Rating: 16/20 (Dylan: 13/20)
Plot: Nobody can find Luke Skywalker, no matter how many times they watch the 35-40 trailers that came out for the movie. A posse of cosplayers--including a Princess Leia in her slave outfit, always a popular choice; a tall Jawa; a three-man Jabba the Hutt with a Salacious Crumb dick puppet; a Spock; three Stormtroopers; a half-digested Boba Fett; and another slave Leia--head out looking for him, screaming "Skywalker or bust!" and holding aloft home-made Styrofoam lightsabers. They meet an evil George Lucas along the way, a George Lucas accompanied by a trio of tromboners poorly playing The Imperial March. "See, guys?" Lucas says. "You like this song don't you?" he adds before pulling a Jar-Jar Binks marionette from behind his back. "Taste the Binks!" he cries as he makes the Gungan dance around. Lobot passes away from shock. No, not a cosplayer dressed as Lobot. The actual Lobot. Lucas jumps on a unicorn and giggles away while the others wonder if they can even go on without Lobot.
If you haven't seen the movie, you shouldn't read any more. There will be numerous spoilers.
It's hard to be completely objective with Star Wars movies. When the prequel trilogy began, I watched with my son who was around 4 or 5. And as maligned as The Phantom Menace is, the whole thing made me feel like a kid again. I wanted to play with action figures again. Now my son is a grown man, and I'm not sure if I'm going to have an excuse to play with action figures. This movie, perhaps even more than the prequels, did succeed in making me feel like a kid again, like I was sitting there with Vernon and Brad and James and whoever else was in the theater when I saw Boba Fett die in Return of the Jedi. The opening scrawl, the John Williams, those countless stars and some sort of Star Destroyer thing that looked more immense than a Star Destroyer (I'm no longer hip to the Star Wars lingo) eclipsing a planet. It brought happy tears to my eyes.
I've been waiting for this movie for a long time, but that last half an hour when I was actually sitting in the theater watching the commercials they now play? That was more excruciating than all of those months put together.
This is going to be very stream-of-consciousness as I'm still digesting things and also watching football.
Who would have guessed that my favorite moment in the movie, the most I've actually laughed at a movie in a long time, would be courtesy of C3PO. "You probably didn't recognize me because of my red arm" is a line that makes me laugh even now actually.
Not a lot of C3PO or R2D2, the latter apparently in a state of mechanical depression. That was one silly misstep. Robots don't feel melancholic, do they?
Mark Hamill. No wonder the guy wasn't in the previews. If he'd been in the previews, they would have probably ended up using every single second of his screen time. Man, does he look like quite the elderly Jedi, out-Qui-Gonning Qui Gon. That beard and hair combination he reveals on that island where Lost took place, apparently where he just stands and wonders what happened to the Smoke Monster or talks with blue translucent Yodas and Obi-Wans. I wish the last shot would have been something else because that swooping overhead shot of Rey and Luke didn't feel very Star Wars-y, but I am glad the movie ended where it did. It's strange by the way that Hamill, who has been known more for his voice work the last several years, doesn't get to use his voice at all here.
Who are Rey's parents? Is she Ben Solo's brother? Is she somehow Luke's kid? If so, who's Luke's mom? I hope it's an Ewok, but I suppose that would make Rey a lot less furry than she should be. I'm looking forward to her training with Luke on Lost Island.
For a Star Wars kid like me, all the nods to the original trilogy were appreciated. A character finding that little electrocution ball that Luke toyed with on the Millennium Falcon, looking at it with confusion, and tossing it aside. The mutant chess board thing and Chewbacca's look when it was accidentally turned on. Good stuff. Chewbacca has a lot of funny moments in this, more than in the original movies. I wonder if I only picked up on them more because I speak fluent Wookiee after watching the Star Wars Holiday Special. His rapport with Han Solo (don't just call him Solo, apparently) was great. And how about fucking Han Solo. I wondered about Harrison Ford since he doesn't seem to like Star Wars all that much, but Han Solo here just seems like Han Solo thirty years after the events of the last movie. He's back to being a scoundrel and seems to approach the highlights of his life--Leia, having at least one kid, helping to successfully defeat the Empire with the help of all those teddy bears--in the exact same way as he approaches the low points of his life. It's just all parts of the same life that have made him into the guy he's become. One character asks him, "Weren't you a general?" or something like that, and Chewbacca's reaction is priceless. Han Solo gets such great lines, lines that recall the moments in Empire that made everybody really fall in love with the character, and I suppose we should thank Lawrence Kasden for that. Ford's first appearance, already revealed in one of the first trailers, is a wonderful moment, and that's before he even breathes a word.
Of course, that's one of the many moments that seems forced or a little too coincidental. I did mention that this isn't a perfect movie, right? It's better than all of the prequels and, of course, Return of the Jedi, a movie that isn't even as good as at least two of the prequels. It's not without its issues, but like The Phantom Menace, I'm able to shove those aside and just enjoy the hell out of the thing, probably because I'm still a little kid.
Captain Phasma, for example, is the Boba Fett for this new generation of Star Wars fans. She (apparently) looked so cool in the trailer, holding that gun and walking down a metallic hallway, her (apparently) armor gleaming. Well, I hope you enjoyed that walking action sequence in the trailer because I don't think the character does anything else in the movie. Nothing! It seems impossible to create a cool character who does even less than Boba Fett, but Captain Phasma does just that. It's unclear what happens to her (apparently) in the movie.
I didn't like a scene with these Dr. Whovian tentacled things chasing our characters around. I know what they were trying to do--a Mynock or Rancor moment--but it just doesn't seem to fit. The entire scene could have been cut, and we would have lost nothing at all.
So much of what happens in Star Wars seems so random. I don't think I've ever seen heroes get lucky this much. That happens a lot here. I could hear eyebrows raising in the theater during a lot of this.
Did we really need another Death Star-esque thing? Starkiller? Is that what it was called? It seems like that plot element was already used in a couple other movies. As well as a robot holding on to some secret. And characters listening to ethnic music in an alien saloon. At least C3PO's arm was red in this one.
Oh, I was talking about old characters. Carrie Fisher's looking good, only she might be on something similar to whatever she was on when she filmed the Star Wars Holiday Special. But no, Dad, she doesn't wear a metallic bikini unfortunately. She doesn't have a ton to do here, but they made her a general, one of at least a couple times where we get to hear women roar in this installment. Rey is the most obvious example, a female who doesn't need anybody to hold her hand. She's the female version of what I think Lucas was going for with young Annakin in The Phantom Menace. She's crafty, fierce and fearless, and tortured. But you get the sense of her potential as soon as you see her start doing stuff on the screen. The character's very well written, and I'd find it impossible to believe that anybody could watch this new main character and not fall in love.
Poe Dameron is what Wedge Antilles should have been. The movie pretty much starts with him, a good choice because he sets the tone well. He's lippy. That's probably what I like most about this movie actually. There's lots of action and just the right amount of heart and a whole bunch of mystery, but this matches the tone of the original trilogy a lot better than the prequels did. The Phantom Menace knew it needed comic relief because that's part of what made The Empire Strikes Back so successful, but Lucas piled it all on Jar Jar Binks' reptilian shoulders. It just never works. The whole thing feels stiff except for this odd character that nobody liked anyway who's making fart jokes and stepping in shit. That movie desperately needed some punchy dialogue between McGregor and Neeson or something, and Lucas just didn't give us any of that. In 2 and 3, there's some of that rapport with McGregor and Christensen, but it was too little, too late.
Here, the characters all have great rapport. Harrison Ford, or at least this old and tired Han Solo, bounces off everybody well. Rey and Finn are cute together. Finn and Poe have great romantic chemistry that I'd love to see developed in the next movies. The new little robot interacts with the characters in a way that feels strangely organic. The new scary bad guy, black cloaked and masked Kylo Ren, has a lot more personality than I would have expected from the previews, and his interactions with characters on both sides are really great.
Let's talk about him. I expected a Vader clone crossed with a silently menacing Darth Maul type, but he surprised me. There are really two different characters here. For the first half of the movie, you get a guy who is a true powerful presence. He can stop lasers from blasters in mid-air. He can force-choke the shit out of a person. He's got that cool scarred mask and a growly voice. He wields that awesome light saber with the hilt. He seems like he's going to be just a quiet killing machine, like Darth Maul with a little more personality. But then something happens--you see the guy throw a temper tantrum. He's like an emo Vader wannabe, even having conversations with Luke's dad's charred head which he must have picked up at an Ewok auction or something. And eventually, that mask comes off. Initially, you think, "Uh oh. He's got Hayden Christensen hair," but instantly, along with those light saber temper tantrums, the villain is humanized. This is a villain that actually grows, unlike Maul or (especially) pointless Dooku or Grievous or even Darth Vader in the original trilogy. Kylo Ren is a villain with some depth, and that makes him far more interesting than almost any character in any Star Wars movies. And when we find out that the guy's training isn't even complete, it all comes together. The guy's conflicted, "tempted" by the light side (an interesting twist), which makes that scene on that bridge where he makes that choice that will likely sadden Star Wars fans so huge. You know there's good in there, a part of Ren that didn't want to impale his dad with a laser sword and throw him into a giant pit. At the same time, it was something he could do and then not seem to think about it for the rest of the movie. Man, what a character.
I can't wait to see if this trilogy is about Kylo Ren's redemption, Rey's coming-of-age, Luke bringing balance, or a combination of all of those are more. I love how this movie introduced as many mysteries as it did characters. There's a myriad of ways they could go from here, and that makes the next several years very exciting.
I hope nobody read this without first watching the movie.
I mentioned the contrast in tones between this and the prequels. In a conversation on Facebook, I had help thinking of another difference. This movie is very safe. It's like Disney and Abrams decided to just give fans what they want and have a story that doesn't take a lot of chances at all with the exception of an antagonist who has that much emotional depth and such strong female characters. Lucas was the exact opposite of safe when he gave us The Phantom Menace. I think that might be why I'll always have a sweet spot for that movie that nobody else seems to like.
I know Harrison Ford probably demanded that Han Solo is killed off in this movie, and the way it went down is certainly emotionally impactful. I just wonder if I'm going to see this as a move that was set up well enough and ultimately necessary when I think about it years from now or if I'm just going to see it as one of those let's-kill-off-a-major-character-to-show-the-audience-that-nobody-is-safe type moves that seem so popular these days. Han Solo was a character I loved as a kid. I wanted to be Han Solo or Indiana Jones or Jim Douglas from The Love Bug, mostly the latter because I'd get to hang out with Buddy Hackett. And I loved Han Solo here as a guy who has aged just as much as I have. So his demise hit me almost as hard as it hit Chewbacca except I didn't have a cool crossbow to use to take out my anger on some stormtroopers.
What else is there?
Oh, the X-Wings and Tie Fighters. Man, oh, man. No person around my age who loved these movies as a kid could watch the scenes with those flying machines without grinning. Hell, I bet I could have closed my eyes and just listened to those sound effects and ended up with a gigantic goofy grin. Watching them fly maneuver around was amazing, easily the best dogfighting we've seen in Star Wars movies. It's like J. J. Abrams playing Star Wars in his bedroom only with about 370 million more dollars than I had when I was a kid.
Other action scenes are done really well, too, and not with that reliance on CGI. The pair of light saber fights, the first which really didn't make a lot of sense, put you on the edge of your seat, and the best part is that I know there are going to be even better in the next two movies. The on-ground battle scenes are intense despite the stormtroopers still not being able to shoot very well. Somebody's got to look into that. And watching the Millennium Falcon get this much action after 30 years? Holy hell, I think I probably had a boner!
I didn't pay much attention to John Williams' score but, of course, noticed it when it was at its most familiar. When Leia greets the heroes after they come back victorious, the romantic-sounding melody from Empire got to me a little though. Just a beautiful moment.
One thing I didn't like at all--Andy Serkis's playing a giant Gollum that I was supposed to believe was our new Palpatine. That whole thing was as dopey as the guy's name--Supreme Leader Snoke. I'm sure some big Supreme Leader Snoke reveal will happen in one of the next couple installments, but this incarnation was a disappointment. Where'd he come from? Is he really that big? Is it actually Gollum in some sort of strange crossover?
Where was Binks? Maybe Snokes is actually Binks?
I don't want to end this verbose collection of words with something negative, but it looks like I did. I really did love watching this, but you have to take this whole thing with a grain of salt because I'm a guy who actually liked the prequels. There are flaws for sure, but the positives far outweigh them. The new characters make me comfortable with where the franchise is heading. The nods to the originals hit me right in the heart. The film just looks and sounds so perfect like the Star Wars film any Stars Wars fan has been waiting for for a very long time. And the mysteries and loose ends make me really eager to see what they're going to do in the next chapter.
Honestly, I'm pretty excited about seeing this one again. But remember--I also saw The Phantom Menace in the theater twice, so I possibly can't be trusted.