I owe chats with at least a few geek friends about this film, so I figured the best way to take care of this is with one public blog post. A spoilery paragraph will come way down at the bottom of the page with ample warning, so anyone who hasn’t seen it should feel free to read the first section for a general sense of what I thought. You’ll have plenty of time to bail before I talk about specifics. So let’s dive in!
I’m a big Star Wars fan so I was predisposed to like this movie, despite the horrible taste the prequels left with me. I say “big fan” but that doesn’t mean I’m some huge expert on the world. I’ve only read one or two of the (now defunct) Extended Universe novels, but at least I know there is an extended universe and it’s all been tossed thanks to a massive corporate acquisition. I have, however, played a lot of the video games for what adds up to weeks of actual life. I regret none of it. And I really liked this movie! It didn’t blow me away or redefine Star Wars for me, but it’s a really solid film that feels like an honest, updated extension of the original trilogy. I think they do a great job of honoring the sensibilities and tones of those movies, which is where the prequels went so grossly wrong. It feels like a swashbuckle (not sure if that’s a noun but it is now). There’s a cynical humor, solid fights, dogfighting in space. Hints at a larger mystical legend and backstory that may be explained more in future installments. Pretty much everything I liked about episodes IV-VI. There are plot points I have a lot of questions about, which I’ll get into after the spoiler break, and concerns for the rest of the trilogy based on the events in this one. It’s not perfect, of course. But it avoided the awful combination of cutesy toddler humor and grave soul-crushing seriousness of trade agreements & airless struggles between good and evil that sank the prequels. Can you tell how much I hated those movies?
So bottom line: if you consider yourself even a casual fan of the original trilogy I highly recommend seeing this one. The characters & actors who return from those films are used well, and the new folks are very promising. I really love the bad guy in this one and I can’t wait to get more of his story and see where his character goes. This movie has stuck with me since seeing it a couple of days ago, to the point that I’d really like to see it again in the theater. I can’t remember the last movie that hit me like that.
OK, if you haven’t seen the film you should stop reading now. Spoilers to come after the white space below.
Seriously, turn back.
My biggest concern for the future of the trilogy is the lack of Han Solo from here out. Story-wise I totally like what they did here, and it sets a great trajectory for Kylo Ren, but Harrison Ford/Han Solo (it’s honestly hard to tell where one stops and the other starts at this point) really made this movie for me and his death makes me wonder what I’ll grab on to in Episode VIII. I’m guessing it will be the inevitable training between Rey and Luke, for which I have set an extremely high bar, but one never knows. As much as I enjoyed Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, Harrison Ford carried this movie for me. At least now they’ve established Rey and Finn and they’re set in motion, so I think the audience is theirs to lose at this point.
I loved Adam Driver and Kylo Ren. I can’t wait to learn more about the split from Luke. I hope they give us some flashbacks, but my prequelphobia has me gun-shy of any sort of explanations in this universe. The tiny glimpse we got in this movie was thrilling though. That metal hand on R2! I was digging everything about Ren and I assumed he’d take his mask off eventually. When he did I realized how much of a challenge that sets for the actor, and it was a bit anticlimactic when Driver spoke in his normal voice. But by the final fight when he was unmasked and furious I bought it pretty soundly, and I think that dichotomy will serve the character well during what I assume will be his struggle between Dark and Light a la Vader. It makes him human and weak to take off the mask, which is probably one thing he’s fleeing as he moves to the Dark side. His storyline in the next movie, whatever it may be, is probably what I’m most looking forward to (along with more screen time for Mark Hamill).
Speaking of Hamill, I’d avoided as much coverage as I could for this film but I knew he was absent from all the marketing. I also knew they wouldn’t waste an opportunity to get his face on screen, so I’m very glad they ended the movie the way they did. Rewatching the original trilogy last week before seeing this film, I realized that he’s actually a much better actor than I’d given him credit for. Everyone knows how whiny Luke is in A New Hope, and it’s easy to fault Hamill or the writing for that, but what if it’s intentional? That seems especially likely when you consider the stoic force he becomes by Return of the Jedi. I had also been unaware until a few days ago that he did a good amount of Broadway in the 80s, good Broadway too: Elephant Man, Amadeus?! He lost out to Hulce for the film role, likely because of his strong cultural association with Luke. Point being, I think he’s going to kill it in the next movie, especially given the general life experience he’s had since filming Jedi. Look how much he endowed into the few shots we had of him in this film. I’m very excited about his presence in VIII.
There are plot points that left a few question marks for me. Going into this I was curious about the seeming presence of the Empire when we know its leadership had been taken down thirty years prior. We learn early on that there’s a Republic again, and the Empire has turned into the First Order. But there’s a Resistance against the First Order that’s secretly funded by the Republic? So is the Republic the sole governing body of the galaxy now? If so why does there need to be a resistance against some splinter group of the last regime? Wouldn’t the First Order really be the resistance? How have they been able to continue funding what is obviously a massive military if they’re not the main government any more? These are questions I’ve had, but I don’t know that I really want them answered because that’s one step closer to the dreaded Trade Federation and I’ll just take some contradictory mystery if that’s our way out.
I was also a little disappointed that this all hews so closely to a combination of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. I told a friend that Lucas had followed Campbell’s Hero’s Journey so closely that Luke is now the cover of that book, and this movie just hit all those same beats again. A bored kid on a desert planet brushes up against a bigger world through a funny little droid, finds out she has these powers, begins a journey of using them and fighting evil. Another character is fighting a battle between good and evil in his own soul. He’s obviously a copy of Vader but that makes sense within the context of the story, so I’m fine with that. It doesn’t feel like a rehash but a character trait and I’m fine with that. A massive planet-destroying technology which is taken down in a weird hybrid of the two weaknesses of the other Death Stars. You get it. Again, it’s not a perfect film. But it got its hooks in me.
I’m also very happy that I avoided all the coverage that I did. I knew some of the casting for this film, like Gwendoline Christie and Lupita Nyongo, but I didn’t know anything about who they were playing and that served me well since Christie’s character basically vanished after serving a story purpose and Lupita was all CGI. I didn’t know anything about Kylo Ren, nor was I even sure about who was playing him or whether he was good. All the better.
Speaking of CGI, my biggest complaint for the film might be Snoke. They really couldn’t put someone in some prosthetics for that? He looks like the bad guys in the Hobbit movies and we don’t need any more of that. I’m really curious about who he is and I’m dreading any camera time with him because it’s just a huge letdown. I couldn’t believe Andy Serkis played him. I mean, I can believe it because no one else in the world does mo-cap, apparently, but the post-production work they did erased any sort of humanity from his performance (which I know he brought, because he always does).
So there you have it. I’m on board for this trilogy. I dread a little bit the onslaught of Star Wars that we’re facing for the next five years or so, because it’s a franchise near and dear to my heart and I don’t want them to wear it out. I got so tired of the endless marketing tie-ins for this film, and I see no reason that will abate for any of the films we have coming up. I think it dilutes the brand. But, I’ll just keep avoiding it like I did for this one. I’m also glad they’re using different directors for these films. I think that helped the original trilogy, just like it helped the Harry Potter franchise as well.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.