This feels like a movie made for the fans.
I mean, I know it is—it’s Star Wars, after all—but there’s so much in here to appreciate, coming from a fan standpoint. Easter eggs, call-backs to the orig trig, series nuances… Be prepared: You’ll need multiple viewings to catch everything and grasp the scope of this new, expanded universe that the filmmakers are setting up. While it has its setbacks—which, of course, I’ll get to later—this film had me smiling like an idiot from the opening fanfare, actually rooting for these characters (most of them) on their journeys.
I have to talk about the characters first—and, therein, lie some of my first complaints.
First of all, Poe Dameron… Trust me, you’ll have a much deeper appreciation for him, after the movie’s over. The filmmakers do so much more with him this time around—his screen presence is massive, and a good portion of the time is devoted solely to him or his group. He’s quickly becoming the new “flyboy”—brash, daring, a legendary Star Wars role in the making.
Mark Hamill returns as Luke, but this is a different Luke than what we’ve seen; he’s darker, more brooding—much like I’d imagine Obi-Wan, going AWOL after Anakin turned. Luke is hiding—from himself and the greater struggles plaguing the galaxy. When he finally does come around, it’s worth it—just that call-back scene to A New Hope alone. All the nostalgia and Carrie Fisher (God rest her) feels. As this is, unfortunately, what we can expect to be the last of her involvement in the larger Star Wars narrative, I’m hoping for a splendid (subtle, if necessary) send-off early in the next installment. Definitely some heartfelt fan moments, though, where Master Skywalker is concerned.
Finn furthers his juggernaut arc here, but with some…unnecessary baggage. Love, love, love his battle with Phasma, as hinted at in the trailer. Brief, yes, but it’s all subtext; he’s fighting back—once and for all—his doubts about leaving the First Order and finding his place in the scheme of things. Rebel scum, yes, but proud of it. His little side-quest there with Rose(?) is…extra. Cut it out, and we cut down the movie by a half-hour. I’ll link to Jeremy Jahns’s spoiler-free review down below; he dissects it a lot better than I ever could. Basically, it boils down to fluff that doesn’t add anything meaningful to the story. He’s a franchise favorite of mine, though. Can’t wait to see where the filmmakers take his character next.
A lot of the Kylo and Rey scenes are shared, in this film, so I’ll talk about them together.
There is, indeed, a lot of Anakin in Kylo; he’s conflicted about his place in the First Order, and I can see the light in him, vying to resurface. That said…don’t get your hopes up, folks: He’s got plenty of Vader in him, too, as was noted in The Force Awakens. Much more of his character and backstory are fleshed out here, though, and it really made me appreciate his bleak outlook as, literally, one of the last known Force-users in the galaxy. That’s a lot of pressure, in itself. Rey and him share this link that’s still a tad mysterious, but where they’re definitely a harm to each other, they also give each other strength. They share a really awesome scene together, about two-thirds through, that I’d re-watch on loop, if I could. Hers is also a conflicted upbringing in the ways of the Force, when all her avenues are, disappointingly to her, fruitless. Vowing to find her own meaning in this latent power she has, Rey will be a force—pun intended—to be reckoned with, in future installments. Again, a larger appreciation for her and her story is gleaned from this film. I can only hope that she stays on the path of the light…
Okay, moving on to the finer-tunings. The visual effects are astounding; from the naval skirmishes to the ground battles, everything flows and has this feeling of scope that even Empire hadn’t. Granted, a lot of that was due to technical limitations, but CGI has opened a lot of doors for filmmakers, these days. It’s a double-edged sword, but one that Johnson and his crew wield well. Everything looks fantastic, and there are a lot of practical effects still used, as well. There’s one (no spoiler) scene where we have what’s clearly a puppet, but glossed over in CG to make look so lifelike that’s it’s…almost tear-jerking. A lot of care was put into the spectacle of this film.
John Williams’s score is, needless to say, fantastic, and he borrows a lot from the orig trig to highlight important points or remix and sew into new themes and suites. Wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie without him. His touch just enhances the grandiose scale of the universe.
I was party to a full theater, so there was a lot of group emotion flowing through the audience—just the way to see this film: With other fans by your side, cycling through the same emotions as you, as the story unfolds. There are some hammy moments, sure—especially where the Finn and Rose stuff is concerned—but the good outweighs the bad by a Mustafarian mile. The whole “fleeing Resistance” arc was tortured; there’s a point where I remember thinking, “God, are they still fast-walking away from the bad guys? The movie’s almost over!” That’s what it amounts to: A brisk walk with lots of ship-to-ship cannonfire and not a whole lot else. Could’ve cut a lot of that, too, I think.
There are a lot of echoes of Empire in this film, as I’d hoped and expected. By calling back to the old films, perhaps the new filmmakers can spark new audience interest in the classics—the movies that made this franchise what it is…save the prequel trilogy, of course. Just watch Hope, Empire, and RotJ, kids, if you’re interested. Even with three unanimously-hated films under its belt, franchise fatigue is the last thing on my mind, after watching this one; directions are gone in which I never expected the filmmakers to, and a lot of ground to cover, story-wise. So many places future directors can take it.
Final ‘Risk Assessment: ******/. This is Star Wars, through-and-through. Veteran fans will love it just as much as relative new-comers. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I clapped, and all the time, could feel the spirit of one of my most beloved franchises—that Force—moving all around and through me. I was a little kid again.
Thank you, Rian Johnson.