FAIR WARNING, WE COVER A LOT OF GROUND OVER THE NEXT FEW THOUSAND WORDS, AND HOPEFULLY BRING SOME NEW INFO TO THE FOLD, BUT THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT SKIP ON ANYTHING; HEAVY, INFORMATIVE READING AWAITS YOU HERE...
What is there to cover that hasn’t been said already about TLJ and that we can bring up on the movie’s three-month anniversary?
Judging from the Rotten Tomatoes score, you’d think something is amiss, with critics’ ratings pegging it in the fresh 90% and user input dropping to 48% (slipping ever lower over time, it seems) as of the time of writing this. But with Metacritic’s take on it along with other sites painting pretty much the same picture, even IMdB classing it below The Force Awakens (7.4 and dropping as opposed to a clean 8), and judging by the constant (and arguably majoritary) wave of criticism the official Star Wars Facebook page faces since the premiere, more so on the countdown to the DVD release, we’ll start with a disclaimer for this: Not everything should be for everyone. Yes, we’re plugging our own stuff.
In trying to be more inclusive, Disney have managed to piss off a large part of the fanbase (in our experience over multiple Facebook groups, up to 35-40% of it), achieving division of unseen proportions, instead. If your first reaction to this is to go “yeah, but those fans are crap, they’re all obnoxious, tehy don’t get it, they simply spew hatred, why are they even here, they should just stop etc.”, you’re broad-stroking, putting all of the legitimate criticism in with the pointless shrieking, and I personally find you a part of the problem...
Yes, there have been instances of people clamoring for all the wrong reasons about the movie, calling out things the “feminazi” and an “SJW agenda”, but guess what? They wouldn’t have any ears to land on if the other side of the argument wasn’t promoting these shitty stereotypes in turn, and even Kathleen Kennedy can be found guilty of some claims that may seem outlandish at first glance.
That said, don’t love it or hate it simply because people you know have swung one way or another. Passions will always run high with something like SW, but as long as you’ve got your reasons for falling into one camp I’m pretty sure none of your friends will disavow you. They’ll probably just be out of coverage like some of mine have gone since we last spoke about this. No worries.
Now the crux of it all: what did we think of it?
Nutshell: it’s bad. And that’s too damn bad.
In truth, this was always going to be divisive, and there were already standing issues of Lucasfilm and Disney rubbing fans the wrong way lately, one of them being Kathleen Kennedy wearing “The Force is Female” T-shirts or saying she doesn’t need to cater to male Star Wars fans back when R1 launched. But we’d rather not snowball here as we actually loved R1, even with being 100% white males, and 110% gung-ho. Also, others have made fun of it already.
So brush up on your Star Wars and for the love of the Force unclench ‘cause we’re going in dry… But let’s start with the good bits nonetheless.
Starting off with easily the strongest and best character the sequels have brought us, Kylo Ren gets more fleshed out both as a character as well as a Sith-bod-bedecked badass, losing his gimpy wannabe-Vader helmet and letting his pouty lips shine. Even with his still emo and tantrum-prone personality, I can’t help but feel like this sort of character is better explored here than in the prequels.
We also get a decent explanation for why he got his ass handed to him at the end of TFA, although this movie does seem to go out of its way to deconstruct Episode VII’s plot links in just about everything else that goes on.
Let me get it out of the way that I needed a second watch of Episode VII to really start liking Kylo as a villain. At first, he just seemed like a broodier, more mature Whinikin, with more angst and a bad helmet pasted on to set him apart. But then he grew on me, and not like a tumor. Adam Driver really does carry himself well, and he steals any scene he’s in, no matter if his counterparts are real or CGI.
Force face-timing is a thing again, Rey and Ren’s connection (shipping soon to a bedsheet near you?) sets up a new layer of the Force we haven’t seen on the big screen and that is genuinely entertaining to watch, especially since it adds more layers to a couple of characters that were bereft of much substance following TFA, Rey especially. Some more info on this relationship has surfaced, but it falls into the rant bit of the article...
Benicio del Toro is the first new secondary character that the sequels have come up with that holds any weight in the sequel trilogy. Part of it is thanks to del Toro himself being weird enough to function in the universe (up to adding the character’s stutter, a tiny, random trait by which the actor made the character his), but a greater part is the shades of gray he explains to Finn which gel very well with the whole “the past has to die” theme that both Kylo and Luke push throughout the movie.
And the fact that he’s a ruthless cutthroat who only thinks about number 1, getting himself alone out of hairy situations (as opposed to the Lando he’s obviously an offshoot of) makes him so real you could reach out and slap him.
We got a proper duel in the Throne Room, instead of the wannabe-climactic fuckery at the end of TFA where literally anyone and their janitor could just pick up a lightsaber and hold their own against a Sith and former padawan of Luke’s, injury, torment, and all.... But while I initially loved the spot and thought it was the highlight of the film, I’ve since grown out of love with it.
A short dial-up on the attention meter shows the choreography is off, there are egregious mistakes that have made their way in (with one of the Praetorian guards’ weapons outright vanishing into thin air at one point, and another clipping clean through Kylo’s saber), and the way some of the guards shuffle off after the start of it all is comedic at best.
Worth mentioning no lightsabers actually clash here so make of that what you will. And also, as is Disney-propriate, the much less experienced Rey gets Kylo out of a hairy situation and bests her opponents. I do, however, still like Kylo’s fighting style because it seems less honed and clean as opposed to the prequel duel work. It speaks of rage and passion rather than diligent exercise and studying the art.
Luke’s character went sour in our book from the moment he tossed that lightsaber over his shoulder, but he’s the final bit of living Luke we’re getting in the canon so I guess we’re just going to have to deal with it - more on his entire arc later.
With the final battle in the movie, we saw Luke pick up a saber and look all Jedi master-y, but it was still damn short, weirdly carried out move-wise, and marred by Luke being all MC Hammer about the AT-M6 salvos. Sadly, the weight of this scene and Luke’s young adult shrug is brought down by the fact that he’s… Not actually there… And then dies of exhaustion.
Luke going out on his own terms after projecting himself clear across the Galaxy made sense within the confines of the plot (what did you expect him to do, Force-walk on water to get there?), even if we’d have liked to see him go down Obi-Wan style.
This is pretty much our tagline for the film: it sets up amazing moments only to have them fall flat on their faces due to dodgy decisions in regards to canon, pre-existing character arcs, and even logic itself. The Rashomon effect flashbacks set against the backdrop of how Luke could have possibly even considered taking the life of what was then a young boy (his own nephew!) after his full Original Trilogy arc is but one such example.
I’ve heard some say that this makes him all the more real, that people evolve over time and take on different traits to their personality, but I fail to see how taking the most beloved character in the whole saga, turning his arc on its head, and effectively making many people’s childhood hero turn sour via a very contrived and out of character set of actions (intent to kill - give up on life) is supposed to be a good thing in any way, shape, or form… You don’t need to bastardize or utterly destroy the past (Luke) in order to elevate the future (Rey).
That twin sunset, though…
Overall, the movie had its highlight moments for most of the main characters, with Poe and Finn getting their Totally-Spies-Wars jokes/one-liners (Rebel scum is an instant favourite), Kylo winning in the memorable line department, and Rey doing more of whatever Rey is doing and people liking it because reasons, otherwise they’re horrible individuals, bigots, and the absolute worst thing about movie fandom today.
We got an interestingly set up David-and-Goliath space duel featuring Poe front and center, pulling moves we see today in stunt plane events, so it was definitely nice to see him exemplify his skills yet again, this time in a more focused and different way than we saw with TFA.
The porgs, weirdly enough, didn’t bother that much so that’s a plus… Or at least they didn’t annoy us more than the Ewoks did back in Episode VI. The drawback here is that they’re seemingly only used to give Chewie something to do for the duration of the movie, the living rug being relegated to comedic relief and not much else here.
The biggest possible positive we end up with (and I’m really not kidding) is the movie is a damn meme well, with groups like Star Wars Sithposting and indeed ourselves churning out dozens upon dozens of edits, cuts, and memes which are then John Mayered or Smoshed out of existence.
And that’s about it for positives, really. What did you expect? We said we didn’t like it… On to the griping, double time!
Getting straight to the point here: the double fake-out of this looking like Empire vs. this being nothing like Empire, and Disney pushing the ‘all your expectations will be shattered!’ thing…
I went into it with no expectations, and still felt like I was watching a flashier, louder, dumber Empire, and this Nerdist article lays out the exact way in which the two plots are insanely similar to one another, from the long space scene to the Jedi training on the remote planet and the exotic location subplot. And while the Nerdist fellows state that TLJ adds enough twists and turns to not follow in the exact footsteps of Episode V, we feel like arguing that would go down just about as well as saying Episode VII isn’t just a flashier, louder Episode IV.
And while the Nerdist fellows state that TLJ adds enough twists and turns to not follow in the exact footsteps of Episode V, we feel like arguing that would go down just about as well as saying Episode VII isn’t just a flashier, louder Episode IV.
That said, Empire isn’t the only Star Wars flick TLJ “borrows” imagery and lines from, with Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi getting their respective… “Nods”.
Let’s talk about the humor in this movie next, shall we? Although I’d rather not.
The very first joke in the film took me completely out of it, and the experience suffered for it from then on. The reason was twofold: on one hand it set up the idea that we came to see a SW movie for the Marvel Cinematic Universe jokes, which - spoiler alert - we didn’t. Star Wars’ humour always seemed universe-appropriate, as did the speech itself, but now we got to the point where “Godspeed” is a thing alongside MTFBWY which makes things feel disjointed at best, but that goes for a lot of the things that go on here.
On the other hand, the movie has a good if not great villain in Kylo and the back and forth him and Hux had in VII was enjoyable, giving the impression that there was more to explore this time around… And there was, but Hux was made to look the fool one too many times here, too early, and by the wrong people, this being the beginning of his downfall as a character that you can take seriously, be it as a military leader or a solid banter partner for Kylo.
Most of the jokes fell about as flat the Earth, with the only bit that really got a proper laugh out of our group being the Rey-reaches-out sequence when Luke teaches her about the Force. That was a smart, light, non-forced, tongue-in-cheek moment that gave us a glimpse of Uncle Luke, that crabby relative of yours with the great sense of humour hidden behind a stern exterior, as well as still-learning Rey, naive to the ways of the world, much like Luke himself was back in the day. Again, this really didn’t make sense with Luke’s character up to that point, but we’ll take what we can.
Honorable mention: Poe’s “permission to get in an X-Wing and blow some stuff up” bit.
Speaking of Hux and characters you can’t take seriously, boy, have we got more of those for you… Starting with literally nobody’s favourite, Captain Phasma!
A discount-Boba-Fett at best, and plain eye-candy and merch-pusher for most of her screentime, Phasma was doomed from the start when she was given 3 lines and then unceremoniously fed to the trash compactor in TFA, a fitting end for a trash character. Or so we thought… Apparently bringing back an ineffective villain that was discarded like a chump is somehow encouraged and beneficial to the plot these days. Only to discard them again, with the same character besting them in a bulshittery way...
People who have read her novel argue that there is an underlying gravitas to Phasma that gives Finn’s (somewhat lucky) victory against her more weight, but taken on her own, and within the context of the movies alone, she serves as little more than a speed bump rather than an electric fence guarded by Geonosian zombies in Finn’s way. The deleted scene she had does actually give her something of a personality, but for some reason it was discarded, so hooray for Rian and the writers again!
It’s worth noting that Phasma’s armor may be fire-resistant, which (and it pains me to say this) may mean we see more of her in Episode IX, to the chagrin of all. If they do, it better be for a gag death that we can at least get a kick out of... Cue the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-a-Sarlacc Pit.
Also… Chrome-dome? Really?
Third time’s the turd on characters that had their potential squandered and end up being mainly useless or poorly written, so we’ve got everybody’s most hated fangirl in the universe (and we’re putting that lightly), in the form of Rose Tico.
A spunky mechanic of the Rebellion/Resistance/Whatever they’re calling themselves these days, she’s strong and has a sense of duty, pushing through the loss of her sister to sort of guide Finn through a come-to-ForceJesus moment at the end of it all. And also to sexually harass him with the most awkward kiss in the history of space operas…
Meanwhile, with Rose being so strong over the loss of someone dear that NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT AND HAS ONLY SEEN FOR A FEW SECONDS, Han Solo’s death is simply glossed over for the entire movie with nary a mention. You know, the same Han Solo we’re getting a movie for soon enough...
Whatever level of relatability you find in Rose, here’s one thing you have pretty much no way of sidestepping: Canto Bight as a subplot sucks ass through a garden hose. Apart from the dent it puts in the plot rolling on, let me get the whole thing straight...
Rose and Finn head to Canto Bight looking for the codebreaker they need to save the Rebellion. They get captured for an illegal park job, make their way out thanks to deus-ex-DJ, and pull an in-extremis getaway astride the space horse-dogs that are there to elicit an emotional response over cruelty to animals and to further enforce Rose’s “heart of gold”, all the while making a little mess of Vegas, presumably injuring innocent Gringotts employees and people who were not warmongers, but just there to gamble some credits away. When they manage to outrun their pursuers, at a point in time where they have no getaway, no codebreaker, and literally no way of saving their friends. Rose, bless her cringy upturned bangs, takes the saddle off of one of the race-Fidos and labels the mission as “worth it”.
In the face of the utter annihilation of the Rebellion itself, with your way off the planet blown up, and time running out, having just seen the child slavery going on in the stables, the fact that you released a few down-on-their-luck giraffe pups that can very well be captured again within a couple hours pegs you as the latter part of what Georgie is so eloquently describing here…
It’s almost as dumb as both the set-up and eventual prevention of Finn’s sacrifice at the hand of Rose’s “save”. The first because it’s too early and lacking character content to be happening (especially since he’s learned next to nothing following the events of TFA, his current “arc” relegating him to tag-along for the most part), the second because it makes no sense within the setup (side note: #BatteringRamCannon cringe, anyone?), and because the subsequent reasoning Rose gives is just bafflingly incoherent with what has gone on just minutes before sacrifice-wise…
Holdo just killed herself to save the remains of the Rebellion, and the entire damn Rogue One cast was sacrificed for the Galaxy to have a hope at dismantling the Empire, but running away is definitely what’s supposed to save the day. You know who else saved the ones he loved? Obi-Wan, on the Death Star.
But wait, we’ve just hit the four-of-a-kind on scraping the character barrel!