First, some background:
1. My familiarity with the Star Wars Universe begins and ends with the movies. I have not read any of the books and so am entirely indifferent to any deviation from the beloved Extended Universe canon.
2. I disliked both the Prequels and The Force Awakens, the former for just being drek and the latter for the missed opportunities which in the end made it more disappointing.
3. I skipped Rogue One entirely because of the super-obnoxious pre-release behavior by those involved with the movie. I heard the movie itself was very good, and I might see it someday as a library rental.
4. I was reluctant to be disappointed again, and pay $20 plus food for the privilege, but decided to give the Star Wars series one last try. Part of me was hoping this would be the time to give up and move on with my life since quite frankly I’m burned out on the endless Hollywood reboots and sequels.
Unfortunately for my wallet, I will not be giving up on the series quite yet. In fact (excluding Rogue One, which I haven’t seen and thus cannot judge) this is my favorite of the new crop of Star Wars movies.
The new entry had a long way to go, as far as I was concerned, to make up for the artistic brain fart that was TFA, and the list of accomplishments is rather impressive. Mind you, these are MY pet peeves from TFA that have been addressed. YMMV.
1. Finn in TFA existed only to a) provide stunt casting, by director’s own admission and b) make Rey look even more of a Mary Sue than she already was. It’s almost like the writers said “Let’s have a black character because we must, but he can’t be too interesting or accomplish much because Rey must be the hero at all times.” In the sequel, he comes onto his own, stops being Rey’s comic-relief sidekick, and fully, voluntarily, accepts his identity as “Rebel scum” rather than being pulled along by forces not of his choosing. The caper subplot gets a resounding Meh on the whole, but it’s worth it for giving Finn a character arc and potentially a love interest who isn’t Rey, which again goes with him becoming his own man.
2. Poe, much like Finn was not allowed any character development in TFA (and having since enjoyed Oscar Isaac’s performance in The Promise, I became extra annoyed at the waste of talent the more I thought about it). Aside from setting in motion a couple of plot points, he really had no reason to be there. Again, in the sequel he gets a full character arc, growing from a brash “flyboy” to a mature leader. My only complaint is that the character as written (someone brave and skilled but hotheaded, with much to learn from his elders) was better suited for a younger actor.
3. Rey, who was a May Sue to end all Mary Sues, and an unlikable one at that, has become someone different. Still stubborn and occasionally obnoxious, but… vulnerable, willing to ask for help, open to making human connections (she may or may not be falling for Finn, but the fact that the possibility exists is refreshing). Also, the writers go at least through a nominal demonstration that yes, she actually is very good with the staff and it might explain her previously unbelievable skill with the light saber. A small thing, but something I appreciated. And, not to go all spoiler-y, but she does make a mistake, and a big one. Still a Mary Sue? Perhaps, but not in a dumb, in-your-face manner of the previous movie.
4. Kylo Ren is not longer a pathetic youngster to be dismissed. More on him later.
Now that I got TFA out of the way, what of the new developments? Let me cover the highlights so as not to give too many spoilers.
The biggest “shoot-me-now” moments for me were with the new CGI creatures. They’re beyond silly and don’t add anything to the story except some lame comic relief. I get the merchandising part, I really do, and none of this compares to the travesty that was Jar Jar, but it made and overly long move seem even longer.
The over-abundance of women leaders, while taken to ridiculous heights with the new commanding officer sporting pink hair and a long evening gown, was not, for ME, entirely out of place. In a Rebellion that is both long-running and constantly facing superior forces, it might stand to reason that it’s mostly women who’d made it to an old age. Or at least that’s the symbolism I’m seeing in this setup, perhaps not intended by the writers. In times of war, men run towards the enemy, and women carry on so the civilization, and hope, survives. Societies decimated by war can and do end up with a matriarchy of sorts. It so happens, I grew up in one of those, so it just might be my perspective.
And now, the most important question of all. Did Luke as a character get ruined?
I can’t say any more without spoilers, but while his fate is sad, the manner in which it’s handled is neither overly depressing nor nihilistic. In a way, the character comes full circle, and it feels right.
Back to Kylo Ren.
He is, intentionally or not, a Millennial villain. Having gotten over the worship of his grandfather, he is intent on obliterating the past as a way to a better future. If this sounds disturbingly familiar, it’s probably because you’ve been paying attention to real-life news over the last few years.
I have to admit to laughing inappropriately during a big scene (you’ll know it when you see it) because at some point I looked at Kylo Ren and thought, “Now he will scream helplessly at the sky.”
And he did.
And I giggled.
It broke the mood of a truly poignant scene, but I couldn’t help it. This was one of those moments where art and real life met, and quite possibly I was the only one with that reaction. That’s the thing about art. It has layers. I can’t say, though, that this was my favorite scene.
That honor belongs to the very end of the movie, and this is why I think it’s worth seeing.
There are forces at work, in our own time and place, who would do away with heroes and legends, who say we’ve outgrown the need, and the key to success and progress lies in leaving those behind or, better yet, destroying them altogether.
The closing scene responds to this attitude with a quiet but determined rebuke. And in that alone, it recaptures something the old Star Wars had and the series just might, belatedly, recapture again: a sense of wonder, hope, and the future that’s worth fighting for.
Go see it, and make up your own mind.
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