The first paragraph will be spoiler-free general thoughts, and then there’ll be a big white space with nothing but spoilers to follow.
There’s not much use in me saying whether I liked the film. Of course I did–this is only the fourth film I’ve seen in a theatre since March 18th and one of my first memories is seeing the rerelease of Return of the Jedi in 1985 with my dad. I’m not the guy to come to if you want to know if this film is good. If you’re interested at all in Star Wars then you need to make it out to see this. I’d rank it behind The Force Awakens, and of course behind the original trilogy. My therapist has said I’m not ready to talk about the prequels yet. That being said, it does feel like this is a continuation of The Force Awakens’ problem of retelling the same story as the original trilogy, up to a point. And I feel like the dialogue is too contemporary in spots. It doesn’t feel right for someone in this universe to refer to a “bigass cannon,” and some of the humor felt too specific to 2017. I also struggle with the amount of humor they’re injecting into these movies. Not that the original trilogy didn’t have jokes, but I think since Joss Whedon set the modern template for big action movies in The Avengers we have a sort of humor that wasn’t present before. It makes me laugh, but sometimes it feels out of place. I would take days and days of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, and I like what Adam Driver is doing as Kylo Ren. I think his motivations are a source of freshness for this trilogy. Daisy Ridley is compelling as Rey, I was surprised at how much of the story is carried by Carrie Fisher, and most of the cameos were great surprises while a couple left me scratching my head. A good deal of my opinion of the story of this film rests on where they take it with the next one. I feel like there were loose threads that, if not addressed in the final film of the trilogy, will be a problem.
Alright, spoilers down below!
I mentioned feeling like this film is repeating the story of the original trilogy. I think that’s mostly true until the final set piece, when the Resistance flees to Krayt. Wait, I just looked this up and it’s spelled Crait? It’s not the same as the Krayt in Krayt dragon? WTF? Why would they use a homophone for something fans are familiar with, when they have total freedom to just make up any name they want? The Krayt dragon is an extinct creature native to Tattooine, and Obi Wan Kenobi imitates its call when he’s scaring away the Sand People to save Luke in the beginning of Episode IV. /nerdrant.
Anyway, as the Resistance slowly fled the First Order and finally arrived at the salt planet Crait I felt like we were on new ground, even though it seemed a lot like the Battle of Hoth at first. The visuals were stunning and the climax between Luke and Kylo Ren was deeply satisfying. I was so relieved when it was revealed that Luke was not actually present, because I want all the late-stage Luke I can get. Imagine my disappointment when he faded away watching another binary system set on a planet far away from Tattooine. But, it felt true to the story so I can’t complain. I don’t mind so much that these films are repeating the same structure from the original trilogy; I’m just happy to see Star Wars movies in the theatre. But it keeps me from really flipping out about them or calling them truly great movies.
Another problem with the repetition of the original trilogy is that these films completely undermine the victory at the end of Return of the Jedi. Maybe there’s a lesson there, that there’s no end to evil in the universe and war will always be the status quo somewhere (another theme I was happy to see explored in this film with Benicio Del Toro’s character), but I think you can tell that story without repeating the same beats from the original films. The biggest loose thread for me right now is Snoke’s identity. I did not expect him to die in this film and they have some questions to answer about where he came from. Word around the fanbase is that he is Darth Plagueis, the Sith lord who trained Darth Sidious (aka The Emperor) in the ways of the Dark Side. This is a character mostly from the Expanded Universe though he shows up by name in Episode III. That could still be true, though the EU was tossed away as canon when Disney bought Lucasfilm. If so, we need to know why he was not in fact dead during the rise of the Empire. If it’s not true, then where the hell has this new Sith lord been hiding this whole time? He’s clearly older than the Empire, which means he’s at least a contemporary if not a senior to the Emperor and Darth Vader. Did he have nothing to do with them while they were running the galaxy? Did we really set up a Supreme Leader that mysterious just to have him die halfway through his second film, never to be addressed again? As I said, these are things that will hopefully come up in the final film of this trilogy, though it’ll have to be through backstory and that’s a weak way to go about things.
I like Kylo Ren’s motivation as revealed in his post-Snoke-murder conversation with Rey. His desire is not to rule the galaxy with an iron fist because he craves the power that comes with it. He wants to burn everything down, good and bad, and start anew with a system of his own making. Flawed thinking, sure, but nothing so cookie-cutter as what we usually see in antagonists in films like this. And this desire is flawed and eclipsed by his own personal hatred of Skywalker and his conflicted feelings about his parents. Good stuff, and Driver delivers it.
Yoda! And he’s a puppet again! There is hope! (Speaking of hope, someone count how many times that word was used in this film. I was waiting for Obama to make a cameo). I loved his scene with Luke, and he had one of my favorite lines of the film. “We are what they move beyond. That is the burden of every master.” I assume we’ll be seeing Luke in ghost form next time, when Rey needs some guidance. Better than nothing, but I want to see more of him in total control of the Force.
I think anyone writing about this movie is contractually obligated to mention porgs. Look, I had already seen Return of the Jedi a million times before I became an adult with opinions about things, so I’ve been somewhat programmed to fall into the cute traps the Star Wars films set for people. I had no problem with Ewoks and I was surprised to learn that people older than me thought they were dumb. So I like the porgs. They were in it just enough, the scene with Chewie was the sort of humor I do feel belongs in a Star Wars film, and they were created by an AI algorithm to pull every heartstring a human has. I’m on board. I wanted to feel salty about them, but I think they’re a victim of the marketing juggernaut behind this film more than their actual inclusion in the film.
WTF was Justin Theroux doing in this movie? Other than a George Mason impression, that is.
Can Domnhall Gleeson maybe turn down the villainy dial just a few clicks? They tried deflating him some in this film to comedic effect, primarily in the radio gag with Poe Dameron at the beginning (a good example of something I definitely laughed at, but in retrospect felt a bit out of place in Star Wars), which I feel is a comment on how over the top this character is. It’s fun, but, good lord man.
Another of my favorite moments from the film: Kylo’s “revelation” about Rey’s parents being no one. Again Driver’s delivery here helped sell the moment to me. Assuming he was telling the truth, which seems likely to me, this is something I’d like to see more of in my sci fi/fantasy films. I’m overtired of the “you’re the One”/destiny storylines, because if a character is truly The One Named in Prophecy then what’s the point of going through the story? What doubt does that leave for anyone in the audience? I also think it creates a false narrative that we are each, in our own way, the most important part of whatever story we think is happening to us. Most of us are by definition nobodies. “Most people are average” is perhaps the truest statement one can make. I’d like to see more of this in the stories we tell. However, that still leaves the trope of Rey possessing “raw talent” the likes of which Luke has only seen in one other person. I moderate a large online forum for acting, and the amount of young people who do not understand the amount of work that goes into being a skilled working actor is a constant source of frustration for me. They think you’re talented or not, they believe every PR-driven story about overnight successes and stars who’ve never trained, and honestly I think stories like this just help enforce that belief. No one wants to watch a movie about someone working really hard for ten years to get good at something. It’s why we invented the training montage.
2017 broke me in a lot of ways, and I think one of them is my tolerance for the silliness of the nuts and bolts of making movies like this. In our screening of this film, and I imagine all the others, there was a trailer for the new Jurassic Park/World/Galaxy movie, which honestly felt like it was also written by algorithm (could be a symptom of a terrible trailer too). At one point Chris Pratt says to his favorite velociraptor, which is apparently a thing one can say and still be reflecting something that is true in our world now, “You know me.” All I could see was a guy getting paid an absurd amount of money to pretend to have an emotional connection to whatever 2017’s equivalent to a tennis ball on a stick is, and I just have no patience for that any more. The same feeling flared up a few times during The Last Jedi too. Some line Rey had with Luke on his island, the typical “you can’t deny your destiny” yada yada stuff that fills all the cracks in these and other blockbuster movies. It was a lame line delivered perfunctorily by a woman who is making more money than my family has seen in generations and, like, what are we doing here? That’s nothing against Daisy Ridley. I really like her and she’s doing a good job. If anything it’s probably actor jealousy mixed with having spent too much time behind the scenes to be able to turn off my analytical mind mixed with I’m hurtling into middle age and I have a son now and no time for mediocrity.
It feels a bit silly to complain about that, then have no problem with the Luke/Yoda scenes because Mark Hamill was not only talking to a puppet (again, yay for old school!) but a puppet that was then decorated with a CGI sheen. And for all I know the puppet wasn’t even on set with him, but recorded in some studio in London. I suppose Yoda has been grandfathered into my ability to suspend disbelief.
Those are my general thoughts for now. I’d like to see the movie again, ideally in a theatre but let’s be real. My opinion could shift over time, but to sum up I had a great time in the movie, I have some nitpicks, and nothing is going to replace the original trilogy for me.