Well. I saw it. The Rise of Skywalker.
And while I’ll inevitably spend far too many words trying to explain what I liked, what I didn’t, and what I really didn’t, if you’re looking for the short, short version:
If you’d prefer something a bit more analytical (and much longer), please, do carry on.
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Actual Goddamn Theater
Spoilers: ALL OF THEM
1. When I saw both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I got kinda emotional during the opening crawl. Took me by surprise both times, too, just . . . I don’t know. I felt a certain wonder in it, I guess? When I sat down for The Rise of Skywalker, however, that wonder wasn’t there. While I’d managed to avoid any specific spoilers, I could gather from numerous headlines that TRoS would, indeed, walk back several of the things that I loved about The Last Jedi. And while I don’t think TLJ is a flawless film, I do think it’s both incredibly entertaining and wildly ambitious, and I really appreciated so many of Rian Johnson’s narrative choices. Knowing that this trilogy would conclude with Episode IX: The Massive Retcon, well, I was disappointed.
Still, I sat in my seat, thinking, Hey, it’s fine. It’ll still be a fun movie. They’ll make a few boring decisions; you’ll shake your fist at them appropriately, and then enjoy the rest of the film. After all, you like The Force Awakens, don’t you? Give this a fair shot.
And then the first ten minutes happened.
So, here’s a thing: often, I only watch one trailer for movies I’m interested in. Such was the case with The Rise of Skywalker: I was curious–because of course I was–but also, I didn’t want to get spoiled for too much. And the trailer I saw was cool: Rey was an absolute badass in the desert, Poe had transformed into Indiana Jones, Lando was flying the Millennium Falcon, and, notably, very dead Emperor Palpatine seemed to be laughing from the grave.
This is where I made a fatal mistake. Maybe I wouldn’t have made it if I’d watched the other trailers. Maybe the truth is I’m simply a fool. But foolishly or not, I’d assumed that the Emperor would be an homage, an evil Force Ghost who popped up for a scene, perhaps a nightmare or a portent of dark things to come. It never actually occurred to me that J.J. Abrams would resurrect the Emperor as the Big Bad for this film and trilogy.
Reader, I hate it.
I hate all of it: how the Emperor created Snoke as a puppet/snare (so that Kylo’s shocking choice to murder him in TLJ now means absolutely nothing), the first hints at Rey’s disappointing origin story (which will ultimately crush her character arc), how the Emperor has been working secretly from the shadows ALL ALONG (something that’s somehow simultaneously both ludicrous and boring, not to mention functions to absolve Kylo of his sins–oh he can’t be found culpable for his actions! Palpatine has always been to blame, oh, wicked, bad, naughty evil
Zoot Palpatine!) I literally threw my hands up in the air while watching this. And, not unlike Infinity War, where they [spoiler redacted] in the first ten minutes, I had a really hard time reengaging after this scene.
I did eventually, of course. I enjoyed the movie for a little while. And then they lost me again, maybe halfway through, and at that point, I was just waiting to go home.
2. Let’s talk about some of the things that worked well for me. (I’m going to scatter these throughout, to try and keep this essay from becoming a 6,000 word wall of negativity, but I’m absolutely not promising to be successful in that endeavor.)
2A. Most of the friendly banter between Finn and Poe, as well as the slightly more antagonistic banter between Poe and Rey. The world fell in love with these three characters in the original film, but this is the first movie we’ve really spent any time with them all together. That’s nice. That’s something I wanted. Also, I’m a hopeless sucker for that emotional hug between the three of them at the end. That was a solid moment.
2B. Poe’s character arc . . . mostly. There are parts I think are a bit messy (the mini fight between him and Finn feels manufactured, the mini pep talk by Lando is too rushed and generic to be meaningful, etc.), and I do wish TRoS could’ve done more with him being scared of command, post TLJ.(There’s a tiny bit of this? But it’s pointedly not connected to Poe’s actions in the previous movie, which I think is very unfortunate.)
Still, I was surprised to find this Poe a touch crankier and more bitter than I expected, and as I was certainly feeling crankier and more bitter than I expected, I felt myself relating to him. Also, I genuinely like the idea that when nobody showed up after Gondor called for aid in TLJ, you know, Poe might be feeling a bit resentful, a bit lost and betrayed. That felt real to me. Also, that devastated expression on his face when All Seems Lost, when he thinks he led his people to their doom? Yeah, I’m here for that.
I’m not here for how everyone just shows up to save the day for no reason, like, it’s a lovely shot, and sure, Billy Dee Williams is certainly charismatic, but c’mon, this felt cheap. We’ll come back to this later, though. For now, let’s stick with the (sorta) good stuff.
2C. Zorii Bliss. Gonna be real honest, I totally forgot Keri Russell was in this movie (I didn’t even recognize her while watching the film), so this ended up being a delightful surprise: as evidenced in another JJ Abrams movie I highly dislike (M:I – III), I think Russell can do a lot with a little. That’s certainly the case here: Zorii is a super small part, but I gravitated to her pretty much immediately. (Wasn’t ever worried about her dying, either, partly because this movie has more than one obvious fake-out death, and partly because if she had died on Kijimi, we would’ve had, like, a Maisie Richardson-Sellers moment from TFA, where we see Zorii’s sad/panicked face before the Big Boom.)
And while it feels like Zorii was created to remind everyone that Poe is straight, totally straight, look at all the hetero chemistry going on here–like, that hilariously backfired for me. Because all TRoS really confirmed is that Poe is gloriously bisexual, which frankly, is a pretty popular head-canon anyway. (Queer rep, or the bullshit that passes as queer rep in Disney films, will also be discussed later on.)
Also, that tiny non-verbal moment at the end where Poe’s like wanna screw around and Zorii is all hard pass and Poe’s like sure, cool, I tried, and there’s no weirdness or humiliation or angst or gross “I’ll wear you down eventually” stuff? I LOVED IT.
2D. Ben Solo’s “ow.” That shit was funny.
3. But, of course, now we must discuss Ben Solo/Kylo Ren.
Look, I get it. Redemption is a huge theme in the Star Wars universe. I, unfortunately, do not like most redemption stories because I rarely feel those redemptions have actually been earned. I am very wary of narratives that insist the last act is the only one that matters, and I’m especially skeptical of redemptions that only come about because of romantic love. I have not been shy about my belief that Darth Vader’s redemption in Return of the Jedi is badly rushed, and I think the whole trope of “redemptive death” is often an easy way to get out of a character actually having to put in the fucking work.
In regards to Kylo Ren specifically, well. I’ll admit I’d thought we’d closed the door on his redemption in both The Force Awakens AND The Last Jedi. In the case of the former, I clearly misjudged people’s willingness to forgive the murder of one of the most popular Star Wars characters of all time; in the case of the latter, like, they literally close the door: it’s the non-subtle sound of Rey choosing to shut the Millennium Falcon with an audible clank. By the time I sat down in theaters last week, however, I knew this character arc was coming no matter what the hell I wanted, so I tried to resign myself to it.
But man. Even I wasn’t expecting the redemption to be this bad.
It goes like this: as Kylo and Rey fight in what kinda feels like a medium-stakes scene, Leia uses all her energy to break through to her son by, I guess, reminding him of his real name? (Like, I respect that there were obvious limitations of how big of a role Leia could play in this film, but also . . . she literally just says Ben, and that’s all it takes, like, gosh, why didn’t anyone think of that before–oh wait.) This is enough to distract Kylo, so Rey immediately stabs him with her lightsaber. But after feeling Leia die, Rey decides to heal Kylo and take off. (I’d say I was disappointed by this development, but honestly, I’d figured Rey would heal Kylo almost as soon as she stabbed him. Once she’d saved that one alien creature, it was just a guessing game of which MC she’d heal.)
Later, when he’s alone, Kylo has a brief chat with his dead father (a memory, rather than a Force ghost), who informs him–and us–that Kylo Ren is dead; only Ben Solo lives now. Ben chucks his Dark Force lightsaber symbolically into the sea, and that’s it: redemption achieved. He spends the rest of the movie chasing after Rey, fighting alongside her, resurrecting her, and ultimately dying for her, but at that point, he’s not really working to achieve redemption. He’s just a good guy now. Han Solo said so.
. . . you know, I’m just gonna move on, because all of that is nonsense, and I have way too many other things to discuss.
4. For instance, let’s talk about Leia. It’s difficult, of course, because of Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing in 2016. The Rise of Skywalker should’ve been her movie, but it also couldn’t have been, and I respect the decision to avoid using creepy CGI to “perform” in place of the late actress. This was never going to be easy. It was never going to be perfect. It’d be unfair to go in expecting either of those things.
I still think it could’ve been a lot better.
What I love:
Leia training Rey.
Rey calling Leia “master.”
What I don’t love:
Leia goes out with a whimper. She sacrifices herself in a moment that doesn’t feel tense enough to call for it and breaks through to Kylo in a moment I absolutely don’t buy. In this movie, Leia’s whole life feels like it’s about her one shitty kid; I can’t even enjoy the super brief flashback to her training as a Jedi because, apparently, she gave it all up after sensing that Ben would die or something? Like, I’m not saying that she made the wrong call; I’m saying this is one hella slapdash prophecy backstory, and I wish they never even bothered creating it. Leia may be a princess and a general and a mother and a half-Jedi and an absolute badass who set hairstyle trends across the galaxy, but in this film? She’s a MOTHER, and that’s about all. Nearly everything she does is defined by her child, and I find that a disappointing way of honoring this iconic character’s legacy.
I do have some ideas about how else Leia’s story might’ve concluded, but we’re gonna hold off on that for now and discuss some other character arcs . . .
5. . . . Because the sad truth is that while maybe Leia’s story was doomed to fail because there is no replacing the amazing Carrie Fisher, J.J. Abrams (and screenwriter Chris Terrio) also manage to fail almost every other character arc in this movie.
Rose is completely sidelined in TRoS, and it’s bullshit. It’s not just that she has less screen time than I’d hoped (although sweet Christ, it’s a LOT less); it’s like there’s an actual moment where you can see how little Rose matters to this story or these creators. I can only assume this is what the first draft of the screenplay looked like:
FINN: Come with us!
ROSE: [random excuse – fill in later]
Rose is not in this movie long enough to have anything resembling a character arc. And while I can’t definitively tell you that this is because JJ Abrams wanted to sidestep any criticism by racist trolls, I can tell you that the racist trolls won, regardless of Abrams’ intent. Both Rose and Kelly Marie Tran deserved a lot better.
Maz is also functionally useless in this movie. This bothers me a lot less because Maz was never a lead character, and to my knowledge, Lupita Nyong’o didn’t go through the same kind of racist trash that Kelly Marie Tran did from Star Wars fans. (Please let me know if you’ve heard otherwise.) Still, it is a little disappointing. Like, why even have Maz if you’re going to do this little with her?
Finn has a lot more screen time than either Rose or Maz, but his actual story? Like, what story? In TFA, he chooses to leave the First Order rather than be a part of mass murder; he goes from trying to save his own skin (an admittedly respectable goal) to risking his life to rescue a friend. In TLJ, Finn goes from concentrating solely on his friend’s safety to actively becoming part of the Resistance, this time nearly sacrificing his life for their chance at survival. In TRoS, Finn . . . has the Force? Which he maybe realized at some point prior? Or not? It’s hard to say when, exactly. Maybe this is what Finn was going to confess to Rey when they seemed about to die? (It feels like an odd thing to confess right then, but I can’t really think of what else it would be. John Boyega has said it wasn’t a love confession, but since they didn’t bother to make that canonical in the film, like, shippers, you do you. Maybe he somehow knows her true parentage? But also, like, HOW?) And while people will always disagree on how many questions need to be answered for a successful resolution, like, this just feels messy to me, especially since Finn gets so little to do in this movie.
I am completely and 100% on board with Finn being Force sensitive; I actually quite like the moment where he senses that Rey has died. But there was almost no build for this whatsoever. There was a lot of fanon speculation after TFA (because he picked up the lightsaber and all), but it was never canonically discussed; I don’t think it wasn’t even hinted at in TLJ. But, for some reason, TRoS makes the baffling decision for Finn to be Force sensitive without allowing for a moment where he discovers it, accepts it, tells anyone about it, or does anything active with it. It’s maddening.
The worst part of Finn’s story for me, though, comes about when he meets Jannah* (Naomi Ackie). Jannah, herself, is fine; predictably, she doesn’t get to do much either, but she does look awesome, and I’m a 100% here for her mission of self-discovery with Lando as her co-pilot. (Please say they aren’t related. Please, oh please.) And this all could’ve been exciting, like, Finn meets another ex-Stormtrooper who rebelled? Yes, please! There are so many fascinating character beats or narrative places this could go.
Instead, all discussion is pretty much limited to this one scene, which revolves around the revelation that Finn and Jannah’s decision to leave the First Order wasn’t a decision after all; it was a feeling.
Here’s a feeling for you: I hate literally everything.
I suppose at this point, though, I should be used to disagreeing with canon on what the Force should and shouldn’t do. For instance, here is a short list of things I wish the Force wasn’t:
A. Genetic destiny
B. Creepy energy that goes around impregnating women
C. Something that completely demolishes a character’s agency
And that’s what this moment does. It takes a brave, terrifying choice that Finn made in the first movie and rips it away from him. It makes this decision not his but the will of the Force, fate working through him, rather than Finn taking fate into his own hands. I absolutely cannot stand it.
*Jannah, like Zorri, also feels like she was mostly created so we’d know Finn wasn’t gay for Poe (who, remember, is super heterosexual himself, just like, so hetero, everyone), or hot for Rose (who can’t be a love interest if she’s barely in the movie!) or hot for Rey (who’s hot for Kylo, kinda, but we’ll come to that later). But if this was indeed the intention, then again, it spectacularly fails, because Finn is 100% focused on Rey and Poe all the time. There is not a single spark of romantic or sexual chemistry between Finn and Jannah.
Again, I knew Rey’s parentage–which I fucked LOVED in TLJ–was gonna be retconned here. And I guess she doesn’t end up being Luke’s kid, at least, which would’ve been the absolute worst. Still, making her a Palpatine, just, GAH. The idea that Rey needs to be related to someone important to be a worthwhile hero is bullshit. The idea that Rey needs to be related to someone powerful to be powerful herself is bullshit. The idea that Rey’s pull to the Dark Side is yet another genetic destiny to be thwarted instead of, you know, something that might reasonably happen when you live a mostly crap life, abandoned and alone, is . . . I don’t know if it’s bullshit, exactly, but it is certainly one of the most boring decisions that the creators could’ve been made.
And the thing about Rey Skywalker . . . I mean, okay, I am the biggest damn sucker for found families, like, they are my absolute jam. And I have definitely been moved by both romantic and platonic fanfics where Rey and Finn take on Dameron as their last name, so yeah, I totally get the power of watching characters choose their own surnames and find a family they belong to.
But this moment here feels so disingenuous, like it was more about keeping the legacy of the Skywalker name alive, rather than anything that made sense for Rey. Like, Rey didn’t have this relationship with Luke. (I hate what they do with Luke here, too, bringing him back after he had such an amazing character exit, only to make him blandly gentle and wise and completely devoid of personality–and that fucking line about how you treat a Jedi’s weapon is such a snide jab at TLJ, I can’t even.) Of course, I wouldn’t expect Rey to take Poe’s last name, either, because I’m not sure that tracks with the canonically presented material, but still . . . Skywalker? It wasn’t until I read Jeanette Ng’s fantastic criticism of The Rise of Skywalker that it occurred to me what name actually would’ve worked: Organa. Rey taking Leia’s name would actually make sense for her character. Instead, we get Rey Skywalker, and while there are obviously a hundred things I don’t like about this movie, this might be the moment that feels the most egregiously dishonest to me.
Look, I get that poking fun at C-3PO is just a franchise staple at this point, but this is some mean-spirited shit. Like, okay, our heroes decide they have to go to Kijimi to translate the Sith stored in 3PO’s brain, right–a plot obstacle that feels more than a little silly, TBH, but it’s not one of my bigger problems here–and they’re all pretty smugly nonchalant about it, considering it seems pretty obvious what’s gonna happen from the words “complete redactive memory bypass.” But I guess our heroes don’t understand what’s going on until they actually meet Babu Frik; only then do they seem to understand the consequences of this plan. So, okay, I thought. They’re not being jackasses; they’re just a little obtuse.
Nope. They’re jackasses. For one thing, no one ever really asks C-3PO if he’s willing to do this, or tells him he doesn’t have to, or thanks him for his bravery, or really shows even the slightest bit of sympathy here. (The closest we get is Rey solemnly asking him to run the odds, which is kinda nice, but isn’t really enough for me, especially as she frames the question as their collective choice, not one that belongs to C-3PO alone.) And the second C-3PO loses all of his memories, everybody immediately starts acting like this huge sacrifice he just made is a giant comic inconvenience for them.
This part of the film, where our three musketeers (plus Chewy) are running around on their (narratively shaky) quest, is easily the most enjoyable section of TRoS, so it’s pretty disappointing that even this bit is marred by our heroes acting like little assholes for the sake of a cheap laugh. It’s also frustrating because this could’ve been such a strong character moment, a tragedy that doesn’t rely on death. Like, even if C-3PO regains most of his memories (as he does in the film), can you imagine what it would’ve been like to watch him re-discover that Luke Skywalker is dead? That could have been so crushing but so good. Instead, we get mean humor and no consequences.
I’m so tired, and I have so much review left.
6. Time to come up with a few more positives?
6A. Babu Frik is pretty cute. Like if the worm in The Labyrinth became a droid mechanic. And voiced by Shirley Henderson! I mean, okay, that’s awesome.
6B. I’m also very fond of D-O because that whole “no, thank you” while backing up to avoid unnecessary touching? I felt that on a personal level.
6C. I actually enjoy that Rey has Force Lightning powers. I mean, I didn’t buy Chewy’s death for one second, and I absolutely hate that Rey only has these powers because she’s a Palpatine . . . but I like the idea, regardless, because I’m a huge fan of heroic characters having what’s considered dark or evil abilities. (See also Harry Potter’s ability to speak Parseltongue or pretty much any necromancer who’s also a good guy.)
6D. I love that Hux is acting as a Resistance spy out of sheer spite. Stay petty, Hux.
6E. I may not like how Kylo is redeemed, but the shot where Rey hands him her lightsaber is pretty great.
6F. I love Chewy’s reaction to Leia’s death. It’s the antithesis of the Rey Skywalker line; it feels like one of the most honest moments in the whole movie. That being said, I will say that I was so frustrated by the worthlessness of Leia’s death that I couldn’t even emotionally connect to the grief in this scene. And considering how sad I am about Carrie Fisher, getting me to feel something here shouldn’t have been hard. You had to fuck up pretty royally for me to be dry-eyed when Leia dies.
(Also. You’ve gotta think that from Chewy’s perspective, this whole franchise has been like a nine-hour slasher film: a man, always just offscreen, stalks and murders the characters from the original trilogy. Thank God there’s not a fourth movie: they’d be coming for either him or Lando next.)
6G. It was kinda fun to spot Jodie Comer, I guess? Although, of course, that cameo is irreversibly tainted by the fact that I hate literally everything about Rey’s secret, kind parents.
6H. Lightspeed skipping is sorta silly, but also cool?
6I. Rey hearing/channeling all the Jedi is pretty awesome.
7. Coming back to Leia and the fact that everyone showed up with
Gandalf Lando to randomly save the day . . . my sister had a pretty good idea about how to fix this: maybe, instead of sacrificing herself in a shitty moment that doesn’t call for it, Leia uses all her energy to psychically connect to Force users and Resistance sympathizers across the galaxy. (Fun fact: Finn would also be able to hear such a message!)
You gotta figure a psychic message is gonna have more sticking power than some beeps on a radio, which could help account for everyone’s change of heart. And a bunch of strangers showing up to fight the good fight would have so much more emotional resonance if we actually saw them make the choice, or at least get presented with the decision. This would be a neat way to bring back the little kid from TLJ. (He probably shouldn’t end up in a fighter plane himself, but we could still see him hearing Leia’s call for help.) More importantly, Leia’s sacrifice might actually mean something, and there are a number of ways we could write around this bit so that we didn’t need Carrie Fisher’s voice. One way is to just make the message a carefully constructed montage of images and music, rather than using words. Another way is to have Leia channel the voices of the Jedi to reach people. (Which might help her/boost the signal, since I suspect there’s already somebody ready to argue that no way could Leia reach all these people–as if her dying doesn’t already indicate that this is an ability that surpasses what her body is capable of.) I don’t love the idea of taking anything away from Rey, of course, but I do kinda adore the idea of Leia connecting to all the Jedi before her, so we could see people from around the galaxy being touched by dozens of different voices, each and all calling for aid.
8. Let’s move on to a quote from JJ Abrams that you may have read prior to this movie’s release: “In the case of the LGBTQ community, it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film.”
Sure it was. That’s why the only canonically queer people in this movie are background characters who have a blink-and-you-miss-it kiss. I’m honestly not sure that both of them even have dialogue. One, sure, but the other? I just can’t remember. And without Google, I certainly don’t have any idea of these characters’ names . . . but oh yes, the representation. The pure bravery on display.
You may have read another quote by Abrams (also in the Variety interview linked above) about Finn and Poe’s relationship: “That relationship to me is a far deeper one than a romantic one. It is a deep bond that these two have, not just because of the trial by fire in which they met, but also because of their willingness to be as intimate as they are, as afraid as they, as unsure as they are, and still be bold, and still be daring and brave.”
And look. No one owed us a Finn/Poe ship, no matter how much I (or anyone else) wanted to see it. TRoS isn’t a bad movie just because the creators decided not to go ahead with this pairing. And I am a huge proponent of seeing more platonic relationships in stories, including bromances between men who are emotionally vulnerable with one another. But none of that changes the fact that this statement is still a garbage fire because Hollywood only qualifies platonic relationships as “deeper” than romantic ones when it’s about potential queer characters, rather than straight ones. And honestly, that’s lousy for everyone, whether you’re seeking a queer romance between actual plot-relevant characters, or you just want characters of different genders to have meaningful connections without a desire to suck face. And it’s very hard to shake the feeling that Hollywood would have capitalized on such a popular ship in a heartbeat if one of our heroes (probably Poe?) had been a woman.
9. Winding down now, so let’s just lump a few more unrelated notes together, shall we?
9A. I’m excited to see Billy Dee Williams, of course, but Lando is just sort of there. He has no real character arc to speak of–yes, I’m tired of complaining about character arcs too, believe me–and we don’t learn any interesting history of what he’s been up to for the past several decades. The only truly plot-relevant thing he does is off-screen. Again, why even have Lando if this is all you’re going to do with him?
He also gets stuck with the “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” line, which is one of those Star Wars staples that I like in theory, so long as the screenwriter doesn’t just jam it in somewhere to mark off a checkbox. Guess how it goes here.
9B. Kylo’s mask with the red cracks is actually kind of cool. Too bad I hate literally everything it represents. Let the past die indeed.
9C. Other dumb things: the Sith just hanging around in the background, the whole dyad BS (mostly because it comes out of absolutely nowhere), and seriously, is Palpatine a zombie? How did he come back? And FFS, who did he knock up? When did this happen? Did the Emperor raise his own son? Everything about Palpatine is the absolute worst, and goddamn it, I used to like this guy.
9D. It’s probably pretty obvious at this point, but just in case it’s not: I am very much not a Reylo shipper. Still, by the time we got to the Kiss, I was kinda like, “Fuck it, fine, whatever.” Partially because I’d long since given up any hope of liking this movie anyway, but also because it was such a weaksauce moment that I don’t think even the Reylo shippers enjoyed it. Which kinda makes me wonder, who was this movie even made for? I know there are people who enjoy it. Hell, some people whose opinions I respect quite a bit seem to think it’s dumb fun. But I gotta admit, I don’t get it. I wanna call The Rise of Skywalker the froyo of Star Wars movies, but I fear that’s an insult to froyo.
9E. As always, I long for planets that are not desert planets.
9F. This line: “I never lied to you. Your parents were no one. They chose to be, to keep you safe.”
Bullshit, sir. Don’t try to give me any “from a certain point of view” nonsense. You have not that earned that, or anything.
10. It’s possible–just possible, mind–that you may have noticed a certain subtle undercurrent of anger running throughout this 6,000 word essay.
And the truth is I am angry. I didn’t expect to be, or at least, I didn’t expect to be this frustrated. After all, I’ve been disappointed by other movies before, certainly when it comes to the conclusions of trilogies. (Which, honestly, is probably why I so often tend to skip out on Part III of anything.) The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t kill the franchise for me. My whole day isn’t ruined because of one bad movie.
But JJ Abrams–who, to his credit, is pretty good at kicking off franchises and crafting entertaining initial adventures starring talented and charismatic ensemble casts–was given something complicated and ambitious, and proceeded to make a series of predictable choices and lazy retcons to create an overall bland, weak, and dishonest film. It’s not just that JJ Abrams chose his own vision over Rian Johnson’s; that, at least, I could have respected, if disagreed with. No, JJ Abrams chose to make a movie that, frankly speaking, doesn’t have much vision at all. Just as he did with Into Darkness, Abrams went for cheap nostalgia over plot cohesion, character consistency, bold narrative choices, and emotional honesty.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about what makes a Star Wars film “a Star Wars film,” but to me, TLJ is very much a Star Wars film. Sure, it does some unexpected trope-flipping, but hey, so did Empire: the revelation of Luke’s father, obviously, not to mention how the movie ends on a massive cliffhanger, which I can’t imagine was common back in 1980. TLJ also has space battles and humor and a hero getting Jedi training from a reluctant and isolated teacher. It has the scrappy Resistance fighting back against insurmountable odds. It has nostalgia, tons of it; the whole movie just isn’t consumed by it.
I feel angry, I think, because I value popcorn stories, because I find worth in their retellings, and I’m tired of people acting like the only fans whose opinions matter are pissy straight white dudes, especially if those dudes saw the original movies in theater and think that means they’re entitled to something, that they alone know what a Star Wars story really is. I’m angry, and I’m motivated. I want to write something better. I don’t know if I could do justice to a redemption arc, considering redemption’s not really my bag, but I do believe wholeheartedly that I could do better by queer space flyboys and heroines who come from nothing and flawed, lovable people who each have their own agendas and take the names that suit them. I want to write something entertaining and smart, fun and inclusive. I want to write something that says, “Fuck you, Skywalker legacy. Here’s something for everyone else.”
I think I’m supposed to be grateful for that motivation? But feel free to consider me ungracious. I wanted better than this. We could have had so much more.
Rey: “Be with me. Be with me. Be with me . . . they’re not with me.”
Rey: “I know it looks like I’m making excuses.”
Leia: “Don’t tell me what things look like. Tell me what they are.”
Rey: “Yes, master.”
Poe: “What did you do to the droid?”
Rey: “What did you do to the Falcon?
Poe: “The Falcon’s in a lot better shape than he is!”
Rey: “BB-8 is not on fire.”
Poe: “What’s left of him isn’t on fire.”
Finn: “You were a spice runner?”
Poe: “You were a stormtrooper?”
Rey: “Were you a spice runner?”
Poe: “Were you a scavenger? I mean, we can do this all night.”
Finn: “Poe Dameron, spice runner. Runner of spice.”
Poe: “All right.”
Poe: “What were you going to tell Rey before?”
Finn: “Still on that?”
Poe: “Oh, I’m sorry, is this a bad time?”
Finn: “It sort of is.”
Rey: “People keep telling me they know me. I’m afraid no one does.”
Finn: “I got to talk to you about something.”
Poe Dameron: “I got to talk to you about something. I can’t do this alone. I need you in command with me.”
Finn: “This droid has–thank you, I appreciate that. ”
Poe Dameron: “General.”
Look. It’s not the worst Star Wars movie out there because The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones still exist. But it’s easily my least favorite of this trilogy and the original trilogy, and it very well may be the most cowardly and least imaginative of all the Star Wars films. I’ve seen several people now say something like “a few dumb parts, but I still had fun watching it.” For me, it’s the exact opposite: a few moments I enjoyed, but for the most part, I was bored, furious, incredulous, or completely disengaged.
Gonna give this one to Oscar Isaac, but as a whole, the cast does the best they can with shitty material.
The past never dies. Not if we keep resurrecting pieces of it, making paler, weaker imitations of something we once loved and now refuse to let go of.