So, for those of you whom have been living under a rock for the last 6 weeks, there is a new Star Wars movie in theaters, and we went to see it two weekends ago. Much ink has been spilled, and much hot air has been expelled, over reviews for this movie. I sort of doubt that I have much new to offer, but need to get this off my chest anyway; seeing how I pay for this site, I think I can take the liberty.
DUTIFUL SPOILER ALERT!
Overall impression: I didn’t like it, but I’ll admit that it might grow on me with time. To be fair, I wasn’t so jazzed about The Force Awakens when it came out, either. Full disclosure: Rogue One is actually my favorite Star Wars movie, followed by Empire, Jedi, then A New Hope.
Big picture things I liked:
- The cinematography, sound, and music was excellent, just as in TFA. Skellig Michael is beautiful, the space scenes excellent, the Crait salt flat battle, all good.
- The tension and dialogue between Rey and Ben Solo was the centerpiece.
- The portrayal of the sacrifices made in this Resistance (Rose’s sister and Admiral Holdo being the primary ones) gave this film a gravity that wasn’t clear in the original trilogy save for the loss of the Lars family, and in fact is one of the reasons that Rogue One resonates with me. It was especially nice that one of the characters (Rose) actually shows some signs of real grief instead of shrugging it off (a la Luke after losing Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, or his best friend Biggs).
- Most of the interactions between Luke and Rey were great, and Luke’s finale at the end of the film was epic–a fitting way for Luke Skywalker to die. I loved the cameo by Yoda–it was just the right amount in that it moved the plot and developed Luke’s character, while not being just blatant fan service.
- I liked the theme about how Rey is no one; the little boy at the end is no one; that the Force can be with anyone and that the fight continues.
- I liked that Kylo Ren’s experience with Luke has a real, human, satisfactory explanation compared to his grandfather’s abrupt turn to the Dark Side.
- The female heroes were not at all sexualized–they were just strong women doing their part. Even Princess Leia, who broke movie gender norms with her blasters and leadership in the Rebellion, had to go around braless in ANH, all wobbly kneed for Han Solo in TESB, and in a metal bikini in RotJ.
- I was glad that Luke expressed something that had been implied throughout the prequels but never really hinted at by Yoda or Obi-Wan in the original trilogy, and that is the Jedi were done in by their own hubris, by the idea that they “owned” the Force.
- TFA received a lot of flack (rightfully) for being too much a re-hash of Episode IV. Lucasfilm responded that they wanted the films to “rhyme”. This film actually gets the rhyming thing right, without recycling the story–Rey going into a cave to face the Dark Side; the training; Rey running off to save her friends; the throne room scene (echoing Episode VI); the Rebel evacuation and the Empire’s assault on a base with giant walker vehicles.
Ok, now for the problematic parts.
- First of all, this movie was just WAY too long. I actually felt myself wondering several times if it was almost over. There were several parts, namely the casino scenes, which could have drastically reduced.
- I felt really tired after this film. The original trilogy had great pacing and rhythm–tension & action, then drama, then tension & action, then drama; and just the right lengths. TLJ had really fast cuts from one setting to the next to the next, and I felt like the dramatic bits and the action bits were intermixed too fast. The whole thing felt very frantic.
- The other films had great, majestic openings. This one started with what looked like three boogers emanating from the planet.
- Why is the Resistance running away? Didn’t they just blow up this crazy huge base with lots of First Order resources put into it? Does the First Order–the remnants of the dismantled Empire–have unlimited resources??
- Leia using the Force to save herself from the vacuum of space. D-U-M-B. I get it they wanted to show her actually using her Force abilities; but did it have to be in the most hokey way possible? Did they have to fake us out expecting her to die? Hello?
- I was pretty grossed out by Luke milking the alien and drinking it. I’ll be fair and say that it was germane to the plot in that it helped us see how low and pitiful Luke Skywalker had fallen, but by the same token, the timing of it made people in the theater laugh instead of cringe which I think has the opposite emotional effect.
- Speaking of humor, the humorous bits in this movie tended to be poorly timed, and carried on the more modern, cynical style of humor from TFA. When Poe pulls his “holding for General Hux” stunt, it makes Hux this punching bag that seems incongruent with the scariness he and the First Order are supposed to convey. Similarly, Luke’s tossing the light saber over his shoulder flippantly didn’t properly convey the gravity of his situation, nor did his bit where he tickled her hand with the leaf. Contrast these moments with the banter in the original trilogy (“I am NOT a committee!”, or “Who’s scruffy-lookin?”) or the quasi-slapstick of Luke’s first meeting with Yoda. Or even contrast them with TFA (“That’s not how the Force works!”) In fact, Yoda’s appearance in this film carried it’s own humorous bits that made an important scene with a lot of gravity work, while remaining kind of light.
- The casino scenes, when Rose has her soliloquy about getting rich from arms dealing (and DJ quips about how the guy he stole the ship from sold stuff to both the First Order and the Resistance) was pretty preachy and anti-wealth. The truth is, the galactic economy has many more opportunities to generate wealth than just weapons. Raw materials, food & alcohol, space ship parts, you name it. The five most valuable companies on earth right now (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft) are incredibly wealthy and successful without being the recipients of government/military largesse.
- When Rose kissed Finn, it was jarring and added nothing to the story. First, it was out of the blue–there was no hints of romantic tension through their whole casino caper. Second, it was unnecessary–Rose’s “sacrifice” would not have been any less powerful if she was merely a comrade in arms. Third, if Rose had actually died, it might have been a poingnant goodbye, but instead she actually survives!
- Fuel running out? Hyperspace tracking? I hate when technological breakthroughs or technological shortfalls/breakages are the basis for plot points. Sci-fi movies by definition have some kind of technology that we don’t have now, or defy the laws of physics–but they establish a self-enforced set of rules. In none of the other 8 Star Wars movies do we ever hear about having enough fuel for ships, and escaping through a jump to hyperspace has been accepted as the way to get away. At the very least they could have brought back the Interdictor-class Star Destroyers from Rebels–at least that would build upon existing canon. Breaking those rules is lazy scriptwriting.
- TFA built up Snoke as this mysterious figure, only to have him whacked unceremoniously in the middle of the film. I mean–for goodness’ sake! TFA made him into this 30 ft tall holographic monster. This character is a critical link–where/who was he in Episodes 1-6? How did he manage to amass the resources and manpower to kickstart another galactic empire? How and why did he manage to start turning Kylo Ren remotely? This is lazy storytelling in the Nth degree–even a small explanation would satisfy this gargantuan plot hole.
Here’s to hoping that some of the things here are mitigated by the events of Episode IX. I have a sneaking suspicion they won’t because it is sooo difficult to catch lightning in a bottle–the original Star Wars trilogy was a fluke, and managed to touch all the right buttons with audiences. George Lucas thought it was the special effects that made everyone like it, and thus delivered us the Special Editions and Episodes I-III. TFA and TLJ tried to replicate the human elements, but failed to replicate the