No, I don’t normally do movie reviews here. (I keep that on my Female Chauvinist Movie Reviews series on Livejournal.) However, this movie is consuming my brain and I feel like it is a very important case study in story telling, theme and plot.
Blanket review above-the-spoilers: This movie, whenever possible, chooses theme and characters over plot or structure. If you agree with the theme or the character portrayals, you adored it, if you disagreed you hated it, and those who disagreed are more likely to talk about the structural problems. Generally, I adored it, but I found the structural problems frustrating because most could have been fixed in the editing room, mostly through cutting. (One exception – there is one scene I feel should have been done COMPLETELY differently.)
Most of my friends agree, but disagree on which structural problems bothered them. I think that has to do with differences in what we value in the story, and I’ve genuinely enjoyed these discussions. If it is remembered for nothing else, this will probably go down as the most talked-about Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back.
The Force Awakens restored my faith in New Star Wars Movies and Rogue One sustained that faith so that I faced the title card with more expectant joy than I have felt since I was thirteen, sitting in the theatre to watch Return of the Jedi. Whatever The Last Jedi does, it does not weaken my hope and expectation for the next chapter in the franchise. It excites it.
OK. So that ends the spoiler-free portion of this review. If you don’t want to know who dies or kisses or takes his shirt off, stop reading now.
(It’s Kylo Ren. He takes his shirt off. Come on, ladies, there’s no way that’s a “spoiler”, am I right? More like an “enticer!” Ahem. Cough. Moving on.)
Here Be Spoilers
What the movie did well / what I loved about it:
- Rey is not related to anyone. Her parents are nobodies who died stupidly. I love that. A friend said she thought this might be easily overturned as Kylo lying, but I really really hope it isn’t, because trying on ANY potential parents in my head felt gross and forced. Also this is key to
- The Force is democratized. FINALLY. Anyone can have the force. It’s not a freakin’ bloodline thing. It isn’t proof of nobility or whatever. It’s out there, it’s everywhere, people just have to be open to it. AGAIN, one of my friends said “uh, isn’t that how it always was? I thought the ‘bloodlines’ crap was just bull from the prequels we all chose to ignore and we all assumed there were Jedi popping up everywhere after the empire fell.” I wish I lived in her brain. It is a better brain. Star Wars started out heavily influenced by Heroic Narrative, and has stayed stuck in that rut, and Heroic Narrative brings with it the baggage of Chosen Ones and You Are Just Born Better So There anti-democratic, monarchial thought. (IMHO. My only references are “The Emperor knew if Vader were to have any children, they would be powerful,” says Obi-Wan and “The Force runs strong in my family,” says Luke – both of those are in RotJ, right?) Obviously, I am very ANTI this sort of storyline and as a peasant daughter of peasants I like the idea of a story where you don’t have to be BORN GREAT.
- Professional military strategists are NOT less effective than a rag-tag team of Heroes Going It Alone. (The Poe Arc.) One friend took issue with the withholding of information to Poe in order to drive him to Go It Alone, but honestly I didn’t even think about it – I’ve seen too many heroes Go It Alone and I know that in a Real Military you are expected to just not be told what the plan is. So the Vice Admiral’s snubbing of Poe’s plea for information was a stroke of realism (and also hawt.) That said, as my friend pointed out, the writers could have quelled his complaint with a simple “They knew where we were – there may be spies on board – we are keeping the real plan need-to-know only.” Done. Regardless, this was another direct refutation of Heroic Narrative. Professional soldiers, law enforcement, fire fighters – they are always brushed aside as incompetent when The Hero steps forward. It was tragic that Poe’s plan resulted in deaths. Tragedy makes good story. Heroes always accidentally doing the right thing doesn’t.
- Kylo Ren takes his shirt off. I just had to put that out there. Star Wars needs more shirtless men. I figure it’s going to take two more shirtless scenes to balance out Slave Leia. I hope you’re listening, Disney.
- Luke’s arc makes sense. I did not think there could be a justifiable reason for him to run off all pouty to an island with the universe still in jeopardy. This was a good reason. He’s not just becoming a monk, k? He’s broken. He’s fed up. He’s mourning and looking for truth. Also the island environment was great with native life and Fish Nuns. (I really loved the Fish Nuns.)
- Rey and Kylo’s interactions were intense and deeply character-driven and in keeping with the movie’s themes, not black and white. They actually join sides! I mean, briefly, yeah, but HEY! Proof you can work with people you disagree with, however briefly?
- Luke’s final gambit. That was an extraordinarily beautiful representation of exactly the theme of the movie. We the audience are drawn in WITH the First Order, we fall victim to the same prank (I did, anyway) and rather than feel stupid when I realized all the clues I missed, I just want to laugh because it’s awesome Luke got to go out PUNKING EVIL.
- Leia. Leia didn’t get to be Leia in The Force Awakens. It was the one flaw in the movie for me. The writers forced her to be so bland and likeable she felt wooden. People questioned if Carrie Fisher could still act, even! But no. This writer and director knows how to let Carrie shine and she shone beautifully.
What the movie did poorly / what I didn’t like:
- Several scenes drag painfully. Leia’s force-driven self-rescue took way too long. I found myself thinking things like “She looks like a bad plastic Christmas Tree Angel. What is this some kind of attempt at metaphor? If so it’s heavy-handed. UGH how is she seeing in zero-gee? I don’t normally care about these things.” And I wouldn’t have cared if the scene were half its length. The scene with Yoda should have been brief and to the point – the length of Yoda’s ghost appearance in RotJ, say. I’m talking FOUR LINES MAX. It’s not that I don’t like Yoda, I do, but I feel like the extra time in the scene just muddies Yoda’s message and makes you pick out puppetry flaws. And I know some people loved the urchins in the stable – but I coulda used just a beat less of them. Vice Admiral Holdo’s sacrifice is blunted by its slow pacing. I felt myself want to tear up, but then stop because oh, it’s still happening.
- Finn and Phasma’s confrontation. This is the one scene I want completely re-written. As it stands now, the action relies on coincidence, which is never good, also involves Phasma vanishing and re-appearing, and just in general is more spectacle than substance and we just had a space carrier kamikaze, we don’t need more spectacle. You know what would have been more satisfying than Finn and Phasma battling it out? Finn and Phasma TALKING IT OUT. I am dead serious. This could have been an intense, uncomfortable and personal scene, revealing more about both characters. Instead we got a spectacle. That’s a loss. (What I personally wanted was a much quieter, tenser scene, in a smaller location with fewer witnesses, and maybe Finn choosing to NOT battle Phasma and rather escape – thereby giving him a NEW character arc – choosing the future over the past – redemption vs. revenge. That would have been SWEET and guaranteed us more PHASMA. I am SO MAD ABOUT THIS.)
- DUDE WE KNOW THE THEMES STOP BEATING US WITH THEM. The actions of the movie perfectly explain and showcase the themes the writers intended. There is no reason to spell them all out in dialog. K?
Things I was Kinda Meh Over:
- The close up on an Iron to (intentionally?) shout out to “Hardware Wars” – cute but meh.
- Snoke. He was never interesting to me as a character so I was kinda glad to see him die.
- SOME of the humor bothered me. Can’t pinpoint what or when, but… meh. Some of it I loved (Luke tossing the lightsaber! And when he rolled his eyes! Also the guy turning Finn and Rose in for illegal parking. At first I was like “More humor for its own sake? These beats slow the movie down” but then it was plot significant so I totally forgave it!)
- Benico Del Toro’s Moral Equivalence Argument Arc. I mean it was okay but a little telegraphed? I liked him but I found the escape was done in a handwavey way that drew attention to the fact that the writers just didn’t care HOW they got out, just that they did. Not a deal-breaker for me, but meh.
- Hux was not as lickably scene-chewing this time around.
- I loved Vice Admiral Holdo as a character and I loved her arc and I adored her flirting with Poe, but I kinda really hated her outfit? It was more “I’m attending a gala” than “I’m a military leader.”
- I seriously do not care one way or another if bombers drop bombs in space it was a great set piece and they had a planet eat a sun in the last movie. Star Wars is like that. If you really MUST get all whiney about it – that was a huge ass ship it definitely had a stronger gravitational pull than the bomber ship. Or maybe what we saw as ‘drops’ were really magna-force slow launches or some shit.
- I seriously do not care if a plot gets handwavey or even has huge holes in it, so long as I am entertained.