The Minimum Effort Ep.15: The Last Jedi

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This is it, the moment we’ve been waiting for for almost two years… The Last Jedi premiered last week and boy was it a big surprise!

Come and join Ben and Lewis as they discuss the film, consider its place in the franchise, and wonder how this will affect the future of Star Wars…

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The Force Awakens- The Good and the Bad

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So with The Last Jedi only a few days away we decided to write another couple of reviews for the latest additions to the Star Wars filmography. As before we are going to do 5 good points and 5 bad points, unless you are Lewis and cop out and only do 4. So, enough with all the preamble you are here for some strong opinions and a witty banter (Lewis, make sure you make it witty while you’re editing). Here it is- my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (TFA for convenience, I don’t want to write more than I have to).

We’ll start with the good shall we?

The Good

A good start to a new trilogy – Ok, so I know that this film is essentially A New Hope 2.0 (I’ll get round to this later) but this film has got to cover 30 years of Star Wars history, appease returning fans, and introduce new film goers to the Star Wars Universe, and you know what, TFA does a bloody good job. The film is funny and rooted in Star Wars law for returning fans (there are some questionable decisions but hold your horse I’ll get round to them) while being accessible enough for your Nan to watch and have a good idea what’s going on. The film tells you what you need to know, leaves hidden what needs to be hidden, and asked questions that left me wanting more and has led to some truly fantastic theories.

Practical Effects – After the CGI disaster that was the prequel trilogy, a decision was made to bypass CGI wherever possible making use of practical effects, animatronics, puppets and actors in costumes. This was one of the most welcome things about TFA. I know CGI has come a very long way since 2005, but even in films today average CGI looks awful, see Justice League and parts of Thor: Ragnarok. Obviously practical effects can’t do everything but the blend of puppets, make up, and costume with green screen and motion capture was truly brilliant here.

The Rey/Kylo duel – Right, so, the climactic duel of TFA definitely doesn’t have the emotion of the duels seen in the original trilogy; however, the duel was able to find and almost perfect balance between the stylised, over choreographed performances seen in the prequels, the Obi-Wan/Anakin duel on Mustafa in particular, and the wood chopping heavy swinging style seen in the originals. This balanced fighting style makes the duel a fast-paced spectacle without all the unnecessary twirling around.

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Casting and performance – The film introduced three new heroes to the Star Wars world and all of them were great, I really, really enjoy Oscar Isaac and John Boyega in this film, their shared screen time, although brief, is funny, engaging, and believable. Daisy Ridley really grows into the film (more later) and by the end she gives a really terrific performance, you would hardly know she was a relatively inexperienced actor at the time of filming. We also see some returning favourites, Han Solo is back playing (spoilers) the Ben Kenobi role, and Ford does it well. Probably only because he knew it was a one off return and that he would finally get the character killed off, something he has been after since The Empire Strikes Back.

Writing – This is my last ‘Good point’ and it very much echoes my first; the film, for the most part, is well written, it is quick, slick, funny, and most importantly accessible. The movie re-introduces a lost world enabling people that have never seen Star War before to sit in a screening and understand and hopefully enjoy what is unfolding on screen.

 

The Bad

Daisy Ridley – I said there would be more later, there have been stories from the set of TFA that JJ Abrams wasn’t particularly happy with Daisy Ridley during the early days of filming, and if the film was shot from beginning to end (starting on Jakku, then moving to Maz’s, before finishing on Starkiller) I can see why. Ridley’s performance is by no means Christensen bad, but it is wooden and it did take me out of the film a bit. After about 20 minutes of screen time I could feel the difference in the performance, and after finishing the film strongly as well as coming off the back of Murder on the Orient Express I expect a big performance in The Last Jedi.

Derivative – Ok, so this is the big one, the “it’s just A New Hope 2.0” argument, that the films’ success is based on nostalgia and so on. I don’t really buy into this but ok yeah I’ll take your point and run with it. There are similarities, the big weapon that can destroy planets and the resistance (which I always thought was a stupid name for the army of the government), the use of a desert planet, and the main character wanting to leave it to name a few, and yes TFA does run very much like A New Hope, but I think the characters are different and interesting, the story takes different twists along the way and despite being set a long time ago in a galaxy far away there is only a certain amount of things you can do with a Star Wars film. When re-watching TFA there are definite similarities to A New Hope, but I don’t buy into the idea that the film’s similarity to one of its predecessors was entirely a bad thing- perhaps just a little disappointing. The similarities didn’t ruin my experience, because you know what I was too bloody busy enjoying myself. That being said the X-wing attack on Starkiller isn’t great, it is really only a means of showing us that the base was destroyed.

Toying with the lore – This is a bit more of a fan complaint than a proper film criticism, there are a lot of liberties taken with the Star Wars lore. You know how Luke seems to become a capable Jedi after what seems like 2 days in The Empire Strikes back, well in this film it takes Rey about half an hour to develop her abilities enough to beat Kylo Ren. There are many counter arguments to this, Kylo was shot, he wasn’t trying to kill her etc. but I think the film would have taken a much more interesting turn if she got her arse handed to her and perhaps Han dies saving her. There are also some bizarre new abilities including Kylo’s mind-walk trick and blaster-freezing abilities. These will probably be explained away in The Last Jedi.

Maz – I spoke about the practical effects earlier, now it is time for the CGI stuff, Maz in particular, because Snoke is only seen through a fuzzy hologram thing. Maz does look out of place in this film, I am not really sure why the choice was made to have a computer generated orange alien wandering round an almost entirely practical set but there we go.

The last point(s) –This isn’t a cop out, if anything it is a cop in, I am just putting a few smaller points in together. Firstly C3PO, the walking exposition machine strikes again. Can we please stop putting C3PO in every Star Wars film, to be honest I didn’t recognise him at first because of the red arm… see what I did there? But really the character is just an annoyance, he doesn’t serve a purpose- STOP PUTTING HIM IN THE FILMS.

Secondly, the miracle of R2D2 waking up exactly when needed. R2 could have been functioning with half the map, the droid didn’t need to be in low power mode, it was a strange choice to have him in low power mode, I can’t really figure out why it was done, it didn’t add anything to the story, and, much like this point, dragged the film out unnecessarily. Lastly, bin the Rathtar sequence, it didn’t add anything to the film, find another, quicker, way for Han to accept Rey and Finn. By binning the Rathtars some of the irritating hanging questions, like the Luke lightsaber one, can be answered.

Alrighty, that’s it, my 5 good and a few more than 5 bad points about TFA. You are probably all still shouting at how I glossed over the derivative point, but hey, if it pisses you off that much you go ahead and have a shout- it’s really good for our stats. Boycott The Last Jedi for all I care… but I know you won’t because deep down you do like this film.

Anyway, thanks for giving this a read, if you want to get in touch with us follow us on Twitter or on Facebook, and if you want to hear our lovely voices why not take a look at the new and ever so slightly improved podcast? We are bound to review The Last Jedi so keep an eye out for that.

Thanks for reading guys,

Ben.

You are NOT the Father!

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With The Last Jedi set to hit cinemas in just a few days, fans of Star Wars are excited to see what Rian Johnson and co have in store for us with the new movie. One of the chief plot threads set to be explored is the parentage of humble scavenger Rey- who are her elusive parents, and why did they leave her on Jakku? I will now take a look at a few of the many possibilities, and will rank them according to their likelihood (in this fan’s humble opinion, at least). 

 

1: Luke Skywalker and X 

At face value, this seems like the obvious answer. Luke, like Rey, is strong in the force, and both followed similar paths in A New Hope and The Force Awakens respectively. Furthermore, the Star Wars saga has always followed a Skywalker, and so it would make sense for the main character to be a Skywalker, right? Add in the fact that the Skywalker lightsaber called to Rey, and it seems like a slam dunk. Well, unfortunately it doesn’t seem that simple. For starters, it can be argued that Kylo Ren, the grandson of Anakin Skywalker, fulfils the role of lead Skywalker in this trilogy. Secondly, JJ Abrams has stated that Rey’s parents did not appear in Episode XII, and while he could be lying, I feel inclined to believe him at this time. Finally, it seems out of character for Luke to have both fathered and abandoned a child, even after the destruction of his new Jedi order (I’ll mention more on that later). It is clear that Luke recognises Rey on Ach’to, but for now at least, exactly why remains a mystery. 

Likelihood: 7 midichlorians out of 10 

 

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2: Han Solo and Leia Organa 

Another popular theory suggests that Rey is in fact a Solo, and the sister of Ben. There are strong narrative advantages to this theory- direct relatives fighting one another on opposite sides of the war is a tried and tested storytelling mechanic, with great effect. Futhermore, this would go some lengths to explain the apparent connection that exists between Rey and Kylo- both seem able to tease information out of the other, Kylo sees the ocean and the island (Ach’to?) in Rey’s mind, while Rey sees Kylo’s fear of not matching up to Vader. Another, often overlooked, bonus to this theory is that it does not require the introduction of any new characters, which allows it to be much cleaner in terms of plot threads and continuity. However, the big cross next to this theory comes from the canon novel Bloodline, set six years before Episode XII. A not-yet-fallen Ben Solo is mentioned several times, and yet there is no mention of another sibling at all, let alone one matching the description of Rey. Of course, it could simply be a lie of omission, but in that case, why not release it after the reveal, preserving the continuity? The way the scene between Han and Maz at her castle is framed makes it likely that Han knew who Rey was, but with the presence of Bloodline it seems unlikely that it is a familial connection. 

 

Likelihood: 4 midichlorians out of 10 (8 out of 10 without Bloodline)  

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3: Grandaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi 

My personal favourite theory, (if for no other reason than because Obi-Wan is one of my favourite characters) and one that took a big boost with the announcement of the Kenobi anthology film, this is one that requires a bit more explaining. The theory suggests that Obi-Wan had a child while in exile, who in turn had Rey. Supporting evidence comes from hearing the voices of both Alec Guiness and Ewan McGregor (who recorded new lines) in the lightsaber-induced vision, the only characters to do so. As it was Old Ben who owned the lightsaber for the longest, and then passed it on to Luke, his appearance in the vision appears to make sense. Furthermore, it allows a well recognised and beloved character to remain relevant to the new trilogy, and explains Rey’s accent in the Force Awakens (meanwhile fellow Brit John Boyega had to change his for the role). This theory also satisfies Abrams’ “not in Episode XII” comment, while also providing hints for the audience. However, even a staunch Rey Kenobi believer like myself has to admit there are flaws to the theory. Several new characters would have to be introduced, which would potentially make the subsequent films messy, and question marks would arise as to why Kenobi never mentioned a child. This theory does fit, at least from a certain point of view. 

 

Likelihood: 6 midichlorians of 10 

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4: Students of Luke’s Academy 

The most plausible of all fan theories, simply due to its flexibility, is that one or both of Rey’s parents were students in Luke’s new Jedi Order before its destruction. This would explain most of the main cast’s familiarity with Rey (at least after some coaxing), while satisfying the Abrams rule and avoiding many of the pitfalls of the theories above. This would explain some of the visions in the lightsaber vision, such as the Knights of Ren and Luke with R2-D2. Her parents would have likely been killed by Kylo and his gang, fulfilling Maz’s “prophecy” about them never coming back. The only flaw with the theory comes from Rey’s abandonment on Jakku (Why does everybody want to go back to Jakku?!). Once again, Bloodline puts a spanner in the works, however, as Ben’s fall to the dark side and the subsequent destruction of the new Jedi Order would have happened a minimum of six years before the Force Awakens, a long time after Rey arrived on Jakku (in the vision she appears to be a maximum of seven years old). It is possible that Rey’s birth was against the Jedi code, and that is why she was hidden away- but in that case, why not send her to somewhere a little more hospitable (Luke at least stayed with his family on Tatooine)? Overall, though, this is the most likely scenario regarding Rey’s lineage. 

 

Likelihood: 8 midichlorians out of 10 

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A lot of other theories have been floated around, such as Sabine/Ezra, Qui Gon/Shmi and Cienna/Thane (and recently Iden Versio, but as I havent played the new Battlefront yet I am unqualified to comment), but they largely all suffer from the same problem- a lack of familiarity to a casual audience. When my Nan eventually sits down to watch The Last Jedi, she is not going to have any idea who these people are, and perhaps quite rightly. As much as Star Wars is about its expanded universe, the main series films still have to be accessible to a more general audience. Even spin offs, such as Rogue One and the new Kenobi anthology are on thin ice in this regard. Someone shouldn’t be forced to do research to understand a major plot point- that’s simply poor storytelling, and LucasFlim and Disney undoubtedly know this. So, unless the character appears in a live-action movie, they’re not Rey’s parent. 

I hope you enjoyed my list- if you have any other theories or would like to fact check me, please leave a comment below! 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens-Does it live up to the Hype? (Spoiler-free)

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*SPOILER-FREE ZONE*

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After seeing The Force Awakens at the midnight showing last night, we both left with some differing opinions about some aspects of the film. However, what we did agree on was the sheer amount of joy, humour, and fun that came through on the big screen.

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From the moment the opening crawl and John Williams’ score appeared, it seemed like everyone in the cinema had the biggest, stupidest grin on their faces, which is exactly as it should be when watching Star Wars. It just felt right, and from then on, I don’t think anyone really stopped smiling at the jokes, the heroism, or the great chemistry between the both the new and the old cast members. The practical effects were great, the CGI didn’t stand out as glaringly bad, and everything felt the way Star Wars used to feel. We were thrown into this used, beaten up galaxy that we had all come to know and love with the original trilogy, and, like I said, it just felt right.

The characters are very engaging, and the three new heroes, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac have a chemistry between them that speaks volumes about their personalities and talent. As well as our heroes, the film’s villains are fairly impressive themselves. Adam Driver is an interesting new take on the classic Star Wars villain, and makes for a very menacing and impressive character. However, the much-hyped Captain Phasma, Gwendoline Christie’s character, is terribly under-used, and I’d go as far as to say wasted. Of course, we have the return of our old heroes too, and it feels just like old times. To sum up the quality of the characters of this film, they always feel like real people, who say things that a normal human would say without a rant about sand in sight.

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Speaking of ranting about sand, if you’re worried that this film follows the prequels into any of their pitfalls, then have no fear, because this is about as far removed from those stagnant period-pieces as you can get. This is mostly due to the absolutely breakneck speed at which this movie progresses and the wealth of references to the original trilogy, as well as the quality of its characters and special effects. However, at times, this fast-pace and reliance on the original films does work against it.

It occasionally feels like some very key scenes are glossed over in order to flash onto the next big set-piece, and as amazing and impressive as they are, those key moments would benefit from a little more space to breathe and develop. Not a whole lot more, but they definitely required a bit more attention and care. Unfortunately though, this is a common issue with Abrams’ films, as they frequently rely on a surface-level development that moves at a ferocious pace. That being said, this refusal to slow down for anything does mean that the stodgy, over-explained prequels are nowhere to be found, and it closely resembles the action-adventure pace of A New Hope; or, more accurately, A New Hope on speed.

However, this is a resemblance that brings up another issue. The reliance on the original trilogy extends beyond pacing, set design and special effects and into the script. To be specific, the storyline of this film is more of a greatest hits version of the original trilogy than its own, original design. Granted, Star Wars has always been formulaic in its structure, but this was an opportunity to be innovative and creative in this new story, and unfortunately it was wasted in order to give fans something that they’ve seen before numerous times. The reasoning for this is understandable to an extent, they obviously wanted something tried and tested to kick off a trilogy that might grow into its own thing, but there’s a limit, and at times this film toed the line between homage and reboot.

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With that said though, there’s no denying that this was an incredibly fun film to watch, and if it’s done nothing else, it’s made us incredibly excited to see episode VIII, where these characters will hopefully develop even further, and give us more of the same fun. We both plan to go back and watch this film at least one more time, and who knows, maybe on a second viewing it will be even more enjoyable to watch.

 

Have you seen The Force Awakens? Do you agree with what we’ve written, disagree, or do you think we’ve overlooked something? If so, please leave a comment below, we’d love to hear your thoughts; and if you’re feeling generous, a like, follow, or share would be amazing. 

“The force is strong in my family”

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Ben: “Chewie…we’re home.” What did you think?

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Lewis: Oh man, I’ve watched this trailer over and over, every time I’ve seen it advertised I’ve watched it, and I literally don’t have anything negative to say about it. I was blown away. How about you?

Ben: I thought it was fantastic, in fact, I would be happy if that was the full trailer. Nothing major was given away, just enough to make me incredibly excited. However, if you watch the trailers they made for the prequels they’re pretty good as well… good enough to make Attack of the Clones appear watchable.

Lewis: Hey, let’s not ruin our expectations by talking about those… I have to say, I think that opening shot (on what I assume is either Tatooine or that Jakku planet they’ve mentioned) is one of the most incredible pieces of film I’ve ever seen. I just loved how much it looked like A New Hope… even the background scenery looked like a huge, brilliantly detailed matt painting, which I absolutely love.

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Ben: It is on Jakku, I don’t think Tatooine is in this one. I really liked the X-wing scene, it’s just one of the little things that show us that this film will take us back to what made us fall in love with the films in the first place. It will have the humour, action and story which 4, 5 and 6 had but which the prequels lacked.

Lewis: Yeah, it definitely looks like it has the charm of the original trilogy. I’m very interested in the Luke voiceover, and the scene where someone with a hood and robotic right hand is with R2. I think that’s Luke, but it looks like he’s either exiled somewhere or on a journey…

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Ben: I think it is Luke, I’ve read that he exiled himself following the conclusion of the Galactic Civil War. There are so many fantastic bits in the trailer, including the return of Anakin’s original blue lightsaber being handed from person to person, with the “my sister has it, you have it” voice over.mysisterhasit And the melted Darth Vader mask is a cool appearance too.

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Lewis: I watched Mark Hamill’s talk at Star Wars Celebration last weekend, and he said that for the voiceover they took the Return of the Jedi quote audio and put a new recording of his voice underneath it, giving it that weird echo. It was pretty cool to hear how they did that. Yeah, obviously someone has managed to retrieve that lightsaber from Bespin, and as for the helmet, I heard a theory that someone might be collecting artefacts from the Civil War, maybe the new villain, Kylo Ren?

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Ben: perhaps inspiring his own face mask.

Lewis: Yeah, bloody wannabe (Joking, I quite like his design). There are also a few changes to the design of the X-wings, they look more like the original concept art now.

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Ben: The most noticeable change is the Storm/Chrome/Pilot troopers. But then, they needed some new troops after being killed by the Ewoks…

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Lewis: I doubt there was a huge increase in recruits after that incident… The Empire logo is very different too, so maybe this is a new, rising Empire? Instead of remnants of the old one.

Ben: There are still quite a few unanswered questions. Why are they still using Storm troopers? Why was a TIE fighter shooting Stormtroopers inside the hanger? That is why it is such a brilliant trailer, there are so many things we are yet to find out about.

Lewis: Exactly, and there are so many different explanations you can give, but who knows what’s really going on? I just loved the look of it, it felt like Star Wars should feel. There wasn’t a complete saturation of CGI, the acting in the teaser alone was awesome, and I reckon that this film is going to be everything the prequels should’ve been

Ben: I agree. Probably one of the best trailers I have seen for a long time.

Lewis: Yeah, take note, that’s how you make a worthy trailer. Just before we finish, did you hear the details about ‘Rogue One’?

Ben: I haven’t no, do enlighten me.

Lewis: This is all they’ve said so far, “A band of resistance fighters unite for a daring mission to steal the Death Star plans in Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One”. They also showed a little teaser trailer which just had Alec Guinness’ quote “For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire” being spoken while a TIE Fighter flew over a jungle planet with the Death Star looming over it in orbit.

Ben: It sounds interesting enough, an interesting choice for the first stand-alone film anyway.

Lewis: Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see what approach they take, I hope it’ll be like a WW2 commando film where they have to get behind enemy lines to blow something up, but instead they’ll be stealing the plans to the Death Star.

Ben: I can imagine that is the route they would take. I honestly would have thought a Boba Fett film would have been the first one out though.

Lewis: Yeah, I guess a Boba Fett film won’t be out for a few years yet.

Well that’s that. I hope you enjoyed this review/reaction piece of The Force Awakens’ second teaser, and I hope it was a least slightly informative and entertaining. Are you as excited for the film as we are? Or has the trailer left you feeling a little underwhelmed? (If so, do you not even have a soul?)

Let us know what you think down below.

Thanks for reading, Lewis and Ben.