Well, once more a movie I wanted to like and expected to like. The only Rian Johnson movie I have seen is Looper, which I thought was good science fiction, which is exactly what I hoped for from this one, and was excited about the direction he might take this film. I had no problem with The Force Awakens, but I was excited to see what a more serious writer/director, with less of a pop sensibility, might do with this middle chapter. And then….
The main thing is that we were about 90 minutes in [leaving 60 to go] when I thought “You know what? I’m just not involved with anything happening here.” I felt that the stories were uninteresting, the characters were uninteresting, and I just didn’t care about any of it. There were, and continue to be, several ”cool moments,” and several fan service moments, and new versions of old favorites (liked the cantina? How about a casino?), but… the audience I saw it with [on Thursday preview night] cheered at the beginning, but sat in dead silence at the end, then just got up and silently left.
I can appreciate that Johnson throws out a lot of the things that Abrams set up, and I appreciate that he takes a different approach to many of the expected aspects that have been handed to him. And I can appreciate that he wrenches the entire story into a vastly different place than it started. That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that what he replaces them with is good. This movie does, however, make Rogue One seem like a masterpiece.
Staying away from spoilers, I am very disappointed in the lack of development of Rey. And Finn and Poe, for sure, but Rey was such a blazing presence in the last one (We’ll be hip and say TFA), and here, despite being in the presence of Luke, she is just kind of the same person at the end as she was at the beginning. I had to recall that one major surprise achievement about TFA was making me CARE about all of these characters in such a short time. So this movie has its established characters run in place while cramming in the stories of new and uninteresting characters, and then killing off a number of the interesting characters established in TFA. Bold, yes, but… necessary?Wise?
One can kind of imagine the awkward conversation between JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson after the movie was completed, with Abrams saying “Yeah, you know, totally cool to do your own thing—love it!—but, you know, if you hated everything about my movie… umm, you could have just told me.” It’s also a bit like one of those story-writing exercises when one writer develops a scenario, then hands it to another writer to develop (and, in this case, will hand it back to the first writer to finish). And it’s a bit like Johnson began his part of the story with: “And then the nuclear bomb exploded, killing everyone.”
The movie does have it’s share of cool moments. So cool, in fact, to me they came off a bit as crass and fan service. The whole casino sequence was just tedious, and the second time we saw an alien horse smash through a window, I was like “Yeah, we just saw that.” There is a very force-full person who is killed in a way—that is cool!—but is very doubtful they would fall for. Three people in total spend time unprotected in deep space but ARE FINE. Laura Dern’s character does not have any arc, she has a contrivance that keeps information from us deliberately to create a false tension. I do like where the movie leaves Kylo Ren at the very end, although I sort of want Abrams to pull a Johnson in part nine and have him give it all up to focus on making artisanal cheeses. And then bring in an entirely new villain we’ve never met before. Why not, at this point? Hey—can we fit Taylor Swift in here somehow?
And luckily there was no white-hot poker in the theater, or I would be self-blinded this morning due to the “Kidz Have the Force Too!” final moment. I want to see the next chapter begin with that kid blasted into a gooey wet stain.
And now, the spoilers, of which there is only one. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS. SPOILERS SPOILERS. SPOILERS SPOILERS. SPOILERS SPOILERS. SPOILERS SPOILERS. SPOILERS SPOILERS
Luke was the biggest disappointment here. It was awesome to see him onscreen, and in the role, and I liked what a cantankerous bastard he was, although we always knew he would be. As the kids say, it definitely brought “all the feels.” But his “training” of Rey is very perfunctory / nonexistent, which is fine, but what they replace it with is half rehash of Empire (imagine the one-woman Busby Berkeley routines she could work up) and a lot of hot gas without much character advancement. And yes, Luke has some cool moments (and, against all odds, they drag out Yoda without it feeling [too] cheap), but… don’t kill Luke off over nothing, okay? Don’t kill him off arbitrarily, when there is NO REASON WHATSOEVER that he should die, except that you’re reaching for monumentality with your crappy little film, shithead. I guess that’s my feeling about it. We have the promise of this mythic character coming back, 40 years later, and we have him killed off by some shithead who can only destroy, because he is unable to create. I guess that’s resonant with these times.
BTW: Comment all you want, just know that I have very little interest in arguing or discussing any of it. I am fairly sure I will end up seeing it again, so I’m open to giving it another chance.