I’ve seen this movie twice already. I enjoyed it both time. I must be honest, however, this movie frustrated me. Maybe it’s because it’s a middle film, like The Empire Strikes Back was. That one frustrated me a little, and was definitely my least favorite of the original trilogy. (Yeah, real film buffs… favorite film… so well-done… yadda yadda yadda. Never got into it like I did the first, found it less emotionally satisfying than the third.)
But it’s more than just the “middle” aspect that frustrates me here, and that’s probably partly because this “middle” film feels like someone took half the elements of an “end” film and threw them into a blender with this film as it should have been.
But I don’t hate it, I just… Let me just run down like and dislikes.
You have been warned.
What I liked:
- Leia’s Force-propelled flight through open space.
- Benicio Del Toro. I think it’s fair to like Benicio Del Toro whether or not he’s in a film, but he happens to be in this one.
- Rose. She’s adorable.
- The Porgs. Yeah, I know someone’s going to call them the new Ewoks, but I liked them. Still a BIT unsettled by the scene where Chewie had clearly killed and roasted two of them… But, hey, if he had done that to the Ewoks, maybe people wouldn’t hate them so much!
- Finn’s climactic battle with Captain Phasma. (Assisted by Rose, but it’s his moment)
- That Finn still skirts the edge of what everyone else calls moral—deserting the Rebels in order to protect Rey. I like Finn’s unique perspective very much.
- “That’s how we’ll win—not by destroying what we hate, by protecting what we love.”
- That Luke and his nemesis Kylo Ren represent extremes—and both are advocating to let the past die. (Also didn’t like this. See below.)
- That the injection attack to destroy the central doohickey on the enemy ship is a plan that fails spectacularly. (And now can we retire that worn-out plot device?)
- Admiral Holdo’s kick-ass offering of her life to save her friends.
- Ben and Rey’s battle with the First Order Guards, as well as their running dialogue throughout the movie.
What I had a problem with:
- Lord Snoke. He’s too much of a Palpatine clone for me.
- Laura Dern as Admiral Holdo, Soccer Mom to the Stars. Sorry, guys, she’s a walking damn stereotype of the upper middle class white woman next door. I get that the point was to say that a woman can be stylish and pretty and still a tough-as-nails leader, but her “just trust me implicitly” deal didn’t work for me. Good leaders have charisma, and she had none. Leia is an empowering female role model. So is Rey. So is Rose. So is Maz. Hell, so is Captain Phasma! Admiral Holdo was a misogynist’s caricature of what female equality looks like.
- That Poe is responsible for the destruction of all the Rebel bombers, and, ultimately, the death of Rose’s sister and the crews of, what, six other bombers?
- That Poe is responsible for delaying the evacuation of the Rebel cruiser, AND…
- That Poe is partly responsible (along with Finn and Rose) for the fact that the First Order becomes aware of the evacuation of the Rebel cruiser, and, thus, Poe is responsible for the deaths of about 90% of the Rebel forces.
- Couple all of these points, and you have a film that shoves Poe into the role of the bad little boy. Not the “bad boy,” the bad little The brat who needs to be put in his place. Yeah, he’s arrogant. He’s the Leia analog of the new big three. He’s arrogant and very capable. This film was basically a prolonged “Let’s give Poe a spanking” session.
- Finn and Rose’s Marxist-inspired “let’s make the rich hurt” orgy. Yes, it was explained that all these people are supposedly arms dealers, but it pulled me out of the movie. As George S. Kaufmann said, “If you want to send a message, hire Western Union.” That goes double for political propaganda.
- That the cannon brought in at the end uses Death Star tech. Of course it does! We’ve destroyed three Death Stars! Enough already!
- The elitist description of Rey’s alleged parents as “Nobody” and worthless “junk dealers.” (No, I don’t believe that’s the final answer!) Yeah, I know the description comes from Kylo Ren. Nonetheless, there’s nothing inherently dishonorable or low about being a salvager. This is classism which, when coupled with the “eat the rich” attitude of a few scenes before suggests a particularly ugly flavor of First World bigotry. The too-rich are evil and the too-poor are dirty. Thank God for the Rotary Club!
- That, in every confrontation, the Rebels are so hopelessly outnumbered, and suffer such dire losses, as to defy belief that they could ever survive. Yes, you want to make the villains credible and real, but I simply didn’t believe that Leia’s army would have had a chance in real life.
- Finally, I felt Luke’s death was rushed. That’s a lot of why this film did not feel like a “middle” to me, because I feel that a few huge plot points
- That Luke and his nemesis Kylo Ren represent extremes—both advocating to let the past die.
So, about that one that’s on both lists… This is the most morally ambiguous Star Wars film that’s ever been made, with many opportunities for the viewer to wonder, “What would I have done in Luke’s place? Or Ben’s? Or Rey’s?” Note that I say “morally ambiguous.” Those few serious SF fans I know who could stomach the prequel trilogy said they liked the shades of gray in the characters. But the prequel trilogy wasn’t ambiguous, it was confused and, ultimately, lacking in morality. Witness Yoda being willing to use slave labor (the clone troops) to accomplish his ends, or that weird-ass “Don’t care if your family dies” speech he gives Anakin. I actually came out of that trilogy hating Yoda. I wasn’t actually glad to see him again in this movie for that reason.
I like that that same message is coming from the nominal bad guy and the nominal good guy. Kylo Ren wants Rey to forget the Jedi, the Empire, the First Order, the Rebellion… and rule by his side. Luke wants Rey to let the Jedi die, forget the Rebellion (though not let anyone die) and, um… well, Luke doesn’t have much of a life plan for himself or anyone else. This apathy towards the good and the bad is reflected in the advice D.J. gives Finn, which is basically “Live free and don’t choose sides.” It’s not bad advice, until you find out that DJ does choose sides when profitable or when needed to save his own skin.
I guess I don’t like this aspect because people, fans especially, tend to take the advice given in movies to heart. Even now, Trek fans speak of “The Great Bird’s philosophy,” as if Gene Roddenberry were a religious leader rather than a competent journeyman TV writer. I fear that someone might try to turn this “let the past die,” advice, and use it to justify or rationalize actions. In particular, I fear that, because a lot of fans want to build a brave new world right now, they might take away the message that the past should die, and not take away the message that those who think they can see a better world (Yoda, Luke, Anakin, Kylo Ren, Lord Snoke, Palpatine) often have myopia.
When Episode 9 rolls around, they’ve got their work cut out for them. They have to carry the saga forward without any of the original leads. And they’ve rushed to resolve the storyline of their original hero, leaving him nothing to do in the last chapter. Although I suppose he could show up as a Force ghost. That’s going to be rough, but I do believe this team can do it and make a good film. I’m hoping that, as I did with Episode 6, I’ll find it more emotionally satisfying than the film that came before it.