Originally wrote this last week but nobody would have seen the film yet so I waited to post it.
I heard some people remarking that because The Force Awakens was so similar to Star Wars (and The Empire Strikes Back) that it was not really a test of what Disney was doing with their new Star Wars franchise – because it only retreads old material. Therefore this film – Episode VIII – was going to be the real test of whether or not the series would be good.
I think that is true, and this film did show us what the future of Star Wars is going to be like – but not to as great an extent as I thought it would. When I began the film I assumed what I was watching was a film set two years after The Force Awakens because every Star Wars film to date has had at least a year gap between it and the films before it. Not doing this was actually a great choice in my mind because I hate when a film ends in a cliffhanger but deosn’t directly show us the resolution.
There were three stories to this film, at least one of which could be totally cut. The parts of the film where Rey is training with Luke were some of the most interesting parts of the film – and the stuff I enjoyed most. The choice to make Luke Skywalker snarky and cranky was funny and unexpected, and while it was sort of slapstick I did like the moment when he throws his lightsaber off the cliff. There were no lines he could have possibly said which would have released the pent up expectation of two years – but something had to go there and an action worked fine.
The second plot was Finn being given something to do. Finn meets a random rebel girl and they go on an ultimately pointless mission to a Casino planet which felt really, really, out of place in the Star Wars universe. Their entire plot was unnecessary and ultimately did not help the resistance at all – or the audience. If anything it made me like Finn less.
The third plot was the Resistance’s struggle against the First Order – and Poe Dameron’s struggle against the Resistance leadership. This plot gave me mixed feelings. Poe is a Han Solo-esque character who the film goes out of its way to describe as a “fly boy”. Poe’s journey was intended to be something different, to show the true cost of reckless heroism and to show when it’s wise to retreat and back down from a fight. This is not an entirely worthless message. However the way it was delivered, by two or three women always shaking their finger at Poe like a petulant child, was very aggravating and really preachy. Poe is the kind of character the Star Wars film have told us we should be siding with, but this film is telling us we are wrongheaded for agreeing with him.
Somebody felt I was reading too much into this exchange during the film, but the fact is that there are no male characters in the entire film who are in the right and don’t need to be told to make a 180 by a woman or an alien. Poe is being constantly told by the purple haired officer that he is wrong for trying daring ways to rescue the resistance. Finn is constantly being taught lessons by the rebel he meets when he is trying to get to an escape pod – she preaches at him through the whole film. Even Luke (the supposed teacher of Rey) refuses to be persuaded by the wisdom this inexplicably wise young woman has to bring about his return from retirement and he only has a change of heart when Yoda (hardly an atypical masculine figure) convinces him to help. Those elements were not necessarily bad by themselves – but as a whole, it felt like Disney was criticizing strong males for existing in movies and trying really hard to push a social justice message where it did not belong.
Ok, with the rant over I want to just run through a list of pro’s and con’s.
- The introduction of the ability for force ghosts to move physical objects. When Yoda appears to Luke he hits him in the head and can control the weather. Any particular reason he or Obi-won never decided to use these abilities to help anyone else in the last thirty years? The whole limiting point of being a force ghost is that you can only give wisdom not physical help.
- Purple haired officer lady and Finn’s sidekick. Why do they exist? They mattered so little I refuse to look up their name’s on IMDB.
- Finn was stopped from saving the resistance so that his sidekick could deliver even more expositional preaching. That would have been a perfect bookend to Finn’s formerly selfish character and they ruined it.
- Casino: It’s not Star Wars-y. Also it was preachy because rich people are evil for having money I guess. Selling weapons is how weapons get made. And you need weapons to fight, and fighting isn’t always evil. Should you sell them to the bad guys? Maybe not.
- The codebreaker character. He feels kind of pointless. The film clearly doesn’t believe this character’s thesis that there are no good guys and bad guys, so what was the point of him even being a part of the story is they weren’t going to even try to make his point understandable?
- Maz Kanata was a consistently C average character who did not warrant more screen time.
- Rey’s parents being “nobody” is a cop out. Original Trilogy or Prequel Trilogy we know a parent is strong with the force for a child to be strong with the force. Rey’s parents couldn’t have been nobody for her to be so powerful.
- The dialogue is too “our world” in places – as it was in The Force Awakens. The opening scene where Poe acts like he’s on a customer support call was funny but felt enormously out of place, much like when he has the “you talk first?” conversation in episode VII.l
- Leia using the force to save herself. That was pretty epic and it acknowledges how Return of the Jedi said she would learn to use the force. Of course, now they have to kill her off again or ignore her in future films.
- As much as I disliked Yoda’s introduction because it breaks continuity with the physical aspect of being a force ghost – it was still amazing to have him in the film. I especially appreciated that he was a puppet again, although his face seemed weirdly squished to me – it was longer in Empire. His lines with Luke were very funny.
- Luke facing the First Order was a great set piece. I initially felt cheated when it was revealed that he was not really there, I was hoping Luke’s X-wing would be pulled out of the water where we saw it earlier in the film. But I will say that as much as that disappointed me initially, I pretty quickly changed my mind. The whole film had laid the groundwork for this exchange when it told us that (a) we need “a legend” right now, and (b) generating visions between people can have physical effects. Which leads me to:
- The visions between Rey and Ren where they can physically interact with each other are a really cool new way to use the force. The Expanded Universe already shows us a variety of new directions the force could go, but this is the first time the new saga decided to show these possibilities.
- Killing off Snoke was a genuinely unexpected move. It was a great choice and it really makes us appreciate Ren’s character as a villain in his own right.
- Luke’s death initially felt contrived until I remembered we have had a precedent for it in Return of the Jedi – Yoda also realizes his time has come and allows his body to dissolve. I think I will like it more and more once I get used to it.
- Rey has had a real journey in this film over the first, she messed up when she played with a lightsaber and it was nice to see a protagonist actually fail at something for once. Although she didn’t fail at much else.
- Luke closing himself off from the force and wanting the Jedi to die was a neat dynamic and unique choice.
- The only good thing to come out of Finn’s subplot – the kid who uses the force at the end of the film.
Bonus Round: The stuff I don’t know how to feel about.
- All the extra Eastern Philosophy and dualistic ideas about balance. Star Wars has always adopted its philosophy from eastern stuff, but here it was a lot more explicit. Part of my thinks it’s weird, part of me is glad the films are actually exploring any philosophy versus none at all besides kill bad people unless they feel conflicted. The yin-yang symbol on the floor of Luke’s cave where he teaches Rey and on the necklace of Finn’s sidekick was weird – that’s a very our world thing and I don’t know that it belongs in the Star Wars mythos (not that it’s unprecedented since the sun makes the same symbol in Attack of the Clones I believe).
- The ending. Where can the story go from here besides more running for the rebels to even more bases? As I said at the start, I don’t feel like this film told us where the franchise is going as much as it seemed like it was going to.