*I am not a professional film reviewer, just a fan, and I have only seen the film once at the cinema. I liked and disliked the film, and I hope I haven’t been too biased in my review. My opinions are my own; they’re not facts. Please do let me know your thoughts on the film after reading. WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS.
It was with much excitement and anticipation that I went to see the latest Star Wars film. Having been pleased with the latest films in the series, I had high expectations: mostly of seeing Luke Skywalker in lightsaber fights after seeing the end of TFA. I jumped out of my skin when STAR WARS came on. I forget that every time. The opening text reminded me of the main forces, the ‘First Order’ (not the Empire) and the ‘Resistance’ (not the Rebellion). It said as much as could be expected about Luke Skywalker’s arrival and the stakes now that the ‘Republic’ (not the Rebellion or the Resistance) has been destroyed.
The first thirty minutes or so weren’t enough to bring me into the film. The rebel pilot Poe Dameron yet again is on a daring mission, as a prelude to battle. Poe brought energy and excitement into TFA, and I had hoped as much this time, however, then the focus switches to the dilemma of an unknown bomber pilot, and yet again the pilot has been swept to the side in the story, which was disappointing. The Resistance fleet is escaping from a planet with their tails between their legs, in a scene that resembles the tactics seen in ESB. When the fleet is stranded in space, I worried they’d run into an asteroid field. On the same note, there is a dark cavern on the isolated planet Ahch-To that Luke Skywalker is on – would Rey face a sith lord? I hoped not.
The story begins
The scenes frequently switched so we didn’t get a proper grounding of what was happening between Rey and Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To – he hunts and there are bizarre creatures – until he inevitably accepts to train her. It’s only when a mental channel of communication opens between her and Kylo Ren that the main story really begins, which makes us question why they have this special connection that has only before been seen between Luke and his sister and father. Are they brother and sister, perhaps? After all, Rey’s parents aren’t known … This theme opens into a rediscovery of the light and dark sides of the force. Maybe it isn’t good versus evil, but two sides of the same coin that aren’t well understood or acquainted. The theme develops quite well with Luke’s back story of having failed as a Jedi Master to foresee and respond to the growing power of the dark side in Kylo Ren, before it was too late. Parallels are to be made here between him and Obi Wan Kenobi and his failure to train Anakin Skywalker. Luke criticises the hypocrisy and hubris of the jedi in believing they are the light and guardians of the force, as opposed to being a part of a greater force of nature and life that is the force. Luke’s admission comes late in the series, after all it was about time a jedi saw the weaknesses in their own mindsets. Luke himself says it was vanity that led to these weaknesses, and this was why the dark side was able to take over with such ease, especially after the Clone Wars.
I felt I’d get a whole new understanding of the force, and watched with anticipation. The dark side was represented on the island as a black sooty hole. At least it was dark, I suppose. Luke seems to hold onto the jedi legacy in a cavern of ancient jedi texts, though in practice he has cut himself off from the force because its consequences scare him. I had hoped Luke would get over his apathetic state and jump into the action, but unfortunately he needed Yoda to reappear to tell him how to proceed and to show him that Rey resembled the force and the purpose he had left behind. Up until Yoda appears, Rey is still communicating with the distasteful Kylo Ren through the force. We see them get closer and closer, and it almost looks like they’ll fall in love and bring balance to the force. Their alliance does bear fruit, but not for Rey. They are brought before Snoke (Palpatine imposter/Goldmember from Austin Powers with an orc mask) and scenes remarkably familiar to Return of the Jedi blast through the consciousness: I feel the conflict within you, and the battle of wills between light and dark. Snoke even showed Rey a ‘physical screen’ of her fleet being smashed. No wide open port-holes in the future then. How did she know it wasn’t a fake?
And the truth behind the light and the dark side, their special connection, and the mystery of Ren’s parents weren’t covered at all. How lazy. I mean, come on guys, at least complete the arc and move on! Don’t drag the main plots into a mild recurring irritation that never gets answered. Luke learnt he was a jedi in ANH, that Vader was his father in ESB, and that his sister also has the force in ROTJ. Three separate plots, all complete. I was, in other words, disappointed that such a great developed focus of the light and dark side wasn’t taken further, answered, or understood. When Rey and Kylo Ren fought they simply blasted away from each other and that’s all the answer we’re going to get: light and dark repel. This in no way answers Luke’s discovery in dealing with Kylo Ren that there was no solution to the dark side and that the light wasn’t the answer. In fact, Luke Skywalker was disappointing through most of the film; his humour and changed character aside; he wallowed in despair, and couldn’t even summon the strength to get his physical backside off Ahch-To when it mattered. However, we saw him display some incredible jedi feat at the end, combined with trickery, which was nice, but this could have worked if he had actually travelled to Cratia too. No Luke Skywalker lightsaber battle either … Then, he died, and I felt cheated in a way I hadn’t when Han had died in TFA. Han had helped make TFA what it was; Luke was there as the elusive saviour or wise jedi who taught Rey, but he wasn’t actually there much, and when he was he was miserable. We didn’t see or really understand what happened between Luke and Kylo Ren (there needed to be a prologue) and so his stupor dampened the positive mood Luke brought to previous films.
Setting and character
I wanted us to have the time to settle into a scene before we’ve blasted away from it. Where is the setting? Can the Resistance and First Order not sit still for five minutes? Even in ROTS, Obi Wan Kenobi ran around on a creature and fought General Grievous before his betrayal, and this was in the midst of galactic war. Things happened too fast. Is it me getting old, or is it that the Star Wars series hasn’t decided if it’s for the younger generation only?
Finn and Rey haven’t developed as characters. We don’t see as much of Finn – he’s always running and being distracted by interfering maintenance worker Rose Tico, whose sister was the Resistance bomber pilot mentioned above. His fight against his nemesis Captain Phasma ended with a violent fight, and that was it. Rey is alike to Luke Skywalker in her adherence to the jedi code but she’s too rigid and perfect. Her struggles with Kylo Ren were all to do with the power of the force or a battle of wills. Where is her personality hiding and when will we see more of it? In TFA she was chasing destiny and the thought of not seeing her parents upset her, but nothing new was added since.
Subplots and other titbits
The First Order’s ships can detect them through lightspeed, but how? If would have said this is an important plot point. Can somebody enlighten me because I wonder if I missed this or turned a deaf ear to the part when it was revealed?
Leia’s force glide through space was fascinating, and I thought it was an epic moment that showed the strength of Skywalkers. I liked that her authority was unimpeachable where Poe Dameron was concerned, too.
- Kylo Ren’s mask is exposed as vanity, thank goodness.
- General Hux is overly egotistical; some would say it adds to his charisma, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. He is a bit over-the-top, haha, but I don’t dislike it. I even enjoyed when Snoke manipulated him.
- Where is Captain Phasma? I wanted to see more of her. She wears a mask and is intimidating. That’s good.
- Snoke, I struggled to take seriously. I have the measure of him: Palpatine imposter/Goldmember from Austin Powers with an orc mask. There was too much CGI on his face. Seriously, an old school Palpatine face would have worked better.
In this new trilogy, too much is happening. Ships going to and fro, and main characters interacting with main and sub characters, along with a whole host of familiar faces and alien species. It has turned from science fantasy into crowded space opera. In this way, the franchise has been modernised, and has a quicker pace as if the characters are hyperactive, the situations unpredictable, and battle fleeting. There is that element of suicidal daring, and short-lived alliance between the good guys, but ultimately, after the destruction of the Republic, they’re all really lucky to be alive.
One thing that bothered me in The Force Awakens was the similarity between it and ANH (with the astromech carrying vital information) and I’m afraid TLJ has the same faults. Too much of the core has been copied and has become a formula for future films in the franchise. There are archetypes now such as the Supreme Leader, the Conflicted Sith Apprentice, the New Hope, and Daring Rebel Pilot. In this way, they turned the archetype of Wise Jedi Master on its head, at least.
That being said, much worked well in this film. The battle scenes in space were fantastic, and it was enjoyable seeing Poe Dameron against General Hux. I laughed at the first joke, ‘holding’, but I can understand why it seemed a bit odd in the opening scenes of the film. The best parts of the film were Rey’s struggle to understand Kylo Ren and the dark side, while Kylo Ren did the same. It was great that Luke Skywalker was even in or around these scenes. I liked seeing the AT-AT walkers again at the end, showing more continuity, and Kylo Ren’s terror when Luke Skywalker heroically walks out of the Resistance base. Much of the look of the film was consistent with TFA, even if some themes had been left behind. I did enjoy watching it, but I wouldn’t say it was the best Star Wars film I’ve seen. Where we knew what to expect at the end of TFA, we have no idea for Episode IX, leading some fans to worry where the next episode is heading. I don’t think this is a bad thing.
ROTS – Revenge of the Sith
ANH – A New Hope
ESB – Empire Strikes Back
ROTJ – Return of the Jedi
TFA – The Force Awakens
TLJ – The Last Jedi