me wonder if we’ll be seeing more of Yoda and Luke in the next movie.  I wouldn’t think Yoda would make an appearance but I could imagine seeing Luke one last time to coach Rey for one final confrontation.

I know that this is the eighth part of this review but SPOILER Luke dies.

Next time . . . BETRAYAL times TWO!