Friday, 9 February 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2017: Mark Hamill in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Mark Hamill did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The Last Jedi is a bit of the Dark Knight Rises of Star Wars movies as it becomes bloated by its expansive narrative and rare is there satisfactory execution within its exploration of some admittedly interesting ideas at times.

Although I do not care for The Last Jedi, I will say that some of the negativity towards the film is a bit overblown. In that those who say it is the worst Star Wars film of all time, even saying it is worse than the best prequel is going too far. The reason being in terms of just more basic film making techniques this film is clearly superior as well as in the acting. This brings me to Mark Hamill's long awaited return to his iconic role after his brief non-speaking role at the tail end of The Force Awakens. Unfortunately as we pick up from that I must return to more negativity by addressing the use of the film's humor, don't worry this will be the darkness before I get to the dawn. The aforementioned film did have a bit more humor overall than a typical Star Wars film however it was placed correctly for the most part. There is humor in the original trilogy as well however it is placed in the lulls of the action, The Force Awakens mostly followed this idea it just had a little more of it. There is one mistake in the opening of that film where Oscar Isaac's Poe is perhaps a little too casual with the film's chief villain Kylo Renn. That was only a minor offense though amplified to outrageous proportions in this film where Poe goes about the same behavior though now in almost pop culture referencing levels where he makes "your momma" and call waiting jokes to Domhnall Gleeson's General Hux.

This humor is consistently used at the wrong time and wrong place throughout this film. This includes making the villains goofballs, making Yoda behave as he does before he reveals himself to be Yoda to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back for some reason, but no example of this is more egregious than its use in the character of Luke Skywalker. Now Luke Skywalker was never an overly comical character in the original series, he was usually the earnest one that Harrison Ford's Han and Carrie Fisher's Leia bounced off of. For Luke to develop a more overt sense of humor in his old age is perfectly fine, that's not the humor of the character in this film that feels forced upon Hamill's performance. These are moments that are breaks in whatever else Hamill is doing in a given scene to make the audience laugh no matter how detrimental they may be to the dramatic potential of a scene. This is within the opening scene of the film where we come off of Rey (Daisy Ridley) returning his father's old lightsaber on the top of his island hideaway. In the previous film, the one piece of acting we get from Hamill in that film, we see a man haunted by the sight of the item, clearly taking it in and facing something from his past. In this film we get that moment then he tosses it. He tosses in a way to get a chuckle, a wah wahhhhh wouldn't have been out of place, from the audience yet it is a scar within this performance. I have no doubt this was a directorial, if not studio, mandate. It undercuts what Hamill did in the previous film, and makes no sense for the character. The idea that the man would toss it, as though it had not a single meaning to him whatsoever is the problem.

If he tossed it as though he wanted to avoid it, that would be fine, if tossed as though it caused him pain, that would be fine, but no, his father's lightsaber, the lightsaber given to him by his old mentor, he just whips it back as though he had absolutely no connection to it whatsoever. This isn't the act of a guy with a sense of humor, this isn't the act of the character we knew or we come to know even in this film, it's a goofy moment to get a cheap laugh. This sadly is not the only moment, and again just want to get through these negatives since there will be positives soon...I promise. Another moment is when is speaking to Rey and asks where she's from, to which she says nowhere, and then he says "Nobody is from nowhere" and she says "Jakku", and to which Hamill is forced to stop whatever else he is doing and go " Yeah, that's pretty much nowhere" as though he's in a sitcom. It stops whatever else he's doing in the scene to break, do something out of a character just for a good old hyuk hyuk hyuk because here in Disneyland we can't stomach a dramatic scene for more than four minutes at a time. There is one more time of this when he's training Rey to reach into the force where he messes with her with a leaf, however while I still don't think it's funny and is problematic as the force was always treated with gravity in every other film, Hamill at least makes this moment work in that it seems natural in the context of the overall scene. Hamill makes it feel like a bit fooling around rather than becoming automatized into ill-fitting joke mode that we saw previously.

Now putting that aside for a moment let's take a look at what Hamill does for the majority of his performance. Hamill actually does overall continue from that one haunted expression in the last film to portray Luke as this bitter man. His eyes are world weary, there is not a hint of any joy in him as he goes about his day, which I won't get into too much detail since I'll get annoyed again, but Hamill delivers in creating this sense of just a man burdened by his experience. We don't know exactly what he's been through yet Hamill expresses in every part of him this sense of exhaustion that has changed Luke to this man we meet here. When Rey asks him to go back to help, Hamill delivers his lines as a man who has been through one too many fights in his life within his exasperated and cynical responses to these requests. Hamill really plays into the age of the character as he says every line of a man scarred by his experience far from the hero of long ago at the end of The Return of the Jedi. We are not given a glimpse of anything else until when he reunites with Chewbacca who lets Rey into Luke's hut by literally breaking down the door. In this moment, and later he sees R2D2, are great moments by Hamill. As his delivery seems to de-age about thirty years as he says their names. He's back for just a second to the hopeful boy moisture farmer, and in these moments you really get a sense of the friendship that still is strong in the mind of his Luke towards the people he cares about.

Those moments though are only momentary respites towards his friends while towards Rey he continues as this irritable old man. Hamill does not make this one note either though as Luke begins the training through three lessons, we only see two for whatever reason, on why he believes the Jedi need to end. Hamill brings this great begrudging quality to every spoken word as he explains to Rey how the force works, the words once spoken with far more appreciation by his old masters, but now Hamill shows Luke spouting them out with almost certain hatred towards the word. When Rey reveals her level of power to the point she even reaches into the dark side Hamill is incredible in his reaction. He seizes up in fear showing Luke essentially with ptsd as the reaction isn't a general fear, it is this fear of the past. There is a sadness in it as he says he saw it once before, but it didn't scare him enough before. In this scene Hamill reveals some of the memories that cause his suffering and correctly he attaches these to basically the character's grumpiness. He's not just some angry old man, Hamill offers the proper context within where this comes from. He furthers this in every scene with Rey as he explains the Jedi's past failures in his second lesson. There is no care or affection that Hamill grants just a disgruntled man examining the faults of the past. When Rey though suspects he's closed himself fully from the force though Hamill is great in that he portrays a direct shame. A shame not of a bad man, but of a former hero who has run from his problems and the beliefs he once held so strongly.

The revelation of the full extent of Luke's past with his former student, and now near ultimate evil Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo (Adam Driver) is where of the great controversies of the film lies. This is actually one decision I don't have a problem with since you do need to take the character somewhere, however I do understand why others hated it including Hamill himself. After all it does perhaps seem strange that the man who refused to kill his own father, who was obviously very evil, would preemptively try to kill his nephew, but hey time can change people. Now Hamill to his credit, despite his own personal reservations, puts his all into his portrayal of the confession scene. When Rey initially confronts him Hamill reveals just the full anger again now revealing itself naturally to be the anger of a man hiding from something he did than just at the world in general, part of that is the shame that is so overwhelming in his work. When he finally is forced to explain Hamill is outstanding in revealing in his eyes such an overwhelming sadness of the failures of the man, with this palatable sense of despair when he notes his hand in creating Kylo Ren even if from a momentary weakness. In the scene Hamill makes sense of who Luke is in this situation now, which is someone trying to lose himself within his suffering by essentially lashing out at anyone or anything that expects more of him. When Rey though states her belief that she can save Kylo, Hamill delivers now a more passionate anger towards the idea creates this sense that he's understood this to be a lost cause for some time.

Luke eventually returns to the force due to these confrontations by Rey which leads again to some strong acting by Hamill. This is particularly in the moment where he initially reconnects speaking to Leia through the force, and Hamill expresses the intensity of that emotion, the man allowing himself to touch his past once again something rather powerful. It also leads to the reappearance by wacky Yoda, who never existed, and has since changed his philosophy from "Do or do not. There is no try" to failure is the best teacher. Kind of a complete 180 there which is also the theme of the movie being you gotta fail to succeed sometimes, while not if you're in a fight to the death then you're just dead! Anyway Yoda goes off to tell him that Rey knows more than him and she's surpassed him, despite almost no training from him because that's great writing, or lazy writing...I forget. Now I know I'm getting off topic a bit however that moment suggests really more time should have been spent on the island between Rey and Luke. Unfortunately this film suffers from the horrible condition of seeming to rush its good elements while dragging out its bad ones. That leaves only one sequence left for Hamill to return to the Luke we once knew and loved. I will say, despite the limited screen time, Hamill makes this transition convincing and effective by having those moments with his old friends by showing the younger man still there, making it so he did not really need to go too far to return to his old self. Also Hamill doesn't completely just become young Luke, rather he still shows the wear in the man, but now with the determination to fight. Hamill is excellent in this final sequence bringing now that sort of hero's bravado as he steps out to face Kylo, with even a cool of a true hero in his particularly efficient delivery of his one liners.

There is though still just enough of a shame there in Hamill's portrayal when Luke apologizes to Kylo for his past mistakes, but now more hidden by his conviction to confront the man. Hamill in presence delivers the Luke of legend, the man who faced down the emperor and defeated Darth Vadar once again. The man who said "I'm a Jedi like my father before me" as he once again commands that same confidence and power. Of course this confrontation, through force projection, leaves him to fade away into the force for some reason, even though Obi-Wan did right before he was going to be killed, and Yoda was dying from extremely old age there is no real reason why this should have killed Luke especially as it takes some of the oomph from his epic delivery of "see you around kid" to Kylo since I guess he won't see him around. Again just another problem I have with the film, but not Hamill's performance. My favorite moment in his work though is probably just before that scene when he "physically" meets up with Leia. It's a wonderful scene with Hamill bringing such a tenderness in this moment of recognizing loss, and it is a beautifully rendered both as a moment within the film recognizing Han's death, but also outside of it as this final onscreen time shared by Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. He creates such a tremendous since of warmth in that moment that is particularly cathartic when compared against the colder man we knew throughout. This is a legitimately fantastic performance by Mark Hamill however I cannot ignore the scenes I mentioned at the beginning of this review. They are there, and they're a blight on this performance. I'm sure they were not Hamill's choices but unfortunately they're realized through his work, to the detriment of it. They not only take me out of the performance, out of the scene, but also the film when they happen. It's a real shame because if it were not for those moments this would be the best performance in a Star Wars film, instead it's merely one of the best.

28 comments:

Luke Higham said...

Just knew it was gonna be a 4.5. I'm still happy that you liked him a great deal. I now fear Robert requesting Mann or Cyler from Me, Earl and The Dying Girl.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: What would you've done to make this a 5 star film. I personally feel the writing's a far greater issue than the directing.

Matt Mustin said...

I took "See you around, kid" to be sort of a warning that he'd be watching him as a force ghost. Anyway, he's a 5 for me, but I also don't have the reservations about the film that you do.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I think we have wildly different interpretations of what the film was going for. I also want to point out that "See you around kid" was deliberately said in a way that evoked Han to taunt Kylo Ren.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Psifonian, back me up here, I know you love this performance as much as I do.

Luke Higham said...

My opinion on the film has slowly declined overtime, yet Hamill has not.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I had more issues with the film on the second viewing, but not because it was bloated; I could tell there was at least twenty minutes missing. Where was the third lesson?

Also, as for the complaints about the humor: I don't get it. Like, at all. Force Awakens was way jokier, and no one complained. In fact, I welcomed every bit of the humor after the soulless slog that was Rogue One.

Matt Mustin said...

I also want to say that this review seems to suggest that some of the humour was forced upon the film by Disney, and I disagree. I think Rian Johnson made exactly the film he wanted to make.

Psifonian said...

I mean, I'm not gonna lie: I thought you were gonna give Hamill a lower rating because I'd heard you weren't crazy about the film, so for him to score this highly is a pleasant surprise.

Guy deserves more, though. Basically, everything you said about Stewart is equally applicable here, if not more so. There is a strong chance Hamill is my favorite Star Wars performance (eclipsing Fisher/Guinness). I need to rewatch him to be sure, but it's one of the most haunting portrayals of the year, and he telegraphs so much with each dead-eyed, ruined stare. It's like that kid in "Come and See" grew up.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Also, I *LOVED* that he tossed it with a "fuck that noise" expression on his face. I'm glad Luke's entire attitude was still the whiny drama queen from the original two movies, just with deep-rooted cynicism thrown in. It would have been boring or predictable any other way.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Psifonian: I would argue it's the best Star Wars performance, though Ridley in Force Awakens and Ford in the original 1977 are close for me.

Luke Higham said...

Well, at least he went out with a great performance. I hope McGregor will get the same opportunity with an Obi-Wan spinoff.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I feel like Louis's reaction to Last Jedi was mine to Cloud Atlas.

Matt Mustin said...

Robert: It's weird with The Last Jedi, because most of things people have problems with are all the things I loved the most about it.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Are there any Game Of Thrones actors that you would like to see in a Star Wars film and what type of character whould you like to see them play.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Matt: Yeah, me too. I did not expect this to be the Rorschach test entry for the franchise.

Lezlie said...

I don't feel the tossing of the lightsaber was bad, even if the humor might have been overdone in the film here and there, I've never felt it in the parts with Luke. Yeah, him considering to kill young Ben was a bit questionable, but I can also chalk it up to him simply not being the same person he was in his youth, and the basic human ability of even good people doing major fuckups.

Hamill's delivery of "I failed. Because I was Luke Skywalker. Jedi Master. A legend." was my absolutely favourite moment of the movie.

I can live with him getting a 4.5, I might have gone with a 5 myself though.

Bryan L said...

Louis: Your cast and director for an 80s and 00s The Place Beyond The Pines? With Mickey Rourke and Harrison Ford as Luke and Avery. (Gibson would be a bit young in the 80s for Avery so I'd think he fit better in the 90s)

Bryan L said...

In the 80s for Rourke and Ford obviously lol

Bryan L said...

Louis: Also does this movie remind you a bit of The Color of Money? (Actor reprises most iconic role, new young protagonists, underwhelming sequel) Your last sentence reminded me of Newmans review in that one.

Mitchell Murray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mitchell Murray said...

Just for everybody here, what do you think of the reception of Eastwood's new movie, 15:27 to Paris. I'll be honest - I'm not sure how I feel having the real people play themselves. Not everybody gets into acting for a reason. And also I'm not sure Eastwood's style could make the build up particularly interesting, without resorting to elaborating certain details of course.

Michael McCarthy said...

Mitchell: I can’t stand stuff like that. There are thousands of qualified actors who I’m sure would do a much better job and probably could use the work a lot more.

Matt Mustin said...

Mitchell: If he wanted to use the real people, he should've made a documentary.

Bryan L said...

Mitchell: I agree with Matt. You need professional actors if you want to dramatize an event in a feature film.

Luke Higham said...

Mitchell: I don't mind real people playing themselves in a minor capacity like Ben Sliney in United 93 but when it comes to the main roles, they don't have the training to fulfill those roles well.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Who do you think would have been better choices for the lead role in The Devil and Daniel Webster?

Louis Morgan said...

Matt:

I could see that however we've never seen a Sith ever see a force ghost, nor do they even seem to be aware of them.

The nature of the humor felt very MCU like to me, so I think they had something to do with it.

Bryan:

I'll give you that later as my brain is currently melting from doing the long list.

Strange comparison on the surface but I know what you mean. I will say though Daisy Ridley is far far far more tolerable than Cruise from that film.

Mitchell:

There are examples of it working however Eastwood and his one takes needs to work with great actors.

Anonymous:

Actually on my last watch I think Craig's just right for the part. He doesn't give a great performance however the way he's overshadowed by Huston and Arnold actually works well for the story it's telling.